Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The great political discussion of our time

Well, the mid-term election is over and the pontificating has begun. It turned out about like expected, no surprises. The Democrats got control of the House and the Senate, though by one of the narrowest margins in the history of mid-term elections in our country. On the other hand, control changed during a war, something pretty unusual.

Bush fired Rumsfield, and did it in a pretty odd sort of way. Usually the fire-ee has a private meeting with the Pres and later resigns, "Entirely my idea, for the good of the country." The Pres then makes some sort of "Aw please stay, oh well if you must" gesture as he ushers him out. Rumsfield acted like he still had a job that very morning. I wonder what's going on?

Some of the results were... odd. Jim Webb, Democrat, former Reagan Republican and Hawk on the war against Jihadism, unseated a Republican. Ah-nuld "Conan the Republican" won reelection in California of all places.

But enough of this fol-de-rol, I want to talk about where the really important political discussion of our time is going on. A place where people on the Right and Left find common ground, applauded by both Rolling Stone Magazine and National Review alike.

Battlestar Galactica.

I'm old enough to remember the first version of it. God it was awful! It was such a promising concept, a basic idea from Von Daniken without pretensions of being serious, plus liberal doses of good old-fashioned Space Opera. It bombed, big time. By the time they finished fiddling with it; finding Earth, throwing in time travel, attempts at social consciousness and the kitchen sink, it was painful to watch. When they cancelled it, it was a mercy killing. When it died, it took the career of the lovely Maren Jensen with it.

So when I heard they were doing it again, I was puzzled. When I saw it starred Edward James Olmos, I began to be hopeful. When I saw the premier, I was astounded. They did it right this time!

My wife and I watch it every Friday. When the kids interrupt our viewing, we watch it again later in the evening.

Visually it's brilliant. They didn't attempt to create too much in the way of futuristic effects, which inevitably look cheap and tawdry within a generation. (Even Star Trek. Sorry.) The sets have a Steam Punk retro look to them. Adama sits on the bridge of a starship and communicates through an old bakelite phone receiver. Daring - it could have failed so badly, but it doesn't.

The Cylons, who have almost destroyed humanity at the beginning of the story, are not soulless mechanisms. They have created biological humanoid individuals, and evidently hybrid cyborgs as well. And some of them are beginning to have doubts about what they are doing. As of this season, one female Cylon has gone over to humanity, fallen in love with a human and been commissioned an officer in the colonial fleet.

The human characters have grown from the beginning of the series. The presidency was assumed by the last in the line of succession - an education bureaucrat. Adama, the military commander, attempted a coup (opposed by his own son) before realizing what the consequences of interrupting the democratic succession could be and became reconciled with Madam President. An imprisoned radical became vice-president in a contested election won by a secret traitor - or maybe a Cylon under very deep cover. And the incumbent had to face the choice of rigging the election or allowing the people their right to be wrong.

Contemporary issues are highlighted, such as reproductive choice versus the need to reproduce a population that may have fallen below the critical number necessary for a species to survive.

And not just American issues; after the survivors have escaped from a Cylon occupation (during which some humans became suicide bombers), they have to deal with the problem of what to do with people who collaborated to varying degrees with the occupying force. Some from a cold "look out for number one" attitude and some from a genuine belief that they would never be free in their lifetime and had to do something to cut the best deal they could for their people. My wife is from Eastern Europe and you'd better believe that issue is of more than academic importance to her.

Humans are polytheists, their religion seems to be something like the Olympian religion of the ancient Greeks. They Cylons are monotheists, and apparently engaged on a religious crusade/ jihad - and they are not afraid to die, since they ressurect. Literally, not figuratively . So the Left can see them as Right-wing Christian crazies, and the Right as something like Muslim Jihadists.

Battlestar Galactica takes political issues seriously, and discusses them in a place far removed from contemporary affairs, so we get some distance from the present meanness that afflicts our political debates these days.

And science-fiction is a wonderful forum for the discussion. Arthur C. Clarke was once asked why he liked science-fiction. "Because it's the only form of literature that deals with reality" he replied.

Sci-fi is inherently optimistic, because it assumes that, even if it's a horrible one, there will be a future. It takes a long view, something that we need now that religions have lost much of their power to engage the imagination. It is premised on the idea that the future will be the same - but different. The same because human nature does not change. Different because technology, and the problems and possibilities it brings, certainly does.

Are they going to find Earth? If so, will it be in our past, present or future? Will they defeat, exterminate or make some sort of accommodation with the Cylons? I haven' the foggiest idea where the series is going or what's coming next - and that's something rare. But I know that I'll be along for the ride.


  • At 2:43 PM, Blogger Gilmoure said…

    Woot! So, my friends and I aren't just a bunch of weirdos obsessing over a tv show (haven't done that since high school).

    And while they are 'light' on special effects, the Adama maneuver was very cool!

  • At 6:24 AM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    One kvetch, OK two. In the big ship the decks seem to be parallel to the direction of acceleration. No, no, no! In zero-G the decks should run so that your head would be pointing "up", towards the direction you're going. Also, the warbirds are streamlined. So OK, maybe they are build because they have to maneuver in the upper atmosphere of planets, but they do aerodynamic maneuvers in zero-G vacuum. Visually, these are just aircraft carriers and fighter jets transferred to space.

    So everybody does it. When is someone going to catch on to the laws of nature and do it right?

  • At 3:26 AM, Blogger Francis W. Porretto said…

    Having read your description of the show, I think you might enjoy Gregory Benford's Galactic Center novels:
    -- In The Ocean of Night
    -- Across The Sea Of Suns
    -- Great Sky River
    -- Tides Of Light
    -- The Furious Gulf
    -- Sailing Bright Eternity

    ...which are founded on very similar premises.

  • At 9:08 AM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    Read them up to Tides of Light years ago before I went to live in Poland and enjoyed them tremendously. However it's been a long time and before I can finish the series I'll have to reread the first ones.

  • At 11:09 AM, Blogger Gilmoure said…

    So everybody does it. When is someone going to catch on to the laws of nature and do it right?

    I'd still like to see H. Beam Piper's space battles. His ships are all spheres equipped with lift-and-drive missiles and guns. Is more like dueling battleships in space.


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