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The Expanse

(35 posts)
  • Started 3 years ago by Chris DeVito
  • Latest reply from Steve R.

  1. Chris DeVito

    Anyone been watching this? We just viewed the first episode and I liked it a lot, despite some quibbles that I hope they'll work through (1 g on Ceres??? Argh!!! They better come up with some sort of artificial gravity flim-flam). Anyone have any spoiler-free comments on how it progresses?

    Posted 3 years ago #
  2. C.C. Finlay
    Charles Coleman Finlay

    We've watched the first four episodes and are enjoying it. Based on my memory of the first book in the series, they achieve the artificial gravity on Ceres by spinning it (so gravity actually varies by depth, which I want to say plays a part in the story at some point -- but I may be misremembering). Some very convincing effects in the coming episodes.

    Posted 3 years ago #
  3. Steve R.

    I've been watching it. Currently, I am ambivalent concerning the series.

    The only characters that I am interested in following, at this time, are the survivors from the Canterbury. So far, I have been turned-off by the intrigue and the resulting "side" story lines. But before there are howls of outrage, I need to immediately "clarify" that the intrigue makes sense and would be a logical outcome given the premise of the series.

    On the positive side, I believe that this may be the first series to deal with the issues resulting from colonization of the belt. For example, the biological effects on humans and the eventual need for sovereignty from Earth.

    On the negative side, as previously mentioned, I have not developed much of a connection with the characters. I find the mining of water as a major story element to be non-nonsensical. The usual theme is the mining of other (industrial) resources such as iron. While the series explores the potential for a colony to seek independence, I don't think it has been well presented. The script for another show: Caprica was much more intense and well thought-out.

    My big takeaway from this. Why Corey and not Cherryh? I have not read Corey. I have to admit to being a long-time fan of Cherryh and her "Downbelow Station" series is excellent. The "Downbelow Station" has tremendous potential as a series.

    PS: Any thoughts on alternative language to the term "TV series"? Considering the trend towards cable and streaming services such as Netflix, it seems that this term is now obsolete. I was avoiding using those words here.

    Posted 3 years ago #
  4. Chris DeVito

    Maybe the hard sci-fi types can splain to me, but how does spinning an asteroid increase its gravitational pull? Or is it that the tunnels are "upside-down" relative to the asteroid -- that is, they're set up so that the inhabitants' heads are pointing at the center of the asteroid, so centrifugal force would give them a kind of artificial gravity?

    [edit] Which, come to think of it, is kind of ingenious.

    ['nother edit] Unrelated, but I thought of Asimov's "The Martian Way" a lot while watching the first episode.

    Posted 3 years ago #
  5. geoffhart1962

    Steve: "I find the mining of water as a major story element to be non-nonsensical."

    Haven't seen the series, so don't spoil me *G*, but mining water is actually highly logical: water and oxygen will be in short supply anywhere outside a planetary atmosphere like that of Earth, and it's prohibitively expensive to ship these resources all the way from Earth. Far more logical to obtain them in situ, particularly as a safety measure in case the supply from Earth is somehow cut off. Air and water are actually more valuable than most other resources: you can twiddle your thumbs and wait years for a replacement telescope, but if you lose your air...

    For example, the ISS seems to have 4 to 6 months of food and water reserves despite rigorous water recovery and recycling measures, and there were non-trival concerns when one of the resupply missions was scrubbed. No matter how tightly you recycle, you're always going to lose some water over time: 100% recovery isn't possible. And if you lose your water and air to a meteor strike out in the Belt, you won't be able to wait 6 months plus for a resupply to arrive from Earth.

    Posted 3 years ago #
  6. Steve R.

    Geoff: Your observations are valid, especially considering that recycling is not 100% effective. Nevertheless, the validity of the necessity to mine water will depend on a lot of factors that will require further research before a definitive statement can be made. As one (extreme) speculation, the haul (importation) of one water load could last the Ceres colony for years. But that is an unknown. For the reasons you raise, the mining of water (on an ongoing basis) may prove be a necessity.

    One distinction between the ISS and Ceres is that water had to be imported from the very beginning as there is no natural supply. Also the ISS would have limited ability to store and recycle materials compared to the size of a planetoid. Of course, even a natural supply can eventually run-out given sufficient demand.

    Wikipedia notes: "Ceres appears to be differentiated into a rocky core and icy mantle, and may have a remnant internal ocean of liquid water under the layer of ice.[19][20] The surface is probably a mixture of water ice and various hydrated minerals such as carbonates and clay. In January 2014, emissions of water vapor were detected from several regions of Ceres.[21] This was unexpected, because large bodies in the asteroid belt do not typically emit vapor, a hallmark of comets."

    Posted 3 years ago #
  7. Chris DeVito

    Here's an interesting discussion about Ceres' "gravity" on The Expanse:

    Even if it wouldn't actually work, at least they address the issue -- most sci-fi just ignores it.

    Posted 3 years ago #
  8. Ron

    If memory serves, the authors of the The Expanse (novel series) were at the WorldCon when it was held in Chicago a few years ago. They said that, int their books, the surface of Ceres was covered with buckminsterfullerene because otherwise Ceres would break apart at the attempt to rotate to it to create artificial gravity. They also said they asked a physicist for scientific advice.

    I was tempted to ask them if they ever considered writing fantasy.

    Posted 3 years ago #
  9. Chris DeVito

    Fantasy, Ron? Or Clarke's Third Law?

    Seriously, this is why so much "hard" sci-fi from the past seems so ludicrously quaint now. Knowledge/tech/sci just keeps charging ahead.

    Posted 3 years ago #
  10. Mark Pontin

    Ron wrote: 'I was tempted to ask them if they ever considered writing fantasy.

    I presume that's a gentle dig because you know one of them _does_ write fantasy.

    Posted 3 years ago #
  11. Mark Pontin

    Chris wrote: 'This is why so much "hard" sci-fi from the past seems so ludicrously quaint now. Knowledge/tech/sci just keeps charging ahead.'

    I don't think Cordwainer Smith will ever seem passé and some Clarke is still fine. But the problem here in 2016 is in a way bigger than just advancing science.

    More than 200 human beings have now lived in zero gravity for day, weeks, months and -- in the case of one Russian on the old Mir station --- one year and a quarter. There's plenty of video footage available of people living and working up there on the ISS. So we absolutely _know_ what the lived reality of human beings in a weightless built environment in space looks like.

    And what it doesn't look like is what I saw last week when I wandered through a room where some folks were watching THE EXPANSE. That is, actors acting under the usual carefully lit, gravity-bound TV soundstages while dressed in stock Hollywood futuristic spacewear, the whole no more evoking the now-known reality of life in space than did Bruce Willis in ARMAGEDDON or the actors in the STAR TREK series, or almost any other media skiffy you care to name.

    In fact, what THE EXPANSE mostly looked like (as others here have indicated) was a project to modernize and monetize classic "hard sci-fi" tropes, taking as one model -- yes -- Asimov's THE MARTIAN WAY from 1952.

    That ain't all bad. No doubt part of what makes me say that is my inner 10-year-old, who remembers being imprinted by his first readings of the "good old stuff." But it's also true that THE EXPANSE wouldn't be the commercial project it is if there wasn't a mass audience for spacecore-style "hard SF" that isn't being much served otherwise.

    That this mass audience still exists is on balance a Good Thing. That said, if it's just tropes without much regard for actual science, it's not sincere. And if it's not sincere -- and the Golden Age stuff was, however clunky, often sincere -- then it's not real science fiction.

    I dunno. Probably a lot to read into two minutes of watching a TV show. But really, I felt no desire to see more.

    Posted 3 years ago #
  12. geoffhart1962

    TL;DR version: I like to see futuristic space environments designed to look liveable. Not realistic now, but a future design target we should aspire to.

    Mark, one of the things that strikes me about modern spacecraft is how poorly designed they are for humans to live in. They're engineered well from a purely mechanistic perspective, but have no soul and precious little ergonomics. I suspect this comes from their origins in military engineering, where the emphasis was on durability rather than livability, but you also see this in many other areas of design*. In effect, the spaces are designed for the convenience of the design and maintenance engineers, not for people to live in or work in. I've often said (having spent years studying the subject) that the best way to create more usable products is to force engineers to use the products they create**.

    * See, for instance, Alan Cooper's brilliant "The Inmates Are Running the Asylum".

    ** A colleague told me of his experience writing assembly documentation for rack computers that were assembled on-site by the client. The program managers (senior engineers) flat-out denied there was a problem until he borrowed a camera and recorded the company's own design engineers being forced to assemble their own products. There was literal blood loss involved. The managers caved, and redesigned everything. For another example, it's clear that most kitchen products I've used were designed by engineers who have never set foot in a kitchen.

    In the ISS, look at the narrow spaces and protruding angular (ouch!) objects. This design is imposed by several conflicting needs: ease of access (you need to be able to repair things yourself when you can't call the Maytag repairman; simple or modular parts are easier to replace), and minimizing the bill of materials and their mass (thus volume) because of the high cost to transport materials to orbit.*

    * Several times, I've sat in the copilot's seat in small twin-engine aircraft for the flight to Martha's Vineyard. These planes are clearly designed to minimize weight, at the expense of user comfort and ergonomics. I'm not particularly huge (just 6 feet tall), but I don't fit in the seat even at its maximum pushback. My knees press against the sharp edge of the console (if we hit anything hard, both would fracture and I'd be trapped in the plane), and I would have great difficulty manipulating the pedals. This is good design?

    In contrast, the Star Trek vision is one of sufficiently high technology that engineers can afford to work with UX (user experience) experts to create an environment people actually want to live in. (This differs dramatically -- pun intended -- from Ridley Scott's "Alien" environments, designed by sadistic passive-aggressive engineers to make the living environment as miserable as possible for the inhabitants. *G*) Yet even in Star Trek, we have antedilivian engineering artefacts such as Jeffries tubes that make it nearly impossible to do maintenance. One big crunch and you wouldn't be able to worm your way into a bent tube.

    From a fictional/dramatic perspective, authors need to decide where they fit on the spectrum from gritty "modern" realism and optimistic future "would be nice-ism". Having made that decision, it's then fair to criticize how well they've achieved it, or to state whether you enjoy that part of the spectrum.

    Posted 3 years ago #
  13. Chris DeVito

    I wrote: 'This is why so much "hard" sci-fi from the past seems so ludicrously quaint now...'

    To which Mark replied: "I don't think Cordwainer Smith will ever seem passé."

    An opinion with which I wholeheartedly concur, but it's off the point -- Cordwainer Smith was most certainly NOT a hard science-fiction writer! In fact I don't know what kind of sf writer he was -- if I had to label him it would be something like "practical mystic" or "real-world visionary" or somesuch. I doubt Linebarger gave a rat's patootie about the nuts'n'bolts behind cranching or planoforming or whatever.

    Posted 3 years ago #
  14. Mark Pontin

    @ Chris, who wrote: 'Cordwainer Smith was most certainly NOT a hard science-fiction writer.'

    I'd have said the same about Smith/Linebarger twenty years ago. But here in 2016 some of his predictive ideas and concerns from sixty years ago that seemed utterly far-out then are moving towards real-world relevance.

    Think, for instance, of 'A Planet Named Shayol' and Smith's gene-modified underpeople, and then look at this latest effort by George Church's lab --

    'Gene-editing record smashed in pigs; Researchers modify more than 60 genes in effort to enable organ transplants into humans.'

    Likewise, Smith/Linebarger's post-scarcity cultures of posthumans with radically-extended lifespans -- though he didn't call his Instrumentality and its citizens that, they essentially are -- make more sense to us now than they did back in the 1950s-60s.

    If you then look at Linebarger's real life, he was -- to an extent I don't think most SF people grasp -- very much in the inner circles of U.S. imperial policy-making during the 1940s-50s. He interacted with both Allan Dulles at CIA and John Foster Dulles at State, for instance. He went over in person as an adviser during the suppression of the communist insurgency in Malaya in the 1950s -- a successful little war that you don't hear much about because it was (a) mostly fought in the jungles by the British with their special services and gurkha adjuncts and (b) just so nasty.

    I'm not pulling this stuff out of my behind. Here's a CIA document from 1955 to Allen Dulles at Langley that has Linebarger near the top of those responsible for formulating a particular piece of covert policy --

    So I'm bringing all this up to say that you can certainly type Linebarger as a "practical mystic" or "real-world visionary." But I've read his U.S. army textbook PSYCHOLOGICAL WARFARE and his mainstream thriller, ATOMSK, from the early 1950s. And it's clearly the same mind formulating that stuff -- and doing the work that causes him to interact with both the Dulles brothers -- as wrote the visionary science fiction.

    It's a highly intelligent, idiosyncratic and far-seeing mind (Linebarger thought Vietnam would be a big mistake, for instance, and stayed away from that one). But one of the things a person in Linebarger's professional position would have done then and does now is crack the scientific literature that the pols and the spooks won't crack and tells them what the technical possibilities are.

    So if in 2016 it turns out that as regards Linebarger's notions about biogenetic, posthuman, and human-animal splices he was the firstest with the mostest on that score in Anglophone SF -- and he was -- maybe it's because he thought about certain technical possibilities and extrapolated them all the way.

    As for the rest of Linebarger/Smith's SF tropes, planoforming is nonsense, of course. Remote viewing -- telepathy -- was still something that the CIA was thinking about into the 1970s, IIRC. And cranching sounds a little like a DARPA proposal I once heard about.

    Posted 3 years ago #
  15. Mark Pontin

    @ Chris --

    Here's more on the real life of the "practical mystic" and "real-world visionary" Paul Linebarger that you won't find in the Linebarger/Smith wiki.

    According to the testimony of Linebarger's daughter, her father went to Mexico in 1952 with E. Howard Hunt -- yeah, that E. Howard Hunt, who'd been one of Linebarger's students at the School for Advanced International Studies at John Hopkins University.

    What Linebarger and Hunt would have been doing in Mexico in '52 was arranging psyops for the CIA-arranged coup in Guatemala in 1954.

    Likewise, in former CIA agent Miles Copeland's autobiography, THE GAME PLAYER, he recounts how in 1954 when he was in Egypt the CIA sent in Paul Linebarger who was, according to Copeland, "perhaps the greatest black propagandist who ever lived."

    And then there's this chapter from PORTRAIT OF A COLD WARRIOR - SECOND THOUGHTS OF A TOP CIA AGENT by Joseph B. Smith (1976), which is online and worth reading if you're interested in Linebarger, since it more or less jibes with the historical record in terms of who some of Linebarger's covert ops students, besides Hunt, were and what he taught them --

    You can also google Linebarger's name alongside Kissinger, L. Ron Hubbard -- and other people he really did know.

    And then if you really, really want to go down the rabbit hole and go where all roads in American conspiratorial thinking eventually lead, there's this --

    Posted 3 years ago #
  16. Mark Pontin

    @ Geoff Hart --

    Thanks for your insight about the military engineering-influenced design of current spacecraft, which is probably true, and the other factors you cite -- e.g. in regards to the ISS design -- which are definitely on the money, especially the modular part.

    I liked the design of the big ship, the ARES, in THE MARTIAN. That's how I'd want to travel in space.

    Posted 3 years ago #
  17. Steve R.

    As a follow-up to the design of spacecraft; the movie industry tends to portrays the interiors as too "open". The interiors of the spaceships in the Expanse have an appropriate industrial look, but are quite "open".

    In reality, interior space would likely be very cramped. (Large amounts of interior space means a larger ship, more mass, structural concerns, and above all more $$$.) But for visual artistic purposes, the interior space needs to be open for the benefit of the viewer. After all, how is viewer going to be able to watch the good-guy take down five bad guys at one-time by tossing them across a room?

    Posted 3 years ago #
  18. geoffhart1962

    Had another thought about spacecraft, which arises from the fact that future astronauts will inevitably have to cope with things breaking -- or being broken in battle or by random space junk.

    The problem arises from what we see now with most modern electronics and even stuff that is mostly mechanical, like cars: when something breaks, the part either can't be fixed or is cheaper to replace than to fix. So it's replaced. I recall, 30 years back, a friend leaning into his car's engine compartment and manually adjusting the carburetor with a wrench when the engine stopped working right. Today, that wouldn't be possible; you'd probably have to replace the fuel injectors in the shop. Nowadays, forget about field-repairs to engine controller chips. Not going to happen. I used to carry a box of spare fuses for my car's electronics; no way I'm going to carry a box of spare microprocessors.

    So I see a significant likelihood that future manned spacecraft, operating far from home and the AAA, will have cruder, larger, clunkier parts that can be fixed or at least jury-rigged in the field until they can be replaced. This suggests that the Millennium Falcon esthetic (large clunky parts you pull out, tinker with, and plug back in) may be more realistic than it appears at first glance. Indeed, it may be the standard for any manned spacecraft operating far from home.

    Of course, widespread use of 3D printers to create replacement parts (assuming current trials of this technology prove that the parts are reliable) would be a game changer. In that case, you'd feed the dead part into the input hopper, recycle the raw materials, and spit out a replacement part.

    Posted 3 years ago #
  19. Chris DeVito

    Hey Mark Pontin: not sure we agree on the definition of "hard" sf, but I'm with you on Cordwainer Smith:

    Posted 3 years ago #
  20. Marian

    That was a fascinating article, Chris, comparing the backgrounds of Cordwainer Smith and James Tiptree, Jr.

    Posted 3 years ago #
  21. Mark Pontin

    @ Chris DeVito:

    [1] Yeah, I'm aware of Elms's good work on Smith/Linebarger. I wish he'd hurry up and publish that damned biography. In deference to his proprietary rights -- in the sense that he's done all the work first -- I've held off on writing a piece titled something like "Great SF Writers Who Were Spooks" about Tiptree/Sheldon and Smith/Linebarger. But somebody somewhere needs to write it SOON!

    [2] That said, I don't think Elms has articulated -- or maybe even understands -- just how deep Linebarger was in the belly of the beast.

    The standard line in the SF community on Cordwainer Smith's real-life persona is the line we get from Fred Pohl, who as an editor did most to publish the SF and who depicted Linebarger as a rarified intellectual academic in the foreigh policy field. Occasionally, too, there's been mention of Linebarger's self-description as "a visitor to small wars."

    So let's be explicit about what Linebarger-style "black propaganda" might have meant in the context of 1950s-era U.S. Cold War policy. Besides E. Howard Hunt, among the other OSS/CIA agents who studied under Linebarger was Edward Lansdale. This guy --

    Lansdale is thought to have been one model for the Pyle character in Graham Greene's THE QUIET AMERICAN (and the Colonel Hillendale character in Burdick and Lederer's THE UGLY AMERICAN). The sort of operation that Greene accused the U.S. of being responsible for in Vietnam -- that the Pyle character carries out in Greene's novel -- is a classic hardcore black propaganda operation.

    In Linebarger's defense, he developed his ideas about psychological warfare in the context of the total war of WWII. If the kind of operations that Greene accused U.S. intelligence operatives of carrying out in the context of 1950s Vietnam actually were carried out there, it's very likely that Linebarger was horrified.

    It's interesting, therefore, to note that Vietnam became Linebarger's cut-off point in interacting with the spook world -- he refused to go there or become involved with it. It's purely speculation on my part, but it's possible he was aware of the application in Vietnam by some of his former CIA proteges of his ideas.

    On the other hand, the paper trail Linebarger left of interactions with both the Dulles brothers and his CIA students is real and non-speculative.

    Posted 3 years ago #
  22. geoffhart1962

    Speaking of the definition of "hard SF", some thoughts:

    Posted 3 years ago #
  23. geoffhart1962

    Further info on colonizing places really far away:

    Posted 3 years ago #
  24. Chris DeVito

    Back to "The Expanse"...

    We just watched the 2-hour season finale, and damn if this isn't full-on, in-the-tradition, no-holds-barred science fiction, as good as anything appearing in the "genre" magazines. Looking forward to season two.

    Now, on to "The Humans"...

    Posted 3 years ago #
  25. Steve R.

    On my watch list. We have to go to bed early, so we record it for later watching. Look forward to it.

    Posted 3 years ago #
  26. Chris DeVito

    Season 2 begins Feb. 1.

    Posted 2 years ago #
  27. geoffhart1962

    We just started watching, and thus far, I'm generally enjoying the series. (Hart's Law is that you can't really tell how good a series will be until you've completed the first 6 episodes. It usually takes about that long for the actors to start working organically together and for the writers to really start to really grok where they're going with the plot and how the characters will travel along with them. We've only seen the first 3 episodes.)

    There's much to like about the series. The basic setup (Mars, Earth, and the Belt in conflict, with plot complications and recomplications aplenty) is familiar but tasty. The tech complies with the Mundane Manifesto. They've really sweated the details of the set designs. For example: The background noises on the crumbling freighter differ from those on the brand-new warship. Warehouses and docks look like warehouses and docks, whereas living spaces tend to be brighter and more cheery. Where they can do microgravity right on a weekly TV budget, they do it. For example, arms tend to float when people aren't paying attention to them; a small bird hovers for a second without flapping its wings before it falls; and they have magnetic boots for situations where they're needed. They don't always get it right, but at least they're trying and I can forgive a few lapses on a TV budget. I love the cracked screen on the lead cop's cell phone. And the characters are interesting; though they're not yet fully realized people, they show signs of becoming more interesting.

    Looking forward to coming episodes.

    Posted 2 years ago #
  28. Chris DeVito

    geoffhart1962: Worked out those airlocks on Ceres yet?

    Posted 2 years ago #
  29. Marian

    Interesting discussion on Science Friday about The Expanse.

    The emphasis is definitely on trying to be realistic even though that's difficult when dealing with things like weightlessness. Incidentally, someone up the thread mentioned water. In the interview, it was said water is needed to terraform Mars and therefore they are hauling it in as much as possible.

    Posted 2 years ago #
  30. geoffhart1962

    Chris, what aspect of the airlocks are you wondering about?

    My first thought is that you're referring to the fact that the gravity appears to be inverted. For example, when Miller throws the air-filter mobster into the airlock in the (2nd?) episode and threatens to jettison him, mob guy falls downward to the bottom of the airlock, even though they're on the surface of Ceres and the airlock is actually pointing upwards, away from the planet. It's possible to handwave this as centrifugal force, but yeah, it seemed a bit odd.

    Posted 2 years ago #

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