Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Expanse, season 1, a review, sort of

Have I ever mentioned that Calgary has an amazing library system? Well, we do. The branch we go to most is one of the busiest library branches in the whole country. It's always a happening place.

Back in the day we used to go to the library at least weekly. We went through a ton of books. This was before DVD's, and about the time that CD's were a new thing. Yes, I know that for some of my readers CD's have always been a thing, and for a few of them, CD's are an obsolete format used only by old fogies. Moving on.

The selection of DVDs is quite wide, and they even have a bunch of blue ray discs. The selection is quite recent as well, so I think someone on the selection committee is really on the ball. We are old fashioned about our media. I've ranted about buying movies or music that live on the cloud, so we will buy the discs for a series we really like. Trick is finding out if you like it.

Enter the library. Borrowing is free. For some of the more recent offerings there is a wait line, but that's what computers are for to keep track of. I've got a bunch of holds, and it all works out quite well if a little self-control is to be had. Which is difficult sometimes. When you are retired it's easy to stay up and watch another episode, and another. Except I still get up early to swim, and I'm still a morning person, not a night owl.

We've been chewing through The Librarians (the TV show) and The Librarian (the movies), and are awaiting the second movie. Any day now. I think we are number 4 or 6 on the wait list for the next TV season. We are #60 something on the list for American Gods, down from just over 100.

Our copy of The Expanse came up last week. Holy Doodle! I'm a big science fiction fan from way back, and I'm often disappointed with the recent state of the art. Well, not the new Battlestar Galactica, that was superb. I am slowly working through that again, an episode at a time, looking at the extras, thinking about how they put the story together. And Arrival, that was wonderful. There are so many good book just ready to be made into movies, and what do we get? Star dreck, in a wars flavour. Both suck now, and have sucked for more than a decade.

The Expanse is a complicated story, to be sure. You get dropped into it with barely an introduction and you're off to the races, keeping track of 3 different stories that at first don't appear to go together unless you're really sharp right from the get go. Really sharp. I almost want to go back and watch it again and see what I pick up on second viewing. I have it a few more days. (Hmmmm, checks calendar and to do list.)

If you're familiar with Larry Niven's work, (and you are if you're science fiction fan older than about 10) then you're a small step up on the general public. It's a complicated world, which is a good thing. One of the things that pisses me off is when science fiction media takes you to a new world, and it might as well be one small village. Everybody is the same and often they're all white people with the men in charge, or white people in funny hats, with one climate (anyone have any trouble pronouncing Hoth?) and artificial conflict. Plus the layers of unicorn poop and rainbows get a little thick. Or it's just a really bad movie (Looking at you, Avatar) dressed up in CGI clothing.

There is very little unicorn poop here. Their amazing medical and space ship drive technology are about it. Niven had an auto-doc, a coffin-like contraption that you could put someone in, shut the lid, and the computer would save them. Maybe it's a first step towards the sarcophagus contraption in Stargate that the bad guys used to stay young. These guys are beyond that. In one scene a couple of people are busy trying to avoid getting shot while dying of what we are told is a high dose of radiation that will kill them in a few hours. (SPOILER> they make it back to the ship and an arm thingie is clamped on and they are all better real quick.)

This is a spaceships centric show. You could almost turn the sound off and just watch the visuals. I was on the edge a few times, almost pushed into a state of disbelief about the SIZE of those spaceships, and the amount of room in them. They make the Enterprise look cramped. Huge interior spaces mean lots of metal to contain them, and they somehow manage to move all of it around quite quickly. Really quickly. There is no mumbo-jumbo about the drive technology and maybe that's for the best.

The spaceships are all different, and thoroughly lived in. You can almost smell the BO. The controls are all gesture sensitive screen, and there are lovely three D graphics done with hand gestures. The zero g scenes are really well shot, though I can't decide for sure if they have an artificial gravity or not. There are several scenes of magnetic boots clumping on decks, and others where people are walking normally without them. Part of the show takes place on Ceres, where the gravity is about 3% of Earth's. Yet they walk normally. Then again, maybe that's just me bringing reality into it again.

The characters are a little bit standard, (corrupt cop with a heart of almost gold for example) but there is some evolution along the way. Be warned, there are a lot of characters, and while we're not talking Game of Thrones death scenes, there are a lot of people dying, mostly off screen. At one point I was thinking that with all the stuff being blown up, space debris must be getting to be a problem. They haven't mentioned deflector shields or the like, in situations where it would be reasonable to expect them. And yay, so far no smart ass kid saving the day by reconfiguring the main dish.

Most of the actors are new to me, and I'm pretty pleased with how they fill out the roles. Screen chemistry is good, though I'm wondering what is motivating characters at some points. Perhaps that's better explained in the books. I'll be getting them.

This is not kick back, nibble popcorn and swill your drink kind of a show. Things move quick, and there's lots going on. I found it hard to pick the conversations out of the background noise, but that's generally a problem for me anyways, so I can't blame the sound mix. But if you like your science fiction at a level above child's play star trek/wars, and like to put the pieces together for yourself, this is for you.

Why yes, since you ask, I've got season 2 on hold at the library.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds terrific, Keith. We haven't been watching much in the way of TV or videos lately but I'm keeping a list for when I retire and have more time. Luke would love it, I think.

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