Living on Basic
September 10, 2018 8:25 AM   Subscribe

Economic struggle in the post-scarcity world(s) of science fiction series The Expanse (no spoilers) What happens to everybody when a technological revolution opens up the whole solar system to exploration -- and economic exploitation? What does it mean to struggle in a post-scarcity world?

An Economist Nitpicks Sci-Fi: Employment in The Expanse "Less than half of Earth’s working-age population has a job, employment and education opportunities are restricted to those who have the drive to work (a year’s work experience is required to receive higher education). The rest subsist on Basic Assistance, the details of this policy are a little vague, but it is implied to be a basket of goods rather than a cash Universal Basic Income. But the what interests me less than the why – why does Earth have such a high unemployment rate?" by James K

In Space No One Can Hear You Struggle "As much as The Expanse has aliens of a more conventional variety, beings from outside the solar system, it is also a story of the becoming alien of humanity, of differences of production being somatized in differences of body." by Unemployed Negativity
posted by rue72 (54 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
Not to nitpick but... The Expanse is very much not post-scarcity? The entire thing is based on scrambles for various resources.
posted by Artw at 8:46 AM on September 10 [34 favorites]


One of my favourite details in the Expanse was the mention of amber as being the most precious items of jewelry. Since other precious metals could be found on asteroids or made artificially, amber being dependent on fossilized tree could only be found on Earth.
posted by Damienmce at 8:47 AM on September 10 [18 favorites]


As for earth’s UBI, it’s basically Rome.
posted by Artw at 8:49 AM on September 10 [4 favorites]


The scramble is not because the resources don't exist, it's because they're not distributed evenly/effectively. Which is why it's possible to struggle post-scarcity.

Like in Caliban's War (the second book/s2), Ganymede is the breadbasket of the Belt, but its people starve after their mirror falls because all of their food is still being shipped out in order to fulfill pre-disaster trading contracts and they can't receive enough food aid to replace it.
posted by rue72 at 8:51 AM on September 10 [5 favorites]


That’s how scarcity works.
posted by Artw at 8:52 AM on September 10 [12 favorites]


its people starve after their mirror falls because all of their food is still being shipped out in order to fulfill pre-disaster trading contracts and they can't receive enough food aid to replace it.

True story
posted by Damienmce at 8:58 AM on September 10 [20 favorites]


That’s how scarcity works.

Well, that's how economic inequality works.

All (registered-birth) Earthers being provided Basic is literally the definition of Earth being post-scarcity.

The Belt is not post-scarcity because it functions as a colonial economy. They're politically/economically exploited.

Mars seems like it might be a sort of socialist market economy, a la China? Clearly the Martian government is a huge economic force on-planet, since even Alex had his career with them. But it seems like there's at least some private enterprise, too. Maybe it comes up later in the books (have only read through the second book) but for now, I just don't know enough about how their economy works on-planet to even say.

For definitions, this is just from Wikipedia, but I figure that's good enough:
Post-scarcity is an economic theory in which most goods can be produced in great abundance with minimal human labor needed, so that they become available to all very cheaply or even freely.[1][2] Post-scarcity is not generally taken to mean that scarcity has been eliminated for all consumer goods and services; instead, it is often taken to mean that all people can easily have their basic survival needs met along with some significant proportion of their desires for goods and services,[3] with writers on the topic often emphasizing that certain commodities are likely to remain scarce in a post-scarcity society
posted by rue72 at 9:18 AM on September 10 [4 favorites]


Yeah, the reason Mars doesn't have unemployment is because Mars strictly controls birth rates and also pushes people towards military service pretty heavily. It also does have a much higher workplace fatality rate - both it and the belt, which is also gone into in the books at length. For example, when a certain character takes a space suit and goes careening off assuming it will go well, there is text about how a Belter would never have done such a thing, because they have to work so hard at safety margins because space is so dangerous.

And also - one of the two writers is an economist. The Expanse does go into the economics of the various systems at length in multiple books.
posted by corb at 9:27 AM on September 10 [9 favorites]


Firstly if “abundant resources, unevenly distributed” were all it took to be post-scarcity we’d be there already.

Secondly basic on the Expanse is compensation for being locked out of the formal economy and any opportunities that go with it. It’s a kind of barely functional non existence for the majority of humanity, bouyed up by a huge criminal informal economy. All of this is indicative of an extremly fucked up, unsustainable economy perpetually on the edge of resource crisis, not post-scarcity.

I think maybe you want to go back and read a Culture book instead.
posted by Artw at 9:30 AM on September 10 [18 favorites]


Firstly if “abundant resources, unevenly distributed” were all it took to be post-scarcity we’d be there already.
Pretty much, yup. Certainly as far as rue72's "basic needs met" definition of it.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 9:32 AM on September 10


The basic premise of Earth's situation in The Expanse is that it's post-scarcity, and the books/show explicitly explore some problems that can emerge because or in spite of that. An underground sub-class of (generations) of undocumented people or even the "breeding" of undocumented people by unsavory kingpins to essentially be their slaves -- like Amos talks about and which is the premise of The Churn -- is one problem that could emerge. Or another thing that could happen is that work itself becomes a luxury good, and the availability of work for the rich but not the poor only further entrenches inequality -- like is very heavily implied by how the book presents Avasarala and her family (as sumptuously wealthy and if anything OVERLY employed (Avasarala) and educated (her husband)). Or another thing that could happen is the death spiral of jobs training and education programs, like the first link's author talks about and which the Earther Nico briefly talks about to Bobbi (in the show only). On the flipside, there are lots of Martians who talk about how Martian culture and especially music are really poor in comparison with Earth's, and there is an implication that Earthers have the time/energy to invest in culture and the arts because so many are on Basic.

Everyone is free to personally reject the premise that the mass/universal provision of Basic on Earth takes Earth post-scarcity, but that's a refusal to engage with what either of the links' authors are discussing or, I would say, what the series' writers are exploring regarding the series' economics. And if you're refusing to engage with the writers' ideas then what conversation can even be had besides bickering?
posted by rue72 at 10:14 AM on September 10 [2 favorites]


I guess I feel like The Expanse doesn't really have a fully fleshed-out idea of how society works on Earth, or on any of the inner planets for that matter. There's also the factor where people born in the Belt, or even who spend many years living off-planet, can't go to the surface because their physiology is too delicate for that much gravity. We get hints of how individuals were affected by this or that factor, but not a complex description of the system.
posted by Autumnheart at 10:27 AM on September 10 [1 favorite]


Oh, and it also seems like the author of that article hasn't gotten to Book 5 yet.
posted by Autumnheart at 10:31 AM on September 10 [2 favorites]


Seems like half of this is arguing books v. show, which is interesting as long as it's framed that way.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:13 AM on September 10


Show isn’t post-scarcity either, though obviously it’s less likely to slow down and talk about economics. There really isn’t much Earth in the books till a point beyond where the show is and, well, rapid changes occur shortly after we get there.

There is an earth set novella though. A rosey picture of abundancy it does not paint.
posted by Artw at 11:17 AM on September 10 [5 favorites]


BTW are the first and second links supposed to go to a the same place?
posted by Artw at 11:22 AM on September 10


Arguing about what is or isn't definitionally "post-scarcity" seems likely to become a bit tedious; I think the important point is that the economy of The Expanse is very different from, say, Star Trek or the Culture books, which are both very clearly post-post-scarcity, in the sense that there's basically no material want and no resource contention: if you want something, you can get it, and what dramatic tension there is comes from either external conflict with other civilizations, or internal conflict where people have to figure out what gives their lives meaning when there's nothing stopping them from living, basically, recreational existences. (ST doesn't plumb the depths of what people would do with this freedom to quite the extent that Banks does in some of the Culture books, but I have to believe people would be getting up to some weird shit with those replicators.)

Abraham and Franck (who together are "James S.A. Corey") also do an intriguing job, IMO, extrapolating from the present economy, just enough to get you the possibility of space battles and other entertaining space-opera tropes, but without anything especially revolutionary happening. And what you get without that deus ex machina, kinda unsurprisingly, is basically Colonialism In Space. The first several books, and the first ~2 seasons of the show, play with this theme—there are literally alienated laborers literally seizing the means of production at several points—before (at least to me; I've not read past Cibola Burn) the series sorta pivots and doesn't really let the economic conflict play out to its conclusion. I haven't read the latest few books, though, so I'm not clear on whether they circle back at some point to resolve this, but at least at the end of S2 of the show (Abaddon's Gate in the books, I think?) it's not really resolved, and the stage is basically set to repeat the same fuckups only on an even larger scale.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:05 PM on September 10 [4 favorites]


The basic premise of Earth's situation in The Expanse is that it's post-scarcity

If it were post-scarcity, everyone would have (almost) every material possession they want (except for dumb shit like "I want to own the entire universe" or "I want to own you"). They don't, so it isn't.

that's a refusal to engage with what either of the links' authors are discussing

The essay doesn't make any claim that Earth is post-scarcity. It can be summarized as "Why do so many people not participate in the formal economy?"

The big problem I see with the essay is that it pretty much ignores the informal economy. Lots of people on basic are employed; they're just not employed in the sectors that the government cares about monitoring, regulating, and taxing, and so that fall into the informal economy or black market. Lots of drug dealers, prostitutes, pimps, mob enforcers, etc, but that also implies even more people who are providing basic services to those people, and people providing goods and services to *those* people or else they wouldn't have a sink for the income they earn. Someone is out there running wire for new brothels, someone is sweeping their floors, someone is fixing their plumbing, and those people are earning resources that they're spending on *something* that's probably not just free blowjobs.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 12:06 PM on September 10 [13 favorites]


Post-Scarcity, at least in the science-fiction context, tends to be things like Bank's Culture ie Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism ... where you can have anything and everything, up to and including a fuck-off massive space ship whenever and wherever you want it. Or Replicators. The Expanse is a long way from that.

However in the mundane boring purely economics definition it can be something much less all powerful than that, and just be that most people have their basic needs met and also some of the other stuff they need, for free. Yeah, that kinda covers Basic on The Expanse 'Earth'

(On edit, what Kadin2048 says)

I'm currently reading the fourth novel... but I'm not sure if the economics as presented would actually work. If Earth is so miserable, what's to stop people just leaving for Mars and the Belt? (well I can imagine Mars might have some sort of immigration restrictions, but the Belt seems much more free-wheeling? But I don't expect sf to be all that economically sound (I don't expect it to be that scientifically sound either tbh), delving into a planet's boring employment theory when you can spend time with the, whoosh whoosh and pew pew.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:13 PM on September 10


If Earth is so miserable, what's to stop people just leaving for Mars and the Belt?

Getting the money for a ticket, and of course being a poor Terran beats being a poor Belter, since the authorities are perfectly happy to watch Belters starve to death and asphyxiate.

We do see people who leave Earth for what seem like better opportunities in the Belt, like Havelock, but they seem like they wouldn't have been on basic when they were leaving. Or at least, why would Star Helix pay a bunch of money to ship someone with no policing experience to Ceres?
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 12:18 PM on September 10 [2 favorites]


People DO leave for Mars and the Belt, but there are also cultural impediments and strong distrust of Earth natives among Belters, in addition to the danger inherent in the jobs, and the fact that Belters are physically better disposed to doing them.
posted by Autumnheart at 12:19 PM on September 10 [2 favorites]


Point of fairness: the second essay (third link) does make an offhand reference to Earth as post scarcity, so it’s not something entirely made up for the framing of the FPP. That’s TV only and mistakes Amos for a belter though, YMMV.
posted by Artw at 12:48 PM on September 10 [2 favorites]


I can see there are factors that might put off some people migrating from Earth... but here in Europe we have seen people coming from other parts of the world, enduring unbelievable hardship and privation, a clear risk of death in many cases, paying smugglers massive amounts of money - often mortgaging their future to them and enduring horrible working and living conditions when they get here, just to earn some cash. I guess I'm gonna have to write my own near future sf series to get it right.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 1:09 PM on September 10 [2 favorites]


I think it’s basically the case that Earth and the Belt both suck, they just suck differently.

Also Holden is an Earth posho! His parents are landholders. All 8 of them.
posted by Artw at 1:15 PM on September 10 [8 favorites]


The economy of The Expanse is like the economy of Blade Runner in that it looks much different on the face of things than we're told. For example, if Earth in Blade Runner is mostly depopulated, where do all the orphans in 2049 come from? How are there enough people with money to support a robust population of replicant sex-workers? Similarly, Earth in The Expanse has a huge population that receive UBI, but still for some reason live in tents under bridges (I'm going off Bobbi's encounters with Earthicans on the show; I haven't read the books).

It's suggested that the wealth generated by the Belt supports Earth's Basic Income guarantee, which seems like it could cause some justifiable resentment, but when we see people on Earth who receive Basic Income they are pretty much homeless? The one guy who talks to Bobbi mentions that he's been on a waiting list for medical school for decades, which I don't understand. Wouldn't you think an Earth with a huge population of people with socialized healthcare would need a proportionately huge population of care providers? Don't people use their Basic to buy goods and services? Who are they getting those things from? That part of the show always seemed pretty ideologically motivated because there aren't really good explanations for why the world is that way. I could certainly see class stratification continuing to exist in a world with Basic--which is one socialist argument against it--but the situation described in the article (a large uneducated, unemployed underclass on Basic, a small over-employed upper class who isn't) isn't adequately contextualized. Even if, as the author of the article supposes, more people on Basic drop out of employment, leading to a spiral of disinvestment in education and training, you'd still need to keep up with the material needs of billions of people with money in their pockets. I assume every Earthican on Basic still consumes, so lack of productive capacity to supply their needs (food, medical care, entertainment, clothing, personal care, transportation) makes no sense.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 1:22 PM on September 10 [4 favorites]


Wouldn't you think an Earth with a huge population of people with socialized healthcare would need a proportionately huge population of care providers?

Keeping the numbers down keeps the pay up. This happens in our (American) world.

I haven't read/seen The Expanse, but it seems that it's not so much post-scarcity as post-scarcity-of-the-most-basic-necessities.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 1:38 PM on September 10 [2 favorites]


Yeah, the reason Mars doesn't have unemployment is because Mars strictly controls birth rates and also pushes people towards military service pretty heavily.

Military service instead of "basic" makes sense. But controlling the birth rate wouldn't reduce unemployment because you're reducing the number of consumers born just as much as the number of workers born. Who are the workers providing goods and services for? I haven't read the books, maybe Martian workers are mostly producing exports.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:55 PM on September 10 [2 favorites]


If Earth is so miserable, what's to stop people just leaving for Mars and the Belt? (well I can imagine Mars might have some sort of immigration restrictions, but the Belt seems much more free-wheeling?

The novella "The Churn" addresses how absolutely hard it is to make it off Earth to space. The Belt will let anyone in, but you have to get off Earth in the first place, and it's not as easy as just showing up to a spaceport with a song in your heart. The amount of value a ticket off has is shown as truly mindboggling.
posted by corb at 2:06 PM on September 10 [3 favorites]


Per the books Mars is mostly concerned with the grand terraforming project of making more liveable areas of Mars.
posted by Artw at 2:06 PM on September 10


but you have to get off Earth in the first place, and it's not as easy as just showing up to a spaceport with a song in your heart.

I recall this being alluded to in the show, with the reporter questioning how Amos was able to leave Earth. What are the main obstacles?
posted by Kitty Stardust at 2:09 PM on September 10


questioning how Amos was able to leave Earth.

I may be conflating book stuff here but it's the fact that Amos got a very rare apprenticeship in space mechanics or something, that were given out by lottery.

The amount of value a ticket off has is shown as truly mindboggling.

But why? Loads of people seem to travel around a lot, why is getting off earth for the first time so expensive?
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:29 PM on September 10


(I'm going to take a risk going on what I know of the show from fannish osmosis...) If the Belt is pretty much a trade-human-lives-for-resource-extraction-and-colonization scenario, from the historical precedents one would expect the companies doing the resource extraction to push hard to facilitate easy transit for those suckers willing to do the trade. Unless space travel is just so inherently expensive that it can't be done, in which case one would expect there to be similar problems with economical transport of extracted resources.
posted by praemunire at 2:54 PM on September 10 [3 favorites]


But why? Loads of people seem to travel around a lot, why is getting off earth for the first time so expensive?

Gravity wells, my friend. Floating around the belt doesn't require much fuel. Getting out of the gravity well of Earth requires a lot more energy and is still difficult.

As far as the Martian and Belter populations go, it's mentioned at one point you want to go to Ganymede to have your kids because it has a magnetosphere and thus has a lower rate of stillbirth and miscarriage. Given that Mars doesn't have a magnetosphere, in the logic of that universe they'd have a lower than normal birth rate. Earth is crowded as hell because people can breed unchecked. I always understood that the people under bridges were crowded out of the housing market. Less of an issue on Mars.
posted by Jilder at 3:04 PM on September 10


I wouldn’t guess by what order if magnitude but yeah, as the deepest habitable gravity well in the system any trip to or from earth is going to be one of the more expensive ones. Mars would be the only habitable place with a compatible gravity well and it only has a 1/3 of the gravity.

Atmospheric resistance would be another earth-unique problem.

(Of course as the series goes on there’s all kinds of hard burns and maneuvers and other places of interest with gravity and atmospheres so I suspect anything to do with fuel consumption gets more handwavey as you go on)
posted by Artw at 3:16 PM on September 10


Also people on basic don't have (much, usefully recognized) money
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 3:38 PM on September 10 [2 favorites]


I'll hazard a guess here as a reader and watcher who appreciates the magpie reuse of historical models in defeloping worldbuilding across the franchise - the cost of passage to the colonial New World was roughly equivalent to seven years' productive output, for some emigrants, and then after slave economics developed, for a significant sector of the population, the cost was literally your entire lifetime economic output. I don't recall the costs associated with, say, taking a coffin ship from Dublin to Boston but would guess it was roughly your entire family's complete current economic resources, much as it was for my in-laws' trip from Havana to Caracas in 1962, or for Jewish families seeking passage out of Germany in the 1930s.

Scaling up for that in terms of energy consumption for orbital insertion in the Expanse, I would guess that estimated expected lifetime economic output is the rough cost of climbing the gravity well.

Additionally, we can see (in the show intro) that Earth has undergone near worst-case ocean-level increase and that the response on Earth was to entrench around extant cities and therefore to an extent around extant models of economic segregation. Basic in the Expanse appears intended as the absolute minimum required to avoid changing those economic inequities, and as well to prevent widespread access to privilege or social fluidity.
posted by mwhybark at 3:48 PM on September 10 [5 favorites]


The Expanse exists in a libertarian fantasyland where any form of welfare is by definition a disaster. So, for example, on Earth people on basic income breed uncontrollably requiring strict eugenics to keep them in control. Fifteen minutes googling 'Demographic Transition' would show this is not how the real world works but in libertarian fantasyland it is an inviolable truth.

The books are pretty good but whenever they talk about politics or economics I have to take a break to let the stupid drain out. Don't even get me started on the idea that education is only for those who want a high paying job.
posted by iamnotangry at 4:41 PM on September 10 [8 favorites]


Earth does seem like a bit of a random grab-bag of Heinlein concepts.
posted by Artw at 4:47 PM on September 10 [2 favorites]


The Expanse exists in a libertarian fantasyland where any form of welfare is by definition a disaster.
I really don’t think you read the books.
posted by Coda at 6:03 PM on September 10 [1 favorite]


the cost of passage to the colonial New World was roughly equivalent to seven years' productive output, for some emigrants, and then after slave economics developed, for a significant sector of the population, the cost was literally your entire lifetime economic output.

That wasn't the cost. That was the price (at least for the indentured servants). I'm frankly baffled as to how you think this supports the other position. The early companies were so eager to get labor for certain colonies that they were willing to finance the transatlantic journey to bring over unskilled labor. And they wanted labor so badly for the slaver colonies that they developed a massive multinational trade to secure it (the demand for cotton to trade to Africans for slaves was a significant driver of the development of domestic cotton goods production in England), not to mention inventing a horrific institution to retain it once the slaves were in the colonies. In other words, they were very very eager to "facilitate" the movement of laborers. Of course they hoped to make a profit out of it. Of course they were as exploitative as they thought they could get away with, to an obscene and disgusting degree with the Africans they enslaved. But they wanted the labor badly, and so they put a lot of effort into making it possible for the labor to move--or be moved--there. Belter companies ought to be doing some suitably futuristic variation on the indenture.
posted by praemunire at 6:10 PM on September 10 [5 favorites]


The Expanse exists in a libertarian fantasyland where any form of welfare is by definition a disaster.

I think it's fairer to say it's a misanthropic fantasyland where any form of human activity or choice is a disaster.

Halfassed welfare-state on Earth? Is a disaster.
What seems to be a free market run wild in the Belt (ie no laws just cops)? Disaster.
The MCR's noble dream of terraforming Mars? Disaster.
The inner planets' colonialist management of the Belt? Disaster.
The Belters strike back? Disaster.
The interstellar management regime resulting from the peace between Earth, Mars, Belt, and Belter fanatics? Disaster.

We haven't seen yet how Laconia ends in disaster, except for it being an ongoing disaster itself, but I expect it will.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 6:30 PM on September 10 [8 favorites]


Well, Earths disaster as much predatory evil corporations and corrupt political power brokers as it is the resource depletion and general societal suck, so there's that. The UBI is pretty much neutral.

And if you wanted a nice place to rest the TV series the union looks pretty good.
posted by Artw at 7:07 PM on September 10


For example, when a certain character takes a space suit and goes careening off assuming it will go well, there is text about how a Belter would never have done such a thing, because they have to work so hard at safety margins because space is so dangerous.

Maybe Belters wouldn't have to work so hard at safety margins if they didn't do insanely stupid shit like putting Captain "I'm Gonna Play With My Pistols" in charge of a weapon of mass destruction.

And the "careful" Belters let a guy get his arm severed in the first episode, from the most idiotic way of mining ice in space I can visualize.

I mean seriously, why did they even have a crewed ice mining ship? We have unmanned ice mining craft on the drawing board using 21st century technology - we've got design studies that are better than what they showed.

So after a century of space development, why have such a ridiculous, crew intensive mining spaceship? Obviously for the cheap drama of having someone crippled, and so they could fridge the hero's girlfriend in the first episode.

I mean for that matter, why is there even a water shortage on Ceres? It's 40% water. And why isn't Mars mining Deimos for water instead of taking it from Ceres?

Seriously, I wouldn't care so much if people didn't keep coming up to me and saying "You gotta see this! This is the best hard SF series ever!" and then I see something where they didn't really think the implications of the technology out.


But why? Loads of people seem to travel around a lot, why is getting off earth for the first time so expensive?

Gravity wells, my friend. Floating around the belt doesn't require much fuel. Getting out of the gravity well of Earth requires a lot more energy and is still difficult.

Which again, given the technology shown, makes no sense. I mean if they were using realistic drives capable only of microgee accelerations, sure. But they have magical torchship drives capable of doing 6.5 g burns for a day and a half. They zip across the solar system with mass-fuel ratios that are at the utter limits of the theoretically possible. With that sort of power, getting off Earth should be trivial. The only reason it's not, is because the authors wanted to keep their 70s SF era, overpopulated, despairing Earth.

The Doylist reason Earth is the way it is in the Expanse is that's the way it was in the science fiction of the 60s and 70s. No in-universe Watsonian explanation holds water.


I think it's fairer to say it's a misanthropic fantasyland where any form of human activity or choice is a disaster.

I forgot who wrote it, but I agree with the guy who wrote that the most unbelievable thing about the Expanse is that humanity survived the cold War. One Holden and crew equivalent in the 1980s and the cockroaches would be enjoying inheriting the Earth.
posted by happyroach at 9:42 PM on September 10 [4 favorites]


Getting out of the gravity well of Earth requires a lot more energy and is still difficult.
But the Epstein ships routinely pull more than one g for ages (missiles in the show do like 30 or 40g). You only need a few minutes of that to make Earth orbit. The Martian dropship is shown to be an Earth SSTO (without even looking aerodynamic!), and (IIRC) Bobbie talks to Earthers who complain about nuclear rockets irradiating them all the time, so there doesn't seem to be a problem running some kind of nuclear drives at sea level. If water supply was a problem in whatever gravity well, you could probably even modify one to use the atmosphere.

Edit: Oops shoulda previewed
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 9:51 PM on September 10 [3 favorites]


I mean seriously, why did they even have a crewed ice mining ship?

Belters are cheaper than robots.

Seriously, I wouldn't care so much if people didn't keep coming up to me and saying "You gotta see this! This is the best hard SF series ever!"

When people who aren't deeply invested in hard SF -- actual hard SF, not Known Space hard SF -- say something like that to you, you need to temper your own expectations. They're comparing to Star Wars, not Bob Forward.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 4:33 AM on September 11 [5 favorites]


I mean seriously, why did they even have a crewed ice mining ship?
Belters are cheaper than robots.


Add to the Expanse sillyness "Humans that don't need life support."

Life support is a huge, hideously complicated mass and money sink in space travel. Possibly the biggest complicating factor. Humans need a constant supply of air, water and food, as well as extensive radiation shielding and temperature control. Robots...don't. Already robot space exploration is far cheaper than sending humans. That won't change.

But getting back to the original topic, this is a perfect example of how divorced from reality the economics of the Expanse are. It really does look like the creators of the Expanse read a bunch of 60s and 70s era SF, and stopped.

All of the economic dynamics of the Expanse seem to come from the 70s: overpopulated Earth full of unemployed useless people, robots being more expensive than people in space, bold libertarian individualists expanding the frontier...my guess is they just stopped reading SF after Heinlein and Niven.
posted by happyroach at 1:55 PM on September 11


I mean seriously, why did they even have a crewed ice mining ship ?

Because mining drones usually aren’t compelling characters.
posted by Pendragon at 3:55 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]


(All stories set in space that are not about robots are stupid. All of them. Space is awful.)
posted by Artw at 4:25 PM on September 11 [2 favorites]


my guess is they just stopped reading SF after Heinlein and Niven

They're both active on various social media, Abraham more than Franck, and I've read enough of that to say with high confidence that you're wrong.

It's possible for people to be fully read-up on current science fiction and yet produce works you disapprove of. It's even possible for people to be fully read-up and disapprove of the works you hold up as normative.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 4:41 PM on September 11 [4 favorites]


La mort de l'auteur notwithstanding, both authors are alive, kicking, and giving interviews in which they’re asked about their backgrounds, process, and intentions. It’s not exactly hard to find.
Do you think humanity will ever colonize the solar system and live on planets and asteroids as in your books?

Franck: No, not really. There’s no economic reason to do it. Maybe there’s some money to be made from pulling some rare resources out of the Asteroid Belt, but robots will do it.
One of our rules is we never let facts get in the way of awesome. Some people write stories about robots and make them compelling, but I’m much too fascinated by humans.
posted by Coda at 4:49 PM on September 11 [5 favorites]


Also, Abraham’s got a bunch of other stuff one might read if one was trying to form a critique of him, personally, vs. the plausibility of a particular fictional gubbin. I’d recommend starting with The Cambist and Lord Iron: A Fairy Tale of Economics or The Long Price Quartet before getting huffy about what you think he hasn’t read.
posted by Coda at 4:53 PM on September 11 [2 favorites]


I was describing the economic and social system as focused on by the article. To whit, it's basically a rehash of 70s SF.

To say it's intentional rather than a product of ignorance, means the authors deliberately stopped with 70s SF rather than using more modern concepts. All because they wanted to depict a 70s era overcrowded Earth, rather than pull from more modern sources.

They wanted an Earth that was overcrowded, underemployed and generally miserable, because the 70s image of Earth appealed to their ideology about welfare. So they could pull on a whole bunch of ideological strings.

Simply, trying for a Watsonian rather than Doylist explanation doesn't work.:

One of our rules is we never let facts get in the way of awesome


In other words, people really need to stop with the "hardest SF ever put on screen" line. And stop trying to justify either the economics or technology for any reason other than "Well, that's the story we wanted to tell."
posted by happyroach at 4:24 PM on September 12 [3 favorites]


To tell the story they wanted, they had to make space appealing. Space, even in the best colonies, is going to be a much less pleasant place than our current version of Earth. If Earth becomes a hellhole, then they have a logical explanation for why someone would think scraping rocks on an asteroid is a good life choice. If Earth is a techno-utopia, there probably won't be colonies or miners, beyond a tiny few who are bored of the fully automated gay space communism.

I don't think the authors have any particular animus against basic income or welfare. What they're describing is an accurate mirror of our current state in the US. In which the powers-that-be have enough money and resources to create a utopia, but have decided via greed, hate, and neglect to go the other direction. Creating a situation where some aid is provided, but only grudgingly, and those receiving the aid have little opportunity for improvement. And those considered "illegal", undocumented immigrants in our world or unregistered births in theirs, get denied aid altogether and are convenient scapegoats.

Seems all too realistic to me, at least in those aspects. There's always going to be a branch of humanity which wants to be cruel and selfish, even in situations where there's more than enough for everyone.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 12:48 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


Certainly resource depletion, environmental damage and consolidation of capital to the point where most of humanity is locked out of it are all things that we are on track for. Rich bastards caring enough about everybody else to allow a tiny pittance of their wealth to go towards something like Basic and not means testing the hell out of it? Maybe not.
posted by Artw at 2:26 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]


« Older "I pass my life in preventing the storm from...   |   Simple J. Malarkey Newer »


You are not currently logged in. Log in or create a new account to post comments.