Syfy’s ‘Expanse’ goes by the books

First Published      Last Updated Mar 10 2017 12:09 pm

Television » Authors of the novels are also writers and producers on the outstanding science-fiction series.

Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck have written — are writing — a series of best-selling science-fiction novels. Under the name James S.A. Corey, they're working on the seventh in a nine-book series under the collective title "The Expanse."

They sold their books to television producers, and that's where this story ends for most novelists.

"In Hollywood, they call it buying the title," Franck said. "They basically use the same title but nothing else is even remotely familiar. You just take the money and you smile and you go your way."

But Abraham and Franck wanted to be involved in producing the series. And executive producers Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby ("Children of Men" and "Iron Man") said yes.

The result is "The Expanse," which is midway through its 13-episode second season on Syfy, with new episodes debuting on Wednesdays.

Abraham said their ability to be involved with the show was like "winning the lottery."

When Naren Shankar ("CSI") was hired as the showrunner, he was "a little more hesitant," Franck said. "But by that point, it was too late."

Shankar came around. He called the arrangement "amazing."

"We'll get to points in the story where, like, 'God, if only if we had something here that reveals a little of the culture on Ceres.' And Ty or Dan will go, 'Well, how about using this?' And it's from Book 6 or something that hasn't been written yet," Shankar said. "It exposes the richness and the depth of the universe that these guys have built."

Abraham and Franck aren't just writing a very long story, they're creating a world. Worlds, actually.

"The Expanse" takes place two centuries in a future. Earth has a huge population. It colonized Mars, which has declared independence. And then there's the Belt — colonies on asteroids, moons and space stations. Humans do not have faster-than-light propulsion or a reasonable way to travel to distant stars. Although, in this season, the Mormons are having a giant ship built to make a centurylong trip to another solar system.

"Science fiction seems to fall gracefully into kind of two different time periods — 20-minutes into the future, and then there's the part where we've already spun out through the galaxy, like 'Star Trek' and 'Star Wars,' " Abraham said. "But there's not a lot about that middle part. It's underpopulated, so we wanted to try playing there."

"The idea was that the books would go from 'Apollo 13' to 'Buck Rogers,' " Franck said. "And, in nine books, move from leaky spaceships and the dangers of vacuum to a much more high-concept sci-fi."

Into this world of interplanetary rivalries enters the protomolecule — sent to our solar system millions of years ago by extraterrestrials but trapped on an ice moon orbiting Saturn. It transforms whatever living material it touches — killing everything, including humans, in the process for the purpose of … well, it hasn't yet been made clear on the TV series. So no spoilers here.

Suffice it to say that the protomolecule brings the solar system to the brink, with the crew of the ship Rocinante — James Holden (Steven Strait), Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper), Amos Burton (Wes Chatham) and Alex Kamal (Cas Anvar) — caught in the middle and trying to prevent all-out war.

Readers will find the Syfy series instantly recognizable.

"It's been faithful in some ways," Abraham said. "We've made a lot of changes to the plot. Things happen in different orders. There are characters who don't exist. There are characters we've added.

"The thing that we've tried not to compromise is the spirit of the story."

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‘The Expanse’ television and books

New episodes of “The Expanse” debut Wednesdays on Syfy — 8 p.m. on DirecTV and Dish; 11 p.m. on Comcast. Season 1 is available on DVD, Blu-ray and for digital purchase at Amazon. Season 2 episodes are available on demand, on the Syfy app and for purchase at Amazon.

To date, six “Expanse” novels, by James S.A. Corey, have been published:

“Leviathan Wakes”

“Caliban’s War”

“Abaddon’s Gate”

“Cibola Burn”

“Nemesis Games”

“Babylon’s Ashes”

And there have been three novellas:

“The Churn” is a prequel to “Leviathan Wakes.”

“The Vital Abyss” appears to take place three or four years after “Leviathan Wakes,” with flashbacks to before and during the events of that book.

“Gods at Risk” takes place between “Caliban’s War” and “Abaddon’s Gate.”

Book 7, “Persepolis Rising,” is tentatively scheduled to be published later this year. Books 8 and 9, still untitled, are slated for publication in 2018 and 2019.