At the end of 2017 I received an incredibly thoughtful gift from Judy Hadsall, my stepmom. It was an autographed copy of “Leviathan Wakes,” by James S. A. Corey. Inside are the scrawled signatures, of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, who both work under the Corey pen name for this book.
I treasure it deeply, for a lot of reasons. But I haven’t read a single page yet.
“Leviathan Wakes” is only the first book in a series of that includes seven books and six short stories and novellas. The eighth full book, “Tiamat’s Wrath,” will be released in late March. Thanks to my stepmom’s gift, I’m now working on getting the full set, and have gotten the first three.
In other words, I’m collecting a book series I don’t plan on reading.
I’ve had to re-read that last sentence a few times. It’s accurate, but it feels so poserish and materialist.
Yet that’s where I’m at right now. I blame the creators of “The Expanse” TV show for being so freaking good at their jobs.
Afraid of spoilers
Last week, I wrote about the relationship between books and TV adaptations, and how “The Passage” occupies a place in demonstrating how the “book is always better” notion doesn’t really work with TV shows. In a nutshell, a TV show is not cramped by time like a movie is. A show has the freedom to invest in and develop its characters, and has the ability to send them down a different path from their printed destinies.
That’s certainly the case with “The Passage”: The business of making TV shows reveals a crucial plot point that the character of Brad Wolgast, who dies at the end of the first part of the book, is going to stick around for much longer in the TV show, but that show won’t have the same 90-year jump in time as the book.
Fans certainly can debate about which version of “The Passage” is better. The only thing resembling data they can use are ratings from Rotten Tomatoes or MetaCritic. But those stats won’t point to a clear right answer.
That’s why “the book is always better” transforms with TV. The debate about quality becomes much more subjective.
Which brings me back to those unread Corey books: “Leviathan Wakes” and everything that came afterward is the source material for “The Expanse,” which has quickly become one of my favorite sci-fi TV shows, period. It has helped fill a “Lost”-shaped hole in my heart.
That’s not to say the show is like “Lost” — there are much fewer flashbacks and everyone in the solar system is directly affected by the mysterious forces at work. “The Expanse” is much closer in spirit to “Firefly,” another show that I love deeply.
Because I’m enjoying the show so much, I don’t want to read the books. I’m afraid something in the books will spoil the show, or a different direction will taint the show negatively.
At its beginning, “The Expanse” centers around two main characters in a world set hundreds of years in the future, where human colonies exist on Earth, Mars and in the asteroid belt:
• Police detective Josephus Miller, on Ceres in the belt, is given the assignment to find a missing woman. As his investigation deepens, the conditions of her disappearance grow more mysterious, with chilling ramifications for science and society.
• James Holden, an executive officer of an ice hauler, sees his ship get involved in a tragic accident that threatens to inflame political tensions between Earth and Mars. Reacting primally to protect his crew, he becomes a hero for those rebelling against the system and a pariah for those in charge.
As the two get closer, they discover they are working on the same conspiracy. And that’s just the first season.
Season three was recently release on Amazon Prime this month, and the fourth season is expected to debut on the streaming service later this year.
There’s a lot to love about “The Expanse,” which commonly gets called a “sci-fi opera,” even though there’s no singing. I’ve written at length about it in more than a few columns, so as a quick recap: Great pacing, outstanding storytelling, believable characters, solid science with loving attention to detail, recognizable environments and excellent acting.
While Thomas Jane and Steven Strait are excellent as Miller and Holden, my particular favorite is Wes Chatham, who plays mechanic and mayhem master Amos Burton. Chatham gives Amos an endearing earnest quality to his violent tendencies — think of “Firefly’s” Jayne, only with a conscience and strong moral code.
Additionally, Shoreh Agdashloo plays Chrisjen Avasarala, a UN undersecretary who’s distaste of politics infuses her movements and machinations. Agdashloo, who was already compelling in the first two seasons, absolutely shines in season three.
But the most fantastic thing about “The Expanse” is how it can be so many different things while staying true to its story.
Season 1 is a sci-fi noir deeply influenced by intrigue. Season 2 changes that intrigue into a spy thriller, and Season 3 goes from all-out war to unification against an alien presence. Despite going all over the solar system, “The Expanse” stays firmly planted in its story. It’s an epic in every sense of the word.
A large reason for that is likely the book authors’ large role in the production of the TV show. According to fans of both the book and the show, there is not a lot of major plot deviation between the two.
See why I’m scared to read the books?
I probably will get started after watching season four later this year. I’ll be jonesing for more of this world, and the dead space between seasons four and five will be a perfect time to start my reading and crack that autographed copy open for the first time. Talk about a gift that keeps on giving.
Joe Hadsall is web editor for the Globe. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.