Leviathan Wakes: The Expanse Book 1 Explained

Leviathan Wakes is the first book in The Expanse,
a sci fi-adventure-mystery-drama in space. In our last video, we explained the cultures
and politics of the series . But what happens in Leviathan Wakes? And what does it mean? Eight years ago, a corporation called Protogen
explored Phoebe – a small moon of Saturn . They found that Phoebe is no moon – it’s
actually a “weapon” created by aliens. Billions of years ago, Phoebe was “launched”
across interstellar space, carrying a kind of “virus” called the “protomolecule”
. The protomolecule infects and changes lifeforms for some unknown alien purpose . Protogen
executive Dresden tries to control the protomolecule , to use it, so humans can rewrite their own
biology – and to make Protogen rich . Dresden studied the protomolecule by infecting people
on Phoebe, who all died . The molecule seemed to need more “biomass” . So Dresden and
Protogen plan an “experiment” – to infect Eros, feeding a million people to the protomolecule
. They put some molecule on a stealth ship called the Anubis , and send it at Eros. But along the way, the Anubis meets Julie
Mao. Julie is the daughter of Jules-Pierre Mao,
a powerful businessman. His company, Mao-Kwikowski, secretly works
with Protogen planning the Eros experiment . Julie wants “freedom” and independence
from her rich family , so she leaves home and joins the OPA – a political group fighting
for Belter rights. Julie works with OPA leader Anderson Dawes
on Ceres , and she pilots a “courier ship called the Scopuli” . Julie finds out that
her father is transporting some “weapon”, so she and the OPA intercept the Anubis . But
the Scopuli is overwhelmed – the crew’s taken prisoner on the Anubis, and Julie’s
locked in storage. Then, the Anubis uses the empty Scopuli as
a trap. They plant a Martian transmitter on the Scopuli
and send a distress beacon. The Sirenum scopuli are the islands of the
sirens of Greek mythology, who lure sailors to their deaths . Cause the Scopuli lures
a nearby Belter ship called the Canterbury – then the Anubis destroys the Cant . But
the Martian transmitter they planted makes it look like Mars killed the Cant . Protogen
does this to create conflict between Mars and the Belt – to “distract” everyone
from the Eros experiment . But Protogen underestimates the Cant – and its Executive Officer, James
Holden. Holden is from Earth, and he served in the
UN navy – the uh, Space Force. But he got disillusioned with the “authoritarian”
UNN , so he left and got work on the Canterbury . Holden’s “An idealist” – he believes
in truth , and justice, and doing the “right thing” . He’s a “natural leader” , self-sacrificing
– a classic hero type . When the Cant is destroyed, Holden leads the survivors – Naomi,
Amos, Alex and Shed. Holden helps bring them together as a team
. But he also makes rash decisions – he tries to chase down the Anubis , to bring
them to justice, which’d probably just get them killed – Naomi has to stop him from
being an “idiot” . But then Holden does something dumber – he makes a broadcast
telling the universe that someone with a Martian transmitter killed the Cant . It is the truth
, and Holden believes “People need to know” . But spreading this news creates conflict
between Mars and the Belt – which is exactly what Protogen wants . Holden’s sense of
honesty and justice helps cause a war. Holden’s also forced to question his sense
of romance. Naomi points out that Holden has a habit of
treating every little crush like it’s true love . It’s only after Holden changes his
behaviour that he and Naomi get together f – helping Holden become a more mature lover,
as well as a better leader. So from the beginning, Holden’s naïve idealism
around love and truth and justice are challenged – especially by the other main character,
Miller. Miller is a detective for private security
on Ceres. And unlike Holden, he believes that “moral
flexibility” is “necessary” – he’ll destroy evidence, make shady deals, if that’s
what it takes to gets shit done . Miller has a complex identity – cause he’s a Belter,
born on Ceres, but he works for an Earth-owned company , policing Belters. So some Belters see him as a “Traitor to
[his] people” . At the start of the book, Miller finds that the crime gangs of Ceres
are strangely inactive lately . And Ceres security’s riot gear is stolen . We later
learn the reason for this is that Protogen hires Ceres thugs to help run their experiment
on Eros – and the thugs take Ceres’ riot gear with them . This is a problem for Miller
when Belters riot over the destruction of the Cant – thanks to Holden’s broadcast
. Miller gets assigned a new job – Jules-Pierre Mao wants Julie found and taken home . At
first, Miller dismisses Julie as a “Poor little rich girl” . But while investigating
her activity on Ceres , he learns to respect her. She’s capable, “smart” , and she’s
“tough” – learning jiu-jitsu after being attacked one time. By joining the OPA, Julie sacrificed a life
of “wealth and privilege” for a cause that she believes in . Miller is a “nihilistic”
, empty man – worn down by the corruption and horror of his police work . But Julie
inspires him to believe in something – Miller believes in Julie. When Miller gets fired for being unreliable,
renegade and drunk , he loses “the career that [had] defined [him]” . All he has left
as a purpose in life is finding Julie . Meanwhile, Holden and crew are captured by
a Martian flagship called the Donnager, but the Donnager’s attacked by Protogen stealth
ships. Holden’s crew escapes on a Martian ship,
except Shed is randomly killed by a stray gauss round. Some of the characters and plot of The Expanse
began in a pen-and-paper role-playing game run by Ty Franck. When the person playing Shed left this game,
Shed’s character had to be suddenly removed. And that’s why Shed’s death comes so suddenly
in the story . Anyway Protogen destroys the Donnager , but Mars thinks the Belt did it
– which leads to “war” between Mars and the Belt . So Protogen’s plan works
– their false flag attacks cause a war that distracts everyone from Eros. Holden and crew settle in to their new Martian
ship – Holden names it “Rocinante”. This is a reference to Don Quixote, the story
of a wannabe knight who attacks windmills thinking they’re giants. So the name Rocinante evokes adventure and
heroism, but also idealistic silliness – which pretty much sums up Holden The Roci crew take
refuge with Fred Johnson – an OPA leader whose company is building a giant Mormon spaceship
called the Nauvoo. Through the OPA, Fred worked with the Scopuli,
and he gets a message connected to the Scopuli from Eros – so Holden and crew go investigate
. Miller follows the Roci crew to Eros , and
helps them survive an attack by Protogen’s men. Then together they find Julie Mao – dead
from the protomolecule. Cause what happened was – after the Protogen
ship Anubis captured the Scopuli and destroyed the Cant, their protomolecule sample leaked
– killing everyone on board , except for Julie, in storage. Julie broke out, and hid the Anubis , then
went to Eros. But she’d been infected – so she slowly,
horrifically, died “alone” . Losing the Anubis was a problem for Protogen cause they
needed that protomolecule sample for Eros. So Protogen follows Holden to Julie – and
uses her infected body as the seed to start the Eros experiment . For “crowd control”,
Protogen uses those thugs from Ceres with the stolen riot gear – who now call themselves
“Carne Por la Machina” – “Meat for the machine” . They fake an emergency, and
lead the people of Eros into “radiation shelters” – which are actually used to
infect everyone with the protomolecule . Infected people become zombies, Ceres thugs fight,
Holden and Miller get irradiated – it’s a bad time. And amidst the all suffering and violence,
Miller starts to welcome death – he’s tired and broken and wants “release” from
his trauma and pain . His only sense of hope is his imagination of Julie, the “ghost”
of this dead girl he’s never met . [] Miller and Holden work together and escape Eros alive,
but they also clash over their differences. Holden stops Miller from shooting an infected
person – says Miller doesn’t “get to decide” who lives and dies . Miller criticises
Holden for publicly broadcasting sensitive information . Like, Holden broadcasts evidence
connecting Protogen’s ships to Earth – so then Earth attacks Mars and destroys the moon
of Deimos , making the worst war in history worse . Holden thinks telling everyone the
truth is the right thing to do, and the best way to make peace . But Miller argues that
the truth can be dangerous – you’ve gotta be more strategic to get good outcomes . There
is no “right thing” to do – just a whole lot of “maybe a little less wrong” . So
Miller challenges Holden’s “simplistic” view of the world , and helps him to see the
complexity and the shades of grey. Miller and the Roci crew find the Anubis where
Julie had hidden it . And they destroy it – as symbolic justice for the Cant . They
also learn about Protogen’s experiment on Eros. So they team up with Fred and the OPA to attack
Protogen’s research base, Thoth Station – Thoth was an Egyptian god associated with
science and with judgement of the dead . Holden Miller and Fred take the station, and confront
Dresden – “the architect of the Eros project” . Instead of fighting or begging mercy, Dresden
makes rational arguments why the Eros project should continue. He says studying the protomolecule is worth
killing a million people , cause the power to rewrite biology would let humans expand
to distant stars. He says the protomolecule proves there are
hostile aliens out there – and humans will need the power of the protomolecule if they
face its creators . And besides, Eros is already infected – so stopping the project won’t
save anyone, it’ll only “Waste the data” and make those people “[die] for nothing”
. Holden is disgusted by Dresden’s cold logic – but he sees that Dresden may have
a point . When Miller sees that people are listening to evil space Mengele, he kills
Dresden on the spot. And Holden is outraged that Miller would kill
someone in cold blood – says it’s inhuman, and unjust. “What about a trial?” What makes Miller the “judge, jury, and
executioner”? Miller argues that with Dresden’s power
and connections, he was “going to get away” with his crimes, and continue his experiments
– so killing Dresden “had to be done” . But Holden can’t trust someone who “unilaterally”
headshots people he disagrees with . So Holden kicks Miller out of the Roci crew. And Miller is devastated. He’d started to think of the Roci as his
“home” , his family. But now he’s alone – with no home, no
job, no friends . He feels that the hard choices he’s made to survive have cut him off from
human connection , left him empty and numb – he compares himself to Protogen . Miller’s
only hope for connection and redemption is his imagination of Julie – “You belong
with me”, she says . Eros, infected with the protomolecule, does
some freaky stuff. The bodies of the people of Eros are reshaped
into Cronenbergian fleshscapes , “like Hieronymous Bosch made real” . Eros broadcasts ghostly
voices made from the audio files and the minds of the million people it consumed . Holden,
Miller and Fred are worried that that this horrorshow might spread. So they plan to take the giant Mormon spaceship
the Nauvoo, and slam it into Eros, to knock the whole asteroid into the sun – ending
the threat. Miller sets up bombs on Eros, then chooses
to stay there . He feels too “tired” and “broken” to ever “reconnect to humanity”
– Miller just wants to die with Julie. He watches as the Nauvoo, the “hammer of
God” fills the sky, screams towards him, then misses. The voice of Eros shouts “DON’T YOU FUCKING
TOUCH ME!”, and the whole asteroid moves – uses some alien force to dodge the Nauvoo
. Then Eros starts moving towards Earth, apparently to infect the population . But Miller realises
that the ghostly voice of Eros includes Julie. The Eros protomolecule’s mind grew from
Julie – “it infected her”, and “she infected it” . Deep in Eros, Miller finds
the infected Julie – she’s controlling Eros, dreaming that she’s flying her ship
the Razorback. When she says ‘don’t you fucking touch
me’, she’s remembering that time she was attacked. Her memories and personality are intertwined
with the alien mind. So Miller convinces Julie to fly Eros to Venus
instead of Earth. He removes his helmet and lets the protomolecule
take him as he and Julie and Eros descend into the clouds of Venus. The cynical, nihilistic Miller finds something
to believe in . And Holden is left a more mature and experienced hero – able to question
his idealistic view of the world and himself. This helps him face the dangers of later books
– including what emerges from Venus. So Leviathan Wakes explores different perspectives
on how to live in a complex universe. Rationality and cold realism gets shit done,
but love and belief give life meaning. The Expanse is about futuristic technology
and fantastic worlds – but it’s grounded in the same human passions, flaws and ideals
that cause conflict today. Whether on Earth, or amongst the stars, “the
problems we have are the ones we bring with us” .
In The Expanse TV show, Miller finds a data broker who hides a data chip inside his own
leg. But there are easier ways to protect your
data. Dashlane is a password manager that generates
and remembers secure passwords for all your sites. It’s secure, easy to use, and free – so
sign up to Dashlane at the link below. You can also use the offer code for 10% off
a premium membership, which includes syncing devices, a VPN, and a gig of encrypted cloud
storage – which is much more convenient than leg storage. Sign up below to help Alt Shift X and help
you stay secure. Thanks for watching. Thanks to Expanse co-author Daniel Abraham
for help with the script, and to History of Westeros and Brandon for feedback. Thanks to Patrons invisiblefloyd, Beth Quezada,
Terry Thomas, FuzzytheFair, Patrick Brown, EMac and Hedwig. Cheers.


  1. Can we get Wheel of Time vids? With GoT stopping soon I would love some pre-emptive vids since the show is coming eventually

  2. Hey, thank you for doing this series, mainly because you got me to read the books and watch the tv show and I am drinking it up like there is no tomorrow

  3. I don´t wanna be that guy, but: the protomolecule was not designed as a weapon, it was created to build gates that connect galaxies that are millions of light years apart. It is a bridge-building technology, the fact that it destroys life as we know it is just a side effect.

  4. As far as i recall, Anderson Dawes is not the leader of the OPA in the books. Hes a much smaller character than in the series…

  5. We need more explanations of the expanse series!!! I am sure you have read Tiamat's Wrath, i'd love to watch a video of yours about it and all the other books!

  6. Miller was(is) the best character of this series of books. Holden is the worst. Just like Jon Snow. The same stupid person with to much morality. I hate characters in books like them. They are boring and annoying.

  7. You left out what I think is the best quote Miller gave in the entire series; about why he shot Dresden. It highlights the core of his character like no other quote does in the books–although "…it keeps the rain off my head" from the show–is almost as good.

    "He was talking us into it, all that about getting the stars and protecting ourselves from whatever shot that thing at earth? I was starting to think maybe he should get away with it. Maybe things were just too big for right and wrong. I'm not saying he convinced me. But he made me think maybe, you know? Just maybe." p438

  8. Y no more Expanse 😭😭 better pick it back up when season 4 drops since keeping up with the books isn't happening..

  9. If you think about it it's amazingly similar to Contact, specially with the third season's last episode.
    It's got the parallels between rationality getting shit done and emotion (or spirituality in Contact) giving life meaning. And the parallels of that acid trip Ellie took in Contact, same as Holden's in Abaddon's Gate.

  10. Just finished book 1 but could have done without the small spoilers from book 2 :/ I didn’t know Julie maos father was involved with protogen and the Eros plans

  11. (Some show spoilers ahead)

    Nice video, if a little disappointing for me. Not the video itself, which was really well done, I just went from being excited about getting the books to not sure if I want to pick them up or not.

    I have an Audible credit coming up and I have a few questions that I’d love feedback on from anyone who’s read it. I know this is an old video, but I can see it’s still getting views now and again and I thought I’d take a shot.

    Is standing up for what you think is right presented as naive or is it just Holden’s specific way of doing things that’s looked down upon? Like, is he just someone who can’t think through his actions or is the book going with the idea that a cynic’s view of the world is the correct one? How hard and fast is the book with its moral conclusions?

    It’s a small point, but it sticks out to me as an example; the idea of Holder as an immature lover. Loving someone you sleep with them doesn’t seem to be that crazy to me, is it really presented that way? Or does Holden just have a puppy love thing going on where he associates sexual attraction with love? That I can view as immature, but the other is more of a value judgement on relationships I wouldn’t want to make for other people. Again, it’s a small thing, but I’m worried it might be symptomatic of a larger issue I fear I’d have with the books, which is why I’m asking those who’ve read them about this.

    I don’t want to buy a book if it just tells me what to think about the topics it’s presenting. The show is great at having moral quandaries happen all the time which, in many cases, have no right answer: I don’t know if I would have fired on the Marasmus, I don’t know if I would have worked with Dresden at that point, etc. Does that happen often in the books as well or is it more absolute in its worldview? This is the right way to live your life. This is the right way to have a relationship. This is the right way to think about the world, and so on.

    The show is so good I’m just hoping the books can live up to them and would love any opinions from fans who have read them.

  12. Now that GoT is over, I'd love to see you do more Expanse videos. Love the show and the book series

  13. Just finished the 8th book. Feel like you could break up books into multiple videos with everything that's going on. Love that you're covering this!

  14. I'll be expecting book 2 when the season 4 marketing campaign starts, then book 3 before the 4th season, gotta hook the noobs

  15. What's the point of these videos? They just tell the story as it is and bring nothing new to the table. We got the actual series as well as the book for this.

  16. I caught a bad case of Influenza on my business trip and started reading Leviathan Wakes while being feverish in the bed.
    Needless to say, it was "oh shit I'm gonna die like in the book" experience.
    Fortunately, garlic, vitamins and hot soup prevented crystals growing out my face.

  17. So now that GoTs is dead and gone, can you please get back to making more of The Expanse videos? You have some serious catching up to do before the new season happens.
    Tic Toc people.

  18. Excellent analysis. I am by most standards and compared to most an old man; and I can tell you that The Expanse is one of the best science fiction show I have seen in a long time. Altered Carbon is getting there but not yey.

  19. It seems like GoT broke you. Maybe The Expanse can help heal that nasty wound? Your first two videos are great and I look forward to more!

  20. The show and book are criminally underrated and not well known. Glad it's getting more attention now! It's one of the best Sci Fi series out there.

  21. THE EXPANSE is the most realistic scifi movie ever made, from the technology, down to the possible political realities, which are happening as we speak. AMAZON IS MAKING SEASON 4 AND I CANT WAIT!

  22. Altshiftx – Do you think that you will do the rest of the books in the series? I would love to hear your take. I have always enjoyed your analysis.

  23. Binge watch all 3 tv season in 2 weeks, I want to see more so I've just bought books 1-4 can't wait to read them am excellent sci-fi series.

  24. Can we get book 2? This was so good, I read those books so long ago and absolutely loved them and this video was so well done. Book 2 would be amazing

  25. I like how people just casually destroy entire moons and asteroids, because today we have nowhere near as much power.

  26. I cannot understand how you could have read the book/watched the series and gotten so many bits of the information so garbled.

  27. It only took about 10 seconds to hear the first mistake in this video; 8 years ago, MARS explored Phoebe and then when they took core samples, they discovered compounds that shouldn't have existed in that ice. They subcontracted Protogen to do the research and assist them there. This is important because it was originally a Martian project which is why Mars was present when Protogen betrayed them. …

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