Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Some Thoughts on "The Expanse"

Tonight the Syfy channel debuted a new series titled "The Expanse." After a long period in which the channel broadcast nothing of interest to me (sorry, I didn't watch "Sharknado"), they've finally come up with a decent show.

Not that I don't have issues with the show.

I'm not expecting innovative science fiction. The show is based on a series of books, which the authors intended to be space opera. Now, space opera can be a lot of fun. But it's focused on action, not new concepts.

Most of my own science fiction reading took place 30 years ago. Yet I've seen nothing in "The Expanse" that wasn't explored by other writers long ago.

For example, the independence of the inhabitants of the Belt was explored in Larry Niven's "Gil the ARM" series. He also wrote a lot about how humans would be changed by living in varying gravity. War between Earth and its colonies was one feature of Samuel R. Delaney's Triton. And so on.

No, space opera like The Expanse (the book) or "The Expanse" (the TV series) lives or dies on action and its characters.

I've only seen the first episode, but so far the producers have done a satisfactory job. The sets (most of which are probably CGI) are too pretty and too large, but this is TV. I did read the first book in this series, and most Belters are supposed to live in cramped, rather shabby spaces.

(SPOILER) In a later episode, Detective Miller is fired and leaves Ceres. He carries everything he owns in a single bag. We only saw one short scene of Miller in his lodgings, but it didn't look like the apartment of someone who could fit all his belongings in a backpack.

But this is TV. People want to see pretty pictures, and CGI can make us lots of pretty pictures.

There are also some aspects that they're just not going to get right. Gravity, for one thing. Ceres is supposed to be under .3 of Earth gravity. You'd walk differently under .3 g. But, even if the show could do that, it would look very strange. Another gravity-related issue is the attenuated bodies of the Belters. But there just aren't that many tall, extremely thin actors available--not good ones, anyway. So most of the Belters are just skinny-but-normal actors.

By the way, wouldn't low gravity attenuate the rat and the bird? I don't know, but I assume it would.

One thing that the casting director could do, however, is give us more variety. I counted one African-American who had lines, and a few actors that I assumed were South Asians (Indians, Pakistanis, etc.). I didn't see a single East Asian (Chinese, Japanese, etc.). Most of the cast were Anglos.

If nothing else, more diversity would help us tell the actors apart. For example, on the shuttlecraft Knight, there was a crew of five. One was female, and the other four were all white guys with black hair! All of them needed a shave (or had full beards). Yes, one (the assistant engineer) was heavier than the rest, another (the pilot) always wore a watch cap, and the medic...well, I knew it was him because he wasn't a pretty as the lead, Holden. But why couldn't one of them have been Chinese? Or just an Anglo with red hair? In fact, the only blonde I recall in the entire cast was Holden's navigator girlfriend!

One last thing: we know how zero-g sex works. Yes, some of our Astronauts have had sex in space. And you don't do it like Holden and his blonde navigator girlfriend did it.

Sex involves thrusting, so there's an equal and opposite reaction. Our Astronauts found that you need to harness the participants together to keep them from flying apart. (I assume it's a stretchy, rubber harness.)

But again: show business! A harness would probably look like fetish or bondage gear.

Well, I expect to keep watching "The Expense"...at least for a few more episodes.