Imagine if book/season 4 of The Expanse was almost entirely about the journey to Ilus, and the politics happening along the way as governments and ships race out toward it trying to be the first one to land and call dibs, and pretty much everyone is traveling in a straight line the entire book and every time anyone passes any location, the narrative halts for 15 pages to jump into a new POV character that is intensely familiar with that location and can thus pause what's happening to provide an in-depth explanation of it. That's Excession by Iain Banks.
I’ve drunk real Earth whiskey out of a UN Admiral’s mug, and then scuttled her ship. I flew dark past a Martian battle group, and they never even knew I was there. And I’ve seen friends breathe the vacuum, and watched my only child burn.
So when I tell you to tread carefully, you would do well to stop talking.
I’m up to season four in my rewatch of The Expanse, and I think this is probably the weakest season overall. Which is weird, because they actually made some very good adaptational changes from Cibola Burn.
They dropped that weird celebrity crush that Elvi Okoye had on Holden, which is a massive improvement all on its own because that was just odd. Creepy and borderline (or over the border) sexist writing.
They merged Lucia and Basia’s separate storylines into one just for Lucia, now a separate character Lucia Mazur instead of Lucia Merton. I enjoyed the book characters, but making it one character instead of two adds complexity to the story since instead of Misguided Husband and Good Wife it becomes a singular Flawed Person. Plus, without the space to delve into the shipboard plotlines (And excising Havelock) it made sense to condense the time.
They kept Avasarala and Bobbie involved, and that’s just great on its own. Their almost total absence was a real gap in the novel. They also really laid the foundation for the Inaros plotline. There’s certainly something to be said for how the novel blindsided the audience so completely with the asteroid strikes, but for a TV series it makes more sense to foreshadow what’s coming so it’s not jarring. Novels can get away with more self-contained storylines than a TV show can, since separate seasons are not as isolated as separate books. If they’d tried to replicate the same complete surprise I probably would have criticized it as cheap “shock value” and poor writing.
And yet even with these positive changes, it’s still a “meh” season. I said it all before in previous posts, but Murtry just does not work as portrayed in the TV series. Avasarala’s election plotline seems to fundamentally misunderstand her character, and the recasting of Arjun saps the warmth from their relationship (When I first saw this season it was several scenes before I even realized that this was supposed to be her husband). Bobbie’s plotline is an interesting adaptation of Gods of Risk, and it’s got some gems in its length, but it’s disconnected from everything else.
They aimed high, and that may have been the problem, because they couldn’t quite pull it off.
Now that I’ve read the books and am more than halfway through my rewatch of The Expanse, I find it very curious the way they broke the novels down into the separate seasons.
The first novel, Leviathan Wakes, was adapted into a season-and-a-half, running from the beginning of the series to the middle of season two. The second novel, Caliban’s War, was given the equivalent of one season, going from the middle of the second season to the middle of the third. Abbadon’s Gate, the third novel, then only got the back half of season three. The fourth novel, Cibola Burn, received a direct one season adaptation as season four of the series.
So the adaptations went from 1.5 seasons to 1 season to .5 season and then back up to 1 season. They were fleshed out with aspects from the short stories, but overall they followed the novels.
It looks like season five is going to cover Nemesis Games directly, but I suppose we won’t know for sure until it’s done.
I’ve seen some theories that they will try to bring forward plotlines from Babylon’s Ashes into the back half of season five in order to position season six -- the last season -- to cover parts of Tiamat’s Wrath/Leviathan Falls. That would really be the only way they could include the ending of the novel series into the TV show, but that assumes they try to follow the novels to their conclusion. It’s possible they may decide to have their own unique ending to let the TV series stand on its own, or end the series before the time skip.
I think whether or not they condense the remaining storylines will depend on how far in advance they learned season six would be their final season. It was announced to the public shortly before season five was released, so if the crew learned at the same time they wouldn’t have had any time to move plotlines forward. If they had learned while they were still making season five they may have been able to able to adjust and crunch the time frame.
Cibola Burn is the biggest departure from the TV series so far, with significant changes made when they adapted it for season four.
It turns out Bobbie’s plotline from the series was frontloaded from Nemesis Games, the next novel, so I was disappointed after the prologue when I realized that we wouldn’t get her as a character in this book. Avasarala’s entire election plotline is also not present, she actually supported Nancy Gao for the position so she could continue running things from behind the scenes. In retrospect this actually explains why season four of the show felt so disjointed, which was a significant problem I had with the season. Parts of it were literally taken from a different story.
I’m still not particularly impressed with Murtry, but the novel handled it much better by making him a villain, not the villain. The planet is the primary villain of this novel, that and the nebulous philosophy of Human Nature and Greed, while Murtry is just the sand in the gears and the grit that Holden needs to grind down in order to deal with the real problem. The actual events between them were almost identical to the TV show, but the perspective made it clear that he wasn’t the focus. The show gave him too much credit on his own, as if defeating him was its own endgame. Although I was very surprised to find that his post office speech was taken from the novel almost verbatim. I would have bet money that that was an invention of the TV show.
When I originally posted my dissatisfaction with season four of the show a lot of people who had read the novels told me that Cibola Burn was not very highly regarded amongst the book fandom, either. They said it was more setup for what came after instead of telling its own story. Since I haven’t read what comes next I can’t yet say if that’s accurate, but I can definitely see the possibility. I think we’re getting Bobbie back and I know we’re entering the Marco Inaros storyline next, so Nemesis Games looks to be building off the setting establishment that we got at the end of the novel.
This is also approaching where the series has made it up to, so soon I’ll be running through it all blank like everybody else.
I’m only a short way into Cibola Burn, but I have to say I’m very surprised with how the downside conflict was established and Murtry got involved.
I was pretty disappointed with season four of the TV series, which covered this book, and a large part of that was how poorly Murtry served as the overall villain. His resources and capabilities were much less than the threats the characters had previously faced, so there wasn’t much tension, and he was almost comically sociopathic and Evil. Ready to massacre civilians at the drop of a hat and practically salivating at the thought, and almost paranoid about the locals working against him. Before things had even gone wrong in the first place he was already leaning towards violence.
But the novel has done a very good job of showing that this is very much not a black-and-white situation. Oh, I’m sure he’s still going to overreact and cause all sots of problems and will wind up a villain of the piece, but he has been pushed onto this vector by the actions around him. The landing pad explosion, which in the show was suspected of being a bombing but had not been definitively proven, was established as a deliberate act right from the beginning. Murtry’s response was to land a number of security guards to begin an investigation, but it was only a minor portion of his total forces and they actually carried out an investigation. i.e. forensic examination of the explosives and community outreach. No reprisals, no corporate strong-arm tactics, etc. When they learn the location of the explosive stash they set up an ambush for the bombers armed primarily with non-lethal weaponry, hoping for live captures instead of vigilante revenge executions.
It’s not until that team is slaughtered to a man that Murtry breaks out the heavy weaponry and lands the rest of his forces.
And I know that some of his restraint had been because his corporate bosses told him not to stir the pot, and that he was probably thinking that he’d eventually get permission to go heavy anyway so waiting for the mediator to leave wouldn’t be a problem, but still....”You bombed my people, so I investigated the bombing, and then you also killed my investigators, so now I want revenge” is not the slavering monster we got in the series. That’s practically sympathetic.
The TV series wanted A Villain, singular, so they chose Murtry. The book is making it a lot more complicated than that.
If the Murtry from the series knew -- not suspected, knew -- that the initial explosion had been a deliberate bombing from the very beginning he would have carried out a slaughter before the Roci even got to the system.
That was the danger of being old and a politician. Habits outlived the situations that created them. Policies remained in place after the situations that inspired them had changed. [...] she had to keep reminding herself that the past was a different place. She didn’t live there anymore.
so ....... I’m reading Cibola Burn (as evidenced by my #tiny reads tag) and really, really want to perform the Investigator interludes.
When I read the words on the page, my mind repeats them back like a dramatic solo monologue (yeah, I hear the words when reading - I know not everyone does) with fast parts and slow parts and different articulations and I think it’d be such a cool set of pieces to do.
(It’s almost enough to make me want to buy the audiobook just so I can hear how it’s done ✨officially✨)