Posts Tagged ‘Battlestar Galactica’


Is “Ascension” going to be cool or stupid?

July 28, 2014

It has been announced that this fall SyFy channel (God I hate that name) will run a miniseries called “Ascension.” It sounds intriguing, in a weird sort of way. The premise is that in 1963 it was thought that America would soon be involved in a cataclysmic nuclear war – a not unreasonable assumption. Somehow a major leap of technology is made and a generation starship is launched. Not sure how it is determined that there is a habitable planet out there, and how a country that could barely launch a single man into orbit could send 600 people on a centuries-long trip.

Now, I’m a big fan of Project Orion. Except for some pesky Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and the fact that JFK was terrified of a spaceship that used nuclear bombs for propulsion, we could have lifted hundreds of tons into orbit by 1970. But that’s another story. And it wouldn’t have been ready for a interstellar trip by 1963.

But I digress. The story is that the folks on the ship are pretty much stuck in the culture of the 1960s, in terms of mores, styles and such. Apparently the big issue is that the generation in power 50 years later is considering turning around and going home. They have received no communications from Earth since they left, so they don’t know if they might find a radioactive cinder or a world out of the Jetsons.

I have to admit, I was intrigued. Then This image showed up on io9 and other web sites:

Ascension ship 2

Yeah, that’s a Saturn V stuck in the middle of that thing. The rest of it looks like it was built out of Legos. I couldn’t image this was the generation ship. It was odd enough that they just stuck the Saturn in there, but how did they get the whole stack into orbit? The F1 engines of the first stage weren’t designed or optimized for a vacuum. Besides, if you have the technology to lift an entire Saturn V into space…well, you generally wouldn’t have to.

I still don’t know what this thing is, but I found this one in a clip on the official Ascension site:

Ascension ship 1

Go watch the clip. This is in a pullback from a view through a porthole, so it looks like it might be the generation ship. Still not enough detail to really see what it’s about, but at least it’s not completely laughable.

So maybe the first ship was something else. I can’t imagine what, but I don’t care how much this is “Mad Men in Space,” if the tech isn’t at least slightly believable, I’m not watching. And I know, there was a bunch of nuttiness in the physics of Battlestar Galactica, and I still watched the hell out of that. So maybe there is a chance this won’t suck…


Travel by asteroid

November 15, 2012

David Hardy painting of an asteroid-based spaceship

For a long time scientists and science fiction writers have postulated using an asteroid as either an orbital base or a non-FTL starship. Books like Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow use spacefaring asteroid ships because it appears to be a monumental problem to lift enough material out of Earth’s gravity well to build a starship from scratch. John Ringo’s Troy Rising series uses an asteroid, melted and inflated, as a fortress to defend Earth from aliens entering through a hyperspace gate.

SPOILER AHEAD! In fact, Ringo goes farther and, using an Orion-style nuclear bomb drive, turns his fortress into a mobile battle platform, taking it through the gate and to the battle.

I just finished Dr. Travis Taylor’s new book, A New American Space Plan, and I was struck by something that I never really considered much before. Maybe we can get to Mars using current, or near-future technology. NASA is now setting its sights on a mission to a Near-Earth Asteroid. (Or it was last I looked. NASA plans change every day.) Beyond that – let’s say we want to go to Jupiter – it’s going to be orders of magnitude more difficult. When the AE-35 antenna pointing unit failed in “2001” – OK, Hal did it, but still – they happened to have the parts or whatever to fix it. They didn’t have to, but were prepared to.

So let’s say we’ve got a Discovery-class ship, three crew in suspended animation, two minding the store on the Long Trip Out. Something breaks, or the classic Dramatic Meteor Impact happens and breaks something – something that is not available on the ship. We’re basically screwed. Don’t tell me 3D printing technology will save us. It won’t build a microchip for a really, really, long time. And a whole antenna, say 20 feet in diameter? Probably not. We don’t have Ringo’s fabbers, and if we have to wait for those, we won’t go to Jupiter for a long while.

We could do it by what Robert Zubrin, author of the “Mars Direct” concepts, derisively called the “Battlestar Galactica” approach: a gigantic fleet of ships, traveling together for mutual aid and protection. But if lifting one ship’s parts out of the gravity well is hard, lifting 20 is a lot harder.

So let’s see…maybe we can grab a Near-Earth Asteroid, bolt a bunch of stuff on it, drill it out or blow it out with nukes, and build a habitat inside. Maybe not for hundreds of people – let’s say, 50 or so. That’s a lot of lifting but not as much as the other alternatives. Ion drive, solar sail, Orion or Orion-derived nuclear pulse drive – any of them would probably work. It would just take a while to go someplace.

Look at it as if you are driving your motor home cross country and have to take your machine shop along because nobody stocks parts for your vehicle. The bigger the vehicle, and the more people, the more likely it is you can fabricate what you need. And most of the mass is nickel-iron asteroid, which is also providing a lot of radiation shielding. Instead of thinking of a trip to Jupiter as taking a few years, maybe you’ll take decades. Running a closed environmental system like that isn’t easy, but it’s easier than a lot of the alternatives. Eventually we’ll have some better drives, and we can get around the system faster.

Has anyone ever calculated how much toilet paper is needed for a five-year trip?

I don’t see this happening in the next 10 years, but it could be done a lot sooner than most every other idea I’ve heard for deep space interplanetary travel as long as we lack a superdrive. Those are based mostly on magic and good intentions right now.

Once we know how to do that, we can build bigger ones and send people to the stars. By then we should have a pretty good idea which ones have planets we could live on.

I wasn’t a fan of the NASA asteroid mission scenario until now. Now I hope we can get there. We won’t just be learning how the solar system is put together, but how to build a better spaceship.

A pity, though. I kind of like the Blake’s 7 Liberator as a spaceship design. Of course, it was built by aliens…

Blake’s 7 “Liberator” – lots cooler than flying a hunk of rock!


Some gorgeous fantasy aircraft and spacecraft art

November 13, 2011

X-wing repaint for the Navy

An artist going by the name of Clave has done twelve pages – over a hundred individual images – of beautiful profiles of aircraft and spacecraft, repainted in livery that they would never historically have, like an F-22 of the Soviet Air Force, etc. The majority are aircraft, mainly WWI and current jet aircraft, but some are TV/film spacecraft like the Gerry Anderson Thunderbirds ships and the Battlestar Galactica Viper. I hope he doesn’t mind me posting this one example. Go to these pages to find the others. Even if you are not a fan of aircraft, science fiction, or alternate history, you will enjoy the sheer artistry in his work. He is an incredible craftsman. Rarely have I seen so much beautiful, exacting imagery of such high quality and with such interesting ideas!


It’s the end of the world…

April 19, 2011

According to the last iteration of the Terminator franchise, the Sarah Connor Chronicles, today is the day Skynet is supposed to be activated. Please move to your nuclear defense bunkers calmly and quietly. No pushing!

I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords:

Oops, wrong robot overlords! One minute…

Umm…no. Sorry. Still wrong. Let me try that again…

Ok, a little easier to handle, if we have to be taken over, I’ll admit, but apparently still the wrong ones. I’ll get it right this time…

Yeah, that’s the one! I know what you were expecting, though…

OK, enough of that tomfoolery. I leave you with one image that about half the population, give or take, would prefer over all of these…

Yes, if you click it you can see it full-sized. Go ahead.


You KNOW you want one…

March 11, 2011

Little Frakkin' Toaster Classic!

For those who have everything, another gift idea…although if you’re not a fan of the original “Battlestar Galactica,” you probably won’t care. This is kind of a crazy-looking thing, $ 80 from a company called Quantum Mechanix. They have a bunch of nutty science-fiction collectibles you didn’t know you needed…like this Retro Star Trek poster (one of a set of four):

The most famous split infinitive ever


For the BSG fan who has everything

February 25, 2011

Useful, yet unbelievably overpriced!

I cannot for the life of me get why they made it…it’s funny, yeah, I get it, but the web site where I found it said it retailed for $ 300! (To be fair, they are selling it for half that, and I found it listed on eBay for less than that!)

And I’m a fan of things that are cool for cool’s sake, like fins on 1950s cars. I guess if it was forty bucks it would be great, but call something a “collectible” and it becomes insane.

Oh, and from the images I saw…it doesn’t look like it makes very good toast. Too bad. It doesn’t even have that little red light that scans back and forth.

Can I get it in brushed aluminum?


The continuing story of “V”

January 8, 2011

And who might this be? Hmmm?

Apparently the second-season premiere of “V” didn’t catch on with viewers, no matter how much advertising the ABC network put into it ahead of time.

I watched it last night. I have to tell you, there is some interesting stuff now on the show, but not enough. I think I know what would help, too:

Get some writers who know science fiction!

I mean, really – everybody thinks they know enough about aliens, and that aliens can be and do just about anything. No knowledge  of physics is required, no chemistry or biology either.

Every science fiction TV show, story, or novel requires some suspension of disbelief. Most kinds of fiction require it in some way. Do you really believe that all those crazy kinds of murders go on in Las Vegas, one a week?  Who would go there on vacation? Or that the CSIs in Miami have computer technology 20 years ahead of what we have in the real world?

Those writers know just how to walk the fine line so viewers stay interested but don’t sit back and say, “That’s just too freakin’ outrageous! I can’t watch this any more!” (Well, all of them but the writers on “CSI: Miami,” in my opinion. They’re waaaay over the top now, and I can’t watch it.)

Incidentally, I think there are two reasons why the original CSI has been better for the last two years: Lawrence Fishburne joined the cast, and they hired David Weddle and Bradley Thompson to exec produce. They were Ron Moore’s secret weapons running the writers’ room on the recent reimagined version of “Battlestar Galactica.” (Even though they made their writing chops on “Deep Space Nine.” But then, Moore came from “Star Trek: Next Generation” himself. Both of those shows, of course, made most aliens humans with latex heads.)

But back to my point. Most TV writers see aliens as either humans, usually with British accents and latex heads (see above), with usual human motivations and emotions, or as sort of the ultimate deus ex machina – they can do anything, be anything, and their motivations need no consistency. (See the film “Star Trek V” for one of the worst abuses of this idea.)

Our societies and cultures ares dictated by our environment, sure, but first and foremost by our biology. The built-in dual-sex mammalian  makeup of humanity imposes certain restrictions on our behaviors and motivations, whether we be tenth-century Mongols or present-day Americans. Human behavior for the last three or four thousand years has been more similar than different, when viewed from outside of humanity by aliens.

The V aliens ares supposed to be lizard-like, but we see them covered with a blanket of something similar to human flesh. Even the humans who know what the aliens really are tend to look at them as humans because the speak our language and look like us. (And they have one working with them…and he’s too “human” to be believable to me.)

Hopefully the writers will use this to their advantage this year. The idea that we are completely suckered by the aliens is an old one, but can be useful to this show if they can then show the incredible alienness of their real selves. In the old series there was some business about them needing water, then really wanting us as food; neither made any sense. (For water, go get a comet; it’s closer than going to another solar system. And why would we be food compatible with their biology, anyway?)

So what do these “pseudo-lizards” want? We don’t know yet. They’ve had advance teams here for quite a while – generations, perhaps. This merging of human and lizard doesn’t make any biological sense unless there is something else that went on in the past of which we are not aware. And the little bit of terraforming the red rain is supposed to be doing may be making the Earth more congenial for them, but do they need us for something? If not, why not just kill us all off and be done with it? Why the infiltration and deception? Slavery?
They can’t be “lizards” because they didn’t evolve on Earth. We have less in common with them than we do with bacteria.

So the job for the writers is to give the aliens motivations that ring true with the audience while not being human motivations. They have to do this while making the humans people we care about. So far I think they’ve had trouble with both of these. They need to make the aliens alien enough and give the humans a bit more humanity.


Sci-Fi Airshow – You have to see this!

June 23, 2010

Orion on landing

If you fondly remember 1960s and 70s science fiction shows, or you just love great modelmaking, you need to see the Sci-Fi Airshow site. Bill George, a Visual Effects Supervisor at Industrial Light and Magic, did a truly beautiful job on these images.

Spindrift from "Land of the Giants"

The artwork includes several larger versions for computer wallpaper. Really, you should see this artist’s work. Go check it out!


Science Fiction and Christianity

April 1, 2009

neo_heroWhile I was looking around on the City Journal web site (see post below), I found a piece about Science Fiction and Christianity, by Benjamin Plotinsky. He talks about the major SF books and films with Christ-like figures, from Star Wars to The Matrix to Dune.

I thought this piece was interesting in light of my previous post about the role of religion, or at least spirituality, in Babylon 5 and Battlestar Galactica. In B5 it was always pretty obvious where JMS was going, at least that he was going to explore “alternate explanations” for common religious beliefs. In BSG it was more subtle for a long time. As the show played and Baltar increasingly talked about God, it was unclear if this would be significant or just the ramblings of a guilt-ravaged man who was living with the knowledge that he had betrayed the entire human race.

It was significant, and not in the way I expected. I alternately expected it to come to nothing, or a shining-light-in-the-sky kind of revelation about who the Cylon God would be. Ron Moore left us hanging without answering those questions, to an extent. However, the discussions I’ve seen on line about the end of the show dealt more with the fact that the Galacticans seemed to reject all technology and allow themselved to fall into savagery than how the Cylons influenced their religious beliefs. Maybe I’m not reading the right forums!


It’s All About God’s Love – Battlestar Galactica Finale

March 21, 2009

battlestar22806a WARNING: Post contains spoilers for those who have not seen the finale! Read at your own risk!

Who would have though Ron Moore was a religious guy? Even in a non-denominational, non-single religion way?

The finale brought us quality CGI battle scenes, lots of ammo spent, a couple of standoffs, murder and suicide, some tearful moments (for me, not just the characters), and, for the show, a pretty happy ending. It also left some questions about The Bigger Things: Head Six and Head Baltar are angels? Sort of, anyway. And what was Starbuck?

Moore sheds a little light on it in the interview you can read here. The last hour felt odd to me, because once again the planet had a definite visual feel to it. Old Caprica was pretty much shot normally, with no color alterations. New Caprica was shot to look very washed-out all the time. Real Earth (Earth #1?) was blue-gray; a visual cinder. New Earth’s colors were oversaturated, and I swear some of the clouds were CGI to make it look even more pristine than normal. Maybe that was all done to convince us that British Columbia looks like prehistoric Tanzania. I think it was definite decision to make it feel brighter, happier, and filled with promise.

Thanks, Ron, for not ending the series any darker. We needed to “play them out with music at the end,” as Heinlein would say. The fact that they would all soon be scratching out a menial existence was enough.


I want to make sure we remember J. Michael Strazynski and Babylon 5 at this moment. Without B5 and its groundbreaking use of story arc we could never have had BSG. (By the way, the original B5 Lurker’s Guide is still up, thank the Great Maker.) I know, other shows have done story arcs, but four years?  Lost, maybe. It’s still a tough sell to a network, I’m sure. But B5 was where TV science fiction grew up, and storytelling because more than the monster-of-the-week.

Ron Moore tried to make BSG relevant to the questions of our day, as did Gene Roddenberry in his original vision of Star Trek. In large part, he succeeded. He knew that the majority of his audience was going to be held by the character development. He apparently had no concerns that the audience would be unable to suspend their disbelief about the underpinnings of the show, such as  what makes a Cylon a Cylon. As far as we could see, they were human. One, because of God’s Love, was even able to have a child with a human. Where’s the machinery?  Moore always tried to avoid the nerdiness factor that could have doomed the show…but I guess I’m that nerd, because I’d like a little more reason to believe Cylons were at least partly non-human. Maybe “The Plan,” the prequel movie Edward James Olmos directed and which will air next fall, will tell us. But I doubt it. I would expect it was written more to bridge to the prequel series, “Caprica.” Maybe we will learn more there.

Title - Battlestar GalacticaAnd what ever happened to the Centurions? Are they still out there? Did they build a machine civilization? Are they V’ger? Are they the Borg? I hope not. I expect something better of our favorite toasters!

EDIT, supplemental:

Here is a link to Maureen Ryan’s interview with Ron Moore and her thoughts on the finale from the Chicago Tribune: link

She caused me to remember a couple of other points:

First, JMS was (and is, I supposed) an avowed atheist. In fact, he used to work for Madelyne Murray O’Hair’s atheist magazine. His picture of the universe included “Old Ones,” beings who apparently moved to the End of the Universe after they tired of reality and playing the game. He also made the mysterious alien Kosh as the kind of being humans had interpreted as angels, and the Shadows as demons, or at least as the creatures who kindled such mythology. He resurrected his main character without telling much about how. He was willing to say there were things We Could Not Yet Understand, but he didn’t make them completely unknowable…just that we weren’t there yet. It was a sort of an explanation of the bases of man’s religions that traded some scientific Mysteries for spiritual ones. Was that really a trade? JMS left that open-ended. There were many religious references and discussions within the show. To JMS’ credit, he always treated them with great respect. I always thought of him as more of an agnostic…the show seemed on one level to be JMS trying to work out what was to him a reasonable belief system.

6a00d834518cc969e201156e31a4bf970c-800wiRon Moore, as you can see from the two interviews referenced above, was not that subtle. Some Things We Cannot Know, and may never know…at least on this side of reality. (Anders to the departing Kara Thrace: “See you on the other side.”) I never made a connection of a sort of Holy Trinity about the show, but in a way it was very true. Kara was very much a Holy Spirit at the end. I think Moore’s characters are in some way more aware of their importance to the human race, because there is so little of it left, and very unaware of their lasting influence. They are just trying to survive and do the right thing, with little time for reflecting on the big picture…unless they end the reflection pretty much roaring drunk.

The main characters JMS established in B5 were aware of their importance – world leader, emissary, religious icon, leader of all sapient creatures (!). They often acted accordingly. And yet the show was about the characters, just as BSG was. G’Kar was my favorite on B5, and I just realized there are parallels with my favorite BSG character…Starbuck. Hmm. Maybe these two series aren’t as different as I first thought…