James S. A. Corey – Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse, Book 1)
The Expanse is a science fiction show I recently discovered and rather enjoy. People began colonizing the solar system a few centuries before the series begins. Earth is under a global UN government and prosperous, if corrupt. Mars declared its independence some time ago. It was not peaceful, and tension lingers. Out in the, ahem, expanse of the asteroid belt and beyond is where this book takes place.
People have colonized asteroids, several moons around Jupiter and Saturn, and built several major space stations. Roughly 100 million people live in the Belt, but is small and backwards compared to Earth’s 30 billion population. Resources such as air and water are precious, and despite incredible solar system-wide wi-fi, the Belt isn’t as prosperous as the inner planets. Life is hard and dangerous, and a lot of decent people are also kind of sketchy; they have to be. Life expectancy for Belters is just 68, compared to 123 on Earth. native-born Belters are noticeably taller and skinnier than Inners due to growing up in lower gravity, marking them apart physically as well as culturally. They have been in space long enough to develop their own distinct patois, which is one of several nice touches that describe their growing cultural distance from Earth.
The Belters do not have an independent nation, but there is an IRA-style independence movement, the Outer Planet Alliance, or OPA. It is decentralized, uncoordinated, often violent, doesn’t necessarily have a clear leader, and is prone to factions and infighting. Inner planet governments have various interests and presences throughout the Belt. Sometimes they treat Belters well, and sometimes they don’t. Same with numerous mining companies, security contractors, and other businesses.
The protagonists are a plucky four-person ship crew who have origins from across the system, plus a hard-boiled Belter ex-detective from Ceres Station. They have different personality types and different philosophies, and while they are mostly good they also have their flaws. Through no fault of their own, they find themselves right in the middle of these tricky geopolitical dynamics. They try to stop a brewing system-wide three-way war while dealing with a number of other potentially lethal plot developments.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is enough of a fan that when the SyFy channel declined to renew The Expanse for a fourth season, he brought the show over to Amazon’s Prime streaming service. I enjoyed watching the first three seasons recently, and saw that the books on which it is based were on sale. The show is not a shot-for-shot remake of the books, though some parts did read like a retread. On the plus side, books have fewer space, time, and special effects budget constraints than television, so the characters and the fictional universe are developed more fully than in the show. The science parts of the science fiction are not this series’ drawing card, but they are more thoroughly explained and are apparently quite accurate, at least by speculative fiction standards.
I enjoyed it enough that I will continue with the book series, and will carve out some time for the tv show’s new season when that comes out later this year. Highly recommended if you’re into that sort of thing.