The Expanse book series is not just regular a series of books. It is a friggin’ swarm of cool material. There are the main books (five published, four more to come), the novellas (three published, two more planned) and two short stories. And let’s not forget that the series is adapted for TV, which opens a whole new host of possible Sci-Fi pleasures. But, let’s start with the main story: the books.
Humanity has explored and colonized the entire solar system. There are two main colonies – Mars and Ceres Station (a space station on the largest asteroid in the system) – which have become sovereign powers independent from Earth. Ceres Station is home to the Belters: humans raised in low-gravity conditions. Earth and Mars have been exploiting the inhabitants of The Belt, which now is a powder keg of social unrest and dissatisfaction.
In this very interesting setting the series starts with book #1: Leviathan Wakes. In this first book, we meet Joe Miller. Miller is a Ceres station security officer with a questionable reputation who gets charged with finding a disappeared rich kid named Julie Mao. Also, we follow Jim Holden and his crew. I won’t say too much about that because I don’t want to spoil anything. The stage has been set, characters introduced, and then of course the proverbial doo-doo hits the ventilator.
As in any good Space Opera, the setting is powerful and it becomes clear very quickly that the whole status quo is about to be turned upside down. Two major powers in the universe (Earth and Mars) are on the brink of war while a third (the Outer Planet Alliance) tries to outgrow its terrorist past and become a true government for the Belt. And then there is a mysterious unknown party that threatens them all.
The writing is great. Fast paced, but with room for contemplation and a setting of the stage. Descriptions are detailed and beautiful but the writers do not drown you in them (they, as they should, show more and tell less). Characters are well-developed and memorable and the technical aspects (such as the detailed description of space travel) gives you the idea that the science (or at least experts’ best guess) behind it is well researched.
In short, an awesome universe with a great storyline to immerse yourself in.
Fun fact: maybe the level of detail of the universe and the very memorable characters are due to the fact that The Expanse was originally conceived as a Massive Multiplayer Online Video Game. The world building that took place before the writing of the novels must have been massive. As you would expect with the development of a large scale video game. But, fortunately for us Sci-Fi bookworms somehow the video game was dropped and now we have some great novels, novellas, short stories and a very cool TV-series to enjoy. And if the series is successful enough maybe there will be a videogame someday. But, I digress, back to the books.
If you have not read anything from the Expanse series, the sheer volume of materials might seem daunting. I figured it’s a good idea to give you an overview of what’s available but I also wanted to give you proper advice on what you should start with? Should you dip your toe into the series by reading one of the short stories? Or dive into the books first? Well, the publication order of the books, novellas and short stories is actually a really good guideline. In my opinion you should follow the following path (I pretty much guarantee you will enjoy it):
Novel – The Expanse #1: Leviathan Wakes
“Two hundred years after migrating into space, mankind is in turmoil. When a reluctant captain and washed-up detective find themselves involved in the case of a missing girl, what they discover brings our solar system to the brink of civil war, and exposes the greatest conspiracy in human history.”
Short Story – The Butcher of Anderson Station
“One day, Colonel Fred Johnson will be hailed as a hero to the system. One day, he will meet a desperate man in possession of a stolen spaceship and a deadly secret and extend a hand of friendship. But long before he became the leader of the Outer Planets Alliance, Fred Johnson had a very different name. The Butcher of Anderson Station.
This is his story.”
Novel – The Expanse #2: Caliban’s War
While Earth and Mars have stopped shooting each other, the core alliance is shattered. The outer planets and the Belt are uncertain in their new – possibly temporary – autonomy.
Then, on one of Jupiter’s moons, a single super-soldier attacks, slaughtering soldiers of Earth and Mars indiscriminately and reigniting the war. The race is on to discover whether this is the vanguard of an alien army, or if the danger lies closer to home.”
Novella – The Expanse: Gods of Risk
“As tension between Mars and Earth mounts, and terrorism plagues the Martian city of Londres Nova, sixteen-year-old David Draper is fighting his own lonely war. A gifted chemist vying for a place at the university, David leads a secret life as a manufacturer for a ruthless drug dealer. When his friend Leelee goes missing, leaving signs of the dealer’s involvement, David takes it upon himself to save her. But first he must shake his aunt Bobbie Draper, an ex-marine who has been set adrift in her own life after a mysterious series of events nobody is talking about.”
Short Story – The Expanse: Drive
A short story released first in Edge of Infinity (a hard Sci-Fi anthology or collection of short stories on “the next giant leap for humankind”, very cool!) but was later also released online. The story is set about 150 years before the events in Leviathan Wakes and concerns Solomon Epstein and the invention of his Epstein Drive (main method of space propulsion in the series).
You can read it for free! Right here
Novel – The Expanse #3: Abaddon’s Gate
“For generations, the solar system – Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt – was humanity’s great frontier. Until now. The alien artefact working through its program under the clouds of Venus has emerged to build a massive structure outside the orbit of Uranus: a gate that leads into a starless dark. Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are part of a vast flotilla of scientific and military ships going out to examine the artefact. But behind the scenes, a complex plot is unfolding, with the destruction of Holden at its core. As the emissaries of the human race try to find whether the gate is an opportunity or a threat, the greatest danger is the one they brought with them.”
Novella – The Expanse: The Churn
Set in the hard-scrabble solar system of Leviathan Wakes, Caliban’s War, Abaddon’s Gate and the upcoming Cibola Burn, The Churn expands the world of James S. A. Corey’s acclaimed Expanse series.”
Novel – The Expanse #4: Cibola Burn
“The gates have opened the way to a thousand new worlds and the rush to colonize has begun. Settlers looking for a new life stream out from humanity’s home planets. Illus, the first human colony on this vast new frontier, is being born in blood and fire.
Independent settlers stand against the overwhelming power of a corporate colony ship with only their determination, courage and the skills learned in the long wars of home. Innocent scientists are slaughtered as they try to survey a new and alien world.
James Holden and the crew of his one small ship are sent to make peace in the midst of war and sense in the heart of chaos. But the more he looks at it, the more Holden thinks the mission was meant to fail.
And the whispers of a dead man remind him that the great galactic civilization which once stood on this land is gone. And that something killed them.”
Novel – The Expanse #5: Nemesis Games
“A thousand worlds have opened, and the greatest land-rush in human history has begun. As wave after wave of colonists leave, the power structures of the old solar system begin to buckle.
Ships are disappearing without a trace. Private armies are secretly formed. The sole remaining protomolecule sample is stolen. Terrorist attacks previously considered impossible bring the inner planets to their knees. The sins of the past are returning to exact a terrible price.
And as a new human order is struggling to be born in blood and fire, James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante must struggle to survive and get back to the only home they have left.”
Novella – The Expanse: The Vital Abyss
“Somewhere in the vast expanse of space, a group of prisoners lives in permanent captivity.
The only company they have is each other and the Belters who guard them. The only stories they know are the triumphs and crimes that brought them there. The only future they see is an empty life in an enormous room.
And then the man from Mars came along . . .”
When you finish all of the above. Either you are fulfilled for a while or you want more. If the latter is the case, you won’t have to wait long for the next installments of The Expanse. In December of 2016 Expanse #6: Babylon’s Ashes will be released. And it is rumored that Expanse #7: Persepolis Rising (working title) will be released six to eight months later!
The total length for the series is now expected to be nine books. Also, somewhere between the publication of book #6 and book #9, two more novellas will be published. So, not only is there a lot to enjoy right now, there is a lot to look forward to.
But wait, that’s not even the whole story! As I mentioned before: there is a TV-series. In 2014 TV network SyFy announced that they were going to adapt The Expanse for TV. The first season released in December 2015 and the second season will be available early 2017. I recommend that you at least read the first two books and the “Butcher of Anderson Station” in between. And then, try to stay at least one book ahead of the seasons of the TV-series. That way you can avoid spoilers. Of course, you can start with the TV-series and start reading the novels and stories later, but that wouldn’t be my preferred approach.
Back to the TV-adaptation. I was pretty conflicted about an Expanse TV-series to be honest. It usually doesn’t play out well. And especially because Syfy doesn’t have the best track record for producing big-budget TV-series (and producing The Expanse for TV requires a BIG budget). But then again, this is the golden age of TV series so I gave it a go.
Loved it! It took me an episode or three to get used to the gap between what I had imagined things would look like and what it looks like in the imagination of the show producers. But then I was all into it. Casting is done well, the special effects are better every episode and the pace of the series is very comfortable. I am psyched even writing about it. Can’t wait for the second season! Watching the first season made me feel like rereading the entire series. So I did. Of course, the show deviates a bit from the books. That always happens. But still, in my opinion they did a really good job.
The first season of The Expanse is now available on Amazon Video, BluRay and DVD. Read a more in depth review of the first season here.