Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
About seven months ago, a kid I work with told me about a science fiction TV show he thought I’d enjoy. It was a little something called “The Expanse.” It had a great premise. The only problem was that it was on the Syfy channel.
If you’re not familiar with Syfy, until they rebranded themselves a few years ago, they were the Sci-Fi Channel, a cable station nominally devoted to science fiction television. The only problem is that … their programming was terrible. If you need an example of their garbage programming, they’re the folks behind Sharknado. The fact that they changed their name to “Syfy” should tell you everything you need to know. But I was assured, by my coworker, that this one series was the shining gem of the network and that it was worth watching. And, boy howdy, was he right.
The series is set a few centuries in the future. There’s a united Earth, under the UN. There’s a colonized Mars, attempting to terraform, and there’s The Belt, the people who live and work in the asteroid belt. They are the Third World of the solar system. They have their own culture, their own language, their own society, and they are perpetually under the boot of the Inner Planets. The series centers on two main characters, James Holden, who begins the series as XO of an ice freighter, and Miller, a hard-boiled detective who lives on one of the inhabited asteroids in The Belt.
“The Expanse” television series is a masterpiece. It’s superbly done. The production details are exquisite. It is everything I want from a science fiction television show. My wife and I quickly burned through the first season, which was available on Amazon Prime. That was in February or so. I didn’t want to pay for the second season, which we calculated (correctly) would come onto Prime when the third season premiered on television, so we held off.
But wanting more, more, more, I began reading the books, of which there are currently seven, with another coming in December and a final book in 2019.
The overwhelming majority of science fiction I’ve read was written in the 20th century. The great masters of the genre all did their work in the 20th century, mostly before I was born. I think the last science fiction book I read from this century was The Martian. It was refreshing having a work with modern trappings: computers, coding, cell phones (called “hand terminals”), and something resembling the Internet (and Internet culture) all play a role in the story.
For me, Leviathan Wakes was not only a masterpiece but a breath of fresh air. It is everything I want a science fiction work to be. The world-building is rich and robust. The characters move me. And the authors (James S.A. Corey is a nom de plume for Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) understand how science fiction works because they’re keen observers of history and human nature.
Allow me to explain. Great science fiction works thusly: Technology and circumstances change; social patterns, customs, and habits form around those changes; but human nature stays the same. People do what they always do. So to understand and create great science fiction, one must understand human nature.
The authors do this masterfully. They will tell you this is not “hard sci-fi” because there is no math. True, but they do fully account for gravity, which is the real dividing line. (It also means that the space combat is realistic.) There seems to be no aspect of the technology of living and working and fighting for centuries in space that they have not thought of. And not only is the technology there, but the culture of The Belt is built around those conditions. For example, Belters are always fastidious, especially about changing air filters. (Because, if you slack off, everyone dies.) It’s a hard life living in space, and it’s bred a culture of hard people.
I finished the seventh of these monster tomes (they are 500+ pages) on Monday night. It is all I’ve read for the last seven months. There’s a reason for that: these books are superb. (When Season 2 of the television series came onto Prime, I stopped 10 minutes into the first episode, because I was blurring characters and plot lines.)
I cannot recommend them enough.
Addendum: The certified geniuses at Syfy wouldn’t know a good thing if they saw it, so they canceled the series after the third season. Or maybe they realized the series was too good to be on their terrible network. (The truth is that it was expensive to produce and they only made money on the first-run viewing, not on streaming.) It was promptly picked up by Amazon, which knows a masterpiece when it sees it.