I’ve just finished reading Caliban’s War, and I am disappointed. The book has its flaws, literary flaws, and (in my opinion) failed to live up to the promise of Leviathan Wakes. But I’m willing to give the series a chance so I’ve just started slogging through Abbadon’s Gate. We were impressed by the TV miniseries of the first book, so Madame Reclus ordered up the paperbacks. She has finished all the five available volumes, and has started reading them again, and I am trying to catch up with her. Whether or not the others can match the first in quality will be soon settled in my mind, but my disappointment is not with the writing, it is with the imagined universe the novels are set in.
This is how I had seen the future, the solar system-wide civilization made possible by fusion drives. This is the future of the 22nd or 23rd century as I had imagined it when I first started reading science fiction about a half century ago. It was the forseeable future I would never see myself, but which I would help build–at least in my adolescent fantasies. Man would have colonized the inner planets and the outer satellites, and industrialized the asteroid belt. The solar system would be thoroughly explored. The human race would be becoming independent of Earth, blossoming into an explosion of unique new cultures, finally out of the cradle, as Tsiolkovsky put it, and flexing its muscles for the big jump to the cold distant stars. It was a time with few analogues in human history: the first men crossing out of Africa into an empty world, the long march across the Bering Strait, the caravels and galleons striking out to the Indies, only to stumble on to a New World. Perhaps a more apt metaphor would be the flimsy canoes archipelago-hopping across an infinite Pacific.
I’m older now, and more pessimistic. The Expanse future is still possible, but I don’t think its very probable, for a variety of reasons. Whether I’m right or wrong in this assessment is not for me to say, history will decide that, but that’s what I think–now. The authors of the Expanse novels certainly don’t agree with me, although my 20-year old self would have certainly shared their opinions. Have I grown up, or have I just gotten old? Have I lost my naivete, or just my confidence? Or have I given up on my dreams?
The Expanse series isn’t a look at the future for me. Its more of a nostalgic memory of the past. This is my past fantasy, the world of Heinlein and Clarke, Asimov and Bester, updated with digital technology, Artificial Intelligence, Gesture and Graphical User Interfaces, and a few other developments no one could have anticipated a few decades ago. But otherwise, it is quite familiar to me. When I was younger it seemed inevitable. Now its just embarrassing. This is the universe we’re going to need to master just so we can earn a chance at the stars. I don’t think we’re going to pass the audition.
At least, I know I didn’t.