Extra-Solar Extermination

With the winter holidays in full effect, I've been able to make some time to watch some new sci-fi and settled on The Expanse, which is a show that has received some positive coverage on some of the tech-centric sites that I read. "Binging" is impossible -- and something I wouldn't be interested in doing, anyway -- but there are 90 minutes set aside in the evening for two episodes, which is just enough of the show to offer plenty to think about and analyse the next day.

Cast of The Expanse

At the moment I'm almost through the second season, which has seen the main characters get pretty dark at times. However, alongside the heroes journey into the abyss is the idea that there is something alien that is being taken advantage of by humanity for military superiority. Halfway into the second season it seemed that there might be a slight shift in the story to include bipedal intelligent life from another star system, but this -- I believe -- turns out to be false. Another human-run project is creating problems with wide-reaching consequences. Thinking through the story logically, this makes the most sense. Humanity's greatest enemy will always be humanity itself, not an extra-solar entity hell-bent on destroying us.

Well … not in the manner portrayed in movies and literature, anyway.

In stories like War of the Worlds and Independence Day the aliens1 used very conventional, human means of conquest. A military crossed a vast distance and then waged war like we have seen nations do over the centuries, albeit with some super-charged weapons that are just slightly beyond our own. Given the wealth of resources in the solar system, particularly the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, the Oort Cloud, and the Kuiper Belt, any intelligent species that would come all the way to Earth to wipe us out for the resources on this planet would not be very intelligent at all. Any species capable of interstellar travel would have the necessary technology to have a literal horde of self-replicating robots that could mine, refine, process, and ship raw materials from uninhabited planets and asteroids to market without the need for costly wars.

If there was something incredibly rare in the universe but found on this world, or any that we inhabit going forward, then there would still be better ways of extracting the resource without the need for ground troops or battles in air and space.

This is one of the many things that I feel The Expanse gets right. Rather than ask the viewer to suspend their disbelief long enough to accept a string of unrealistic plot devices, the struggle is with different groups of people with different sets of goals and different perspectives. Though the story is set 200 years in the future, the fundamental problems are ones that humanity has struggled with for millennia. The settings are different as are the technologies, but there is enough plausibility for the story to come across as realistic.

It will be interesting to see how this story plays out over the next couple of seasons.

  1. In War of the Worlds the invasion force was from Mars, not outside our solar system. This detail is unimportant with regards to the overarching concept, however.