So I’ve been reading the first book of The Expanse, namely Leviathan Rising.
Kim Stanley Robinson this ain’t - the worldbuilding in particular is pretty shoddy and is more of a background of clichés than anything else. It’s pretty unimaginative and while it helps with immediately feeling “at ease” with the universe (no need for Robinson’s long-winded philosophico-political tirades that are basically required to understand how the hell his cooperative megacorps work in Blue Mars) it also creates some massive worldbuilding problems. How the hell is Mars standing up to the Earth on a pure logistical standpoint? I don’t care if the UN bureaucracy is shit at building ships, you’re on a planet that actively wants to kill you, why would you attract all of the brilliant minds in the solar systems when they can get a cozy job on a planet that has, you know, an actual biosphere. The population figures seem fairly off (how can you fit dozens of millions of humans on Ganymede? and overrall it relies a bit too much on associating one faction to each place (the Earth is the UN, Mars is the MCRN, the Belt is the OPA…granted that was also the case in Robinson’s Red Mars but it just explodes in a million pieces by the end of the book). Also 30 billion terrans - is Earth becoming Trantor now?
In many ways the Expanse could have been written in the 70s or even 60s : there’s barely any automation or advanced body modification, the ships move just at the right speed so that they can basically be considered as 19th century steamers (a point that was also used in Blue Mars I note), drones are nonexistent, social and political structures are basically “just like today but bigger” and targeting systems are just competent enough so that ship to ship battles mostly look like modern ship to ship battles mixed with Jutland at closer ranges, etc.
It’s full of tropes. Like full of them. Incompetent-and-lazy-earth-bureaucrats. Brash-and-passionate-martians. Working-class-terrorists. Asteroid ports full of scum and villainy. A grizzled alcoholic detective. A beautiful and competent XO who becomes the love interest of the beautiful and competent protagonist. Stealth ships in spess. An evil spess company with evil intents. Alien entities that turn people into zombies because of course they do.
There’s some stuff that made me raise an interested eyebrow though. I surely wasn’t expecting Holden to end up that badly damaged by radiations (which are usually shrugged off with “advanced medical tech” in similar scifi settings). Amos is an interesting depiction of a sociopathic character, I think. I also liked how matter-of-fact the violence and gore are in this book : they’re mostly used to hammer the point that yes, space is deadly.
And well, it’s basically Mass Effect isn’t it? The whole shtick of “we’re getting a super-advanced warship to get around, and it has a quirky pilot, a competent XO love interest, a sociopathic space marine onboard” feels very much like something taken from Mass Effect; Visually speaking the protomolecule and its effects are very, very reminiscent of the Reapers (up to stuff like moving in space without propellant or turning people into zombies with mechanical tentacles) though the twist of “it basically doesn’t know what it is doing” is amusing. Eros/Ceres are very much reminiscent of Omega. Protogen is essentially Cerberus, up to building stealth ships and having an insane sociopathic CEO, etc. In fact the chapter structure by the moment they get the Rocinante is very much ME too : we go to a place with the Rocinante, we disembark, something happens, we resolve it, we re-embark, story moves on. You could practically use the book as is to create video game levels.
Of course none of that is specifically Mass Effect, because ME took a lot of pre-existing scifi tropes and ran with them, but there’s a distinct mass effect vibe anyway.
So yeah. 7/10 book, probably.