Why The Writers Behind The Expanse Aren’t Interested In A Galaxy Far, Far Away
Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck (shared code name: James S. A. Corey) are the writing team behind The Expanse sci-fi novel series as well as the hugely successful TV adaptation. We recently chatted with the pair about the world they’ve created, set just 200 years into the future, which sees humanity divided not according by borders but by planet: wealthy Earthers, determined Martians, and disadvantaged, displaced Belters.
For readers and viewers, it’s an easy-to-imagine future world, neither utopian or dystopian, but one that follows the current trajectory of where we are now. Basically, it’s realistic (apologies to anyone with their fingers crossed for world peace taking hold in the next generation… or eight).
“Humans have been recording their history for six or seven thousand years now and so far we have not had any utopian societies,” Franck says, referencing their decision to imagine a society still at war with itself. “I find it very unlikely that in 100 or 200 years, suddenly we’ll have it all figured out. It just doesn’t feel like a reasonable timeline for that. We’re still using the same biological tool sets that we used when our means of survival was running around and stabbing things with spears. We haven’t really physically changed that much since those days. So it’s actually kind of astonishing that we’re as civilized as we are given the tool sets that we have available to us. I think that if we ever do reach that point, whatever those people are, they’re not recognizably human in the way that we think of humans.”
Dreams of a Star Trek replicator app as part of the iPhone 20 roll-out set firmly aside, Abraham explains why they decided to place the world of The Expanse close to Earth and in the relatively near future, as opposed to in a faraway galaxy or distant time:
“A lot of science fiction sets itself up in one of two places: either 20 minutes into the future, like techno thrillers and cyberpunk, or far, far into the future where we’re already in huge, galactic civilizations. What we really wanted to do with The Expanse was explore that middle place where it’s going from stuff that we can recognize into the farther out stuff. We describe it as being late Apollo 13 to early Buck Rogers and it’s fun to be there because it’s not a place we’ve seen a whole lot of. It’s an interesting place. It’s a fascinating historical period for the history we’re making up and it’s not overdone yet.”
To that end, Abraham and Franck have kept the tech jargon to a minimum, instead building on technology that audiences can understand intuitively.
“We wanted to have stuff that was recognizable and plausible and things that you have seen or have grown up out of things you have seen,” says Abraham. “But we also didn’t want to spend a lot of time talking about the technology. One of the things we get comments about a lot is that there doesn’t seem to be any artificial intelligence or robots in The Expanse. That’s not true, it’s just that people don’t talk about it. There’s clearly automation and there’s clearly high-level computer work going on, but they don’t talk about it any more than you or I would talk about the mechanics of an internal combustion engine every time we got in a car.”
When it comes to seeing the novels translated to the screen, Abraham says that nothing’s ever exactly the way he pictured it. Often, though, what the actors bring to a character makes them better. “There’s a character late in the books named Drummer who we’ve pulled in earlier in the show and some of the decisions that actor made, the things that she chose to do, I didn’t realize it at the time, but they were kinda awesome.”
Franck, however, had one on-set moment he says played out identically to what he’d imagined. “I remember when we shot Florence [Faivre], who plays Julie Mao, there’s a scene where she’s standing in the corridor of a ship and she’s holding a big wrench and she’s going to look to see what happened to her friends and it’s dark and spooky and the camera is shooting down this long corridor toward her and she’s sort of turning back and looking over her shoulder… that moment, and Florence as Julie, that is pretty much ripped exactly from my head.”
Previously, Abraham and Franck had divided the novel writing up based on character, but that’s changed. “It’s gotten muddier than that since then,” says Abraham. “In the book we’re writing right now it’s not divided up by point of view character. We’re actually dividing it by whoever feels like writing a particular chapter. At the beginning voice was more difficult, but that has changed. We’re seven books into the series and Daniel can write a Holden chapter if he feels like it and I’m pretty sure I could write a chapter for just about anybody else if I felt like it so now we sort of trade around based on the content of the chapter.”
The seventh book, Persepolis Rising, is due out this year. And if you’ve been paying attention even a little bit, you probably already know that season two of The Expanse will have its two-hour premiere this Wednesday, February 1 on Space.