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 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 (upcoming 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 TV series, produced by the SyFy channel, is currently in production.

The Expanse series contains examples of:

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     The series in general 
  • 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: Never actually used, but discussed a lot. Asteroid drops are the new Mutually Assured Destruction.
  • 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.
    • Hardness: slower-than-light travel, no 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.
  • Rail Guns: Part of the standard armament for military vessels.
  • The Sociopath: Several Protogen executives and staff, to get past any thought of ethics when experimenting with the protomolecule.
  • Son of a Whore: Amos
  • Space Pirates: Naturally. Mentioned a few times in the book but don't have much to do in the plot for the books currently released.
  • Stealth in Space: Earth and Mars both have stealth ships. It's a hard sci-fi version of stealth is based on not radiating any heat, which means that firing the engines gives them away.
  • 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.
  • Thrown Out the Airlock: Happens at least once and is mentioned numerous times as appropriate punishment for especially unpleasant people.
  • 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 - "real" Belters who grew up under low gravity are tall and skinny and look slightly deformed to people who grew up on Earth or Mars (apparently Mars' 1/3rd g is enough to avoid this effect?) They also have their own dialect that can make it difficult for "Inners" 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.
    • Also heavily used with Holden, whose constant self-righteous moments of Information Wants to Be Free immediately backfire and make things worse.
  • 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.
  • 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 human/protomolecule hybrids.
  • 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 
  • 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.
  • 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.

Alternative Title(s):

Leviathan Wakes