Book review: Will Syfy’s ‘The Expanse’ be its next ‘Battlestar Galactica’?

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A few months ago, the Internet was abuzz with the news that Syfy, which seemed to have lost itself its way amid a slurry of hilariously bad B-movies and disappointing sci-fi shows, was hoping to return to its roots with The Expanse – a new space opera based on a series of books written by James S.A. Corey. The first season is expected to follow the events of the first book in the trilogy, Leviathan Wakes. Book two (Caliban’s War) and book three (Abaddon’s Gate), will follow if the series proves successful.

So what is The Expanse? What can we expect from this show, given the subject matter of the books, and will it herald Syfy’s return to a sort of glory that it hasn’t seen since Battlestar Galactica?

I’ve read the first two books in the trilogy, and I’m here to tell you that yes, this could be Syfy’s next smash hit.

As soon as news broke about Syfy’s intentions to adapt The Expanse, phrases like “Game of Thrones in space” started being hurled around, and not without reason; James S.A. Corey is not a single writer but a team, made up of Daniel Abraham and George R.R. Martin’s assistant, Ty Franck.

The first book, Leviathan Wakes, concerns a long-brewing conflict between the Inner and Outer planets; earth, now something of a stagnant backwater planet, has allowed its alliance with Mars, the Belters (miners and surveyors living inside the larger rocks in the asteroid belt), and the rest of the solar system to deteriorate, and now the entire galaxy seems to be poised on the verge of all-out war. Hostilities reach a fever pitch after James Holden, whose ship was destroyed under mysterious circumstances, practically starts a war single-handedly.

While all of this is going on, an accidental discovery threatens to release a horrific, long-forgotten secret into the galaxy, raising the stakes even higher as the spectre of total war begins to loom.

Having read the first two books, I can tell you that the scope of the story does indeed rival that of Game of Thrones; these writers have built a far-future galaxy that feels truly lived in – no small feat – with hundreds of years of rich history. The influence of George R.R. Martin is unmistakable in the political machinations of the story, as well as in the personal strife of the main characters. You’ll also get used to unanswered questions; the bulk of Leviathan Wakes reads like a noir-style mystery, full of missing persons, shady dealings, and plenty of people obsessed with chasing closure, answers, loved ones, or all three.

Granted, you shouldn’t expect a cast of characters nearly as vast as Game of Thrones. The series makes use of “point of view characters,” much like Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, but the first book in the series mostly switches back and forth between only two of them. Caliban’s War ramps it up a bit and introduces several new characters to the cast.

People excited about the upcoming adaptation have also been saying of the series: it’s “as close as you’ll get to a Hollywood blockbuster in book form.” I’d agree with that assessment; these books are tense and action-packed, despite being brilliantly paced, and I frequently found myself wondering which, if any, of the main characters would get out of their current predicament alive. It’s a pretty good trick to play on a reader, considering how many of these characters, by necessity, have a kind of plot armor that George R.R. Martin’s characters can only dream of.

I really couldn’t be more excited that Syfy is getting back into space operas. I was a pretty huge devotee of Battlestar Galactica, up to and including its controversial series finale. If they do it right, The Expanse could very well scratch a very specific itch that science fiction fans have had to endure for far too long.


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