clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
Graphic grid of book covers and photo of the two authors Graphic: James Bareham/Polygon | Photo: Liza Trombi

Filed under:

The Expanse authors were always building toward Leviathan Falls’ world-altering ending

James S.A. Corey duo Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck get spoilery about their biggest choices

If you buy something from a Polygon link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Sadie Gennis is the managing editor of Polygon. She’s been covering TV and entertainment for nearly 15 years, with her work appearing in TV Guide, Variety, and Vulture.

After 10 years and nine novels, James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse series ended in November with the release of Leviathan Falls. Readers will get one final trip into The Expanse’s world when the upcoming novella The Sins of Our Father is released in March 2022, and fans of the television adaptation will also get a sixth and final season, which premieres on Amazon Prime Video on Dec. 10. Co-authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, who write together under the Corey pen name, tell Polygon that the TV show will provide a “good resolution” to the on-screen story, but it’s only in Leviathan Falls that fans can see how James Holden and his Roci family’s full story artfully comes to a close.

[Ed. note: Extensive spoilers ahead for Leviathan Falls.]

After decades of fighting to democratize information and unite humanity, Holden is forced to go against these values in order to save the human race from succumbing to Duarte and the ring builders’ plans to subsume humanity into their hive mind. By injecting himself with the protomolecule, Holden is able to seize control of the ring station in order to keep the dark gods at bay long enough for everyone — including the Roci crew — to evacuate the ring space. Naomi and Amos head for Sol, while Alex says goodbye to his found family to be with his biological family in the Nieuwestad system, taking the Roci with him. Once the ring space is cleared, Holden uses the last of his strength to destroy the gates, making an executive decision for all of humanity in order to save them — a bleak irony that is not lost on him.

The ending is equal parts heart-wrenching and hopeful, and it’s what Abraham and Franck have been building toward for more than a decade. The pair even knew Leviathan Falls’ last line — Naomi musing, “The stars are still there. We’ll find our own way back to them” — since they were writing the second book, Caliban’s War.

In conversation with Polygon, Abraham and Franck discussed the inevitability of Holden’s fate, the book’s open-ended epilogue, humanity’s resilience in the face of impossible odds, and — of course — aliens.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

The end of Holden’s story feels both inevitable and ironic. What was your process for figuring out his arc and building toward this moment where he’s forced to make the kind of choice he always fought against?

Daniel Abraham: What we were trying to do was take this very righteous guy with a very strong opinion and spiral him through more and more experiences, depth, uncertainty, and gray until we had him still very much himself, but at a place where he could make this impossible choice, this choice on behalf of everyone, when that’s exactly what he didn’t ever want to do. And we did that with a bunch of other characters too. If you look at Naomi, she was trying not to be a leader. She was trying to hide behind her hair in the first book. That’s not where she wound up.

Ty Franck: And Elvi utterly goes against all of her scientific principles, all the things that she would have sworn were the most important aspects of her ethical life. She breaks all of them in an attempt to save humanity. One of the things we do over and over with characters is we show them in the spot where they’re most comfortable, and then we drag them out of it. […] The only character that that never happens to is Amos, because Amos is only one thing, and he’s only ever going to be one thing. And it turns out that that one thing is very tough to kill.

In the epilogue, we learn that Amos is the one helping guide humanity through this next stage. Why was this the right place for him to land?

Abraham: We had him refer to himself as the last man standing really early in the series. […] He’s that combination of weird compassion and total lack of sentimentality that it just felt right. What a great place to grow to.

Franck: And as a guide for a broken humanity, he seems like a guy, as Daniel said, without sentimentality. So he’s going to say, “Stop being such dipshits.” And when they don’t stop being a bunch of dipshits, he’s going to kill all the ones that are necessary to get everybody else back on board. […] He just seems like the perfect person to do that.

The epilogue leaves a lot open to readers’ interpretation — now that the different systems can be connected again, will history repeat itself or can people find a better way forward? What were your intentions there?

Abraham: Part of what we were doing with the whole series was making the argument that history is prophecy, that humans don’t actually change much as an organism. The stuff we were doing in Rome, we’re doing now. And the happy ending that we have is, now we’ve got 1,300 chances to get it right. Now, maybe somebody will figure it out. One of the reasons I think the epilogue is short is, I’m not sure what that would look like.

So much of this book raises questions about the definition of selfhood and identity, from Duarte’s planned hive mind to Amos’ transformation to the way time has changed the Roci crew. How did this theme influence the characters and the story?

Franck: Daniel and I disagree greatly on the nature of consciousness, but the one thing we absolutely agree on is that humans are just a story we’re constantly telling ourselves, and that story is very important to us. Most of the horrible things that people do — and most of the great things that people do — are because that is the story they want to believe about themselves. […] And to most people, changing the story about what we are is the greatest violation that can happen to us. And we will die to keep that from happening. […] You take that fact of humanity and you present it with, “Hey, everybody, we can win, but all we have to do is give up the thing that is the most important aspect of every human life.” What’s the human reaction to that gotta be? I don’t think it’s going to be quiet acquiescence.

Whenever there’s a mysterious threat or figure, there’s always the risk that if you reveal too much, it will lose its potency. But we did get to learn a lot more about the ring builders and their destroyers in this book. How did you find that balance between answering questions about these alien species without explaining too much?

Abraham: We knew a lot about the evolutionary history of the gate builders and how their biology affected what they did, how they saw things differently, and the strategy that we saw in book one of hijacking other life and using that and incorporating it. So all of that was actually pretty well thought out. It was just finding a way to explain it that wasn’t just a graduate lecture. And the ring entities, they were always supposed to be mysterious. They were always supposed to be the dark gods. I know that there are folks who really like having all of the answers, and that’s great, but I don’t think it’s ever satisfying.

After the past few years, people have much more of a first-hand understanding of how quickly what we know to be reality can change, and what it’s like to live through a period of universal tragedy and uncertainty. How do you think the ongoing pandemic will influence how people relate to and receive this story?

Abraham: I will be glib. Every age lives through its tragedies. Every age lives through its uncertainties. I was growing up having nightmares about nuclear war. We’ve been through AIDS, we’ve been through polio, we’ve been through 1918. This is a singular moment in our lives, but it’s not a singular moment in history. This is something that we’ve done a lot over and over and over throughout centuries. This is just our turn, and it kind of sucks because we’re here for it. I hope that the stuff Ty and I put out is — I don’t know if comforting is right, but consoling, maybe. Just the idea that the churn is how history goes. The churn is how it is and it always has been. And even with that, we keep stumbling forward more often than not.

Franck: Humans, even when we feel defeatist […] we just keep trudging forward. And I think that’s what gets us from age to age. You read about horrors of history, like the Trail of Tears — they kept walking. People were dropping dead on the trail, and they kept walking anyway. And some of them got to where they were going. […] Some people just hang on. And I think that is, to me, one of the most compelling things about humans, is we just hang on.

The upcoming anthology Memory’s Legion will include the final novella in the series. What can readers expect from The Sins of Our Fathers?

Franck: It’s a bit of a coda to the series. It’s probably not what people are expecting, but that’s OK. In some ways, it is the conversation about what you have to do next. Daniel talked about the 1,300 chances to get it right, and it is just one little story of one of those 1,300 chances of somebody trying to get it right.

Beyond this novella, do you ever anticipate revisiting this world again?

Franck: No. We told the story we wanted to tell.

Abraham: What I do hope is that folks who are hungry for more grab the role-playing game or start writing their own stuff […] and keep the literary conversation going. That would be how I would want to see this. I wouldn’t want to see another Expanse book.

The full cover of Leviathan Falls by James S.A. Corey

Leviathan Falls

  • $24
  • $30
  • 21% off

Prices taken at time of publishing.

The biggest science fiction series of the decade comes to an incredible conclusion in the ninth and final novel in James S.A. Corey’s Hugo-award winning space opera that inspired the TV series, now from Amazon Studios.