In 2011, a book called Leviathan Wakes was released from Orbit Books, written by James S.A. Corey—a pen name for bestselling sci-fi authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. Weighing in at nearly 600 pages, Leviathan Wakes introduced readers to the world of The Expanse: a future vision of our very own solar system, in which humanity has conquered the outer belt in addition to the inner planets. In this future universe, tensions rise between Earth and Luna, Mars, and the moons and Asteroid Belt (“the Belt”) beyond the warm embrace of the inner planets. For all that we have accomplished to colonize the solar system, squabbling over resources and limitations of travel technology make deeper space penetration beyond humanity’s reach—and tensions rise between Earth and her natural wealth, Mars and her powerful navy, and the resource-exploited and defenseless Belt.
In Leviathan Wakes, we are introduced to two main characters. One of them is Jim Holden, XO of an ice-mining vessel in the wrong place at the wrong time when they discover a damaged ship called The Scopuli. Something very, very bad has happened to the crew of The Scopuli—and a similarly horrible fate awaits Holden, and anyone else who discovers Scopuli’s secret. We are also introduced to a down-on-his-luck, heavy-drinking, Bogart-esque detective named Miller. Miller’s latest case is to find the heiress to a major corporation; a woman who has suddenly disappeared after building a life for herself on The Belt, and who has ties to The Scopuli and the experiments the derelict ship concealed….
When I first read Leviathan Wakes, which was immensely entertaining if somewhat repetitive and archetypal in character development, my immediate thought was that the book was written in a very cinematic style, that this would be an awesome film or TV show. And wouldn’t you know it, the SyFy channel picked up The Expanse for its own and is commencing the airing of season 1 this December. The first episode, “Dulcinea” (available via streaming services since 11/23) officially makes its TV debut this week on December 14, followed by the second episode “The Big Empty” on December 15. (I’ve watched “Dulcinea” and it’s a nice blend of Battlestar Galactica with a little Game of Thrones in the mix).
And what better way to celebrate the airing of these two episodes than to get in the mood with other awesome books in the same vein? This is a list for anyone interested in The Expanse, and where to go next in similar universes.
Leviathan Wakes, Caliban’s War, Abbadon’s Gate by James S.A. Corey. Obviously, the list has to start with the Expanse series itself. I’m listing just the first three books in the series, as it seems (at least from the pilot episode) that these are going to be the major arc focus for the series. We’re already introduced to characters from Caliban’s War (book 2) in “Dulcinea,” so I’m very, very excited to see how the TV show mixes things up.
Red Rising, Golden Son,Morning Star by Pierce Brown. This soon-to-be complete trilogy from Pierce Brown examines some of the same tensions present in The Expanse: the stratification of classes based on wealth, position in the solar system, and physical and genetic traits (both evolved and engineered). It also should resonate with readers who like dramatic action set against the brilliant backdrop of outer space, and the highest of stakes.
Salvage and Sound by Alexandra Duncan. These books represent feminist, diverse science fiction to the utmost degree. Alexandra Duncan’s companion novels focus on a far future, in which humanity has taken to the stars but Earth remains an overcrowded option and home for the novels’ protagonists. Things aren’t pretty in this future, and like The Expanse, political tensions and social inequality are deeply unseated. These are action-filled and thought-provoking books, and I highly recommend them.
Ark by Stephen Baxter. Of all the great hard science-fiction authors writing today, Stephen Baxter is one of my absolute favorites. Ark shows us a future in which the Earth has been consumed by flooding (a subterranean ocean escapes and overwhelms most of Earth’s landmass), and a last-ditch effort at humanity’s survival by setting course for a hopefully habitable planet elsewhere in the galaxy. The shifts that the crew of the fated Ark experience over the course of the years and the changes to humankind are very much in line with the division between Belters and others in The Expanse—plus this is just a damn good book.
Red Planet Blues by Robert J. Sawyer. Want some noir-ish mystery to go along with your science fiction (à la Detective Miller and his hunt for the missing heiress)? Red Planet Blues follows a gumshoe who gets his business from the very rich, the very corrupt, the very desperate, and androids. It’s not the deepest work of mystery fiction, but if you want some Chandler-esque action on Mars, with a little Philip K. Dick thrown in the mix, this one’s for you.
The Empress Game by Rhonda Mason. Oh, I loved this book very much. In a future, expanded universe united under a single Empire, the Empress apparent is chosen in a contest of physical prowess. Kayla Shadowpanthe enters the Empress Game under duress, in order to protect the mystery of her own lineage as well as her younger brother. Complex politics, sweeping space opera, and in-depth discussions of responsibility and revenge make The Empress Game an awesome comp to The Expanse.
Edge of Dark by Brenda Cooper. This was an unexpected surprise for me in 2015—a smaller-released book that grapples with ostracization of subhuman AIs to the glittering darkness of space, and the reckoning that occurs when those abandoned children turn home.
Lightless by C.A. Higgins. Another big surprise for 2015 was this debut novel from physicist C.A. Higgins, which captures beautifully some of the questions of governance and rebellion seen so prominently in The Expanse. Plus, you know, sentient spaceships, discussions of entropy, and a mastermind sociopathic interrogator make for fascinating reading.
Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. One of my absolute favorite books of the year, Illuminae is a wholly engrossing epistolary novel that defies genre stereotypes, particularly for YA science fiction. And, this novel also encapsulates just how horrible the greed of corporations (and the willingness to do anything to silence whistleblowers) can be, very much in the same line as The Expanse. Absolutely, wholeheartedly, enthusiastically recommended.
There you have it! Our list of recommended reading to satisfy your hunger for more books in the line of The Expanse. Any other suggestions or thoughts?