The Real Science Behind The Expanse
Expanse showrunner Naren Shankar holds a PhD in physics and engineering from Cornell university—which explains a lot about why and how the show is able to tell stories that are rooted firmly in scientific reality.
When a shot is fired in The Expanse’s version of space, it behaves according to the laws of space. (Hot tip: there’s no gravity out there.) Shankar and his team want to do zero-gravity battles right, so when a scene featuring a room on a ship getting crazy-shot up during a fight was written into the script, he accepted the challenge. “I really wanted to do that scene on film, and I knew we could do it,” Shankar told Wired’s Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “I’d never read anything like that or seen anything close to it in a science fiction show.”
“Most space battles are just re-hashes of World War II fighter battles in the Pacific,” Shankar added. “And that’s fine, if they want to be that kind of a fantasy, but I find great beauty in the way the ships move in our show.”
There’s no denying the importance of scientific realism in sci-fi. Of course, there’s got to be some artistic licence allowed (Star Wars’ TIE fighter battles would be pretty boring without the unrealistic sound and light show) but glaring mistakes can take a viewer out of the world the story’s set in.
Shankar says that the novel series The Expanse is based on was already set firmly in real science—which was one of the reasons he decided to accept the job. “Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham know a lot about science,” said Shankar of the two writers known collectively as James SA Corey (check out our interview with them here). “Ty in particular really understands and has thought very deeply about the real physics of how the stations and ships and everything work.”
Obviously, there’s way much more to show than just solid science. Shankar thinks the show is a reflection of the current state of the world. “It’s the nature of human beings to identify people who look different or talk different or have a different culture as ‘other’ than you, and when that happens that’s when wars occur,” he explained. “So even though we’ve got this multicultural polyglot expansion into the human system, Earthers are different from Martians who are different from Belters. We’ve tribalized once again, and we’re already at each other’s throats once again. And that’s a sad state of human nature. I think that when you’re dealing with things like that, and you transpose them into space, and you add all these other things, I think that you have the ability to have some very interesting storytelling that just happens to be set in space.”
Speaking of space, The Expanse is back on Space February 1 at 10e 7p. Don’t miss the special two-hour season premiere.