The Syfy channel debuted their new show, The Expanse, at the end of November. The show is based on the space opera series by James S.A. Corey. Here a panel of geeks—Andrew Liptak (who contributes to Lightspeed’s book review column), Justin Landon of Tor.com, and Liz Shannon Miller of Indiewire—share their thoughts on The Expanse.
This roundtable discussion first appeared on Wired.com’s The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast, which is hosted by David Barr Kirtley and produced by John Joseph Adams. Visit geeksguideshow.com to listen to the interview or other episodes.
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David Barr Kirtley: Today on the show, we’ll be discussing the new Syfy channel show, The Expanse, based on the novels by James S.A. Corey, which is the pen name of authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Frank. We previously interviewed Daniel back in episode 35 and Ty back in episode 113, so check those out if you missed them. This may involve spoilers for the first book in the series, Leviathan Wakes, as well as for the first four episodes of the TV show, so just be aware of that.
I’m joined by three guests. First up, we’ve got Andrew Liptak, who you may remember from our panel on the Syfy channel shows Killjoys and Dark Matter in episode 167. He’s the weekend editor of Gizmodo and io9, and he also co-edited the anthology War Stories: New Military Science Fiction. His reviews have appeared in Clarkesworld, Kirkus, Lightspeed, and Tor.com.
Next up, we’ve got Justin Landon. He’s the host of the Rocket Talk podcast on Tor.com and also a consulting editor with Tor.com publishing. He was nominated for a Hugo award and won a British Fantasy Award for his work on Speculative Fiction 2012: The Year’s Best Online Reviews, Essays, and Commentary.
Also joining us today is Liz Shannon Miller. She’s the TV editor for Indiewire, and has also written for Gigaom, Attack of the Show, The New York Times, Variety, The Wrap, Nerve, and Thought Catalogue. She also hosts the podcasts Liz Tells Frank What Happened In . . . and Very Good Television Podcast.
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David: Let’s start out and talk about the first book in The Expanse series, Leviathan Wakes. Andrew, you wrote a long article about this series for BarnesandNoble.com called “Evolution of a Space Epic.” Tell us a bit about how this series came about.
Andrew: I’d been a fan of the books since before they came out. I picked up Leviathan Wakes when it was an ARC and fell in love with it. As the TV show had started to come up, I was getting interested in writing about how do you go from a book to a television show. I’d interviewed James S. A. Corey, his two parts, Ty Frank and Daniel Abraham, and I had asked them questions over the years, and I sort of had this sense that there was a really interesting story behind it. I emailed them and said, “Hey, I’d like to write this long article. Where did you get the idea from? And how did you go to being a television show?” As I started to dig a little bit deeper, the story got more and more interesting. It was a very different type of origin story than most novels to television shows.
David: Tell us a bit about that. Because it started out as a game world, right?
Andrew: Yeah, so what happened is that way back, probably about 2003 or so, Ty had been coming up with these ideas for this space epic that he wanted to play with. Just ideas. And a friend of his . . . she had an opportunity to create a massive multiplayer online game for a Chinese internet provider and was looking for pitches. He’s like, “Well, I’ve got this idea.” He started to develop some material for it and went from there, developed a pitch, and then the pitch didn’t go anywhere. The provider looked at the cost and said, “Nope, we’re not doing that.” He trunked it and ended up turning it into a role-playing game on a play-by-post forum. It’s a role-playing game on a discussion forum. He started coming up with this story with all of this material that he had come up with.
He was playing it online for a couple of years, and then he moved down to New Mexico with his wife, and he fell in with Daniel Abraham, George R. R. Martin, and a bunch of other writers down in that area. They went to him and said, “Hey, we heard you do a really good role-playing game. We’d like to play this game that you’ve been doing.” So, he basically introduced them to that. He started developing more of the story. So, that’s when Daniel Abraham said, “You’ve got a novel here. Can I write it?” Ty basically told him, “Yeah, go ahead.” And Daniel started writing it, and when he handed it over to Ty, Ty said, “Nope, this is all wrong, let me go rewrite it.” That’s when they started working together. Daniel wrote some stuff, then Ty would edit it, then Ty would write some stuff and Daniel would edit it, they would go back and forth, chapter to chapter, and soon they eventually had what became Leviathan Wakes. All the story that’s in Leviathan Wakes came from the games. There’s several instances where this was all stuff that had come out of the gameplay sessions that they had been putting together. The book is really almost an adaptation of their role-playing games.
David: Do I have this right, that Miller was Daniel’s character in the game, and he wrote those chapters in the book?
Andrew: I think so. There’s one group that had been playing Holden’s crew. There’s one character that meets a pretty grisly end, and that was a player who had to leave the game early, so he was told that he would get a pretty epic death. I think Daniel Abraham’s group had been the ones playing with the mystery-noir element, and so once they put the novel together, they had mashed the two of them together, and it worked out pretty well.
David: Justin, you told me that the first book review you ever wrote was Leviathan Wakes. Tell us a bit about how that came about.
Justin: It’s funny, I was just talking to the editor who bought the Expanse series. His name is DongWon Song, and he was at Orbit Books. I told him about why I got into the book— it was actually added as ancillary content to The Dragon’s Path, which was the first book in Daniel Abraham’s Dagger and Coin series. I wasn’t a blogger at that point, but I saw an opportunity to get two books for one, one of which wasn’t out yet. I thought that was cool. They were giving away this copy of Leviathan Wakes for free in the ebook. I think they did the reverse, too, later; if you bought Leviathan Wakes, you got the ebook of Dragon’s Path with it. When I got Leviathan Wakes, this advanced copy of it through The Dragon’s Path, I said, “Oh, this is cool. I guess I’ll write a review because a lot of people haven’t read it yet because it’s attached in this way.” I posted a review and it was just sort of dumb luck. Through that is how I actually got into reviewing. That was the first thing I posted on a blog. Obviously, the rest is history. I actually didn’t like Leviathan Wakes very much, as it were. I ended up loving the rest of the series, but I think it’s by far the weakest book.
David: Why do you think it’s the weakest book?
Justin: I don’t think the noir elements work very well adjacent to the space opera ones. I think Detective Miller is a bizarre character couched within the rest of the series. I don’t think it’s any kind of surprise that you don’t really see those noir elements popping up as much as the series goes along. Having heard the history from Andrew about how these books evolved, it sounds like Miller was Daniel Abraham’s darling, right? So it was in that first book, but Miller’s role obviously decreases in each book for many reasons. I guess we can probably spoil that, but his role decreases, and I don’t think we see that kind of noir stuff pop up again. I just thought it was a weird fit. I thought Detective Miller is not a very interesting character personally. I actually don’t think Jim Holden is a very interesting character, either. So, that first book relies entirely on these two somewhat boring characters, and the series doesn’t really sing until it’s introduced in Caliban’s War with Chrisjen Avasarala and Bobby Draper, that the series really takes off, in my opinion.
David: That’s interesting. Liz, let’s get your perspective here. Tell us, how did you come to read Leviathan Wakes?
Liz: Actually, my copy of Leviathan Wakes came from NBC/Universal. I went to a press day for NBC’s upcoming slate of projects back in April, I think. They just kind of handed out copies of the first two books of The Expanse right there. Then I saw the pilot at Comic-Con with a friend of mine who was a huge fan of the books as well. Then I was like, okay, well, they seem to have done a really nice job of bringing the two worlds together.
David: Did you read the book before you saw the show or vice versa?
Liz: Vice versa.
David: Okay, that’s intriguing. Because I’m the same way, so it’ll be interesting how we see it differently as opposed to people who read the book first. I guess I’m curious, Andrew, do you agree with what Justin is saying about the first book? Or did you like it more than he did?
Andrew: I actually really liked Leviathan Wakes. I like mysteries quite a bit. I thought it worked pretty well. What I took away from the first book, and what you sort of see in the pilot, is that it is paced very deliberately, and what these guys have done is they’ve put together a book that moves quickly. It keeps you reading. I think that’s one reason why it really hooked a lot of people from that first book. That being said, the books do get better as they go on. Caliban’s War, as Justin says, is a lot stronger, and there’s a lot more interesting characters. Abaddon’s Gate is really great. Cibola Burn, I wasn’t as big of a fan of. I think that’s actually the weakest entry in the series, but they pick right up again with Nemesis Games, and it gets even better.
David: I think one thing that’s really interesting about this series is that it seems like most science fiction is either set in the near future, like 1984, or it’s set in the far future like Star Trek, where there’s hyper drives and stuff like that. There hasn’t been a ton of stuff exploring the in-between phase. Humanity has spread throughout the solar system, but gone no farther. Do you guys agree with that? Did that feel fresh to you?
Liz: Yeah, absolutely. I think one thing I really enjoy about the show is the fact that it has a really hard take on the brutality of space travel. I think all of the really great space stuff I’ve seen recently has always had this overriding theme, which is space is a terrible place that is trying to kill you at every moment, and that’s something that I think The Expanse really nails in a lot of respects.
Justin: The claustrophobic aspect of these books and the television series is just tremendous. I have never seen another work of fiction that has made me feel as claustrophobic as The Expanse books do. Like, this notion of these tiny little capsules in this great void, that emotion that it captures is tremendous, and probably the thing the series does better than anything else.
David: It’s interesting because in the show, space is so unforgiving, but in a way, this show is unforgiving, too, because there’s so little explanation, so little exposition, and Liz, you’re one of the people here who was not already familiar with the books when you saw it. Did you have trouble understanding what was going on at all because the show doesn’t spoon-feed you anything at all?
Liz: Not necessarily, but I think part of it is the show does a nice job of using the lexicon of other science fiction. There are elements of it that felt familiar to me, there are elements that I understood. I think in general, though, there’s a lot you pick up via context that works really well. I think that’s by design, like I got to speak with the creators of the show—it’s weird to talk about them being the creators of the show because of course it’s based on the books, but the executive producer, showrunners—and when I did, they made a big point about how they really tried to strip away as much exposition as possible because they just wanted to put you into the world of the show immediately.
David: Could you say a little bit more about how you got set up with that interview, and who those guys are, and what their background is?
Liz: Basically at the television critics association press tour this summer . . . It’s actually funny, normally the TCAs are a great opportunity to get interviews if you’re a television critic or a television reporter because all of the networks bring all of their major talent for upcoming shows to this one hotel in Beverly Hills or Pasadena, and so normally you get fifteen minutes face-to-face with somebody and it happens all day long and it’s great. Basically, I sat down with Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, and Naren Shankar, and we were sitting down outside, and we were talking about Syfy and we were talking about the show, all this sort of stuff, and around half an hour into that conversation they were still talking to me, and I was like, “Okay, I’ll go with this,” and then forty-five minutes later, the PR rep wanders by and then wanders away again. I’m like, “Okay, well, I guess we’re still talking,” and we had a lot of fun stuff to talk about. I ended up getting a full hour from them, just getting into all the details and nuances of the show and how they were approaching it. Actually, I believe the writer Ty was also there. He was sitting to the side and not saying anything, but just listening to the conversation. It was weird. But he was very nice.
David: A lot of times with TV people, you get the feeling that they’re not that invested in science fiction. I actually heard Ty say in some of the meetings they went to, people asked them, “Does this have to be set in outer space?” Which I think is pretty ridiculous.
Liz: No, that was literally one of the first things I joked with them about, and they were like, “No, we had that meeting. We had the ‘does it have to be set in space’ meeting.”
David: I get the feeling, just from watching the show, that these guys are not that way. That they’re very serious about making this great science fiction. They also wrote the scripts for Children of Men and Iron Man, I think. Is that right?
Liz: Yeah, they’re some of the credited writers for those projects. But, what’s really neat is that they went outside of the science fiction realm to find writers, like they brought in a writer from Mad Men, they brought in a writer from something else that wasn’t SF-related, and it was just because they wanted to find people who had a really interesting, nuanced take on this world.
Andrew: I got to visit the set when they were actually doing production, and I had a long meeting with Hawk and Mark, and Hawk was actually saying that he wasn’t interested in this at first. Mark had picked up the book and had read through it and said, “Hey, this is a project we should work on.” Hawk had basically said, “No, I’m not interested. It’s going to be people in space doing space things and that’s not interesting. “And then Mark convinced him to read it, and he read the first book in a day and said, “You’ve got to get that meeting. This is not what I thought it was.” So, I think that the thing that the two guys found when they were doing the initial writing is that this was a character story in space, not a space story about technology and people just happen to be along. This is really, at the core of it, it’s a really personality-driven narrative.
Liz: That said, though, I think one really cool aspect of the show is the fact that they are trying also to do some stuff that’s different from other science fiction things, like the whole concept of the ships and the way they move through space, like that’s a lot of stuff that they’re trying to do that we haven’t seen before.
Andrew: On io9, I did a post about this a while back. The pilot episode is now freely available online everywhere, and I had posted up about that, and some people were like, what do you mean this is realistic? You have people standing on spaceships on the floor. And all of the commenters started jumping in like, “No, no, they address that.” So, what’s really neat is that they’ve actually gone through and thought through a lot of the physics and the design. This also shows down through the set design and the actual trappings of the world. It’s all really well thought out.
David: I want to get Justin in here. So Justin, you mentioned that you had sort of mixed feelings about the book. Do you have mixed feelings about the show as well, or do you think that they’ve improved on the book in some ways?
Justin: That’s a fair question. I’ll say, when I first watched the pilot, probably three or four weeks ago, I was a little nervous after watching the pilot. There were some weird technical things with the show. I thought the sound was weird. I thought the Belter patois was going to be really challenging. I was getting kind of nervous about it, but then I saw the subsequent episodes, and all of my concerns were pretty much left in the dust. I think the way they’ve incorporated Chrisjen Avasarala’s point of view in particular, and the way they’ve adjusted some of the history of Holden’s crew and the things they’ve added earlier than they did in Leviathan Wakes, is giving all of the context that, to me, makes the series richer and more interesting that you don’t get until later, but they’re getting it right up front. So, we’re learning more about these characters quicker, and as a result, we’re buying into them quicker.
David: Justin, you mentioned that you had trouble making out the dialogue. I certainly had trouble making out a lot of the dialogue. The first time I watched this, I was using my laptop speakers that were not particularly close to me, and I was really having trouble making stuff out. Liz, did you have any trouble understanding what the characters were saying in this show?
Liz: Not particularly, but I can see why that would be an issue. Again, like I said, a lot of stuff I was just kind of picking up through context. The show deliberately doesn’t make it easy for you to understand what’s going on, but I think that’s one of its appeals, frankly.
David: The first time I watched it, I absolutely loved it. I loved every minute of it. But I couldn’t understand what half the characters were saying.
Justin: I actually think that’s a pilot problem. I don’t think it’s a problem in the second, third, or fourth episodes. I really do think . . . I don’t know if there was something about the sound editing in that early pilot that they put out that just wasn’t right, and maybe it’ll be corrected when it’s aired on Syfy, I don’t know, but it definitely was hard to hear stuff, like they had the background sounds amped up or something. And there was a lot more of the Belter language without any contextual preparation in the first episode that they start to actually prepare you for in the second and third episode. There’s a really interesting scene where Havelock, detective Miller’s partner . . . it’s not clear if he’s visiting a prostitute for many reasons, or if he’s only visiting her for her to teach him Belter, but he’s actually learning Belter from her, and I think that’s an interesting discussion for us to actually understand what they’re doing with their hands and the words they use. I almost think that should have been in the first episode, because I think it would’ve eased people’s concerns, but it’s an interesting choice to put it in the second episode like they did.
David: I would definitely recommend people read the book first, though, because I watched these episodes, and then I went back and read that section of the book, and then I went back and watched the episodes again, and it made a lot more sense the second time around. Andrew, what do you think about the Belter language and the sound? Did you have any issues with this at all?
Andrew: I watched the first four episodes with a couple of friends, and we all thought that the sound was a little bit weird. I had been thinking that the sound mix was a little bit off, either because it wasn’t finished or it was sort of a piracy thing, so you don’t get the full finished episode. They sent these press packs out to a lot of people. I’m guessing that the episodes have probably leaked online somewhere, so that was my initial guess is that the sound was just off so you wouldn’t get a perfect product, and then the final version will be better. At least I hope. As far as actually understanding the characters, yeah, I had a little bit of trouble, but I think that’s deliberate because you’re sort of looking in on this very different world of the Belters, and they have their own little weird language. They have a lot of hand motions. The hand motions come from, reading from the books, because they have to communicate with space suits. And what I liked about this is that they focused very closely on the background characters. If you watch the episode and you look at all of the background characters, you see that there are the hand motions, there’s the body language, there’s all this stuff that gets you immersed in this world, and I really, really like that. I thought that was a really good choice. I’ve read all of the books a couple of times, so I’m not really a good person to say whether or not this works really well, but I understood it fairly well, and I could understand what they’re doing. I thought it was a very good way to build the world without actually telling everybody every single thing that they’re doing to explain it. I know that they do sort of point out, this is what this hand motion means, but then they just sort of go on from there, and there’s some other little background things that you see, and I thought it worked really well.
David: You mentioned the worldbuilding, and I thought that was one thing the show did amazingly well, just both in the hand gesture kind of things, and also the spaceships, and the environments, all the stuff. It looked like they spent a lot of money and put a lot of thought and time and care just getting everything you look at exactly right.
Justin: I actually saw the episode where Holden is dealing with the Martian navy, and the Martians actually start talking about the cultural differences between Mars and Earth. I don’t recall any of that. I actually feel like I know more about what makes Mars tick from watching The Expanse television series than I do from reading all of the books, which I thought was interesting. Maybe I just don’t recall those moments in the books.
Andrew: No, it’s in there. I’m pretty sure I remember reading about it, because it’s not something they dwell on a lot in the books. The show I think does a little bit better job of it, but the books do talk about how everybody is trying to focus on one thing, which is basically terraforming the planet. And that actually becomes a much bigger storyline later in the series. I think that’s something that they’re still playing with, especially as certain events happen, book four and beyond.
Liz: I wanted to look up something . . . someone actually visited the set, but apparently they used about eighty-thousand square feet of soundstage in order to build so much of the world of the show, which is really incredible.
Andrew: Yeah, I got to visit the set up in Toronto when they were filming. They were filming the last couple of episodes, and just the way I described it, and the way I was told is that this is the same soundstage they used for Pacific Rim. They’re incredibly huge, enormous buildings, and I got to walk up to the Rocinante and board it, and it was just . . . you walk in there and, “Oh my god, this is a spaceship.” There’s grating on the floor. There’s warning signs plastered, as you would expect in any military vehicle. There’s handholds. There’s fire extinguishers. The seats look worn. This is all, “Oh my god, it’s a spaceship.” But even just looking at the other sets, this is really high-quality stuff that they’re putting in there. They’ve dumped a lot of money into it, and they’ve put a lot of effort making it look right. Part of that is that I think the authors are involved, and they’ve got all the right people involved to make sure it looks right, but I think they’ve determined that this is a direction they want to see TV go in. This is the right story for it, and they’ve decided it’s worth the investment.
David: I want to emphasize that, too. I don’t know if we’ve said this explicitly, that Ty and Daniel are actually in the writers’ room working on this show, which is very, very unusual, I think, for a TV show that’s being adapted from books.
Liz: It’s one of the many, many comparisons that you can draw between this and Game of Thrones actually. Like, the fact that the authors are really heavily involved. That they’re really trying to keep fidelity to the original story while also making the changes necessary for this to work as a TV show.
David: Although, in the case of Game of Thrones, my understanding is that George R. R. Martin only writes one script per season.
Liz: Yeah, but at the same time, he’s involved with the development of the story, especially right now, because Game of Thrones has officially caught up with his books, so he’s essentially developing his story in conjunction with their development of the TV show.
David: Right, I agree with you, but I think in this Ty and Daniel, they’re in the writers’ room every day, working on the show, giving their feedback, so it’s taking that even further.
Liz: Oh, totally.
David: Do you want to say a bit more, Andrew, about why you said this is kind of like a new direction for television? Have you heard stuff from the Syfy channel about kind of what place they see this show occupying and what they’re planning to do in this direction?
Andrew: Nothing from them, but just more of a sense of what they’re planning to do. We talked a little bit about this in the last G.G.G. episode that I was on with Killjoys and Dark Matter, but Syfy has gotten beaten up over the last couple years for airing some kind of crappy shows and really sort of turning their back on the classic space opera stuff, so shows like Stargate, Battlestar, Farscape, and all of those other ones. They really stopped doing those types of show in favor of stuff that seemed a little bit cheaper, not as dramatic, not as exciting.
Obviously your mileage will vary depending on what you like, but a lot of people didn’t like that about Syfy, and they thought that they were turning their back on their roots. They’ve had some leadership changes in the past year or two. I think part of that is that they’ve determined, let’s go back to what the network is really known for. Over the past couple of years, science fiction and fantasy television has gotten really big. Just look at Game of Thrones, look at The Walking Dead. These are shows that could have been on the Syfy channel, and they could have done really well there because that’s sort of their wheelhouse, but these other networks, which aren’t known for science fiction, are taking the risk and reaping some really incredible rewards from it. So, I think they saw that they need to take a risk, they need to go back to something that people are really asking for, which is space. So, they’ve started really focusing on that. We saw Killjoys and Dark Matter come out earlier this year, which I thought were really in the vein of the older Stargate– and Farscape-type shows. Because they were light, they were funny, they took place in space, they had adventure, and now they’re really doubling down by going sort of the Battlestar route with this new show. I think that the new direction is going to be, “Let’s go look at what science fiction shows are out there,” and I know that they’ve got others in the pipeline, and not just science fiction but fantasy. They’re doing The Magicians later on. I think that they’re really pushing in a more critically acclaimable direction, in space.
Liz: The fact that they’re pairing the launch of The Expanse with, of all the things in this world to adapt, Childhood’s End, like, that’s a huge project for them. And, honestly, kind of baffling, like, this is the thing that Stanley Kubrick couldn’t figure out how to make, and so they’re trying to take on this really classic work of science fiction. That’s huge.
David: It’s a six-hour thing, it’s going to be over three nights. I saw the first night, it was pretty good, so I’m optimistic about it at this point. I think one thing going for them is that they have six hours to play with, which is a lot more than Stanley Kubrick could have done in a feature film.
Liz: Very true.
Andrew: I’m a little weirded out by that, because Childhood’s End is a weird book, and I haven’t seen any of it yet. I’m interested to see what they do with it. They do some interesting mini-series events, like Ascension from last year was definitely a strange one, and I don’t know if that one quite worked as well. I’ll be interested to see how well this one works. If it succeeds, it’ll be another one of these critically acclaimed things, I suspect, but it’ll be interesting to see how well that comes out.
David: Right, but I mean, this is what most of us science fiction readers have always wanted. There’s all these great science fiction novels, and you’re like, “Oh, why don’t they just turn these into TV shows and movies,” and so I’m really optimistic that that seems to be becoming more common now. And, Justin, in one of your pieces that I read, you were talking about this, like why don’t they just adapt the stuff that everybody loves already rather than trying to get Hollywood people to come up with some ideas.
Justin: Well yeah, I think there’s no question that the success of some of these other massive adaptations is informing their decision here, but it is crazy to think that Hollywood would just take something from scratch that has no existing footprint in the consumer’s mind, when you have some tremendously successful intellectual properties that are perfectly adaptable, ready to go, with existing fanbases that have, in the case of The Expanse, has hit the New York Times bestseller list. I mean, even if you’re only talking about a couple hundred thousand fans out there, that’s a huge leg up when it comes to word of mouth and that kind of stuff, and given that TV is moving away from appointment viewing, that word-of-mouth thing is way more important for television than it’s ever been before. Now it’s almost like book selling. It’s like this notion of you have to know where to look to get it, in a lot of cases. If I hadn’t seen Jessica Jones blow up on Twitter, I wouldn’t have even thought to look for it on Netflix, I think it’s on Netflix, I actually have no idea.
Liz: It is Netflix.
Justin: That’s the thing, word of mouth is how we find out about television now. It’s not like you just tune in on CBS and it just pops onto your TV in the way that it did ten years ago, and so I think adaptation is the best way, because word of mouth and the buzz is way more high for these properties than it is for something new.
David: I also want to make the point that with an adaptation you have the advantage . . . I mean, the Achilles heel of a lot of big science fiction shows in recent years, I don’t want to mention any names, is that they had a good idea for what they were going to do in season one, and had no idea what they were going to do in season five, and that showed really dramatically. Whereas when you have this book series that you have five or six books, I think it’s going to nine or more books ultimately, there’s a lot of thought that has already been put into where the story is going before the adapters even have to wrestle with that stuff.
Andrew: And the problem there is that because The Expanse, they’ve projected it out to be nine volumes, so they’re just a little bit over halfway through, what happens if the show gets canceled at season three or season four, so you sort of have this pitfall of having this really great story that you’re supporting at first, you can’t support the really long-term story without at least thinking about how do you end it short-term, so I hope that they will plan ahead for that, and if the show doesn’t last for nine seasons, or probably more than nine seasons, basically it’s going to change from what the books have planned out and it might change the caliber of the show, which is good and bad. There’s certainly good things that they can do with a TV show that will make it different from the books.
Justin: I don’t know, there’s definitely a false climax in Abaddon’s Gate, where if they tweak the proto-molecule story just slightly, they could easily end it there.
Andrew: That’s also a result of how the books were published. They sold them as a trilogy, and as I was talking to them, I was sort of figuring out why this was, but they basically said, “Yeah, we sold it as a trilogy because that’s what you sell.” And by the time they had written Abaddon’s Gate, they wanted to make sure that they could end that particular arc well, but at that point they also said, “Look, we have a longer story that we want to write, let us know now, while we’re writing this third book, if it’s going to be the final one or not, because if you want it to be the final one, we’ll end it. If you don’t want it to be the final one, we can keep going, and we’ll change it accordingly.” So, that’s sort of how the books came about, and they actually see the books as duologies, so Leviathan Wakes and Caliban’s War tell their own arc, Abaddon’s Gate and Cibola Burn tell their own arc, and then Nemesis Games and I don’t remember what the sixth book is called, those books are basically one novel that is just cut in half.
Liz: We talk about the books having endings and all that, apparently there is a true official ending for the entire series that they’ve revealed to the creators, which is always interesting in these sorts of context because how that gets adapted, how that gets changed over the course of the series, that’s the big question. But, I mean, any TV show is always playing with fire when it comes to, “Hey, do we develop all of the story in season two, or do we let that go out for longer, even though we’re not totally sure there will be a season three?”
David: I actually saw they have the actual last line already written, so they know pretty specifically where this is going.
Andrew: And they are going on to a season two. They’ve got the writers’ room together, and they’re writing the scripts for another season right now, so that gives them a little bit more room to work with this first season.
Liz: When they go into season two, I always want a tv show to kind of take a Wire approach where, now we’re at the docks, and now we’re caring about all of these new characters, but they might actually do that with this one.
Andrew: The books certainly do that. Each book introduces a new set of characters, so Caliban’s War introduces a father whose daughter is lost, there’s Bobby the Space Marine, who, I’m with Justin, I cannot wait to see how they do her. She’s my absolute favorite character. Abaddon’s Gate, they introduce a whole bunch of other characters. Cibola Burn, there’s a whole bunch of new characters, and it’s not until book five that they actually go back, and the only point-of-view characters are really just Holden’s crew, and that’s the first time that they’ve not introduced any new viewpoints.
David: What did you think, Andrew, about the casting in this? Did the characters match your image of them from reading the books?
Andrew: Naomi Nagata is dead-on perfect. They could not have gotten a better actress for her. She is just stunning. She is the reason to watch the show. She is going to be a major character for this, and I can’t wait to see what they do with her. Thomas Jane as Miller I thought was really, really good. He captured a lot of Miller’s mannerisms and his appearance and his attitude towards things. I thought that was really well done. Alex matches pretty much what I had envisioned. Holden, not as much; when I saw the casting news of that, I thought, “Well, he seems really young,” and a lot of other people seem to assume that Holden was a much older character, and I guess not as pretty. But, seeing him on the screen, I thought he did a pretty good job. The only real character I didn’t really get was Amos. He doesn’t match.
Justin: Totally agree.
Andrew: He doesn’t match up with how I envisioned him at all. I sort of envisioned . . . what was the brother-in-law from Breaking Bad?
Liz: Dean Norris?
Andrew: Yeah, maybe. The cop guy who is balding.
Liz: Dean Norris.
Andrew: Yes, okay. I’m terrible with actors’ names. I always envisioned him as the perfect person to play Amos. So far, the current actor seems to be doing a really good job, and I’m really interested to see what he takes from it, but he’s not what I envisioned at all. But I’ll trust the creators. They’re the guys who created the books. I assume they know what they’re doing, and we’ll see what they do for the next couple of episodes.
Justin: I think Amos is just way too pretty on the show, like, if you know Amos’ backstory, the guy on screen does not fit. I imagined, like, Tom Hardy after he got his ass kicked, you know what I mean? That’s kind of what I envisioned. I don’t want to use words I’ll regret using, but he should look a little bit more like he’s come up on the streets. Amos just looks way too soft to me. But, I guess he’s certainly good looking and muscular. That’s another thing, this is a guy who’s been living in space for a long time, I know Amos is described as being muscular, but I think the Amos on screen might be a little too muscular for the what we know about what it does for bone density and that kind of thing.
Andrew: He did get the sort of sociopath element right, I thought. With the way that he looks at Naomi for guidance and things, I thought that their relationship was tweaked a little bit in the show, and I really like how they did it, so I’ll be interested to see what direction they take that in.
Liz: Something I found interesting was that, of all the characters in the show, this was the one that Hawk Ostby cited as his favorite to write, because I’m looking at the interview I did, “His reactions to things are so different. Completely different than what we’re used to. It’s like he’s got a bent antenna.”
David: Did you, Liz, have favorite actors? What did you think of the casting overall?
Liz: I think it was a really great idea to bring forward Shohreh Aghdashloo. Beautiful actress, Academy Award nominee, and such a great presence in the show. I was really excited to see her as a presence, especially the way she’s used in the first episode, I think. It was a really great moment for the show and for Syfy.
Andrew: And her voice is perfect, too. She’s exactly as I imagined Avasarala in the books. The downside is that she can’t swear in the TV show, and she really does in the books. So that’s the one downside.
Liz: Apparently in season two, they’re actually going to be able to give her a little bit more of a potty mouth. Their rating is going to go up a bit.
Liz: But they mentioned it specifically because of her. They’re like, “She couldn’t swear quite as much as we wanted her to, but next year we’ll be able to make that happen.”
Justin: The one other comment I’ll make about casting, number one, super delighted that it’s a very diverse cast. I think Syfy could have easily defaulted to all the other science fiction casts of years gone by, and they didn’t do that, which is awesome. However, there is one very interesting casting choice that I thought was strange, which is Ade, the girlfriend of Jim Holden, is a Nigerian in the books, and is a white character in the TV series, which is such a strange choice for me. I don’t know why they did that, given how diverse the rest of the cast is, but it really stood out to me as a fan of the books that they casted that character that way. I thought it was strange.
David: There was also Lieutenant Lopez was a white actor as well.
Justin: Lieutenant Lopez?
David: That was his name, right? The guy who . . . I don’t want to get into spoilers, but—
Justin: Oh, the medical officer?
David: The guy who interrogates them.
Justin: Oh, on the Martian ship?
Justin: Oh yeah, I didn’t pick up on his name. I actually thought that actor did a great job.
David: I thought he was fantastic as an actor.
Liz: You talk to people about casting choices, and it’s always so tough because I think every creator at this point really wants to commit to diversity, but at the same time, it’s kind of like life, you can’t help who you fall in love with, and so I think a lot of people get kind of sucked into these like, “Ugh, we just like that actor too much to not cast him.”
David: I could understand that in that case, because I did think that that guy did a fantastic job with that character.
Justin: Speaking of casting, what did you guys think of Fred Johnson, the guy they cast for that role? I don’t know if Liz or David know much about Fred Johnson, but he’s a huge player as the series moves along, and the guy they got to play him, Andrew, to me felt just . . . he didn’t look, again, like just didn’t look hard enough to me.
David: Sorry, who was that in the show?
Andrew: He was the one who threatened the space Mormons.
David: Oh, oh okay.
Andrew: He plays a really pivotal role. He’s sort of the leader of the OPA and he’s not really . . . I don’t know if he’s who I would have chosen, but I think he’s going to do a pretty interesting job with it. I know he was big in The Walking Dead and some other things, I don’t know. I think he’ll do fine.
David: We’re pretty much out of time, so I guess maybe we should just wrap this up. Are there any things that you guys are hoping to see in future episodes, directions you hope the show goes in, without spoilers? Things from the future books you’re hoping to see? Anything like that?
Justin: I’ll just say what I’m very anxious to see is how they actually handle the protomolecule, which they haven’t really even discussed on the show yet, but the protomolecule is the central plot MacGuffin, at least in the first book, and really throughout the series, and we haven’t seen it yet. And how they handle what is really a bizarre science fictional plot MacGuffin on a show that is not doing bizarre science fiction plot MacGuffins like most science fiction shows do. It has this very authentic, gritty vibe to it, and they’re going to have to introduce this thing that is different, and how they handle that, I’m very interested to see. I will say, the other thing I’m looking forward to is hopefully they lens flare a little bit less on the show, like . . . man, there’s a lot of lens flares. Otherwise the camerawork is exquisite, like, I love the cinematography, but I could do with a little less lens flaring.
Liz: I agree, not necessarily with the lens flare, I’m a sucker for lens flare, I don’t know why.
David: I’m with you there, Liz. I like the lens flare.
Liz: But, I agree that the most exciting thing about the show is going to be how it takes what’s a really grounded approach and builds in some harder SF aspects to it.
Andrew: I have to say, as I said before, I’m really excited to see what they do with Bobby. She’s introduced in Caliban’s War, and is just absolutely phenomenal, and she actually comes back later on in the series, which I was happy to see. She’s a pretty kick ass character. She’s got a suit of power armor, and I really want to see what the production design for that is. But, if they stick with the track that the books are going, and this will be seasons and seasons later, I’m really interested to see what they do with the new worlds in Cibola Burn and what they handle with the major crises in Nemesis Games, if they get to that point. There’s some really interesting things that they can do from a television perspective and a story perspective, but first we have to get through the first couple seasons. I’m really interested to see what they do with the long arc of the Belter War and stuff like that.
David: Great. I just want to say, in case it’s not clear, I absolutely love the show so far. I’m really excited that this is the direction that Syfy is going. This is like kind of the show I’ve always wanted. Every indication so far is that this is the science fiction show I’ve wanted to see all my life, so I really strongly recommend everyone check it out.
Andrew: From the first couple episodes, I have to say, I like it more than I like Battlestar Galactica. I’m a big fan.
Andrew: I’ve had people say that, but I really like it. I think the story is going to be a lot stronger and a lot more focused. I like the characters. And yeah, I’m on board.
Justin: Hundred percent agree, and I don’t watch a ton of television anymore. My wife watches an immense amount, but I’ve kind of eased back, but I cannot remember the last time that a television show has made me need to urinate. The tension on the show is really well done. Every show ends with this really great last bit of tension, and you get the stomach cramps, it’s just really well done. I can’t remember too much TV that has done that for me. So, I’m all in.
Liz: Yeah, I do watch a lot of TV, and I can tell you, in the scope of everything that’s going on right now, this is more under the radar than other projects, but it’s still really exciting. Especially it’s really exciting because of what it represents about Syfy’s new direction.
David: Cool, so I think that’s a good note to end on. We’ve been speaking with Andrew Liptak, Justin Landon, and Liz Shannon Miller, so thank you so much for joining us.
Liz: Thank you.
Andrew: Thank you.
Justin: Thank you.
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