Science fiction excels when it transcends the simple aliens/rocket ships/”to boldly go” rules that put genre sceptics off. When the revamped Battlestar Galactica arrived in 2004, for example, it didn’t take long for the press to note its political leanings: in 2005, Time described it as “a gripping sci-fi allegory of the war on terror”.
The Expanse, whose second series is arriving on Netflix on Friday 8th September, is cut from the same cloth. Based on an ongoing series of novels by James SA Corey, it’s hard-boiled crime fiction meets alien horror meets revolutionary politics, set in a future where much of our solar system has been colonised.
If you go straight into season two you’ll likely be confused, so this is the perfect time to catch up with the first season of ten episodes.
A Blade Runner-like detective, Joe Miller (played by an impressively gruff Thomas Jane), is employed to find a missing heiress, who may have become involved with a terrorist organisation. At the same time, the crew of an ice hauler that shuttles between planets narrowly avoid death when their vessel is destroyed by what they believe to be nuclear torpedoes from Mars. This leads to sabre-rattling between the governments on Earth and Mars, with the United Nations struggling to keep the peace.
But what happened to heiress Julie Mao? The answer is horrific, and by the end threatens the very future of humanity. But little happens in The Expanse in a hurry.
We’re given time to get to know our lead characters Miller, crew leader Jim Holden (Steven Strait) and UN envoy Chrisjen Avasarala (the steely Shohreh Aghdashloo) and to explore the worlds they inhabit.
The space opera elements are imaginatively realised, and occasionally violently shocking, but the political machinations are just as compelling.