Lizard Brain is a shared blog about Science Fiction and Fantasy from Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.

A Message from Naren Shankar, show runner of The Expanse

by Daniel Abraham

I guess now we really all are Belters. A tribe without a country.

I've been on shows that were so awful and so awful to work on, that I would pray for 
cancellation (mercifully granted). I've been on shows that had good, long runs, 
so when the end came it was okay because we’d said what we wanted to say and 
we could go out with some dignity. But I have never been on a show where the 
story, the characters, the look, the sound, the audience engagement, the reviews, 
everything were clicking like The Expanse. So getting cancelled now, like this... 
I'm still trying to put my head around it.

The passion of our fans has been matched only by the passion of the incredibly 
talented cast and crew who put their hearts and souls into every episode. 
Thank you all for that. 

Alcon TV Studios is doing everything they can to find continued life for the series. 
In the meantime, keep watching and (hopefully) raving — and making noise. Let 
people know what they’ve been missing.  We are only halfway through the season and 
there is SO MUCH MORE to come. You will not want to miss it. 

Yam Seng Beltalowda!


Guest Post: Railguns and Plasma, oh my!

by Ty Franck

Hey all, we have a guest post from writer and scientist M.T. Reiten about the technology behind the railguns in The Expanse universe. He talked through this with me years ago, long before we were producing the show, but it’s taken this long to get his guest post written and up because he’s an actual scientist who works on government projects and we had to be sure he wasn’t violating any non-disclosure kind of stuff. But we finally have permission, so here it is!


So I was at a party with Ty Franck and talking about science fiction. Specifically ship-to-ship combat and I shared an idea that I had been playing with. Because that’s what you do at parties.

A few months previously, I had gone in to talk with my old postdoc mentor and he asked me what I thought about railguns. I thought they were cool and admitted to wanting to build a miniature-scale railgun using semiconductor industry techniques in grad school. (Not because it was useful, but because it would be fun to have a one-shot millimeter-sized launcher that would require an ultrafast laser to trigger.) Then we talked about putting a railgun as a micro-satellite launch system. This would require putting it on an airplane. We thought we had a research proposal in the making. However, nothing came of it and we moved on to other things, but the idea had stuck in my writer’s brain.

A real railgun, as you can read about on Wikipedia or see in numerous Youtube videos, uses electromagnetic forces (Lorenz Force to be precise) to accelerate a projectile. It’s somewhat related to the Jacob’s Ladders that are sometimes seen in old movies featuring a mad scientist of some flavor. Except that bit of electrical discharge passes through a conductor which moves and can be used to fling a projectile. The nice thing is that it doesn’t use chemical explosives to accelerate a kinetic projectile to very respectable velocities. And we can do it right now. (Laser weapon technology still has limitations, but that’s a whole different discussion.)

The longer the accelerating force can be applied to a projectile, the higher the muzzle velocity will be when it exits the launcher. This is why longer barreled rifles typically have a much greater range than short barreled handguns using the exact same cartridge. But space on aircraft is at a premium. So how would one extend the barrel without adding more weight?

Digging back to my original interest in railguns, I thought of ultrashort high power laser pulses in the atmosphere. The cool thing about short laser pulses is that they compress a lot of energy into a very tight package. So you end up having these photon pancakes whizzing about at (nearly) the speed of light. All very good, but what does this have to do with railguns? This many photons corresponds to a very intense electric field. This intense electric field tears apart the gas molecules in the atmosphere creating an ionized plasma. Since the laser pulse is traveling in a straight line, the plasma stretches behind the pulse resulting in a plasma channel. This plasma channel can conduct electricity. If connected to the active elements of the railgun, the plasma can become a virtual barrel, imparting extra kick to a payload. A longer barrel for an aircraft-based micro-satellite launching railgun. Problem solved, except for all the hard work that will keep a dozen engineers employed for a decade.

But I write science fiction and how would this work on a spaceship? No readily available atmosphere in space! Simple. High velocity shock of gas spurts out the railgun port. The gas expands rapidly. Pump the volume with a short pulse laser to create the virtual barrel. Carefully shape the electromagnetic pulse to keep the plasma contained. FIRE!

So the awesome visual effects, with swirling ionized gases, is based in plausibility.

M. T. Reiten (



by Daniel Abraham

We’re doing an AMA on reddit tomorrow today at 3pm EST.  You should come say hi.

Ty does his Bono impression

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GUEST POST: Losing Science in Drama (and Finding Drama in Science)

by Daniel Abraham

[NOTE: This post contains minor spoilers!]

There is a singular feature in the novels of The Expanse that we have tried very hard to express in the series: the idea that space itself is a character.

From the start, we’ve always attempted to portray the physical realities of life in space with as much, well, realism, as we can while still serving our dramatic needs, and whenever possible, we use physics itself to create drama in a way that almost every science fiction film or TV series tends to ignore, avoid, or just get flat-out wrong (the one film that got pretty much everything right was Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey—which was made almost 50 years ago).

I feel there have been lots of times we succeeded at this, other times we got things mostly right or not entirely wrong, and a few times where we failed. This is about one of the fails.

In Episode 11 of Season 2 (which airs this Wednesday at 10pm ET on Syfy), one of our characters (Alex, the pilot) has tucked his ship behind one of the smaller moons of Jupiter to keep it hidden from Martian patrol ships that have blockaded a base on the inner moon Ganymede, while his crewmates carry out a mission on Ganymede Station. When his crewmates become trapped, Alex has to come up with a risky rescue plan:

He plots a complex, gravity-assist (“slingshot”) trajectory to return to Ganymede without using the ship’s main fusion drive (which would expose him to detection by the patrols). Later, while he’s performing a maneuver, he barely avoids straying into the path of an unexpected ship.

The sequences are quite beautiful, well-acted and nicely directed, and the visual effects are gorgeous (particularly the immersive, holographic orbital trajectories of the Jovian moons, which are all scientifically accurate… at least I hope they are). And it’s a lot of fun to watch.

It’s also utterly preposterous.

But if we already knew that, then why did it end up on screen? Here’s what happened:

When we were working out this particular story line in our writers room, we needed a pick a  moon to hide the ship behind, so off we went to Wikipedia, and we settled on moon #54 (Jupiter XLVIII), “Cyllene”.

Why Cyllene? Well… mainly because it was a girl’s name and it sounded pretty, which suited the scene and Alex’s character. It wasn’t until the picture had been locked and we were well into post-production that I realized we had a problem, due to one, simple fact that we hadn’t fully thought through:

Cyllene is really, really far away from Ganymede.

And that has big ramifications. The gravity-assist trajectory Alex (i.e., we) had devised would’ve in reality taken months to complete, but the sequence we’d created showed Alex slingshotting around several moons and getting back to Ganymede in a ludicrously short period of time.* (In a moment of derangement, I briefly considered fixing the problem by using VFX to make Alex’s beard appear longer each time we cut back to him, with empty beer cans and food bar wrappers accumulating around him to imply that a lot of time was passing in each cut. I’m only half kidding.)

By the time I was able to really focus on this sequence and understood the problems, it was too late. We were married to what we had physically shot on stage and the (extremely expensive) VFX already being built in our pipeline.** So I decided to let it go and wrote it off to dramatic license.

And that’s what bugs me more than anything else.

It’s far too easy in TV/film science fiction to ditch reality for (what you perceive to be or rationalize is) the sake of drama. In a fantasy space opera, this is forgivable, but for a show like The Expanse that prides itself on a realistic portrayal of space, it is not.

I did finally come up with an alternative sequence, one that would’ve better reflected reality and been far more exciting to boot… but by that time it was too late to change what we had. For the record, what I should have done was this:

1) Change the moon we picked to another one (with a pretty, girl’s name, of course) that was much closer to Ganymede (this would’ve required changing a few words of Alex’s dialogue, but that wouldn’t have been difficult to do);

2) Build the flight sequence around a single event: a complex trajectory adjustment around one moon, perhaps involving a dangerously close pass over the surface, with a limited window for Alex to complete the maneuver, which gets further complicated by the appearance of an unexpected patrol ship. Remember that terrific sequence in Apollo 13 in which James Lovell (Tom Hanks) has to hit a tiny re-entry window on manual control? This could’ve been as riveting like that.

As they say, that and a buck will buy me a coke (though I would much prefer a martini).

But stayed tuned. We’re planning another slingshot sequence, far more elaborate than this one, in season 3. I’ll make sure we get the science (at least mostly) right.

Naren Shankar

Executive Producer/Showrunner

The Expanse

*Ludicrous even by our own standards. One area where The Expanse consistently takes big liberties with physical reality is time-to-travel. The novels don’t do this, but they have the luxury of literary devices like interior monologue; in TV, you tend to cut out the parts where things aren’t happening. The series adaptation of Game of Thrones also often significantly compresses time and distances for the same reason, so at least we’re in good company.

**The accounting department at our studio often refers to the show as “The Expense”. 


Some cool news!

by Ty Franck

So this happened!

Thank you everyone.  A lot of people worked very hard on this show, and it’s so gratifying to see that their efforts resonated with the fans.





And here’s the Season 3 writer’s room starting up!


I answer questions

by Ty Franck

So I get asked these things a lot, and the answers are too long for twitter, so here they are:

Q: Does the internet exist in The Expanse? How does it work?

A: Of course it does, or some version of it does. The big difference between a solar system wide electronic communications network and the one we have now is a thing called light delay. See, in The Expanse, everyone still has to obey the speed limit of the universe, the speed of light. This includes things like radio waves. So, if you go onto Google on Ganymede and run a search for something that exists on a computer on Earth, you won’t be getting your search results any time soon.

This would mean that there would be two layers to the “internet.” The local network on whatever body you’re living on, and the wider network that requires signal repeaters and is only as fast as the speed of light. I’d imagine this would also mean that local computers would cache as much of the most requested items as possible, to limit delays.

Q: Why call them ‘hand terminals?’

A: Because they are not phones. In the universe of The Expanse, we are living in the true internet of things. Nearly every object more complex than a hair brush is a smart or semi-smart device connected to the network around it. The hand terminal is barely a device, on its own. It has little or no memory or processing power. It is literally just a dumb terminal to give the user access to the network and to the various devices around them. It is a portable UI for operating other things. Which is why when the networks go down, the hand terminals become bricks. You can’t even play that game of angry birds classic you downloaded with your google store coupon.


A great wealth of Expanse news, not all of which I can share

by Daniel Abraham

Hey, folks.  Been a while, and I have some news to share.

First off, if you haven’t seen it, the season 2 release date announcement is accompanied by a spiffy trailer.

Second, a reminder that season one is on Netflix globally (with the exceptions of US, Canada, and New Zealand), and will be streaming on Amazon Prime in the US in a little less than a month.

Third, I don’t get to talk about, except that I’ve heard some interesting rumors surrounding some audiobook stuff that, if they come to fruition, would be genuinely awesome.  Keep your dial tuned here and your ears sharp…

And finally, Babylon’s Ashes will hit shelves on December 6, and we’re doing a few signings to support it. If you’re nearby any of those, come hang out.  We’d love to see you.

Tuesday, December 6
6 PM: Bookworks, Albuquerque, NM
Friday, December 9
7:30 PM: Mysterious Galaxy, San Diego, CA
Saturday, December 10
5 PM: Borderlands, San Francisco, CA

So that’s what I’ve got.  How’re all y’all doing?


Streaming season

by Daniel Abraham

So, there was a little news today. The Expanse has been picked up for global distribution by Netflix. That’s a little more complex than it sounds.

In all the territories Netflix serves except the USA, Canada, and New Zealand, streaming of season 1 will start November 3rd.

In the US, streaming of season 1 will be on Amazon Prime later this year (probably later than November 3rd) but it’s available for purchase on BluRay and streaming right now.

As far as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, I’m not sure what the details are, but as I find out, I’ll let y’all know.

Season Two will start airing in early 2017.  (I’m writing this from the sound spotting of the premiere which is looking awesome.)

Also, NYCC was great.

EDIT: There’s some confusion for me about how the New Zealand distributor affects the Australian streaming.  I’ll try to get that cleared up.  Also, I’m seeing comments from Those In The Know that Amazon Prime is streaming the first season in its entirety December 14th.


New York Comic Con!!!

by Ty Franck

So Daniel and I will be at NYCC this year, doing a number of events. We have a booth signing at the Orbit booth on Saturday starting at 11am. And for those who line up early, we’ll be giving out some small props we stole from the TV show. These are things that actually appeared on the camera and were handled by the actors, so they’re unique collector’s items. They’re first come first served, and supplies are limited, so line up early!

Also, we’ll have a life size standee of Frankie Adams in full Bobbie Draper regalia that you totally want your picture taken with. So come see us. Oh, and we have an Expanse panel that same day at 3pm with a bunch of the cast. So that might be fun too.


Click to Embiggen!

Click to Embiggen!


Toronto Diary Day Twenty Six, that’s a wrap baby!

by Ty Franck

So here we are at wrap. Episode 13 is in the can. All that’s left is another five months of post production. So let’s talk about that.

Today, Naren Shankar and I spent most of our day over with the Visual Effects folks doing approvals on the episode one and two effects. Episode two is especially effects heavy, with a lot of complex choreography in the story telling. Even at this late stage, we’re still tweaking the exact staging. Keeping in mind, of course, that altering these mostly rendered effects comes with a hefty price tag. So sometimes you have to let the less egregious things go.

Naren is also spending a ton of time in editing. We have all the footage from 13 episodes. We even have cuts in one form or another of the first 12, with the last one due in a week or so. But going from a rough editorial assembly cut to a director’s first cut to the producer’s first cut to a studio notes cut to a network notes cut to a final producer’s cut to a broadcast locked cut is a long and winding road. Naren, along with a small army of editors, will guide the show along that road.

We’re also doing our first sound spotting sessions, where the sound design team begins crafting the sound of the show and recording the additional dialog or looped dialog we’ll be putting in. On our show, nearly every scene with people in helmets means a loop session to rerecord all the dialog.

And now that we have soft locks on most of the episodes, our music composer Clinton Shorter can start working on his score for the season.

And finally, we’re spending some time talking about where all this goes in season three, so fingers crossed for that. Hope you all had fun going on this trip with us.