December 7, 2015
Now it can be told: I drove to Santa Fe last week to see a special premier showing of the first two episodes of The Expanse TV series, SyFy Channel’s new spaceship drama based on the novels of James S.A. Corey.
Full disclosure: The authors behind James S.A. Corey, Daniel and Ty, are my friends. (Read here about the time Ty and I almost got superpowers when lightning struck Daniel’s house.) I was a beta reader on a few of the Expanse books. What this means is that I’m completely and utterly incapable of being objective about this show. Just to warn you. I love the books, I really want the show to be good, and I really want my friends’ work to succeed beyond their wildest dreams.
Honestly, if I didn’t like the show I probably wouldn’t talk about it at all because I wouldn’t know what to say. But here I am, talking about the show. I’ll try to do it without spoilers.
I really like it. And the more I think about it, the more I like it, which is a neat trick. We all know about my spaceship fetish, right? (“I like big ships and I cannot lie…”) So many gorgeous beautiful ships. Holy cow. But more than that is the utter conviction that all of these characters really are living and working in this environment as a matter of course. The setting doesn’t draw attention to itself, it just is, and that more than anything sells the science fiction of it. This world is so lived-in, it’s gorgeous.
Moreover, this is a segment of space opera we just don’t see very often — a good-faith extrapolation of what settling the solar system might look like in a couple hundred years. This isn’t a far-flung future where living and working in space is taken for granted, like Firefly. This isn’t Star Trek where so much of the hard work is handwaved away. The Expanse is industrial and difficult. Wrenches and sweat and hand-cranking open broken airlocks, constant worry about water and air, but on top of that looking at the second-nature instincts that develop in people who’ve lived their whole lives in this environment. The Belters have their own dialect — and the show doesn’t use subtitles. The viewer can’t really understand it, which serves to highlight even more that settling space is changing humanity. With this show, we get to watch that process. It’s really cool.
What about the story? Well. We have three main characters: Holden, Miller, Avasarala. In the first two episodes, they each pick up a thread of a mystery that they’re going to have to solve. I don’t think I’m revealing too much to say that those threads are all going to lead back to the same knot. This is a lovely way to structure a story and I have confidence it will unfold nicely. After the last few shows I’ve been watching — Jessica Jones, The Last Kingdom, the DC superhero shows — with their near-baroque plots going off in a dozen directions and pulling in subplot after subplot, the laser focus that The Expanse seems to be setting up with its plot is a bit startling. And quite a relief, I must say.
So, in conclusion: If you’re a fan of the books, the show does them justice. If you’re a fan of spaceship science fiction, this is absolutely the show you’ve been jonesing for since Battlestar Galactica jumped the shark (I still can’t hear “All Along the Watchtower” without feeling a tiny burning ember of rage.). I’m so, so pleased, not just on behalf of my friends, but because I finally have a new spaceship show to watch that won’t drive me nuts.
And I cannot wait to meet the Rocinante. Just. Can’t. Wait. Oh, she’s gonna be so pretty, I just know it. . .
The first two episodes air next week. The first is already online for your consideration. Go on, you know you want to…