The Expanse: Show vs Book

Season 1 of The Expanse has come to a close, and so I thought I would give a rundown of what we’ve seen so far of the new show as it compares to the first volume of the Expanse novels, Leviathan Wakes. There were some pretty interesting changes that the script writers decided to adopt. Many of them were relatively minor, but I thought they had a large impact on the tone that the show conveys as compared to the tone of the books.

To me, the show felt much grittier than the books, and I think it more immediately portrayed the large scope of the setting. Leviathan Wakes alternated POV between Holden and Miller as they went on their separate journeys in pursuit of Julie Mao. The focus of the book is very tight on these two characters, and all of the larger conflicts between the different factions of humanity are filtered through their perspectives.

The Expanse decided to immediately add Chrisjen Avasarala, who doesn’t actually appear until the second book, Caliban’s War, to the story. This decision provided a character who could give some direct insight into the political aspects of the setting and show what the conflict looks like from the seats of power. Leviathan Wakes didn’t have this element, and I thought it was great for viewers to be able to learn about the political tensions between Earth, Mars, and the Belt right away.

The show also makes some slight tweaks to the characters and their relationships that do a good job of ratcheting up the tension level. For example, in Leviathan Wakes, it isn’t really Holden’s decision to investigate the Scopuli, but in the show he does so as a unilateral action. As such, he feels fully responsible for getting the crew of the Canterbury killed. Similarly, in the books Avasarala’s son is killed in a skiing accident, but in the show they have him killed by OPA terrorists, which again serves to illustrate the political state of things in the setting.

The showrunners made similar small adjustments among the minor characters, both adding characters to the story and giving some minor characters slightly bigger roles. The spy, Kenzo, who was not in the books at all (to my recollection) helps to illustrate just how the United Nations was keeping tabs on the crew of the Rocinante. Miller’s friend, Inspector Sematimba, who is assumed to have died on Eros along with everyone else in the book, has a much more dramatic contribution to the TV series…and that’s all I’ll say to avoid any real spoilers. But again, I think this is a great example of the TV writers being able to utilize some small changes to really enhance the story and present it in a more intense way for a TV audience.

One side effect of these changes, or perhaps a symptom of the medium, is that the show seemed to have a much more complex plot. Having read the books first, I had no trouble following along, but I thought that the books, by comparison, were much more straight forward. In The Expanse, some major plot points are explained in pretty quick dialogue exchanges. Or they are presented in earlier episodes, and so the viewer has to bring together threads based on things that happened several weeks before (something that may not be an issue once it’s out on Netflix or DVD). I think the writers handled this reasonably well in the two-part season finale by actually providing the full story of Julie Mao, from her perspective, so that viewers could get a kind of recap as to what had happened.

The show ends on a pretty big cliffhanger, about halfway or two-thirds of the way through Leviathan Wakes, so I’m really happy it got renewed for a second season. But I also think it really did deserve it. Syfy has been looking for a Battlestar Galactica replacement for a long time, and I think they finally have it with The Expanse. I think the show’s interpretation of its source material is excellent, and in certain ways I actually think it presents the story in a tighter fashion.

If you enjoy space opera and didn’t get a chance to see The Expanse, I highly recommend you look for it when it hits the streaming services. I’m not sure when Season 2 will start airing, but I’m already pumped for it.

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