I wish Mass Effect was like The Expanse

Note: I had this post brewing in my head over the past week, while I was off on holiday, but the good folks at Waypoint ran something apparently similar before I could write it. No matter, as I’m yet to read that piece beyond the headline, I’ll write something anyway, albeit briefer, in the hope it doesn’t entirely replicate it.

Admittedly I’m ‘only’ twelve hours into Mass Effect Andromeda so far, and the main reason for not yet having made it further is that I haven’t been much intrigued by its science-fiction.

It heralds itself with the grand concept of humanity and its allies arriving in a different galaxy for the first time, but almost immediately defaults to ‘baddie aliens start shooting you’ with an unwelcome side order of heavily implied mysticism. I don’t necessarily need my scifi to be hard – I like a romp as well as a thunk – but I’ve seen stories like this too many times over 38 years to feel satisfied by straight-up monstermen and magical handwaving.

In parallel to my 10 hours with MEA, I was deep into the second book in The Expanse series, as well as the second season of its TV adaptation. During my holiday, I proceeded to burn through three and a half more Expanse novels. This is testament to a certain superficiality as much as it is to how adeptly the series got its hooks into me. They follow the A Song Of Ice And Fire Skinner box ‘and then this happened and then this and then this’ model rather than often giving me pause for thought, but there’s plenty of theoretical science and world-building in there too, thus very much saving it from being Dan Brown.

The TV show, by contrast, is increasingly more adept at characterisation, more able to hit emotional buttons and leave me caring about someone on a level beyond simply whether they live or die. Not universally so – the first chunk of the first season is fairly hackneyed, and a couple of key performances still feel a bit off even deep into the second season.

But the second season enjoyed a huge leap in quality over the first, its creators and stars clearly having grown more confident that they could make something more than a soap opera, and it’s also begun building its own path through the fundamentals of the storyline. Partly so it can function more naturally as a TV show (characters and worlds appear and disappear for whole books at a time, which doesn’t fit sets and contracts too well) but partly, I suspect, so it can have an identity beyond the novels.

In both cases, the big draw for me is that The Expanse a future where humanity has made it to the planets, but not to the stars. The species’ expanse hinges on the precarious occupation of various moons, space stations and an as-yet unterraformed Mars, and it’s interested in what this has done to humans on both a societal and a biological level. Granted, it largely turns this into excuses for conflict, which is the heart of all its plots, but still, it spends some time with the question instead of defaulting straight to gunfights.

Without getting into spoilers, something alien comes into play too, but it is both careful not to show too much too soon and to retain an alien-ness. There are no bipeds with noses and grunting voices. There are not even guns. Or faces. There most certainly is no ‘and the baddie aliens want the mysterious artifact for themselves!’ Yeah, it’s pulp and it’s often superficial in terms of plotting, but it’s both building a universe in which humans are not somehow all happy tree friends in the future and disputing the stereotype that other lifeforms should be even vaguely humanlike.

By contrast, Mass Effect: Andromeda, in my experience so far, is essentially a superhero movie. It seems so deeply uninterested in what a new galaxy might be like, and instead determined to press the concept into action convention. Sure, videogames are gonna videogame, but I like to think a decent RPG makes and keeps me curious about its world, not simply has me hungry to collect stuff, max out my numbers and bump uglies with the Blue Man Group.

What I’m saying is: I wish Mass Effect Andromeda spent some meaningful time on the practical and socio-political issues of establishing a new society before it jumped straight to angry rockmen. They’re in a new galaxy, with finite resources, no hope of calling home for help, almost nothing of their new environment understood and a pressure cooker of multi-species relations to deal with. There’s so much drama inherent in that setup already, with no laserguns or spooky monuments required.

Clearly, I don’t expect a mass-market sci-fi game to be Kim Stanley Robinson, but I do have a suspicion that executive pressure and focus grouping may have forced MEA into action, collectormania and shagging sooner than might otherwise have been desired.

In other news, I reckon The Expanse could make a decent Stellaris or Galciv mod. Get on that please, somebody.

This feature was originally published as part of the RPS Supporter Program. Cheers, Supporters!

117 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Mungrul says:

    Love the Expanse novels and TV series both.
    Naomi’s not quite right for me yet, and the same could be said for Avasarala, but Amos and Alex are pretty damn perfect.
    And yeah, it’s not hard hard sci-fi, but it’s certainly more based in reality than a lot of sci-fi.

    If you’re enjoying that Alex, I highly recommend Anne Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy.

    Although my favourite sci-fi of recent years has most definitely been Chris Beckett’s Dark Eden trilogy, Leckie’s trilogy are a close second, and they’re more about spaceships and galactic empires than Dark Eden.

    • Premium User Badge

      oggnogg says:

      Thanks, I’ll check those out.
      I really liked the Revelation Space series by Alastair Reynolds. Ian Banks’ Culture novels are great, too. And of course Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun.
      Ah, fond memories <3

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        Mungrul says:

        I’m going to have to give Banks another go. I read Player of Games years ago, but didn’t like it. I suspect I’d appreciate it more now.

        I’m reading a series at the moment I missed first time round and really enjoying it; the Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons.
        The first book, Hyperion, is a Canterbury Tales style thing. While he’s obviously been heavily influenced by William Gibson, one particular pilgrim’s tale really sold me on the series, Sol Weintraub’s story. Definitely hit me in the feels.

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          oggnogg says:

          Yeah, those were great — I can’t remember too much anymore but I still have images of the Shrike in my head =)

          Simmons also wrote three good detective novels (search for Joe Kurtz) which felt like film noir.

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          Nauallis says:

          If you plan to give Banks’ Culture novels another go, start with Excession, or Surface Detail. Those are probably the best two in the series, and deal much more heavily with the actual pan-human galactic expansion Culture instead of just special agents all the time. They also have a handful of original sci-fi concepts that I haven’t read in other novels. Use of Weapons is one of the best books Banks ever wrote, but it’s not quite like any of the other Culture novels.

          • LexW1 says:

            Really do not do that. By “best”, you presumably mean “Most exposition and world-building” heavy, because those are the only things those two excel at relative to the rest of the series.

            Start with Consider Phlebas or go home, frankly.

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            Nauallis says:

            No, I mean exactly what I wrote. Excession and Surface Detail are actual novels of the Culture about the Culture and give a very insider viewpoint to how the Culture functions, especially the importance and character-building of Minds. Consider Phlebas is worth reading, absolutely, but it’s an incredibly singular plot that feels hollow at the end, and there’s no meta-story to it, unlike every other Culture novel, and it doesn’t even really deal with the Culture at all. If somebody is bouncing off of Player of Games, another Culture novel told almost exclusively from the standpoint of one character, Phlebas isn’t going to interest them at all.

          • LexW1 says:

            That’s exactly what I said. Those novels are about the culture. They’re barely about people at all.

            Also, I think you’re severely mistaken about why people bounce of The Player of Games. In my experience, people bounce off it because the central character is a twat without any redeeming characteristics, and the “alien” society in it does not seem all that interesting, at first at least. It’s just not a desperately exciting book initially – it does get there bit takes a while. I’m pretty sure anyone who bounced off it for that reason will bounce off Surface Detail and Excession even harder.

          • Hanban says:

            I just finished reading Excession, and it’s my favourite so far. I really like that it focuses on the minds. Though, all of them have been highly enjoyable.

          • skalpadda says:

            @Lex:
            Well the Minds are “people” at least as much as the human(basic)s are (or Pavuleans, in Surface Detail). That’s kinda the big thing about the Culture.

            Agreed about Gurgeh and the Player of Games, though. I’d say the only two books one definitely shouldn’t start reading the Culture at are Inversions and Matter. It’s probably helpful to know a bit more about the world before reading The Hydrogen Sonata as well.

        • Palindrome says:

          I liked all the Hyperion books although I didn’t like his other books that much, I haven’t read his detective novels though.

          • Werthead says:

            Simmons went a bit whacko after 9/11 and wrote a bunch of stories in which evil Muslims conquer the world, which got a bit out of hand (especially in Olympos, the second half of a completely unrelated SF series). He seemed to recover later on though. The Terror and Drood are both pretty good, but about 200 pages too long (a recurring problem for Simmons).

          • DudeshootMankill says:

            For me his masterpiece is Carrion Comfort, an old horror epic of his. I’f you’ve got a strong stomach. The horror is strong with that one.

            EDIT: And its one of his books that dont turn weird or rambling towards the end. And doesnt feel 200 pages too long.

        • mpk says:

          I’d second the notion of starting Banks’ from Consider Phlebas and then working your way forwards. While I do consider Excession to be his best Culture work, the universe is explored, expanded and explained step-by-step as you go through the series in written order.

          Also: Excession has a coda to Consider Phlebas that I would say has more impact if you read the series in order (YMMV, obv).

          • machineisbored says:

            I think it’s Look To Windward you’re thinking of – I don’t remember Excession having a call-back to Consider Phlebas. Correct me if I’m wrong.

          • Hanban says:

            Yeah, I’m reading Look to Windward now, and it’s tying in to Consider Phlebas, sort of. Though I do recall the events of Consider Phlebas being mentioned in passing in Excession.

          • mpk says:

            Yes – you are both obviously correct. Feeling silly now. The clue is in the quote that provides the name for both novels!

      • Canadave says:

        Oh, if you like Banks I think you’ll definitely appreciate the Ancillary series. There’s definitely a fair bit of influence from him in there.

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      phuzz says:

      Another vote for Anne Leckie’s Ancillary trilogy. More sci-fi should obsess over the proper way to serve tea whilst debating the nature of conciousness.

    • Banyan says:

      Since we’re offering recommendations, the tabletop RPG Eclipse Phase is fascinating, even if you just want to read the setting and not play it. Posthuman conspiracy horror, with extrasolar colonization beginning after humans destroyed the Earth trying to kill their own sentient AIs and skin intelligences just dropped by to warn us not to wander away from our home system.

      • theblazeuk says:

        I will never have the time to play Eclipse Phase but I thoroughly enjoyed reading the gamebook…. Next up on my Role Play Public Radio campaigns to listen through (Now I’ve finished off the Red Markets campaign).

    • Solidstate89 says:

      It’s the closest I think we’ve probably ever gotten to hard sci-fi on TV. Especially with regards to Newtonian physics and g-forces.

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      There was a blurb on the front of the first book which said “As close as you’ll get to a Hollywood blockbuster in book form”. When I saw that I just assumed it was that typical blah they put on books, but it’s so true. The first book barely gives you time to breathe.

      • LexW1 says:

        Unfortunately the level of thoughtfulness is also on-par with a Hollywood blockbuster. The Expanse is probably the least SF SF I’ve ever read. It’s barely SF at all. It’s basically just thriller-genre series with a rather trite but workable futuristic setting.

        People can shit on ME as much as they like, but as dumb as it might be, it’s far smarter SF and far more SF, SF than The Expanse, which is just as another person put it “Tom Clancy in Space” (including the centre-right slant).

        • Werthead says:

          The Expanse isn’t top-tier SF, but it’s certainly a reasonably well-thought-out depiction of a future society where we take our baggage into space and make the same mistakes. I’m really not sure where you’re getting the centre-right thing either. Both authors are pretty liberal, Earth is depicted as a huge welfare state and the Belters, although not presented as completely sympathetic, are very much unionised, hard-grafting workers being completely exploited by corporations and not very happy about it.

          My main complaint about the series would be that this setting is actually quite interesting, but only the first (and to a much lesser extent, the second) book really focus on it and the series expands later on into a much bigger story where those interesting opening details are forgotten about.

          The Mass Effect universe is interesting, but not as interesting nor as innovative as Babylon 5, from which it stole…well, everything.

        • DThor says:

          I can’t even start to disagree more with your definition of what scifi is. The entire point of any fiction is to frame the human experience, to extract an intellectual or emotional response from others. You might get a particular kick out of a brain-twisting murder mystery, a four-horse oater about a strange gunfighter strolling into town, and that’s all legit, but scifi in particular puts the human experience into a non-traditional setting and hypothesizes what might happen from a human pov. ME is a rehash of so many things that have come before, with almost zero attempt at portraying real people, real dialogue, or anything remotely challenging to think about, even if it was just an attempt to take you on a wild ride(which I would have been fine with).
          While it’s fine that The Expanse in particular might not turn all your cranks, I can’t even wrap my head around the notion that this lazy, cookie cutter attempt to make money in the guise of a game somehow is “better sci-fi” than something like Expanse, unless you think the requirements for membership are ray guns and warp drive.

    • Zenicetus says:

      I just started the second novel in Leckie’s Ancillary series. It’s good; a little weird at first, but once I got used to the language it hooked me in. I’m a huge Alastair Reynolds fan, although mainly the earlier stuff, and grew up on all the Asimov, Niven, etc. classics. I guess I’m mainly a hard science and space opera buff. That’s just a backdrop in the Ancillary series but there’s enough to keep me interested.

      Banks is a tough one for me. Great for big picture ideas, but all his aliens and AI Minds read like present-day humans to me. I like my aliens truly alien, like the ones in Miéville’s Embassytown, or the ones in Reynolds’ Revelation Space series.

      That’s one of the many huge disappointments in ME: Andromeda for me. The good guy aliens and the bad guy aliens are just rubber-masked humans. The Angarans especially. It’s a complete waste of the setting.

    • Makaze says:

      Odd, I found Avasarala exactly as I pictured her but Alex somehow off. Total agreement on Amos though.

      But then we have different tastes in books too as I despised the Ancillary series and cannot begin to fathom why it’s received such praise. It managed to build an interesting world and proceed to do virtually nothing interesting with it for pages on end.

      • LexW1 says:

        Leckie’s series is mostly about thought and ideas, as it’s actual SF. Whereas The Expanse is about plot, plot, and more plot, and fuck ideas. So I am surprised anyone would really like both unless they were just a huge SF genre fan. The Expanse has infinitely more mainstream appeal as a result of being utterly plot-centric though.

        • skalpadda says:

          @Lex: I’ve enjoyed both so far (two books into The Expanse). It’s entirely possible to like different things for different reasons. :)

      • Werthead says:

        The first Ancillary book is pretty decent, although it mostly extrapolated ideas from earlier works and melded them together: Ursula Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness, with its original approach to gender, and Iain Banks’s nonlinear structure from Use of Weapons are the clearest influences. I’m halfway through the second book and I have no idea why this was made into a trilogy, as no real narrative or thematic elements from the first book have been well-expanded on in the second. Still time for it to recover though.

    • El_MUERkO says:

      I think they nailed Amos but I always thought of him as slightly older than the actor playing him.

      If I was a billionaire I’d buy the production company and say “I want you to add roughly 18 minutes to each episode so far making them a round hour, you can move stuff round however you like, but I want some more world building, more characterisation and a better sense of time passing”. All future episodes would also be a round hour too.

      Then I think the show would be perfect, I think the characters would be more relatable, motives clearer, the plot would flow better and the casual viewer would be able to engage better with the show.

      Don’t get me wrong, I love it now, but I’m convinced it would have a much larger audience if it didn’t feel so rushed and rough edged.

      • Werthead says:

        The actor playing Amos I thought wasn’t right at all. But in that episode with the Martians boarding the ship and Amos calmly tells Holden to shoot him if he has to the actor suddenly really nailed it.

        The next scene where he came to life was in the brothel where Amos starts talking about being brought up in a place like that and helps out the male prostitute and you suddenly realise where Amos came from and what kind of life he had. The actor absolutely nailed that moment (which is also quite subtle in the books).

    • kosch says:

      Good to see so many people reading all my favourite writers. I would highly recommend saga of the seven sun’s it has a couplen of fun plot elements to it over the course of its 7 book epic!

      I started watching expanse and kept thinking to myself this is really familiar. Only after the first episode I caught the credits for the “based on” and it finally clicked.

    • Rindan says:

      Suggesting someone go read Ancillary Justice after saying they like the Expanse is like someone saying telling you they like a nice country walk, so you suggest maybe should hike the Andes. Ancillary Justice is… well I still to this day can’t decide if I actually liked the book, but it is something and well worth the read. It is nothing like The Expanse.

      The Expanse is popcorn sci-fi. I don’t mean it as an insult or to imply it is simple or lazy. I mean that it is just really easy to read and enjoy. It will make you think, but it won’t force you to puzzle it out. The world building and the character building is fantastic, but at the end of the day, they are just fun and easy novels to read.

      Ancillary Justice is brutal to read. It is “show don’t tell” taken to 11. You got tossed into a hilariously alien world with aliens dealing with aliens. They might all be technically human, but they have about as much culturally to do with us as we do with I dunna know, an ancient Chinese empire; probably less. Forget the gender thing, that’s easy to snap your head around and what everyone points to because it is easy. It’s the everything else that is hard about that book. As soon as you think you are kind of starting to grok WTF anything in this society means, it tosses in another layer of showing something culturally incomprehensible. There isn’t a drop of exposition for you to quench your thirst on. You are just going to walk into the middle of some aliens talking about their crazy culture, and you just better catch up.

      I guess my point is that Ancillary Justice is a hard read. The Expanse is an easy read. Don’t walk into Ancillary Justice thinking you are about to read anything even vaguely like The Expanse. They both have space ships. That is pretty much where the similarities end. In terms of pretty much everything else, they are entirely and completely different.

    • maninahat says:

      I’m most of the way through the second Ancillary at the moment, and having a lot of joy with it. It’s one of those series that deserves a tv show, but would be utterly ruined by it. Part of me wants to sneak off to Tamil Nadu and base a short film on it (the book becomes a lot more familiar when you recognise the South Indian aesthetics).

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    The Almighty Moo says:

    Just listened to We Are Legion (We Are Bob) which is fun and despite the trapping of hard sci fi, very much a romp.

    Seconding for The Culture novels, though I’m not sure where I would start if I’m honest.

    Peter F. Hamilton’s Commonwealth trilogy has a good alien in it as well, though again falls into “romp” territory

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      Excession or Consider Phlebas are both good places to start.

      His non-Culture sci-fi books are excellent too – Against a Dark Background and Feersum Engine are 2 of my favourate books (as some might have guessed from my name).

      • aircool says:

        I think Consider Phlebas is overrated. It’s kinda boring and not a lot happens, or I should say, not a lot happens in a lot of detail.

        There’s a lot of good sci-fi around these days. I was brought up on Clarke, Asimov and Silverberg. Then along came Greg Bear to fill in the gaps whilst waiting for Reynolds and Hamilton to come along.

        Morninglightmountain is still my favourite bad-guy.

        • studenteternal says:

          I agree on Consider Phlebas, the weakest of the culture novels in my opinion – I always recommend people start with “player of games” and go on from there. Come back to phlebas if you want to be completionist.

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      Benratha says:

      I’d probably add Neal Asher as another decent, current scifi author. Anything in the ‘Polity’ series is worth a read, although it’s probably best to start with The Line of Polity.

  3. Blackcompany says:

    Was just wishing the same about Elite: Dangerous when I stumbled on this article.

    Also, Blindsight, by Peter Watts. One of the best Alien first encounters in sci Fi. Very cool take on Vampires, too, oddly enough.

    • giovanni says:

      I agree. One of the rare cases where aliens don’t necessarily fall into one of the usual SF stereotypes (the warrior race! the traders! the hive mind! the ancient precursors!).

    • Otterley says:

      Yeah, Peter Watts is really refreshing. I enjoyed Blindsight/Echopraxia intensely. Also, best vampires ever :)

    • DudeshootMankill says:

      Watts is great. I can also recommend Starfish. Incredibly good read.

  4. Rumpelstiltskin says:

    Isn’t it like saying “I wish GTA was more like the Sopranos”?

    • Stellar Duck says:

      Would that be a bad thing, as such?

      For me GTA4 was the best of the lot because it was basically a Greek tragedy, whereas 5 I never bothered to finish because I wanted to vomit every time Trever was on screen and I wanted to punch the rest.

      There is a humanity to 4 that is sorely missing in the last one.

      • Rumpelstiltskin says:

        Well I was mostly referring to the fact that one is basically a set up for letting the player do lots of light-on-the-consequences killing in a thematic environment, while the other attempts to be as realistic and unglorified as possible.

    • LexW1 says:

      No, it’s like saying “I wish Dragon Age was more like Camelot”, if anyone even remembers that terrible show with beautiful people and production, because let’s be real, The Expanse series, both the TV shows, and the books, are pretty fucking godawful. They’re extremely successful because they’re extremely easy to follow, basically don’t have any remotely challenging or even slightly thoughtful sci-fi in them (very unlike say, Banks, Leckie, Vinge, etc. etc. etc.), and are all about shitty people being shitty to each other in impressive ways but sometimes they aren’t shitty and I guess we’re supposed to enjoy that?

      It’s the same phenomenon as The Walking Dead, essentially. Utterly low-brow, totally non-challenging, high-budget, very attractive TV with characters who are basically a set of poorly-welded-together tropes (and the same is true of the books/comics), and tons of back-stabbing and WHAT A TWIST, and so on. I sort of blame Game of Thrones, really, but it exists on a slightly higher level (or did, initially, at least). The Expanse makes something like Lost look like Shakespeare though.

      Seriously, if Mass Effect was “like The Expanse”, it would be far, far, far worse than it is. The Expanse is trashy plot-heavy, no-brain TV for people who like to think that it’s something more than that.

      • haldolium says:

        I really wonder what you’re watching and playing when you put Lost over The Expanse, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. And more games related, thinking that a Michael Bay SciFi Plot device like Mass Effect actually would be worse off going to thrive for more indepth characters and plots…

        • LexW1 says:

          I don’t put it over GoT, but it absolutely was a more thoughful, intelligent and human show than TWD or The Expanse. TWD is misanthropic bollocks, particularly, and about as deep as a puddle. It’s fun an entirely superficial way – I mean, no you don’t get to complain about “Michael Bay” and then like TWD. They’re really two sides of the same lowest common denominator coin.

          • haldolium says:

            Okay fair enough, lets put TWD out of the equation (it’s not as bad, but took the wrong turn rather soon in it’s development imo)

            I still think it is ludicrous to compare The Expanse to something TC would’ve wrote (that would be rather Mass Effect if Clancy would’ve been into future stuff… seriously, ME starts off as a US-military-in-space series) or to ignore that most TV series have now more indepth as any hollywood movie and twice so as most big budget games, which have usually the typical hollywood movie arc for the masses, interrupted by some “psychopathic murderer” stuff in between.

            I find Alecs assessment very reasonable and a good comparison to what ME:A could’ve done instead and could’ve done different.

            At the very least: neither Mass Effect nor The Expanse have CORAL ;-)

        • Werthead says:

          The Walking Dead is a pretty bizarre show, with each season containing about 3 actual episodes of plot and character development and then about 13 of people just wandering around pointlessly. The same is true of the comic, but the TV show’s popularity is a bit puzzling given the characters are thin. Earlier seasons did have some very impressive zombie action, but for the last couple they sometimes seem to forget the zombies are even around.

          Lost, for all of its many and myriad problems and sins, is a far-better written and acted show than The Walking Dead (maybe even The Expanse so far, although comparing 120 episodes to 22 is a bit unfair at this stage). Well, maybe not the alterno-universe bits in Season 6, which were total cack.

      • Ivan says:

        Just had to comment here because I lurk and see your posts here and there, and often agree with them, but then I see this and can’t help but vehemently disagree with it like crazy.

        Also, most of the characters in The Expanse (books, not TV series, I refuse to watch TV shows that don’t attempt to perfectly recreate book canon after the various things have gotten bastardized throughout history) are actually really good people. The fact that it’s “true companions in space” is what makes it work, kind of like Firefly (which, I’m curious, do you hate on the exact same grounds?).

        I love both The Expanse and Mass Effect, but book-Amos is much cooler than anyone in the ME games.

        Also, Lost was absolutely dreadful, especially after Season 3, and most of it didn’t make sense, in the moment, or otherwise. It had some good characters (Desmond, Hugo), but didn’t really care much about them, and just went completely off the rails in a conflagration of nonsense after the entertaining-but-nonsensical Season 3 finale.

        • Werthead says:

          I see this opinion voiced quite a lot and I’m really not sure what to make of it. Lost has a reasonably cohesive storyline that mostly makes sense. The only bits that really don’t hang together are some of the background worldbuilding they abandoned (or rather, explored in secondary media) in the second season. Otherwise the story was pretty conclusive.

          The only question they really leave unanswered at the end is “What actually is the Island?” And that’s because any answer they could come up with would have annoyed about 80% of the audience, so they left it alone.

          Don’t get me wrong, some of the story turns were rubbish (“Why did it end in a church?” as the Joker asked in Arkham City), but they did hang together logically. If you squinted a bit.

      • Rumpelstiltskin says:

        Hmm and I thought too many of the Expanse’s characters were annoyingly idealistic do-gooders with sticks up their arses. And while we are at it, I think Shakespeare’s stories are laughably contrived to squeeze as much heavy-handed drama out of them as possible, and it was the flowery impenetrable language gimmick that made them successful beyond their time.

      • ColonelFlanders says:

        I would have accepted what you had to say (although disagreeing with it) had you not decided also to belittle the audience as well as the show. And on that note how dare you shit on me for liking what I like – you know nothing about any of us or our tastes/preferences, so please don’t deign to act like you’re fucking better than anyone.

      • sosolidshoe says:

        Hmm, yes, I also base my sci-fi preferences on whether and how often I can deploy them smugly to imply I’m superior to those who did or did not enjoy them, good show.

    • spartz says:

      If it is, what’s wrong with that? Playing GTA V felt just like an interactive multi-series box set. Similar feel with GTA 4.

  5. poliovaccine says:

    Never heard of The Expanse til this article, but not only does it sound worth a look, the complaints about MEA remain cogent and valid in spite of my not knowing. They’re also complaints I have about a lot of sci-fi – a genre which routinely breaks hearts by hyphenating with “action.”

    Yknow what the first thing was about the original Mass Effect that got me hooked? The thing that first made me say, “Okay, I get the hype – this game is really something else” – the thing that made me see it as a literary-quality game? The codex! The codex was brilliant! Reading that was and still is some of my all time favorite sci-fi in any medium.

    If the game just took those alien quirks that are so lovingly described in the codex and made em into actual gameplay mechanics as you deal with actual other species?? Now that would be cool! Imagine a complex dialogue tree in combination with a pissy Hanar! The potential for deception in the mannerisms of the Elcor! Etc..

    Recently, however, was revisiting Star Wars Republic Commando, of all things. The frequent momentary similarities to the action sequences of MEA are embarrassing – I donno who for exactly, but I get that embarrassed feeling when I see it.

    Anyway, The Expanse sounds interesting, thanks for the rec…!

    *straightens tie and backs away*

    • Palindrome says:

      My wife and I watched every episode of the Expanse so far broadcast last weekend, including staying up until 4am one night; that may give some idea of how good it is.

      Its rare to find a Sci Fi series that actually works, largely because it takes a reasonable and plausible ‘future’ point and doesn’t bother with much in the way of exposition except when it’s key to a particular character. The colonial hatred thing is a little overdone and some of the world building is a little off (Earth has a population of 30 billion, almost all of whom are apparently on welfare) but it is certainly a contender for the best Sci Fi series that I have seen for years.

      As for Mass Effect I am finding it a terribly wasted opportunity. Low grade pulp Sci Fi with rubber faced aliens and a superhero main character, I have played that game before far too often. They haven’t even bothered with something even slightly different like the the Elcor or the Hanar.

      The ‘quests’ are absolute arse as well. I really regret buying this game.

  6. Eightball says:

    You need it to be boring and have more bad haircuts?

    • Canadave says:

      They may not look very good, but I love the worldbuilding details behind the popular Belter haircut. I’m really they ran with it for the show.

    • LexW1 says:

      Essentially, yes. The Expanse is not something anything, not even ME:A, should aspire to be. It’s like aspiring to be some sort of sweaty lothario at the local disco.

      • Premium User Badge

        kfix says:

        Hey baby, don’t be like that. You’re prettier when you smile. How about we go somewhere else and I’ll put a proper smile on your face?

      • Solidstate89 says:

        There’s always the contrarian fuck that has to make their opinion known in the comments…multiple times.

  7. studenteternal says:

    I find the love for the expanse odd, I bounced off both the written and visual series hard. I found the plotting monotonous, the horror gratuitous and the characters among the flattest and least interesting I have encountered in modern scifi. Read Banks, Hamilton, or Leckie instead they were all deeper, more interesting and better reads.

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      You find it “odd” that other people have different taste than you? Really?

      • keefybabe says:

        Yeah, while I find the Expanse to be a bit space Tom Clancy with some of Asimovs ideas about society thrown in, I don’t find the fact that people like it odd.

        The only way is Essex however, I can’t get my head around people liking that.

        • TillEulenspiegel says:

          Not gonna lie, Tom Clancy in space sounds pretty good. Clancy at his best was a great thriller writer. Remove the political rants, rewrite some lame dialogue, and forget entirely his horribly boring later work (uh, that’d be just about everything written after the collapse of the Soviet Union), and those books are wonderful exemplars of their particular genre.

      • studenteternal says:

        When it gets accolades and mainstream coverage way ahead of what I consider superior works, yes I consider it a little odd, or at least a little sad. I just didn’t find the expanse very good, and wish people would look past it to find better works to celebrate.

        • LexW1 says:

          You’re quite right to find it odd, because The Expanse is pretty much trash sci-fi. Tom Clancy in Space sums it up perfectly. Dreadful, vaguely fascist political stuff, awful, unbelievable characters, and shit-tons of trite, dull, world-building that every SF author worth their salt had already ton better.

          Another angle would be that is a Game of Thrones In Space, but obviously it’s far lesser than that, even.

          So yes, it is surprising that it’s being treated as if it’s good, on a certain. On another level The Walking Dead is a very similar kind of trash (but with a bit more charm and style – and better acting), and it’s still going strong, so I full expect The Expanse to hang around and essentially ruin a decade of SF TV.

          • Palindrome says:

            In other news: People have different opinions shocker.

            TV Sci Fi is pretty much all shite. The expanse is a rare exception.

          • mpk says:

            I find the idea that The Walking Dead has charm to be deeply unsettling.

            It’s a show where the main character is a psychopathic murderer suffering from trauma-induced PTSD, who leads a group of other murderers, psychopaths and PTSD-sufferers who we are supposed to like because they’re not quite as bad as all the other horrible people they meet.

            It’s a show about the worst of humanity, where there is no redemption and no hope. It’s bleak and it’s horrible and – if anything – will ruin far more TV than The Expanse ever will.

            EDIT: PARAGRAPHS R GOOD OK

          • LexW1 says:

            “TV Sci Fi is pretty much all shite. The expanse is a rare exception.”

            The Expanse is just non-SF TV, specifically “A Tom Clancy-esque cheap thriller” dressed up in SF clothes. Obviously if you think actual SF TV is “all shite” you will have a much better time with fake-SF like The Expanse.

          • LexW1 says:

            “I find the idea that The Walking Dead has charm to be deeply unsettling.

            It’s a show where the main character is a psychopathic murderer suffering from trauma-induced PTSD, who leads a group of other murderers, psychopaths and PTSD-sufferers who we are supposed to like because they’re not quite as bad as all the other horrible people they meet.”

            I literally couldn’t agree more.

            But the show doesn’t present it that way, and viewers typically don’t see it that way. The writers don’t think the characters are the monsters that they actually are. Well, that’s half-true – the writers know that they’re actually making out humanity to be far worse than it actually is (a fucking achievement, by the way), and have said so.

            But I say charm/style because relatively speaking, it does have more charm/style than The Expanse. In the same way Hannibal Lecter has way more charm/style than Buffalo Bill, you might say.

          • Werthead says:

            I really want to know where you’re getting the fascist-approving stuff from. Some of the bad guys are fascistic but then they’re the bad guys. The good guys get into the story in the first place through a series of highly altruistic acts and the side they align with – highly reluctantly because they have committed terrorist acts – are basically space communists.

            It’s a series where the factions contain both heroes and villains and people inbetween, and boiling it down to “fascists!” feels simplistic and reductive.

          • Unclepauly says:

            I’ve never seen either show, but I think you’ve sold them both for me. Well, at least I’ll watch a couple episodes now. Maybe I’ll report back with my findings. If I don’t it’s because I’m binge watching it all.

          • mpk says:

            @LexW1

            But I say charm/style because relatively speaking, it does have more charm/style than The Expanse. In the same way Hannibal Lecter has way more charm/style than Buffalo Bill, you might say.

            I see what you’re saying and, from that point of view, can agree. Maybe it’s a question of production values, but The Expanse does seem very much more “TV show” than TWD.

          • Werthead says:

            The Expanse has a bigger budget than The Walking Dead. AMC cutting TWD’s budget when it was their biggest TV show ever is what made Frank Darabont quit, and there’s been a fair bit of moaning about how the show makes AMC an obscene amount of money but none of it goes back into the show itself. You could make three-and-a-third episodes of TWD with the budget of one episode of Game of Thrones, and almost two episodes with the budget of one episode of The Expanse.

            The budgetary constraints of TWD are also getting more obvious with each year (since inflation means the show is getting a minor budget cut each year they don’t raise it). They’ve been sitting a couple of miles from Washington DC for three seasons and never gone to check out the Pentagon, White House or Capitol for survivors? They simply can’t afford it.

          • aldo_14 says:

            What is ‘trash’ or ‘fake’ SF, beyond a label to be employed for pretentious self-validation of opinions?

  8. brucethemoose says:

    “spent some meaningful time on the practical and socio-political issues of establishing a new society before it jumped straight to angry rockmen”

    Those elements are still there, especially later in the game. I haven’t fought any Kett in quite awhile actually.

  9. Masky says:

    Meanwhile as someone who nowadays often complains about Bioware(and am otherwise disillusioned with pretty much every game of theirs), it took me 80 hours to complete Andromeda, at least 30 hours of it was on space travel transition/boring quests, but I still thought it did boring quests much better than Inquisition or ME 1. Heck, even with unfinished animations, bugs and lack of polish, I think its best ME game just due to lack of large scale conflict and due to liking Tempest crew overally better then Normandy crew. Still sad about lack of boss battles and whatever ever since ME 1/2.

    But yeah, gotta agree that it’d be cool if ME would focus less on action, but its always been action series anyway and I doubt EA is going to change that, they don’t really do experimental stuff.

  10. amcathlan says:

    *ALERT* ALEC MEER – ALEC MEER – REPORT TO AIRLOCK 03 – :

    Combine these into a pretty functional Stellaris – The Expanse Mod

    “The Belt”, inspired specifically by the Expanse, you might have to shop around for it’s newest form (though I think this is it):
    link to steamcommunity.com

    “PRE-FTL Players” mod, which makes life before hyperspeed a thing, and a very cool way to play (and get your Expanse on):
    link to steamcommunity.com

    “Sol System Expanded” mod, makes the solar system a fitting expanse to…expand into:
    link to steamcommunity.com

  11. Premium User Badge

    Thulsa Hex says:

    It’s sad that Andromeda squanders the opportunities and fresh start provided by its setting. I was hopeful for more. Having actually only played Dragon Age: Inquisition a month or so ago, however, I was much more prepared for disappointment. Contemporary Bioware knows how to make the fantastic feel dull, it seems. I’m glad I took a chance on NieR this month instead.

    I, too, would love a space RPG with some genuine wonder, mystery and intrigue. But I’d also like big-budget RPG makers take a leaf out of CDPR’s book and write characters and dialogue that actually feels more natural and… human. That sense of the unknown would only be strengthened by contrast with relatable, humanly response.

    Regarding the Expanse… I’m at the end of the first season (just one episode left) and it’s been such a frustrating mixed-bag. There’s absolutely fantastic visual world-building, and some genuinely interesting political and intellectual ideas being thrown around, but it gets bogged down in some truly tedious plotting and script. For example, pretty much all of Thomas Jane’s arc is just dull and confusing—confusing in that I never felt like I knew why I should care about him or anyone he talked to. I like a good noir detective tale, but this one had no hook and crap characterisation.

    The other main arc (with the ship crew) becomes much more enjoyable towards the end of the series, as the characters are given more time to interact with each-other and are plunged into more interesting circumstances. That creeping sense of alien-ness starts to kick in, too, which is what’s kept me watching.

    I’m so glad to hear that season 2 picks up the quality. I remember not clicking with Battlestar Galactica in season one, but it’s now one of my most-beloved TV series.

    P.S. Dat Adam Jensen tho! I found his voice so very distracting, but in an entertaining way.

  12. LennyLeonardo says:

    How/where are you watching the second season??

    • ruaidhri.k says:

      Genesis, ….., Leviticus

    • Werthead says:

      Interesting point. It’ll be on Netflix UK in a few weeks, but not yet.

    • Premium User Badge

      Nauallis says:

      Both seasons are available through Amazon, the first season included with Prime.

      • Marclev says:

        Not in the UK they’re not. Season 2 hasn’t been released yet, and you can only get Season 1 on Netflix.

        • Premium User Badge

          Nauallis says:

          Eh, in this day and age the restriction is based largely on motivation and means. It’s still possible to watch it without stealing it using a VPN (“unlocator,” for example). But by all means, tell me all about how that doesn’t work for you…

          • Marclev says:

            [blockquote]
            Eh, in this day and age the restriction is based largely on motivation and means. It’s still possible to watch it without stealing it using a VPN (“unlocator,” for example). But by all means, tell me all about how that doesn’t work for you…
            [/blockquote]

            Why the condescending tone? You just provided extra information that there was no indication of in your previous post, so applying Occam’s razor suggested you probably posted from the states, and simply didn’t know this was a UK site.

            But sure, I’d be happy to tell you why I don’t use a VPN.

            Basically I wouldn’t trust some little known or unknown third party company with not spying and misusing any and all data I route through their servers. Google and my ISP are bad enough already, but at least they have some notional accountability based on a certain need to safeguard their reputation (or at least I can delude myself with as much).

            Good enough for you? Some people are comfortable doing it, I’m not.

          • Premium User Badge

            Nauallis says:

            Um, yeah. Right. Use your brain, instead of being contrary just to correct people online.

            See the supporter tag? Yeah, I know this is a British site. They post news that is generally of interest to people from all over the world, and if you bothered to read the site on a daily basis, you’ll notice in many articles they go out of their way to point out newsworthy gaming-related bits from other countries.

            That said, since as you so gleefully and apparently spitefully jumped into the comments to tell me I was wrong and that Alec couldn’t be watching Season 2 from the UK because Amazon doesn’t stream The Expanse in the UK, we can assume one of the following points must be true: either A) he’s not actually watching Season 2 yet, B) he’s torrenting Season 2, or C) he’s watching in a way that bypasses region lockouts. Since I find it unlikely that Alec would risk his professional livelihood and sensibility admitting that he is watching what is tantamount to stolen content via a torrent, he’s either not watching it, or purchased access to it quite legally through other means. Which means using a VPN.

            Why I gave you the condescending tone is that I find it sad that you’re so willing to tell me why you’re unable to do things. Let other people tell you can’t do things, and then go out and do them. Don’t shackle yourself.

            I can completely understand the unwillingness to use a VPN for something like a steam account or online banking, where truly private date is involved. Streaming video content? It’s laughable.

  13. Risingson says:

    “Clearly, I don’t expect a mass-market sci-fi game to be Kim Stanley Robinson”

    THANKS GOD. “Red mars” is one of the most insulting books at the characterization level that I’ve read in my whole life. Miles below the rest of the books you say here. I only understand its success in its western take of the topic (something I found in another one of his that I read earlier and was much better, “The Wild Shore”) but the inner thoughts are dumb, stupid and at times extremely misogynistic. I even had the feeling that it would be one of the few books where the Bechdel rules could not apply, like it was back to the badly called “golden age” of scifi.

    And yes, the similarities of Mass Effect and The Expanse are obvious. The difference being that The Expanse series is wonderful at characterization.

    • Banyan says:

      I don’t recall a single character from the Red Mars series, which probably proves your point. However I do recall the descriptions of how hard terraforming would be, which goes to Meyer’s point that having the premise of the first intergalactic colony immediately turn into a pew!pew! shooter is just a waste of an interesting set-up.

    • LexW1 says:

      “The difference being that The Expanse series is wonderful at characterization.”

      Are you joking?

      The Expanse is absolutely fucking godawful at characterization. It’s characters are, at best, dodgy collections of cheap tropes. The male leads are some of the worst characters in modern SF, especially the main one. And it’s not just the TV show where he’s a charisma-vacuum on top of that, it’s the books too. To call most of the characters one-dimensional would be overstating it.

      None of the Mass Effect games are all that well-written, and they have a lot less opportunity for characterization and so on than The Expanse – but what they do have, they do better. ME2, in particular, contains considerably more interesting and memorable characters than the entire first two books of The Expanse, which I admit is a low bar, because the books do not have many.

      The one thing The Expanse excels at is setting up political situations and plots in such a way that they are both accessible to the dumbest possible viewer (never miss that lowest common denominator!), and make it seem like there’s a reason to follow them.

      Unfortunately the characters are so dire it’s hard to see why you would.

      • LennyLeonardo says:

        Dude, let it go.

      • Otterley says:

        It’s getting a bit vicious now :/

      • Dinger says:

        Wow. You know, the best trolls are like ninjas. One well-placed blow that nobody saw coming, and they don’t stick around to see the chaos unfold. They certainly don’t repeat the same point over 11 posts in the hopes of created a one-sided argument about Fascism and Tom-Clancy-in-Space. We get it. You don’t like it. You want the world to hate it.

    • Werthead says:

      Red Mars has some excellent and very interesting characters: Nadia (the introverted engineer who eventually becomes President of Mars and can’t quite work out how she got there), Arkady (Space Trotsky) and the deeply unpleasant-but-fascinating Frank Chalmers. There’s also the psychologist who is trying to help the other characters whilst undergoing his own mental breakdown and the multi-trillionaire executive who joins the revolution (Robinson I think challenging his own “corporations are all evil” mindset he falls back on in his fiction a little readily).

      As for the Bechdel Test, I believe the second and third books pass (Ann has some monster dialogues with other female characters about the terraforming effort) but the first doesn’t because the key female friendship is between Nadia and Maya, and Maya won’t shut up about her love life (to the point where Nadia flees on an airship trip around the planet to escape her).

      The Mars Trilogy is certainly a far better series than The Expanse, but it’s also a very different kind of work written by an author with real literary chops (which carry over into his latest, New York 2140, which oddly is set in a version of New York seemingly inspired by The Expanse’s).

      Actually, that’s a bit harsh as Daniel has real writing skills as he shows in The Long Price Quartet. Unfortunately that series didn’t sell very well, which I think is why both The Expanse and The Dagger and the Coin are written a far less ambitious prose style.

      • Cheradanine Zakalwe says:

        I’m currently reading book 2 of the expanse after reading abraham’s other stuff and I agree its the worse of what he’s written.

        The long price quartet was a beautiful tradgedy. It starts off slow but when it comes together it rivals Guy kavriel kay’s best moments.

        I actually really enjoyed dagger and the coin. While I agree the prose is much more simplified, I would argue it has the absolute best characterisations of anything he’s written. It also has the best dry humour. It lacks some of the emotional highs but is constantly intriguing and the plot twists are genuinely unexpected. Also, conversations seem to resolves most conflicts, which is a refreshing approach.

        The expanse just feels a little empty in comparison. The characters are mostly pretty dull (although I love miller and amos) but there’s too much grittiness and not enough hope. Maybe it gets better as it goes, but deep into book 2 I’m just feeling bored.

        • Werthead says:

          One of the best things about The Expanse is that it changes significantly with each book (despite the addition of Bobbi, one of my favourite characters, Book 2 is also the weakest) and later on it balances political stuff with increasingly weird, out-there stuff and some pretty shocking, major plot turns. Book 5 for my money was the best in the series (haven’t got round to 6 yet).

  14. mpk says:

    I started reading the Expanse novels after the second series started, and finished Leviathan Wakes just before the appropriate episode of the show. Timely!

    I’ve now read through all six books, but I’m finding that I enjoy the show less as it goes on. The wandering accents of the main Belter characters may be as close to canon as possible, but they’re annoying as all hell, with Jared Harris a particularly irritating standout.

    I’ve loved Tali’s Auntie’s voice since Mass Effect 2, and thought Shohreh Aghdashloo was excellent in season 1 of The Expanse, but now they’re shoe-horning random swears into her lines she seems less expressive. Which is a shame, as novel-Avarasala is so inventively blue.

    I’ve also never bought Steven Strait as Holden, even before I picked up the first novel. He seems too young for the character, and the same can definitely be said of Dominique Tipper’s Naomi, now that I’ve read the character’s backstory. Amos and Alex are perfect though.

    That said, the first season as political thriller in space was excellent, and I hope they keep giving those same tensions as much prominence as the show progresses. I think there’s a lot to be said about the parallels between the series’ themes and real life events, protomolecule not-withstanding.

  15. Premium User Badge

    Benratha says:

    Maybe get a film director in? I’m thinking Luc Besson…

  16. Premium User Badge

    Edski says:

    I love the expanse. I was expecting mind-numbing fluff, but instead got an interstellar Mormon spaceship. And the other stuff was good too.

  17. chuckieegg says:

    ” I don’t expect a mass-market sci-fi game to be Kim Stanley Robinson” – Because then you’d be playing Alpha Centauri.

  18. Werthead says:

    Interesting to see what happens when more big SF books hit the screen. The next one up is Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon, which they’re shooting now and should have on Netflix at the end of this year.

    • Premium User Badge

      Benratha says:

      I’d be more interested if any network considered his “The Steel Remains/ The Cold Commands/ The Dark Defiles” fantasy trilogy…

      • Premium User Badge

        oggnogg says:

        Those were fucking great! But I wouldn’t want any movie or series to spoil the amazing images these books put into my head <3

      • Werthead says:

        If the Altered Carbon TV show does well, I could see Netflix considering it (they’re set in the same universe, which helps).

  19. Lobotomist says:

    It is interesting to note that Expanse started as concept for video game. When authors seen the game will never get made, they used the material to write the books

  20. HZCH says:

    “In other news, I reckon The Expanse could make a decent Stellaris or Galciv mod. Get on that please, somebody.”

    Stellaris ?? I only have watched the TV series, never read them books, but… Wouldn’t The Expanse be the perfect Telltale game ?

  21. Marclev says:

    Most of the way through the second book and wondering when Netflix are going to deign to release the second series in the UK. I’ve just ordered the third book in anticipation of wanting more after finishing the second.

    I don’t even know if the second season just finishes the first book (first season covered about half of it), touches on the second, or merges the two (my guess is the latter, seeing as they’ve already introduced Avasarala). Seeing a certain Martian marine in action on screen would certainly be most awesome.

    Anyhow, point is I guess you could say I’m a fan of Captain Holden and crew’s ongoing adventures.

    And as a fan of both book and TV show, in my opinion, the problem with The Expanse is, it sets the bar for good action sci-fi too high both in book (it’s up there with Enders Game, which is my favourite) and TV format (first two seasons of Battlestar Galactica come to mind) to not compare nearly everything else unfavourably with it.

    Most other TV shows can’t reach it , so waiting for a game to come along that does may be a long wait indeed.

    • Werthead says:

      I believe the deal between Netflix and SyFy is that Netflix UK gets the entire second season a day or week after Season 2 finishes airing in the US, which is on 19 April, so not too bad.

      Season 2 finishes off the first book (by around Episode 4) and then covers most of Book 2 by the end of the season. It’s helped by the longer run time (Season 2 has three more episodes than Season 1). It’s already been renewed for a third season as well.

      I’m going to be very interested to see how they handle Book 4, which is almost a stand-alone storyline with very little impact on the other books. I could see them skipping it, or featuring it as a subplot whilst they focus on the Book 5 events.

  22. ludde says:

    As another thirty something, I’ve failed to find the triple A market very interesting since the early 00’s. I don’t think I’m really in the demographic anymore – it’s for the 19 year olds.

    Seems like a missed opportunity by the industry.