You probably don’t have to be a fan of The Expanse series of novels by James S.A. Corey (the pen name of collaborators Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) to be a fan of the television series. But, I think it helps.
I became a fan of the television series first, watching the first three seasons that aired on SyFy. Along the way, I began reading the book series, and, at the moment, I’m finishing up the third novel Abaddon’s Gate. The television series helped ease me into the books, I think, giving me physical models to base everything in the fictional book world upon. In return, the books gave me a lot more information that made it easier for me to understand what was going on in the series, and what each of the characters was thinking. I suppose it’s possible to enjoy one without the other, but I can no longer be trusted to be objective on the matter. For me, the two are now inextricably entwined.
I believe that much of the fourth season of The Expanse, which was renewed by Amazon after being cancelled by SyFy, is based upon the novel Cibola Burn, which I haven’t read yet. After watching this season, I’m looking forward to beginning the book. It’s become that much of a symbiotic relationship to me.
Amazon—bless their hearts—have renewed the series for a fifth season, for which I am thankful (and for which I will renew my Amazon Prime membership, which is part of their strategy, I suspect). I would like for the renewals to continue as long as story remains to be told. But, if the show is cancelled for a second time, at least I know I’ll have more novels to read. The upcoming—and still untitled—ninth novel may be the last in the series, but we’ll see. There are also eight related novellas and short stories out there that the completist in me will eventually demand that I read as well.
Like many fans of the series, I was concerned that the move from cable to the Amazon streaming platform would result in unnecessary changes to a program I already loved. With the exception of a little more salty language—not excessive—the soul of the series remains intact. It is the same show I’ve been watching, for all intents and purposes.
The season’s story arc is adroitly set up. Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) asks the crew of the Rocinante, our favorite stolen Martian gunship, to travel through the ring gate system introduced during Season 3 to travel to the planet Ilus. The planet was settled by independent Belters, who are now in a territorial dispute with the RCE, which stands for Royal Charter Energy group. This is the galactic (or is it “intergalactic”?) gold rush, with everyone trying to stake their claim.
Some of this may sound too much like Star Warsian Trade Federation plotlines to the veteran science-fiction aficionado. I’ll admit that the political/economic side of The Expanse is far from my favorite parts of the series. At the same time, I think it’s necessary to ground my favorite parts—the interpersonal conflicts, the rah-rah teamplay, sci-fi violence and sufficiently-advanced-science-as-to-be-indistinguishable-from-magic—in some sort of “reality.” This is science-fantasy, not hard science fiction, but I’m okay with that.
We are reunited with our old team. Holden (Steven Strait), the captain of the Roci. Naomi (Dominique Tipper), the ship’s engineer and Holden’s ladyfriend. Amos (Wes Chatham), the ship mechanic, a guy who manages to appear cuddly and homicidal at the same time. And, Alex Kamal (Cas Anvar), the pilot. In both the television series and the novels, I’m always most content when I’m spending time with the crew of the Rocinante. This team always seems to be on-stage for the primary plot points.
A version of Joe Miller (Thomas Jane) also returns this season, but he mostly seems to be either a sock puppet controlled by the protomolecule or Holden’s imaginary friend. Captain Drummer (Cara Gee) and her XO Klaes Ashford (David Strathaim) also play a part in the ring drama this season. Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams) gets her own individual story arc as she scrounges for work on a rapidly declining Mars and finds herself embroiled in illegal activity. Her storyline is mostly frustrating until it leads to her path crossing Avasarala’s again.
The main story is what’s happening on Ilus. It’s Belters vs. Big Business (in the form of the RCE), and the Big Bad of the season is the RCE chief of security Adolphus Mutry (Burn Gorman), who is a familiar villain I remember from the AMC series Turn: Washington’s Spies. Holden and team get involved, and after being prodded to take action by the Joe Miller ghost, do what seems to have become a habit with this crew: They make everything worse. Holden wakes up some ancient alien machines on the planet and, for a time, it looks like everyone on Ilus will be killed.
There’s a lot going on during the season. If you haven’t watched the series yet, I would suggest starting at the beginning or you will be totally lost in the complicated, layered plot. Avasarala finds herself with a new political opponent. Dummer and Ashford cross paths with Naomi’s long-lost ex (and her equally long-lost son). Bobbie is a badass with or without an exo-suit. And, the meat of the season, the story centered on Ilus and Holden’s crew, is thrilling and satisfying.
As always, the special effects are impressive and realistic. While the lion’s share of the science represented on the program seems well-researched and factual, I’ll not make the same mistake some reviewers have made in labeling this series as “hard science fiction.” I still think of it as “science-fantasy.” This is not intended to be an insult. It’s the same category that Star Trek and Star Wars fit into, and that’s pretty good company.
I like The Expanse, and don’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone who likes a little space opera in their lives.
Firewater’s Oye-Beltalowda!-This-Is-Your-Moment! Report Card: A
If the Battlestar Galactica reboot rocked your world even a little bit, this one’s made for you, too. And the novels.