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I want to begin by saying that I stumbled across this series at a local bookstore that I patron. A wonderful store that sells new/used material at half the cost of a mainstream bookstore. The humorous part about the way that this series fell into my lap is worth noting. As my mother and I were shopping in this bookstore, I was looking for something light, adventurous, and attention holding. My attention to detail skills were lacking at that moment and I mistakenly picked up the fourth book in the series (Cibola Burn), and I completely missed the big, number "4" printed on the spine. Now that I have embarrassed myself, let me get into the first book that I finished late last year, Leviathan Wakes. I will also finish with a small comparison to the television series that the SyFy network ran for three seasons. Finally, I would just like to note that this book burned the eyeballs out of my head for a hundred pages or more at a time. This series has grasped my imagination with it's logic, growth, and well-written empathy that you feel for the characters. After having read Book 4 by mistake, I went onto Amazon and purchased all of the books in the series. I hope that you enjoy this review, now let's get started...
The backdrop for the story lies in the middle-distant future. Somewhere between what science fiction fans would understand as before warp engines were developed but after we had landed on mars and beyond. The book does not give you a definitive date, which I thought was clever, but it builds the time around the politics and people that are in the story. The human race has established Mars as a second Earth and has settled colonies beyond that in some of the many asteroid belts. Earthers, Martians, and Belters make up the now established races within our system. It would seem that the races that we know today are now merged into one of these categories and the standard continental races are no longer considered when it comes to ideas of racism. There are hints at some back story about Earth and Mars having been involved in a space war that resulted in the liberation of the Red planet, but the book never, fully explains who won or what was agreed upon. You can assume that the two planets united against each other and the various political platforms that resulted are key to the movement throughout the series thus far.
Book one, of course, introduces the major players that are involved in what makes The Expanse a must read. When you first learn of them, you begin to formulate your own opinions and thoughts about the different characters. You will, however, change those opinions over-and-over again as the story unfolds. James Holden, the main protagonist, is a discharged Navy sailor that now hauls ice for a company called Clean N' Pure. He works his shifts as second in command alongside Naomi Nagata, Amos, and Alex. You have no clue what these three are about to go through together, and I will in no way spoil that part with a simple review. The character development by this author is, by far, the most enjoyable portion of the series, but if my word is anything it will be unlike anything you have ever read before. You come to fall in love with these heroes, what they become, and how the grow. So, there is an incident that draws the Canterbury (the ice hauler that they all work on) over to a neighboring system. A distress call in space means that the nearest ship, regardless of orientation, stops what they are doing to assist. I enjoyed that part of the humanity, because I remember reading something similar when researching the Titanic for a history project in high school. After they arrive, the story grips your psyche and never loosens the grip. In fact, the grip tightens when you near the climax of the story when the group (which has been changed) journey's to the asteroid-born, space station, EROS.
Now, as with all of my reviews about any book or movie that I have read or watched, I will try not to spoil the larger parts of the story, but will try to keep my focus on the "how." James S.A. Corey is actually a two man team that writes under one name, and you can derive that this series has had a great deal of time and effort put into everything surrounding it. I found one, maybe two, grammar and/or spelling errors in this first book. The cover is subtle, yet once you have read the story, will hold a deeper meaning to you. I cannot really explain that feeling. When I was finished, I had the mixture of feelings that I was tired from the journey but also craved the next adventure. Currently there are seven installments and the eighth is set for release in March of this new year. I was attempting to read them all before the new one was released, but then concluded that it would cheapen this story that I have come to fall in love with like I had written it myself.
If I had to choose one aspect about The Expanse that stood out to me more than any other, it would be where the author chose to put the focus. Unlike the illustrious Star Trek series (the exception would be Deep Space 9), the ships and the exploration are very "logical" and stay away from the polished version of space that you infer from Star Trek. I am a fan of this series, of course, but you only get a verbal history of how that age came about. If you are a trekkie, then you know full well the story of First Contact, and the award winning film that the industry produced in honor of that line. The Expanse takes you into the world that would exist after Zephram's flight, but without the warp drive. The most powerful ships in The Expanse are powered by something called an Epstein drive, and it is reserved for warships and those with endless pockets. The reason that I say that the story is produced logically is that the author takes into account not only the exploration side of humanity, but more so, the survival of the race once it has colonized a specific target. James Holden begins the story as the second on an "Ice Hauler." The human race cannot simply produce H2O on whatever planet they arrive on, or on an asteroid, so they need to fly ships around to collect space ice. They haul the ice to local stations where the ice is melted and then filtered into potable water. Call me weird, but that sort of writing instantly sinks its hooks into my nerd brain. It would be like watching a zombie movie, where the survivors kill some badly-intentioned, fellow survivors, and never pick up the weapon or the ammo or the food or the gas. You see my point. Well, The Expanse considers this and gives you the satisfaction of knowing that the characters are not stupid, they may not be educated is some cases, but they have brains and a ship load of heart.
In closing, I would recommend this to anyone that loves to read a phenomenal fictional epic. I would go as far as to recommend it to all readers, but there are cynics out there that stick to one genre. The story flows, but there are extremely, rare times where the author is a bit wordy. These moments are quickly forgotten, and every word in this series matters to the story as a whole. Every picture that the author holds up to you and says, "This is important, so I am going to explain it to you..." is, in fact, important to the story.
I hope that you enjoyed this review. The goal here was not to retell the entire story but encourage you to go out and get a copy. I will say that there is a heartbreaking interaction between two characters at one point, Holden and Miller. I literally felt a pain in my chest and teared up a little when going through that specific scene, and it left me hurting for the rest of the day. A writer that powerful is what I, as a writer, am aspiring to be myself, one day. With that, thank you to anyone that reads this, and I hope to post some more from the series shortly. I am currently working through Book Two (and I have already read Book Four).
Final note, the television series is a load of hot garbage. If you want to watch the show, DO NOT READ THE BOOK; it will only let you down like an oxygen starved rock being thrown into an open ocean in search of breath. Objectively, you could enjoy the series without knowing about the books and still be let down. The cast is amazing, but whoever was in charge of book-to-screen adaptation should never be allowed to work in the film industry again. I will be reviewing the show in length, and that will contain heavy spoilers. There will be a reason for that, but do not read that review until you have read the first book.
This series is now a part of my life, and I find that it is helping with my disdain for the human ego. Those that know me understand what I am referring to. Have a wonderful New Year, and let's correct the shortfalls of 2018.