James S.A. Corey on the End of 'The Expanse' and a New Life for the TV Show

Posted by Cybil on December 2, 2019
James S.A. Corey
You probably know coauthors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck as James S.A. Corey—their shared pen name. And you probably know them from their wildly popular science fiction space opera series The Expanse.

The universe of their series continues to, well, expand despite some serious drama along the way. Their books were turned into a popular TV series on the SyFy Channel—a series that was canceled after Season 3 by that network, causing fan outrage. In a major plot twist, the series was picked up by Amazon, which will air Season 4 this December and has already started production on Season 5.

Meanwhile, the authors are preparing to wrap up the book series in 2020 with the ninth book in the Expanse universe. Goodreads talked to Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck about the final novel, the surprise saving of the TV show, and books they recommend for fans of the series.


Goodreads: The Expanse universe is currently eight books long and you’re headed into the fourth TV season. For those new to The Expanse, how would you describe the series and what’s the best way for a beginner to catch up?

Daniel: I’d go to Amazon and binge the show, only because it’s easier to do than binging the books. There’s also a fan wiki and an active subreddit that can fill in gaps if you dive into the fourth season and get confused.

Ty: That being said, the books and show are different enough that the books and show are both worth doing, no matter which order you choose.

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GR: Your book series is set to come to an end next year with the ninth book in the series. First of all, any chance this might not be the last book? Secondly, if it IS, what can you tell us about wrapping up this beloved series?

Daniel: The ninth novel is the last book in the series. We planned it this way almost from the first, and the story we started in Leviathan Wakes ends there.

Ty: Daniel and I both believe that good stories end. You make promises at the beginning of the story that you can only pay off with a satisfying ending.

GR: The Expanse TV show was canceled by its original network, the SyFy Channel, and was picked up and saved by Amazon. Can you take us behind the scenes of the cancellation and revival?

Daniel: It was pretty amazing. I think there’s a story that there was some knowledge that someone was going to pick us up, that really wasn’t the case. We were all calling each other and saying our goodbyes and promising to work together somewhere down the line.

And then there was fan outpouring and the push by Alcon Entertainment to find us a new home. Even then, it was like buying a lottery ticket, it was so unlikely. But then we started hearing that they’d stopped breaking down sets and that the Toronto crew was trying not to take other jobs until they were sure we were dead.

The announcement that Amazon was picking us up was genuinely surreal and amazing.

GR: You both serve as executive producers on the TV series. What has that work been like for you both? What are some of the unexpected challenges and rewards of working on the show?

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Daniel: I think we were very lucky that the people at Alcon were willing to include us and mentor us in how television is made. The last few years have been an education, and that’s largely to the credit of our showrunner, Naren Shankar.

Scripts are a very different medium than prose fiction, and for me anyway, coming to understand the scope of that difference has been both profoundly challenging and a gift.

Ty: In addition, I've enjoyed learning the physical production side of things. Five years ago we'd never written a script. And now we can write a script and see it all the way through the production process and onto TV screens. It was a lot to learn in a short period of time.

GR: Has the television series changed how you think about writing novels? Has it changed how you think of your main characters in any way?

Daniel: The novels really exist in a different space in my head than the show does. I have "Show Amos" and "Book Amos"—and so on with all the characters—and they don’t really cross-pollinate.

The metaphor I always use is Batman. There are dozens of retellings of the Batman stories—Batman ’66, Nolan’s Batman, the animated series, Alan Moore’s Batman—and they’re all the same character. And they’re also not.

As far as how it’s changed my approach to novels in general, it’s really been more of a reminder of something I always knew but sometimes lose sight of. Being with Naren as he crafts even the smallest details of the color and sound, and watching how a thousand tiny improvements elevate the whole project, pointed up for me how important the meticulous details of an edit really are to the final book.

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GR: What was the biggest challenge when adapting your novels to the screen?

Daniel: The books were really written to lean into the strengths of prose. They’re full of interior monologue and clarifying exposition that just don’t work on camera at all. Finding new ways to present the same information has been a nontrivial problem.

Ty: It's also given us a chance to learn how to use the strengths of TV to tell the same story in a different way. I know Daniel had a real epiphany when he realized that all the prose tricks to convey the emotional state of a scene could be replaced with a good musical score. And I love finding ways to lay a scene out for the camera instead of a reader. Cameras are very literal. It's a completely different way to think of story.

GR: Season 4 of the TV series picks up on December 13 and will focus on the fourth book of the series, Cibola Burn. What can you tell us about how closely it will follow the source material?

Ty: It does and it doesn't. We tell the story of Cibola Burn in this season for sure. But we also include a Bobbie Draper story back on Mars, and a Chrisjen Avasarala story on Earth, and a Camina Drummer story in the belt.

GR: The two of you write under the pen name James S.A. Corey. Why did you decide to write under one name, and what is the significance of your pen name?

Daniel: I’ve always thought that the tool in satisfying reader expectations was being conscious about setting them in the first place. And there’s no more powerful tool for that than the name of the author. I’ve written under several names, depending on the projects I was doing. I write epic fantasy under my own name, for example.

But no matter how good your science fiction is, it’s not epic fantasy, so putting my name on felt like it would be setting the wrong expectations. So we made up a name.

Leviathan Wakes isn’t what you’d expect from a Daniel Abraham novel—even one written with Ty Franck. But it is very much a James S.A. Corey kind of book. And so moving forward, people knew what that was when they picked up the next ones.

GR: What other books would you recommend for Expanse fans?

Daniel: I always recommend Walter Jon WilliamsDread Empire’s Fall novels, starting with The Praxis. Williams is a very accomplished novelist, and I feel like those books really play to his greatest strengths.

Ty: There's a lot of great spaceship SF coming out right now. Ann Leckie and Becky Chambers and Gareth Powell are all doing interesting work in the genre. And there's dozens more I'm not mentioning. It's a good time to be a space SF fan.

GR: What are some of your all-time-favorite books? And what books influenced the creation of the The Expanse series?

Daniel: I grew up reading Clarke and Asimov and Niven. There’s no way that those didn’t have an effect on the science fiction as I imagined it when my turn came to try it. But I think we also owe a specific debt to John Scalzi's Old Man’s War. For me, it was the first book in decades to take that older ’70s sci-fi and reimagine it in a way that was accessible and fun again.



Season four of The Expanse is available exclusively on Amazon Prime Video on December 13. Meanwhile, James S.A. Corey's final book in The Expanse series is slated for 2020. Don't forget to add it to your Want to Read shelf. Be sure to also read more of our exclusive author interviews and get more great book recommendations.

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