Review: The Expanse (TV Show) & More Specifically Leviathan Wakes – Hugo2017

The secret forces that control my life have decided that I must do due diligence on the Hugo Award Category: Best Dramatic Presentation – Short. So with a Netflix trial on my phone, I plunge through the airlock and into SyFy’s THE EXPANSE!

The good news is this also is a handy refresher course on James S. A. Corey’s initial novel in the series. The bad news is that I probably shouldn’t have read this review by Laurie Penny first.

If you like the books, then you probably will like the series. The characters are played by people who are each plausibly the character from the book. Few liberties have been taken with the plot and the ones that have are mainly for the better. Sweary UN honcho, Chrisjen Avasarala, has been brought forward into the plot and her story line helps draw out the solar system politics more clearly. There are other tweaks to events that reduce the amount of shuttling about everybody does.

At some point, they decided that Detective Miller’s hat was stupid and he goes largely hatless so we can see his daft haircut. I say daft, but it sort of looks like they are doing a tribute to Bret Ewins/Peter Milligan future existential detective comic book Johnny Nemo. [Also if you haven’t read the books or seen the TV series there are spoilers after the pictures of Johnny Nemo]



Nemo’s hair flips to the right.


Miller’s hair flips to the left.


The look and setting are both original and familiar: the industrial space faring look from Alien, the space-era poverty from Total Recall, the humdrum below decks of a space station from Babylon 5, or even with Holden’s crew & a stolen ship a feel of Blake’s Seven. Yet there hasn’t really been a substantial TV show with this solar system bound feel or with this kind of faux-realism.

Decent story, with good actors and nice effects, yet oddly conventional and seemingly not eager to push the limits of television. It does end up dragging a bit in the middle but picks up again as the threads of Miller’s investigation of Julie Mao’s disappearance and Holden’s quest to find the people who destroyed The Canterbury start coming together.

The specific Hugo finalist episode is the final episode of Season 1: Leviathan Wakes. Miller pursuit of the truth has led him to Eros Station – a rundown asteroid outpost. Holden and the crew of Rocinante, following their own leads into the mysterious stealth ships that are in the midst precipitating a war between Mars and Earth, have also reached Eros station. However, events have rapidly overtaken them both: Julie Mao is dead – infected with some sort of bio-weapon [ooh! ooh! says everybody who has read the books, we know what that is!]. Meanwhile, the station’s police force has decided to round up everybody on the pretext of a radiation leak. Meanwhile, on Earth, Chrisjen discovers that the conspiracy to set Mars and Earth against each other is even deeper.

It certainly is an episode with tension and some moments of genuine horror. The mounting realisation that a horror is developing on the station, is paralleled by the tensions between the disparate characters. Possibly it would have more impact if I didn’t know the plot. However, I didn’t feel this exceptional television – just a well done season finale with a cliffhanger.

I don’t regret watching it – fun, lots of action and a great sense of plausibility – but not going to be a top pick on my Hugo ballot.



  1. Cora

    Thanks for the link to Laurie Penny’s brilliant review of The Expanse. Probably not the best thing to read now, cause like you I haven’t watched the show yet (and am not sure if I’ll manage to do it before the Hugo deadline, since it’s not available where I live), but Laurie Penny’s take matches very much my experience with the first novel (will have to try at least one more before the Hugo deadline), namely that it was perfectly okay, but I neither felt the need to read the rest of the series. And when the TV show came out and everybody was talking about it, I realised that I remembered next to nothing about the plot of Leviathan Wakes. And considering I can recall plot details of books I read twenty to twenty-five years ago, completely forgetting the plot of a book I read maybe four or five years ago is notable.

    BTW, I will have to remind myself to consider only Laurie Penny’s fiction, when ranking the Campbell nominees, because her essays are just so excellent.


  2. Matt Y

    I’m torn when it comes to The Expanse because though I’m a fan of the books and normally hate it when an adaptation takes things in a different direction I feel like the show sticks too closely to the books to the point that slow moments of development in the books turn into kind of boring hour long television. It took me like 2-3 hours to read the first book and seeing it performed in real time is…not as engaging even though I think it’s a great adaptation.

    Well that and what they don’t adapt feels more like a budget constraint (especially season two where action gets skipped) than a format change.

    As a fan of the books, I feel like the adaptation sticks really close to the source material and suffers because of the format instead of benefiting from it. And yet it’s such a close adaptation of something I like that my wife and I tune in each week. Wouldn’t consider it worthy of an award versus other SFF media.

    Liked by 1 person

    • camestrosfelapton

      I think they would have been better with 2 fewer episodes e.g. they spent time on Fred Johnson’s backstory which could have waited (& which didn’t explain anything anyway).


  3. Lurkertype

    Again, this is another thing to be pissed at Puppy Poo about; because of their shenanigans, the awesome “CQB” didn’t make the ballot when it should have last year. That was some fine space opera-ing.


      • Cora

        You’d think that’s just what the puppies would like – military action in space. But alas, the show has women and POC and the women aren’t nicely and demurely feminine and popping out babies and besides, at least one puppy (Declan Finn) has no idea what “The Expanse” is anyway.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. louyuhasz

    I love “The Expanse” season one, even if it ended up feeling like all prologue for the real story. It scratched an itch that’s been there since the first couple seasons of Battlestar. However, the new season is leaving me feeling a little flat. There’s some seams showing in the budget and a couple of plots that kinda just peter out. I’m actually hoping next year is its last as rumored, so it can focus on wrapping up its own story.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Mark

    “Yet there hasn’t really been a substantial TV show with this solar system bound feel or with this kind of faux-realism” – I think this is the main point of why I like it: someone ought to have made something like this years ago (preferably based on Heavy Time/Hellblazer by CJ Cherryh…) but inexplicably they haven’t. I’m actually a little bit sad to discover the direction the plot is going, in fact.

    Liked by 1 person

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