Anthony J. Pennings, PhD


The Expanse: Cyberpunk in Space

Posted on | January 21, 2023 | No Comments

The cyberpunk movement emerged in the mid-1980s and has lingered on with occasional stories enticing the audience’s imaginations with their futuristic narratives and visions. Frances Bonner offered the 4 Cs of cyberpunk to examine various science fiction stories in visual media.[1] These four categories of computers, corporations, corporeality, and criminality provide a way to gauge if a narrative could be classified as part of the cyberpunk genre. I also use them as categories for socio-techical analysis of current conditions, but in this case I will conduct a more traditional genre analysis by examining a science fiction TV series.

In these posts, I use Bonner’s 4 Cs of cyberpunk to examine The Expanse, which premiered in 2015 on the Syfy network and has continued on Amazon Prime, completing its 6th season in 2022. The cyberpunk genre is interesting to me for its insights into social dynamics.

Recent examples of cyberpunk in visual media include the Blade Runner 2049 (2017), The Ghost in the Shell (2017) and several video games such as the controversial Cyberpunk 2077. Bonner considered the ABC Network show Max Headroom to be probably the most characteristic example of cyberpunk, although the goal was not to necessarily to create a canon of cyberpunk.

The Expanse (201) is based on the novels of James S. A. Corey, the joint pen name of authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. Their first novel Leviathan Wakes won the famous science fiction Hugo Award in 2012. They wrote eight more books in the series, which centers around the crew of the Rocinante, a fusion-drive-powered space ship salvaged from the Mars Congressional Republic Navy (MCRN).

The Expanse is about the colonization and commercialization of our solar system and some exploration beyond. It focuses on the terraforming of Mars and mining the Asteroid Belt. Earth is under the governance of the United Nations and in conflict with Mars, and with another faction called the Outer Planets Alliance (OPA). The OPA is an organization consisting mainly of the “Belters,” who do most of the construction and mining and are bitter about their conditions and explotation. These workers colonialized the Asteroid Belt, the dwarf planet Ceres, and some moons around the outer planets. Belters have developed their own culture, most notably a creole “pidgin” language, but even their bodies have diverged from Earth and Mars, growing long and thin due to the reduced gravity.

The 4 Cs is a framework to conduct a genre inquiry and build knowledge by addressing the categories and letting them discipline the investigation. I’ve been using it more to develop a socio-technical analysis develop a socio-technical analysis of various tech products in areas such as AI, energy, biochemistry, nanotechnology, robotics, and even space travel. Still, in this case, I’m using it for traditional genre analysis to get a sense of where science fiction is guiding our imagination. What is it saying about who we are and where we are heading as a civilization?

In general, I’m more interested in applying insights provided by cyberpunk to the social analysis of various technologies and their interrelationship with culture, economics and politics.[2] This is an exercise I often do with students. Each category of the 4Cs is an opportunity to produce evidence towards a better understanding of the complex world we live in.

But its useful to stay in touch with stories and do the genre analysis. As I’m on winter break, I’m enjoying watching the series again. In the next post of this series, I will discuss of each of the 4 Cs: Corporations, Criminality, Corporeality, and Cyberspace relate to The Expanse.


[1] Bonner, F. (1992). Separate Development: Cyberpunk in Film and Television (1037673716794540726 T. Shippey, Ed.). In 1037673715 794540726 G. Slusser (Ed.), Fiction 2000:Cyberpunk and the Future of Narrative (pp. 191-206). Athens, GA: The University of
Georgia Press

[2] See Pennings, A. (2018, August 13). The Cyberpunk Genre as Social And Technological Analysis. Retrieved December 08, 2022, from

Citation APA (7th Edition)

Pennings, A.J. (2023, Jan 21). The Expanse: Cyberpunk in Space https://

AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is a professor at the Department of Technology and Society, State University of New York, Korea teaching sustainable development and visual rhetoric. From 2002-2012, he was on the faculty of New York University where he taught comparative political economy, digital economics, and media production. He also taught film and television production at Marist College in New York and Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand. When not in the Republic of Korea he lives in Austin, Texas.


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