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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.

[Continues...]

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: 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."

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