Science fiction, it is safe to say, is all the rage these days, and I for one couldn’t be happier. What began with the rising popularity of young adult science fiction (YASF) in the late 2000s has now led to an explosion of new works. From film and television adaptations of popular YASF works, including The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The 100 to name a few, now we’ve begun to see higher-quality sci-fi intended purely for adult audiences. These are exciting times.
Into this rising tide of science fiction, Syfy Channel has tossed The Expanse, an adaptation of the ongoing novel series by James S. A. Corey (the pseudonym of authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck), as well as Syfy’s best original TV series in years.
Set in the 23rd century, The Expanse is gritty, presenting us with a future in which humans live on different planets, with different technology, yet face many of the same problems we face today. Much of the drama in the series is derived from ongoing tensions between Earth and Mars; tensions that have settled into a cold war, with the scattered colony stations of the asteroid belt caught in the middle. As the wealthy, heavily-armed peoples of Earth and Mars rattle their respective sabers, the people of the asteroid belt (known in the series as Belters) live in squalor, worked to the bone to supply the ever-increasing demands of the two planets, knowing full well that they could well be mining the ore used to build the ships that will destroy them.
By this point, constant oppression in the form of strict air and water rationing has led to the rise of Belter revolutionaries, who seek to unite the people of the asteroid belt and force Earth and Mars to view them as equals.
Everything about The Expanse was mesmerizing. This, in my humble opinion, is the resounding masterpiece of hard science fiction that our current sci-fi renaissance sorely needed. The technology, on the whole, is very believable, particularly with regards to the construction and operation of spacecraft. Indeed, the extent to which humanity has expanded over the course of two centuries is fairly realistic. While there are those who seek to jump-start our expansion into the stars, many contemporary space theorists consider full-scale colonization to be a ways off. In fact, there are those who might consider having Mars and the asteroid belt colonized by the 23rd century optimistic.
Still, in many ways it is the attention to detail that makes The Expanse really resound with the viewer. Showrunners (like Abraham and Franck before them) infuse every scene with treasured glimpses into the everyday lives of these 23rd century humans, using minute details to really develop the story on a small scale. Everything from referencing the biological changes of those who live in the belt, to the “Belter Creole” dialect, places the viewer not at a high vantage point watching an epic story unfold but rather at street level, witnessing the effect said events have on individuals.
Indeed, this approach makes the story more relatable. All in all, The Expanse is a rough, gut-wrenching and important work of science fiction. Many of its themes, most notably the cycle of oppression, the danger of false news, and the invitation to corruption extended by unchecked corporate control, are all to imminent in our world today. In The Expanse, these vital lessons have found a remarkably powerful vehicle.