Literature: The Expanse

The Expanse is a series of Space Opera novels by "James S. A. Corey", the pen-name of authors Daniel Abraham (The Long Price Quartet) and Ty Franck. Set a few hundred years in the future, humanity has expanded into and colonized large parts of the Solar System.

As of the beginning of the series, the three main political powers are Earth, Mars, and a rough coalition of "Belters" who inhabit the asteroid belt and many of the outer moons. These groups have been in economic dependence and conflict for almost as long as they've existed, but now shadowy conspiracies are pushing humanity to the brink of outright interplanetary war. As if that wasn't bad enough, in the midst of all this a virus-like alien "protomolecule" with horrifying capabilities has been unleashed and threatens the existence of all mankind.

Against this backdrop, the series mostly focuses on Space Trucker James Holden and his crew as they try to navigate through the increasingly dire political/cultural/existential crises plaguing the solar system, all the while trying to make a quick buck. Each book features new protagonists and side-characters, with the one constant thread throughout the series being Holden and his crew.

The technology featured in the series is relatively realistic but not described in detail. An unexplained breakthrough in fusion and drive technology (the Epstein Drive) has made interplanetary travel possible but there isn't any FTL travel and thus no interstellar voyages have been attempted yet.

The series so far includes the following novels:
  • Leviathan Wakes (2011)
  • Caliban's War (2012)
  • Abaddon's Gate (2013)
  • Cibola Burn (2014)
  • Nemesis Games (2015)

The novellas The Butcher of Anderson Station, Gods of Risk, and The Churn also take place in the same universe and serve to tie the novels together. A short story, Drive, is a prequel concerning Solomon Epstein and the discovery of the Epstein Drive.

A TV series, produced by the SyFy channel, is currently in production and slated to air on December 14, 2015.

The Expanse series contains examples of:

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     The series in general 
  • Action Girl: Naomi Nagata, Clarissa Mao, and especially Bobbie Draper
  • Alien Geometries: Anything the protomolecule creates, naturally, which includes the Ring Station and the ruins on Ilus/New Terra.
  • And I Must Scream: The fate of anyone absorbed into the protomolecule, such as everyone on Eros station. As of Cibola Burn, it turns out they're still vaguely conscious in the protomolecule.
    • Somehow both Julie and Miller are largely exempt from the horror of this trope.
  • Anyone Can Die: In Leviathan Wakes, all but five of the Canturbury's crew is killed, and when the survivors are rescued, Shed dies. At the end Miller, whom half the book focuses on, dies in a Heroic Sacrifice.
    • In Abbadon's Gate, there's Bull and Sam.
  • Asteroid Miners: A lot of this goes on in the belt though it doesn't directly impact the plot much.
  • Auto Doc: Military ships come equipped with automatic medical systems.
  • Body Horror: As the author puts it in the afterword to Leviathan Wakes:
    "I've never written anything in my life that didn’t at least blur the line into horror. If I wrote greeting cards, they'd probably have a squick factor."
    • Happens at least once a book, mostly thanks either directly or indirectly to the protomolecule.
  • Casual Interplanetary Travel: Acquiring a small ship capable of interplanetary travel seems to be about as difficult as acquiring a house is now. With all the attendant risks of defaulting on your loans and having it seized by bank.
  • Colony Drop: Discussed a lot. Asteroid drops are the new Mutually Assured Destruction.
    • Used against Earth with devastating effects in Nemesis Games.
  • Cool Starship: Both present and averted. It is noted that the lack of atmosphere to deal with combined with efficient designs has resulted in mostly ugly, blocky looking ships. Some of them very large and impressive but still looking like a simple warty skyscraper laid on its side. Some of the ships however, as exemplified by the Rocinante, are very cool on the inside.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: The Protogen executives and their backers, such as Dresden and Jules-Pierre Mao respectively.
  • Domed Hometown: It is mentioned that Martian cities are under domes.
  • Earth Is the Center of the Universe: Mars is in some ways more technologically advanced and both Mars and the Belt view themselves as independent of the home planet, but more educated people are pretty sure that they couldn't survive without access to the resources of the home planet.
  • Fantastic Racism: Earthers vs. Belters vs. Martians.
  • Fantastic Slurs: "Dusters" for Martians and "skinnies" for Belters.
  • Future Slang: Belter slang, which is a mix of various languages.
  • Generation Ships: None have been used yet, but there is one under construction.
  • Infant Immortality: Generally averted in the series, but also kept offscreen. Played straight for Mei, but averted again for Katoa.
  • Meat Moss: Anywhere the protomolecule has had time to take over ends up looking like something from Dead Space.
  • Mildly Military: Holden and his crew.
  • Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness: 4. Corey acknowledges in an interview that he/they wanted to make the universe plausible without letting the science get in the way of telling a good story. In their Reddit AMA, they say they're looking for "wikipedia-level plausibility".
    "We don't want the tech to pop anyone out of the story, but we do want all the cool stuff that comes with light delay and coriolis effect and variable gravity."
    • Hardness: slower-than-light travel, limited Stealth in Space, generally excellent physics where described.
    • Softness: ships powered by Applied Phlebotinum fusion reactors, almost everything about the protomolecule (which is acknowledged in-universe as being pretty close to magic, as it plays by very, very few of the rules people are used to).
  • No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: Averted with the Epstein Drive, which was recovered from plans kept by its inventor - who decided to test the first prototype with himself on board.
    "Solomon Epstein had built his little modified fusion drive, popped it on the back of his three-man yacht, and turned it on. With a good scope, you could still see his ship going at a marginal percentage of the speed of light, heading out into the big empty. The best, longest funeral in the history of mankind. Fortunately, he’d left the plans on his home computer."
  • Nuclear Option: Every major faction (Earth, Mars and the OPA) has access to nuclear weapons - and are willing to fire them in anger. Since the Colony Drop has become the new real weapon of mass destruction and nukes are mostly used for ship-to-ship combat, they're not as taboo as in real life.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: Of the type P or plague variety. The protomolecule uses them to vomit brown goo to further spread the infection.
  • Precursors: The creators of the protomolecule, who existed billions of years before humanity.
    • Precursor Killers: The thing that forced the original precursor aliens to lock down Ring Station. As of Nemesis Games they may be back because something is eating ships that go through the Ring.
  • Rail Guns: Part of the standard armament for military vessels.
  • The Sociopath: Amos Burton is basically one, but he tries to do right by following the lead of an ethical person.
  • Son of a Whore: Amos
  • Space Battle: Several
  • Space Pirates: Naturally. Mentioned a few times in the book but don't have much to do in the plot until the Belter radicals start seizing Martian Ships in Nemesis Games.
  • Space Station: Tycho Station
  • Status Quo Is God: The crew of the Rocinante remains unchanged over five books — it's just Holden, Naomi, Amos and Alex. In Nemesis Games Naomi mentions that their Plot Armor might not hold out forever and it would probably be a good idea to get some extra crew aboard just in case someone needs to take over someone's position in a crisis. By the end of the book it seems as if Bobbie Draper and Clarissa Mao might finally be permanent additions to the crew.
  • Stealth in Space:
    • Earth and Mars both have stealth ships in the sense that they're designed to not radiate heat; using radar in space is impractical due to the distances involved, so most everyone looks for heat signatures instead. Which means that using your engines gives you away immediately (lots of heat) and people frequently talk about "lighting up" everything around them by doing so.
    • Nemesis Games also mentions a special stealth coating that can be applied to ships which masks their radar signature. The "Free Navy" uses it to hide the asteroids they send to hit Earth.
  • Sufficiently Advanced Alien: The protomolecule and the other technology from the aliens, once it gets to work, is able to do things utterly impossible by the standards of human technology. It's able to ignore inertia, lock down maximum speed within an area of effect, disassemble ships piece by piece instantly, communicate at FTL speeds, and eventually form a wormhole to a hub of other wormholes. Several characters explicitly refer to the technology as God-like.
  • Terraform: A project to terraform Mars is ongoing, but it is currently still reliant on imports from Earth. The creators of the protomolecule apparently intended to use it to "alienform" the then primitive Earth.
  • Thrown Out the Airlock: Happens at least twice and is mentioned numerous times as appropriate punishment for especially unpleasant people.
  • Used Future: Many of the civilian spacecraft are described in such a way that you just know some crucial life-support system is being held together by duct tape.
  • The Virus: The protomolecule.
  • The War of Earthly Aggression: This is one of the things that the Belters are worried about, although they're more immediately worried about a War Of Martian Aggression. Mars itself has also prepared for war with Earth, both in terms of military buildup and running elaborate battle simulations.
  • United Nations Is A Super Power: The UN literally controls Earth and its armed forces.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: In universe example - Belters, and Martians to a certain extent, who grew up under low or micro-gravity are tall and skinny and look slightly deformed to people who grew up on Earth. Belters also have their own dialect that can make it difficult for "Inners" (Earthers and Martians) to understand what they're saying even when theoretically speaking the same language. It is speculated that many Inners don't even view Belters as real humans anymore and that is part of the reason why conflict has developed between them.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: Breaks out in Eros following the introduction of the protomolecule and lots and lots of radiation to the general populace. Happens again in Caliban's War.

     Leviathan Wakes 
  • All of Them
    Naomi: We’ve got ships on their way from all over the system.
    Holden: How many are coming?
    Naomi: At a guess? All of them.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The Nauvoo When the Protomolecule takes over Eros they try to use it to ram Eros into its sun.
  • Genius Loci: Eros Station after it's turned into an incubator for the protomolecule.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Miller and Julie.
  • Humanity Is Infectious: How Julie is able to retain control over Eros.
  • "I Know You Are in There Somewhere" Fight: Miller to Julie at the end.
  • Imaginary Friend: Miller starts having conversations with a hallucinatory Julie Mao.
  • Kansas City Shuffle: Holden's plan to intercept the missiles involves pulling this kind of con on the UN.
    Holden: We'll tell them we're going to trick them so they stop listening, and once they're not listening, we'll trick them.
  • Love Before First Sight: Miller to Julie Mao.
  • N.G.O. Superpower: Protogen, having enough firepower to bring down the Martian flagship with ease. But Reality Ensues when Earth and Mars learn they're responsible for Eros, and tear the company apart almost immediately.
  • Potty Failure: Julie Mao in the prologue.
  • Reality Ensues: The evil, corrupt Mega Corp. Protogen, an N.G.O. Superpower with enough political connections to let them push Earth to attack Mars, is seemingly invincible. Nope. They get outed as being responsible for Eros and go down almost immediately.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: A nameless Martian officer who learns about the protomolecule on Phoebe responds to it by immediately nuking the moon to atoms so no one else can use the damned thing.
  • Self-Destruct Mechanism: Used by the Donnager after it is boarded.
  • Shout-Out:
    "Razorback", Naomi said. "What's that?"
    "It's a sled," Miller replied.note 
    Julies's notes: Panic doesn't help. It never helps. Deep breaths, figure this out, make the right moves. Fear is the mind-killer. Ha. Geek.
    The food dispensers aboard ship can give you something that is not entirely unlike coffee.
  • The Sociopath: Several Protogen executives and staff are surgically altered into sociopaths to get past any thought of ethics when experimenting with the protomolecule.
  • Useless Spleen: When Holden is performing a sustained high-g burn, he complains about his spleen.
    Holden: My spleen is collapsing. Hurry up.
  • Wham Line: Eros shouted.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Holden gets these pretty often from just about everybody, as he tends to publically broadcast whatever everyone else is trying to keep secret and is personally responsible for two open conflicts as a result.
    • Miller also gets one when he shoots Dresden, an act which results in Holden disliking and distrusting him for the remainder of the novel.

     Caliban's War 
  • Adult Fear: The kidnapping of Prax's daughter Mei.
  • Artistic License – Physics: Bobbie's suit gun fires 2 mm rounds at "more than a thousand meters per second", which is treated as something awesomely powerful and being able to penetrate an entire ship. In reality, it's actually firing tiny bullets at a normal rifle velocity - the rounds would have roughly an order of magnitude lower momentum and kinetic energy than a modern assault rifle's.
    Cotyar: "Would the bullets even slow down as they went through both of the ship's hulls and let all the air out?"
    Bobbie: "Nope"
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: Avasarala is able to unravel almost the entire conspiracy simply by noticing Soren biting the inside of his cheek and extrapolating from there.
  • Dramatic Gun Cock: Deconstructed when Prax accidentally turns a Mexican Standoff into a Blast Out by cocking his gun, which he just thought was the appropriate thing to do in the situation from what he'd seen in movies.
  • Explosive Leash: The protomolecule-monsters are fitted with them. However, after the first one explodes, the others figure out how to remove them.
  • Gender-Blender Name: In a highly obscure example, Prax is named after Jupiter's moon Praxidike, which his parents didn't realize was named after a Greek goddess.
  • Glowing Eyes of Doom: The protomolecule monsters.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Admiral Nguyen's ship gets taken over by one of the protomolecule-monsters he launched at Mars.
  • Immune to Bullets: The protomolecule-monsters. Bullets pass right through them, and they heal immediately afterwards.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Holden grows a beard in an attempt to disguise himself. It fools exactly no one.
    Avasarala: What happened to his face?
    Soren: The reporting officer suggested the beard was intended as a disguise.
    Avasrala: Well, thank God he didn't put on a pair of glasses, we might never have figured it out.
  • Powered Armor: Bobbie's Goliath suit.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: The protomolecule monsters.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Avasarala. When she gets through an entire phone conversation with her boss without swearing, he knows something is badly wrong.
  • Super Soldiers: The protomolecule monsters.
  • Was Once a Man: The protomolecule monsters.
  • Weaponized Exhaust: Used by the Rocinante.

    Abaddon's Gate 
  • Apocalypse How: The Ring Station is capable of Stellar/Physical Annihilation.
  • Avenging the Villain: Clarissa Mao, seeking revenge for Jules-Pierre Mao.
  • Awesome but Impractical: The OPA dreadnought Behemoth - formerly the generation ship Nauvoo. The biggest spaceship ever built, turned into a giant battleship bristling with weapons ("the biggest, baddest weapons platform in the solar system"). Unfortunately, since she wasn't designed from the start to be a battleship, just firing one of its rail guns would probably tear the ship apart.
    "Apart from painting teeth on her and welding on an apartment building–sized sharkfin, nothing could have been more clearly or effectively built to intimidate. Which was good, because she was a retrofitted piece of crap, and if they ever got in a real fight, they were boned."
  • Badass Pacifist: Anna.
  • Batman Gambit: Clarissa's plan for revenge. That would have worked if not for a malfunctioning ship and Holden's decision to enter the ring.
  • Becoming the Mask: Clarissa/Melba.
  • Bio-Augmentation: Clarissa's glands.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Early on, Ren teaches Clarissa about how incorrectly installing a brownout buffer can bring down the whole power grid. This becomes a vital lesson for her in the ending.
  • Dirty Coward: Cortez.
  • Disability Superpower: The way Cohen perceives the world through his sonar glasses gives him an extraordinary ability to perceive and model 3D objects.
  • Good Shepherd: Anna.
  • Heel-Face Turn: Clarissa and, to a lesser extent, Michio Pa.
  • Heel Realization: Clarissa.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Bull's sacrifice, in the form of a You Shall Not Pass. Arguably, all of his actions after the slowdown.
  • Insane Admiral: Captain Ashford turns into this.
  • Invisible Aliens: The civilization responsible for the protomolecule disappeared billions of years ago.
  • Jerk Ass: Captain Ashford.
    "The captain was one of those guys who'd sneer without moving his mouth."
  • Low-Speed Chase: The Ring Station limits the speed of any object in its vicinity ("The Slow Zone") to a hard limit. This leads to a number of painfully slow (for spaceships) chases, as as any object going above the speed limit is instantly decelerated (see Not the Fall That Kills You below).
  • Make an Example of Them: Bull's first big act aboard the Behemoth is to space an otherwise harmless drug dealer. Just to "frame the issue" for the Belters.
  • The Mutiny: Happens on board the Behemoth. Several times, in fact.
    "So this is a coup," Monica said.
    "Counter-countercoup, technically," Bull said.
  • Not the Fall That Kills You: Averted. The effects of sudden deceleration are expanded upon in gruesome detail.
  • Out-of-Clothes Experience: Holden is naked in the mental projection created by Miller.
  • Portal Network: The Rings.
  • Restraining Bolt: The leg cuff put on Clarissa to stop her from using her combat implants.
  • Shout-Out: Electrochemical technicians Ren, Stanni, and Bob.
  • Tragic Villain: Clarissa. Which Anna is trying to change.
  • Virtual Ghost: Miller.

    Cibola Burn 
  • Ascended Extra: Havelock and Basia. Havelock appears, briefly, as Miller's partner in Leviathan Wakes, and Basia appears for a single scene in Caliban's War. Here, however, they are both POV characters who play a major role in the story.
  • Colonel Kilgore: Murtry.
  • Eye Scream: An alien organism starts taking up residence in the Ilus settlers' eyes, turning their vitreous humor green and blinding them.
  • Gaussian Girl: As part of the aftereffect of the Eye Scream organism that blinded her, Elvi notes that the world is still blurry, and thinks that it makes Fayez look like a movie star.
  • Mundane Utility: The Rocinante's railgun gets repurposed as an ersatz thruster, to stabilize their orbit.
  • Naming Your Colony World: The Belters name it Ilus, the RCE charters name it New Terra.
  • Punch Clock Villain: Wei is a perfectly nice person. Too bad she works for Murtry, and believes in the importance of doing her job...
  • Ragnarok-Proofing: Both played straight and averted. Straight in that Ilus still has a mostly working defense network and transport system after a billion years, averted in that most of the tech works barely if at all, and some of it fails spectacularly.
    "What is that?"
    "One of the moons."
    "What's it doing?"
  • Settling the Frontier: The theme of the book.
  • Springtime for Hitler: Avasarala and Fred Johnson's reason for sending Holden as the ambassador in the New Terra conflict was for him to be the Spanner in the Works they knew him to be; i.e, to show what a mess the whole space colonizing business to be. Instead, the colonization efforts prove successful, and now everyone's flocking to the wormholes and seeking their fortunes on other Earth-like planets; this in turn will lead to the collapse of Mars and the terraforming project they heavily invested in. And the one valuable resource that the Mars government has that they'll be able to sell to recoup their losses is their massive stockpile of nuclear weapons.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Later in the story, Alex (the pilot of the Rocinante) uses a ship-to-ship railgun to delete a single person in a light, barely-armored spacesuit.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: A 2kg slug shot out of the railgun at 5000 m/s will impart a net recoil on the firing ship of 10,000/[weight of ship in kg]. Which is to say, essentially nothing.

    Nemesis Games 
  • Apocalypse How: Planetary/Societal Collapse. The Earth is subjected to a Colony Drop that devastates much of the surface and starts an impact winter, effectively making the planet unlivable outside domed cities.
  • Arcology: Baltimore has a failed arcology that's now the headquarters of a local gangster.
  • Boarding Party
  • Category Traitor: How many Belters see Naomi and Fred Johnson's loyalists
  • Chekhov's Gun: The Razorback, Julie Mao's racing ship from Leviathan Wakes, is finally put to use.
  • The Chessmaster: Marco Inaros and Admiral Duarte.
  • Child Soldiers: 15-year-old Filip Inaros.
  • Colony Drop: Marco drops a number of high-speed radar-shielded rocks on Earth, killing billions.
  • The Conscience: Holden is revealed to be this for Amos, and Naomi realizes she's in trouble when an imaginary Amos becomes her inner voice of reason.
  • The Coup: The radical attacks divide the OPA into two major factions: Fred Johnson's government, which holds Tycho Station, and the Belter Free Navy, which holds Medina Station and a large pirate fleet in the outer belt.
  • Eldritch Abomination: At the very end, Naomi realizes that something is "eating ships" in the space between the Rings. Sauveterre's ship encounters it in the epilogue. It's possible that this creature is whatever killed the protomolecule masters.
  • Explosive Decompression: Averted when Naomi purposefully ejects herself out of an airlock without a spacesuit. She had been planning for it and knew how vacuum would affect her body. She even brings along a specialized emergency device Belters developed specifically for explosive decompressions: a self-injecting vial of oxygenated blood that gives you a few more seconds of consciousness in order to get to safety (or at least drifting in that general direction before passing out). She survives but the effects of prolonged exposure to the vacuum of space take a debilitating toll on her.
  • Extranormal Prison: "The Pit", a subterranean supermax prison for the bio-augmented.
  • Friendly Enemy: Amos and Erich spend most of the book fully prepared to kill one another if either of them makes a move, but they help each other more often than not and are on decent enough terms by the end.
  • Last Stand: Defied and played for laughs. Alex thinks Bobbie is about to make one when she realizes there isn't enough room in the Razorback for both of them as well as Prime Minister Smith — but she was just thinking of tearing out one of the crash couches so she'd fit, and is a little freaked out when she realizes Alex's assumption.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Discussed; once it becomes public that Marco is responsible for the attacks, Fred comments that he wouldn't have expected Marco to be capable of this kind of planning, and speculates that he probably has a puppet master somewhere. In the epilogue, we learn that he was right; everything was orchestrated by a rogue faction of the Martian Navy, led by Commander Duarte.
  • A Million Is a Statistic: Lightly subverted. Most of the novel is set amidst the backdrop of a cataclysmic terrorist attack. While the protagonists are clearly affected, they all have more immediate concerns, and the handwringing is kept to a minimum. Naomi is probably the most affected. And, playing with the trope, it's because of her relationship with the perpetrators of the attack, rather than the victims.
  • Missing Mom: Naomi abandoned her son, Filip, as a baby in order to escape Marco's control. Though, to be fair, this was done after she realized what an extremist Marco was. When she decided to leave him, Marco kidnapped Filip and used him as a bargaining chip to keep her around, while also spreading lies to everyone that Naomi was dangerous and unstable.
  • Out-of-Character Moment: Everyone, including himself, is shocked to see Holden actually keeping secrets instead of broadcasting them to the entire world.
  • Orbital Bombardment: Used by the Free Navy against Earth.
  • Revealing Cover Up: The attack on Tycho station is just a cover to steal the protomolecule.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: The Free Navy cares more about avenging the Belters' treatment than about creating a stable, sustainable future for the human race as evidenced by their catastrophic attack on Earth, the only body truly capable of sustaining human life over generations without assistance.
  • The Sociopath: Marco Inaros.
  • Thrown Out the Airlock: Naomi launches herself out of an airlock without a space suit.
  • Space Pirates
  • Starship Luxurious: The opulent, short-range shuttle that Amos and Clarissa fly to Luna.
  • Ungovernable Galaxy: The political structure of the system that had mostly stabilized over the course of the first four books (Earth, Mars, OPA, colony worlds) falls all to hell.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Between Alex and Bobbie.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Marco and the rest of the Free Navy
  • What Happened to the Mouse? / Karma Houdini: For now, at least — by the end of the book, Marco and his crew remain at large and play no part in the final leg of the story.
  • Working the Same Case: Alex, Naomi, and Holden all end up looking into the same mysterious missing spaceships for totally different reasons. (Amos's plot doesn't intersect theirs until everything becomes a lot less mysterious, though...)
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: Some of the radical Belters' grievances against the inner planets are legitimate, and they frame their attacks as an uprising.

Alternative Title(s):

Leviathan Wakes