The Expanse: How a Game Became a Book and Then A Show

The Expanse writing team of Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham share their collaboration secrets as a new season and novel prepare for release.

Television producers love adaptations like The Expanse because there is a proven property behind the development of the series. But as the space drama films its second season, the writers behind the source material, Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham (collectively writing under the pen name James S. A. Corey), shared at New York Comic Con what makes their partnership unique and their novels so adaptable.

Abraham admits that their involvement in the Syfy series which adapted their novels is deeper than that of most authors and maintains that that’s how it should be. “It’s generally speaking a genuinely terrible idea to have writers in the writers room,” he says, “because we come and say, ‘Well, but I wrote it like this; it should stay like that,’ and that’s absolutely not what the process looks like when you’re adapting something.”

Franck clarifies that he and Abraham were perhaps better suited to participating in the writers room than most. “We were lucky because we were already collaborators, so adding more people to the collaboration wasn’t that hard,” says Franck. “I think it’s much harder to go from 1 to 2 than from 2 to 8… we already had a rule that in any story, the best idea wins. We just extended that to the room.”

Their participation in The Expanse writers room isn’t the only thing that makes their novels and series unique; the story’s origins in the gaming world also gave the novels and subsequently the show greater depth because of the work Franck put into creating a solar-system-spanning culture as part of an online game. “I was trying to write enough story for a $100 million dollar MMO, which never happened,” Franck elaborates, “but you wind up creating as much content as you possibly can.”

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Franck had to develop details beyond just what would show up on the screen or on the page. “I needed Mars not to just be one location but many locations; I needed the outer solar system to be many locations,” he says. “So it led to me doing a lot of research on what Ganymede is like and Io and creating little pockets of civilization for all of those places so that they could be good game locations. Then when all of that went away and became a book, I still had all that stuff.”

Abraham then stepped in and pulled Franck’s rich background into the setting for a longer narrative. Abraham explains, “I said, ‘You’ve done all this research; I’ve written some novels. I know how to do that. Let’s put these two together – it’s already done.’”

With The Expanse now filming its second season, the James S. A. Corey team isn’t resting on its laurels as they prepare to release a sixth Expanse novel in December called Babylon’s Ashes, in which Holden and company must combat a strengthening pirate presence in the outer solar system. Says Franck, “It’s completing the story that we started with book 5, which is Nemesis Games. That was sort of a single story divided across two books, so we’re finishing up that story and setting the stage now for the last three.”

Readers of the novels of course know that details from the later books are already appearing in The Expanse, even in season 1. “One of the things that’s been really interesting is having the back story that we kind of hid in the books come up earlier in the show,” says Abraham. “So you might end up seeing hints and parts of characters that we were a little more coy with a little more up front on the screen.”

The Expanse returns for its second season on Syfy in January of 2017. Babylon’s Ashes has a release date of December 6, 2016.


Adaptations like The Expanse were part of the discussion on the latest episode of Sci Fi Fidelity. Listen below or subscribe! iTunes | Stitcher | Soundcloud

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