five-stars

Many space operas are a bit cartoonish. They wave away questions about artificial gravity, radiation exposure, and resource management in favor of epic stories that follow the Hero’s Journey. Military scifi tends to read like naval warfare in space–highly unlikely when operating in three spatial dimensions with enormous differences in relative velocity. Hard science fiction seems to forget about character development in favor of big ideas and vast tracts of scientific exposition.

Into this environment enters The Expanse by James S.A. Corey. It is a space opera that is grounded in scientific explanation. It has multidimensional zero-gravity space battles that don’t just copy naval surface warfare tactics. It shows technical detail while being a character-driven drama.

James S.A. Corey is the pen name of Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham, the New Mexico-based co-authors of The Expanse. The authors have struck epic gold with this epic series that has recently been adapted for television as The Expanse on Syfy.

What Makes it Epic Grit:

  • Adventure and Wonder: Spaceships, space battles, exotic colonies and stations, and ancient alien technology.
  • Believable Characters: There is great depth to the characters.
  • Real Consequences: Space is an extreme environment. Mistakes are often fatal.
  • Epic in Scope: There are interplanetary power struggles and threats to the survival of humanity.
  • Subverts “Good versus Evil” Tropes: The factions have their own agendas which are sometimes pragmatic, sometimes idealistic, sometimes self-serving, and always believable.
  • Different Perspectives: The characters have diverse backgrounds and ethnicities which influence their outlook and decisions.

Verdict: five-stars

This series does not break new ground in science fiction literature. Instead, it excels at execution. Many familiar elements of space opera are there, but they are done better than most space operas.

Review: The Expanse by James S.A. CoreyLeviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
Series: The Expanse #1
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction, Space Opera
Release: 2011
Type: Novel
four-half-stars

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Jim Holden and his expeditionary crew narrowly escape disaster when they investigate a derelict ship. Detective Miller is looking for a missing rich girl with rebel sympathies on Ceres. When Miller’s investigation crosses with Holden’s group, they must navigate through dangerous factions and dangerous experiments to expose the truth and avert disaster.

Review: The Expanse by James S.A. CoreyThe Butcher of Anderson Station by James S.A. Corey
Series: The Expanse
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction, Space Opera
Release: 2011
Type: Short Story
four-stars

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Short story prequel to the series

This tells the story of Colonel Fred Johnson and his actions at Anderson Station that gained him his notorious nickname.

Review: The Expanse by James S.A. CoreyCaliban's War by James S.A. Corey
Series: The Expanse #2
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction, Space Opera
Release: 2012
Type: Novel
four-stars

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An attack on Martian Marines sparks an interplanetary conflict that could engulf the Solar System in war. Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are joined by new characters Bobbi Draper and Chrisjen Avasarala to expose the true culprits and subdue the beligerant factions.

Review: The Expanse by James S.A. CoreyGods of Risk by James S.A. Corey
Series: The Expanse
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction, Space Opera
Release: 2012
Type: Short Story
three-stars

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This novella takes place between Caliban’s War and Abaddon’s Gate.

David Draper is a teenage chemistry student on Mars who wants a spot at the University and a stellar career. His dreams and budding romance are threatened by a commitment to a brutal drug dealer.

Review: The Expanse by James S.A. CoreyDrive by James S.A. Corey
Series: The Expanse
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction, Space Opera
Release: 2012
Type: Short Story
four-stars
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Short story prequel to the series.

Review: The Expanse by James S.A. CoreyAbaddon's Gate by James S.A. Corey
Series: The Expanse #3
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction, Space Opera
Release: 2013
Type: Novel
four-half-stars

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The protomolecule has created a gateway to unknown space. The Rocinante is part of a flotilla that is examining the gate. However, members of the flotilla have vastly different agendas and little trust for each other. When they go through the gate, they battle for control of what they find, and for survival.

Review: The Expanse by James S.A. CoreyThe Churn: An Expanse Novella by James S.A. Corey
Series: The Expanse
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction, Space Opera
Release: 2014
Type: Novella
three-half-stars

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Short story prequel to the series.

The Baltimore underworld is a brutal crucible.

Review: The Expanse by James S.A. CoreyCibola Burn by James S.A. Corey
Series: The Expanse #4
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction, Space Opera
Release: 2014
Type: Novel
four-half-stars

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A military quarantine has blocked off access to the gate. However, some desperate colonists have made it through to settle on one of the newly discovered worlds. When government officials try to reclaim the planet, Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are sent to negotiate between them. No one asked the planet itself if it wanted alien settlers.

Review: The Expanse by James S.A. CoreyNemesis Games by James S.A. Corey
Series: The Expanse #5
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction, Space Opera
Release: 2015
Type: Novel
five-stars

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After the events of Cibola Burn the crew of the Rocinante splits up for a while to take care of some personal business. While they are doing so, the social and political order of the Solar System is upturned by massive emigration and terrorists with weapons of mass destruction.

Review: The Expanse by James S.A. CoreyThe Vital Abyss by James S.A. Corey
Series: The Expanse
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction, Space Opera
Release: 2015
Type: Novella
four-stars

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A group of sociopathic prisoners is desperate to change the circumstances of their captivity.