The Expanse by James S.A. Corey

I remember the time I bought the first book in the Expanse series. It was in Tartu, in Tasku Center Rahva Raamat. I was looking for a sci-fi book series. I had done my research and all signs pointed to The Expanse. By the time I bought the first one in June 2018, book 7 was already out.

But backing up a bit …

I have always loved sci-fi. It started with a love for movies and TV shows like Stargate, Star Wars, and James Cameron’s Dark Angel. The latter was also my gateway to sci-fi books. The series was followed by three books by Max Allan Collins which I just had to have, being a 17-year-old superfan of the beautiful, motorcycle-riding, ass-kicking genetically engineered Max Guevara and her rag-tag gang of mutants in a post-apocalyptic world. I loved the books and have to admit, that having read them again 18 years later, they hold up pretty okay.

Though I loved the books, it took me a while to move to sci-fi classics like 1984 and Brave New World, and the less serious Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. And to find a bunch of Star Wars books in a second-hand store. I fell in love with Timothy Zahn’s Grand Admiral Thrawn books.

I really got into the business of reading sci-fi and fantasy series in 2017 with greats like The Shadow and Bone Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo, the Red Rising Saga by Pierce Brown, the Silo books by Hugh Howey, and of course the wonderful feel-good-sci-fi Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers. And that is how I ended up in the bookstore looking for my new addiction.

About The Expanse

The Expanse is a series of science fiction novels (and related novellas and short stories) by James S. A. Corey, the joint pen name of authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. The series was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Series in 2017. It later won, following its second nomination for the same award in 2020.

The book series is made up of nine novels, and nine shorter works that were collected into one book by the end of the series. The series was adapted for television by the Syfy Network and when Syfy cancelled the TV series after three seasons, Amazon acquired it and produced three more seasons.

The world of the Expanse is still expanding (pun!) with comics and role-playing games.

Expanse Wiki

Books 1-3

I thought I would pace myself… but I was completely hooked by the first book. I have read and like all kinds of sci-fi, but the level of realism was just astonishing. I mean yes, there is an alien presence (the Protomolecule) and the engines are a bit better, than we may ever be able to make them, but everything human-related made sense. There is no artificial gravity, no hyperspace windows, no “shields up!” in battle. It takes time to get from Earth to the outer planets – for people and also messages sent between them. Flying fast means people are glued to their seats, and when weapons fire hits the ship it goes through it. And most importantly, people are still tribalistic and stupid.

I read the first three books in a month. It was a nice complete trilogy that first introduced us to the central characters of the book – the crew of the salvaged Martian naval gunship Rocinante. The main crew consists of James “Jim” R. Holden, the captain and a former UN Navy officer from Earth; Naomi Nagata, chief engineer and executive officer hailing from the Belt; Amos Burton, mechanic and general muscle – an Earther with a mysterious past; and Martian Alex Kamal, pilot of the Rocinante and former Mars Congressional Republic Navy pilot.

Also of course the unforgettable Josephus “Joe” Aloisus Miller, a Belter who worked as a detective for the Ceres station security firm, Star Helix Security. And two incredibly strong and rounded female characters – the most powerful bad-ass herself, Chrisjen Avasarala, the UN Assistant Undersecretary of Executive Administration and Roberta “Bobbie” W. Draper, Martian gunnery sergeant in the MCRN.

I actually don’t want to say any more about the first books – if you like sci-fi, just go read them. And if 1695 pages are too big of a commitment, check out the TV show. The drama in the first episodes is a bit of a Hollywood overkill, but try to ignore Jamea Holden and get through the first 4 episodes. If you don’t fall in love with at least Avasarala and Amos, then sadly we can not be friends.

And talking about the TV show – fantastic casting for Avasarala, Amos, Bobbie and Miller!

Books 4-6

I managed to spread out the next three books over six months. After the first three, where our Rocinante crew spent most of their time in space, in book four they went down the gravity well. A whole new array of weird shit started to happen and the book was generally quite intense.

In the first three books, the bad guys were mainly people using the alien Protomolecule, in this trilogy, it is more human-centred. We still have the weird alien stuff happening in the background, but it is mainly a political thriller in space.

But my absolute favourite book from the first six is the fifth – Nemesis Games. After the crew being together for such a long time, in this one, everyone has their personal mission, which opens up the story, gives us new settings and we find out a lot more about the character’s backstory. And of course, it makes you wait for the next one and the family getting back together again, and finally getting rid of the bad guy.

Book five also introduces us to another badass woman – Camina Drummer, chief of security at Tycho Station. A woman so strong, she saves the day with a broken back. Camina is also wonderfully portrayed in the TV show and is one of my top five favourite characters both in the books and the show.

Book six is also where the TV show finishes.

Books 7-9

After the sixth book, I caught up with publishing times and had to start waiting for the last three to come out in paperback to match my collection. Book three jumped ahead in time quite a bit and after we had people experimenting with the alien stuff to do bad things and a just plain old human villain, in the last trilogy the bad guy took a lot of time to get to know alien technology and the threat level has gotten even bigger.

And so the crew of the Rocinante, who were mostly awaiting their retirement, were tossed back into the game and separated again. It was quite a sad book, but nothing compared to book eight. The number of my favourite characters dying in that one was just not okay. The first two books of the last trilogy left me in quite a sad place …

And so, with the sad knowledge of the story ending, I arrived on 7 February 2023.

I was on a trip through Europe and in Rotterdam the day the book came out. On my way to some sightseeing, I went to the big bookstore I had found the day before. Leviathan Falls was not on the shelf. So hours later on my way back, it had arrived. I could not start reading it during the trip, because I needed my own safe space and a roll of toilet paper.

It was hard to say goodbye to characters I had been with for five years and over 5000 pages. But the ending was the right amount of sad and hopeful. And I do hold out hope for the TV versions to return someday. I would love to see them again in about ten years so that they could resemble their book versions of that time better.

Right now I am rewatching the TV show for the third time. And after season six I will be waiting for the Dragon Tooth comics that take place between the sixth and seventh books.

My own litlle Rocinante