If you’ve been watching the Sci-fi show the Expanse and can’t wait for season 4, you might want to pick up the books. There are a whopping 9 books to go through, a few novellas with characters background stories, and more books are planned.
The books have more in-depth background stories, lots of inner monologues, and there are more characters. The TV-show is faster paced, doesn’t include all characters, and is taking a different direction compared to the books.
So what’s so appealing about the show? The first thing that comes up to mind that it’s very realistic. The technology isn’t far-fetched and the science is done right (most of the time). The characters in the Expanse are stuck in our solar system. No fancy warp-speed, ‘just’ the Epstein drive which still takes months to get to Venus.
Secondly, the politics are very intriguing. Earth, Mars and the Belt (OPA). They may have left Earth but the didn’t solve the problems humanity faces now and then.
The big differences between the series and the books
Whelp… Avasarala doesn’t swear that much on TV, she occasionally gives me a good chuckle. You can tell the authors (James, a pseudonym for Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) are actively involved. There aren’t any significant differences between the Expanse books and the TV show.
The world building, characters and technology/science from the books are translated very well onto the screen. There’s a difference in tone. The book’s language has been cleaned up for the TV show and the overall tone is a bit darker.
There are some minor details that are different such as characters that are left out in the show or how gravity (or the lack of) isn’t emphasized much as in the books. The lack of gravity wells is quite a thing in the books but from a production and CGI viewpoint and I can imagine it’s problematic to shoot everything in faked zero-G.
The books contain many inner monologues, lots of stuff going on in the character heads like Miller and Holden but that doesn’t translate well onto the screen. No major plot changes in general until now, but as of mid-season 2, the show is going in a slightly different direction.
Books characters VS show cast
Some characters appear on the show that aren’t mentioned in the books where the books have characters that aren’t in the show. Chrisjen Avasarala makes her appearance in the first season but only is introduced in book 2. Same goes for Drummer, Fred’s assistant isn’t mentioned until Nemesis Games (book 5).
Belters also seem to appear more earth-like in the show. Belters are tall and slim with proportionally larger heads, because of the lack of gravity they’re raised in. In the show, you hardly see actors that look like Belters (although there are a few that come close like the Belter Avasarala tortures and the prostitute Miller visits). To be fair, it’s probably hard to get actors who have Belter-like features as we’re all stuck in this gravity well.
Amos just follows the captains orders where the show often shows friction between Holden and Amos, at least in the first season. This makes their relationship much more interesting in the show.
Holden is obnoxiously self-righteous in the first book which starts to tone down in book 2 as he gets more experienced. The show depicts some of his idealistic behavior, but less than the books. James Holden also is given a different background story. It isn’t a big deal though, both narratives work well.
The spy on Eros isn’t mentioned in the books but makes the show more interesting to watch.
After season 2 episode 6 the show seems to be taking a different direction. Some characters from the book are left out and Drummer seems to be merged with a few characters from the books (like Bull for example). I personally think this is a great move, she’s a great character and we can enjoy her even more.
I’ve watched season 1, 2 and 3. Can I just skip the first three books?
No, period. You really shouldn’t skip the books as the show timeline is slightly different. The first season on TV only covers about half of the first book Leviathan Wakes. Season 2 is fairly behind the second book. If you start reading Calibans war (third book) you’ll probably be clueless.
Are the books better than the show?
Difficult one to answer I personally can’t pick sides here, so why not both? You’ll get more background info in the books and the storyline goes a bit more into detail but somehow the show really nails the book’s narrative. It’s perfectly ok to first watch the show and then read the books or vice versa. I don’t regret reading the books, it helps to understand the shows characters and their motives.
So in what order should I read the Expanse books?
Well obviously you should start with the first book, but don’t skip the novella’s as it ads background stories for some of the characters like the butcher of Anderson station. Publication order is probably the best (see list) like Daniel Abraham mentioned on Twitter.
I read ’em in order of release because we wrote them that way, and I think it works well. And some of them (I’m thinking Vital Abyss here) don’t really fit gracefully in a chronology.
- Leviathan Wakes (2011)
- The Butcher of Anderson Station (2011)
- Caliban’s War (2012)
- Gods of Risk (2012)
- Drive (2012) Read for free
- Abaddon’s Gate (2013)
- The Churn (2014)
- Cibola Burn (2014)
- Nemesis Games (2015)
- The Vital Abyss (2015)
- Babylon’s Ashes (2016)
- Strange Dogs (2017)
- Persepolis Rising (2017)
- Tiamat’s Wrath (2018, pre-order)
Gods of Risk should be read anytime after Caliban’s War, read The Churn anytime after Leviathan Wakes, The Vital Abyss anytime after Abaddon’s Gate. Drive and The Butcher of Anderson Station could be read anywhere between or before the main novels. If you want to know everything ask the people at /r/TheExpanse/.