Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey (2011) – It’s terrible getting halfway through a 750-page book and realizing you’ve read it before. The good news is that the story is so good that I didn’t care. I like a good spaceship crew story and this one combines space opera with a good mystery and a love story.
The story is told by the two strong male protagonists, Miller, an alcoholic policeman on Ceres, and Holden, an executive officer aboard an ice mover. When Holden’s ship is shot out from under him, he and his four remaining crew members escape in a shuttle and fly straight into an Earth/Mars/Belter war caused by suspicious circumstances.
Miller, meanwhile on Ceres, is handed a no-win assignment where he has to find a beautiful young woman and return her to her rich family on Earth. The more he finds out about the rebellious and independent Julie, the more he’s attracted to her, but she may be connected somehow with the destruction of Holden’s ship.
It doesn’t take long for Miller to track Holden down (after a Martian ship imprisons them and also blown up) and helps the crew escape being kidnapped by men who want to find out where Julie, apparently carrying an alien mutagenic organism, is located. They find her, dead and malformed in a bathtub on Eros. That’s the least of their worries (although Miller is heart-broken) as Eros has become a nesting site for the alien organism, and millions are killed and turned into “vomit zombies” before Holden, Miller, and the others can escape.
Our two heroes suffer from radiation poisoning and only the Martian military shuttle they stole is able to save their lives with its advanced medical technology. They find Julie’s ship and uncover a massive plot by a corporation called Protogen. They don’t know where to turn with the governments fighting each other and all of them thinking the other is the enemy when it’s really Protogen killing people and blowing up ships to test the transmutation virus. So far, all it’s done is deform people before it turns them into black sludge. Protogen is convinced the virus is going to make them billions of credits if they can control it. They seem to ignore the fact that the virus was originally intended to take out all life forms on Earth billions of years earlier but got caught on Phobeus.
But the virus is becoming more sentient with each person it absorbs, and soon Miller, Holden, and the others discover things aren’t as black and white as they believe.
I love space ship stories and I liked this one well enough to read it twice (if I’ve cannonballed it in previous years, I apologize).