The Expanse is a series of science fiction books about the near-future (+200 years) and humanity's spread to the greater solar system. Earth and Mars are separate political entities, and their colonies in the asteroid belt beyond are beginning seek their own independence. We follow James Holden and his crew through a series of adventures as humanity grapples with political turmoil and an ever-worsening series of existential threats, not all of which are of human origin.
The books are co-written by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck under the pen name James S. A. Corey. Thus far, 7 books have been published, with an 8th coming later this year. The Expanse is also an ongoing television series. It began airing on the SyFy channel in December of 2015 and is currently in the production of its 4th season (though SyFy cancelled it following season 3, Amazon has picked it up and will be airing it through its Prime service).
I read through the first seven books last year, and began watching the show shortly after I had finished them. I had heard good things about it but, I think it is safe to say, adaptions tend to be lesser in many ways to their source material. Game of Thrones, though very faithful in its first four seasons, simply could not capture the sheer density of detail found in the novels of A Song of Ice and Fire; Ender's Game turned a dark and honest exploration of children and child soldiers into a mediocre montage; and The Lord of the Rings lost many of the book's world-building details and pre-Sauron lore for the sake of run time. Lesser, however, does not in all cases mean worse. Game of Thrones has received heaps of critical acclaim, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of the greatest accomplishments in cinematic history. Things are removed or changed for a reason and, as I mentioned in the review of 2001: A Space Odyssey, part of the enjoyment I get out of watching adaptions is seeing what changes were made and thinking about why they happen and what effect they have on the story that results.
So, though I went into SyFy's The Expanse expecting to be entertained, I was surprised to find that, in many ways, the show is more robust than the books. Characters are more fleshed out, the world feels more substantial (more expansive, you could say), and the plot has a much better 'flow' overall. I want to talk about those differences in detail and break down how the changes made impact the stories and characters they create.
I'm titling this essay 'Art of Adaption' because it's been fun to put together so far, and I figure I'll write more pieces like it in the future (I've already got one or two other stories in mind). Also, fair warning: this is a long essay. I didn't really plan for it to balloon to ~35k words, but it turns out I have a lot to say about it. Hope you enjoy!
|Image taken from The Expanse Season 1 promotional material.|
Part 1: Summary
The first thing to talk about is, of course, the story itself. I'm going to be summarizing the plot of the first three books/seasons so that we have some common ground to work from. If you're already familiar with the story of either, you can skip this first part— I won't be talking about how they differ until later. (If you're not familiar with the story but don't want spoilers, I highly recommand both the book and the show). Also, since the themes of the book and show versions of Abaddon are so significant, I am giving it its own sub-section in Part 4.
Book 1: Leviathan Wakes
In Leviathan Wakes we are introduced to James Holden. Holden was born on Earth, The story begins when Holden and his crew, who work on an ice-hauling space ship, The Canterbury, hear a distress beacon coming from an out-of-the way asteroid. They follow it and find another ship, The Scopuli, completely abandoned except for the source of the S.O.S. transmission: a beacon with Martian markings. The abandoned ship turns out to be a trap: as Holden and four of his crew are out exploring The Scopuli, a stealth ship reveals itself and blows up the Canterbury with a barrage of nuclear missiles. Outraged at the deaths of those still on board, Holden transmits footage of the attack across the solar system, as well as details of the beacon that lured them there.
We then switch to the perspective of Josephus Miller, an older man who was born and raised on the now-colonized asteroid Ceres. He is a washed-up police officer looking for Julie Mao, the missing daughter of one of the richest men in the solar system. It is not a missing person's case, but a "kidnap job." Julie's father, Jules Pierre Mao, wants her home, even though she left of her own volition. Holden's message reaches Ceres just as Miller begins his search, and the reaction is immediate: the citizens of Ceres, and every other colony of 'The Belt' believe Mars has just attacked them and that war is imminent.
The audience is quickly clued in on the fact that Holden and Miller's stories are connected. Miller learns that The Scopuli was the last-known location of Julie Mao, and quickly pieces together that she and her family must be behind the initial attack. His investigation is hampered by the more pressing need to keep the peace among his fellow 'belters' on Ceres, and the suspicious disinterest his superiors show in regards to his findings.
We switch between the perspectives of these two men as their stories converge on the mystery around Julie Mao and the war no one wants to take credit for. Holden bounces from one perilous situation to the next. First he and his crew become prisoners of the Martian flagship The Donnager, which is then attacked and overwhelmed by unknown forces before they can finish their interrogations. Holden and his crew barely escape with their lives moments before The Donnager is destroyed, leaving them stranded on a small gunship Holden names The Rocinante.
With nowhere else to turn, Holden and his crew find a new ally in Fred Johnson, the self-declared leader of the Outer Planets Alliance. The OPA is the de-facto government in the Belt. It is not so much a formal organization as it is the moniker adopted by the those who share the goal of achieving independence from the colonial powers of Earth and Mars. 'The OPA' could refer to anything from a local gang up to the more militarized organization Fred runs. Fred offers Holden safe harbor in exchange for his help. Fred has received a coded message from someone on the asteroid Eros, a dwindling trade port, signaling that they need rescue. Fred doesn't know who the person is, so he sends Holden to investigate.
Miller, meanwhile, has been piecing together clues related to Julie's past and her relation to the war now raging between Mars and OPA insurgents in the Belt. He becomes obsessed with the girl, to the point of neglecting his other duties. He is fired from his job for looking too deep. Soon after, he receives a tip that the last ship Julie was on has landed on Eros, and so he sets off to find the girl. He meets Holden there, and the two realize they are looking for the same person. They find Julie dead in a hotel room, strange growths covering her body.
After a few more plot developments, Holden and Miller have enough information to piece together what has happened. Protogen, a subsidiary of the corporate empire owned by Julie's father, has discovered that the moon Phoebe is actually an alien virus captured by Saturn's gravity. This alien virus is called the 'protomolecule,' and the mysteries that surround it are the central threads that tie each book to the next. It infects and changes any living organism, and it appears to be building something out of the bodies of its victims. Protogen is interested in what it is trying to build, but they need much more biomass—and they have decided to use the entire population of Eros.
The war, which has now set Earth and Mars against each other, is revealed to be a diversion. While the greater powers of the solar system were distracted Protogen has taken over Eros and has unleashed the protomolecule on the people living there. Julie Mao was its first victim. Holden and Miller arrive just as Protogen enacts their plan, and they barely manage to shoot their way back to The Rocinante alive. They return to Fred, and realize none but them are able or willing to answer for the genocide they just witnessed.
Phoebe is destroyed by the war, and Holden and Miller, backed by Fred's OPA, manage to take down Protogen, but the leviathan they have awoken cannot be stopped. The three men watch on as the population of Eros is transformed and mutated, and decide that they do not want to wait around for this apparent alien weapon to finish building itself. Miller devises a plan to destroy Eros: ram it with the largest ship ever built, The Nauvoo. Earlier, it was established that the Mormon church commissioned Fred to build The Nauvoo, a generation ship whose goal it was to colonize another solar system. Seeing no other option, he commandeers it and sends it hurtling toward Eros, calculating a trajectory that will send the asteroid, and every last bit of the protomolecule, hurtling into the sun.
Miller is sent ahead with a strike team to set up a series of bombs that will vaporize the surface of Eros in order to make sure no one can get a sample of the alien virus before it hits the sun. Still devastated by the loss of Julie, he decides to stay behind and die with Eros when the Nauvoo hits. Their plan works, right up until the moment Eros dodges the Nauvoo.
The protomolecule has completed the first step of its construction. It now controls Eros and begins accelerating it toward Earth. Holden and the rest of the solar system watch on helplessly as it approaches the planet. Miller, still on board, realizes that Julie Mao is still alive on Eros. She was the first person infected on the asteroid, and the protomolecule has incorporated her consciousness into itself. Miller manages to find Julie again, who is now merged with Eros, and convinces her/it to change course. The book ends with Eros crashing into Venus, where it continues its mysterious metamorphosis.
Book 2: Caliban's War
Earth and Mars are now in a cold war. Bobbie Draper, a marine in the martian navy, has been assigned to the Jovian moon Ganymede, the most important food-producing region in the belt. Control of Ganymede is split between Earth and Mars, so Bobbie spends her time patrolling the outskirts of martian-held territory, watching the other side do the same. Neitherplanet has any reason to want war—the infrastructure on Ganymede is too precious to risk fighting over—which explains Bobbie's shock when a platoon of Earth marines start charging their position unprovoked.
The martians prepare for battle, but as the Earth marines approach, Bobbie realizes that they are not attacking them. They are fleeing from a third party: a large, humanoid monster with glowing blue eyes. The combined forces engage the new threat, but it tears through them before self-destructing, leaving Bobbie the only survivor. Above her, in the space above Ganymede, Martian and Earth forces have started fighting, each believing the other started the battle on the moon's surface.
A cease-fire is quickly called, but the battle has caused sever damage to the settlements on Ganymede, leading to food shortages and an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. Praxidike Meng was a botanist before the catastrophe, but now spends his days searching for his daughter Mei. Mei was kidnapped by her pediatrician, Dr. Strickland, shortly before the battle broke out. Prax does not know why and is powerless to do anything about it. He searches in vain, slowly starving to death, until he runs into the most famous man in the solar system: James Holden.
Holden, on a relief mission from the OPA, agrees to help Prax find Mei. They locate the place she was taken to by Dr. Strickland and burst in, guns drawn. A firefight breaks out, and then something explodes in a nearby room. Holden and his crew are confused by the sounds of slaughter coming from the rooms around them, but they quickly piece together what has happened: another monster has broken loose. A monster that seems to be part human, part protomolecule.
They flee Ganymede, but see no signs of a spreading infection like there was on Eros. They think they are safe, until they realize the monster that broke loose has boarded their ship. It is digging its way toward the ship's reactor. Prax deduces that, since the protomolecule feeds off of radiation, the monster it is seeking the nearest source. They use a nuclear payload as a decoy and lure the monster out of their ship before vaporizing it. Prax realizes soon after why Dr. Strickland took his daughter: Mei has a rare genetic disorder that leaves her unable to fight off diseases. If Strickland was responsible for creating the protomolecule-human hybrid, children like Mei would be ideal candidates.
On Earth, Chrisjen Avasarala is the Deputy Undersecretary of Executive Administration of the government of the United Nations; the third highest rank in the governing body of Earth. She is a veteran of playing politics, and is currently doing her best to de-escalate the tension around Ganymede. After hearing Bobbie's testimony during peace talks with Mars, Avasarala reaches out to her, trying to find an ally on the other side. Bobbie has been used as a political tool since the monster attack, and is frustrated with the military. She feels betrayed by her government, and agrees to work for Avasarala.
With Bobbie's help Avasarala discover who is behind the protomolecule monsters and the war on Ganymede: her own boss, Undersecretary Sadavir Errinwright. Unfortunately, Errinwright has already outmaneuvered her. Bobbie and Avasarala end up stranded in space on a civilian ship, unable to spread the word or reach Ganymede in time to stop the war from starting again.
Luckily, Holden and Prax are nearby in the process of tracking down Dr. Strickland. They pick up the two women and head to Io, where Errinwright's secret lab is located and, Prax hopes, where they are keeping Mei. Avasarala broadcasts all the evidence both parties have gathered, incriminating Errinwright and giving her lawful control over Earth's navy. Upon reaching Io, she succeeds in uniting the Mars and Earth forces in the area, effectively ending the war.
Bobbie leads an assault party to the laboratory on Io. She fights another protomolecule monster, and emerges victorious, having learned from her first encounter. Strickland is killed and Mei is rescued. Ganymede begins to rebuild as peace returns to the solar system... until Venus gives birth. The protomolecule has finished its metamorphosis, and what emerges from the chrysalis is unfathomable: a giant ship, larger than most moons, with arms like an octopus. It swims through the void, leaving humanity awed and terrified.
Book 3: Abaddon's Gate
Past Uranus, the protomolucule ship has transformed into an enormous ring. Earth and Mars have already started to study the alien structure, and the OPA is not far behind them. Fred has retrieved the Nauvoo and converted it into a warship, christening it The Behemoth. A convoy of religious and civilian leaders has set off toward the ring as well. Holden and the Rocinante are among them, transporting the reporter Monica Stuart and her film crew. Monica wishes to be among the first to report on the ring, and is also taking the opportunity to make a documentary about the famous James Holden. It is an inconvenient time for Holden to have his privacy intruded upon: he is being haunted by visions of Josephus Miller. The man manifests before him, speaking incoherently but clearly trying to communicate, and vanishes when anyone else draws near.
Before anyone can begin to study the ring, however, a lone ship hurdles toward it at incredible speed. It is a belter daredevil, Manéo Jung-Espinoza, determined to be the first one through the enigmatic structure. Manéo flies through the ring, but does not exit on the other side. Before he understands what has happened his ship is slowed dramatically. The change in velocity kills him instantly. Holden and the others outside the ring come to understand what has happened: the ring is a Gate, leading to a nearly empty bubble of space with only a small spherical station at its center. The inside of the gate is named the 'slow-zone,' because any object traveling over a certain speed is halted by an unknown force and pulled into orbit around the station.
Unbeknownst to anyone, Clarissa Mao, sister to the deceased Julie Mao and daughter of the incarcerated Jules Pierre Mao, is out for vengeance against Holden for his role in taking down her father. She has paid one of Monica's film crew to plant a bug on the Rocinante, and has assumed a fake identity as Melba Koh, a technician for the civilian fleet. She uses her position to plant a bomb on one of the ships. When the convoy arrives at the ring she detonates it, then hijacks the Rocinante, disabling its defensive systems and forcing it to broadcast a faked message of James Holden claiming responsibility for the bombing in the name of the OPA.
Fearing retaliation from the Earth and Mars forces in the area, the Behemoth fires a missile at the Rcinante. Holden, unable to communicate or use any of his defensive systems, sees no other option but to fly into the ring. The Rocinante enters, slowing down to just below the speed limit of the slow-zone as it does. The missile, still trying to accelerate, is grabbed by a mysterious force and dragged down to the central station. Holden and his crew are safe for the moment, but the factions on the other side do not give them much of a respite. Earth, Mars, and the OPA follow them through the ring.
Seeing no way to repair his ship and unable to shake the feeling that he has been sent here on purpose, Holden travels down to the station at the center of this mysterious empty space. There Miller appears to him again, now reborn as a tool of the protomolecule: The Investigator. He explains that this station is on 'lock-down.' Whatever alien species that created the protomolecule is dead: killed off by some other, and even more powerful species. Holden sees visions of the station he is on destroying entire solar system as they become 'infected' by whatever killed the protomolecule masters; cauterizing a wound to no avail. Miller/The Investigator tells him that he can take the station off of lock-down if every ship powers down at once, but before Holden can act on this information a squad of martian marines takes him prisoner, still believing him to be a terrorist. In their assault, they damage part of the station with a grenade. In response it lowers the speed limit, now realizing that even slow-moving things can pose a threat. Throughout the slow-zone, every ship is brought to a dead stop and pulled toward the central hub station.
The resulting carnage is horrific. The survivors are left unable to tend to the wounded or call out for help. Salvation comes from The Behemoth. The human body cannot recover normally without gravity (fluids cannot drain and some otherwise minor injuries become fatal) but the Behemoth's original design as a generation ship means it can create centrifugal or 'spin' gravity. The OPA offers to take all the injured aboard so they can heal.
Clarissa Mao was among the survivors. Still seeking vengeance against Holden, she uses the chaos to space-walk to the Rocinante. She finds Holden's second in command, Naomi Nagata, still aboard and attacks her. Naomi is gravely injured, but is saved by Anna Volovodov, a priest from the civilian convoy. On the way to the ring, Anna made friends with an aristocrat named Tilly. Tilly was friends with the Mao family, and recognized Clarissa before she went to attack Holden. Naomi, Anna, Clarissa, and the Rocinante's crew return to the Behemoth where they are reunited with Holden.
Clarissa, now imprisoned after having failed twice to kill Holden, falls into despair and regret: in order to keep her plan a secret, she murdered a co-worker named Ren who discovered that she had planted a bomb. Racked with guilt, she turns her hatred inward, and is left alone in a prison cell to stew in her misery and self-loathing.
Holden tries to tell the OPA aboard the Behemoth how to shut down the station, but those who listen are unable to help. Captain Ashford, the OPA's representative, believes the ring must be destroyed. He orders the communications laser on the Behemoth to be overloaded, generating enough power, he hopes, to destroy the ring. Holden realizes this may trigger the station's defensive systems again—it may perceive humanity as a real threat, and cauterize the solar system as it did in his vision. He convinces the OPA members not loyal to Ashford to fight against the captain, and a civil war ensues. As they fight Monica and Anna broadcast Holden's plan to the rest of the ships still active, begging them to power down.
Clarissa Mao, seeing redemption in death, allies herself with Ashford. However, upon hearing Anna's broadcast and realizing she might be dooming the entire human race, she turns upon him in the critical moment, shutting down the Behemoth as the other ships already have. The Investigator proves to be truthful and the station turns releases its lock-down. The ships are freed from it's grasp, and, miraculously, over a thousand more gates open up.
The space around them is no longer empty: it is filled with the light of a thousand stars, now all within humanity's reach. No signs of the protomolecule masters or their killers remain, and the Investigator asks Holden to help it continue its search for answers.
Part 2: Story StructuresNow that we have an (highly abridged) understanding of the story of The Expanse, let's break down where the two interpretations differ. This section will focus on the world building and the broader mechanics of plot development. Part 3 will focus on individual character differences. The last will cover a few themes I found interesting.
As in most science fiction, part of the appeal of The Expanse is seeing what future technologies our author(s) have envisioned. In the medium of a book, presenting new technology is rather simple. Holden, or Miller, or whichever character we are following, can simply think about the technology they are observing and give the audience the details of its function. When Holden and his crew flee from the missiles of their mysterious assailant in the early chapters of Leviathan Wakes, we get an explanation of "crash couches" (large gel couches meant to cushion the body against the deadly forces of large accelerations) and "the juice" (a drug cocktail meant to keep pilots "conscious, alert, and hopefully stroke-free" during prolonged, high-g acceleration) from Holden's internal monologue as they are put into use.
In the show, by contrast, there is almost no explicit explanation of the technologies on display. When Holden's crew must "go on the juice," we see liquid traveling through tubes embedded in their chairs and their reactions as they are injected, but at no point does a character pause to turn to another and say 'this will stop us from having a stroke as we will be pulling 6-g's for the next twenty minutes.' While this might leave some who have not read the books confused, there is enough context in each usage for a viewer to get a general understanding: each injection is accompanied either by a sound or the aforementioned visual, and always right before or during a high-g burn. The actor's pained expressions and occasional bruising/blood from the nose communicate the dangers associated with large accelerations on the human body even in the absence of the specifics narrated in the book.
Another common technology on the space ships of The Expanse is magnetic boots, which allow crew members to walk around their ship even while weightless. They are an intuitive technology, and take only a line or two to explain, but even in this simple case the show does not rely on exposition to communicate their function (the closest we get is Amos telling Prax, "Mag boots: keep them on. Takes a little practice to get used to them.") Instead, we get shots of characters' heels as they active their mag boots, and a heavy clunk sound every time they take a step. In fact, a lot of technologies and ideas are communicated mostly through sound. Most of the handguns are plastic and shoot self-propelled bullets (also plastic) so that they do not puncture the sides of space ships. so when guns are fired and bullets impact walls, they don't sound anything like conventional weaponry. Each movement of Bobbie's power armor is accompanied by the sound of gears and compressed air, giving us a sense of the power she is imbued with long before she stars pulling apart airlock doors and striding calmly through a hail of bullets.
In general, the show never uses exposition to explain technology that is understood in-universe. It is not until the protomolecule is introduced that characters start talking about how a thing might work or what it might be doing. This does mean the show lacks many of the neat world building details that pepper the books (such as how Ceres had to be spun-up to induce centrifugal gravity, why nukes in space are less deadly because ships are already radiation-proof, what the mirrors above Ganymede actually do, etc.) and some of the things shown might be confusing to viewers unfamiliar with the relevant physics (such as the Coriolis effect on Ceres, which is mentioned several times in writing, but demonstrated only once in the show without explanation when Miller pours himself a drink and the liquid spirals into his glass from a few inches away), but none of the details it misses impact the story. It wastes no time telling the audience about that which it can more quickly show.
What is lost from the books, however, is the sense of the progression of time. Even though The Expanse has invented the super-efficient Epstein drive to explain how ships both large and small can fly around the solar system, it still takes a great deal of time to actually get anywhere. Space is big. Very big. And part of the joy of The Expanse is that it takes a very real look at how a colonized solar system might function. Minus everything associated with the protomolecule, the science on display is well understood and (mostly) realistic. So, in the books, whenever our characters travel between Earth or Mars or any two planetoids in the Belt, there is always a mention of how long it will take or how much time has passed since we last saw them. There is also much more concern about money and supplies. Each journey takes anywhere from days to weeks to months, and the constant reminder that long stretches of time are passing really makes the audience feel the vastness if space.
In the show, this feeling is gone. We still see time passing—things happen, our characters blast off to the next location, and we cut to another character or group for a while—but exactly how much time is unclear. This lack of an explicit gauge is compounded by the format of a televised drama. Cliffhangers are common between episodes, and any commercial breaks would be put between cuts that leave us wanting for a resolution. This propels us ever forward; we want the next episode now, and our minds are busy absorbing what is on screen. Also, it would be far less engaging to someone who has just tuned in if they happened to stumble upon a stretch of quiet travel time each episode. Reading requires active engagement, and happens more slowly. We also lack that space between each chapter where we might put down the book for a moment or a day and process what we have learned. As a result, events feel compressed. The adventure that lasts a year and a half in Leviathan Wakes seems to take only a handful of weeks in the show, though it occupies the plot of the first fifteen episodes.
The goal of the protomolecule is a bit more obscure in the show than in the books. That it is 'repurposing' the biological (and later mechanical) systems it infects to fulfill a programmed function is never explicitly stated and not fully explained until late into season 3, whereas the characters in the books deduce what it is doing (though not what it is making) by the mid-point of Caliban. However, even if it is not outright stated, the show preserves a few of the thematic elements that allow us to understand the protomolecule by analogy.
The first book has the Nauvoo, which foreshadows and parallel's the protomolecule's delivery system (Phebe). We are shown a ship intended to reach another solar system and spread life there, and then our characters find an alien 'vessel' that contained its own, now-spreading life. In Caliban, when Avasrala wonders why the protomolecule took apart the Arboghast (one of the science ships studying its activity on Venus), her advisor responds that it is acting like "Graduate students... my Industrial Design final was just the same. They gave us all machines and we had to take them apart and figure out what they did." In the show it is not explained that it is 'learning' until a bit later, when Dr. Strickland finds that one of his hybrids has 'disassembled' a member of his staff and seems to be communicating with whatever is on Venus. In the book, Avasarla waxes poetic about empire building and over-expansion, saying "Every empire grows until its reach exceeds its grasp." The juxtaposition of this with her quest to understand what is happening on Venus give us a hint as to what the protomolecule is for, as well as foreshadowing the fate of those who created it.
The show does add a motif that is absent in the books. When Miller finally meets Julia at the center of Eros he asks her to turn the asteroid around. She protests, stating that she "can't stop the work." Later Katoa, one of the children captured by Dr. Strickland, says the same line as he is transforming into a protomolecule monster. This communicates that it has a specific goal and that it can talk to itself even across the vast distances of space long before Miller show up and starts talking to Holden about non-locality and their usefulness as "tools."
Although the plots described in the first part of this essay are broadly true for both the books and the show, their differences emerge as soon as the first episode starts. In the opening crawl, Earth, Mars, and the Belt are described as "on the brink of war. All it will take is a single spark." This is a major paradigm shift from Leviathan, where Earth and Mars begin the story as a coalition. In both cases their collective colonial force exerts its power over the Belt. In the book, Holden broadcasts data from the Donnager battle that implicates Earth as the attacker, and this causes the planets to immediately go to war. In the show, they begin in a cold war, and it does not get hot until Bobbie is attacked on Ganymede. The Eros incident escalates tensions, but does not cause them to fight as it does in the novels.
In the books, the political maneuvering between Earth and Mars happens in the background, especially in Leviathan Wakes. Newscasts and updates from other characters tell us what battles have happened where, and what it means for the solar system as a whole. We do not meet Chrisjen Avasarala until Caliban's War, but in the show she is there from episode one, giving us insight into exactly what the major players on Earth are doing and why. When Earth gives Fred Johnson control of part of their nuclear arsenal at the end of Leviathan, we understand why Avasarala trusts him enough to use it to stop Eros, rather than, as it plays out in the books, Fred simply telling Holden he persuaded the U.N. to go along with his plan off-screen. It makes Earth feel like a real government with moving parts, rather than a nebulous and singular entity that works as is convenient for the plot.
Mars is much the same, except we never get a look into its government whatsoever. This makes plot developments in later books (Nemesis Games and Babylon's Ashes) feel as if they came out of nowhere. In the show, we still don't get a much better look, but the Mars we do see is much more dynamic: there is a traitorous faction in the Caliban arc responsible for the attack on Ganymede (instead of Earth doing it all in the books) and a clear ideological rift between older and younger generations of the martian military. In the books Mars has very little personality. Avasarala convinces martian ships to ally with her against Errinwright with a single message (we don't even see a persuasion check); they seem unconcerned that Holden is piloting one of their stolen ships and even resupply him (then in until Abaddon they suddenly do care); and generally the soldiers we see come off as straightforward and reasonable.
Mars' militaristic tendencies have been exaggerated in the show. Much of Bobbie's characterization is used to demonstrate the red planet's jingoism, even xenophobia. I will talk more about the specifics after I talk about her character, but while Earth is the sole aggressor in the books, both planets are culpable in starting the show's war and exploiting the protomolecule, and Mars is far more bloodthirsty.
Overall, the politics in the show are also much more compelling that those in the book. Mainly because Avasarala's increased presence means Earth simply has more going on (many plot points from Caliban happen earlier, and there is plenty of new material), but also because the other characters she works with and against actually have time to develop. I will go over specifics when I talk about characters.
The OPA gets a similar treatment to that of Earth, and also a facelift. In the books the OPA is already an established, if not universally recognized, political entity. Early on in Leviathan Miller realizes that the OPA isn't trying to replace the local gangs, "they're moving in on the cops," and later they are stated to have courts throughout the belt. "Jesus, who scares the OPA?" Havelock asks at one point. Avasarala echoes this sentiment, concerned in Caliban's War about "looking weak" to the OPA, whereas in the show Avasrala is dismissive of Fred and his "terrorist cells." Anderson Dawes appears in Leviathan as an OPA "liaison," and at the beginning of Caliban Holden considers himself an OPA "employee." This implies a formalized hierarchy, and Fred is presumably its head. This hierarchy is made explicit in Caliban, when Holden refers to the OPA as Fred's "quasi-government." In Abaddon's Gate Anna sees the OPA as a legitimate police force on Europa. The impression we get from all of these details is that the OPA of the books is cohesive and powerful; a real force to be reckoned with.
In the show, the OPA is tribal; more of an idea than anything else. Fred still commands a great deal of resources and respect, but he employs contractors and has to ask for volunteers when he attacks Protogen. Whenever he talks to the rest of the OPA, it is not as a commander addressing subordinates, but as one leader trying to negotiate with the heads of other tribes. In season 2 episode 7 they even stand in a circle, implying their equality, as opposed to the books where Fred gives most of his orders from behind a desk. There he is removed; superior (in the show he still gives orders from a desk to Holden, but that is because Holden is explicitly under his protection, and thus in his power). The impression we get in show is that 'the OPA' is really a plethora of gangs united by a perceived common race and little else. One of our first views of the OPA is an "OPA terrorist" from a "radical faction" being tortured. This information primes us to think of the OPA as fractured and illegitimate. "There's OPA, and there is OPA," one character states in a later episode, giving voice to this division.
Anderson Dawes amplifies this effect. In the books he appears only briefly in Leviathan and vanishes until the fifth installment, Nemesis Games. He, like Avasarala, has a greatly expanded role in the show. He runs a mob on Ceres and is framed in opposition first to Miller and then to Fred. In season two, he convinces a few of Fred's people to defect to his side, and encourages a coup that almost succeeds.
The result is another paradigm shift: in the books, the OPA is framed as a fledgling government seeking political legitimacy, while in the show the OPA is struggling to unite at all. They don't become a coherent entity until the beginning of the Abaddon's Gate arc, where Diogo Harari becomes a "lieutenant in the OPA Navy" after being granted amnesty—this is the first time any such ranks or formal OPA military organizations are mentioned in the show. They even get matching outfits. "A work in progress... but it's growing on me," Ashford states.
Each book of The Expanse is a fairly complete story. Conflict happens; it is resolved; and the characters settle down into the new status quo by the time the next book happens. There is a complete narrative running throughout the entire series, and a cliffhanger at the end of every book, but each adventure can be put nicely into its own self-contained arc. The show, by contrast, has its plots and sub-plots interwoven throughout the whole of its story. There are still clear arcs that correspond to each book, but they feel less like endings and more like brief moments of calm before the next storm. After Leviathan ends, our characters barely have the time to celebrate their victory or (in the case of Avasarala) start to figure out what the protomolecule is doing on Venus before war breaks out at the end of the episode. In the books a year passes before Caliban starts, but in the show it is a matter of days, maybe a week or two.
The Leviathan arc occupies the first 15 episodes of the show, Caliban's War takes up the next 14, and Abbadon's Gate is told in seven. Season one is 10 episodes, and seasons two and three are 13 episodes each. This means that the resolution of the first two arcs happen in the middle of seasons, and as a consequence many plot points are moved about and story beats added to keep things flowing. The overall effect is that the show feels, funnily enough, less episodic than the books.
When Fred, Holden, and Miller attack Protogen in Leviathan, they take a few scientists prisoner. In the books these scientists simply disappear, presumably tried for their crimes in the year that transpires between books. In the show Fred keeps one of them around, and he is central to several developments: he causes Holden to seek out Prax and the protomolecule on Ganymede, he furthers Amos's character, and he is used by Anderson Dawes as a political tool to undermine Fred's sway with the OPA and the Belt. This is one of the many through-lines added to the show (others include Miller's hat, Mars' struggle with jingoism, Camina's entire character, etc.) and by giving more time to each aspect the world feels much more interconnected; more 'real'. The books are Holden's story, and he occasionally has guests in the narrative. In the show we follow an ever-evolving ensemble.
The show sometimes merges several characters from the books. While this is probably motivated somewhat by budget/logistical ease, it also gives the characters we do see more depth. Diogo Harari is a great example of this. In the books he works for Fred and fights with Miller in their raid on Protogen. Afterwards Miller lives with him briefly before getting the idea to ram Eros with the Nauvoo. In the show he still does those things, but we meet him much earlier and he sticks around afterwards. He is fused with Mateo Judd, a wanna-be gangster on Ceres. In the books Mateo extorts a shop owner for money. His is killed by Anderson Dawes, which shows Miller that the OPA is trying to become a legitimate police force. In the show, Diogo first appears as a criminal on Ceres. Miller catches him siphoning water from the governor's building and let's him go after berating him for his stupidity. We later see Diogo harvesting asteroids with his uncle (who inherits the name Mateo) before he winds up with Miller during the raid. He is later persuaded by Dawes to switch sides, and is a crucial distraction that allows Dawes to kidnap the Protogen scientist out from Fred's custody. It is also one of Diogo's friends who incites the insurrection against Fred following this event. Finally, he appears in the Abaddon's Gate arc serving under Ashford on the Behemoth. Since we follow him through all these developments, we are much more connected to him. We may be more affected when we believe he has been suddenly killed during the Protogen raid, when he betrays Holden and Fred, and when he ends up on the opposite side of Fred's OPA in Abaddon.
Bobbie also appears in the Abaddon arc of the show, whereas in the books she was absent and the martian marines sent after Holden were military red-shirts who mostly end up dead by the end with no substantial development. Bobbie's presence in the show makes us immediately sympathetic to the martians' perspective, whereas in the book we only see them as an obstacle and later as useful tools for the characters we support.
Although there are many differences, much of the original work is preserved in its adaption. Direct quotes are often taken from the novels (such as Avasarala's speech about her alien binder; Prax's cascade lecture; Amos's story about what happens to prostitutes in Baltimore; etc.) Often they are in similar contexts as their book counterparts, but sometimes their meaning has been changed (such as Anna's speech about sacrifice) or inverted completely (such as when Errinwright, not Avasarala, asks Esteban to be on the right side of history).
In general, the show is at once more complex and more discernible. There are less characters in the show than in the books, yet we follow each for much longer. This makes them more memorable and gives us much more time to understand their thoughts and motivations. We see directly the machinations of politics, and they are comprehensible because we are familiar with the characters making those moves. The result is more drama, more tension, and a richer array of characters right from the start. Which brings us to our next topic...
Part 3: Character DifferencesThe major advantage the written word has over visual media is that it allows a characters' thoughts and feelings to be seen directly. It may come as a surprise, then, that the characters of The Expanse are much more substantial in the show when compared to their incarnations in the novels. I will go over
In the books, we follow the perspectives of only a few characters throughout each arc. James Holden is the one constant, but each arc switches up who the secondary protagonists are. In Leviathan Wakes it is only Miller; in Caliban's War we get Avasarala, Bobbie, and Prax; and Abaddon's Gate lets us into the minds of Clarissa Mao, Anna, and Carlos "Bull" c de Baca. Each provides a unique insight into the plot, but we are cut off from any direct view of the machinations of the rest of the cast. The show lifts this restraint. Focus is taken away from our perspective characters in favor of exploring the entire cast more thoroughly.
Another big shift is the source of dramatic tension. In the first three books, most of the story's tension comes from the peril of whatever situation our characters are in at the moment: weather it's escaping the Donnager, luring the protomolecule monster off of the Rocinante, or surviving the war on the Behemoth. All these same events happen in show, but the driving force is not just the immediate danger of the situation, but the interpersonal conflict that peril creates.
For example, when Holden and his crew are taken aboard the Donnager in the books, not much happens before it is under attack and they must fight their way out. In the show, the martians manipulate Holden and the others as part of their interrogation. Holden is informed that Naomi Nagata, his acting executive officer, is a former OPA terrorist. He begins doubting her motives, thinking she might be behind the attack that killed everyone else on their ice hauler. He is returned to his holding cell to find Alex Kamal, their pilot, dressed in a martian officer's uniform.
"Alex. It's good to see you... I think," he says. Then, spitefully, "You look very well treated."
Alex admits he was in the martian navy for 20 years prior to working with Holden. "So you're helping them," Holden asserts.
Sides are immediately drawn. Just as we start to learn about these characters they are pulling away from each other. Rather than Holden and his crew being familiar and friendly from the get-go, they stick together in the early part of the show mostly because they have no other choice. By the end of the Leviathan arc they have become a family, but they are far from perfect. Amos Burton (their mechanic) and Alex still don't always understand one another despite being friends. Holden and Naomi oscillate between being a couple and being apart. Naomi betrays Amos' trust, then Holden's, etc. It is not until the beginning of Aboddon that Holden says, "We've come to trust each other." In contrast, at the beginning of Caliban's War (novel) the main four are a well-oiled machine, able to fight together with little to no verbal communication. Holden and Naomi split up for a brief period of time, but little comes of it outside of Holden learning to calm down about the protomolecule.
I have been able to summarize events in the books as 'Holden and crew' up until this point because, for all intents and purposes, Holden is the only one that really effects the plot in any way. In fact, we do not get backstories of Holden's crew until Nemesis Games, which came out in 2015, the same year that The Expanse started airing. Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck worked as writers and producers on the show, and it is clear they took the opportunity to add more depth to the cast. Naomi's choices impact the plot almost as often as Holden's, Alex exists beyond his role as pilot, and the backstory that becomes relevant in Nemesis Games is often foreshadowed or alluded to, whereas it is almost completely absent (or vague enough to mean anything) in the books.
In sum, characters in the show are made more substantial in the show by the introduction of interpersonal drama. They have clashing values, and those values create choices which create conflict with other characters. These smaller stories are what move the plot forward.
Now, a more in-depth look at said substance:
James Holden (played by Steven Strait) is the protagonist of The Expanse. He is a natural leader (It is stated the he was on track to becoming an officer in the military "from the start"). He reacts to the situations he finds himself in as most people (presumably) would. He likes a good cup of coffee; he is our Everyman. Or, at least, that is how he starts the story.
His most defining trait in the books is a strong sense of right and wrong. "Don't play hero again," he is told by the captain of the Canterbury. He seems himself as a white knight, and even names his war ship The Rocinante after the horse in Don Quixote. Yet just like Quixote, his quest for justice is often misguided. In Leviathan Wakes his broadcast of 'the truth' is the direct cause of the war between Mars and the Belt, and then between Mars and Earth (book only). In Caliban's War he is so obsessed with eradicating the protomolecule that he drives away Naomi and puts those around him in danger.
This sense of personal justice is preserved in the show, but from the beginning he is more complex. He turns down a promotion, not wanting responsibility. When his ice hauler first hears the Scopuli's distress beacon, they agree to ignore it, and it is not until Holden has a change of heart and logs the detection secretly that they are forced to change course and investigate. He still broadcasts the fate of his crew to the solar system, but not until after the Donnager is bearing down on him. He does it as insurance against their taking him prisoner and explicitly accusses Mars of attacking them. In the book, he broadcasts before his mysterious attacker has finished flying away, and states that he found a martian beacon used as bait, later denying that saying this was meant to implicate Mars. He naively thinks that he is simply spreading the 'truth,' and hopes that the right people will be able to seek justice for his dead friends.
His path to leadership is much longer in show as well. In the books, he was executive officer before everyone else died, and so Amos, Alex, and Naomi simply follow the remaining piece of the chain of command. They immediately start addressing him as "captain" or "sir" and don't contest many of his more questionable actions. In the show they are forced to cooperate by circumstance, and are nearly at each other's throats in early episodes. When Holden makes his broadcast, the others try to physically pull him away from the transmitter. He dislikes Amos for quite a while, and is suspicious of Alex's motivations from the moment he learns he served in the martian military. It is only after their harrowing escape from the Donnager that the crew of the Rocinante begin to work together, still with plenty of reservations.
The biggest change to Holden's character is a shift in his moral center. In Leviathan Wakes he is the foil to Miller's jaded worldview. After they uncover Protogen's involvement with Eros, Holden wants to make another broadcast. Miller (correctly) predicts that this will only lead to more war, but Holden believes that exposing the truth will ultimately always lead to the greater good. He has a similar debate with Avasarala later on in Caliban. "You tell everyone," she states, "and yeah, you'll get a reaction. And maybe, weeks, or months, or years from now, it will all get sorted out. But you tell the right people, and we can sort it out right now." She and Miller both fail to dampen his idealism. By contrast, show Holden is less concerned with a 'greater good' than he is with keeping those he cares about alive. As mentioned above, he broadcasts only once, and only as a means of self-preservation. When Miller executes Dresden, the leader of Protogen, Holden is enraged. "What about a trial? What about justice?" he demands in books. In the show, he is less concerned with righteousness as he is with losing access to Dresden's data and potentially stopping Eros. He is mad not that Dresden was executed, but that Miller destroyed the only hope for the people on Eros.
Book Holden is described as "an exceedingly honest man." But the first thing he does in the show is go behind everyone's back to log the Scopuli's distress call. The resulting guilt he feels for lying and leading Canterbury into Protogen's trap is one of the primary sources of tension in earlier episodes. Holden believes he can do the right thing. Holden in the show does not think that everyone else can.
Holden's journey does wear on him, however. He becomes more accustomed to violence, more military, and less sympathetic to those outside his crew/family. His adventures in Leviathan are harrowing. The Canterbury and Donnager awaken him to the perils and cruelty of the world., but still he believes evil can be brought to justice. He is shocked by Miller's brutality as they fight their way out of Eros, but by the end is shooting along with him. The raid on Protogen has him acting as the aggressor for the first time, and when he is helping Fred plant bombs on Eros he threatens a martian patrol that has come to investigate. Slowly he becomes more like Miller, a man he views as immoral and dangerous.
The critical moment in the show occurs when Holden is forced to shoot down a civilian relief ship. The people aboard do not know what is happening on Eros, but have come to help. Believing Mars has unleashed a bio-weapon, they attempt to transmit their discovery to the rest of the solar system. In a reversal of his role in the book, Holden demands that they stop broadcasting, fearing the release of the information will cause more people to investigate and become infected. "Please don't make me kill you," he says to them. But they do not back down. He fires a missile at them, destroying their defenseless spaceship. A moment of silence follows before Holden turns away in disgust. "God dammit!" he shouts. He has become the person he despises: a murderer of the helpless.
We do not get this moment in the books. Instead, at the beginning of Caliban's War, Holden's character has suddenly shifted to a much darker place. We are told about his "year as a cop," working for Fred Johnson to take down pirates and patrol OPA holdings in the belt. He reflects on that time often. "He'd hunted ships and killed them for Fred's grand OPA government experiment," then later, "How many ships had he slagged in the year since Eros? A dozen? Maybe more?" He is numb to the suffering of those around him, even amidst the destruction of Ganymede. When Holden and Amos discuss whether the sounds they are hearing are nuclear missiles or Gauss rounds impacting, "they might have been talking about the weather," Prax observes. It is a stark contrast to the man who held out hope for a vaccine for the protomolecule after witnessing the carnage on Eros.
In the show, Holden knows to expect protomolecule on Ganymede. It is he who seeks out Prax, and he helps only because Prax knows Strickland's whereabouts, not because he wants to help find Mei. "I didn't give a fuck about your daughter. I used you to get through Ganymede," he later explains while apologizing. In the books he helps Prax because he wants to save Mei and the other kidnapped children. It is only after he discovers the protomolecule is involved that he freaks out and becomes obsessed with eradicating it. "Finding the... little girl had stopped being priority," he thinks. Once he discovers the purpose of Strickland's lab he acts irrationally, and even endangers the rest of his crew by trying to flee Ganymede (in the show he hunts down the escaped monster and seems to abandon Naomi, which serves the same purpose).
This evolution of Holden's character is similar in both cases, but the key difference is that we do not see it occur in the books. We see the end result—his crew has become much more military, comfortably taking up positions to breach doors and working seamlessly with a local security force they run into—but we are only told about the experiences that brought these changes about. This is both a cause and effect of the 'episodic' nature of the books. Holden's character gets somewhat retooled in Caliban's War from what it was in Leviathan Wakes, and it makes the stories feel a bit discontinuous.
However, most of Holden's conflict in the second book is about that change. Naomi tells Holden that one of the reasons she needs to leave him is "you were acting... like Miller." Several times Holden realizes he is channeling the dead man. "Holden grabbed Prax and spun him around. The way he imagined a cop would." After he executes Admiral Nguyen, one of the men responsible for unleashing the monster on Ganymede, we get this line: "Somewhere in his brain stem, Detective Miller nodded in approval." He is unable to shake the former cop's influence, but he does have a few moment of self-reflection."Ive been treating you like shit" he tells the rest of the Rocinante's crew. (Although this particular line is somewhat out of nowhere. We don't really see him treat the others badly outside of his panic on Ganymede, which seems justified, if irrational. He is apologizing in an effort to get Naomi back, but everyone very much wants to stay together on the Roci. They forgive him with no fuss or drama, and Naomi and he end their breakup after only a single chapter. In both book and show this little "fight" after Ganymede lets Holden have his cake and eat it too.)
When I first read Caliban's War I was disappointed with the merger of Holden and Miller's characters. After re-reading it, I still think the change is a bit sudden, but it is a much stronger through line than what is in the show. Miller is almost forgotten during the Caliban arc, but in the books he lurks in the back of Holden's psyche. Holden's obsession with eradicating the protomolecule is connected explicitly to his worries over becoming Miller. When Miller appears before Holden at the start of Abaddon's Gate, it is (in retrospect) much less of a twist. Of course Miller is back, he's been haunting Holden this whole time
In Abaddon's Gate Holden's initial conflict is about Miller. In the book he links the dead detective's sudden appearances to the trauma of watching one of his mothers get migraines and being unable to stop them: "The assault could come at any time... it felt like being haunted." He suffers from the anxiety and stress of Miller's haunting for months before he even reaches the ring. In the show, Miller does not appear before Holden until the moment the ring turns on, and by then he is already waiting outside of it. This makes Miller/the Investigator's connection to the ring a bit more explicit (and Holden even uses the coincidence of the timing to realize that the protomolecule is trying to talk to him), but this changes the nature of Holden's haunting; Miller still evokes panic and confusion when he first appears, but no longer is he Holden's tormentor. Holden quickly realized what Miller is trying to tell him, and even gets the idea to enter the ring from him. In the books it takes Holden a lot longer to parse the Investigator's metaphors ("Doors and corners... you gotta clear the room... if you don't clear the room [i.e. the ring], the room eats you"), and he only enters the ring out of desperation.
Once book Holden realizes Miller is trying to talk to him, he believes everything he has experienced so far is a set up to get him into the ring. When he finds the camera man who planted the bug, the description he gives of Clarissa leads Holden to believe Julie Mao is also back and is working with Miller. All this results in Holden thinking that the protomolecule has chosen him for some greater purpose. The misunderstanding is comical; the reader has been given Clarissa's perspective since before anyone took off for the ring, and so we know he is mistaken. When Miller tells him later that, no, he was not called here and the Investigator is just taking advantage of a nice coincidence, his ego gets deflated. "He'd thought he was important. That he was special and chosen, and what had happened to him and his crew had been dictated by a vast and mysterious power. He misunderstood everything." He is humbled by this realization, and, during the subsequent war on the Behemoth, states that "he had lost his certainty."
This arc is downplayed in the show version ("Why me? Why am I special?" he asks. "You have a ship," Miller replies.) Holden never sees Clarissa's face until after he knows the fate of the protomolecule masters, and so he does not leap to an alien conspiracy theory centered around himself. Everything happens much faster in the show, so he is too busy either panicking, trying to summon Miller for answers, or trying to convince others of what he is seeing for him to get too devoted to his 'chosen one' theory. He does a bit of verbal jousting with Miller over the concept of his own free will vs. being a 'tool' for the protomolecule, but it does not make him appear self-centered as he is in the book.
One aspect of Holden's character that I think is strictly better in the show is his relationship with Naomi. This is partially because book Naomi is a much less substantial character than her show counterpart, but it largely has to do with how their romance in framed. In Leviathan Wakes, Holden confesses his love for Naomi as he is recovering from nearly dying of radiation poisoning. Naomi explains that "I've seen you seduce a lot of women... you convince yourself that the two of you have some kind of special connection... I'm never going to know weather you love me or just want to bed down. And I won't sleep with you until you know which it is." This response, and the rest of their conversation, paint Holden as immature, his womanizing a symptom of his quixotic personality. Yet instead of growing or changing as a person to earn her respect or love, Naomi simply turns around a few chapters later and asks him to go home with her, telling him that she was tired of waiting for him to make the first move.
Naomi admits to Holden that she has always been attracted to him, recounting a story in which Holden was exceedingly nice to an ugly crew mate with a crush on him. This is the source of her infatuation. "Also, you've got a great ass, sir," she adds. The whole scenario is just very... cheesy, at best. If it were just Holden being immature or too much of a romantic, that would be one thing, but Naomi's justification for her attraction makes them both look shallow, and the narrative rewards the immaturity it previously cringed at (through Miller's perspective).
In Caliban, where Naomi and Holden break up for all of one chapter, Holden gives a very reasonable and heartfelt apology for his actions on Ganymede, and acknowledges that he has become more like Miller, losing himself in the process. This is enough to convince Naomi to return to the Rocinante, where it seems like they will begin picking up the pieces of their past relationship. Instead it simply starts up again, with little hesitation on either side. All the break up creates in the narrative is a moment of empathy from Holden for Avasarala when she laments that she cannot talk to her husband.
There are a few more moments worth mentioning. During the Eros chase, when Earth is in danger of being annihilated, Holden thinks that "telling [Naomi] how attractive her anger made her would stop being cute very quickly," which is just entirely at odds with the tone of the whole situation. When he first meets Bobbie, he finds her at once terrifying and attractive, and is apparently so overwhelmed that he cannot think straight. "I'm not a freak," his internal monologue asserts, "I have a lovely girlfriend that I'm totally committed to, so stop treating me like some kind of bumbling teenage boy who's trying to look down your dress!" Such sudden sexual insecurity does not mesh with his otherwise personable personality and the reasonable discussion he had earlier with his crew mates. This horny teenager vibe wouldn't be a problem if anything were done with it, but it comes off as a quirk we are meant to relate to, and taken as a whole Holden's hang-ups weaken the writing around a few of the story's female characters.
In the show, Holden and Naomi speak much less about their reasons for hooking up. When they first get together it is directly after their escape from Eros, and there is no discussion of love or Holden's past exploits. It is framed as a release of tension after being in mortal danger, and a representation of how far their relationship has developed since they were first stranded after the Scopuli. When they split up in the show, it feels more impactful. Both because we have seen Holden's descent into obsession and because Naomi has been harboring secrets of her own and betrays his trust. The result is a much more mature and understated relationship. Their romance is always present, but always subservient to other priorities (destroying the protomolecule, helping Ganymede or hunting the monster, representing the OPA on the Behemoth, etc.). The ups and downs of their relationship would be very much the same even if it were not sexual.
Also, the camera never ogles or fetishizes Bobbie the way book Holden does, which is good.
In the show, the martians aboard the Donnager set Holden and his crew against each other by revealing that Naomi was associated with the OPA, as well as questioning how she got "the skillset of a terrorist." In the books, Holden doesn't question her past until Abaddon's Gate, and we are given no reason to think of her abilities as unique. She is exceptionally smart, yes, but Amos is the 'dumbest' of the group and he has knowledge equivalent to a nuclear engineering degree. For all we know, Naomi a genius with an average technician's background. Bringing attention to her past in the show sets it up as a mystery, and each subsequent detail we learn starts to give us insight into what made her the person she is today.
The books still have hints, but they are vague enough to mean almost anything. Naomi has a scar on her back; when Holden brings up the possibility of having a child she says "No babies;" she avoids interviews with Monica's camera crew because "Digging up old things leads to messes like this one;" etc. The show makes these hints more specific, and even reveals some of the plot points of Nemesis Games quite a bit earlier, such as when Naomi confesses to Prax that she had a child, "a little baby boy." At the beginning of Abaddon, Camina Drummer makes a comment about distrusting Anderson Dawes: "That's what you get when you dance with the devil." Naomi replies with: "We've both done that before." Later, Ashford states that "you were a radical, then you were betrayed," and Naomi's whole reason for being on the Behemoth in the show is that she re-joined the OPA to help its journey into legitimacy. All this makes her past with the OPA and her regrets concrete, even if many of the details are yet to be revealed.
In the books Naomi is obviously sympathetic to the OPA and Fred Johnson, defending him when Holden suspects he might be behind the attack on Ganyemde, but, again, it's all vague enough to mean anything. Even Avasarala makes no mention of Naomi's past in Caliban, even as she thinks about the info she has on Holden and runs through all the backstories of his crew. The only thing unusual she knows about Naomi is that she turned down a full-ride scholarship.
Now, this is not to say that Naomi's lack of development is a flaw in the books—in fact, it is a smart choice to keep some of your character's histories vague when writing a series. Thus whenever those characters do become plot relevant you can write what you need of their histories without it contradicting their previous characterizations—but it does add to the re-watchability of the show, and makes the world of The Expanse feel a bit more fleshed out.
Aside from the more substantial backstory, the show does not so much change her as give her more space to be a real character. In the first two books, the only conflicts she has revolves around her relationship with Holden, and in Abaddon's Gate her only substantial story beat is deciding to forgive Clarissa for attacking her. The show gives her a lot more to do: dealing with the suspicious about her past with the OPA; keeping a protomolecule sample a secret from Holden and everyone else and the fallout when she gives it to Fred Johnson; trying to rejoin the OPA in Abaddon and then realizing she wants to be back on the Rocinante ("It took me being away to understand that you're my family"), etc. She is much more active in the show, and is frequently in conflict with the other members of the Rocinante's crew.
Book Naomi serves mainly as the voice of reason to Holdon's emotional impulsiveness. In Leviathan she says to him, "You're in charge now. Act like it," and explains that "It's the XO's job to tell the Captain when they're being an idiot. You're being an idiot" when he declares he wants to chase down the ship that killed his crew. She is the only one to converse with Holden on any real emotional level in the first book, and acts as his conscious, making her a parallel to Julie Mao as Miller's voice of reason. In Caliban she talks Holden down from thinking that Fred is behind the attack on Ganymede ("You owe him better") and breaks up with him because she does not like the person he is turning into ("This guy who grabs a gun first and talks later... you didn't used to be him.") Her characterization is somewhat muddled, however, when she endorses Holden's execution of Nguyen. "That bastard deserved to die," she says. We lack any insight to understand why she is suddenly okay with this, especially since later, after learning Ashford has killed her friend Sam, Naomi reacts only "with sorrow, not with anger" and seems otherwise uninterested in vengeance.
One thing that is consistent throughout the first three books is her appearance. Holden thinks that "every morning he'd woken up with someone else had been a lost opportunity," and remarks often on her attractive features. In Caliban she is described as having "features [that were] a striking mix of Asian, South American, and African that was unusual even in the melting pot of the Belt." In Leviathan Miller comments that she is "pretty. Love the eyes," Amos states that "if she was throwing herself at me like that, I would be beck-deep in that shit," and later in Adabbon the character of Bull thinks that "she had a good smile. Too young for him, but ten years ago he'd have been asking her if he could make her dinner around now." This is after Bull has fired upon her ship and is negotiating for her surrender. Her hair is also uniquely long, and she has seemingly supernatural control over it in low gravity ("How the fuck do you keep your hair like that?" Avasarla asks. "I look like a hedgehog's been humping my skull.") This focus on her beauty does objectify her, especially since her character is otherwise underdeveloped. It does not help that the women in Leviathan (Julie, Naomi) function less as whole characters and more as the emotional centers/consciences of the men we follow. In the show they are much more complete and the narrative does not go out of its way to emphasize Naomi's beauty. Even Julie, in her flashback, gets more direct characterization instead of being just a projection of Miller's desperation.
Besides Holden, Amos has the most substantial background history of any of the main crew in the first three books. We learn that he grew up in the criminal underground of Baltimore, and that his experiences there warped his worldview. In the books he states "my moral compass, it's fucked," but the show it goes a bit further than different priorities. Show Amos is almost a sociopath. He seems to have no empathy, and states at one point that "I haven't felt fear since I was five years old... you don't [want that.]" His struggle with understanding other people and trying to formulate his own morality is one of the shows most compelling sub-plots.
While writing this I stumbled across this interview with his actor. It's a great read, and highlights many of the differences between book and show Amos. Book Amos is described as "the kind to get into bar fights because he enjoyed them," while Chatham's interpretation only fights out of necessity, and always fights to kill. Book Amos experiences the full range of human emotion (In Leviathan he is shocked by the Canterbury's destruction, visibly affected by Shed's death, visibly relieved that Earth and Mars haven't destroyed either planet when they go to war, and whoops with excitement during battle; in Caliban he states that he is "scared shitless" when confronting the hybrid monster, cares for an injured man he had just met on Ganymede stating "we ain't leaving this guy behind," and gets chocked up when he talks about his childhood in Baltimore). Show Amos, by contrast, struggles to feel his own emotions let alone empathize with other people. In the show's second episode he tells Holden that "ask me whether or not I should rip your helmet off and kick you off this bucket, and I can't give you a reason why I should or shouldn't. Except Naomi wouldn't like it." A moment later he asks, "Can you pass me the drill?" as if he had been talking about the weather.
Despite this Amos is not portrayed as a monster, but as a man clearly struggling with his disconnect from humanity. He uses other people as his moral guides, first Naomi then later Holden, and has a strong desire to protect people he sees as 'good' or who are themselves moral people. He has a soft spot for children, not wanting anyone else to grow up to be like himself. In both book and show becomes close to Prax because of this, and is equally invested in their search for Mei. In the show he describes the botanist as "my best friend in the whole world." When he befriends Anna, it is because because of a misunderstanding. Anna describes herself as someone who "see[s] what needs to be done and then do[es] it," meaning charity and sacrifice. Amos replies "[Me] too," meaning violence and survival. After struggling to understand each other, Anna expresses her desire to seek empathy and unity: "We have to find a way to understand each other, to explain why we made the choices that we did. It is the only way we can let go of the hate." We can see on Amos's face that, although he does not quite understand why she wants this, he is moved by her words. "I'm not going to let anyone hurt you," he says.
This brings up another point. Despite lacking empathy, show Amos is the one who is the most protective of others. On Ganymede he takes a bullet for Prax, and later immediately grabs a grenade tossed at the group; he makes sure local prostitutes are treated right by the bars he attends, and even tries to help Alex look good by beating up a man confronting the pilot. He does not hesitate or question these actions. He thinks they are right, so he does them.
Book Amos gets many of the same story beats, including his friendships with Prax and Anna, but his character is left mostly unexplored until Nemesis Games. His most defining feature in Leviathan is how crude he is; he curses a lot instead of getting a personality. In Caliban Holden wonders "what sort of life Amos had been leading prior to his signing up for a tour on the Canterbury," and his criminal past is later expanded upon. He comes off as a brute with few morals, but he very clearly does have his own morality. It is not until he interacts with Clarissa at very end of Abaddon's Gate that we get a real sense that something might be fundamentally different with his mentality.
Nemesis Games serves as a sort of reset for book Amos. It seems that, in helping produce the show, the writers took inspiration from Wes Chatham's performance. Part of the joy I found in early episodes was how completely Chatham captures the disposition and quirks of the Amos from later books. Learning that the writers are actually copying his portrayal was a nice surprise, and it speaks to his passion and investment in that role.
Alex Kamal (Cas Anvar) is the pilot of the Rocinante. There is little substance to this character in the first three books, but I still have a few points of comparison.
In Leviathan Wakes, Alex's history with the martian military is used to inform Holden about the Donnager's capabilities and give some occasional insight into other military matters. He does not express the patriotism he has in the show, and in fact it is Alex who implies that Mars might be behind the attack on the Canterbury. In the show he defends his home planet repeatedly, and his pride as a martian is one of his central characteristics. He and Bobbie becomes friends because of this shared connection. His book incarnation has roughly the same moral compass as Holden, and seems to get along with everybody easily. In the show he and Amos regularly butts heads, as he cannot seems to grasp the mechanic's amorality.
In Caliban's War he sits out the first quarter of the book, and his first speaking line is on page 236. He states that he likes flying "Cuz it's fun," and the only substantial opinions he voices are concerns over Naomi leading Holden, fear the stability of their makeshift family. However, even these comments do not reveal much more about him: we already know he likes flying with Holden and co. and when he points out that Holden is to blame for the instability of the crew it is only confirmation of what Holden himself has already thought. When the hybrid is aboard their ship Alex obeys Holden's order to prepare the ship to be scuttled with little contest. In the show, though he still obeys Holden's orders to peruse to monster, he tries repeatedly to talk Holden down ("How far are we going to take this Jim?") and is clearly disappointed with Holden's obsession.
In Abaddon's Gate, he, along with Naomi and Amos, are nervous about getting interviewed by Monica. "I was on the Canterbury for a reason, Jim," he states. "I don't need someone digging up my skeletons to air them out." In the show he does not have these reservation, and his somewhat friendly demeanor becomes a desire to be the center of attention. He and Amos are unsettled by Holden's sudden mania upon Miller's manifestation, and he and Bobbie's history allow for a cease-fire during the final battle aboard the Behemoth. In the book he gets exactly three (3) story beats in addition to the one above. The first is when he makes fun of Holden for being so self-absorbed ("Naomi only got beat half to death. She can cut this Clarissa slack, it's no big deal. But the captain's girlfriend got hurt. He's the real victim here"), the second is when he mourns the death of his (book only) crush Sam Rosenburg, and the third is when he leaves the Behemoth to go power down the Rocinante. He then sits out the final battle and we don't see him again until the very last chapter.
Again, there's nothing wrong with flat characters, but I do think it's kinda funny how little characterization Alex gets in the books compared to his show counterpart. He often functions as comic relief in a 'lame uncle' sort of way—he teaches himself magic tricks; talks to his ship like a person; likes to impress ladies with war stories—but all of this humanizes him. He later struggles with not being able to save everyone during the Protogen raid, and his relationships with the rest of the crew are as rocky as any of the other characters. All this makes him one of the most well-rounded and likeable characters in the show. In the books he is just 'the pilot.'
More like DEAD, am I right fellas?
In the first episode, we are introduced to Miller as he patrols the streets of Ceres. He buys a drink while apathetically monitoring a man giving an impassioned speech against the inner planets' colonialism. He then walks off to interview a witness to a murder, taking a few sips from the drink in her room as well. He goes to a bar for lunch, where he arrests a man for talking rudely to him, citing the man's OPA tattoos. Then Miller takes a bribe while taking a subway back to the police station, and the first thing he does after walking in is slam a suspect into a table for being uncooperative—a suspect unrelated to any cases he was involved with.
"Any laws against beating up suspects?" his new partner, Havelock, asks.
"Now laws on Ceres," he replies. "Only cops."
In the book, he still thinks along the same lines ("Ceres didn't have laws. It had police."). He trades favors with a local bar-owner, and believes that a certain amount of racketeering from local gangs is inevitable, even acceptable. The "grey economics" of civilization. He thinks that his job "isn't to stop people from bending the rules, it's to keep Ceres stable." This flippant attitude toward the law and justice makes him a good foil for Holden in both incarnations, but book Miller is not as blatantly corrupt, and is far less abusive with his power. Show Miller regularly uses extra-judicial violence to enforce his will: roughing up Diogo when he finds him stealing water, throwing a landlord into an airlock to make sure he stops cutting corners on apartment air filters, and then handcuffing an innocent man in his own ship to get information on Julie Mao—a case which he has by then been told to drop.
Miller in the books is equally comfortable with violence. He argues at one point that "some people need to die." He recalls that he had killed two people during his time as a cop, and at one point orders snipers to fire on a man leading a riot, leaving him crippled. But this instance is much less personal; he does it in tandem with other police officers and while acting on the orders of his boss, Shaddid. This endorsement of his violence does not make him look like a loose cannon. In fact, the result of his order is the deescalating of a the riot that has already killed one person. This scene makes Miller look competent and in control.
This brings us to another key difference: book Miller is, despite what the narrative states, a fairly good detective.
When we first meet Miller, he interviews a murder witness just as he does in the show. However, instead of scampering off to take a bribe, he immediately uses the information she gives him to deduce that something fishy is going on with the gangs on Ceres. When he tries to track down Holden, he figures out that the Rocinante must have faked their flight plan simply though his passive knowledge of the Belt's economy. He even talks down a rioting mob, while in the show the best he can do is let it play out and get a few innocents out of the way. Show Miller puts together that Julie and the Scopuli are connected, but the best explanation he can offer for what is happening is "something... something worth spilling a lot of blood over."
Part of this increased competence comes from the book's framing. The world of The Expanse is new and mysterious to us, the reader, so when we see his knowledge and experience we are impressed and intrigued. We piece together the answers to the book's mysteries in tandem, and having that mutual 'ah-ha' moment makes Miller seem as brilliant as we feel. When his hunches are borne out by the book's narrative it adds to the impression of competence. Most of the things he deduces are shown to be correct, undercutting the fact that he is supposed to be washed-up and incompetent. He's no Sherlock, but even Shaddid is much more sympathetic to him in the books. When Miller steps over the line and keeps perusing the Julie Mao case, she is forced to fire him. "You're not a bad person at heart," Shaddid tells him, expressing sorrow. After killing Dresden, he starts doubting his own humanity, thinking of himself as no better than the gangsters he worked to stop. Show Miller is still not bad at heart, but he has substantially more filth clogging his arteries.When Shaddid fires him he storms out of her office, cursing her, and by that time is no longer on speaking terms with Havelock. He is visibly miserable after finding Julie dead and killing Dresden, but we are still removed from his inner turmoil, so it seems mostly centered on Julie rather than regretting his choices.
All this might have made him detestable to watch, but Miller is one of my favorite characters in the show, in no small part thanks to his actor, Thomas Jane. He comes off as washed up and pathetic right from the start in both his body language and intonation. Whether its comforting a victim or taking a bribe, he only seems to be giving half-effort, acting like he always wants to be somewhere else. In the books we are told that he is past his prime, but in the show we feel it. Muss and Havelock, are constantly exasperated or frustrated with his behavior, and he is abrasive and apathetic to those around him.
We do finally see his good heart when he comforts Muss, a fellow officer, after she is forced to shoot two people, and his relationship with Julie is all about dredging up the good qualities he must once have had. Miller, like all good noir detectives, falls in love with the woman he is trying to save. Unlike most, he never actually meets Julie while she is alive. His love is based on the character he builds in his mind as he is investigating her disappearance.
The first time I read Leviathan, his love for Julie came out of left field, even to him. "You're in love with her," one character tells him. "Oh yeah, I guess I am," he replies. I felt that the show did a much better job at showing the progress of his investigation from a simple curiosity to obsessive affection. He stops drinking, and starts to get his act together, at least as far as Julie is concerned. Muss walks in on Miller in one episode, wondering why he is absent from work. She finds him still investigating the Julie case.
"Oh," she says. "I'll leave you to it."
"Yeah that's it, you got me." His reply comes off almost like he's been caught cheating on her. At this point he has also abandoned his partner Havelock, who was attacked and nearly killed the episode prior. We never need anyone to tell us he has fallen in love with her, we see it how his priorities have shifted and in the subtext of why he keeps carrying out the investigation.
However, there is more substantial development in Leviathan Wakes than I first recalled. In the beginning Miller often imagines talking to his ex-wife when working through his life's problems. While investigating Julie his wife disappears, and the phantom he talks to becomes the missing girl. This replacement symbolizes how important Julie has become in his life, and happens before his moment of revelation. After he finds out she is dead, his vision becomes a personification of his suicidal thoughts. "You belong with me," Julie repeats throughout the latter half of the book.
Toward the end, he has visions of Holden, Havelock, and Muss before finding Julie reborn as part of Eros, indicating that his Julie was a delusion all along. However, both book and show reward him with a Julie who fits fairly well with the character profile he had built of her. This, again, shows that he is a good detective.
Returning to the earlier point, once Miller is fired he becomes absolutely obsessed with finding Julie. But, again, this obsession is cranked up in the show. In both cases, Miller and Holden meet on Eros after a firefight, but book Miller is notably more put together. He analyzes the aftermath, deducing that it was a hasty set-up, and then introduces himself to Holden and his crew. He's even fairly talkative after he learns Julie Mao is nearby. In the show he already knows Julie is in the hotel, and barely seems to register the bloodshed he has stumbled into. He threatens Holden when the man starts to ask for answers, and kicks down the door to Julie's room without bothering to warn the others (in the books Miller tries to be cautious, and is frustrated when Holden simply knocks on the door).
Once Miller dies on Venus he vanishes from the show for a while. In the books his death is used for politics: Fred frames him as a heroic belter who gave his life to save Earth in an effort to reconcile with the inner planets. As discussed above, Miller haunts Holden metaphorically in Caliban and literally in Abaddon's Gate. Show Miller gets maybe a few mentions in Caliban, but he is essential forgotten until his return as the Investigator. There is a nice parallel between Miller's habit of talking to imaginary people and then himself manifesting only to Holden that is downplayed in the show. The Investigator is a tool of the protomolecule, and serves as a source of frustration and tension for Holden, but as it is only an imprint of Miller it does not function as a true character. In the show Holden refuses to cooperate until more of the 'real' Miller emerges, but book Investigaor has more of Miller's older persona on display from the start. However, there is one key difference between the two renditions: Miller's hat.
"What's with the hat?" show Holden asks the first time he sees the Investigator.
"Keeps the rain off my head," the ghost of Miller answers.
This exchange is almost identical to an exchange Miller has with Havelock in episode one. What it means, of course, is up to interpretation, but one possibility is that the hat represents Miller's detachment from the world. His corruption stems from an apathy toward everyone and everything around him. By keeping 'the rain' off his head, he thinks he is shielding himself from trouble. As he becomes more obsessed with Julie Mao, we see him pouring over facts in his apartment while not wearing it. When Anderson Dawes and his thugs beat him up for information, he uses his hat to hide critical information about Julie's whereabouts. It is a shield, protecting the one thing he values; the one person he has let in. When he leaves for Eros he leaves his hat behind, taking a necklace from Julie's apartment instead. Julie Mao has broken down the barriers he put up between himself and the world—he has replaced apathy with obsession.
The book lacks this symbolism. Miller keeps his hat until the moment of his death, so when he reapers as the Investigator, the exchange above does not occur. In the show, this parallel with Havelock shows us that the Investigator is not the Miller we saw at the end of Leviathan. His hat is back. The Miller that the protomolecule has recreated is the man he was before he fell in love with Julie, when he was still a detective. This choice tells us something about the protomolecule's intentions (or programming): it does not care about Holden or the rest of humanity. It just wants to do its job and keep the rain off its head.
As a character, Havelock is often used as an audience surrogate. In the show we get a physical tour of Ceres as Havelock follows Miller on their rounds, setting up locations that will be used in future episodes (the plaza, the brothel, the bar, the tram/subway system, and the police station). In both book and show Miller often explains things about belter culture and language to him, and thus the writers inform the audience about the world of The Expanse.
In the books, Havelock leaves Ceres for a better job with Protogen (though not involved in anything to do with Eros) after failing to get the recognition he thinks he deserves. It is this connection that allows Miller and co. to piece together a few mysteries and take down Protogen later on. In the show, Havelock is attacked and winds up in the hospital. Miller ignores him in favor of Julie, and when he finally does check in Havelock is angry with him. He tells Miller off, and then is never seen again. It feels somewhat like a dropped plot line (especially since Havelock reapers in a later book), but it adds to Miller's growing isolation.
In either case, it is ultimately his identity as an earther that does him in. Shaddid's prejudice against him means his efforts in the book are in vain, and when he is attacked by thugs in the show he is mocked for trying to greet them in their own language. His character highlights the racial tensions between belters and inners, and gives a sympathetic face to the victims of its violence.
Juliette Andromeda Mao
Book Julie is defined primarily by her victimhood, and here is the first real problematic element of the text. As Miller investigates Julie's disappearance, he learns more about her life on Ceres. He discovers that she was taking Jiu Jitsu lessons, and when he asks the dojo's owner why she was taking them he explains that she was attacked. "Raped?" Miller asks. The owner states that he did not ask, but Miller infers that attack was, if not rape, at least as bad.
On its own, this detail doesn't mean much (Ceres is a dangerous place; Miller deals with such crimes often so it is a reasonable assumption), but aside from a hobby of racing ships and her family name we learn little else about her. The need for her fighting skills to be 'explained' by the narrative in this way has its own problems. She was working with what is effectively a terrorist cell, why wouldn't she know/want to learn how to fight? It becomes especailly agredious when later, in Abaddon's Gate, Julie's sister Clarissa recalls that "from the time she'd been old enough to walk, she'd been trained in self defense" because their father was worried about kidnappers. Certainly Julie had the same training. A continuation of that training in the form of Jiu Jitsu would make perfect sense.
After Julie has died and merged with Eros, Fred Johnson sends the Nauvoo hurtling toward her. When she dodges the giant phallic symbol—literally the largest and longest ship humanity has ever built, originally intended to spread life onto other planets, and later described as "Fred Johnson's two-kilometer-long OPA overcompensation"—she screams "Don't you fucking touch me!" Adding to the rape symbolism is that Eros station was planned to "crack open like an egg." The phallic attacks the yonic and thus her rape becomes one of her defining features, as present in her mind as her love of her racing ship The Razorback.
(You may argue that I am reaching, or reading to far into it, but that's just how symbolism works and all the above details are present in the text. I cannot say whether or not the authors intended the metaphor to be so strong, but the line "Don't you fucking touch me!" is very loaded in this context. We are meant to identify her because of that line—we are meant to realize it is her before Miller does because we know she was raped and 'reliving' it, in a sense.)
The show, thankfully, has ditched the rape-as-backstory trope in favor of making her a rebel against her father's evil. In the book we learn about what happened to her from a few leftover messages and through the deductions of other characters, but in the show we are given a montage of her journey to Eros after Miller and Holden find her body. In the books her ship was attacked by sheer coincidence ("...she was in the wrong place at the wrong time"), but in the show her OPA gang intended specifically to interfere with her father's plans. What she knew about Protogen exactly is unclear, but she was consciously working against them and Jules Pierre Mao. This gives her character more agency within the plot, rather than simply being a victim.
In either case, she is framed as being somewhat noble for giving up a life of luxury to help the cause of the oppressed belters. In the show she is even made an honorary belter by her comrades. In neither case is it brought up that she might have been able to do more direct good by using the resources of her family available to her.
Miller's Julie (that is, the character profile he builds about her) appears to him instead of his wife once he falls in love with her. She often acts as his conscious and moral center. She parallel's Naomi role in the first book as Holden's voice of reason. But because she is only a manifestation of Miller's mind, she cannot stop him from acting on his worse impulses. "You belong with me," she tells him. He believes he has lost his humanity, and she only reinforces the idea.
A key difference between the two versions is that show Avasarala first appears to be a villain. When she is introduced, we see her getting ready for work, playing with her grandchildren, and then visiting a "U.N. Black Site." There she interrogates an "OPA terrorist" while he is being tortured, taunting him with the fact that is body is being crushed by the Earth's gravity. It's shocking and quite brutal. We realize as the show unfolds that she is not evil, but ruthless. She later expresses sympathy for the man she ordered tortured, saying "I'm afraid for him," and seeming genuine. This is what makes her compelling: the emotional toll of her choices. She is a compassionate person, but is always focused on the bigger picture of protecting Earth. "I worry about people throwing rocks," she says while gazing at the stars with her grandchild.
In one sub-plot, she approaches a long-time friend of hers, Franklin DeGraaf, who is part of the martian government. Avasarala invites him to her house for a visit, and tells him that the OPA has gotten access to stealth technology, implying Mars might be involved somehow. Later she and several other military leaders are briefed about an increased amount of communication traffic between martian military bases. Before anyone can worry about what Mars is doing, Avasarala states that "it wasn't them." She knew Franklin would check in with his people, and the uptick in communication means they are double-checking their stores of stealth material, which means they do not expect it to be gone; thus they are not conspiring with the OPA.
Later, Franklin approaches Avasarala and informs her that he has lost his job for inadvertently creating an intelligence leak, and he knows she manipulated him.
"We may have stopped a war," she argues, not apologizing for what she has done.
He is not swayed. He ends their friendship, saying, "You will do anything to win... I won't play with you ever again."
She is saddened, but never expresses remorse at losing Frank's friendship. In a later episode, during a meeting with Errinwright, she learns Frank has killed himself. "We can finish later," he offers. She refuses, saying,"we can finish now." We see the devastation of his death, and the guilt at potentially causing it, play out on her face. Her actress, Shohreh Aghdashloo, does a fantastic job throughout the series of communicating emotion through her expressions and reactions. She is one of my favorite people to watch on the show, and embodies Avasrala perfectly. The undersecretary is able to manipulate people emotionally because she has such deep understanding and control over her own feelings.
Franklin's sub-plot is one example how the political game has been made more interesting in the show. In the books, Avasarala's political power is almost always either assumed or simply explained in retrospect. When she makes a comment about what the military should do in the book's opening scene, the admirals simply obey without contest, whereas in the show we she her argue, persuade, and manipulate the characters around her to get what she wants—it also helps that those characters have actual character in the show. In the books every other political figure besides Errinwright are barely more than cardboard standees. In the show we spend more time alone with Admirals Nguyen and Souther, so we understand their characters and what motivates them to oppose and align with Avasarala respectively
The political maneuvering in the books are obscured, even from Avasarala's perspective. Errinwright and Nguyen's entire conspiracy with Jules Pierre Mao is explained in the span of one paragraph, and Nguyen's sudden attack against Avasrala's fleet is explained by her realizing that "Errinwright had cut a deal, and now Nguyen knew it." This is not a failure on the part of the books. As I stated earlier, the books focus more on peril and the inner conflict of our characters rather than interpersonal drama. Other politicians are flat characters because that is all they need to be. The author's focus is on immediate action over political nuance.
This becomes a problem, however, when Avasarala's character arc depends on political situations that feel somewhat arbitrary. She starts the book seemingly in control, and exudes confidence in all her actions. When it is revealed that Soren, her personal secretary, is spying on her for someone else, she immediately knows it is Errinwright. We have no reason to doubt her, but also no reason to understand why she could not have guessed this before, or who else could have been in control over Nguyen. This revelation leaves her with no one she can trust besides Bobbie, and she is suddenly powerless, or so she says.
Errinwright sends her on a mission aboard Jules Pierre Mao's luxury cruiser to get her out of the way and further remove her from her power. We are told he fears her: "Errinwright had kept her out of the loop because... she was one of the only people in the solar system who might have been able to stop him." Aboard the ship her messages are monitored, and her communication channels limited. Yet the resolution to this situation is rather simple: Bobbie has brought her marine armor aboard and is effectively invincible. When Avasarala deems that the time is right Bobbie takes over and the undersecretary is free to begin rallying allies to her cause. "She pulled out her address book and started leafing through entries until she found what she wanted and pressed record."
Avarala's character arc is about dealing with a lack of control, but her vulnerability never feels quite real. She refers to her political maneuvering as "the game," but only she seems to know the rules. When Bobbie asks why they can't simply refuse to board Mao's ship, Avasarala tells her that "it doesn't work like that." We empathize with Bobbie's frustration, but on a meta level this is the same as saying 'I need to be there for the plot to happen.' When she loses her game, it is against other players we never see, and when she wins it is because of cards up her sleeves we never know of until the moment they become relevant. This has the effect of her looking invincible at all times aside from when she is in immediate mortal peril. Even Bobbie's rampage through the ship is given more tension in the show. Avasarala is huddled behind a table in a stand off with Mao's security force while her only bodygyard is slowly bleeding out. Meanwhile Bobbie has to sneak her way down into storage to get her power armor. In the books Avasarala is safe in her room with her own security detail, and they have arbitrarily long to prepare and escape.
Avasarala cares about protecting the Earth, but often devalues individuals in favor of the greater good. She is concerned about Venus and the protomolecule's threat to humanity, yet does little to actual help those under her power. She lives in a large house with the "luxury" of a yard, and in the books she refers to those of her citizens on government support as "half-feral." She doesn't voice such disdain in the show, but from what we see the conditions of the average citizen on Earth are worse in the show than the books. At no point does she or anyone else believe these conditions should be change or improved; it's just a fact of life to them.
Soren has much less character than Cotyar. He exists to explain to Bobbie what Avasrala's actions mean politically, and his motivations in betraying her seem only to be ambition. His downfall is pretty stupid: he acts suspicious in front of Bobbie, and then gets tailed to a secret meeting. He tries to turn the tables on Bobbie by falsifying data and presenting it to Avasarala, but she sees through his ruse immediately. This reveal is critical to the entire plot of Caliban's War, but only happens because Soren is a shit spy. It makes everyone involved look foolish.
Sadavir Errinwright (Shawn Doyel) only appears in Caliban's War, and after having his plans foiled is never heard from again. In the show he has a much greater role and appears frequently until his downfall in season three.
I would say he changes dramatically from book to show, but that would require him to have any sort of character to begin with. We never get any insight into his motives, his background, or the details of how he conspired with Jules Pierre Mao and Protogen. He has a few conversations with Avasarala, but they do little to illuminate his character. The most substantial characterization we get is a single paragraph, told to us from Avasarala's perspective:
"Her boss had secretly started a war. He was working with the same corporations that had let the genie out of the bottle on Phoebe, sacrificed Eros, and threatened everything human. He was a frightened little boy in a good suit picking a fight he thought he could win because he was pissing himself over the real threat [Venus]. She smiled at him. Good men and women had already died because of him and Nguyen. Children had died on Ganymede. Belters would be scrambling for calories. Some would starve."In the show he has far more nuance. In his very first scene we get foreshadowing of his secret schemes. "I have a budget, it's already shot to hell," he says. Then only a few moments later: "If Earth can't afford stealth technology how can a bunch of rock hoppers?" We soon learn exactly what he's spending his money on: the protomolecule and Jules Pierre Mao.
When Jules Pierre Mao abandons him to work for the martian defense minister, we see his desperation as he realizes he no longer has any power over the people who matter. He confesses what he has done to Avasarala, looking for forgiveness. When she accepts his apology but refuses to offer amnesty we see him struggle to accept his fate. We get a scene of him shaving where he accidentally cuts himself. He recalls his conversation with Avasarala as we watches the blood flow down his neck: "There's no way to answer for it... atone for your sins." We know what he is thinking.
We see him making preparations for his suicide, even writing a final note, but before he takes the pill that will take his life he hesitates. He hatches a new scheme, poisoning the martian defense minister and making it look like a heart attack. His ambition has overcome his guilt, and he sizes the opportunity to turn the table on both Mao and Avasarala. He sends a message to them both, telling Mao to "Get the fuck back to work," and saying to Avasarala, "You taught me—you drilled it into my head—that Earth must come first. And now you've thrown me to the wolves... and that is the real betrayal here." He refuses to take responsibility for his actions, and we can hear the guilt and anger in his voice, as if he is trying to convince himself of his own rational. His "Earth first" philosophy is a twisted version of Avasarala's own outlook. He has taken on her priorities, but not her compassion.
In the book, we get a similar moment where Avasarala tries to appeal to Errinwright's better nature, and then he betrays it, but because we know so little about him beyond his role as a villain it only serves to undermine Avasarala's competence. Of course the faceless evil politician doesn't have a change of heart, we think, what else was she expecting? The betrayal of her faith in him means almost nothing because we do not see her accept his confession or watch him struggle with his demons as he does in the show.
Esteban Sorrento-Gillis (Johnathan Whittaker), the secretary-general of Earth, it's most powerful military position, and he is given a similar treatment to that of Errinwright's character. In Caliban's War he appears in all of three scenes, and is only mentioned in passing in Abaddon's Gate. He get basically no character outside of being called a "bobble-head" by Avasarala and his function as a political figure who wants to be re-elected.
In the show, he and Anna are both introduced much earlier. He is still somewhat of a "bobble-head" (we seem him being manipulated alternatively by Errinwright, Avasarala, and then Anna with little resistance or awareness), but we get information of his past and see his ambition. Book Avasarala sends him a message at the end of Caliban begging him to be on the "right side of history," but in the show we actually see that he cares about that. We see him struggle to grasp what "the right side" is in most of his discussions with Anna. "So you know precisely how many lives a leader must sacrifice, and still be a good man?" he asks.
"Yes," she replies. "As few as possible."
His subsequent failure to learn this lesson or any others from Anna shows that his ambition has outstripped his capacity for self-reflection.
In the books, we do not get much insight into her character before the attack on Ganymede. Her story is about recovering from the attack, dealing with her PTSD, and seeking revenge against the monster who killed her squad mates. She does not grow that much as a character so much as she learns how to fight the monster and picks up a few political tips from Avasarala.
In the show, we meet her long before she is deployed on Ganymede. She is the commander of her squadron (her rank is "Gunnery Sergent"), and we see her train and interact with the other members quite a bit before they are slaughtered. One of them, Travis, has parents who immigrated from Earth, and as a result is subject to mockery form his fellow marines. This mockery of Travis is based on anti-Earth prejudice that is rampant throughout the military. One of Bobbie's functions in the show is to display the jingoism of the martian military. She is our first real glimpse of it, and it only gets reinforced as more martians open their mouths. Another of her squad declares that "Earth won't even be a real fight," describing its citizens as "30 billion lumps of shit watching vid screens, stuffing their faces full of free drugs all day."
Although she tells her squad to "keep it business," Bobbie herself is not above the culture she has been raised in. She comments to a superior officer that "There isn't a team on this ship that doesn't want payback for the [Donnager]," believing that Earth is behind it. Her commander states that "Our job... is to make sure... war never happens," but his words do not sway her. At the end of the episode she states her own outlook: "Maybe we can't have the dream of Mars until we have that war."
This division between officers and foot soldiers is repeated throughout the series. For the most part, every martian private or marine we meet shares Bobbie's initial outlook. They are hostile to anyone not explicitly on Mars' side, and see no room for nuance in the confrontations they find themselves in. Its officers are much more reasonable. This may partly come from their experience, but knowing what happens to Mars in Babylon's Ashes and later installments makes me think that this divide is intentional in the meta-narrative
When Bobbie prepares to lead her marines into a fight, she hypes them up with the following speech:
BOBBIE: "Who's gunna feast on Earth's sky and drink their rivers dry?"This blood lust is completely absent from the Bobbie (and Mars) of the books. At start of Caliban she thinks "there hadn't been sides," and is rueful that Earth and Mars have become divided. She also humanizes the U.N. marines patrolling opposite her on Ganymede. Her squad nick-names one of them "snoopy" and she never refers to them as "blues" as she does in the show. She expresses sympathy for them, and even praises their effort when recalling the fight against the monster:"It wasn't even our fight, and we fought to the last marine to stop that thing. You think the UN Marines would do less?"
BOBBIE: "Who's going to stomp their mountains into fine martians dust?
BOBBIE: "Until the rains fall hard on Olympus Mons, who are we?"
MARINES: "MMC!" (Martian Marine Core)
When she is brought to Earth to testify, she does express some bias ("On Mars, it was generally accepted fact that... Earthers lived only for their next government payout and their next visit to the drugstore") but this sentiment is undercut as soon as it is brought up ("suddenly Bobbie wasn't so sure"). Her prejudice doesn't seem to exist outside of those few lines. Book Mars exists as a military first, a plot device second, and a culture dead last.
Book Bobbie remembers her squad mates as "my closest friends" but we never see her think about them in any further detail, or even as individual names. In the show, Mars' treatment of Travis as a scapegoat for the battle on Ganymede is part of what motivates her to start questioning her superiors. When she uncovers that part of the martian government is behind the monster on Ganymede (and thus the death of her squad) she assaults a superior officer and flees to the U.N. embassy where she receives asylum. In the books, where Errinwright is behind Ganymede and Mars is (seemingly) still unified, Avasarala simply hires her and she accepts with little fanfare (though she does fret about possibly being a traitor).
Her motivation in Calbian Wake's is simply revenge. She states that "I'm going to find out who [created the monster]. And I'm going to kill them" and later believes that "all that mattered was finding out who'd put that thing on Ganymede." Most of her struggle in the book is with simply functioning. She is numb to events, spacing out often and actively avoids thinking about the past. She feels the cannot connect to those around her ("Civvies didn't get it. No one did.") and pushes away the help she is offered. However, it is hard to tell what is a symptom of her PTSD and what is mean to be her natural stoicism when we are not in her head. Because we fist meet her when the battle breaks out an Ganymede, we do not get a good sense of who she was before the trauma affected her.
In the show we understand the change immediately. She is visibly shaken, and panics whenever she is asked to recall what happened during the battle. Her single-minded blood lust is gone, replaced by anxiety and self doubt. When she is interviewed by Avasarala during the the peace talks, it is an emotionally harrowing experience; in the books she is bored. This personality change is amplified by the fact that we never actually see the attack. The books give us a play-by-play, and her suit's recording is made available to both Mars and Earth. In the show we only see the aftermath, and are left to wonder how truthful she is being in her recollections. In the show, shortly after meeting up with Holden, Bobbie tells a fellow soldier that "You want to fight the enemy... but I learned a while back that the hardest part of this game is figuring out who the enemy really is." Already her values have shifted and she has become more level-headed.
In both book and show she deals with her PTSD by training and repairing her suit—putting her life back together—but the resolution to her monster hunt is different in both. In the book she forces herself to re-watch her suit's recording of the battle. She studies the monster's movements, and figures out that it has a few weaknesses. She is no longer avoiding facing the loss of her friends, and becomes more powerful as a result. She makes a battle-plan, executes it, and conquers her foe.
In the show we get a more subtle story beat. When Holden and co. invade the base on Io, Bobbie breaks off from them to fight the protomolecule monster. They duke it out, and end up falling a great distance. This disables her power armor's mechanical functions, and she appears helpless as it lumbers over to her and begins clawing at her suit. She forces her arm to move upward, working against the suit's strength, and manages to shoot it in the head, killing it. This parallels one of her first scenes: she is shown arm-wrestling an empty suit of marine armor, struggling against it until it's motors overheat and she forces it down. By repeating this accomplishment to defeat the monster, we see that she has re-gained the strength and confidence it originally took from her.
It is also worth mentioning that the show has removed another sexual assault metaphor from this scene in the book. When the monster has her pinned down it grows a proboscis to try and find a gap in Bobbie's suit. Bobbie describes the moment as "like being threatened by a serial killer that was also fumbling at her clothing with a teenager's horny insistence." The imagery doesn't really add anything to the text, and in the context of how other women such as Naomi, Julie, and Prax's wife are written, as well as how Holden (the audience/author surroget) fethishizes her Polynesian anscestry ("[Bobbie] was like one of those cute little beach bunnies that someone had used editing software on and blown up to 150 percent normal size") it is gross and gratuitous.
Show Bobbie has a short arc during Abaddon. She is working for Mars again, happy that they have accepted her back. She gives the martians sent after Holden a sympathetic face, and later feels conflicting loyalty as she winds up on the opposite side of a firefight with Amos and Alex. Upon realizing who they are fighting they stop and begin to talk things out. But Bobbie's new squad mates force her hand and she ends up fighting against her own people. Her levelheadedness is a contrast to the other marines, demonstrating how single-minded they are and how fragile their identity makes their unity, foreshadowing future arcs.
The last shot we get is of her strapping in next to Alex aboard the Rocinante. She has defected completely, no longer loyal to any government.
Martens (Peter Outerbridge) is a minor character in the show composed of two minor characters from the books. Martens, an honest chaplain who tries to help Bobbie with her PTSD, and Thorsson, an uncaring and bureaucratic officer. They serve the same function as their show counterpart: they oversee Bobbie after she is taken to testify on Earth and act as something of a therapist, but show Martens is revealed to be complicit in a martian conspiracy that created the monster unleashed on Ganymede. He is a deceptive officer who is also a chaplain, and breaks Bobbie's faith in the martian military after he reveals that her squad was sacrificed to field-test the monster.
In the show, he is angry that Bobbie was unable to stick to her lie that Travis fired first and started the conflict on Ganymede. In the book Thorsson gets angry at her for speaking up during the peace talks, but serves no other purpose beyond informing her that she is just a political tool. This also causes some amount of disillusion for book Bobbie, but does not give us too much insight into book Mars' politics.
The books give him a bit more of a backstory. He became a botanist because he wanted to grow marijuana. He feels disconnected from his fellow belters because of his relative privilege ("He'd grown up with tutors...if the [belter] boy had wanted to speak past him [using belter creole], it would have been effortless."). And he interacts with his ex-wife once or twice as he searches for Mei. This gives us more of a perspective on who he was before things went south on Ganymede. In the show we meet him after he is already a refugee, and he does not mention too much about his past to other characters.
Prax, much like Bobbie, struggles with a desire for revenge. He knows Dr. Strickland has kidnapped his daughter, and is willing to do anything to get her back. In the books he attacks a former friend, Baisa, for giving up on the search for his own child, Kotoa, who was also taken by Strickland. When he joins up with Holden and finds Strickland's lab on Ganymede he starts a firefight, demanding to know where Mei is. He is willing to use violence for Mei's sake, and seems to care about little else beyond this quest. However, when he finally infiltrates Strickland's Io base with Amos he does not kill the man.. "I don't need to kill you," he says after finding Mei alive. "I have my daughter back. Revenge isn't important to me."
The same arc happens in the show, but it is more explicitly tied into his friendship with Amos. In both interpretations, the two bond over his desire to find Mei. Amos has a soft spot for children, and wants Prax to see his daughter again. Amos shows Prax how to use a gun, and in the show he takes a bullet for him. When show Prax points his gun at Strickland, Amos makes him lower it. "You're not that guy," he states. He wants Prax to be a good person for Mei's sake.
Another source of turmoil is Prax's struggle to accept that Mei may be dead. In the book this struggle is mostly internal. He mediates, telling himself repeatedly, "Mei is dead... you lost her." He is trying to accept the possibility, acknowledging that it is a likely outcome. In the show this struggle to accept that she my be dead manifests in how he regards the protomolecule monster that boards Holden's ship. Our characters have already figured out that Strickland created it using children with Mei's genetic defect, and so there is a very real possibility that the monster before them could have once been Mei. Prax argues with Holden over this point, who only wants to kill it. "That is not your kid!" he screams at Prax when the botonist tries to stop him from shooting it.
In both cases, it is Prax who comes up with the plan to lure the monster outside of the ship with a source of radiation, but in the show when he throws the bait out into the void it has meaning. He looks the monster in the face and accepts that, even if it once was Mei, she is gone now. He puts an end to the beast, accepting that it must die.
His initial relationship with Holden is much more hostile in the show. Holden seeks him out (instead of encountering him on accident) believing he might be conspiring with Dr. Strickland. When he travels back to Ganymede with Holden he is confined to quarters, while in the book he is welcomed aboard on equal terms. Holden only uses him to pursue the protmolecule and (as discussed in Holden's section) does not care about Mei in the beginning. In the book his sympathy for Mei is the reason for him helping Prax at all.
Prax's ex-wife, Nicola, is also worth mentioning. In the book Prax reaches out to her, telling her about Mei's situation and asking for money. She sends him what she can spare. Later, she seems to have a change of heart and publishes a broadcast denouncing Prax, claiming that he abused her and Mei and is still doing so. He returns the money Nicola sent him. Avasarala reaveals this to be another ploy of Errinwright's in order to de-legitamive Prax and Holden. She makes another broadcast claiming that Nicola is a "tragic figure" and "mentally ill." When Prax views this framing his only comment is "worked for me." There is never any reconciliation or follow-up after Avasarala's statement. At no point does any of the cast seems sympathetic to this otherwise innocent woman being used as a political pawn. We have no idea if she was bribed or coerced, and no idea how Avasarala's responce effects her life. She gets thrown under the bus by all parties, including the narravie; a tragic figure the narrative seems to hold in contempt.
Prax's daughter Mei (Leah Jung) only appears in the prologue and very last chapters of Caliban's War, but is present in most episodes of the Caliban arc. Seeing her leaves her fate unambiguous, and takes away some of the tension from Prax's story (or maybe not; I knew she would be okay from reading the books), but it helps differentiate her story from Julie's in the first arc. Prax and Miller sharing the same quest to find a missing girl makes the second book a bit repetitive.
This change also gives us more insight into the characters of Dr. Strickland and Jules Pierre Mao and their different brands of inhumanity. Mao wavers, believing his project a failure, but Strickland convinces him to push onward. When Kotoa (who is simply found dead in the book) starts to transform into a protomolecule hybrid, Mao becomes interested in his mental link to the protomolecule on Venus and how it is apparently learning.
When we see Mei in the book's opening, we know immediately that there is a connection between her and the monster, as Strickland shows her one they have already created. Bobbie's first chapter also describes the hybrid's hands as "like a childhood nightmare version of hands," foreshadowing the method of its creation. The show holds off on making this connection explicit for a bit longer (we get only a glimpse of the monster from Bobbie's perspective), and shows us how Kotoa slowly transforms from child to hybrid.
Frederick Lucius Johnson:
His biggest change from book to show is his concern for law. Show Fred uses and endorses power through violence regularly, while book Fred is known as a peace maker and is concerned about the Belt from a humanitarian angle. In the book he is already a recognized leader. He runs courts and believes the war in Leviathan can be stopped by bringing Protogen to trial using Holden's testimony. He also believes this will bring him closer to being recognized by the inner planets. Show Fred seems to lack a formal legal system, and does not seek legitemacy through judicial means. "We have their nukes, and that is our ticket to the table," he states in the show. When an OPA extremist threatens him in front of other OPA gang leaders, he attacks the man and throws him out an airlock. Later, after surviving a coup, his second in command Camina Drummer executes the rebels without saying a word. Fred never brings it up again. Though he still uses violence in the book (he commands the attack on Protogen) it is militaristic instead of simply personal.
Fred's nickname, "The Butcher of Anderson Station," was given to him when he slaughtered a station full of defenseless civilian protestors during his time in the U.N. military. Disgusted by what he has done, he resigns and then dedicates himself to working for the Belt and its people. In the book Holden recalls this history after Fred first reaches out to them, while the show gives us a direct look. In the episode where we are introduced to Fred, we alternate between past and present as we learn his story (the show uses the same technique later to sho us the development of the Epstein Drive, a story given in Leviathan Wake's first paragraph).
His relationship with Holden's crew has shifted slightly. Initially they are friendly in the books, and it is not until Caliban's War that they have a falling out. This still occurs in the show, but their relationship is a lot less trusting to begin with. Fred steals a data cube without telling Holden, and later gets the protomolecule sample from Naomi only because she believed she was about to die. In the books Holden gives him these, and is in general much more trusting of Fred.
Aside from that, his actual character has not changed much. He is militaristic, and his primary drive is to be seen as legitimate. He is seen as a traitor by Earth and an outsider by the Belt, and wants to shake those impressions. He also keeps his fear of public speaking ("Public speaking still made him nervous as hell," in the books; vs. a scene of him rehearsing before making a speech in the show).
In the show he still opposes Miller, but he is no longer an OPA "liaison." It is very clear from how he is framed in his introduction that he is in charge on Ceres. He takes people prisoner, has subordinates do his dirty work for him, and he later begins to organize his own military. We see him oppose Fred throughout the events of Caliban, and he emerges victorious, capturing the Protogen scientist. Although they both call themselves OPA, the two leaders have very different ideologies. Fred, as an earther, wants the OPA to become a government modeled after Earth—monolithic, hierarchical. Dawes opposes this, asking the other tribe leaders, "is it too much an earther's dream?" His vision for the OPA seems to be vaguely anarcho-communistic ("The more [we] share, the more [our] bowl will be plentiful"), but for all practical purposes his actions and words work to position him as the strongman in whatever form 'the OPA' takes in a given moment.
There is a lot more to say about him (his backstory with his sister, his philosophy and ambition, how he is friends with Miller and Fred only so long as they are useful to his cause), but the Dawes of the first book play such a small role that there are few points of contrast. By Nemesis Games the Dawes of the books and show become one, but only in the show is there ever actually any substantial characterization before that.
In the book, Ashford, Bull, Sam, and Michio are all major players in the power struggle aboard the Behemoth. In the show, it is only Ashford and Camina, as those other characters do not exist. Camina gets many of Bulls plot beats, but her story is fundamentally different. Camina is the Behemoth's captain, while Bull is only third in command. Ashford is captain in the books, and Bull's struggle is more about coping with powerlessness and working around the obstacles set before him. He knows what needs to be done and sees Ashford making all the wrong decisions, but does not have the authority to stop him. Camina's struggle is with identity. She does not like what the OPA is becoming, and sees Ashford as a symbol of that future.
When Camina first welcomes Ashford as her second-in-command onto the Behemoth, she notes the uniforms the former pirate and his crew are wearing. "They're growing on me," he tells her. Camina makes very clear that she does not like the idea of becoming a formal military, saying "I sacrificed too much of my life to adopt the tradition of my enemy." She thinks that by becoming a belter "nation," they will "become just like the inners."When Naomi leaves the Behemoth to check up on Holden, Ashford protests, but Camina states that she does not want to keep anyone aboard against their will, and lets her leave. Camina values individualism, while Ashford is more than willing to sacrifice individual liberty and his own identity for the greater good."Symbols endure" he says, defending his choice to adopt a uniform. Better, he states, than her own "clothes of indentured servitude."
We also see her imitate Fred. When she discovers a drug dealer is interfering with her crew's work ability, she has the man dragged to an airlock. Ashford and Naomi talk her out of spacing him, and Ashford states that any future criminals will be tried and sent to prison (again, more conflict between anarchic and military ideology). This is similar to a scene from the book where Bull does space the dealer, but it is also reminiscent of an earlier episode where Fred Johnson spaces a man for threatening him. Camina is imitating Fred's justice but is rebuked by both her friend and her rival, showing that Fred's way of doing things is no longer right. " Michio Pa doesn't do too much in Abaddon's Gate, but knowing her role in Nemesis Games and onward, I believe these details hint at future schism between Fred and Camina, given that their relationship has become rocky since she was introduced.
Both Bull and Camina end up paralyzed from the waist down after the slow zone's speed limit decreases. In the book, this is a continuation of Bull's struggle with powerlessness. Even once he gets a mechanized exoskeleton that allows him to walk he has to control it with his hands. He is repeatedly frustrated by how much this slows him; both physically and in how fast he can communicate and organize with the people still loyal to him. In Camina's case, she is not immediately injured by the slow down. Instead, she and Ashford become stuck on opposite sides of a large vehicle (I think it's farm equipment but I can't recall specifically what it was used for), where no one is around to help them. Camina has access to the controls, but rolling it backward will kill Ashford while forward will further crush her. She decides to sacrifice herself saying, "our situation... going to be multiplied a hundredfold throughout the ship... the ship need a captain." She survives, but this decision signals her acceptance of Ashford's ideology: she makes the decision to cripple herself and give up her power as captain for the sake of the rest of the crew. She chooses the greater good over her own individuality. The show makes this point explicit when Ashford tries to persuade her to stop fighting againt him. "You saved my life because you were willing to die for a greater good!" he says. "I still am," she replies.
She proves this when Ashford sends Diogo to stop her and Holden from shutting down the ship's reactor. The group is being pursued up an elevator shaft, and Diogo has put on a martian marine's power armor, making him effectively invulnerable. Camina takes two grenades and tells the others to go on ahead while she stays behind to blow herself up with Diogo. Bull does the same in the book, and caries through with his sacrafice, but Naomi sends an elevator crashing down into Diogo before he reaches Camina.
Camina's entire arc is a very good illustration of how adaptions can work—instead of introducing a temporary character (Bull) for this arc and then killing him off, the show has given his role to a character that was already established and then uses his journey to develop her further. Her response to her crippling (to build mechanical legs for herself) shows she still despises weekness in herself (she was shot in the coup against Fred, but made a point to exercise despite it re-opening the wound), but when she lets Naomi help her it shows she has learned to accept help from others (whereas before she pushed herself away from Holden after he rescued her and Fred). And Camina does not simply return to the status-quo after adopting Bull's role in Abaddon; she is still crippled, and has learned to let go of power when necessary.
She has also learned to reconcile, or at least be more merciful. After the failed coup against Fred, she did not hesitate to execute the men who were responsible. After the war on the Behemoth ends, she brings a bottle of alcohol and two cups to Ashford as he lays in a med bay. He had brought those same same cups to her when he came aboard in the first episode of Abaddon. He proposed a toast, but she cut him off and took the bottle with her. When she returns it in the final episode, it symbolizes her desire to rebuild their relationship; to move forward together and work towards the future of a unified OPA.
In the book, we are introduced to captain Ashford through Bull's perspective. He describes Ashford as a man who "latched on to whatever seemed like it made him the big man—education, association with Earth, growing up in the Belt," and later Bull states that "Ashford has only ever done a right thing because he's afraid of being embarrassed." This obsession with his image is his main motivation during Abaddon. He follows Holden through the ring because he is embarrassed and wants Holden to answer for the "insult" Clarissa's sabotage created. After the speed limit decreases, Bull believes the captain has lost his mind: "Grief and guilt and embarrassment all together maybe did worse. Maybe it broke people." After agreeing to mutiny against him, Michio Pa admits that she knows he has been "drinking too much... he's slipping." By the time Ashford re-gains control and tries to destroy the ring he is acting like "a petulant little boy," exclaiming, "this is my ship! ... I'm in control," and shouting "take them out! Take them all out!" during a firefight against Holden. All in all he is very easy to dislike. He is stupid, a coward "more afraid of looking bad than of losing," and is easily swayed by Bull, Pa, and later Hector Cortez, one of the religious leaders from the civilian convoy.
Despite his simplicity as a villain, he was a more interesting character on my second read-through as I focused on all the religious imagery associated with him. The Behemoth was built as a Mormon ship, and Ashford decorates his office in "religious art." During a meeting near a statue of Jesus Ashford "paced back and forth by Jesus' knees," while Bull thinks that the portrayal of Christ "didn't look anything like the bloody, bent, crucified man Bull was familiar with." Later on, in a meeting with all his officers, Ashford is described as sitting above a circular conference table "in the place of honor, another beneficent Christ pained on the wall behind him." Finally, we get this line: "Captain Ashford's voice rang out through the ship. The opennes of the spaces and the different speakers made the words echo like the voice of God." All this sets him up as a kind of anti-christ figure. He is associated with God and Jesus, but an 'inaccurate' one, is driven entirely by his god-complex instead of tangible power, and even has a 'second coming' of sorts when he stages his counter-coup and siezes power back from Bull and Michio. The metaphor extends further once Clarissa enters the picutre. She is the one who betrays this 'false prophet' and puts an end to his insanity.
Show Ashford lacks any association with any religious symbols as well as the privilege from the book; he is not educated, and his previous 'job' was piracy. Yet he is very reasonable, willing to compromise, and driven by a desire to improve the world. He takes some elements of Bull's character that Camina left behind, such as wanting to militarize the OPA ("I don't think this is a station. I think it's a battleship," Bull says of The Behemoth). Ashford speaks often in terms of nation building ("Bargaining is how civilizations are built") and sees it as his purpose to unify and legitimize the OPA. It is interesting that Ashford seems to embody Fred Johnson's philosophy while Camina's views are closer to what Dawes' wants for the Belt. They are at once the representatives and philosophical inverses of their superiors, illustrating further the OPAs confused identity.
Show Ashford also decides to destroy the ring, but not because he goes mad and lets Cortez talk him into sacrificing everybody. We know by this point that he has lost a son, has a daughter, and is "okay with killing innocent people... if they protect mine." He even tells Camina that the reason he has abandoned piracy and adopted OPA uniforms is because "I will sacrifice my pride... to make something better for the future." Later, when the Behemoth runs out of blood for transfusions he orders his crew to attend mandatory blood donations and gives his own. So when he believes the protomolecule station is going to destroy the solar system he does not hesitate to take action that (he believes) will prevent Armageddon. When another character brings up that they are dooming themselves by destroying the ring, he replies "and we will have saved the human race. Not a bad way to die." His motivations are fully explored, and even as he and Camina turn against each other he is still sympathetic. At leat, until he kills Gregory.
One of the first things Ashford does in the show is walk up to a minor character and say, "Hey Gregory." The man attacks him, but Ashford, expecting this, drops him to the ground and scolds him. "Gregory, I was about to apologize... I am sorry," Ashford tells him, "that's what you wanted to hear, right?" Gregory begrudgingly agrees, and Ashford pulls him back to his feet. We never learn the details of what happened between them, but Gregory reappears in later episodes working with Ashford earnestly, seemingly forgiving him for whatever transpired. Much later, when Anna is broadcasting Holden's plan to power down the ship, Gregory speaks up in favor of his plan, and even starts to give a speech about how they won't have to all die. Ashford shoots him without a word. He argues against considering Holden's idea: "Even if the station doesn't kill all of us, others will come through the ring... anybody who has had a child understands that it is their duty to leave the world better than they found it." He has becomes so entrenched in his idea of sacrifice for the greater good that he can no longer see any other way toward freedom. He kills Gregory only for speaking out, crushing the induvidual for the sake of his 'greater good.'
One of the few aspects Ashford retains from his book counterpart is the desire for power. Camina herself brings up that he wants to be captain, and he does not deny it. After Camina is injured he is clearly happy to have sole command and makes sure to take his place at the captain's station before issuing his first order. He also takes credit for her survival while praising her: "She saved my life, and I saved hers." When he broadcasts to the other factions that "this ship—my ship—" can care for their injured. He is emphasizing to those around him and to himself that he is in command now; he is the one responsible. One could argue that gaining power contributes to his later single-mindedness. Because he is no longer working under someone else's power, he no longer has to engage with their ideas or convince them of his. When Holden says he has another way, Ashford dismisses him ("We are not the threat here, but maybe Holden is.") When Gregory speaks out against him, he kills him.
Camina serves as Ashford's foil. Although she has learn from Ashford to work for the greater good, she is able to save humanity by still retaining her trust in the individual (Naomi, and thus Holden and his plan). She has evolved her philosophy, while Ashford's has stagnated. By killing Gregory he goes back on the apology he gave in the beginning, and thus has regressed to the man he was before he desired to build a new OPA nation. By doubling down on his limited perspective he has betrayed his own stated desire to move forward ("You let nostalgia trick you, and you'll regret it badly" ). This slide back into the role of pirate captain stars even before he decides to arm the laser. When Diogo slacks off and lets supplies go missing, he lambasts him and yells at the rest of his crew: "Do your fucking job or I will space you myself!" This is the same man who went out of his way to stop Camina from spacing a drug dealer because he believed they needed to move on from such brutality.
Clarissa idolizes her father and takes pride in her family's name ("There are no souls... the only thing that matters is your name.") She has a very high opinion of herself, thinking of her father's company in the same terms as Eros and Pheobe; as one of the precious pieces of the solar system "lost" in the war. She sees her fall from grace as tragic and unjust: "Once, [she] had been the light of her school. Popular, beautiful, and suffused with the power and influence of her father's name." Her whole reason for seeking revenge against Holden is to destroy his reputation (which is why she enacts such an elaborate plan rather than have him assassinated), and, by proxy, redeem her father in the eyes of the solar system. She is so focused on Holden that when a fellow workman asks her opinion on the ring she says, "It's not something I thnk about." This is somewhat ironic, considering the ring is an eternal monument to her father's achievements and sins.
She is immediately detestable in the book, since we know right away what her plans are and the arrogance that motivates her. In the show we meet her right before she murders Ren and then enacts her plan, but in the book we spend several chapters seeing the build-up to that point. She gets her new identity in Baltimore (foreshadowing her connection to Amos), and we get a detailed explenation of how her strangth-enhancing implants work (in the show we get audio/visual cues, but nothing definative until she is fitted with a chemical restraint). Although this extra time shows us more of her character before she develops, I found her more sympathetic in the show version. By the time she regrets her choices we have spent too much time hating her to become invested in her redemption. By not revealing her identity right away, and by making her regret more visible, the show makes her more sympathetic.
The most important moment for Clarissa is the murder of Ren. Ren is a fellow technician, and he catches on to Clarissa's plot to plant a bomb on one of the ships in their convoy. When she murders him it is brutal and disturbing in both media, but book's aftermath is far more gruesome. Clarissa puts Ren's body in a storage locker in her room, sealing him in with sealent foam. After Holden escapes through the ring, she transfers to another ship to follow him in. To keep her murder a secret, she has to exume his body and pack what's left of the decayed corpse it into a toolbox. She rationalizes her actions, thinking that "Ren wasn't her fault, it was Holden's. Holden has killed him by making her prescence necessary. If he had respected the honort of her family, none of this would have happened." All this makes her more deranged and inhuman in the books.
After she is subdued by Anna and put in prison aboard the Behemoth, she finally starts feeling regret for her actions. In the book this is caused by the appearance of Tilly, an acquaintance from her old life. Tilly tells her that they have found Ren's remains, and this breaks Clarissa out of her vengeful Melba persona. In the show Clarissa has already killed Tilly, and it is Anna who breaks her spirits, saying to her, "I thought if I came here, and I looked you in the eyes, maybe I could see you as a person... I don't." In both cases she is left broken, finally accepting responsibility for Ren's murder and turning her hatred inward. She no longer cares about revenge against Holden.
When she allies herself with Ashford, it is because she sees the destruction of the ring (and thus her death) as a way to redeem herself. "The people we killed... if we do this, all of them will have died for a reason too," she states. In the show she gets a similar exchange with Ashford: "Do you think a truly good act at the end of your life can make up for the things you've done?" she asks. "I would like to believe that is true," he replies, expressing that he has his own regrets.
In the book Ashford decides to free Clarissa because he needs a bodyguard, but in the show he it is because he needs a technician. This is a small change, but it is interesting that she becomes useful not for what her life as Clarissa Mao bought her (her chemical implants) but for the skills she learned as Melba. In both versions it is a design flaw that Ren points out to her in his first appearance that later lets her bypass Ashford's control and shut down the ship. By using Ren's knowledge to save everyone, she gives more meaning to his death instead of trying to make something of her own. "To sacrifice is literally to be made sacred."
A lot of the small details around Clarissa's redemption are lost in the translation to screen. For example, Hector Cortez becomes a stand-in for her father after she joins Ashford. It is by seeing his arrogance and cowardice that she becomes disillusioned with Jules Pierre and her family in general. Cortez believes he is responsible for suggesting everyone go through the ring, even though Clarissa knows it was her actions that led to the need for Holden to be followed. Her reason for betraying Ashford is left vague in the show, but in the book she decides to side with Holden because she believes his story about Miller. She trusts Holden because she knows him so well—her obsession with revenge has led her to understand his character more than almost anyone else. Like Ren's death it is another reversal, making something good out of something bad. Additionally, we do not see Amos befriend her at the end of Abaddon, where he lets her help fix the Rocinanate. She ends the book repairing what she intended to destroy.
The last aspect of her character is her relationship with Julie. In the show we only get one or two flashbacks to demonstrate Clarissa's dislike for her sister, but in the book she has recurring thoughts about her. She dislikes Julie for forsaking their family's wealth, thinking it disrespectful. She doesn't seem to realize she is following in her sister's footsteps: pretending to be a layperson for the sake of a 'noble' goal. She even bonds with her coworkers through Julie: when Soledad tells her she lost a family member on Eros, Clarissa tells her "my sister was there." In addition to the guilt over Ren's murder, it is this connection with normal people that primes her for her change of heart.
I hated Clarissa when I first read Abaddon, but found she was one of the more compelling characters upon re-read. Her actions are grisly enough to be shocking even if you know what's coming, and her story is critical to the book's theme of sacrifice. The show loses some of Abaddon's thematic weight for the sake of brevity and deeper character development for Ashford and Camina.
Hector Cortez (Paulino Nunes) is an important character (and a patron saint of poor judgement) in the book version of Abaddon's Gate but has a relatively minor role in the show. I give him his own section only because he is an example of how the show often subverts events from the books. If you've read the book then you will be expecting him to have a major role when he is introduced in the show. Book Cortez is one of the primary reasons so many ships follow Holden through the ring, he helps Ashford regain control of the Behemoth from Bull, and is critical in Clarissa's character arc (she sees him as a stand-in for her father, and becomes disillusioned with him by proxy). The show makes a point to introduce him and his position as a faith leader, setting him up to be someone important. So when he flees from the ring and the narrative entirely it becomes a subversion of expectations on more than one level.
Another example of this occurs after the speed limit changes. Naomi confronts Ashford, demanding to know where Camina is and why he is captain now. He explains that Camina was gravely injured, and that she saved his life. "You were expecting mutiny," he says, speaking to book readers as much as to Naomi. Again, the show also seemed to be heading in that direction. Diogo voiced his support for a change in leadership, and Ashford had stated his desire to be captain from the get-go. A few other minor instances include Clarissa being imprisoned in a cell across from Holden ("I'm Jim, what are you in for?"); Tilly's death; Anna being a trained nurse vs. not knowing first aid in the book; etc.
One could argue that any changes at all during an adaption become meta-commentary or 'subversion' simply because they are different, but the whole of the Abaddon arc feels like the authors are going out of their way to keep book readers guessing about the story while keeping the plot essentially the same. It's one of the many reasons it is my favorite section of the show.
Unfortunately, we do lose this line Cortez speaks to Clarissa: "You may be the difference between success and failure." It proves to be true, but not in the way he expects.
The arc with Esteban does not exist in the books, as Anna first appears in Abaddon as a pastor an Europa and has no direct connection to the government of Earth. She joins the civilian convoy as a representative of her faith, selected from a lottery. In the show she is a representative of Avasarala, Esteban having resigned after the events of Caliban. In this sense she has merged with Hector Cortez from the books. He joins the convoy for political reasons, and is the only insight we ever get to the book version of Esteban (Esteban is a good example of how smaller, self-contained details from one book are stretched out and made more substantial by the show).
Show Anna is introduced to us being escorted past a horde of protestors as she enters U.N. headquarters. One of the protestors jumps pushes through a police barrier, and is subsequently beaten by an officer. Anna stops him (and is herself struck in the process), demanding to know his name and the name of the protestor. She identifies the protestor has broken his arm, and ensures that the officer will take him to a nearby medical fecility. This sets up much of her character and her relationship with power—she dislikes using violence, and seems to be on the side of the protestor, but does not hesitate to use her position as Esteban's friend to ensure the officer obeys her directions.
The book's introduction is a bit clunky by comparison. We meet Anna on Europa, where she confronts a man in her office about beating his wife. He is unrepentant, and she is intent on having him arrested. She goads him into attacking her, threatening to lie to the police, and then uses a taser to subdue him when he becomes enraged. Her internal monologue lets us know that normally she dislikes lying and violence, but the result is somewhat of a mixed messege. The man is an unsympathetic acceptible target, so we are expected to believe her statements, but her actions are paint her as somewhat of a hypocrite ("'Shit,' she said. She didn't like profanity, but some occasions demanded it."). In that scene, she uses her power to enact violence. In the show, her power is used to stop violence and promote healing. The book scene does functions as a Chevok's gun of sorts with regards to her taser, but this is made unecessary by the later scene where she finds a rack of military tasers and takes one explicitely to deal with Clarissa. Setting up that a character knows how to operate something as basic as a taser is not really worth confusing their initial characterization.
Regardless, book Anna's arc is not about change but about perseverance—her faith in humanity and forgiveness is tested and rewarded in the end. In the show her faith in others has already been shaken by Esteban, and the events of Abaddon break it further.
Earlier on in this arc, a U.N. soldier (Chris in the books/Jordaan in the show) comes to Anna looking for spiritual advice and comfort on his impending exploration of the ring. In the book she listens to his concerns, and decides to start a prayer group for others with similar worries. She herself has been worried about leaving her family behind, and is having a crisis of faith: "I'm afraid of what it will mean for everything we care about. Humanity, God, our place in His universe. I'm afraid... of what it means." She realizes Chris has given her a "reason to be here." Community building becomes her main goal throughout the book. She continues holding prayer meetings, and when she later broadcasts Holden's plan it is in an effort to unite people and stop the violence aboard the Behemoth. She views Bull's need to resort to violence as a failure ("I could have reached Cortez with enough time.") When Jordaan approaches her in the show, Anna is not afraid but awed by the ring, and fails to give him her full attention. "It's the first miracle that's happened in my lifetime..." she states, later admitting that she wants to be "part of something amazing." She puts him off, and he later commits suicide. Anna realizes she has forsaken her duties as a pastor, and feels responsible for his death. This later prompts her to reach out to Clarissa, who she has noticed is quite distressed.
However, her relationship with Clarissa only leads her further astray from her values in the show. It is Anna who suggests that Tilly speak to Clarissa after the aristocrat reveals her identity. Clarissa kills Tilly when confronted and after Anna discovers this she abandons even the pretense of reconciliation. "You cannot escape what you've done... the only thing you can do is beg for mercy," she yells as Clarissa exits the airlock on her way to Holden's ship. Before confronting her, Anna takes a stun baton (a thing she had been beat with) from an unconscious officer (someone she had opposed) and later uses it to subdue Clarissa. Her political connections mean nothing here; her only power left is the violence she opposed in her first appearence. This change is compounded when she later slaps Clarissa after she has been restrained. She is horrified by her own action, and seems to come back to herself for a moment. "It's not about her, it's about us," she tells Amos, when he asks why they shouldn't kill Clarissa for what she's done. She recognizes she needs to be better, but is unable to follow through. Later, aboard the Behemoth she visits Clarissa again, saying:
"I thought if I came here, and I looked you in the eyes, maybe I could see you as a person... I don't. That's what strange. I try to care about everyone. When Amos offered to kill you, I wanted to let him... I keep looking for a way to care about you... I'm down to: maybe she has a brain tumor..."It is a brutal speech, and Clarissa breaks down as she realizes how far she has strayed from her humanity. Anna states that "I didn't want to think of myself as someone who wanted vengeance," but seems to have accepted this new part of herself. She starts the show wanting to save everyone she can, neglects her duty to save one asking for her help, and has come to believe that there are some people that cannot and should not be saved.
In the book Tilly does not die, and it is her compassion that breaks Clarissa, not Anna's wrath. Book Anna tries to help Clarissa even after Ren is discovered. Anna is obsessed with forgiveness, and works very hard to ensure people do not take vengeance against Clarissa. She is opposed to grudges and revenge in general, explaining to Tilly why she should not hate Cortez for his role in the war: "All of the circumstances that made him your enemy will be gone. What's the value in clinging to the hate?" When Clarissa beleives she cannot be forgiven for what she has done, Anna argues that she has already received forgiveness because Bull, Holden, and Naomi protect her from further harm by staying quiet about who she is and what she did.
Anna's final speech to Amos in the show ("We have to find a way to understand each other...") indicates that she regrets her words to Clarissa, and has her own need to "let go of the hate." She has realize how far she has fallen, and the last shot we get is of her attending Clarissa in the Rocinante's med-bay, acting on her own words. Book Anna gets a similar beat: she convinces Holden to transport Clarissa back to Luna for a trial, and her belief in forgiveness is validated by his acceptance and Clarissa's earlier betrayal of Ashford.
There are a few other points lost from the book in its adaption. Anna's relationship with Cortez centers around their respective views of their faith. Cortez is motivated by a selfish fear, he sees all that's transpired in the ring as his fault for his own "hubris," as he is the one who encouraged the convoy to enter the ring. He admits that "vainglory is an occupational hazard for men in my profession;" this is despite the fact that most of those going through the ring were volunteers. Anna points out that he is still acting selfishly by backing Ashford and advising him to destroy the ring: "You don't get to decide for all these people." Some of this struggle is preserved in Camina and Ashford's 'greater good vs induavidualism' dynamic of the show (show Ashford even becomes a father, taking the symbolism of Cortez as a stand in for Clarissa's father and making it literal). We see also how shallow Cortez's philosophy is compared to Anna's. Anna uses doctrine, but only to support her ideas of unity and to support those around her emotionally. Cortez uses his knowledge of doctrine for political gain and then seems to have nothing left after everything goes to hell. He is lost, whereas Anna, though just as shaken, still has her moral certainty.
Anna also functions as a foil to Bull in the book. When they first enter the ring she is hopeful, believing the mystery will act as a unifying force; "This was the answer to the fear she'd seen at church." By contrast, Bull believes that whatever might greet them on the other side will only divide them further.;"Of all the ways to go and meet the God-like alien... this was the stupidest... and.... most human." Interestingly, they are both right. People unify after the disaster, and it is Bull who accepts others on board the Behemoth to heal ("No one else needs to get killed," says the man who spaced someone without a trial). He tells Monica to start a radio station in order to keep up hope and reach out to others. Yet no sooner have all the factions gathered together than they divide along new lines once Ashford begins his counter-coup. As he strikes back, Bull reflects that he has achieved an unprescedented unity between people from Earth, Mars, and the Belt. But Anna views the war as a failure; to her unity is worth nothing if it is for the sake of violence. Show Anna does not act as a community builder until the very end, once she realizes her own mistakes. Instead we get a short speech from Avasarala at the beginning of Abyddon calling for unity among all in the convoy.
The last point to cover is her relationship with Amos. In the book Amos becomes devoted to her after she saves them from Clarissa ("I need something," she tells them. "Anything," he replies.") and his interest is suggested to be partially sexual as well. In the show they 'connect' by being completely unable to understand each other's perspectives, and the resulting dynamic results in Amos being protective of a person he deems moral. It is another example of how the authors have shifted their depiction of Amos since Nemesis Games.
Jules Pierre Mao
Jules Pierre Mao is arguably the person most singularly responsible for the plot of The Expanse. He funded Protogen as well as the research that created the hybrid on Ganymede. Despite this, he appears in only three scenes during Caliban and then is never heard from again after his arrest. There is some dramatic irony there—the man seeking to ensure his legacy is a forgettable character—but though he is not physically present his influence is still felt throughout even the later novels. Clarissa and Julie Mao's characters depend very much on their relationship to their father, and everything the protomolecule does is a result of events he has set in motion.
The show decides to flesh him out more. We get scenes of him interacting with Errinwright and other politicians long before Eros starts to move. We get his reaction when he learns Julie is dead, and later we see him take pity on Mei, presumably because she reminds him of Julie (this sympathy is not enough to stop him from continuing the protomolecule experiments on the other children).
Jules' arc is about being reduced to powerlessness. In Leviathan we are told that he controls vast wealth, and then we see it in Caliban. In the show we get several scenes at his estate (with a yard large enough to hold a garden and trees), as well as one of the parties he hosts. In both media we see the inside of his private space ship, which has carpets, artwork, other luxuries impractical to space travel, as well as a full security staff and flight crew.
In the show, he starts with power over Errinwright and his counterpart on Mars. Once Eros fails and Protogen is exposed, his assets on Earth are frozen and his family detained to force his cooperation. When Errinwright can do nothing to change this he abandons Earth and sides with the martian faction working with him. He uses his control over the protomolecule as leverage to get Avasarala aboard his ship, and begins to negotiate with her to get his assets unfrozen and his family released from custody. However, before this can play out Errinwright turns the tables on him, killing his martian allies and leaving him without any bargaining power. Once he is on Io he gets his assets back after giving Nguyen control over the monsters he has created, but it is an empty victory. Holden and co infiltrate his base, and he is captured. His power is gone, and all of his allies are either dead or also in custody.
In the book he has the same fall, but compressed. Near the end Avasarala promises she will "dismantle everything you ever built, piece by piece, and scatter it to the winds." As Holden watches on, she talks him into despair, and we see his decline over the course of one scene. He walks into the interrogation room talkative, confident that he still he still has value to Avasarala. During her speech his confidence wavers, and he ends it silent and humiliated.
Part 4: ThemesThis last part will cover the differences in how certain themes and topics are explored in the book and show versions of The Expanse. It is not a heavily symbolic work but it still contains a great deal worth discussing beyond its characters and plot.
Individual Book Themes
Each book has an isolated naming motif. Leviathan Wakes is a metaphor for the emergence of the 'Leviathan' of the protomolecule, but the major theme of the novel seems to be love and desire. Holden starts his journey losing a lover, then gains another by the end. Miller becomes infatuated with his own image of Julie, and then finds the object of his desire on Eros (which is named after the Greek god of love/desire). We also get competing views of spreading life: the Mormons want to send their descendants to another solar system while the protomolecule kills and repurposes everyone it touches, and almsot wipes out humanity in its effort to spread its civilization.
Caliban's War is another metaphor. Caliban is the name of the half-human, half-monster character from Shakespear's The Tempest, and the hybrid monsters Bobbie and Holden fight are the direct cause of the war between Earth and Mars. The major theme of the work is children: Prax searches for his lost child, Amos reveals things about his childhood and expresses a desire to protect children, Holden thinks about and worries over the potential of starting a family with Naomi, Avasarala's desceased son and her grandchildren directly motivate her desire to protect Earth, Bobbie worries about being able to terraform Mars for future generations of martians, and Jules Pierre Mao creates hybrids out of other people's children with the same thing that killed his own daughter.
The metaphor in Abaddon's Gate is a portal to hell. "Abaddon" is a word that is associated with the realm of the dead and The Abyss. A great deal of imagery from Holden's chapters concerns death. He feels drawn to the ring, pushed there by fate and forces outside his control. It is inescapable; "Everything comes to me, eventually, the station seemed to be saying." Holden is haunted by Miller; in a moment of emotional exhaustion he recalls his childhood pet dying; he discovers that the alien society that sent the protomolecule has been wiped out and states, "We are in a graveyard." Those who pass through the ring go to "the other side;" Clarissa exits the ring feeling like a ghost, and Bull's death is foreshadowed from the beginning. He notes his own failing health and thinks it's "going to happen sooner or later." Even his recollections of his youth are morbid: "His choices were... military or basic. He'd chosen the one that felt less like death."
Sacrifice is another major theme of the book. Hector Cortez spells it out: "To sacrifice is literally to be made sacred." (In the show Anna gets that line, and she says it to Esteban before the events of Abaddon; the themes of each arc are downplayed as a result of them being stretched out over the entire story.) Clarissa's redemption happens when she makes Ren sacred by saving humanity through his knowledge, and her entire arc is learning to place other people above her own desires. Bull's story has plenty Jesus imagery (though I don't know if it's strong enough to qualify as allegory): he opposes Ashford who can be seen as an anti-Christ figure; after he gets his mechanical legs the narration states that "the electric whine of the machine and the heavy thump of his tread were a sort of herald of calling out his arrival;" he himself is Christian, and values the suffering Christ over the Mormon's more decadent interpretation. And he sacrafices himself (along with many others) to save humanity from utter destruction and to defeat the abyss; to defeat death itself. He even "wished they'd gone to the stars ['the heavens', one could say] instead of flying into the mouth of hell."
There are several other lines invoking the underworld. One of Clarissa's fellow technicians worries about the people on Eros who are now part of the ring, comparing it to Purgatory: "What if their souls never get loose?" When she is later imprisoned, we get this line: "The door closed. The latch sounded like the gates of hell closing." Later Cortez says, "I believe we have fallen into a realm of evil," and Anna compares the carnage on the Thomas Prince after the slow-down to Armaggeddon.
Despite all this concern with hell and Christ, God seems to be fairly absent. Ashford and Cortez get the most imagery directly associated with the Christian God, and they are both soundly rejected by the narrative and its characters."Who is Ashford to forgive me for anything... who the hell are you?" Clarissa demands before deciding to side with Anna. Holden's arc also reinforces this rejection: "He'd thought... that what had happened to him and his crew had been dictated by a vast and mysterious power. He misunderstood everything." God, it seems, is absent in this Abyss. All that is left of Him is background radiation "older than the universe."
Most of the imagery and symbolism around sacrifice, death, hell, and god has been removed in the show. Strands still exist, but they are much weaker. Even the look of the abyss has changed; no longer is it starless blackness, but instead a amorphous green bubble. Anna no longer waxes poetic about forgiveness and sacrifice, her journey is much more personal, and Camina does not die to undo Ashford's sins. Clarissa's use of Ren's knowledge is maintained, but it is far removed from the "to sacrifice is literally to be made sacred" line, so the connection is tenuous if you do not know about it from the book.
The next few sections will discuss some more general themes in The Expanse as a whole.
One of the bigger differences between book is its attitude toward the military.
The book portrays soldiers as heroic and patriotic. Holden praises the martians on the Donnager who sacrifice themselves to help him escape; Fred Johnson is imposing because of his military background and his ability to bring the OPA together as an army; Bobbie is a stoic badass who praises even 'enemy' marines for their valor and never wavers in her loyalty to Mars; Bull is a former solider and takes much of his identity from having served under Fred Johnson; and in Abaddon when Holden is captured by martian marines (who were shooting at him moments before) he states that "they weren't gentle, but they were professional... that he wasn't dead already spoke to discipline, training, and a professionalism he would have respected even if his life hadn't deepened on it." Both Holden and Alex are former navy personnel, and all four of the main cast often speak and act like a squadron of soldiers; specifically when they infiltrate Strickland's lab in Caliban and when they work with Bull in Abaddon. The 'professionalism' of soldiers and military commanders is constantly praised. When Bull weaponizes the laser on the Behemoth, it is to give the martians holding Holden an excuse to surrender to him. Despite wanting to accept Bull's offer their commander was suicidally devoted to military code, yet at no point do Bull or any of the others think that this is unusual even in such extreme circumstances—it is simply another demonstration of their professionalism.
The books do criticize the use of military power for colonialism (Holden leaves the U.N. Navy because he was "tired of being the boot"), and condemns the corruption of individuals like Errinwright and Nguyen, but militarism as a whole is revered uncritically—Mars, the god of war, is never at fault for any of the wars in any of the first three books. Its soldiers are always fighting for a just cause and always willing to lay down their lives for the sake of our characters and the greater good. Earth is revealed to be the agressor in Leviathan; it is not until Avasrala makes allies with Mars that the tide of battle turns in her favor in Caliban; and Bull's most valuable allies in the war during Abaddon are martian marines. Mars is the embodiment of war, and in the books Mars is heroic and professional.
The show presents a far more bloodthirsty Mars and is far more critical of it. Not only is Mars responsible for the war in Caliban, but its soldiers are shown to be hyper-patriotic and extremely prejudiced against Earth, wanting to "drink their oceans dry." Gone is the professionalism of Bobbie's marines, instead they bully one of their own for being born on Earth, and when Bobbie tries to talk things out with Alex during Abaddon they turn on her, attacking even the possibility of peace. When Holden and crew rescue a stranded marine ship during Caliban, the soldiers they nurse attempt a mutiny without bothering to figure out what their 'captors' intend to do with them. When Holden informs them that he has already started repairing their ship they see that they have acted rashly. Bobbie states that she was once like them, and much of her arc is about learning to move past the reactionary and xenophobic attitudes her nation has implanted in her. The military commanders of Mars are far more reasonable, and closer to their book coutnerparts, but the result is that the Mars of the show is conflicted—it most potent impliments of war are volitile and self-destructive, and its more rational impulses seem unable to keep its jingoism in check.
Living in a Society
In both book and show Earth is shown to be overpopulated, with many of it citizens living in perpetual poverty or on 'basic,' a type of welfare. What form 'basic' takes is nebulous. In the books Bobbie learns from a waitress that it is "not money... just basic. Gotta work to have money." We later learn that one of Bull's relatives lives on basic and so has to be on a waiting list for medical care. The implication, perhapse, is that there are government hospitals with queues, and private hostitals without. Beyond these statements we get few details of the actual system, and the show is just as vague.
What differs between the adaptions is the attitude they take toward this system of government aid. In the books Bobbie thinks that "it made a sad kind of sense to do some early winnowing before spending the resources to educate people" and after finishing her drink "she added a nice tip for the blue-haired girl who wanted more from life than basic support;" implying that those who chose not to work deserve to be part of the "half-feral" masses Avasrala seems so eager to protect (Bull calls basic "like death," implying that living on basic is a type of purgatory). Bobbie fears this overpopulated and impovershed Earth might be the end-gaol of Mars's terraforming: "Would they turn into this? ... the work hours and collective intelligence of fifteen billion humans just tossed away as acceptable losses for the system. It made Bobbie sad." The show is more sympathetic to people on basic. Bobbie in this version does not speak to a waitress, but a homeless man who once wanted to be a doctor. He reveals that work is so scares people have to be put on a waiting list, and he has spent his life waiting his turn. He gives her directions to the sea and shows her how to walk correctly in Earth's gravity; in the book the man who helps her is employed and we never get to see any characters living on basic.
This class disparity is pointed out by the narrative. Avasarala's yard is a "luxury"; Holden has eight parents because the financial benefits allow them to own a small ranch; the government buildings we see are vast wastes of space; but never do the books or show go out of their way to question this status quo.
Crime, too, is seen as inevitable. "Bull's job wasn't to stomp it all out. His job was to keep it at a level that kept the ship moving and safe;" this is an echo of Miller's own philosophy. Our two cops see the criminality of people as innate. Miller describes one of the thugs in Eros as "a man born with a sense for raw opportunity where his soul should have been," and Bull belives that "every ship had a black economy... it was what happened when you put people together." The philosophy of the books seems to be: 'Crime and conflict are inevitable; people are born either good or bad and they cannot be changed.'
This attitude confuses the anti-colonial theme of the books somewhat. Miller working as a cop for an Earth corporation makes him a "traitor to [his] people"; the genocide on Eros is stated to be the result of racist attitudes toward belters; and when Miller executes Dresden for perpetuating the massacre it is only the men from Earth (Holden and Fred) who question his retribution. Naomi seems to endorse his choice, and to Diogo and other OPA members he is a hero. All this clearly shows that the belt's lower socioeconomic status is a result of a systemic issue (colonial extortion/power) yet the morality of the people who themselves live there is (apparently) simply a matter of their birth. This might be only the character's biases, but as the same attitude is expressed by (at least) three separate characters, and at no point is it commented on or contradicted, it becomes a much stronger through line in the first two books. In Abaddon's Gate things do shift somewhat; Clarissa's entire arc is about a person repenting and being redeemed, and the morality of belters is explored more deeply in later books.
Confusing the anti-colonial theme further is the fact that we never get perspective of people under "the boot" of the inner planets until the fourth book, Cibola Burn. Holden, Bull, and Anna, are all Earth-born; Clarissa and Avasrala come from wealth and political power; Miller is a cop acting first on behalf of an Earth corporation, then for the Earth-born Fred Johnson; Bobbie is a martian marine; and Prax is Earth-educated and enjoys a place of privelage in Ganymede's society before it all collapses.
The show, again, is more sympathetic to the underclasses it portrays. Naomi, Diogo, Anderson Dawes, Ashford, and Camina all offer a much more nuanced look at why belters are the way they are. Indeed, much of the conflict between these character centers around how they believe the OPA should respond to the violence Earth and Mars subject them to. Amos gives us insight into the conditions of the poor on Earth, but it is still seen as somewhat inevitable; Avasrala is driven to protect Earth, but never does anyone point out that she might also be able to improve it.
The books do have a slight critique of corporatism/capitalism that is absent in the show. In Leviathan Holden is aghast that Protogen "found an alien weapon and all they could think to do was brand it." And later, when the people on Ganymede experience a food shortage he is disgusted to learn that its greenhouses are still exporting their stores. When he asks a dockworker why, the man reples that "we don't own this food... [it is] owned by corporations that aren't headquartered here." Later there is a food riot, and Holden helps avoid bloodshed by letting people get access to one of the shipments. After meeting Tilly, Anna thinks "God might not care about financial standing, but he was the only one." And, of course, Jules Pierre Mao is an indictment of private wealth. He is obscenely rich and owns multiple successful corperate entities. He has incredible power and believes that his vision of the future is the right one, and so causes untold death and destruction to secure his legacy. Clarissa adds to this by being an inhuman monster until she starts to interact with real people and learns to empathyze.
Related to the above topics is how the Expanse frames race. The inners/belters divide is a loose allegory for modern race relations. This divide results from the colonial attitudes and actions of the inner planets, and the racism that acompanies it is mentioned several times throught the series. Havelock calls Miller a racist when he suggest belters are becoming physiologically different enough to be considered different species. 'Race' has come to mean the gravity one was grown in, with earthers, martians, and belters each thinking of themselves as seperate races. Holden realizes that "My parents are racist" when they react strangely to Naomi; calling belters "skinnies" is a slur; and "Earther" is even denounced as a racist term at one point. Fred also seems biased aginst the people he is trying to support, at least in the books ("Ashford and Pa are good people, but they're Belters. They don't have the same experience working with Earth forces that [Bull] and I do.")
In the books, the old concept or race is still extant. Miller is somehow familiar enough with race to expect a "Punjabi accent" from Alex instead of his "Texas drawl," and Holden knows that this 'mismatch' is because Mariner Valley settlers were originally "Chinese, East Indians, and Texans." Avasarla has Afghan ancestry. Bull is Mexican, and at one point sees another man who's "name was Chan Bao-Zhi, and on Earth, he'd have been Chinese. Here, he was a Belter from Pallas station." What is strange is that these very modern concepts of racial divisions are preserved in the future somehow completey decoupled from racism itself (the structure that creates and enforces those divisions).
The books also don't do much with the racial conflict they introduce beyond say 'it sucks and it's bad.' The most coherent thesis we get is during Miller's rumination on the genocide on Eros, and Protogen's role therein: "...they weren't the inner planets versus the Belters. They were the people who thought it was a good idea to kill people who looked or acted differently against the people who didn't. Or maybe that was a crap analysis too. because... Miller knew he'd agonize about it for maybe half a second after he blew them all into vacuum." The conclusion he seems to reach is that both sides are equivelent—even thought his feelings are a reaction to the unprovoked violence of Protogen.
While the text is very diverse it is not free from its own biases. Holden describes Naomi as having "features a striking mix of Asian, South American, and African that was unusual even in the melting pot of the Belt." He feels "very generic by comparison." Even in space, 200 years in the future, whiteness is still the default it seems. He later fetishizes Bobbie's anscestry, and Avasarala compounds this by thinking that Bobbie's ancestors must be from "someplace that evolution had made humans like mountain ranges," which is objectifying (the key here is that Bobbie was not simply described to be an individual built 'like a mountain range' but that it is her race that is 'innately' like that. She is being stereotyped; her efforts to build and maintain her physique dismissed/downplayed). There is also this line where Anna describes her daughter Nani as having a "pug nose. The same broad and flat nose as Nono [her wife]." It is obviously meant to be cute, but comparing a dark-skinned person to an ainimal (especially when Nono gets such otherwise limited characterization) just kidna rubbed me the wrong way upon re-read.
Obviously none of this is intentional, and those lines are basically the only problematic examples that exist in the books, but the result is that The Expanse incorporates race and racism without actually exploring it much or being aware of its own potential bias. The show makes it more of a central conflict (much of the tension between Dawes and Fred comes from their differing identities; Bobbie's identity as a martian is key to her desire for war with Earth; etc.) and does away completely with the old concepts of race. There are maritans, earthers, and belters. Everything else seems to be forgotten, and as a result the theme of race feels much more focused and intentional.
The societies of the Expanse are presented as a mixture of many modern cultures. Language has evolved to the point where belters speak their own separate creole that is a mix of many different languages (in the show it most often sounds like Spanish words spoken with English grammar, or English words spoken in Spanish grammar; but that is probably because those are the languages I am familiar with). In both book and the show the creole is never translated directly. The books have simply written out sentences of the invented language, which one could decifer if one wanted to take the time to do so. However, there is always either enough context to understand the words' meaning or redundantlines that spell it out to the non-belter characters in English. The show is similar, but we have the benefit of hearing the actor's intonation and seeing their body language. Often no explenation or redundancy is needed, and in either case critical information is always given in English. Meaning is also transmitted by repetition. Sa sa? becomes understood because it is used so frequently by many different characters. It no longer needs translation. It because as much a part of the viewers vocabulary as the characters.
The show also gives us a few unique cultural details. For example, the creole renditions of "Highway Star" and then "All By Myself" when the Y Que is introduced at the beginning of Abaddon. We also see tattooing on almost every belter, OPA associated or not. Neck tattoos are especially popular, and Anderson Dawes reveals that this is because primitive space suits often left burn marks on the necks of their wearers. For belters, the tattooing is a participation in their history.
The sign language of the Belt is not as prominent in the show as it is in the books. Havelock's story adresses it directly, but after he leaves I can't recall any instnace where it was used in a significant way. In the books Bobbie is taught to use belter sign-language to communicate in her suit as part of her marine training—it is a bit odd that Mars would not simply develop its own sign language instead of risking their communation being read by the enemy, but it implies they were not counting on fighting many belters and emphasizes how shocking the war is—but when she loses radio contact with her squad in the show she seems to have no way of communicating beyond putting her helmet against that of a fellow soldier and shouting.
ConclusionIn sum, I think that the show takes great advantage of its medium and fleshes out many of the weaker characters in the books. It's got more consistent themes and worldbuilding, even if it loses many of the details mentioned in the books. I wouldn't call one better than the other—as I've said, they simply have differing goals and appeal—but I would definitely recommend the show over the books for one who does not have the time for both.
For those of you who have made it this far, thanks! I hope you've enjoyed it and please feel free to leave a comment below. I don't intend to do something this huge for a while, but I do have a few other topics I want to write about. I'll continue to do my normal book reviews (which keep getting views, so I know someone is reading them), but I want to start doing more essay-type posts about topics I'm interested in; this has been fun!