Back when I had time for hobbies, I read (or listened to) a lot of novels. If I had to name my absolute favorite series over the past few years, it’d be The Expanse books by the pseudonymous writing team known as James S.A. Corey (comprised of two writers: Ty Frank and Daniel Abraham). It’s simply the kind of Space Opera with characters you can’t help caring about that got me into sci-fi in the first place.
Three years ago, I reviewed Leviathan Wakes on this website. Here’s what I said:
The premise of the book is straightforward, and still unique: Miller, a cynical, alcoholic detective on Ceres station in the “Belt” (presumably the big one between Mars and Jupiter) has been assigned an Earther as a partner (stigma city in the Belt, dontcha know) and lands a case looking for a missing girl. James Holden, idealistic Earth ex-pat and XO on the ice hauler Canterbury investigates a distress signal from a ship known as the Scopuli, which we know through the magic of prologue to have been the ship the girl went missing on. When Holden and his crew go to investigate the signal, they realize something is quite rotten in Denmark, as it were, but before they can do anything about it, the Canterbury is attacked by stealth ships and all hell breaks loose. One broadcast by Holden later and the solar system is at war, fingers being pointed between the Belt, Mars, Earth, and back again.
In the mean time, an alien protomolecule has found a host and is traveling toward civilization, changing the biology and physiology of all it touches and working toward an inscrutable purpose. As the war intensifies, the alien threat grows, and the search for the missing girl means Miller and Holden’s paths are destined to cross, even though the two men rarely ever see eye to eye. Together, they uncover a conspiracy that changes everything in the Solar System as they know it.
There’s not a great deal I can reveal about the storyline that wouldn’t include spoilers, and this is a quick review, so I’ll keep things brief. But suffice it to say that this is, for me at least, a new twist on a well-trod genre piece, and in particular, a new conception of what an alien threat might look like. It’s both exciting and horrifying in an Alien kind of way, which is what you want from a story like this. All of us like to be frightened, on some level, by things hiding in dark corners. And as any SciFi junkie knows, the blackest reaches of space are the perfect place for things like that to lurk and pounce. It’s certainly not a horror book, but it has enough of those elements to keep things interestingly creepy.
Miller and Holden are both solid characters, fleshed out enough to be real and perceivable different in their treatment. The tag-team writing of Abraham and Franck no doubt accounts for this, but it accentuates the feeling that these are real, believable people who couldn’t be more different. The supporting cast is also strong, particularly Holden’s crew. Though a bit more two dimensional than our protagonists, Naomi, Amos, and Alex were all distinct, memorable, and had their own parts to play in the drama.
Something I love about these books, in addition to beautiful writing, interesting concepts and characters, and page-turning pacing, is that I don’t have to wait an excessive amount of time for these to come out. I believe I’m now five books in, and that ground has been covered in just a few short years. I still haven’t even picked up the novellas from that same universe. These guys crank out content without compromising quality. Huge respect.
I’ve complained before — even going a few rounds with the authors on Twitter — about the gratuitous insertion of alternative gender and multi-partner relationships that add nothing to the story other than planting flags for the advancement of non-traditional marriage. Sci-fi has long since become a bastion for progressive ideologues and SJWs (Sad Puppies notwithstanding) so I’ve come to expect it. Don’t care for it, but I wear my big boy pants every day, and it minimally detracts from the quality of the writing for me. YMMV.
So now that I’ve blabbed on about this, what’s the point of this post? Only that a television series based on the books of The Expanse is being launched next month as the flagship for the SyFy channel’s return to real, honest-to-goodness sci-fi programming. I’ve been waiting for months to see if they do justice to the series, and an early preview came out this week with the answer: if the first episode is any indicator, a resounding yes.
I don’t recommend this for anyone but adults, at least without supervision. There’s a pretty NSFW sex scene early on, considering this is airing on a non-premium cable channel. But on the whole, I’m happy. This captures the feel of the books pretty well, and moves through the complex narrative without over-explaining. I’m still not sold yet on the casting of Naomi and Amos; I’m getting the hang of Holden and Kamal, and Miller? Well, I think he’s dead on.
If you know the books, check it out for yourself. If you don’t, it’s a series you may want to acquaint yourself with.