I’ve been a big booster of The Expanse books for a long time (note that I’ve been acquainted with one half of the author team that makes up James S. A. Corey since I’ve been on the internet), but I haven’t yet reviewed the TV show. Hey, I’m a busy guy, and there’s a lot of media out there, but I need to get this out there: you should be watching The Expanse. It’s a big-budget science fiction TV show done about as right as you can do it.
First, the facts of the show/books in case you don’t know them. It’s set 200 years in the future. An efficient drive was invented to push ships around the solar system, so humanity has spread to the Moon, Mars and to the asteroid belt and beyond. Mars broke away from Earth (now run by the UN) and has formed its own Republic. Both rely on the materials mined out in the belt. The people of the belt do the exceedingly hard and dangerous work but chafe under the leadership of the planets ‘down the well’ (as in, the gravity well of the sun). The OPA, or Outer Planets Alliance, is akin to the Irish Republican Army. There are political aspects, people who simply want to get the outer planets recognized as free, but a lot of terrorists as well.
Let’s break down the components of the show that are making it must-see TV. First, space looks amazing and real. The real sets mix seamlessly with the needed CGI to produce ships and stations with a real heft to them. Whether it’s a run-down ice hauler or the latest Martian battleship, it all feels real – and like a natural progression of tech from now to then.
But maybe spaceship battles aren’t your thing? Let me introduce you to Thomas Jane’s Detective Miller. He’s a classic noir detective. He’s seen everything, and straddles the line of corruption, much to his Earther partner’s chagrin. He gets an interesting side job from his boss – find a missing rich girl who’s gone native with the OPA, and kidnap her home to her parents. How Julie Mao ties into the struggle between the inner and outer planets is core to the show.
On the other side of things, you get Jim Holden and the crew of the ice hauler Canterbury. Holden is content to live out his days with little authority and a steady job until circumstances throw him and his crew into the middle of a conspiracy that threatens to take that UN/Mars cold war and make it a hot one.
If Firefly was your thing, Holden and the crew are what you need. They are the exact sort of misfits that end up working on an ice hauler out past the belt. Everyone is either hiding from something, leaving something behind, or looking for something. The Expanse isn’t rushing the reveals either – everybody fit neatly into a role, Naomi the engineer, Alex the pilot, Amos as the muscle – but the hints and teases of their backgrounds (filled out over more than a half-dozen books, novellas and short stories) are working their way in slowly.
Maybe you are interested in the politics of a world like this, well, they’ve got you covered too. Shohreh Aghdashloo plays Chrisjen Avarsala, a UN Deputy Undersecretary who is a master and the push-and-pull world of politics. She uses her intelligence and cultivation of relationships to work over whoever gets in her way in protecting Earth’s interests. She’s a fan favorite character from the books, and Shohreh and the writers have done an amazing job bringing Avarsala to life.
I feel like I could dedicate pages to every character, whether it’s Chad Coleman’s Fred Johnson (former military man now firmly on the OPA’s side), or Anderson Dawes, the OPA heavy that is the main thorn in Miller’s side on Ceres station. The showrunners, casting director and writers (which includes the writers of the books by the way) have done a superb job of fleshing out the world.
Convinced? Still on the fence? The first five episodes can be streamed via SyFy.com which also has some cool interactive material to go with them. After those five, you have to sign in with your TV provider’s account, or you can always purchase The Expanse‘s first season via Amazon.