'The Expanse' and 'Childhood's End': New Old-Fashioned Sci-fi


It’s been a while since the Syfy network has really committed to the genre that inspired their name. But suddenly, they’re going all-in, with help from the literary world: Tonight sees the premieres of The Expanse and Childhood’s End, both adaptations of well-regarded science fiction novels. And on Wednesday night, the channel will sneak-preview The Magicians, a series based on Lev Grossman’s highly esteemed fantasy novels, before its formal premiere on Jan. 25.

The Expanse is a clever meld of space-opera and hardboiled-detective story, with timely themes of environmental and terrorism concerns that will global-warm the hearts of the nations that met over the weekend in Paris to achieve a climate-change accord.

The opening episode, set about 200 years in the future, shifts back and forth between Earth and Mars. Water is scarce in both places, which are at this point in the 23rd century are connected by a “belt” of asteroids whose inhabitants, the “belters,” are an oppressed working class for the bigger worlds. The premiere follows a crew in outer space coping with urgent distress calls, and a private detective played by Thomas Jane (Hung), who’s searching for a missing girl, the daughter of a prominent family.

Based on the novels James S.A. Corey (the pen name of the writing duo Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) — Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin is a big fan of these books — The Expanse has enough well-wrought plot to keep things moving swiftly without confusing those of us who aren’t hardcore sci-fi fans.

SyFy’s adaptation of Childhood’s End is a bit more fraught, since it’s based on a novel by one of science fiction’s most esteemed names, author Arthur C. Clarke, who also wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey, among many other books.
The opening night of this three-part miniseries sets up a standard genre premise: Aliens contact Earth. But in this case, the invaders are represented by one magisterial voice (supplied by Game of Thrones’ Charles Dance), and that presence makes itself known initially to an ordinary citizen, Ricky Stormgren, played by Under the Dome’s Mike Vogel.

The invading force — soon referred to as “the Overlords” by Earthlings who fear that there’s totalitarianism behind the aliens’ promise of peace and prosperity — manifests itself in the TV production as a posh hotel room that Ricky visits periodically to receive the latest bits of information from Dance’s Karellen. The big reveal of Karellen’s physical form on Earth is the climax of the opening-night episode, and I can’t say more without spoiling things.

These productions suggest there’s now more to Syfy than Sharknado sequels, so that’s encouraging.

Childhood’s End premieres at 8 p.m. and The Expanse at 10 p.m. on Monday night on Syfy.