lizbee: (SCC: Cameron)
[personal profile] lizbee
I've been watching and reading the same thing lately: The Expanse, the series of novels by "James S. A. Corey" (a pseudonym for Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) and the first season of the TV adaptation.

I read the first book, Leviathan Wakes, back when it was nominated for a Hugo (ah, voters packets), and liked it just fine, but somehow never got around to the sequels. And then I put off watching the TV series because the book had been quite complicated, and I wanted to refresh my memory before I dove in.

This turned out to be a good move, because the TV series doesn't spend much time on exposition, and its faithful recreation of the patois of the asteroid belt was appropriately incomprehensible. And although certain things are changed, the overall shape of the plot is pretty close to that of the books.

One big change, of which I approve IMMENSELY, was the appearance of Chrisjen Avasarala from the very first episode. Chrisjen doesn't debut in the novels until the second book in the series, and, between you and me, Leviathan Wakes suffered from a serious lack of women.

More and more female characters have been added from book to book -- I'm up to number 3, which introduces a Methodist minister who has left her wife and daughter behind to Find God In Space -- but without Chrisjen, the TV series would have been super-duper masculine. Leviathan Wakes has only two significant female characters: Julie Mao, who is The Missing Girl who drives the noirish manpain-fuelled Detective Miller, and Naomi Nagata, engineer and love interest for James Holden, the second protagonist of the first book.

Julie is ... pretty much a girl in a refrigerator. She could have been a good character in her own right, but she's mostly perceived through Miller's increasingly besotted point of view. This is maintained in the TV series, where it seems like she only interacts with men.

(Book 3 also introduces Julie's sister, out for revenge for Certain Plot Things, and I'm hoping to at some point get her take on Julie.)

(Then I took a break from writing this post and went back to reading, AND THAT EXACT THING HAPPENED.)

But Naomi starts out as a cipher in the book, at least until she calls out Holden for never seeing her as a potential romantic connection in all the years they served together, and then unfolds. Slowly. As of book 3, we are finally learning that she has Secrets.

That unfolding is accelerated in the TV series, mostly because Naomi isn't perceived entirely through Holden's lens. She even gets scenes where he isn't around at all, which is pretty exciting after the close-third-person of the books.

(I love close-third-person, I do! But I also like busting out of it once in a while.)

Between that, some script changes, and the fact that actress Dominique Tipper has extremely expressive eyes and doesn't hold much back, screen!Naomi is a much more vivid character.

Plotwise, in any medium, The Expanse is a cheerful mish-mash of cliches from a bunch of genres, mixed together with reasonable success. It's the twenty-third century, and humans are colonising the solar system. Earth is extremely crowded, procreation is strictly controlled, and most of its citizens supported by a universal basic income because jobs are so limited. Mars is well-established as an independent power in its own right, and locked in a cold war with Earth -- but they mostly put their differences aside to exploit the natural resources of the Asteroid Belt, to the growing discontent of Belters, whose culture and biology are increasingly separate from those of planet-dwellers.

Into this precariously balanced situation comes an apparent bioweapon, of immense power and possible intelligence, and a powerful corporation who stands to profit from a solar system at war.

Most of the main characters are little people -- not starship captains or leaders of great military powers, but members of the solar system's working classes. Miller is a police detective on Ceres; Holden and his crew are the lone survivors of an ice hauler whose destruction shifts the system closer to chaos. They have little in the way of power and resources, and one of the things that keeps me reading is that I really like this perspective.

The exception is Chrisjen Avasarala, a senior official in the United Nations. In the books, she is a tiny force of nature with an absolutely foul mouth, which she uses to keep people off balance enough that she can walk all over them. In the TV series, she's a serene and regal figure (played by Shohreh Aghdashloo, who played Admiral Raan in Mass Effect and Commodore Paris in Star Trek Beyond, so she has good form for being IN SPACE) who watches and waits and then walks all over people.

It's difficult to say which version I like better. TV!Chrisjen is a character type we've seen before, of course, but she wears fabulous costumes and lies on her rooftop looking pensive.

I'm especially looking forward to season 2, and the introduction of Bobbie Draper, Martian marine and Chrisjen's Only Friend. Bobbie is a Polynesian woman who is almost two metres tall, and, well, built like a marine, so I'm really impressed with the casting. Bobbie is my favourite character, and I'm really glad that she wasn't whitewashed, AND that they were able to find an actress of the right proportions.

And on that note, I'm mildly impressed with the TV show's dedication to portraying a brown future. There's still a fair amount of white people, but not as many as you'd expect, especially for crowd scenes.

(I did wonder why the Sad and Rabid Puppies weren't all over the series, given that it's full of things they say they love, like SPACE SHIPS and SPACE WAR and MILITARY STUFF and MYSTERIOUS SCIENCY THINGS and NOT MANY WOMEN. But then I realised there weren't enough white people for Puppies. In fact, turns out there's a regular troll on the AV Club boards, who literally only leaves white supremacist sites to talk shit about the TV show.)

Anyway, The Expanse, super flawed, but in ways that I, personally, can deal with. Although I could go for more of The Adventures of Chrisjen And Her Only Friend Bobbie. More of that, please.
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