You know a book series is great when you see the hardcover version of the latest novel in a random LA book store and immediately purchase it even though it’s $27.00 and you can no longer afford the Uber ride home. The Expanse is that good.
The series has just hit the six book mark (plus some minor short stories) and it’s been turned into a hit show on SyFy. In the world of science fiction novels, that’s not exactly an achievement. But The Expanse is much better than your regular science fiction series.
In the future, some indeterminate time from now, humanity has spread into the stars. Mars is it’s own planet now, having fought Earth to a stalemate in a bloody war that still has both planets on edge. Earth has the numbers and money to it’s advantage, Mars has it’s powerful navy and more advanced ships. And even farther out, there’s a group of people known as Belters because they live in bases carved into the many asteroids between Mars and Jupiter. They work at Earth and Mars’s pleasure because without the supplies from the two planets, the people would surely die. Also, years spent outside of normal gravity means their bones are longer, more brittle, and can’t hold them up without expensive treatment if they were to move to a planet. A growing terrorist group within the Belt is fighting for independence from the planets, something neither Mars nor Earth wants.
This background is pretty much the backdrop for all 6 novels. Our heroes are the crew of the Rocinante: James Holden, Naomi Nagata, Amos Burton, Alex Kamal, and sometimes other assorted characters. After stumbling upon a vast conspiracy in the first book, these four are front and center in every single conflict for the rest of the series.
Corruption, evil corporations, an alien protomolecule that turns people into zombies and creates a wormhole to new galaxies, this series really has everything. Intrigue, plotting, believable characters, proper motivations, so much new tech to make constant space travel believable, and a delightful new language in the form of Belter patois. It is a fully realized world. It is complete, and it is expanding in fun ways. Just when you think they can’t mine a topic for more meat, here comes the flank steak.
I’m reviewing the whole series because I started reading them a long time ago, but just picked up the new one. They’ve hit a yearly stride now, which usually diminishes a series’ quality, but that is not the case here. Sure, sometimes it’s predictable. But it’s always exciting. Ship battles are intense and the dialogue is tight and meaningful. Especially the vulgar stateswoman Chrisjen Avasarala. She shit talks everyone and it’s great. And, as I pointed out to a friend, the writing is a great example of show don’t tell. Let the audience figure it out. As far as modern science fiction goes, this is the gold standard. Everyone should read it, not just sci-fi fans. And if you can catch the tv show, I’d make sure to do that too.
3 1/2 out of 4 stars.
P.S. It’s also the gold standard of books whose cover art and titles have nothing to do with the plot. The cover image is the first book, but they all look like that.