What is The Expanse? It is, first of all, a series of Scifi novels by James S.A. Corey, which has been made into a TV series. It is, second of all, a positive vision of a possible future where the heroes of the piece have one prime objective: save lives whenever possible.
To begin with, The Expanse takes place in a time about 200 years in the future – long enough for humans to have planted a successful colony on Mars and reached out even further to plant colonies in the Belt. These colonies have now lasted through enough generations to produce identifiable differences in human beings born and raised in different gravities, but not so long as to create separate species. We are all, still, the same people.
To go on with, the tech involved feels realistic, like stuff we might eventually do. Much of it still resembles what we have done here on earth. Mining facilities are still mining facilities. Workers are still workers. Societies are still full of human beings with all the complexity and personality quirks with which we are encumbered today – and that does not seem likely to change.
There is “smart” body armor, but not for everybody. Mars specializes in it. The Belt is peopled by such a variety of ethnic groups that they have developed a patois of their own, sa sa. Those born on Mars can visit Earth, but it takes some adjustment. Those born and raised in The Belt cannot go down a gravity well without suffering severe damage leading to death.
And space, The Expanse itself, is acknowledged as a force of its own, its realities a threat that must constantly be dealt with in space travel: gravity or lack of it, thrust mechanics and its impact on the human body.” In The Expanse, you don’t just get out of your chair and walk around without mag boots or possibly a form of thrust gravity. Sometimes folks “go on the float.”
There is, of course, mystery and magic of sorts. There is alien tech that expands space travel beyond all previous possibility. There will be strange new worlds to explore – so far only in the books. The TV Series has just gotten there. There is a detective from the Belt, straight out of Raymond Chandler, who has morphed into a sort of ghost in the machine complete with porkpie hat. We love him.
There are plots and violence aplenty brewing between the three major groups: Human, Martian, and Belter – as most stories of this sort usually have – but here is where The Expanse takes another tack.
Avasarala is an Indian-American in the upper levels of the U.N., the Earth-based Administration. Her first imperative is to save Earth lives, and that means doing all she can to avert war with Mars or the Belt. She also swears a lot (especially in the books), and generally finds herself aligned with:
James Holden and the Crew of the Rocinante. James Holden is an Earther, brought up on a Montana ranch by a commune of good folks, who brings their ethics with him into space. Naomi Nagata is a Belter, a member in good standing of the Outer Planets Alliance. Her faithful companion, not lover, is Amos, an Earther from Baltimore with a scarred background, the guy you always want on your side in a fight. Alex is a Martian pilot, whose ship was destroyed by the first volume bad guys and who now pilots the Roci. By the end of Season 3, there are also an Earther minister named Anna and a girl gone rogue, both with interesting character arcs.
James Holden and his crew are far from perfect, but if there is a way to solve a situation through creativity and expertise instead of a violent showdown, that is the way they will go. They can all put up a good fight when necessary, especially Amos, but it’s always last resort and not always resorted to.
My favorite lines from this season’s finale come from a conversation between Amos and Anna:
Amos: Why do you always try to help?
Anna: Because that’s what I do. If there’s something that needs to be done, I try to do it.
Amos: That’s what I do, too.
Finally, science fiction offers a vision of a future we can hope for. We just have to get past a few bad patches.