It’s common for shows to have fans. It’s rare for them to have rabid fans. Rarer still is a show that has such a strong following that its fans are able to get the world’s richest man to save it.
The Expanse is probably the best all-round science fiction show out there. Based on the books of James S.A Corey (a pen name — the books are actually written by two authors), it plays out in a future where humans have settled the solar system and the political, technological ethical and philosophical consequences that follow.
Few shows touch multiple themes and pull them off so well, at least the creator of Game of Thrones thinks so.
Every viewer of the show has their reasons to love it, but here are some that would appeal to the unconverted:
Real Villains With Real Motives
A lot of science fiction suffers from badly written antagonists — they’re evil just for the sake of the plot. The Expanse, however, has great Villains:
- They resemble actual villains that exist today. There are greedy corporatists willing to sacrifice human life for profit, deluded terrorists who claim to represent the oppressed, despots that try to get their hands on weapons of mass destruction and plain old power-mongers. The villains have real, believable reasons that make you, at times, sympathise with them.
- Each one reveals aspects of the human condition such as greed, hatred, insecurity and ego. This makes them unique and leads to great dialogue, situations and lore.
No small detail is spared. The creators of this show have put a lot of effort into making its universe authentic and it shows.
A simple example: In this version of the future, humans that live in the asteroid belt have their distinct accent called belter creole with unique slang and tones.
No effort is wasted in making the world feel lived in. There’s a scene involving a character whose only shown for five minutes, but he was given such a rich backstory and motivation, it made me look him up on the wiki.
For some reason, I still remember that random character even though he wasn’t needed for the story, which goes to show the level of storytelling on display.
Each setting feels unique, no two characters look the same, the ships have character. Every part of the world has its idiosyncrasies.
Realistic Science. Realistic Fiction
I have a masters degree in mechanical engineering so unrealistic science really pisses me off in shows and movies.
I keep nit-picking the realism of literally everything technical. I have a mini anger fit whenever I see unexplained artificial gravity, spacecraft that turn like aeroplanes, sound in space or when every planet has a breathable atmosphere.
The Expanse has never given me a reason for such unnecessary emotional outbursts. The creators pay extra attention to the physics of the universe — to the point of consulting actual physicists to maintain realism. Some cool stuff that’s realistic and makes the show even better:
- Humans that aren’t born on planets have weaker bones which means they cant stay in the gravity fields of planets for too long. This creates interesting plot points.
- The ships behave exactly like real-life spacecraft. They don’t behave like planes in space that make long sweeping turns while banking. Also, when they need to stop or change direction, the ship has to point its engine in the right place and then accelerate accordingly.
Unparalleled Space Battles
The ships in the show are some of the best I’ve seen in any sci-fi IP. They all straddle the fine line between realism and fantasy, with massive helpings of utilitarian cool. The space combat here puts Star Wars to shame. There is a real sense of danger, nobody’s guaranteed to survive and it’s never clear if there’s a way out.
Additionally, The Expanse also integrates the peril of being in space with its action.
For example, a recurring theme in the show is that in order to escape danger, whether in the form of a missile or asteroids — the ships need to undertake high G manoeuvres (changing direction very quickly). High G movement takes a massive toll on the human body and this fact is used to create interesting and nail-biting battles.
I haven’t seen any other work where the reality of physics is used so effectively to sell danger and suspense.
Politics made entertaining
In a nutshell, the three main powers of the future Solar System are Earth, Mars and the loosely allied people of the asteroid belt. Each side has its unique style and interests, and somewhat represent the superpowers of today.
You probably won’t leave this show with a profound understanding of geopolitics but you’ll be thoroughly entertained and perhaps may see how differences in power play out in the real world based on the events in The Expanse.