RogerBW's Blog

The Expanse season 1 24 September 2016

2015-2016 science fiction, 10 episodes. When the ice-hauler Canterbury gets destroyed, the Belters blame Mars, Mars blames Earth, and Earth blames the Belters.

I've already reviewed the book Leviathan Wakes, and indeed made a point of reading it before watching the series, so I won't talk about the plot in any detail, except to say that this first series doesn't reach the end of the first book; it gets as far as the principals' departure from Eros, which is around 60% of the way through. On the other hand, it adds cutaways to Chrisjen Avarasala playing UN politics on Earth, something that doesn't appear in the first book at all. For television, it's pretty slow-moving, taking time to develop its plots rather than trying to squeeze a full story into each 42-minute "hour"; this is what modern television can do when it's given the time and space to get things right.

There are I think two useful comparisons one can make: how does the series work as a retelling of the story in the book, and how does it compare with other current SF television? As a version of the book, it elides some details, but adds in others; all the key moments are here, but not slavishly re-presented. Rather, the directors have made a point of showing what's going on; this is a more visually-orientated show than many that originate as TV scripts. And, I assume because the TV audience is probably bigger than the book audience these days and certainly more vocally intolerant of inactive female characters, the producers have significantly expanded the role given to Naomi, who in the book was more love interest than anything else; here she's allowed to show off her own skills too. There is a bit more explanation of just who is getting up to the nefarious goings-on, both at a technical and at a political level, something that in the book was largely displaced by action scenes.

It is lovely to see that, after many many years, a TV effects team can say "look, the spaceship is decelerating, that means the drive nozzle is pointed in the direction it's going" and not get shouted down by the producers. The black goo of the books becomes glowing blue goo, but with many scenes deliberately underlit that's probably necessary.

Most people will already have a preference between books and TV, though. Compared with other contemporary SF series, well, it avoids rubber-suit aliens and whizz-bang space battles. (There are space battles here, but they're mostly quick, terrifying and lethal.) This is probably the best TV SF I've seen since the second season of the Battlestar Galactica remake, when it was still just about possible to believe the showrunners knew what they were doing. This is a world with people in it, maybe somewhat stereotyped people, but people even so. The other SF series set in space that I've been watching lately are Dark Matter and Killjoys, and if I had to choose I'd take this over either of them.

The series has been renewed for a second season.

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See also:
Leviathan Wakes, James S. A. Corey

  1. Posted by Dr Bob at 01:14pm on 25 September 2016

    Yeah I really like The Expanse. Yay, near future! Yay, politics in space! Yay, shades of grey rather than black hats & white hats.

    A friend loaned me his copy. I saw it before reading any of the books (just got the 2nd volume from the library), so it is interesting to compare and contrast. Have now bought my own copy of Season 1 and am re-watching it.

  2. Posted by Owen Smith at 06:07pm on 17 November 2016

    I bought this on Blu Ray from Amazon (through the blog link!) on your recommendation. I'm enjoying it immensely for the most part. But occasionally some really stupid scientific thing they say spoils the atmosphere. For example why does exposure to Cadmium require anti radiation meds for the rest of your life? That's not how heavy metal poisoning works, and the physics of that aren't going to be different in the future. The sad thing is it's quite clear from much of the rest of it that research has been done quite well, so how do they make such stupid mistakes? There have been three of these annoyances so far, and I'm five episodes in.

  3. Posted by Owen Smith at 06:14pm on 17 November 2016

    Having now re-read your blog post I'm amazed female charaters have less of a role in the books, they don't get much in the TV series. Basically in the prinicipals there is the customary one female. Only in the secondary characters does this lift itself above the usual "I suppose we should have some female characters" level. If the books are worse then I'll skip them.

  4. Posted by RogerBW at 06:26pm on 17 November 2016

    Thanks for using the link! Not that I've made enough money for them actually to pay me anything yet, but ever little helps.

    The main characters are of the same sexes in the books - but Naomi gets much less to do there.

    I don't recall cadmium being mentioned; in the books it's abundantly clear that the contamination at Eros Stations is radioactive.

  5. Posted by Owen Smith at 03:07pm on 18 November 2016

    In the TV series the problem was one of the tunnels broke into a cadmium vein and the miners were being poisoned with cadmium vapour. Nothing was said about radioactivity that I noticed and it all sounded like heavy metal poisoning. And then they suddenly throw in the line about anti cancer meds.

    Battlestar Galactica remake dealt with the problem of gender imbalance rather better I felt, by changing the gender of some of the characters. This immediately gave them meatier roles. I'm reminded that The Avengers scripts for Diana Rigg originally assumed a man was going to be cast in the part, or at least it would be shared with two male characters.

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