I discovered the first book of The Expanse series, Leviathan Wakes, back in 2014. By then the first three books had already been out. I’m pretty sure I burned through those early books in a few weeks. I know I’ve read all the subsequent ones as they came out. This was a series that channeled the old fashioned space opera that I’d read as a boy, mostly in books from the 1940s and 1950s. But it was done with a more contemporary understanding of science, and with far more character development and diversity than most of that old stuff ever had.
The series has often been compared to Game of Thrones, probably spurred by the fact that one of the series authors used to work for George R.R. Martin. But I’ve often thought of it more as a literary version of Star Wars, something inspired by decades of prior stories in a genre. (The authors, writing under the same James S.A. Corey pen name, actually wrote a Star Wars novel, which I haven’t read.)
While the series cares about the actual science a lot more than Star Wars, it’s never been afraid to bring in effectively magical concepts, albeit usually under the cover of Clarke’s third law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” or at least very speculative science. Still, when it was adapted into a TV show, it turned out to be the most accurate space opera show that I’ve seen so far, at least in terms of plausible logistics for interplanetary space travel.
That show’s sixth and reportedly final season is about to come out on Amazon. In some ways, it’s amazing that it survived as long as it did. Space shows are expensive, and as I noted on the last post, streaming services are increasingly showing a tendency for shorter series. Unfortunately, wrapping the show after its sixth season is apparently going to end it before it gets into the final trilogy of books. There’s hope that there might be more in the franchise, maybe movies or something, but nothing definite yet. It may mean that the only way to know the full story is to read the books.
Leviathan Falls is the ninth and final novel of the series. This is the kind of series you definitely want to start at the first novel. It makes getting into any details of the story difficult, at least without also going into serious spoiler territory, which I won’t do. The early parts of the book involve a lot of action and adventure. Toward the end, it turns into an existential battle for humanity’s survival. With humanity on the brink of annihilation, desperate and terrible decisions have to be made by the remaining heroes.
The series as a whole often asked us to consider what it means to be human. But it was in the final trilogy of books where the boundaries really started to be explored. And in this final episode, we’re asked to consider just how much of the human condition is necessary. If survival meant giving up our biology or individuality, would it be worth it?
The end of any long running series like this is probably always going to leave some fans disappointed. I suspect this one won’t be an exception. I enjoyed it, and found the ending…appropriate, if not inevitable in retrospect.
I’ll say that we do learn about the builders of the protomolecule, and it’s not as bleak a story as I was expecting. We also learn more about the conflict that destroyed them. And we get a little insight into the long term fate of humanity. I won’t say that every question I had was answered, but for most of the ones that weren’t, it made sense to me that they wouldn’t be answered.
There is reportedly going to be one last story in the series, a novella that takes place after this novel. But it’s worth mentioning that the novellas have never been mandatory for enjoying the series. I’ve read some of them, but not all. They fill in missing details, which might include answers to the questions I mentioned. Although I’m generally satisfied with where things stand at this point.
All of which is to say that I enjoyed this final novel a great deal. It provided a powerful ending for the series, a series that I’ve recommended many times. If old fashioned space opera, with a modern view of the future coupled with some exploration of the human condition, sounds interesting to you, it’s definitely worth checking out.