Walter Jon Williams has a few things to say about the new SyFy series, "The Expanse":
I was in Santa Fe last week for the premiere of the first two episodes, which I saw in an actual theater, with popcorn and free booze and TV stars and GRRM and all the goodies you get with a premiere. And the experience was a double helping of Complete Awesome. The Expanse is the science fiction series that I, and probably you, have long been waiting for.
For one thing, this series doesn’t condescend to its viewers. When characters speak in Belter patois, there’s no translator hovering by, there aren’t even subtitles, you just have to go with the scene, and either you get it or you don’t. You get the political background or you don’t. You get how the space ships work or you don’t. The story just happens, it doesn’t stop to give infodumps to the viewers who can’t keep up. Experienced SF readers should have no problem with any of this.
Honestly? I agree. I watched the first episode of "The Expanse" last week, and... I am hopeful.
Which is saying something, really. This is SyFy we're talking about, after all.
Here's the thing: I've read the series this is based on, and the important thing to remember as you see the spaceships swooping around? This is hard (ish) SF that is primarily character driven. In other words, perfectly suited for a TV series. The world, the politics, the science are all excellent backdrops for the (terrifyingly interesting) lives of the characters.
Assuming they get the characterization right, of course. Keep in mind that in the first episode, we've met a corrupt and cynical Belter detective (Miller), an Earth spacer seemingly allergic to authority and responsibility (Holden), and a UN official condoning torture (Arvarsala). In coming episodes, we will almost certainly meet an amoral sociopath with a history of criminal violence; a genius with a dark history of mass murder; and a political leader who is known as "The Butcher" for his past war crimes.
Note well: these are the good guys. One of the themes of the books are the search for truth as a path to redemption... and the idea that figuring out what they truth is can be hard, if not downright impossible, when nobody is really as good - or as bad - as they seem . The truth of things is often hidden, and sometimes well intentioned people can make horrible choices for what seems like all the right reasons: Loyalty. Honesty. Truth. Justice.
From the looks of it, they're making a good effort with the characters. Establishing the characters will come slowly, though. Part of the limitation that they're working with are the novels themselves. From what I could see in the first episode, they are keeping to the plot of the books fairly tightly.Which is normally a good thing, but...
That's a big but, right there.
The first novel has what are essentially two major plot lines that eventually converge. In the series, they show what appears to be four plot lines, as they seem to be trying to set things up for later and introduce some major characters that don't show up until later on in the books. Which is ok - TV serials are a different medium, after all. There would have to be some adaptations.
It does mean that if you haven't read the books, the first episode can be confusing. Who's that girl on the Scopuli? What's with the blue stuff flying around in the engine room? Who is this Miller guy? Why are you flip flopping between him and the crew on a tramp ice freighter? What's the deal with the Indian woman on earth? Why does everyone on Ceres seem so angry?
Trust me. Stick with it. It all comes together... maybe not quickly, but it will; and in much the same way that four different chunks of uranium might be brought together enthusiastically, the plot lines will give a very satisfying bang when they finally converge. In fact, depending on how closely they adhere to the novels, Marvin the Martian's catchphrase may be quite rightly invoked.
The first episode is online. Watch it, keep with it. I think - I hope - that it will be as good as it looks.