The Syfy Channel program The Expanse nails several story elements that makes it stand out in quality.
Where science fiction sometimes falter in world building is presenting an intricate political situation without being overly complex. Since The Expanse is set in our solar system (the one with Sol in the middle for anyone reading this in other places…) we understand the lay of the land immediately when we hear about Mars, the asteroids, Luna, and Ceres. This gives The Expanse an advantage over shows and books with made-up places where it becomes a memory test when, at least in my case, six or more locations are rapidly thrown at me and I need to keep track of these as well as the characters. When location is important to the story, it needs to be clear. Too simple, and the story lacks realism. Too much, and the universe becomes daunting. The Expanse meters out its locations as they get populated with the characters that drive its plot forward. A feckless and divided United Nations is something familiar yet interesting in this future setting.
Science fiction also often falls into the trap of introducing its technology and then having some character explain it to another as if they’re fresh off the boat, the explanation informing the audience but sounding false to the type of conversation anyone might ever have. It’s a useful trope at times, as it’s necessary to keep the audience informed, especially for a newcomer. The Expanse has just enough explanation to not leave anyone behind. My favorite example is in episode 11 (season 2, ep:1) where the UN leadership must manage a situation via radio signal but must wait on the delay. This is explained, but not to a laborious level where the tension leaves the scene. A lack of faster-than-light communication is such a rich source of drama, and I like how it played out here.
Finally, the spaceship action is great. We have rockets and chain guns and rail guns that make satisfying noises even though we all know there’s no sound in space. The sound design for some of these industrial and metal noises instantly reminded me of the Battlestar Galactica reboot and the visceral cannon chatter of the vipers and Cylon raiders. Also, the Expanse’s spaceship crew members have to deal with g-force on their bodies, and not strapping in can be dangerous. The Expanse pulls off the right balance here, even though one day I hope for a show or movie with even stricter adherence to zero gravity mechanics, thinking of novels like “The Forever War” by Joe Haldeman where engagements take place over weeks. Until then, I can be content with the pew-pew-pew of most spaceship battle sequences, and The Expanse’s action pieces are satisfying enough.
P.S. Stay tuned for updates. I’m going to be looking for beta readers/ early reviewers for my upcoming YA sci-fi novel soon. You can sign up for my newsletter here.