Space madness is building; I can feel it wedged behind the congealed mass of Tootsie Rolls and pumpkin beer in the pit of my stomach.
With "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" in a mere six week's time, the announcement of a new "Star Trek" series coming to TV in 2017 and "Damon in Space" holding onto the box office lead a solid month after opening, spacey sci-fi looks set to start its own rollercoaster of pop-culture self exhaustion. We're on the upward curve with this one, so let's enjoy it before the inevitable crash, burn and replacement with a new screen fad (I'm bettin' on a string of '80s magical unicorn movies; the hour is NEIGH).
The piece of space fiction that's most caught my eye in weeks has actually been a book series, though one that's set to get the "Game of Thrones" treatment with its own television show premiering in December. "The Expanse" is a (rapidly expanding) series of space-opera novels. The series is currently five volumes deep with an additional four planned, as well as a handful of novellas thrown into the mix. So far I've only hammered through the first main series entry, "Leviathan Wakes," and it definitely shows promise.
"Leviathan" takes place a few hundred years into the future, when humans have expanded out into the solar system and set up various communities on various asteroids and moons, but haven't quite managed to break out into the stars above. The stretch out into space has driven mankind apart, with Mars colonists in a seemingly constant standoff with Earth over territory and a rogue band of asteroid inhabitants forming a militia in farther corners of the system.
The book's structure has it rotating between two primary characters: Jim Holden, an officer on a ship hauling blocks of ice between planets, and Ceres station police detective Miller. Anyone who's read the "Song of Ice and Fire" series will be pretty familiar with the narrative setup. The similarities make sense as "The Expanse's" author, James S. A. Corey, is a pen name of authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, the latter of whom worked for many years as George R. R. Martin's personal assistant.
Despite a large enough page count to let the book double as a makeshift bludgeon in a pinch (I actually used it to hammer in the wooden pegs on some Ikea furniture during a move), "Leviathan" is a pretty quick read. It's well-paced, and the quiet moments between action scenes do well at building up characters and developing the futuristic world they inhabit. "The Expanse" is never going to be confused with a series like "Dune" — this is quick, popcorny science fiction, but it's engaging and well-written.
Abraham and Franck are cranking out volumes at a record pace, with a new entry in the main series released every June for the past five years and another volume slated for June 2016. The Syfy channel is bringing the series to TV in December, but I honestly haven't paid much attention to hype surrounding that, other than seeing Thomas Jane (of "The Punisher" fame) cast as one of the main characters; it's a good fit in my eyes. "The Expanse" is certainly worthy of holding you over till "Star Wars" and the ensuing space gates open.
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