If you've already blown through The Expanse book series by James S. A. Corey (the pen name for authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck), then you've got some Expanse-less time to kill before the TV adaptation returns. Below are eight incredible books with complex narratives set in gritty futures that should hold you over until James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante come back for another adventure.
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The Skeen Trilogy
Not all protagonists are clear cut heroes. James Holden and company certainly aren’t. In Skeen’s Leap, Jo Clayton introduces us to a universe filled with shady characters that would make Detective Miller blush. Skeen is the definition of a rogue. She’s chaotic neutral. Wanted in more planets than she can count, she specializes in treasures and rich antiques. Like in The Expanse, our hero stumbles across alien technology that was better left untouched, and like many stories that involve the “you mess with it, you eventually have to save the universe” motto, Skeen gets more than she bargains for.
The Planet Killers
In many ways, The Expanse is a throwback to classic science fiction: Humanity exploring the stars, protagonists stumbling into a bigger story, and catastrophes ending the world. Robert Silverberg wrote extensively for several decades in the genre, and this trio of novels showcases his early work. In The Planet Killers, we’re up against the clock as a super computer acknowledges the exact date that Earth will end. In the second book in the series, The Plot Against Earth, we’re met with an interstellar conspiracy story featuring a hardboiled detective at the helm. The final installment in the trilogy, One of Our Asteroids is Missing, is tale of discovery and death. In our far future, our humanity will stay the same.
The Orphans Trilogy
Echoes of Earth
Need another dose of co-authored, galactic-sized science fiction? Echoes of Earth is the first of The Orphans Trilogy, a tightly written adventure full of futuristic technology and political intrigue. A wayfaring explorer ship, The Frank Tipler, comes across artifacts from an ancient race. Our accidental leader, Peter Alander, and the rest of the crew must figure out what to do with their new find, especially since they are on their own—Earth hasn’t returned a signal in many years. Sometimes, space reminds you of how little, and alone, you really are.
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For space pilots, it seems that the most mundane and boring assignments are the ones you have to worry about the most. After a near death experience that leaves him permanently scarred, Alex Romanov is transformed into a genetically modified pilot—which they call “specs.” Now, his single imperative is to keep his crew and his ship, The Mirror, safe no matter what. His first flight seems simple enough: Transport a few aliens on a sightseeing tour across the known human worlds. But what do you do when your crew is hostile to your new passengers? What happens when you have to fight against a shadowy enemy and your own crew? Maybe James Holden knows. Yeah, he definitely knows.
The Treasons Cycle Series
A Choice of Treasons
One of the coolest aspects of The Expanse universe is the focus, and realistic approach, to a futuristic space military … and the fallout of disobeying orders. If your favorite Expanse character is Bobbie Draper, you might want to snag a copy of A Choice of Treasons. Lieutenant York Ballin is the definition of a good officer: He obeys orders, he does his best to keep his soldiers alive, and he doesn’t do anything stupid. Humanity has a funny way of showing itself, though. What happens when those three values conflict with each other? Ballin must juggle the lives of his men, his mission, and himself as he is forced to accept one lose-lose situation after another. If the super technical aspects of The Expanse tickle your fancy, you’ll love this series.
The Red Rising Trilogy
At last, we arrive on Mars — a planet that's integral to the story of The Expanse. Pierce Brown’s recently completed space trilogy involves many themes familiar to fans of The Expanse: Clearly defined class systems; resource management conflicts; and, brewing rebellion among those in charge versus those who have nothing to lose. Enter the lowly Darrow, a miner on Mars who aspires to be something greater for himself and those around him. In this future, the class system is color-coded: Reds are the lowest and Golds are the highest. The main plot involves an infiltration of the Golds, and the rebellion that follows. If the struggle of the Belters is something that captured you, the story of Darrow and his allies will do the same.
C.J. Cherryh’s novel Downbelow Station also takes a detailed look at space combat and futuristic warfare. Downbelow Station is set in the larger Alliance-Union universe (which is well-worth exploring) and takes place during what is referred to as The Company War. Instead of colonizing the many planets of the nearby galaxies, the Earth Corporation creates a number of space stations to continue the outward expansion, one small step at a time. The further away you are from Earth, the more criticism of its corporation and policies you find. And thus, like most criticisms linked with discontent, there is resistance and rebellion; and like most rebellions, innocent parties find themselves hopelessly caught in the thick of it. Sound familiar, Expanse fans?
Dread Empire’s Fall Series
Space operas don’t get enough love these days (aside from Star Wars, of course), but The Expanse is trying hard to win people over. Ruthless and oppressive tyrannies, fading empires, and deeply complex webs of intrigue and deceit are all cornerstones of the genre, and Walter Jon Williams doesn’t disappoint. When the powerful Shaa species begins to die off, the Naxids who served them begin a struggle to overtake their overlords. But not everyone wants to stay in step with their new boss, and Terran's military, including our protagonists Caroline Sula and Gareth Martinez, are ready for the challenge. And like all futuristic transitions of power, it starts with an epic and extensive civil war. With the fate of humanity on the line, this series will keep you interested in shaky alliances, deep and dark secrets, and tough decisions. It’s just like another day in the life of anyone in The Expanse.
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Promotional poster for "The Expanse" via Syfy