Sunday, March 19

The Expanse vs Battlestar Galactica

This isn't the normal sort of subject I blog about, but The Expanse is probably the hottest Science Fiction series out now (available in the UK on Netflix) and I like science fiction.

Battlestar Galactica (the remake) has been praised as being a cutting edge expensive modern Sci-Fi series, but the fact is much of it is a low cost 'soap' with very few CGI sequences. Plus of course the science portrayed is largely garbage. I picked up season 2 to 4 of Battlestar on DVD for £2.75, so it looks like it hasn't stood the test of time. That's a huge number of episodes for next to nothing.

The same can not be said for The Expanse which has just started it's second series in the US on the SyFy channel. The first season was very addictive with the storyline progressing throughout the season (unlike Star Trek where episodes are self contained).

The Expanse is set about 200 years into the future, Mars and the Asteroid Belt are both colonised with Earth governed by the UN (probably the least convincing part of the scenario!). Mars and the Belt have their own governments or political factions and none of the three factions seem to trust each other.
This leads to many undeclared battle scenarios where space stations and ships are destroyed with much loss of life. There are many acts of genocide, but remember this is space and it is vast, so you can get away with murder. It can take hours to send a message for help across the solar system, then it can take hours for help to arrive, by which time the crooks have left the scene (or not!). It turns out the writers love these delays because it reintroduces old style problems of communication, eliminated by modern smart phone technology.
Flushing someone out of an airlock is an instant answer to any personal or political disagreement.

What does stand out by far is the attention to engineering and science detail. Unusually for science fiction The Expanse (with the exception of the space ships main rocket engines and unusually normal gravity on small astroids!) does take real science into account.

The ships are armed with kinetic weapons, not lasers. There are few or no explosions when these kinetic projectiles hit their target, they smash up their targets or produce holes in the hulls.
This means that if you are on the receiving end of one of these space projectiles you need to be suited up because the big holes in your ship will vent atmosphere (Whipple shields don't offer much protection).

The weapons used are the space equivalent of the modern Phalanx CIWS and instead of laser flashes, you see tracers fly across space to their target. The big Mars and Earth battleships have rail guns (electric guns). Missiles are also used and they can carrying nuclear warheads.

Gravity is another thing that is taken seriously in The Expanse. The ships do not fly unrealistically in space like aircraft (as in Star Wars and Star Trek), they have to manoeuvre using thrusters and rocket engines. To make a 180 degree turn, a ship first has to use manoeuvring thrusters to make the turn and then the main engines to de-accelerate to a stop and accelerate in the new direction.

Gravity onboard these huge ships does not exist unless there is acceleration or de-acceleration (or there is a centrugal force system). The ships are built like skyscrappers with the engine at the equivalent of 'ground level'. When they accelerate, all the decks (skycrapper floors) experience artificial gravity, sometimes to much!

When there is no gravity onboard ship, crew engage their magnetic boots to walk around, these can be turned on and off instantly with a click of the heel.

Is all this science bad for the narrative and story?

Hell no. The story includes an element of fantasy and an engaging plot. If you like politics, mystery, intrigue, 'alien' culture, who dunnit etc. then they all exist in The Expanse.
Some unofficial space war science at Atomic Rockets web site:

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