Mar 27, 2021 - Science

"The Expanse" offers a realistic depiction of space colonization

The cover of the first book in "The Expanse" series.
The cover of the first book in "The Expanse" series.

A series of novels that have been turned into a TV show offers one of the most realistic visions of what the colonization of space might actually be like.

Why you should read and watch: "The Expanse" imagines a future where human beings have moved into space without growing much beyond the often unjust political and economic systems of today.

How it works: Set in the 24th century, when humanity has managed to colonize Mars and part of the asteroid belt, "The Expanse" views space not as the final frontier, but as merely the latest backdrop for age-old geopolitical struggles — albeit without the "geo."

  • Humans have left Earth less out of the spirit of discovery than because their planet had become hot and crowded, with the only opportunities for advancement to be found in the hostile environment of space.

Context: "The Expanse" is an example of "hard sci-fi," meaning it largely operates under the constraints of science as we know it.

  • So that means no warp drives, no transporters and absolutely no Force.
  • What definitely exists is gravity, which functions almost as a supporting character on "The Expanse," a factor that always needs to be reckoned with.
  • Humans who grow up in the lighter gravity of Mars or the asteroid belt can't really function on Earth, which contributes to political divisions.

Analog for "Star Trek" fans: The 1990s series "Deep Space Nine."

  • But if "Deep Space Nine" was occasionally gritty, "The Expanse" is a veritable Beijing-style sandstorm of grit, featuring brutal worker exploitation, planetary-scale war and very nasty aliens.

Yes, but: Still fun!

  • Plus Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is such a fan that he reportedly helped save the show from cancellation by moving it to Amazon Prime in 2019.
  • That's a little odd, given that Bezos is one of the foremost advocates of space settlement, which "The Expanse" largely portrays as a terrible mistake.

The bottom line: Do read the books and watch the show.

  • Don't go to space.

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