by Scott Colby
Finales are fraught with uncertainty. Years of unsatisfying conclusions to my favorite fiction have led me to approach every ending with more cynicism than excitement. Can the creator pull it off? Will they forget about everything that made the series successful in a desperate attempt to go out with a bang? Are they just so tired of the property that they're going through the motions just so they can move on?
So it pleases me to report that the writers working under the pen name James S. A. Corey passed the finale test with flying colors by bringing The Expanse series to a satisfying conclusion with Leviathan Falls.
Minor spoilers ahead.
First published by Orbit Books in the much simpler world that was 2011, The Expanse chronicles humanity's expansion through the solar system and out into the stars--thanks to the discovery of frighteningly powerful alien technology--primarily through the eyes of a small gunship's four-person crew. That smaller, more grounded perspective has worked exceptionally well in telling a grandiose story layered with political intrigue, social upheaval, and ever bigger and stranger technological leaps. It's a tale of what it means to stay human in the face of scientific progress that throws society into disarray and threatens that same meaning.
None of that changes in Leviathan Falls, the ninth and final book in the series. Humanity's made too much progress using the alien protomolecule, and it's angered a race of demigods from another universe that are testing ways to exterminate our entire species by randomly adjusting the laws of physics. A galactic empire is struggling to restore its former dominance while also searching for the crazed emperor that just might have an answer that can save humanity. And the crew of the Rocinante is searching for answers of its own.
What ensues is a story that is what it has to be. If you're looking for twists and turns and surprises, I don't think you'll find them here. Readers familiar with the series who think hard enough about what's going on and where it's likely to go will quickly discern all the right answers. That is not even remotely a criticism; it let me turn my brain off and enjoy the Rocinante's last ride.
And what a ride it is. When the emperor reappears, he promises to fight off humanity's interdimensional attackers by co-opting the weapons left behind by the protomolecule's creators. To do so, he has to turn our entire species into an interconnected hive mind. This is so The Expanse. Maintaining individuality in the face of overpowering change has been a consistent theme in the series, which makes the emperor's threat all the more visceral and poignant. It's the ultimate test of the ethics that have kept the Rocinante at the center of all the action. If Captain Holden and Co. can find a way to stand up for what they believe in...well, should they? Even if they stop the emperor's plan, how then can they fight off the otherworldly threat that might be able to just switch humanity off by changing a few universal constants? The stakes couldn't be higher or more compelling.
Through it all, the Coreys remain true to their setting. Space is vast, resources are limited, and the human body can only take so many Gs. There are no quick escapes, which only adds to the tension. Even if one of the characters figures out exactly how to save the day, well...do they even have time to travel to where they need to go? It's fascinating stuff that gives the reader a chance to breathe and consider the action.
And that goes double for the main characters. The fates of Jim Holden, Naomi Nagata, Alex Kamal, and Amos Burton aren't surprising, but they are certainly satisfying and in-line with their progression throughout the series. Amos's arc in particular ends in such a fun Amos way.
So my hat's off to the writers for their work concluding what's been an exceptionally rewarding and compelling series. Outside of the obvious entertainment value, The Expanse is a series we writers can all learn a lot from: understand your characters and stick to the rules of your setting, and you'll send your audiences home happy.
Have you read The Expanse? What did you think of Leviathan Falls?
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