New YouTube Series! EXPANSE - Stitching SciFi
Updated: Jun 20, 2022
I've launched a brand new YouTube series titled "Stitching Sci-Fi." In this new series I discuss my top three favorite story elements about a science fiction movie, tv show, or work of fiction. While I gush over my geeky loves, I will also attempt to create a hand embroidery piece inspired by the sci-fi property discussed. Check out the very first episode featuring the epic science fiction series the Expanse!
Welcome, folks and friendly fiends, to my cozy little corner in the Common. In today’s episode of Stitching Sc-Fi, I’m going to geek out on the amazing, the spectacular, the totally tubular and legendary franchise that is the EXPANSE. While I wax poetic about my top three favorite story elements of the Expanse, I’m also going to make an attempt at replicating the season one poster through hand embroidery. Yes, you heard me right. Hand embroidery. Don’t judge, just give it a try, because this might be mildly entertaining, or it could be a dumpster fire. Honestly, it could go either way. Which reminds me: it’s time to go over the rules of this little YouTube series.
So, the first rule of Stitching Sci-Fi: BE KIND. It’s easy to tear something down, but it’s a lot harder to be supportive and build something up. I don’t always like everything about every movie or series I talk about. But there are enough brutal critics in the world, and the internet doesn’t need another one. So, each episode of Stitching Sci-Fi will cover only 3 story elements that I love. That’s it. No bitching, no gossip, no hate. Just love. I know, it’s going to be hard for me too, but I’m willing to give it a go if you are?
Rule number two: PRACTICE IMPERFECTION. Like most authors, I put a lot of pressure on myself to make every word be THE perfect word. But, not everything needs to be perfect. Most things don’t even need to be good. Sometimes I need get over myself and my insecurities, have a little fun, and just try. Eventually I’ll get better at making these videos, right? I mean, that’s the goal, but honestly, maybe not. Maybe my embroideries will just be a fun collection of memories and missteps, and that’s okay too. So, when it comes to my stitching hobby, I’ve decided that it’s okay if what I create turns out a little janky, the point is to make an effort, be gentle with myself, and practice a little imperfection.
And finally, rule number three: HAVE FUN. That’s it. There’s no hidden meaning or moral. I’m just gonna vraking have fun doing this thing, and I hope you do too.
Now, on to said fun. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Expanse, it is a critically acclaimed science fiction television series based on the novels by James S.A. Corey, which I also highly recommend. The series is set in a future where man has colonized the solar system, and in doing so has inevitably divided itself into three main factions (cause, you know, humanity! we just can’t help getting cranky with each other). So, there is Earth, Mars, and the Belters, who have been raised in space—mining resources in the system’s asteroid belt and outer planets—and who supply raw materials to the “Inners,” aka Earth and Mars.
The series follows the fragile political cold war between these factions and how their lives are turned upside down when a new alien technology, known as the protomolecule, is seen as a hope for dominance in the solar system. Sci-Fi Spoiler: adolescent species like humans rarely do well when given technology beyond their understanding, especially when they can’t even manage to cooperate among themselves.
Anyway. The series began airing in 2015 and had three season on the SyFy Channel in the States. It was briefly cancelled, and then picked up in 2019, to go on for another three seasons on Amazon Prime.
I’ll be frank, this is one of those franchises for which I have an abundance of enthusiasm, but my self-imposed rules for Stitching Sci-Fi requires that I pick only my top 3 favorite story elements, or this video would probably be as long as the entire six seasons.
And now, my first favorite story element for the Expanse is…PLOT! Well, kind of plot. More like the plot structure.
Like a lot of contemporary science fiction and fantasy books, the Expanse is a robust world with a number of POV’s and characters. And with most of these types of books, and their adaptations, it takes a little while to introduce all of the characters and the nuances of the world without info dumping.
The challenge for the Expanse’s premiere season was to introduce this potential future with humanity’s three main factions, and the politics boiling between them, without overshadowing the mysterious alien technology that is pitting all of them against each other. But at the end of the day, the most important factor to any story is to make it personal and engaging.
This isn’t some far away galaxy with unfamiliar planets and species. This is Earth and Mars, Ceres and Jupiter. This our solar system, and a very plausible human future that looks both familiar and completely foreign. Like any well written tale, the Expanse unfolds organically, through the slow introduction of relatable characters.
A cynical, and not so straight and narrow, gumshoe police detective. A motley collection of freighter crew, happy with their middle management jobs, but who can’t seem to stop being heroes. A ball busting politician. A union leader fighting for representation. And a rich daddy’s girl turned rebel. It’s through these slowly revealed characters, and how they respond to the politics and events around them, that we become intimately familiar with the world of the Expanse.
None of these characters types are new, neither is the political or social injustice which they face, or the weaving of a complex story through characters and world building. But what I love about the Expanse is the artfully orchestrated narrative and structure.
I’ll be honest, the first season of the Expanse has the potential to feel like a ball of yarn twisting and turning around itself, unraveling the complicated layers and layers of plot and world building, that could be overwhelming. But what makes the Expanse’s plot structure so interesting is that it is not organized like the messy ball of yarn that it could have been, but more like the ballet of a solar system and its orbiting planets.
The detective, the freighter crew, the union leaders, all of these seemingly average characters are like planets circling a star. They’re drawn to unlocking the mystery that ties them all together. As the season progresses, their orbits shrink, getting tighter and tighter until eventually they’re brought together by the sheer gravity of the star at its center. Ultimately that star at the center of the story universe is the alien protomolecule. But that’s not very relatable is it? Talk about a challenging bit of storytelling, to get an entire TV audience to relate to a mysterious lump of blue glowing stuff. Plus, it kind of spoils the drama if we have to force the audience to try to relate to an alien molecule. Yawn. But what if that molecule was inside one of us? Now we’re making it both relatable and raising the tension by making the star of our story solar system an infected human, who also happens to be the very first character we are introduced to in episode one: Julie Mao, the woman I’m stitching today.
Julie has very little screen time, which makes the story all the more compelling to watch. She isn’t the most interesting character in the series and you don’t necessarily sympathize with her, which is a little weird. But what makes Julie Mao important is that she acts as a gravity focus and an anchor for the Expanse’s complicated plot.
The hunt for Julie, and the quest to understand who she is and what happened to her, brings together our disparate cast of characters. All roads lead to Julie Mao and through her we get a better understanding of what the protomolocule is and how it plays a role in our story. Julie illustrates to the viewing audience and to the characters in the series, what is at stake if the protomolocule is unleashed on the system, without a bunch of hard science, politics, and complicated plot getting in the way. Julie is the mystery, but more importantly, she is the face of humanity and a mirror for the characters that we do sympathize with and that we do want to see live and survive.
The use of Julie as a storytelling tool is more prevalent in the TV series than in the books, but I think it is a great example of alternative storytelling when faced with the heavy load of explaining a complicated plot and uniting a large cast of characters. I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but this tactic of using a single mysterious character to humanize and distill the story into a relatable experience is something I would love to try in my own storytelling. Someday.
Okay. On to my second favorite story element, which is…CHARACTERS.
I am a big fan of most of the characters in the Expanse, even Holden who is the stereotypical reluctant hero. But I would be particularly remiss if I didn’t particularly mention the female characters in this series.
Historically, science fiction has been considered a man’s category of fiction. In the Asimov book, “Foundation,” the only female character in the entire book is a token woman who is literally only trying on a piece of jewelry. In the whole book, not one real woman. Through the years authors and filmmakers have gotten better about including female roles, but never to the extent of real-world representation. Amanda Tapping did a great job of being an intelligent female action hero in Stargate SG-1. The 2004 Battlestar Galactica series did a good job of including a variety of strong female roles. But The Expanse TV series takes it all the way home.
Let’s start with Under Secretary, and then later Secretary General, Chrisjen Avasarala. She is a foul-mouthed, tough as nails, bitch who will trample over anyone and everyone in her path to do what she believes is necessary. But she’s more than just a two dimensional political leader. She is a profoundly flawed character, who prioritizes duty and ambition over family. Normally, this type of ruthless leader would have been portrayed by someone very masculine. You know, the Tommy Lee Jones, Gerard Butler, Tom Cruise type. But instead, they went in the exact opposite direction, making her the ultimate example of femininity. She’s draped in luxurious fabrics and beautiful jewels. Her hair is perfectly coifed and her mannerisms are so elegant, that for all intents and purposes she is the de facto queen of Earth. But all of this dimension still manages to sum up to a character that we love and cheer for, rather than one that we just love to hate—which would have been the easy route. And that is what makes her a brilliantly well-rounded character.
Next up: Bobby Draper. I think that Bobby’s story arc is the most unrealistic, but we are given such a great look at her inner conflict that it somehow becomes believable. In many ways, the Expanse expects us to believe that Mars is nothing but a planet of duty driven little soldiers. Then we get Bobby. Who starts out a hardcore soldier, eager to bring the war to Earth. But when she is faced with the ugly truth that she is considered disposable by the people she has been raised to respect, it would have been easy to to either get lost in her military training to not question her superiors, or turn bitter and go rogue. Instead, Bobby holds to the spirit of what it means to be a Martian, refusing to turn her back on honor and loyalty, even when she’s considered a traitor. Also, I love that she is a fricken badass who throws herself into the line of fire and isn’t afraid to get shit done. She isn’t the heart of a crew, she isn’t politically and socially savvy, she is a blunt weapon worker bee, and we need so many more female characters like her.
Next is my personal favorite: Camina Drummer. Drummer is not a major character in the books, in fact she’s a merger of several different characters and something new altogether, and thank goodness they added her to the roster. Camina starts out as just a second-in-command to one of the Belter leaders, Fred Johnson. But through the seasons her role expands and fluctuates. What I love about Drummer is that she is the truest representation of what the Belters can be, she is the best of them, and a spectacular example of a strong female character whose femininity and masculinity are well balanced.
Drummer will step up when necessary, and takes on the hard tasks. She is the type of leader who won’t delegate something she isn’t willing to do herself. She’s smart and plays the long game, but has a core of good. She is also a fierce protector of those she considers hers, and is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice of her own life for the good of her people. She isn’t the overpowering personality of Avasarala, or mostly a weapon like Bobby. She isn’t so soft-hearted like Naomi, nor as naive as Fred Johnson. Basically, if I had to work for any of the characters in the Expanse, I would follow Camina Drummer into battle, no matter how hopeless.
And it doesn’t end there. Naomi, one fourth of our main group of heroes, is smart as a whip, with a rich and complicated backstory. Clarissa Mao is a beautifully complicated character with a great redemption story arc. Monica Stuart portrays a bulldog of a journalist who will stop at nothing to get her story. Reverend Doctor Anna is not only a powerful political player, but represents the acceptance and unification of science, philosophy, and religion. The Donnager is piloted by a strong and reasonable female Captain. Over and over again, the Expanse incorporates woman into everyday roles, without once relegating them to the old school traditional roles of a sex symbol or a victim. And that is a thing of true beauty!
And my bonus character mention is Amos, because…Amos! I absolutely adore the complexity of Amos. He is a self-aware sociopath with a heart of gold. And as unlikely as that combination is, it makes a spectacular character. I love how he knows that there is something fundamentally wrong with him, and is constantly looking to serve the most noble person in the room. When you need the bad things done, he is THAT GUY. But because his compass is a little wonky, he compensates by finding people who do good, so that he makes certain he, as a weapon, is used by the right people. That is a brilliant bit of character creation right there.
And my last story element is…TONE and STYLE.
I dare you to search the internet to find anyone who doesn’t agree that the Expanse is a visually stunning and epic piece of science fiction television. On the surface, the Expanse is a collection of well designed sets portraying a unique and new universe, but the foundation that it’s built upon are a thousand tiny details that delivers a modern feature film experience.
From the Belter creole language, to their hand gestures and tribal tattoos, we are immersed in a believable new culture that is both foreign and familiar. The storytelling structure, from the journeys of our main cast to the little backgrounds stories, is unique and expansive. The CGI and special effects are innovative, and the science is probably the most accurate ever seen on television. Even the lighting tells a story.
There are scenes on several of the Belter stations where the set is bright and colorful, but the characters are drab and almost lacking in color and life, giving the impression that although this spectacular world is futuristic and a little cyberpunk, the people are living this oppressed and tragic lifestyle. Conversely, Earth is often portrayed as bright and shiny, and almost too much of the idyllic castle on the hill. Most of the ships and space stations are heavy with steel, and somehow they are both in your face with the artificial lighting and then subtle, giving them a claustrophobic feel that makes the lack of sunlight exceedingly apparent.
The ships are richly detailed with custom user interfaces and floor plans that reflect their origins. The Earth ship, the UNN Agatha King, has a hierarchical feel, with a central command platform. While the MCRN Mars ships the Donnager and the Tachi are more open and designed around teamwork and quick access to each of the stations. Then the belter ships are well worn and held together by crafty ingenuity.
Every element in the Expanse lends itself to the story. Those thousands of tiny world building details were built upon the sci-fi and fantasy greats that came before it, and then it goes beyond, creating an immersive style that manages to evoke an easily identifiable visual, auditory, and storytelling thumbprint that is uniquely its own.
So, those are my top three story elements that I love about the Expanse. There aren’t many properties that I would wholeheartedly recommend, but if you’re a sci-fi fan who hasn’t yet watched the Expanse, do yourself a favor and give it a solid try. I don’t mean just one episode, because—like I said, there is a lot to absorb—but give it a good four or five episodes before you give up, and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Also, it’s not perfect, but I’m rather pleased with my little embroidery of the season one artwork. Clearly, I need to work on stitching hands. And, honestly, I was a little nervous to do that hair, but I think it turned out to be the best part. What do you think? Give the Like button a little boop if you think I did a perfectly imperfect job.
If you enjoyed this little episode of geeky silliness, be sure to subscribe and catch the next episode Stitching Sci-Fi. If you have a recommendation for a property you think I should stitch, feel free to leave a note in the comments section.
And don’t forget to check out my free reading of Uncommon, book one in my Chronicles of the Common paranormal science fiction adventure series, exclusively on YouTube.
Until next time, folks and friendly fiends, thank you for watching, take care, and have a cozy Common day.