Interlude: The Expanse

After yesterday’s confused jumble of a review, I figured I might as well continue in the same vein today.

Before we watched Penny Dreadful, Mrs. Hatboy and I watched Wynonna Earp, which was actually a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to the next season if and when it ever gets made, but I won’t review it for now. I get the feeling it will improve with more episodes. It suffered a bit from cold-start syndrome[1], not to mention similarities and inevitable comparisons to Buffy. Nothing comes out of a comparison to Buffy looking good.

[1] I’m not altogether sure what cold-start syndrome is, since I guess almost all TV shows that aren’t spin-offs have to appear out of nowhere. But in this era of non-network television where it’s possible to just not click on a trailer for a show or scroll past stuff (and we don’t even have normal TV so we don’t get any commercials), it’s easier for a show to just … be.

Anyway, before that, we watched The Expanse, a Syfy show that we picked up on Netflix. It’s a TV-series adaptation of a science fiction book series, so I suppose it should resonate with me.

Well … yes and no. And meh. And sorry.

See, here’s the problem I have with The Expanse. I can’t tell how much of my response to the show was a sympathetic reaction to the knowledge that this is a book series, an awareness that was skewing my perspective the whole time – I liked it because of that closeness to my life’s work – and yet I was prone to be critical because obviously I have a sci-fi book series and it’s totally not fair, I should be getting a TV adaptation – but I liked the show – and yet I was underwhelmed by its adaptation to TV – and yet I haven’t even read the books.

How’s that for conflicting? Let’s see if I can unpack it a bit more.

I could have watched the minutiae of the TV show for hours and hours and hours on end. I could have sat in on a classroom history lesson. I could have watched a bunch of new arrivals at Ceres taking part in a three-day orientation and training program, or just sat and followed the progress of an asteroid-mining crew all the way from their ice-site to delivery on a run-of-the-mill tour. There’s so much detail and world-building obvious here[2], the TV show can’t help but feel superficial.

[2] Possibly because I know it is based on a book series … but I’m not sure about that.

Why does it feel superficial? Well, it doesn’t feel like “oh, there’s been a heap of writing effort behind the scenes and you can tell that from the way the show was put together.” No, not in my opinion. That was the case in a few tantalising parts of the show, where you got a glimpse of it in the background and so – if you were feeling charitable – you could imagine it applied all over. But no – for the most part, I felt the show concentrated too much on … shit, I don’t even know what it was concentrating on.

There wasn’t a lack of action. There were some amazing hand-to-hand fighting, ship-combat, space-action and especially zero-gravity scenes. They were really good. And there were some slow parts that built tension beautifully. But then there were some slow parts that were just slow. There were some action bits that were just action, and seemed surplus to requirements.

I cared about the grizzled cop and his idealistic new sidekick. I cared about the Mutants trying to free Mars, I mean the Belters trying to escape the pincers of Mars and Earth. I cared about the ragtag team of accidentally-in-the-middle-of-everything miners-or-whatever-they-were with an assortment of haunted pasts. I cared about the miner and his nephew who – what – basically got killed by space-fascists? I cared about the politics on Earth, and the war, and the super-weapon, and the general mistreatment the Belters received at the hands of the corrupt authorities …

I just couldn’t care about it all at once, so I wound up sort of … not caring.

I want to read the books. I bet they’re way better than the TV series. I’m just disappointed that:

a) I found out it was a book series too late (I wasn’t paying attention to the opening credits), so didn’t get a chance to read the books first (plus I really wanted to watch the show)

b) the book series is apparently unfinished (I’m going to have to check with Mr. dreameling as to whether it’s worth reading unfinished, or if I should wait … I’m guessing he’s going to say it’s worth reading now)


Does that adequately explain how I felt about this show?

It was very cool[3]. Most of my enjoyment lay in ignoring the show itself and just pretending I was channel-hopping through a news channel based on the show. Some of the characters were interesting but they didn’t get anything characteristic to do. And then it ended. And the book series isn’t ready yet.

[3] Despite my criticisms here. Maybe anyone still reading the extended Rogue One comments discussion can appreciate the complexities and see that this isn’t as simple as just “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it”, and see that this is possibly semi-new territory for me … I don’t know. I don’t think so, but I don’t know.

I’ll watch more when I get a chance, but for now I’m totally conflicted.

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4 Responses to Interlude: The Expanse

  1. andy says:

    Leviathan Wakes, in my opinion, is the most over-hyped, tired plot line, boring science fiction book I’ve read in decades. I picked it up when it first came out and to this day, still don’t understand how the customer reviews are overwhelming in support of it. I even tried the second one when it came out, thinking I missed something, but I still don’t get it. There is more original science fiction out there. There’s nothing in these books that I haven’t seen better, elsewhere.
    It actually remind me of Harry Potter, people who have read very little fantasy will argue it’s the best fantasy written. People who have read very little science fiction will argue Leviathan Awakes is the best sci-fi written.

  2. dreameling says:

    I watched the show first, and I really liked it a lot. Not as much as Sense8 or Penny Dreadful or Orphan Black, to name a few recent genre gems, but it’s definitely among my current favorites, a solid 8/10. But it’s not brilliant, it’s not the new Firefly or Battlestar Galactica (new edition, mind you). I don’t love it, at least not yet.

    Having finished season 1, I wanted more of the world, characters, and story, so I hit the books. I pretty much read them in one sitting back-to-back. Needless to say, I liked them a lot. Like the show, they were mostly really good, especially books 2, 5, and 6. As science fiction literature, they’re not groundbreaking or brilliant. The Expanse is not The Culture or the Imperial Radch, for example, and Leviathan Wakes even had some pretty uneven writing peppered throughout (I’m guessing Ty Franck was still finding his feet as an author). But, on the whole, the books are well-crafted, well-plotted fast-paced action-adventure thrillers backed by some pretty awesome world-building. I’m going with a solid 8/10 for book series as well.

    The world-building is probably what I like the most: the human world is grounded, believable, gritty, it’s got interesting cultures and factions, there’s cool hard-science-fiction-y tech, a feeling of realism. And then you have the alien stuff, which is just completely out there. Neither by itself is nothing new, but certainly the combination is somewhat novel (or at least I’ve haven’t seen it before, and I’ve read and watched a lot of scifi). I definitely felt the depth of research and planning that had gone into the world, both in the books and in the show.

    Which is better? Probably the books so far, since the show simply cannot capture all of the world-building and story. But the show definitely does a good job of realizing the world visually and fleshing out the characters. And since season 1 only covered about 2/3 of book 1, there’s plenty more to come. I’m pretty excited. So, definitely not “way better” for me.

    If I had to guess, I’d say The Expanse is too grounded and low-tech for you. Your sensibilities tend to gravitate toward the fantastical. And, sure, I can see how you’d feel a bit jealous of another scifi book series getting the big-budget live-action treatment.

  3. stchucky says:

    Well. There’s a solid range of opinions of the series. I’ll have to come back to this when I have time, but if I can find the (e-)books for cheap, I guess I’ll check them out.

  4. Nobbly Nobody says:

    I think the tv series benefits from having read the books tbh, seen that way they’ve done a really good job on the show so far, given a sadly realistic tv sf budget. The books I really enjoyed too – I think you need to come at it from the perspective that it’s really not mean to be ‘fantastical and futuristic’ it’s meant to be like our expansion into space will really be, ie, a bit shit with loads of mistakes, in-fighting, factions and confused goals and besides all that the first series is really just a slow wind-up to the… big events later, a bit of scene setting and world building.

    All the first series takes place over a few days really – not really time for character building and complex story arcs. I say give the books a go, don’t expect mind-bending big sf ideas (at first, though there is more going on in the system than politics…) To me it read much like a tv screenplay from the start, nothing life changing or high concept, just a solid story and some fairly good dialogue. – the series seemed inevitable once the books got popular.

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