The Expanse was published as a series of nine books written by James S. A. Corey, a joint pen name of Daniel Abraham and Ty Frank. It is set in a science fiction future in which humanity has colonised much of the solar system, with the development of distinct cultures on Earth, Mars, and the Outer Planets. The story starts with the crew of the Rocinante, a missing person investigation, political intrigue, and alien technology, and covers a range of themes from political organising to terrorism, all the way up to civilisation-scale economic and social change.
The authors have added a further nine novellas and short stories. It has been adapted into a six-season TV series, comics, roleplaying and board games, and an upcoming Telltale game. There is also a podcast that goes into more detail about each episode of the TV series (amongst many other topics) with Ty Frank and Wes Chatham, the actor who plays Amos.
It has been over ten years since the publication of the first novel. After season three of the show, there was a fan-led campaign to save it following its cancellation by SyFy. It was later picked up by Amazon – reportedly after the intervention of Jeff Bezos. The popularity of The Expanse has been part of a wider resurgence of science fiction, reaching a broader audience and cultural significance. Across both the books and the TV series, The Expanse pays homage to classic science fiction and other genres like horror. What started as a text-based role-playing game has grown into a multi-layered universe of speculative fiction. The series imagines what would happen with human societies spread throughout the solar system, bringing the contradictions of today into the future.
This collection is the result of an open call for submissions aiming to discuss The Expanse from multiple angles and approaches. We have brought together a collection that reflects on both the series and books, as well as the roleplaying game.
In “Neck Tattoos, Melting Glaciers, and Blue Goo”, Lauren Bender critically discusses the aesthetics of The Expanse. The essay digs into the design choices made for the TV show, particularly focusing on the ships, as well as the environments and wardrobe choices. Lauren explores how and why these choices were made, as well as the impact they have on the way the future is portrayed in The Expanse.
For “Expanse Fandom: Beyond the Material Plane”, John Bultena discusses the fan culture that has sprung up around The Expanse, noting how, unlike many other sci-fi franchises, there is comparatively little merchandising available. This has led to a flourishing of DIY culture, which can particularly be seen with the roleplaying game and the actual play of Abraxas’ Precipice, for which John is the game master.
Following on from this, there is a roundtable discussion of Abraxas’ Precipice, available on YouTube. Josh Simons hosts the cast, John Bultena, Donna Prior, Scott Mitchell, and Maria Moore as they reflect on storytelling within The Expanse.
Mary B Smith discusses “Heroism in The Expanse” in the next chapter. It focuses on Holden and Amos as different kinds of examples of heroes, examining the different moments in which they interact or respond differently in the story.
For “The Expanse or: How Holden Kept Worrying and Learned to Embrace Division”, Horst Trenkwill-Eiser explores the catastrophes in relation to our own historic and contemporary crises, providing a way to reflect on and unpack the politics of the series. Horst roots the series in the politics of the post-9/11 world order, criticising the ultimately limited political horizons portrayed in The Expanse.
Heather Clitheroe and Mark A. McCutcheon’s contribution “We should have brought a poetry grad student”, explores class in the series in relation to both higher education and organised labour. In particular, they draw out the representation of higher education and the role it plays within different factions, as well as the use of poetry within The Expanse.
In “The Politics of the Anthropocene: Environment and Society in The Expanse”, Davide Mana explores the themes of climate change and environmental crisis through The Expanse. Davide argues that it provides a warning against attempts to control the environment, particularly when then used as a part of social and political control.
For “The Expanse: On the Cyclical Nature of History”, Grigor (John) Velkovsky discusses the politics of the factions in The Expanse. The analysis takes in each of the factions, before moving on to discuss the role of ideology, history, and technology in the series.
John Roselli explores the characters in “The Heart of The Expanse: Discovering Humanity in the Void.” John argues that the appeal of the series can be found in the complex relationships between the characters and their development. This includes the powerful redemption arcs, particularly against the horrors of the series more widely.
In “The Future Society of The Expanse”, Marcin Stolarz explores the story in relation to the current crisis in Ukraine. Marcin discusses the refugee crisis in The Expanse that follows the bombing of Ganymede. Comparing this to the recent Polish response to Ukrainian refugees, it explores the presentations of humanitarian crises and what we can learn from this.
In the final chapter, Jamie Woodcock discusses “Work, Horror, and The Expanse.” Jamie details the strength of the series in its representation of work. This is compared to Alien, an important inspiration for The Expanse, which combines horror with a story that relies on blue-collar work. Jamie concludes that the horror ultimately wins out, leading to a story that revolves around a small group of protagonists, rather than a wider social transformation that we see the possibilities of at the start.