Another Life

Bryan Preston isn’t impressed with the latest SF series, despite Katie Sackoff:

…in Another Life, only Sackhoff’s Niko and her AI sidekick (Samuel Anderson) are fit for this mission. The rest fill every negative millennial stereotype in the galaxy. They are whiny. They are grouchy. They scream obscenities at each other — all the time. They never fail to crack under the least amount of pressure. One is immediately mutinous. Another cannot ever think before opening their pie hole and saying things any rational adult knows they will immediately regret. Collectively, they perpetually can’t even.

But they’re sent out to save humanity anyway.

Ouch.

30 thoughts on “Another Life”

  1. I watched that last night after reading and commenting on the review, because I figured I’d better behold it for myself. Out of curiosity, I checked the writers, producers, and directors on IMDb. The lead writer (and creator) had done two teen dramas, which might explain quite a bit, while the producers and directors looked pretty solid and experienced.

    *spoilers*

    The first twenty minutes were pretty good, and the first thirty weren’t bad. It could be that they condensed too much into the first episode, and cut out what should have been perhaps several episodes of building tensions and a list of bad decisions before the mutiny (which unlike Star Trek Discovery’s core plot element, was an actual mutiny).

    So what it came off as was:

    Neil: An unexpected crater. I’ll go around.
    Buzz: I think it would be faster to go over.
    Neil: That’s too risky.
    Buzz: You’re weak and ineffective and I remove you from command! (Knocks Neil out with hypodermic needle).
    Buzz: Houston, I’m in charge now! Recognize my authority!
    *bangs rock the lander as multiple warnings and cautions blare*
    Neil: (waking up). You almost killed us! I’m back in charge!
    (lands ship)
    Neil: Okay, lets get back to work and repair the damage.
    Buzz: You are totally driven by ego! I wouldn’t have been nearly so lenient.
    (grabs knife and tries to kill Neil.)
    (Neil kicks him out of the hatch and Buzz bloats up and dies.)

    I’m not really condensing things that much, either. That’s basically pretty much what they wrote. It reminded me quite a bit of “The 100”, another program where the writers don’t seem to realize that people can resolve day-to-day issues or form ad-hoc chains of command without continually resorting to mutiny, assassination, and murder.

    And that’s all in the last part of episode 1. I can’t even guess what they’ll do for episode 2.

    However, it wasn’t a complete waste of time. Katie Sackhoff’s acting is as outstanding as ever. In fact, most of the actors seem to be doing a good job with their often juvenile dialog, and the sets and production values look fine.

    There are several possibilities for what went wrong. The original writing could actually be that bad, suited to a cheap teen drama. It could be that the original story was pretty good but slow paced, and higher ups insisted on cramming a half-season or full-season worth of slowly unfolding plot points into one episode to hurry things along and generate some buzz, turning subtle characters into cheap caricatures along the way. Or it could be that they were just trying to quickly establish the back story for the rest of the series and didn’t regard episode 1 as very important in its own right. Or it could be that Netflix blew all their writing budget on the Obamas and are fishing free story ideas out of their children’s trash cans.

    I’ll keep an eye on further reviews in case this turns out to be a good show with an absolutely horrible pilot episode.

  2. It’s a Netflix show. Therefore the odds are about 95% that it will suck. And, if it doesn’t suck in the first season, they will be sure to make it suck in the second or third.

  3. “No one would assemble a crew like this to carry out such a vital mission. It just wouldn’t happen.”

    How about the Democrat Party for 2020? Jus’ sayin’.

  4. I couldn’t get past a couple of episodes of the third season of “The Expanse” when it went all SJW. Let alone the massive physics error of Ceres.
    OTOH I’ve read a couple of SF series books recently
    “The Hidden Truth” by Hans G.Schantz is excellent as is the so far two part “Aristillus” series by Travis J.I. Corcoran. If you liked “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” you will like Aristillus. Somewhere, Mr Heinlein smiles.

  5. Sackhoff is a national treasure, but even that isn’t going to get me to pay good money to watch this current project unless, like George, I get later word from reliable sources that Another Life has shaped up. The stay-away convincer for me was the comment from the guy over at PJM who thought Another Life was excrement, but still liked The Expanse – which I think is excrement.

    1. I watched episode 2. It’s way worse than episode 1. Way worse. And not in a good kind of way like “Plan 9 From Outer Space.”

      *spoiler*

      The ship is damaged and only five hours of air remain (which is technically pretty daft on a ship that big, but life support is a sci-fi staple so whatever). In utter desperation they send a little shuttle to an orphan planet to mine ringwoodite so they can extract oxygen, while other members of the crew go to the mess and find the chocolate snacks that someone apparently hid behind the rice cakes so they wouldn’t get snarfed. Luckily, their landing spot happens to have a nearby ringwoodite mine, and in they go. Several pointless teen drama conversations later, I realized that the miners can’t mine because they’re too busy making idle chat about high school or dating or something. Then a very close moon appears out of nowhere and nearly kills them all. They barely escape and later, at the celebration, one of the women starts flopping around like she was auditioning for “Alien”.

      It’s incoherently bad. I’m thinking the writers looked at Game of Thrones season 8 and said “Hold my beer…”

      1. Wow. SG:U had its issues, but it did such a better job with the same premise (actually, they went to that well three times in rapid succession: air, water, and then power, and each had a different resolution).

        If you’re going to portray an unprofessional crew that doesn’t know how to behave in a crisis or how to work together to accomplish a mission, you should at least have enough intelligence as a writer to set them up with a premise that places untrained people into a situation where they should have had no business being, except for the PILOT EPISODE PLOT DEVICE(tm). SG:U did exactly this to justify (or, if you prefer, excuse) the interpersonal conflict. NuBSG did this, and stretched it a little too far at times. Heck, it was the entire premise of Farscape, which did it brilliantly.

        But if you’re going to set your premise up as “hand-picked experts set out on a mission that might well decide the fate of all of humanity”, then you had darn well write your characters as if the people of Earth had taken crew selection seriously.

  6. You have excellent taste, Dick.
    The Expanse could have been good as Moon is A Harsh Mistress amongst the Belt, Mars and the moons of Jupiter but the scriptwriters couldn’t help themselves and had to bring in the alien protomolecule dreck and turned it to excrement.
    Now somebody needs to make Travis Corcoran an offer he won’t refuse and make the Aristillus books into a TV series. Moon colony of anarcho-capitalists, plenty of military action, uplifted dogs and a mysterious AI along with some nice political exposition and a complete set of utterly ruthless baddies on Earth.

    1. Thank you.

      It’s interesting you mention TMIAHM. In the Heinlein masterpiece, the Moon actually was a prison, but the people in it aspired to nationhood and behaved as actual pioneers would. In The Expanse, Ceres is supposed to be a colony, not a prison, but its inhabitants all seemed pretty much indistinguishable from the general population of a supermax somewhere and none seemed to have any forward-looking goals at all, even the cop protagonist. The basic social organization seemed to be the gang and no one seemed to have a real job including the cop.

      This teeming hive of ghetto dwellers would last maybe an hour in actual outer space, then someone would do something stupid, like vandalize an airlock, that let out all the air and the entire lot would be vacuum-preserved mummies by hour two. I don’t like shows where every character is stupid, a slave to unwholesome passions of various sorts and just generally repellent.

      There needs to be a minimum of one character worth rooting for, else why bother. If I want a steady diet of off-putting people whose entire lives seem random and driven by urges originating in their ductless glands, I can always watch CNN or MSNBC without having to even pretend what I’m watching has anything to do with drama or art.

      The political background of The Expanse was, by turns, cliched and incoherent. Earth has a world government modeled on the UN? Wow, is that original. Mysterious corporations are the shadowy bad guys? Ditto. Mars is some sort of aggressive military dictatorship? Kill me now.

      The only thing I really liked about The Expanse was the monstrous Mormon slow-passage starship with the golden statue of the Angel Moroni on the prow. That, I could legitimately expect to see in The Belt two centuries hence. Of course the Mormons were cast as uniformly white and not portrayed at all sympathetically. Ridiculous. At current conversion rates, a normative Mormon of two centuries hence is going to be deep brown and look like Fernando Valenzuela.

      I’m afraid The Expanse never had anywhere near enough of anything versimilitudinous to be even a low-res knockoff of TMIAHM.

      Given what we’ve been told about the background of Another Life‘s showrunner – and with Heinlein being referenced – he, she or whatever would have been better advised, it seems, to option Podkayne of Mars. There’s an outer space teen drama!

      Or maybe The Menace from Earth. Britt Robertson, who has sci-fi experience aplenty and will probably still be able to play teenagers when she’s 50, could play Holly. Katie Sackhoff could play Ariel. Pretty much any male actor from the Disney Channel could play Jeff.

  7. It’s been a tradition in pulp SF that an exploratory crew consists of two men who would otherwise never associate with each other, have personality clashes constantly, and at least one of them is an utter incompetent.
    Otherwise there wouldn’t be any plot.

  8. Kind of hard hearing the hate here on The Expanse, I do think Frank and Abraham are damn good writers. I am still reading the books; Persepolis Rising was my beach read a few months back and it was duly inhaled. I do agree the SyFy series was underwhelming in the extreme. Thanks for the Aristillus tip, will check it out.

    Of course Heinlein could be mined endlessly for video treatment. Probably half his juvies could be done in a heartbeat, Podkayne of course, along with Rolling Stones (with the original tribble!), Starman Jones, TITS, Citizen, all could be done successfully. God would I shell out for a well done Menace.

    1. I really like The Expanse, but not the alien proto-molecule. A proto what?! How does that even make any sense? Wouldn’t two oxygen atoms be a proto O2 molecule? But then I’ve been known to make dilithium out of two lithiums. It’s just techno-babble combined with a McGuffin. That mess was already baked in with the books, so it predated the script.

      The reason I like the show is its far more realistic portrayal of living and working in space, with some exceptions involving the alien proto-molecule warping the laws of physics. Few sci-fi shows even bother with realistic physics, and inevitably look like they’re shot on a sound stage in Burbank. If they have big ships, those handle much like ships at sea (“Bring her about! Hard to port!” “Aye cap’n!”). If they have fighter planes, they bank like Spitfires and Mustangs.

      The reboot of Battlestar Galactica pushed back against that “legacy fake spaceflight” in a limited way, although continuity with the original series, which mimicked Star Wars, hemmed them in. BSG raised eyebrows when a Viper was being pursued by a Cylon fighter and simply pivoted 180 degrees in flight, flew backwards, and shot right back. “You can do that in space?” Yeah, you can. But the jet engines, wings, and banking remained a problem.

      The Expanse abandons all that and goes back more to 2001: A Space Oddysey, or other shows that weren’t simply WW-II air and naval battles set in space. Ships rely on delta V and orbital mechanics. Attitude is unrelated to flight path except regarding which way the big engines are pointing when they light up. Skilled navigators plot complex slingshot trajectories around Jupiter’s moons. In combat, momentum carries closing ships into the merge and then back out unless they decelerate for all they’re worth. Sure, there are some flaws to what they portray, but it’s still far better than the usual.

      The also feature a different portrayal of combat that far more interesting than anything on Star Trek or Star Wars. Hulls are thin aluminum panels and rail gun projectiles punch through them like paper, like shooting through a camping trailer with an M-60. So everyone puts on space suits before battle because the ship might get turned into Swiss cheese. Sometimes a crewman happens to be in the direct path of a ship-to-ship projectile, too, which can be messy. Homing missiles bore in from the extreme edge of their firing envelopes, and counter-missiles try to intercept them before point defenses engage. Battles can shift from being cerebral long range contests of position and firing envelopes, to being close-quarters slugs fests or firing passes that are dynamic, chaotic, and very frightening.

      These are all things that are found in tons of hard science fiction but rarely get put on screen, perhaps because Hollywood thinks the audience couldn’t understand it or would find it “visually confusing.” Hollywood is wrong.

      So when I watch The Expanse, I could watch it with the sound off and it would still be great. The show might be like trying to write a cheesy WWE backstory to Olympic or college wrestling (they tried to add a plot!), but it’s still showing real wrestling instead “sports entertainment.”

      But the biggest reason to watch The Expanse is because Jeff Bezos loved it and picked it up for Amazon Prime. You know he’s going to have to slip the Blue Origin logo in there somewhere and work in some clever digs at Space
      X.

      1. Ah yes the God-slime. Another hoary trope that’s been done to death in previous, often overall better, work. “Realistic” space combat is not nothing, but it’s sauce, not the meat of the dish. Sorry George, The Expanse is still a shit sandwich and I’m not going to eat it just because the horseradish on it is good.

        1. Well, I think they’re done with the proto-molecule story. In retrospect, a way for the writers to set up some conflicts, establish an overall back story, but most importantly build a giant alien Stargate system to other habitable worlds.

          I have no idea where they’re going from here. It could become a ship oriented SG-1, or could become a soap opera.

          Hopefully it’s more than just two girls, one cup!

          What may be far more important, though, is that the show has gotten good viewership and reviews. Star Trek gave us decades of sci-fi shows that all looked like imitations of Star Trek, with a captain sitting in a chair staring at a view screen as lasers depleted the ship’s shields.

          There’s a whole lot of hard science fiction stories that would look visually similar to The Expanse, and perhaps with its commercial success, those books will finally get turned into shows.

          1. Well, I certainly wouldn’t object to that. At least as long as nobody involved converts one of those sci-fi classics into an outer space version of The Wire which I think is most of what’s wrong with The Expanse.

            I’ve been wondering for decades, for instance, why no one has ever done a feature or mini-series based on Clarke’s Earthlight. Clarke isn’t usually the first guy who comes to mind when space opera is the subject, but he could sure do it alright.

            The Lost Fleet series and the Honor Harrington books would also make good franchises. And of course Drake’s Royal Cinnabar Navy stuff. Or Haldeman’s Forever War. Or Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series.

            No shortage of excellent source material.

      2. “BSG raised eyebrows when a Viper was being pursued by a Cylon fighter and simply pivoted 180 degrees in flight, flew backwards, and shot right back. “You can do that in space?””

        Babylon 5 was doing that twenty years ago, too.

        “The also feature a different portrayal of combat that far more interesting than anything on Star Trek or Star Wars”

        The pen and paper RGP Traveller did that, too. Not really mainstream, though. As I recall, Niven and Pournelle’s CoDominium novels, including Mote in God’s Eye, handled combat the way you describe, too.

        It sounds like The Expanse got the combat science right, but the human-interest stuff totally stupid. I haven’t ever watched the show myself.

      3. I quite liked The Expanse, and wasn’t put off by the protomolecule babble; I just imagined it as ancient nanotech and it worked fine regardless of what the characters called it. I was impressed by their handling of zero-gee stuff — it’s hard to deal with that on a terrestrial sound stage, but they did some superb foley work that completely convinced me that their magnetic shoes had really good servos that switched the magnet on and off in response to subtle micro movements.

        I have to admit I missed the goof about spinning up Ceres.

  9. It’s important to realize that the audience/fan-base for media- and media-tie SF/F is approximately ten times the size of the readership of traditional SF/F, with a peripheral audience of TV/movie goers willing to sit through an SF movie or TV show that may be as much as a hundred times as large. Traditional SF/F is more or less incomprehensible to that larger audience, and boring besides.

    There’s also a severe mischaracterization of the work of the SF writers that emerged in the 40s and 50s. Robert Heinlein did not write hard SF with happy, competent characters who won out through pluck and luck, he wrote about disturbed individuals like Lazarus Long and Oscar Gordon, for the most part. Take away the last page or so of “Glory Road” and what you have is a story about a lost veteran suffering from PTSD. It’s the same with Isaac Asimov: “The Caves of Steel” stands as one of the greatest futility stories ever written. My personal opinion is, “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” is one of the greatest SF novels ever written, not because of its hard SF elements, but because of Heinlein’s mastery of narrative voice. Not to mention that it violates the conventional mass market story rules by having the hero of the story get killed. Heinlein got away with that partly because the story was originally bought by Fred Pohl (who bought my first story, back in 1972). In the originally version of “Podkayne of Mars,” Poddy is killed, but a less intelligent editor made him change it.

  10. The Expanse had a lot going for it but the writers blew it. I read the first 3 books. Can’t forgive the MASSIVE physics error about Ceres. So they spun it up to 1/3 g at the equator. Great. What do the writers think holds it together? Surface gravity is about 1/30 g. Haven’t seen anyone pick this up in the lavish praise showered on the show for its more realistic physics depeiction
    Half the crew of the Rocinante were pretty unsympathetic. I’d have spaced Holden and the chick pronto. The rising ship and body count was pretty depressing even though the crew are a faint echo of Firefly but without the sympathy and love and humor.
    Now that I mention Rocinate, somebody could do worse than make Alexis Gilliland’s 3 Rocinate novels into a TV series. Most of the sets and ships could be recycled from The Expanse.

  11. Someone else hit on the Mormons in the setting – one of my comments about the series was that they were about the only people in the setting depicted at all sympathetically: they at least had a constructive long term goal! I wonder if that was the author’s intent or not? Didn’t take long for the barbarians to jack their ship and turn it into various sorts of weapon.

    1. Well, to be fair, the Martians had a constructive long term goal also. (in the books). They were just a bit distracted with their hostile neighboring planet trying to nuke them/otherwise dominate them – their militarism makes sense in context.

  12. My personal head-cannon for “dilithium” is that it’s some sort of way to store antimatter. Not Li2, but some sort of matter-ion/anti-matter-ion salt or something. But that’s just me playing games with the technobabble.

    IIRC, there was one episode depicting storing it in a figure-8 stellerator trap, but that was (and would have to be) for temporary storage of small amounts – there would be a leak rate.

    1. I think that’s exactly what Gene Roddenbury had in mind when he coined “dilithium,” though obviously, a crystal of mixed matter and antimatter is not going to work. Back in my 1970s published SF, I decided there was a dense anti-matter universe consisting of an antiproton soup, and if the engineers could open a portal to it, the spaceship could have a magnetic antimatter valve feeding the hydrogen ion combustion drive. Then I realized there could be a dense matter universe consisting of a proton soup, and two magic valves, so… right! A fuelless drive with rocket flames coming out the back! I called it a “fixed-mass reaction drive,” nicely portrayed by the cover artist of my first book.

      Something not generally appreciated is, the technobabble and handwaving of SF is an analogue of the magical incantations and spellcasting movements of fantasy.

      1. In the Battlestar Galactica reboot, Ronald Moore said he didn’t focus on how the engines worked because it’s really not that important to the audience, and that any details become canon, hemming in future stories that might work better if the engine concept had been a bit different. That’s especially true when your audience ends up thinking they can field strip a warp drive.

        I think he put it something like “Just assume an engine.”

        David Weber went a bit the other way with his Honor Harrington series, making the propulsion system the basis of fleet tactics, but other than fission vs fusion, didn’t get into many details.

        The Expanse devoted much of an episode to propulsion and did a really bad job of it. I would describe it as “You take an Aerojet/Rocketdyne J-2X and reroute that feedline over there and then plug the engine controller into your stereo, and Zowie! The thrust goes up ten-fold and the ISP jumps to 15,000.”

        1. Yeah, plausible propulsion is always a bitch. It was one of the weaker aspects of the generally excellent Firefly/Serenity universe too. The Serenity’s engine looked like a couple hundred kilos of randomly selected and welded-together junk on a rotisserie. It’s only plus was that it certainly drove home the notion that Jewel Staite’s genius-mechanic character, Kaylee Frye, was, indeed, a genius-mechanic of trans-McGyver gifts.

          I love the sort of limbo-between-universes swamp-gas-cum-aurora-borealis continuum in which FTL travel is done in David Drake’s Daniel Leary books. This weird twilight meta-universe has winds of Casimir radiation blowing through it that can only be taken advantage of by running before or tacking against them with metal mesh sails hung from masts, spars and rigging – Hornblower in Space! Nothing electrical or electronic can be employed either so communication is via mechanical semaphore, hand signals or touching together of suit helmets. Working the rigging is mostly like it was in Adm. Nelson’s day.

          Drake vividly illustrates that, if you’re going to invent a pseudo-physics, you might as well make it a fun one.

          1. There are two types of sci-fi. One type tries to tell a certain kind of story, and dresses the set however it needs to to provide a setting for that kind of story.

            Another kind of sci-fi, of which I am a fan, is one that asks what you could do if you *had* a particular type of unobtanium, and works out all the ways society could use it and what the resulting world would look like. Bonus points if it’s actually something that ends up being allowed by physics! Less easy to continually extrapolate for a long running series, but great in short doses for an engineer like myself.

            Robert Forward did a lot of this. (What could you do if society built giant accelerators for the purpose of making antimatter? What could you do if you had negative mass-energy to play with (answer: just about anything you want!))

            Larry Niven also did this some.

            Heinlein peppered his novels with deceptively throwaway technology that ended up having social consequences.

            I dunno. I like it. I think the uber-hard sci-fi types are insufficiently speculative, and the space-fantasy types don’t take enough advantage of the implications of the setting. Star Trek, for its occasional flaws, actually drew a little from Column B.

  13. I didn’t like the BSG reboot any more than I liked the original. I did, however, like Caprica a great deal, and was sorry it didn’t succeed. I watched the first season of the Expanse, and when the alien molecule thing came up, decided to give up on. It wasn’t very good, even without that, prominently because of the overly magical hard SF components. The best thing about Musk and his Starship is, the future is going to wind up looking like “Tom Corbett, Space Cadet.” I wonder if Musk knows Starship looks like the ship from the 1937 German animated film “Weltraumschiff 1 Startet”?

    1. One of my favorite things about Caprica was its use of visual design as a way of telling a story. On most TV shows with much higher budgets, the sets are just something for the actors to stand in front of.

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