Monday, February 20, 2017

The Expanse: Seven Reasons Why You Should be Watching This Show

First, I'm going to make a guess.

You're here because you love science fiction in more ways than just books.

If so, trust me, if you're not already doing so, you should really check out The Expanse, SyFy Channel's original series that is just starting its second season. Why? Because it's everything good science fiction should be--told within the framework of a darkly imagined future, with terrific characters, factual science (which is neither boring nor dumbed-down) and very high stakes.

For booklovers, this television series was based on a series of books by James S. A. Corey, which is actually the writing team of Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham. I got to see Ty Franck in action with a panel of Caltech scientists and this author can hold his own with the most brilliant minds. Getting it right was very important to him.

The series "went deep" with the books, pulling in characters from connected novellas to round out the cast and the story. I haven't read the books yet. I'll save that for a time after this series ends--which hopefully will be in the distant future. This one's a keeper.

Some describe it as "Game of Thrones meets Battlestar Galactica" and though the tag fits it's also a little superficial. I haven't fallen this much in love with a sci-fi series since the demise of Defying Gravity, which was never given a chance to find an audience due to network politics and a DOA time slot late on Sunday night. 

I really don't want to see The Expanse fall into the same pit, so I've made it my mission to spread the word. If I were ever to write straight sci-fi, this would be the kind of story I'd want to tell.

Here are some insights from the author team, because what writer out there doesn't want to know what it's like to stand on the deck of a ship you created on a page years before? (Hey, we can all dream, can't we?) They also discuss their system for collaborating. (Cool insights for authors, but readers may prefer to skip it.)

I could give you a hundred reasons why this show rises above the rest, but instead, I'll key in on just seven things that make The Expanse so remarkable. And I'll do it with clips so you can get an actual taste for this world.

Number 7.
The future. It's 200 years from now, but a time that still reflects much of the here and now. The slang has changed and the language has evolved, but the basic needs, desires and struggles of humanity are the same as we begin to colonize the solar system. In this clip, the cast explains the complex world-building behind The Expanse.

The wide diversity of the cast is just one element that seems dead-on. As we start to colonize our solar system, I believe it will be a global effort and that means the colonies will reflect global diversity. The future won't belong to, as Ty Franck put it during a Caltech panel discussion, "white guys in space." And true to that thinking, this is not a "white guys in space" series. In fact, it's also not a "guys in space" series. It's shot through with strong, tough-minded female characters--engineers, politicians, military officers and even marine gunnies.

Number 6.
The characters. Holden--reluctant leader. Miller--jaded cop. Chrisjen--driven politician. Naomi--brilliant engineer. Amos--mechanic and bad-ass loose cannon. Alex--ice trawler pilot with a eye-brow raising past. The story begins with three story threads--Holden's, Miller's and Chrisjen's--that become closely interwoven as events unfold. Julie Andromeda Mao is a minor character who creates the glue for all the plot threads. Detective Miller, the cop from asteroid Ceres, is assigned to find her because a missing person report was filed by her fabulously wealthy father, and Miller ends up chasing her halfway across the solar system. Solving the case is not his primary objective. She is. Holden, a newly drafted Executive Officer on an aging ice trawler is soon on her trail too, but for different reasons. What happens to Julie Mao (no spoilers, but....OMG, wow!) will create huge political complications for Chrisjen. (Who, BTW, has one of the most spectacular wardrobes ever created for television.)

To get a better sense of these multi-layered personas, here's an introduction in the actor's own words.

Oh, and let's not forget Roci. More about her in Number #4.

Number 5.
Realism. The title of this clip is Zero G Gunfight. Two hundred years in the future no method of generating reliable artificial gravity has been invented yet. There's some gravity generated due to movement, such as thrust gravity, spin gravity, etc., but much of the time, it's just plain no gravity. So what do they do to avoid floating about? Two words. Mag boots. Sometimes the gravity cuts out unexpectedly--like in the middle of a firefight--and then they need to have knowledge of the laws of physics to save their butts. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. James Holden uses his head--and his boot--to work through this dilemma.

The production teams' devotion to realism was also highlighted in the Caltech panel. They actually have a person responsible to ensure the starfield shown in the background of the space scenes depicts the correct stars and orientation to the particular point in space where the action happens. Has anyone even thought of that before for a sci-fi television series?

Yes, amazing realism.

Number 4.
Attention to detail. Here's one example. What do you do after you inherit a Martian gunship from a vaporized destroyer? Disguise it. Stat! Starting with the transponder that identifies the ship.

James Holden explains that Rocinante means "work horse" in Spanish. But it also carries a meaning in popular folklore. Rocinante was the name of Don Quixote's horse when he went on his impossible quest and dreamed his impossible dream.

Coincidence? I think not. One of the episodes is titled Windmills.

Number 3.
Seamless science. Case in point--Flip and Burn: High G Ship Maneuver. They get the science right, but still make it suspenseful and fascinating. No, Virginia, "suspenseful science" is not an oxymoron, and you don't necessarily have to blow things up to make a scene dramatic. (Though there is plenty of that, too.)

This is one of my fave scenes to date (but there are probably too many to count).

So what's "the juice"? In the "Science Behind The Expanse" panel at Caltech, the writers explained that high G events such as what James Holden called a "flip & burn"--or flipping the ship around to fire the engines in a new direction, or merely to slow down by counteracting acceleration--refer to the heavy gravity produced by the thrust of a starship pushing the passengers toward the rear of the vessel. This causes the blood vessels to stress and capillaries to burst, especially in the eyes. "The juice" is a formula that makes the arteries and blood vessels more elastic during the time the ship is moving forward rapidly in space, exerting huge pressure on the human body. Fascinating stuff.

Number 2.
Sexy times! Yup. There's sexy times in the asteroid belt--some of it in Zero G. But sorry, no video! The only clip I could find was overdubbed with cheap porno music, so I'll spare you that. You may have gotten a glimpse of Holden's sexy times in the Number 6 characters video above. The relationship is short-lived, but very, very important for Holden's character and for an understanding of what drives him on this quest to tilt with windmills.

Number 1.
Expect the unexpected. This is the pivotal scene in the first episode that sets everything in motion. Our prime crew (James Holden, Naomi, Amos, Alex and the medic) is sent out in the Knight, one of the shuttles from ice trawler Canterbury (aka "The Cant") to investigate a distress signal originating from a derelict ship called the Scapuli.

They board the Scapuli to investigate and THEN...well, just see for yourself.

If you're not convinced by this point that you must see this show, then it's probably not for you. (Move along, move along...)

But to quote a few hundred thousand rogue belters, "Remember the Cant!"

P.S. I've reference the Caltech panel on "The Science Behind The Expanse" several times in this blog. If you're interested in viewing it, you can find it on YouTube (just click the title above to be linked). It runs about an hour and a half and discusses the Epstein drive and many other topics in more detail. Many thanks to fellow SFR author Sabine Priestley for bringing it to my attention in a Facebook post.

Have a great week!


  1. You don't have to convince me Laurie! Thanks to the DVR, The Expanse is one of the few shows that I never miss. I would put characters right at the top of my reasons list, followed by awesome plotting.

  2. Cool, Riley, glad you're a fellow--we need a name for fans--Expansers? LOL I record it too. Never want to miss an episode and watch many of them several times.

  3. As usual it hasn't got here, or at least not on a TV channel I can access. Right now the only scifi I'm watching is a re-reun of Farscape (even though I have all the DVDs) and an alternative timeline drama that's just started - SS-GB - where we didn't win the war and became occupied by Germany.

    1. Pippa, someone commented that Season 2 wasn't available in the UK yet, so I'm guessing Season 1 is available...somewhere?

    2. Yeah, I caught the tweet when I checked into the Brigade account. After research, it was exclusive on Netflix here, which we don't subscribe to. So, could be a few years until we get it on a Freeview channel...

  4. I am a fellow, uh, ExPy?, entranced from the beginning, mostly because of the space opera noir elements--jaded cop, dark "belter" settings, twisted plots. I LOVE the strong female characters and people of color. I do look askance at the use of projectile weapons in pressurized containers, ie. spaceships and stations. Since a stray "bullet" of any kind in a tin can in space can be just as fatal to the one who fires it as the one it's fired at, seems like some bright Belter would long ago have thought of some other way to kill his fellows. Just sayin, kopeng.

    1. I agree, it did give me pause when renegade cop Miller fired off a couple of rounds on Ceres to get everyone's attention. My thought was, Ack! I assumed--for sake of realism--that since Ceres Station is a pretty big place there must have been many, many walls and bulkheads between that particular place and the vacuum of space, so just about zero risk.

      I do think the projectile weapons worked in the Season 2 space battle scene though, because the point was to disable the other ship. Loved how the crew donned EVA suits when they were prepping for the skirmish, knowing they were going to get punctured and lose their atmosphere. That was one of the most intense space battle scenes ever.


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