Caution: some show spoilers ahead!
I’m a huge fan of space operas, hard science fiction, and space grit. The more spaceships, alien encounters, and political intrigue a science fiction show has, the better. What I crave is the fire and darkness of space, the idea of a galactic story than can either elevate your perception of space travel, or jettison it into a cold, dark vacuum. What I need is a space opera.
It’s been a while since I’ve had the chance to enjoy a good science fiction show, to be swept off of my feet by its intro music and enamored by its characters. I’ve been longing for a series that can satisfy my nerd lust for exoplanets, cocky astrophysicists, shiny space ships, and the grittiness that is space. A series that I can binge watch whilst drinking beer and shooting the shit with my brother, or cackle about to bored coworkers during hump day.
To be honest, I had given up on finding a compelling space odyssey, and actually started making a concerted effort to re-watch vintage work in the genre as a means of satisfying my need for hardcore science fiction. I was in the middle of re-watching Battlestar Galactica, when I began hearing whispers about a new science fiction series airing on the SyFy network. Eventually these whispers evolved to a steady rumble on Twitter and other social media platforms; I had to investigate, and what I discovered was The Expanse.
Based on a series of novels written by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck under the pen name James S. A. Corey, The Expanse is filled with political intrigue, greed, poverty, decadence, and socio-economic unrest. Set in the not too distant future, the show navigates a complicated world in which the Solar System has been colonized, with humans found as far out as the asteroid belt.
Key political players in the series include the governments of Earth, Mars, and the Outer Planet Alliance (OPA). Earth and Mars have the most powerful governments in the system, with UN ruled Earth portrayed as a technologically advanced, clean, over populated, shiny and chrome planet with few jobs and many assistance programs. Most of its surface is developed, with its last wilderness areas policed by radical groups created by genetic collectives.
Mars, unlike Earth, is still in the throes of defining itself, with much of its population comprised of scientists whose mission is to terraform the red planet. Martian citizens live in domes, and dream of having an ocean one day. They have a financially stable government that is technologically advanced with a military that flies about in badass spaceships. Mars and Earth don’t trust each other, and the relationship between the two governments is precarious.
And then there is the OPA; a group of radicals who fight for the rights of Belters and are considered by Mars and Earth to be terrorist for doing so. Belters are the Solar System’s oppressed people. They live on ships and space stations, or within the bowels of asteroids or rocky planetary moons, destroying their bodies to get at water, precious metals, and whatever else Earth and Mars needs to survive. In other words, Belters are pissed, resulting a slightly revolutionary feel to the show.
As you can tell, there is a density of ideas examined in The Expanse that requires a true love of hardcore science fiction. The first episode starts with a little mystery as well as a large info dump. The show proceeds to layer complexity as it progresses, and characters are slowly introduced and flushed out.
The main characters include ice hauler James Holden (an Earther), powerhouse politician Chrisjen Avasarala (Earther), and mangy cop Josephus Miller (a Belter). Holden and Miller are just two space worn men caught up in a conspiracy of massive proportions, while Avasarala uses her political prowess to influence the dangerous world of interplanetary politics. Their narratives start off separately, with each of them navigating the tumultuous political environment that defines all aspects of life in the solar system. For Holden, unforeseen circumstance and an eerie distress call hurl him and his crew into a deadly game of political intrigue powered by the shadowy machinations of a secret organization.
Miller is a disgruntled cop that works for Earth on a Belter populated asteroid. He is quirky, and reminiscent of Decker from Blade Runner. He isn’t taken seriously by his peers, and is ostracized by his fellow Belters for selling out to the Earthers. He sports a hat in defiance of other Belters, who see it as his acceptance of Earther culture. His character appears lazy and unmotivated until he becomes obsessed with a case involving a missing former socialite. As he follows the clues in his investigation he becomes ensnared in a conspiracy that involves Mars, Earth, and the OPA.
Avasarala is a seasoned politician who uses an arsenal of points and counterpoints to protect Earth’s interests. As powerful as she is, she quickly becomes aware that she does not know everything that is happening in her domain, and must use her skills to protect Earth, as well as herself and her family.
I don’t want to spoil too much of the plot; the show must be watched to be fully appreciated. I will say that its production value is pretty great, and that its use of a diverse cast is refreshing.
I strongly recommend The Expanse to all you space nerds that have been thirsting for an epic space opera. The season finale recently aired on the SyFy network, but you can binge watch all of its episodes on Amazon’s streaming video app. The second season will air in 2017.
Jahkotta Lewis is a professional archaeologist, an amateur astronomer, and an aspiring writer. When she is not exploring Pacific Island Archaeology, she spends her time hiking through native forest, spelunking within the depths of an active volcano, and watching/reading all things fantasy and science fiction.