Geekitorial: Is Battlestar Galatica Killing Sci-fi?

I mentioned it earlier that I believe Battlestar Galatica is killing science fiction and now I need to explain.

There are many ideas as to what science fiction was, is and should be.  Rick Remender, author of the image comic Fear Agent, believes that science fiction is a genre that once had balls.  To him science fiction belongs into the era of space monsters, scandalously clad women, and cowboys with rayguns.  In his first issue of Fear Agent Remender boldly stats that when the era of science and exploration began that ‘science fiction has lost its stones.’

To the words of Rick Remender I agree and disagree.  I agree that science fiction does well with its roots, a good space monster and voluptuous women makes for a great story any day, but I stand firm in my believe that science and exploration have its place as well.

With the essence of humanity taking to the stars, the exploration, and the amazing space aliens, creatures and monsters that exist we would be robbed of some of science fiction greatest scenes.  There would be no ship battle against Khan, no brawl above the sarlac or no last stand for humanity over the snowy fields of Antarctica.

Then comes Battlestar Galatica, or BSG.

Now first things first, I enjoyed BSG.  I enjoyed the stories, I enjoyed the series (mostly) and I enjoyed some of the characters, but despite the wild acclaim that BSG held it was not perfect, and sadly, in my opinion, wounded the genre in a way that I think I may not recover from.

As most of you know BSG takes place in space, aboard the last fleet of humanity looking for earth while outrunning the fruits of their own creation, the murderous Cylons.  The show never loses its main focus, finding Earth while battling the Cylons, and clings to that premise all while dealing with greater issues and parallels from our own world.   There was the New Caprica planet and the Cylon occupation, the presidential races, and the sacrifice of civil liberties and rights in a time of war.  This made for a really strong show that hit close to home on alot of issues, but what hurt science fiction was the slow migration the series took.

In 2004 when the mini-series took to the air it reinvigorated the old show with smarter plots, powerful characters, and flashier space battles all at the cost of the techno-babble, the family friendly attitude and the furry pet.  BSG lost its original campiness for a strong serious tone.  The show boasted epic and thrilling space battles as the Galatica and her pilots faced down raider and basestars.  They used rifles and pistols to gun down the walking metal robots, and danced the ever alluring Six before us as we tried to solve the problem called Baltar.

But as the show grew older our space battles began to vanish, our pilots became drinkers and Starbucks just annoys everyone.  Instead of more episode involving awesome plots like the stand-off for Athena, or the hunt for the raider named Scar we were given deeper character driven episodes that questioned the difference between a resistance and terrorism, whether being a police of the people was ok if you worked for the enemy, or questioning how anyone could survive if the person next to you was a Cylon in disguise and didn’t know it himself.  BSG became a character driven show that quickly lost the science from its fiction.

BSG had become a Science-less Fiction, and it had begun to spread.

The idea of Science-less fiction has begun to take the genre by storm with shows like Caprica, Defying Gravity, Charlie Jade, and even one of the new heavy weights in science fiction Stargate Universe.

Each of these shows has begun to take the science and put it in the background, making the science fiction aspect of the show little more than location.  The sentence the show takes place on a space-ship now carries the same weight as the show takes place in New York. It is a single sentence used to describe the background.

Stargate Universe (SGU) is a show that takes place on an intelligent ship traveling super fast through space.  There is also a stargate on board and stones that let you possess somebody else body for a short period.  This is the extent of the science on the show (I exaggerate but not by much).  Instead we are treated to the struggle between military men and women and the civilian scientist, the struggle to survive, and the only once seen blue aliens.  Everybody’s issues get brought out in the open and talked about from pregnancy, depression, to caffeine withdrawal.  This show, unlike BSG, does not have an enemy to unite the cast, instead we have the stars bickering violently and occasionally stepping through the gate.  Unlike episodes in the past were the science was held by the stunning Amanda Tapping and the Canadian David Hewlett, this show seems void of any real or serious science instead resorting to rock music and drama.

I like character driven shows science fiction shows but only if their down right.  A perfect example would be Lost.

Now say what you will about the show, it got super weird, and it got dumb, but Lost is a perfect example of a science fiction character show done right.  The show is built around the characters.  Be they the roguish Sawyer, the alluring Kate, the charming Desmond (Brother), the aussie Clair or the plethora of others available.  We see their lives on the island, off the island, and how one affects the other and all of this takes place on the shores of the mystical Island.  By simple definition this seems to fall into the same category as the others mentioned, but what J.J. Abrams and his writers did was they treated the Island in a special way.

The Island had a personality and a complex past, as jaded and dark as The Castaways or The Others, and it is filled with mysteries and wonders.  Numerous episodes were written to give specific attention to the Island itself, disguised as a Jack or Kate story.  The story would tease us with the bright light, the black smoke, or its ability to heal the sick and wounded.  This Island was not simple a setting, but a character itself.

During the show’s run debates raged on over the Island’s mysteries as much or if not more than the question of whom Kate would end up with.  People wanted to know the answers and they wanted to know the secrets.

Lost shows that you can do a character driven science fiction show, but you cannot for the science.  A good sci-fi show has to have a strong Sci, or it just become fi, and we can get fi anywhere.

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2 Responses to Geekitorial: Is Battlestar Galatica Killing Sci-fi?

  1. Pingback: Geekitorial: Are Geeks an Victory for Individuality or a Victim of Conformity? | 42 Webs

  2. No, BSG is not killing Science Fiction. This has happened before, in literary form. In the seventies there was a movement in Science Fiction to do very character driven, moody stories that downplayed the science. Out of that movement came cyberpunk and the resurgence of Hard SF (as a backlash). This will happen with TV as well. It will work for a bit, and then someone will come out with harder SF and it will do well, and that will be the band wagon for a while.

    Also, I liked BSG until the end. If it had of ended at the end of season 4.5 it would have gone down as one of the greatest shows ever but not doing that really hurt it, as did the use of a certain Dylan song in a way that made suspension of disbelief almost impossible for me.

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