Expanding on The Expanse

From Book View Cafe:

Fantasy has its Game of Thrones. Science fiction has its The Expanse.

. . . .

Game of Thrones was the TV adaptation of a successful set of novels. (A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin.) The Expanse was the TV adaptation of the set of equally successful novels and other works by James S. A. Corey. Both deal with cultural conflict and war. Both have “magic”—actual magic in Game of Thrones. Alien technology that defies known physics in the case of The Expanse.

They are quite different in their characters. While there are rough characters in The Expanse, nothing compares to the unnatural evil that works its will in Game of Thrones. You’ll find genocide and child endangerment in The Expanse but you get incestuous murder in Game of Thrones.

While I am an SF writer the more important thing in this discussion is that I’m an SF reader. I’m much more drawn to alien tropes than dragons. Less drawn to monarchies than autocrats. So, I’ll talk about The Expanse here rather than Game of Thrones. Besides, I haven’t read the Martin books.

The Expanse is brilliant television and a set of excellent novels but both are flawed in interesting ways. Those flaws reflect curious writing decisions.

Note: I will be discussing things that happen in the books so if you’re spoiler-sensitive, don’t read any further.

The prose Expanse consists of nine novels and a few stories and novellas. In its future, the solar system has been opened to humanity by an incredibly efficient and powerful propulsion known as the Epstein Drive. This has divided humanity into three distinct groups: those from Earth, those from Mars, and those that live in the free space and moons of the solar system known collectively as the Belt. Those that live in the Belt are called Belters.

Mars is independent and on a continuous war footing with Earth since Earth has never really given up its hold on Mars. Think Britain and the US in the eighteen-hundreds. Mars is technologically superior to Earth but cannot match Earth’s industrial base. The ships of Mars are better but Earth has more of them. Neither much values the Belt.

The third is the growth and eventual factionalization of some Belters into terrorists. It is absolutely clear that Belters are an oppressed people in The Expanse. The Outer Planets Alliance (OPA) purports to represent the Belters but is, itself, divided. Some factions of the OPA are terrorists. Others want political autonomy. Think Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Army (IRA.)

Any work with such grand themes needs lots and lots of characters to carry out the work. The novels have lots of point-of-view characters—one has fifteen.

The first book brings out the characters and ends with Eros crashing into Venus. The second book plays out the war footing that happens between Mars and Earth and the unscrupulous scientists building human/protomolecule hybrids. It ends with whatever the protomolecule has built on Venus launching into space. Book three begins after the Venus structure has moved out beyond the orbit of Uranus and reshaped into a ring structure. This is the book where the Belt begins to really make its presence known as a political entity as each of the players—Earth, Mars, and the Belt—are interested in figuring out the benefits of the ring. This is when the protomolecule reveals its agenda: it is intended to build connections to all of the other ring structures built by ancient aliens. Now, the solar system is part of a vast network of planets.

Book 4 explores how this new real estate affects the political stability of the solar system. Who is in control? It also personifies the protomolecule in its search for its creators. The protomolecule is not conscious but it is intelligent. Its purpose is to serve those that created it but it can’t find them. It does not succeed.

Book 5 involves exploring what is going on with the rest of the solar system through the eyes of the main characters. This book also shows the coalescence of some Belters into a military organization—the Free Navy. The Free Navy drops large asteroids onto Earth, decimating large swaths of land and population, and ultimately encamps just outside of the protomolecule ring, preventing anyone from using the new real estate. Book 6 involves the resolution of all of the threads in the previous books. The Free Navy is defeated but the Belt is now in charge of the Ring.

Books 7-9 take place some thirty years after the end of book 6 and have little direct impact on the events of the first six books. I’m not going to directly talk about them.

This is a large work. It has many, many characters. Some characters come into prominence and then fade out. Some stay the course for most of the books. Some appear for a particular scene and then are never heard from again.

In most cases, talking about the books is the same as talking about the show since the show closely follows the book. Issues of one are replicated in the other.

One decision—perhaps a flaw—is the way these characters appear, have a major impact, and then are never heard from or thought of again. One of the main characters is Naomi Nagata, the engineer of the Rocinante. She is a through character from day one all the way to the end. About halfway through the series, we discover that she had been a member of a violent OPA faction, had a son with its leader, and then left the faction and necessarily the son. It is represented in the work that she thought of the son often.

The son, Filip, shows up in the latter books as an important opposing character. Whole sections of the work involve the conflict between Filip and Naomi. Then, at a crucial juncture, Filip leaves the conflict and is never heard from again. In later books, he is never mentioned. Naomi doesn’t think about him. He never seeks her out. He has disappeared.

This is a continuing pattern: characters or events are important at the time but their reverberation across the work is severely limited.

Link to the rest at Book View Cafe and thanks to L. for the tip.


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