12 February 2016

You Should Be Watching The Expanse

Finishing Deep Space Nine gave me a hankering to watch more space opera. I mean, it is probably my favorite genre of television, but rewatching DS9 is the first time in years I've watched one! My wife and I are talking about watching Farscape (which I've only seen bits of), but of course a big part of the problem here is that they don't make much space opera any more: Battlestar Galactica and Stargate are done and dusted.

But then it occurred to me that there's actually one on tv right now: The Expanse. This is based on a series of novels by James S.A. Corey (who is really two people), and seemingly part of Syfy's attempt to break into the "peak tv" market. You can actually watch the first episode legally for free on YouTube:

This was enough to intrigue me, and I've been downloading the subsequent ones for $1.99 off iTunes. So far it's a good mix of politics, intrigue, and character. The show is about a conflict between Earth and a colonized, independent Mars over the resources of the asteroid belt-- but the "Belters" are developing their own unique culture and starting to resent being interfered with. Also there are Space Mormons. (I'm not sure how they fit in yet.) It keeps the twists up without being overwhelming, and though the characters are perhaps a little generic at first, they're starting to pop. I particularly like Dominique Tipper as Naomi Nagata and Cas Anvar as Alex Kamal:

Recent busyness has kept me back at Episode 4, however, when the tenth and final episode of the show just aired ten days ago. That said, Episode 4, "CQB," is really what sold me on the show: the characters are solidifying, the bigger picture is starting to come into focus, and there was some really neat physics.

Neat physics? Yes, I mean that. The world of The Expanse doesn't have artificial gravity or faster-than-light travel or your other usual tv sf shortcuts, and the show really leverages that to increase the tension and the drama. Gravity is simulated through acceleration, rotation, or magnetic boots. In Episode 4, a group of our protagonists is on a Martian spaceship that comes under attack by another vessel, who boards it. The Martian ship is under acceleration, so there's gravity, and our heroes need to run out into the open to make it up a boarding ramp, so they turn off their magnetic boots to increase their speed.

Only the ship's engines cut off when one pair is halfway across, and they start floating up into the air while their enemies fire at them. But one of the pair clips himself to the other and then pushes off her, sending her floating even higher, but him back down to the ramp, which he grabs onto and then reels her back in. The whole sequence was incredibly tense, keeping me on the edge of my seat-- and all done with (what seems to be to this layman, at least) real physics! And this wasn't the only moment like that in the episode.

It was a shame to leave off there, but hopefully now that I'm done with my big writing spree, I can get back into The Expanse and finish it off.

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