Review: The Expanse by James S. A. Corey

The Expanse is a true episodic series, five books & assorted shorts so far and still going strong. It is not an expanded trilogy or a serial or a “holy-cow-they-liked-it-better-write-another” phenomenon. I have no idea if there is an end game in mind. Certainly there’s none in sight.  So far it is 6000 pages-plus of pure awesome. So much to be said about it. Most has been said already elsewhere and better, so I’ll be brief.

In case you’ve missed it, here’s the Goodreads blurb for the first in the series:
Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse #1) by James S.A. Corey
Humanity ha8855321s colonized the solar system – Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt and beyond – but the stars are still out of our reach.

Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, “The Scopuli,” they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for – and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why.

Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to “The Scopuli” and rebel sympathizer Holden, he realizes that this girl may be the key to everything.

Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations – and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe.

As sweeping as that one book sounds, the story gets bigger from there. And yet the focus stays tight on the people.

Speaking of people: the cast is huge, but the focus is so personal that you get to know all the players intimately well in turn.  The core characters are entertaining, unique individuals: not just archetypes but fully-realized people. Most of them are observant, self-aware and remarkably perceptive (but not all) and even the ones who seem to have their lives together have their blind spots and foibles.

Then there’s the world-building! <swoon> The realities of a future after humanity has populated the solar system are  presented so seamlessly that there are no “gee-look-SCIENCE” moments, no jarring intrusion of fact into fiction. And yet the vivid descriptions and brilliant action sequences all prove the writers did their homework on the physics, the biology, the sociology, the psychology….ALL THE OLOGIES!

And hey, not everyone is a white dude from the American West.(The one who is, is adorable and infuriating and gloriously, perfectly imperfect.) The plot doesn’t shrink away from racial issues, colonialism, and classism, but it doesn’t hammer the action flat with them either. Also, the writing is unabashedly idealistic in outlook even while it admits humanity is as likely to crash and burn at any second as it is to survive.

I can’t do a books-are-food analogy. The Expanse is a whole new freaking grocery store: one with a great produce section, a good butcher shop, and a huge selection of delicious new treats I want to try. I’m as excited by this as I was the first time I walked into a Trader Joe’s back in 1995.  I’ll keep coming back for new installments and I’ll bet you now that I will find something fascinating  and different each time.