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The Expanse – space opera has plenty of science friction

The Expanse has been hailed by some as the best science fiction series since the reimagined Battlestar Galactica, which, for this Battlestar Galactica fan, means it has immensely huge shoes to fill.

Person clinging to the outside of a spacecraft amid an explosion

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However like the Cylons in Battlestar Galactica, it would seem that the people behind the Expanse have a plan, which hopefully will ensure the series continues and improves, because it has a lot of potential.

Based on the novels by James S.A. Corey the Expanse series, looks to at least have a solid direction, a beginning middle and end. Of course it all depends on how the writers continue to handle the source material when they adapt it for TV. But because it already has a timeline at least it’s not at the mercy of a weekly production meeting to determine where our heroes will travel to for their next round of zany adventures. Maybe, I mean what do I know about putting together a TV show? The best I can do is sit here, consume and criticise.
Also, here’s a fun fact, author James S.A. Corey is not one but two people. It’s a pen name for authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck who have collaborated to bring this story to life. Interestingly Ty Franck started developing the world where the Expanse is set as part of an idea for what was to be a massively multiplayer online role-playing game or MMORPG…

Daniel Abraham was impressed by how much work went into this and how deep the world was and pitched the idea to Franck to write a book series instead. And the rest, is history. And I can tell you, I’m six books deep into the Expanse and completely invested in this story.

But none of this information is really that important if the TV series of The Expanse is a pile of shit right?

Right.

Science fiction is probably my favourite genre, because of the sheer escapism of it. Good sci-fi done right can put you into a completely different world. But if you can’t relate to the characters (and the themes are too far out of this world) it breaks and ends up being firmly wedged in the far corner of a niche reserved only for really hard core geeks who speak Klingon or Ferenghi as a second language… That’s right, I’m looking directly at you Babylon 5 fans.

cover art from the first three Expanse novelsThe story

The Expanse is set in a distant but plausible future, within our solar system. Mars has been colonised as has the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter where they do all their mining. There’s no interstellar, warp driven travel and there’s no aliens; there’s just humans divided up into Earthlings, Martians and Belters. The result of this colonisation has given rise to three political factions Earth, Mars and the Outer Planets Alliance.

I can already hear the casual television viewers switching off in droves. They’re all saying, “dude you lost me back when you were talking about MMORPGs or some shit.”

Good! Fuck off back to watching the Bachelor or the Kardashians while the adults talk about real TV with creativity, good writing, tangible plots and people actually trying to apply their craft.

The world of the Expanse is tied together by some really relatable characters, all from various parts of the solar system, but all undeniably human, and this is the strong point of this series and something that may appeal to the more casual viewer who is not a science fiction nerd.

The cast of the ExpanseThe cast

The cast is full of relative unknowns to me with the exception of a few, Thomas Jane plays detective Miller, a sort of science fiction gumshoe you may remember him from the Punisher, The Mist or TV series Hung. Chad L. Coleman plays Fred Johnson, a leader within the Outer Planets Alliance, he played Tyrese in the Walking Dead. And Shohreh Agdashloo who you might recognise from the House of Sand and Fog (where she was nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actress) she plays Krisjen Avasarala, one of the key political figures among the Earthers. These guys are all fantastic in this series and in many ways their presence pulls it together.

What’s good?

The Expanse gets a lot of things right. I’m no science major but I feel like the science in this series is entirely plausible and the physics behind things like zero gravity, surviving in the vacuum of space and the effects being in this environment (particularly under thrust in a spacecraft) have on the body all seem really spot on to me. The other thing they nail are the characters, there’s such a broad mix from the boy scout Jim Holden who sits at the centre of the story to the corrupt detective Miller who is caught in a battle between his conscience, his allegiance to the belt and his employers.
They also get the screenplay right, they’ve managed to chop out a lot of the fat from the books and adapt it for the screen incredibly wellwhile still remaining loyal to the source material.

I really don’t want to get too far into the plot because I don’t want to give too much away, but it starts with Detective Miller searching for an extremely wealthy client’s missing daughter and an incident involving a civilian mining ship being destroyed. Political drama with an underlying detective story plays out and all of the character’s paths intertwine over time and move towards something much bigger.

Tyco space stationWhat’s bad?

It all sounds wonderful, but the show is let down in a few places. Some of the acting is incredibly wooden. For the most part you can almost forgive that but for me it really breaks up what is otherwise an exceptionally well-paced story.

This could have something to do with the fact that I have read ahead though. I have a pretty clear idea in my head as to how some characters should look and even sound. Obviously I don’t expect an exact match but when they contradict really obvious traits… for example by casting someone who, as a belter, should be tall pale and lanky with straight black hair with an actress who is around five feet tall with tanned skin and curly hair then I have something to get over before I can really enjoy it. That’s kind of unnecessary because with all the science and stuff they’re getting so spot on, they end up breaking the story by casting someone who doesn’t match the character type.

It sounds petty, but when this is someone you could be stuck with for a lot of episodes, you’ve got to find your way around it. And if you compare it to say, American Gods, for the most part the casting in that show is absolutely on point.

The Expanse has people raving though, and if you can make it through season one, which is still very good you’ll really be excited for season two, which is even better. But it continues to suffer from a same but different casting issue in that a particular character is an exact match for the type but their acting is shocking.

Bobbie Draper on board drop ship with marinesThe verdict

If you’re a sci-fi nut and you can get over some of these minor issues and sink your teeth into the story you’ll love it, and if you’re new to the genre but want a practical series that doesn’t have little green men running around this is a great place to start.

It’s no Battlestar Galactica, at least not yet.

The Expanse gets four out of five.

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2 Comments on The Expanse – space opera has plenty of science friction

  1. I have recently reviewed season 1 on my own blog, and am currently watching season 2. It is a really good show. For the most part it follows the story of the novels pretty good (I have so far read the first two parts), although a few things are different. Needless to say: I love the series a lot as well. You are right that it’s not Battlestar Galactica just yet (but yeah that series was just so good, it’s almost impossible to be that good), but it certainly has potential to grow into something that is just as good. Great post! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks mate! Making the videos is a bit out of my comfort zone, however it has become obvious to me that I can’t really maintain a presence on YouTube without doing it so I’m sucking it up! I really love the show. I think it’s awesome and the books are even better! I’m glad you like it too! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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