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posted by martyb on Sunday August 14 2016, @05:47PM   Printer-friendly
from the humaninty-in-spaaaace dept.

When I visit a poorly electro-mechanical engineer, we often watch two episodes of a television series. Indeed, my friend often watches fiction in two episode chunks because this is similar to the duration of a short feature film. Previous visits included the first two episodes of Breaking Bad , the next two episodes of Breaking Bad, the first two episodes of Continuum and the first two episodes of Dark Matter . To indicate the quality of The Expanse , we watched four episodes in one sitting. This is unprecedented for us.

The Expanse, which airs on the SyFy channel in the US, is set in a future where most of the solar system is colonized with ethnically diverse people who retain their languages, customs and fashion. One character has a notably heavy Afrikaans accent. A Martian captain has a distinctly Chinese appearance. However, people remain tribal; mostly Earther, Martian or Belter. This is a future where your gravity well means more than your genes. Belters provide water and minerals. Mars has its own industrial base and technology. Unfortunately, like the Philip K. Dick story The Crystal Crypt, Earth and Mars are on the brink of war and any random event could be the catalyst. Mars is resentful of Earth's squandered resources. Earth tortures Luna dissidents. Terrorists and sympathisers are widely suspected.


This is very much a lower-tech version of The Outer Limits , Alien , Firefly and, in particular, this is Babylon 5 without jump-gates. Plot threads don't initially connect but center around a gumshoe with heavy Nordic features investigating a disappearance, a baby-faced junior officer on a mining ship and an official of Indian appearance with an unclear rôle and questionable ethics. The gumshoe has a very contemporary hipster style but this is lampshaded as retro Earth fashion.

The scenic shots are beautiful. Inside a geodesic dome on Mars. A space station at Ceres. A clunky mining ship in the asteroid belt. And each scene is beautifully captioned like something from a designer catalog. As someone with first-hand experience of industrial-scale rendering, I can reliably speculate that anyone who worked on Babylon 5 effects will be agog and thinking "That's what we were trying to achieve but we didn't have the processing power!"

Fans of Kerbal Space Program will appreciate an attempt at kinetic realism. In one notable sequence, a craft has to make an emergency turn. "HIGH-G MANEOVER!!!" shouts the navigator over the intercom. People slam to the floor as thrusters angle the ship. Everyone straps into chairs and then blue diamonds fire from the four main engines. The whole ship groans and shakes. An external gantry goes crashing. It is all crisp yet gritty at 1080p. And so it should be when commercial productions can afford to simulate every fleck of paint in a debris field.

Even if the series gets consumed by the characters' politics, this may broaden appeal and increase its relevance. Fiction, and particularly science fiction, has an indirect manner of handling delicate issues. Star Trek and Alien Nation often handled issues of racism with tact. Babylon 5 covered surveillance and a shift to totalitarianism which foreshadowed the Department of Homeland Security. The Expanse may provide a similar view of the collective id. In 20 years, the visual style of The Expanse will look hilariously quaint but, as speculation from its era, the message will endure longer than the effects.

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  • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 14 2016, @06:06PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 14 2016, @06:06PM (#387916)

    Somewhat off-topic, and for that I apologize. However, I am weak of stomach. I can't handle graphic violence. I literally become violently ill at the sight of gore. It wasn't much of a problem until about five-ten years ago. Before, I would just avoid most R rated films, and any television program rated TV-M. Lately though, more and more television programs rated TV-14 are becoming gory. Decapitations, severed heads, ripping out of eyes... So now I wait at least two months after the premiere of a television program that looks interesting, and check a couple of web sites that measure the graphic violence in television shows before I decide to watch it.

    However, I'm getting mixed readings with The Expanse. One web site says that the violence on the show is fine... one guy loses part of a limb, but nothing is shown. However, the other web site I use states that the show is frequently bloody.

    For those that have watched The Expanse, what have you found?

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  • (Score: 2) by Snotnose on Sunday August 14 2016, @06:10PM

    by Snotnose (1623) on Sunday August 14 2016, @06:10PM (#387917)

    There's a pretty effective scene where Holden and friends are in a ship or escape pod and a gauss round goes through and takes a guy's head off. Takes it off as in it ain't there no more, not as in it's floating around the cabin.

    Other than that I don't recall it being very violent. Sure, people get killed. But it's not like Game of Thrones or anything like that.

    20 years ago we had Johnny Cash, Bob Hope, and Steve Jobs. Now we have no Jobs, Hope, or Cash. Stay safe Kevin Bacon.
    • (Score: 2) by Valkor on Sunday August 14 2016, @08:29PM

      by Valkor (4253) on Sunday August 14 2016, @08:29PM (#387960)

      That episode as a whole is probably the most gore-filled of them all. The rest of the series (that I've seen) is much more tame.

    • (Score: 2) by Fnord666 on Monday August 15 2016, @04:29AM

      by Fnord666 (652) on Monday August 15 2016, @04:29AM (#388094) Homepage

      There's a pretty effective scene where Holden and friends are in a ship or escape pod and a gauss round goes through and takes a guy's head off. Takes it off as in it ain't there no more, not as in it's floating around the cabin.

      I was like "Yup, that's exactly what I always pictured a gauss cannon round would do."

    • (Score: 2) by tibman on Monday August 15 2016, @02:29PM

      by tibman (134) Subscriber Badge on Monday August 15 2016, @02:29PM (#388186)

      Yeah, it was almost like someone vacuumed up the mess or something? :P

      SN won't survive on lurkers alone. Write comments.
  • (Score: 2) by theluggage on Sunday August 14 2016, @08:05PM

    by theluggage (1797) on Sunday August 14 2016, @08:05PM (#387955)

    It's not "Game of [squelch] Thrones" but there's a fair bit of violence. There's also a potentially squicky body-horror element that comes in later in the season (and will get a bit worse if they follow the books) - can't say more without spoilers.