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The Expanse's Surprising Origin Started Long Before The Books - Exclusive

Die-hard fans of The Expanse know that the groundbreaking sci-fi series didn't start as a television show. Years before the crew of the Rocinante took to the skies on Syfy — and, after a brief cancellation, resumed on Amazon — the epic power struggle between Earth, Mars, and the Belt began in a series of novels written by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, working together under the pen name James S. A. Corey. By the time the TV show began, Abraham and Franck had published the first five books in the series. The ninth and last volume, Leviathan Falls, is due this fall, just before the show's final season drops.

And yet, the story didn't begin as a book, either. As Abraham told Looper in an exclusive interview, it actually all started as a pitch for a video game. 

Before Abraham got involved, Franck developed the world of The Expanse as the setting for a massively multiplayer online roleplaying game, similar in scope and ambition to World of Warcraft. According to Abraham, you can still see some of the remnants of the original game pitch in the final work. "World of Warcraft had two factions, so he had three," Abraham said, pointing out one similarity.

Ultimately, the project's scope was simply too big, and Franck's pitch never really went anywhere. "The people he was talking to figured out how much an MMO costs to actually get off its feet, avoided eye contact, and walked away," noted Abraham.

But Franck remained undaunted, relaunching the world as the setting for a tabletop role-playing game — a few different games, in fact. "He did a play-by-post for a while on a message board he was on," Abraham shared with Looper. "When he moved to New Mexico, he had an instance of it running up in Santa Fe with a bunch of the writers up there."

And so, most of the pieces finally fell into place. There was just one left to go: Abraham himself.

How The Expanse made the leap from a role-playing game to a series of hit novels

Though he was friends with Franck, Abraham wasn't able to join those initial Santa Fe gaming sessions. "I had a kid," Abraham said. "I couldn't go up to Santa Fe. It's an hour north of where I am. I couldn't do that to play." So, Franck brought the game to him: "He very kindly put together a version of the game to play in Albuquerque with me and him and our wives."

It was during these sessions that the story fans have come to know as The Expanse began to really take shape. Abraham's character in the game, for example, was Inspector Miller, the Belter detective who discovers a conspiracy surrounding an alien protomolecule. The Punisher and The Mist star Thomas Jane plays him in the TV show, and also directed an episode of season 5.

"You know, we didn't actually play that many times," Abraham remembered during our conversation. "We played maybe three or four times, and I was like, 'Dude, you've done all of this work. You've done all of the background. You've done all of the research. You know everything about this. We should write this as a book.'" As Abraham tells it, Franck agreed, "and things just kind of snowballed from there."

Now, over seven years later, both the books and the show are approaching their end. The Expanse's next season, its sixth, is currently set to be its last, and Abraham shared with Looper that book six has a "very natural and appropriate stepping-off place" that the show will use — even though the writing staff won't necessarily be able to wrap up all of the show's ongoing subplots.

Of course, fans remain hopeful that The Expanse might be revived to live on in another form. (Hey, it's happened before.) If it does, Abraham will be happy to see it through. "If there is an interest and a hunger for the rest of the story to come out in some other format, I would be happy to help out on that," he said.

The Expanse's fifth season is currently available on Amazon Prime. New episodes drop every Wednesday.