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Novels

A series of near-future science fiction novels and related works by authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, writing under the pseudonym James S.A. Corey. As the series opens, humans have colonized the Solar system with settlements on the Moon, Mars, some major asteroids, and even on Ganymede. A crisis develops which throws everything into chaos and threatens humanity itself. Various characters discover different aspects of it, and things build to a dramatic and satisfying climax in the original trilogy. Later novels continue the story in new and entertaining ways that do not dilute the impact of the first storyline.

The authors have cited numerous classic genre influences. Frank was struck by Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination, with its tensions between factions in the solar system, as the seed of his own fictional universe. Abraham names Arthur C. Clarke and Larry Niven as influences. You can feel some of those influences in The Expanse, which is not to say that it's derivative in any way, merely that it continues a tradition of excellence in SF.

Ty Franck developed his world in stages, at one point pitching it as an MMO game, and then when that didn't pan out, an RPG. Eventually Abraham joined Franck's gaming group and realized that the vast and detailed world would make for an excellent novel. The agreed to work together, hoping to earn "pizza money" by writing "an old-fashioned space opera with plenty of sentiment."

As previously described, at space opera Gorgonzola opines that "... a Space Opera is any story containing the following elements:"

On the GSO scale, we start with 3 of these 5: Mars has rebelled against Earth, much of the Solar system (the extent of human-reachable space) has been colonized, and a space war is about to erupt. One, or perhaps both, of the remaining two are in the offing, so the authors have succeeded in their goal, and made a lot more than "pizza money"!

At time of writing, The Expanse series consists of the following novels, which have appeared approximately one year apart, beginning in 2011:

A series of related short stories and novellas have been released as well.

Recommendation

This is an excellent series, gritty yet sweeping in scope, filled with interesting and believable characters. One of the primary male characters, James Holden, has a touch of Marty Stu about him but he makes consistent, believable, and sometime bone-headed choices so that's a very minor gripe. The story is male-dominated but there are strong female characters who have meaningful roles, and there's a true poly-cultural feel to the series. I didn't find them all perfect—the third and fifth books were each a bit disappointing to me—but any missteps have been rapidly corrected, or revealed as part of a greater plan. The series has the sweep and scope of classic hard SF, and presents a very realistic feeling picture of life in space and the asteroid belt, but remains compelling in its human drama. I recommend it for your own reading or for gifting to any science fiction fan who hasn't already picked it up.


The TV series

I was thrilled when The Expanse was picked up for television, and the TV show is everything I could have hoped for. The casting is excellent, with the actors all a good match for how I had envisioned them. (Mea Culpa: I had imagined Holden to be older and fatter, that is, more like me. That's on me though. Steven Strait plays a great Holden, I only wish to be as young and handsome.) The production values are amazing, with great care taken to keep the feel of everything as realistic as possible, including painstaking work when zero gravity scenes are required, and brilliant special effects. Even the small details, like the Belter argot, are fleshed out beyond the novels—some belter slang has already worked its way into my own inner dialog.

I had my doubts when the series opened with some zero-gravity sex, but fortunately Game of Thrones style sexposition is not the norm. The series is faithful to the novels (so far), yet freely elaborates on them and reorganizes and condenses events where that makes for better TV. Space travel does seem a bit too rapid, even with the magic of the "Epstein Drive" fusion propulsion, but otherwise things would take forever, so this gets a pass. One solid improvement is that the TV series brings forward some female characters to the first part of the story, particularly the very strong female UN leader Chrisjen Avasarala played by Shohreh Aghdashloo. We even get some scenes that pass the Bechdel test, and I am sure we'd get more if we could just get the female characters in the same places more often.

So far there are two complete seasons: ten episodes in season one, and thirteen in season two. A third season is in development.

Recommendation

This is an excellent series, well worth your time regardless of whether or not you have read the books. It contains some surprises for fans of the book alongside amazing realizations of key moments, but is also a great experience if you want to watch it on its own. Fans of the book can see the bigger story arcs unfolding in the background, but those never take the stage from the primary story. And it's just visually stunning, especially in the space scenes. I think that any genre fan will fully enjoy this show.


References

  • Read all the books, bought the original trilogy, gave them away, bought them again.
  • Watched the shows (on-line, via http://www.space.ca)
  • This is a long, in-depth article about the genesis of the book, which I have mined for the introduction here. The article is a great read about how the idea evolved and became such a huge success.
  • The author's site

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