Science Fiction Round 56: The Expanse
I had too much spare time in an airport last weekend, so I watched The Expanse. Well, the last few episodes of it. In short, The Expanse is fun, and terrifying.
As ever, there are spoilers, although it’s only the last two sub-headers that hit the end-of-season spoilers.
Flip and Burn
The Expanse is great partly because they do a good job of presenting space travel — and many other aspects of life in space — very accurately.
One of my favorites is the “flip and burn” maneuver. After all, in space, there’s almost no friction to slow you down, so the only way to change your velocity is to burn your rockets, or something similar — and if you’ve only got one big rocket, and you want to slow down, you flip around and point the rocket in the direction that you’re moving. You also want to make sure your “floor” is in the right direction so that you get some convenient fake gravity while you travel.
Bonus: if you want to get somewhere fast, this is also what you do in the middle of your trip. Accelerate (burn your rockets) all the way to the halfway point to your destination, flip around, and then burn backwards the rest of the way there to slow yourself down. This gets demonstrated in the show, too.
Acute Radiation Poisoning
This wasn’t quite as accurate.
Based on the comments of the characters on the receiving end, I’d guess from the Wikipedia table that they picked up about an 8 Gray whole-body dose of radiation. Which is enough to incapacitate you in a couple of hours, but… well, the characters are shown taking some stims (good) and anti-nauseants (also makes sense) until they can get some of the greatly-improved future medical care.
They appear a bit feverish (which also fits), but then they start coughing up blood and having it running from their nostrils.
That doesn’t seem quite right. They should actually be vomiting, or… well… excreting other fluids from other orifices.
I can’t really fault the show’s producers for the choice, though. It looks dramatic, and I don’t think we would want to see the gastrointestinal symptoms.
There Are No Shining Heroes
The “good guys” include Chrisjen Avasarala, who seeks to prevent a war — but finds torture and manipulating her friends to be entirely reasonable ways to try to protect Earth.
The police officer Miller on Ceres is accustomed to accepting bribes, and finds physical threats and assault an entirely reasonable method of keeping order.
James Holden is the closest to a fully good character — but he, too, has issues, especially with accepting responsibility near the beginning of the story.
Meanwhile, other characters have varying backstories — from justifying past evils, to attempting to atone for them, to trying to cover up… things. Many of the characters who seem “evil” at first are later shown to have their own motivations, their own personalities and hopes, and are trying to do what they think is the right thing.
I think that this depth is what really drives the story forward.
Shoulda Seen It Coming
It was obvious, in retrospect.
When we learn that Mars is not behind the mysterious new stealth ships, and that someone has stolen one of their research projects, it’s unclear who actually is responsible.
Except, when you think about it, there’s only one force aside from Mars itself that has the resources to pull that off — and it isn’t the OPA.
I was constantly puzzling over this — if it isn’t Mars, and it isn’t Earth, and the OPA didn’t do it because they don’t have the resources, then who did? Who has those stealth ships? I was considering aliens (and I would have been disappointed if it was) until the clearly-humans are shown breaching the Martian ship.
I should have seen the possibility that, with Mars eliminated, Earth was covering up their own program — even from Avasarala.
Never Saw It Coming
What I really didn’t expect was the “protomolecules” that were stolen from the Phoebe research station, and seem to be some sort of shiny blue equivalent of gray goo.
I’m of mixed opinions about this. On the plus side, the mysterious stuff is shown as needing energy — and possibly also matter — input in order to grow, which is good. It doesn’t so far seem to violate matter and energy conservation. It’s also prettily sinister stuff.
On the negative side, well… you called it “protomolecules.” Look, just call it nanobots or self-organizing matter or something. You call it protomolecules, and I think of the Star Trek protomatter from The Search For Spock and the fact that it was basically a technobabble plot excuse.
Don’t do that.
Then again, perhaps they used the random technobabble term because it sounded ominous without giving away the game plan for what the stuff actually is and can do, thereby allowing more suspense before the second season.
I still think it needs a better name.