The Expanse is the Syfy adaptation of the popular book series of the same name by James S.A. Corey (a pseudonym for Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham). I’ve reviewed the first three books of the series here, here, and here. I’m loving the series so far, and just haven’t managed to get around to reading the last few. Hopefully, I can catch up before the series outpaces me! The television adaptation has already been renewed for a second season, and the first season focused on events in the first book of the series Leviathan Wakes. I’m going to discuss the first season and it’s similarities to the source material below, so beware of spoilers of both Leviathan Wakes and season one of Syfy's The Expanse.
Syfy is Making Sci-Fi Again! (Farewell, wrestling)
First off, it’s really nice to see Syfy returning to space opera, both with The Expanse and other recent shows (Dark Matter, Killjoys). It’s a subgenre I really enjoy, and I have been delighted to have so many options of these kinds of shows to watch. I think The Expanse was also cast particularly well. Holden looks sufficiently young, attractive and naive, and Naomi, Amos and Alex bring a lot of personality to their roles. Thomas Jane doesn’t have the most glamorous role as Miller, but he is really spot-on for how I imagined the character. I was a little surprised that the actress playing Chrisjen Avasarala is not Indian, but I think she’s excellent in the role. I was also impressed that they (sometimes) kept the physical Belter differences (height, longer limbs) and the patois (though I couldn’t really understand it spoken). The sets were excellent, and I liked the little details they included, such as how a songbird might fly in low gravity.
Naomi & Jim
I was really surprised that in a TV era where ‘sex sells’ seems to be a common motto, the romance between Naomi and Jim Holden was nowhere to be found in season one of The Expanse. I have a little speculation on why this choice might have been made, and it reflects pretty well on the writers. I think it took longer in the show to fully portray Naomi’s importance to the group: that she is extremely competent, resourceful and intelligent, and everyone relies on and trusts her. My suspicion is that the writers wanted to make she was sufficiently established as a character before having her involved in any kind of romance, so that viewers wouldn’t just write her off as the love interest. Naomi was one of my favorite characters, so this is an idea I can get behind. I do hope they haven’t scrapped this plotline forever, though!
Avasarala is not in Leviathan Wakes, but I think it was a good idea to add her in to the show from the beginning. Since the first novel followed only Miller and Holden’s perspectives, it didn’t give much insight into Earth and Mars. By following Avasarala, we can already start to get a clearer idea of the broader political situation of the solar system, as well as seeing a little more about how planet-bound people live. However, I did not like that they introduced Avasarala as a torturer. I think they wanted to show her ruthlessness as quickly as possible, in order to dispel ideas about the gentleness of elderly women, but I just wish they hadn’t done it using torture. Beyond that first scene, I’m enjoying what the show is doing with the character. I even like that they removed her constant swearing, since that probably would have been distracting in actual spoken dialogue.
Show vs. Novel?
Even taking these alterations into account, the show holds fairly close to the plot and characters of the novel. As in any adaptation, there are some deviations, but so far there’s been nothing that fundamentally alters the course of the story. One notable small addition was the inclusion of a spy character, following Holden for Avasarala. I suspect this was intended to provide a link between Avasarala’s plotline and Holden’s, but in the end he was mostly just a redshirt. I was also surprised that the first season does not cover the entirety of the first novel, but I think that the slaughter of Eros was chosen well as a finale. It also means that the next season can really start with a bang!