January 7, 2016


The Expanse is the best new science fiction series in years : Put simply, this show is your new crack. (Annalee Newitz - Jan 5, 2016, Ars Technica)

Based on a series of novels by James S.A. Corey (the pen name for writing team Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck), The Expanse is both a mystery and a political thriller. A cold war has been heating up between Mars and planetoid Ceres in the Belt. The militant Belter separatist group OPA is staging protests because the wealthy cities of Mars get all their water from ice miners in the Belt, but those miners are living in decayed, oxygen-starved habitats. Earth's fleet could be deployed to "reduce tensions" at any moment, which would put Mars and Earth at odds too.

Caught up in political machinations far above their paygrade are Jim Holden (Steven Strait), an officer on the ice freighter Canterbury, and Josephus Miller (Thomas Jane), a craggy cop from Ceres. Holden and Miller are sucked into two parts of the same mystery, for very different reasons. When the Canterbury responds to a distress call from a ship called Scopuli, Holden leads an away team to investigate--only to witness a cloaked ship blow up the Canterbury, leaving him and a few crew members stranded on their tin can of a shuttle. Back on Ceres, Miller is investigating the disappearance of Julie Mao, the daughter of a rich family from Luna. After poking around, Miller realizes that Mao was on the Scopuli before the Canterbury answered its distress call.

Possibly the only person who stands a chance of figuring out the big picture here is Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), a U.N. Deputy Undersecretary who is a brilliant, 23rd-century Machiavelli. She knows all the power players, and isn't afraid to torture a Belter or two to get the information she wants. Still, when the story breaks about the Canterbury's destruction, she's stumped. The incident has turned into a viral media shitstorm, prompting more protests from Belter activists with the OPA and leading some to speculate that a military standoff between all the planets is imminent. Who is behind the attack, and what do they stand to gain from systemwide war?

And that's just the very beginning of a story that moves at a breakneck pace, but still takes the time to make its far-future world feel lived-in and realistic. The little details of this universe are so finely rendered that they become stories unto themselves, like the way interracial tensions developed on Ceres between humans who grew up gravity-deprived and spindly, versus those whose gravity-rich childhoods allow them to pass as Earthers. There is none of that clumsy Star Trek-style of representing exoplanetary civilizations, where we journey to worlds whose inhabitants are all "listeners" or "warlike." Instead, there are political factions whose members stretch across worlds. And planets (or planetoids) whose populations are fragmented by class, race, and ideology. The politics here are nuanced, and we are always being asked to rethink who is right and who is wrong, because there are no easy answers.

Posted by at January 7, 2016 6:00 PM