Random Thought Review–The Expanse (book and SyFy Original series)

If you haven’t been watching the SyFy series “The Expanse”, and you consider yourself a science fiction geek, then you are missing out on the best sci fi series on broadcast television. Yes, that’s my unabashed belief of this series.

the_expanse Back in 2015, SyFy (Sci Fi?) channel premiered their original series, “The Expanse”, based on the series of novels by author James S.A Corey. Truthfully, however, that’s the shared pen name of authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Frank, according to wikipedia.com  For simplicity sake for the remainder of this review, I’ll continue to refer to the author by the singular name or variation thereof. The imdb.com synopsis sums up (rather inadequately, imho) the series like this: “ A police detective in the asteroid belt, the first officer of an interplanetary ice freighter and an earth-bound United Nations executive slowly discover a vast conspiracy that threatens the Earth’s rebellious colony on the asteroid belt.” I’d rather describe it like this, “Call it a case of right place, right time. Or wrong place, wrong time, but the lives of three very disconnected people are unexpectedly brought together. A detective searching for a missing girl, the first office of a doomed ice freighter, and a UN politician become interconnected in a conspiracy that threatens to destroy a strained peace between Earth, Mars, and the asteroid belt colony. And to complicate an already stressful solar system, an organism of unknown origin is discovered, and plenty of powers don’t want the system to know about it.”

The tv series stars Steven Strait, Cas Anvar, Dominique Tipper, and Wes Chatham (portraying my favorite character in the series Amos Burton). The only really big names up to this season has been Shohreh Aghdashloo as Avasarala, and Thomas Jayne as Det. Miller. Jayne you’ll probably remember as Frank Castle in Punisher (the movie, not the Netflix series), and Shohreh stared in Star Trek: Beyond as Commodore Paris and season 4 of Fox’s “24”. She’s wonderful in her role, as the character in the novels is a funny, witty, foul mouthed grandmother and Shohreh really brings her to life.

Alright, as with all RandomThought reviews, I’m going to talk about what I don’t like and what I do like. In that order for this review, because honestly, there isn’t much about this that I don’t like.

Originally, one of the things I didn’t like was that I was going to lose the show on SyFy at the end of the current season (three). SyFy decided not to renew it, and I was expecting it to come to a very good stopping point in the events of the novels. But that is no longer the case, as it’s been announced that Amazon is picking up the show (it already has the rights to seasons 1 and 2) for production of season 4 at the very least. Hopefully more than that. Perhaps the only other thing I’m not real thrilled with about this book (which hasn’t translated too terribly bad into the show) is the use of strong language. I certainly won’t play the audiobook around Levi (especially when Avasarala is talking), but it’s not language that I haven’t heard. I just wouldn’t mind a little less of it.

So what do I like about the show and books? Basically, everything else.

The book series is narrated/read by Jefferson Mays, and he does a superb job bringing each character’s voice to life. While it’s not full audio drama or voice acting, Jefferson does a good job bringing Corey’s solar system to life. Each character has a distinct vocalization (again, not a full voice acting) giving real life to the characters.

While the two versions of the story take slightly different paths here and there, the tv adaptation is probably the most faithful book adaptation I have seen produced in a very long time. Conversations and descriptions of certain events from the book are nearly flawlessly translated to on screen. While certain events and characters may appear in the live action earlier than in the books, the changes are notably minor and well executed. The acting is very good and strong performances are given from the whole cast. Visual effects are stunning, as are the audio effects. Part of that has to do with Corey’s use of hard physics too. In “The Expanse”, there is no FTL, no artificial gravity, no laser beams, no force fields. Ships are either “on the float” (meaning zero-g) or possess spin or thrust gravity.  Railguns, point defense cannons, and torpedos are weapons of choice. Get a hole in your ship, lose your atmo. And that tungsten shell, It doesn’t stop, it keeps going, and going, and going. Ship blows up, debris flies away in random directions, and keeps going. Ships don’t bank and turn in space like planes in atmo, but flip and do deceleration burns, or use attitude thrusters to re-orient themselves then do hard burns to begin moving in another direction. Thrust gravity and maneuvering causes stress on the body, and passengers (for hard burns) need to be in crash couches and connected to a system that delivers a cocktail of meds to keep them from passing out/stroking out. When under low gravity, the crew has to use magnetic boots to adhere to the ships surfaces.

Since the visual depiction of zero-g is probably very cost prohibitive, everyone has magnetic boots. The clicking of the boots on the deck is a subtle, but very nice audio effect that most would overlook, but the production team here didn’t. When they have depicted zero-g sequences, things are flying or floating around and don’t look like they are on strings. The sets are detailed, realistic, and, well, frankly, I want my own Rocinante. Watch the show, you’ll understand.

The storyline I find driving and gripping. Plenty of politics, military action, and intrigue to satisfy different tastes while not trying to be super hardcore on any one of the three. It’s paced well, and certainly keeps the readers/watchers attention.

So who would I recommend this show to? Any and everyone. If you like hard sci fi, good visuals, and an excellent story, this is one for you.

That’s it for now. Another RandomThoughts review coming later.