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The Vital Abyss

(The Expanse #5.5)

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  13,859 ratings  ·  751 reviews

From New York Times bestselling author James S. A. Corey . . .

Somewhere in the vast expanse of space, a group of prisoners lives in permanent captivity.

The only company they have is each other and the Belters who guard them. The only stories they know are the triumphs and crimes that brought them there. The only future they see is an empty life in an enormous room.


ebook, 75 pages
Published October 15th 2015 by Orbit
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Popular Answered Questions
Kevin Kelsey Yes. The authors have stated that they're under contract for at least 2 more Novellas in addition to this one. Once those are all published, Orbit pla…moreYes. The authors have stated that they're under contract for at least 2 more Novellas in addition to this one. Once those are all published, Orbit plans a physical collection of The Expanse shorter fiction in one volume.(less)
Tom Definitely before Babylon's Ashes, but I shelve it between 3 and 4.…moreDefinitely before Babylon's Ashes, but I shelve it between 3 and 4.(less)

Community Reviews

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Average rating 3.89  · 
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 ·  13,859 ratings  ·  751 reviews

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Kevin Kelsey
Aug 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A terrific character study. It's equal parts terrifying, humbling, and humanizing. I thoroughly enjoyed what this novella had to say about empathy, mental illness, love, and the horrors that we are all capable of, given the right/wrong situations and stimuli.

The chronology of this one is all over the place. As always, I recommend reading The Expanse in order of publication, but this especially shouldn't be read any earlier than Abaddon's Gate as it would spoil some major events in that book.
Feb 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
James S. A. Corey is the pen name of fantasy author Daniel Abraham, and Ty Franck. These two men have created a franchise known as the "Expanse" which is a science fiction series that takes place in the near future concerning a conflict between Earth and Mars and a group of working poor known as the "Belters" (a combination of both planets) who mine the asteroid belt.

The Sci Fi television channel has recently begun airing season 2 ,consisting of 13 installments (January/February 2016), season 1
Nov 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a story playing devil's advocate. It is about a group of scientists who caused the death of many Martians on Phoebe station with the Protomolecule to study the effects. They are currently imprisoned and ... maybe we were supposed to feel pity for how they've been kept captive, but I couldn't bring myself to doing that. Or maybe the story is also meant to show us how certain people tick and what they are willing to do in order to get what they want (ruthlessly stepping over one dead body ...more
Nov 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Well worth reading. I liked seeing the sociopathic-altered scientists getting their own novelette. I can't say that the main character was especially likable, but I did feel some sympathy for him.

He really was f***ed over. Repeatedly. I almost agree with his decision to cut his empathy centers out of his head. :)

Feb 21, 2016 rated it liked it
[3.5 Stars] This was a good novella, not anything crazy amazing, but good. I loved the narration (listened to the audiobook) and getting to know more about these people. When you finally realize whose perspective you're reading from, it's a pretty cool a-ha moment! That being said, I don't think this novella is a necessary read, and honestly at times I was just like meh okay I don't care. That's why it got 3.5 instead of 4 stars. It was good, but a bit forgettable. ...more
Jul 20, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: novella, 2021-read
A great character study of Paolo Cortazar, the scientist who literally sacrifices his moral compass in order to focus fully on his study of the protomolecule.

I initially thought about skipping this, but I'm glad I didn't. It turned out to be an interesting backstory, and definitely adds to my overall appreciation of Cortazar's character.
Algernon (Darth Anyan)
Aug 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019

Word of the Day: Astounding
As in the title of the classic pulp magazine that has set so many kids dreaming about the stars. The tradition is carried forward by the creative team behind the pen name James S A Corey with one of the best contemporary space operas. The present title is one of the novellas that fill in some of the gaps left in the main storyline. Since I am not reading these shorts in the correct order, I should put a warning here to readers who want to avoid spoilers:

It’s better
Jan 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
A bit of a chilling side story of one of the key corporate researchers of the protomolecule who, along with his research team, has had his brain chemistry altered to effectively neuter him of morality. He shares some fascinating insight into the structure and possible ultimate purpose of the protomolecule.
This one was just straight up neat.

The first of anything in The Expanse universe to be in first person POV, this novella opens with a man and his fellow prisoners, who are being kept in a locked room somewhere in the solar system, and they are kept there for years. It slowly trickles out as to why they're there, who they are, and who our main character is in particular. It's a dark character study, and it gives us insight into a pivotal moment in the history of the Expanse universe.

(view spoile
J.   ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Sep 30, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: own
Haven't read. Just offsetting the 2 poor reviews that contain no text on why it was such an awful, unreleased book.

Update: Really? I got 15 likes for this? You guys are going to feel pretty stupid when I do my actual review of this book and it's something along the lines of "Five stars! Unless compared to Twilight, in which case -10 stars."

UPDATE: The Review:
Just a reminder that the 'likes' received by this review were for the above statements.

I love James S.A. Corey and the universe they have c
Review of the audiobook narrated by Jefferson Mays.

The Expanse is my favorite series so not loving one of the books (as I have with all of the other books, including the novellas) comes as a surprise. There are some important tidbits to fill in the overall picture, but The Vital Abyss is weighed down by a confusing storyline and not nearly enough action or suspense. Taking up 1/2 of an entire novella in just character building didn't do it for me. I also found the jumps between Poalo's past and
Dec 15, 2019 rated it liked it
Sociopaths doing scientific research? Why not? We already put them in charge of the government.

Another one of the The Expanse short stories tie-ins gives us the scoop on another piece of the story that wasn’t explored in the main novels. This time out we learn about the research team that unleashed the protomolecule from one of the people involved. His backstory as one of the regular folks desperately trying to escape the level of Basic assistance on Earth gives us some more detail on another as
Tudor Vlad
Mar 01, 2017 rated it liked it
Ok, so this is a The Expanse short story that I read this year, even if a couple of weeks ago. I wanted to read it last year but I somehow forgot about it (I don't why and how), but then season 2 happened and it introduced a character which is actually from this short story which made me feel kind of bad for forgetting to read it.
The story centers around Paulo Cortazar, one of the scientist from Toth Station. It follows him from his childhood, showing what lead him to work for Anthony Dresden.
Oct 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I think my favourite thing about these books is how seamless and well written movements through time are done. The going back and forth from the current time/story and into character's back stories is so well done. Not clunky or annoying. You don't start resenting one story or wishing they would just move on with the fore story. Both are equally good and hold my interest completely. ...more
Niki Hawkes - The Obsessive Bookseller
Vital Abyss is the novella I'll remember most from The Expanse for its exploration of human motivation. Everything about this story was interesting and I found myself pondering the events long after putting it down. I'd recommend all of the novellas, but I think this one was my personal favorite. ...more
Scott  Hitchcock
Mar 23, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: expanse, sci-fi

Interesting view from the inside of Protgen.
Oleksandr Zholud
Jun 12, 2020 rated it liked it
This is a novella set in Expanse universe. It takes place between Nemesis Games and Babylon's Ashes, but actually has a flashback to Caliban's War. I read is as a part of the ongoing buddy read of the Expanse series in June 2020 at Hugo & Nebula Awards: Best Novels group.

The story starts with a group of people held by unknown (to them) captors, told from POV of one of the prisoners. Quite soon we find out that these are scientists from Protogen lab on Phoebe, who were captured during the assault
May 12, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: short-stories, sci-fi
This short story sheds some light on the events of first and second books of the series, but in a nutshell its JUST.NOT.INTERESTING.ENOUGH.
Kat  Hooper
Dec 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Jim C
Jul 09, 2018 rated it liked it
Actual rating is 2.5 stars.

This is a short story that reads more like a prequel instead of its actual placement in the series. In this one, we learn how a certain scientist becomes involved with the protomolecule and Eros project. I strongly suggest one needs to read at least the first book before this short story.

I have enthusiastically stated how much I love this series with my reviews and in person. Unfortunately, this one was a little bit of a letdown. The problem for me was the story and it
- Jared - ₪ Book Nerd ₪
Okay, so I know that this book was only a novella in the series but it was very entertaining to me and it really provided a lot of biological and scientific insight into the proto-molecule that is a major part of the main story-line! It had just enough of real science to make it very believable which, to me, made it a bit better that some of the previous books.

This novella is an awesome dark character study on (view spoiler)
Skylar Phelps
Nov 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A powerful piece of science fiction. Enlightening and relevant to the series itself while still being extremely entertaining. I felt the execution of the idea was award worthy and the result is a fantastic novella.
Sep 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
This was a bit of a slow burn, but I did enjoy. I have always had a interest in how the experiment on Eros with the Protomolecule came about and the conditions the research team must of been under to run a trial with a couple of million people, knowing what the outcome was likely to be. There isn't much in this area in the series, so I did like reading the back story here. So if you are into that part of the story you might enjoy understanding how the Eros experiment came about. ...more
Another Expanse novella, this time concentrating on the scientists who conducted the protomolecule research & experiments wayyyy back in Leviathan Wakes. The chronology see-saws back and forth between Dr. Paolo Cortázar's backstory growing up in South America, the formative influences that led to his wanting to study biochemistry & genetics; then it bounces between that and their present-day captivity (its horrifying isolation, the lack of actual due process for their crimes, the sense that they ...more
Jun 29, 2021 rated it liked it
The Vital Abyss follows a row of Expanse side content that is mildly interesting but in the end, just feels like a lesser version of the full novels

This statement takes together what I am feeling for most of these stories I have consumed. The short-form pieces aren't really bad per se but I just cannot help feeling like they are bits of worldbuilding that were not good enough for the main books and are used to build up interest before the main entry releases. The Vital Abyss was actually one of
Stefano G.
Sep 08, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
*** 3.5/5 Stars ***
An ok novella from the perspective of Dr. Cortazar, a former Protogen scientist trapped in a Belter prison. I liked that we got to read a bit more about these messed up human beings and how they were manipulated into working for Protogen…

On the other hand, the story was kind of slow and a bit complicated as it’s not really clear what’s happening or the purpose of the story. By the end you are still confused, though the events in the novella start bringing light to some dubio
Arijit Ghoshal
Feb 27, 2022 rated it it was amazing
4.5 stars
Dec 04, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: sci-fi
After the incredibly cool The Churn, The Vital Abyss was something of a let-down.

Towards the very end, I did realize the point of the story. Which is good, because up until then it had been kind of pointless. A young man dedicates his life to understanding the disease taking his mother from him: Huntington's. The saddest part of the disease, he tells a confidant during a flashback toward the end, is that she didn't realize what was happening to her.

Meanwhile, his own story is an identical arc: h
This novella (or maybe really more of a novelette) is one of several that the authors of the Expanse series have written, fleshing out the minor characters and events that were mostly off-screen in the main novels.

The Vital Abyss is a sort of a prequel to the series, filling in some backstory. In the opening, we are introduced to the main character, who as a first person narrator describes being imprisoned in some station somewhere by Martians. We don't immediately know why he and his fellow sci
Aug 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
Spoilers follow for Leviathan Wakes: (view spoiler) ...more
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Other books in the series

The Expanse (10 books)
  • Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse, #1)
  • Caliban's War (The Expanse, #2)
  • Drive (The Expanse, #2.7)
  • Abaddon's Gate (The Expanse, #3)
  • Cibola Burn (The Expanse, #4)
  • Nemesis Games (The Expanse, #5)
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