Quick Notes from the “Talks at Google” video with the writers of the Expanse series

I finally watched this YouTube talk with the writers of the Expanse series, one of my favorite Sci-fi series of all time (mostly through the TV show but I did end up reading 2 of the 3 books beyond the TV series). The video is from 8 years ago but the ideas shared were pretty timeless. My best friend and I have talked for years about writing a sci-fi book together but have never gotten past a few ideation sessions (too many personal projects 🙂 )

Some interesting notes from the talk:

Birth of the project:
The work started as an MMORPG game that didn’t happen, which then resulted in a tabletop game and then finally the book. The book was more of a “we have all this world already created” moment than a fresh attempt at a book.

Collaboration
The two writers (yeah I thought it was one writer but turns out James Corey was just a pen name) worked together to create an outline of events and then wrote alternate chapters (each focusing on the events of their own character) and then gave it to each other to edit. Creative collaboration is hard and this seemed like a great way to do it.

On creating Sci-fi stories:
Unlike other genres, sci-fi doesn’t have a default plot type and you can bring in other genres. So book 1 is “sci-fi noir”, other books are “sci-fi westerns”, “sci-fi-political thrillers” etc

On why Fantasy seems more popular than Science Fiction
Interesting perspective on why sci-fi kinda lost to fantasy: Sci-fi became more focused on the science and math aspects of their ideas and telling really depressing stories to a point that the authors were mostly writing to impress each other. Fantasy stories focused more on the characters and plot and were a lot more upbeat.

Why do creative collaborations fail?
One of the many reasons collaborations can fail is because the collaborators may have different ideas about the work (the kind of story or message they are sharing). The alignment on the world early on helped steward the effort towards success

On the limits of “Hard Sci-fi”
The writers don’t consider Expanse “Hard Sci-fi”, they just got a lot of credibility by keeping the stories anchored in general scientific ideas. That said, they never let the scientific aspects limit their creative work. Also keeping the limitations of science made for interesting plots that couldn’t be just solved with miraculous technology

Author: Arpit Mathur

Arpit Mathur is a Principal Engineer at Comcast Labs where he is currently working on a variety of topics including Machine Learning, Affective Computing, and Blockchain applications. Arpit has also worked extensively on Android and iOS applications, Virtual Reality apps as well as with web technologies like JavaScript, HTML and Ruby on Rails. He also spent a couple of years in the User Experience team as a Creative Technologist.

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