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Sci-Fi Television Science

The Science of Battlestar Galactica 465

Posted by samzenpus
from the set-phasers-on-unrealistic dept.
gearystwatcher writes "TV science adviser Kevin Grazier talks about getting rid of the Trek babble in Battlestar Galactica. From the article: "Grazier's job was to help keep the technology and science real and credible — even when there were some massive leaps. Grazier didn't just make sure that there was a reason for what we saw — bullets instead of lasers — but also that when the science bit did break into the open, it was more mind-blowing than the writers could have conceived — such as when the humans discover their mechanical Cylon persecutors have evolved to look human.'"
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The Science of Battlestar Galactica

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  • by s-whs (959229) on Wednesday November 03, 2010 @09:19PM (#34119524)

    The result: BSG was barely science fiction - at least to purists.

    I risk to differ: Good science fiction can and should also refer to social sciences by putting people into extreme situations that are probably easier to conceive in a fictional setting then in a setting of the current world. When doing that kind of science fiction it will most likely tell you more about the time when it was created then about a possible future and IMO that is a good thing, because the future is not foreseeable anyway and the fiction should reflect and influence the now. I think BSG did an excellent job at that.

    I agree with the one you quoted: The new battlestar Galactica series was interesting in some aspects, but contains huge amounts of melodrama, useless drama, and even soap opera level drama that was completely worthless. Many an episode I used fastforward/skip on xine for the entire episode, then concluded: That was a complete waste of time.

    I skipped a lot after season 2, then the last season was a pretty poor and the ending a boring interpretation of making the story fit into the world as we know it. Interesting? Not very. Surprising? Perhaps but not that interesting. It was a bit like Pierre Boulle's story 'planet of the apes', or rather, the film made from the book. The ending of the book is much better than that of the film even though it can be argued they are essentially the same in varies respects. Boulle's ending gives you a shock of leaving a planet, then seeing the same thing they escaped from happened on their own planet, suggesting this is something that will always happen due to human stupidity, whereas the film's ending gives more a regretful ending of 'Oh how stupid we humans are', a 'once' event, that perhaps could have been averted, nothing more...

  • by RsG (809189) on Wednesday November 03, 2010 @09:20PM (#34119530)

    Once you give ships self-repair capability or a good deal of intelligence, "living" ships are a natural extension. It may be cliched beyond redemption, but it's not that great a stretch.

    Except that's not what's being addressed here.

    I will grant that a ship with sophisticated self-repair, artificial intelligence and the ability to communicate is very much like a "living ship". It also won't bleed if you shoot it, nor does it have a spongy mass of brain tissue at the controls.

    The kind of living ships you're talking about, where repair nano-tech and advanced computing are invoked, is more often found in written science fiction. And is just fine as far as hard science goes.

    What BSG, B5, Farscape and some of the latter additions to Star Wars and Star Trek involve is ships made of living tissue. And that makes no sense whatsoever. It's like the writers somehow got the idea in their heads that flesh can be engineered to extreme levels of durability and regeneration, or without the limitations of conservation of matter and energy. It ties into a fundamental misunderstanding about the capabilities and limitations of evolution and life in general.

    Want to see a ship made or organic matter? Wooden sailboat. You'll note we make our warships out of steel, and would continue to do so even if we could make a wooden boat that healed.

  • Re:mind blowing? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by guybrush3pwood (1579937) on Wednesday November 03, 2010 @09:29PM (#34119600) Homepage

    [...]dry-humping Tricia Helfer (which got tiresome after the second or fifth time).

    It most certainly did not! :P

  • by Junta (36770) on Wednesday November 03, 2010 @09:41PM (#34119674)

    But science fiction (purist definition) refers to posing questions about things that are explicitly raised by advanced science concepts. BSG is good space opera. A story told against an aesthetically interesting backdrop defined in terms of futuristic aspects, but a story that could replace it all with fantasy or even current day elements and still preserve the essence of the story.

  • by shugah (881805) on Wednesday November 03, 2010 @09:42PM (#34119682)
    I absolutely hated TNG - not just because of the techno-babble, but because techno-babble became the turning point in too many episodes. Got a problem? Geordi, Data or that irritating little wuss Wesley will propose routing the tachyon emitters through the main deflection shield (or the holodeck grid) that will blah, blah, blah, solve the problem. Make it so. The only thing I really hated about BSG was the word "Frack". I hated it in both the original series and the remade series.
  • by Culture20 (968837) on Wednesday November 03, 2010 @09:44PM (#34119688)
    Regarding firefly and serenity: I didn't see all of the firefly episodes on tv because of the unannounced schedule changes. I didn't see serenity in theaters because it was in the theaters in my (medium sized) city for only one week. I didn't get a chance to see it because of a mix of time constraints and theater stupidity. Even the dollar theaters didn't play it afterward. So I bought serenity on DVD just like I bought firefly. But if they would have been "straight to DVD" productions, I probably would have not bought either.
  • by RsG (809189) on Wednesday November 03, 2010 @10:04PM (#34119820)

    I'll let slide the question of how exactly said goop was effecting the repairs.

    What was in my head when I was talking bio-ships in BSG was actually more the stuff like the meat brain found inside the Cylon Raiders. That made zero sense, except insofar as it was needed for a contrived Deus Ex Machina.

    Seriously, they don't even have the excuse of not possessing computers perfectly able to do the same job. The Centurions demonstrated that. Nor was this a question of having biological systems for a biological pilot, as the Raiders were essentially unmanned ships. They had no excuse.

  • by Korin43 (881732) on Wednesday November 03, 2010 @10:08PM (#34119842) Homepage

    Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles seemed to run out of ideas halfway through the first season. Another season would've just prolonged its death. I bet they only did the last season they way they did because they knew they wouldn't have to figure out the next episode.

    Stargate Universe was a bad idea from the beginning, but I admit it's getting better. I hope whoever thought we needed a series of Stargate: Relationship Drama and No Action got fired. Not to mention that the plot of almost every episode in the first season was "We're going to die, let's cry and/or have sex! ... Yay! The ship saved us.. again!" With the introduction of aliens and a way of controlling the ship, it looks like it has a chance. I hope they didn't blow it with the first season.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 03, 2010 @10:23PM (#34119950)

    Did you even watch BSG, or are you just trolling? A great deal of the praise BSG received was specifically for tackling contemporary issues, such as terrorism, racism, sacrifice, democracy, abortion, etc. Sure, you can boil the plot down to "former slaves overthrow former masters" but you can do that with anything: SG was the exact same premise - former slaves (humans) warring with their former masters (goa'uld). If you didn't like it, fine, but it wasn't a 'bad' show for the reasons you chose.

  • by RsG (809189) on Wednesday November 03, 2010 @10:35PM (#34120038)

    Sure it might, likely has all sorts of fluids in it. Cooling, material transfer, hydraulics and so on. Just because it's a "living ship" does not mean it's made from the same material as life on Earth.

    You're reaching. Recall we're talking about BSG here (and the other series that had this cliche).

    The Cylon Raider brain bled actual blood. Not coolant, hydraulic fluid or any such material.

    That's a design decision, if the easiest way to make an AI is to grow one from brain tissue than why not just make that part of the ship?

    A brain the size of a large dog? That can be outflown by a human pilot? In a setting where they have truly mechanical AI (in the form of Cylon Centurions)? Right, that's clearly a more efficient design.

    No, they simply don't have your limited imagination and understand that just because life on earth is made out of something that doesn't mean all life must be made of that. Plenty of great hard science fiction covering that area I should add... ...Why are you imposing the arbitrary restriction of it having to be made of Earth style organic material?

    Because, in series like BSG/B5/Farscape/etc, the carbon based, amino acid derived nature of the living ships is canon, meaning this isn't a question of me imposing my own "limited imagination". This is a case of the writers failing to do the research. And copying each others ideas without checking whether the copied idea made any sense in the first place.

    Now, I will grant you, life could evolve to fit niches completely unlike our own. But that isn't what's being discussed here, and you're veering off course by bringing it up.

    Show me a series which has biological/organic spacecraft (including series where the craft are cybernetic), and where the biological components are expressly derived from some living tissue that has no common elements with our own, and we'll talk. Don't speak of hypothetical examples, show an actual one.

    Note that by "no common elements" I mean none. No viruses from the crew infecting the ship (BSG, Voyager). No common nutrients, like where the ship can "eat" human food (Lexx, Farscape, SW EU). Completely alien chemistry - show me a series with a ship like that.

    Life has no limitations

    I'm going to take this one quote as a sterling example of what's wrong with your argument.

    Life has limitations. Organic life based around carbon chemistry using water as a solvent is inherently limited in what ranges of temperature, pressure and ionizing radiation it can operate. There is earth life that can survive exposure to space (water bears are an example), but only through mechanisms that allow such life to shut down and restart at a later time. This is not my opinion, it is an established chemical and biological fact. Put another way, ask someone with knowledge of biology greater than or equal to my own (a biology professor for instance), and they will back me up on this point.

    Want to get around those limitations by using different chemistries? Okay. What are you using in lieu of carbon as a primary building block? What solvent are you using? What system of energy transfer serves for metabolic function? All forms of life will have limits, even if those limits differ from our own. Simply saying that the living tissue in question is not carbon based does not excuse it behaving in impossible ways.

    Any life would face the same limitations imposed by the laws of physics. Many bio-ships in fiction are thermodynamically impossible. The writers try to get around issues with mechanical ships (reaction mass and repair) by using tissue in lieu of machinery, ignoring that the problems are not mechanical in nature, but are instead the laws of physics.

  • by twidarkling (1537077) on Wednesday November 03, 2010 @10:50PM (#34120138)

    Exactly. It was mentioned that the Raiders had about dog level intelligence (or higher, by the end), and were continually resurrected to learn from the mistakes that got them killed in the last fight, so they continually became deadlier fighters.

    It also makes more sense to do it that way since then the fighters were able to react to situations on solo missions, rather than needing to be connected to a C&C ship, or only be able to deal with minor parameters.

  • by Hamsterdan (815291) on Wednesday November 03, 2010 @11:02PM (#34120214)

    One of the reasons I've always liked B5... Starfuries use newtonian physics in combat.

    Kinda cool that NASA asked JMS permission to use that design (was granted as long as they keep the Starfury name)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starfury#Real_world_interest [wikipedia.org]

  • by jjohnson (62583) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @02:04AM (#34121406) Homepage

    One of the pleasant surprises was Richard Hatch (Apollo in the original) coming back and doing an excellent job of playing a villain (Tom Zarek) in the new series--and then giving that villain a very deep portrayal that made him one of the most interesting characters in the series.

    In comparison, Dirk Benedict whined about he didn't get to come back as a hotshot viper pilot.

  • by Patch86 (1465427) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @03:45AM (#34121778)

    I think it's a big problem with US shows, over UK ones.

    US shows usually have 12-24 episodes to a series, and tend to produce them until viewing figures demand cancellation. UK series are often 6 episodes long, and tend not to be plugged to death.

    At that sort of low intensity, a show can stay fresh for a great many years without running out of steam.

  • by teh kurisu (701097) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @06:09AM (#34122348) Homepage

    My problem with SGU was that it started with the premise of this population of people isolated and having to survive on their own, and then instantly killed it with the communication stones bringing them into regular contact with Earth. That, and SGU was meant to be a big break from the previous Stargate series', but that didn't last long either because for the season 1 finale they brought in the Lucian Alliance for a rather disastrous story arc.

    Also, why is it suddenly fashionable to split seasons into two? SGU and Caprica both just stopped half way through their first seasons. I watched SGU thinking that it was just slow to get going, but being told that the next episode is six months away, without any sort of season finale type episode to prepare me for it, really killed my interest in the show. Same for Caprica.

  • by cafard (666342) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @08:00AM (#34122852) Journal

    Natural Up Direction: Okay, so in space, you don't really really truly need a natural up direction, but if you have a bunch of ships all going in the same direction, you certainly would want them all aligned to be the same way. I mean, just imagine trying to communicate if no-one cared what way they were rotated!

    "Fleet! Look out on your left!" turns into:

    "Jack, look out below! Paul, it's to your right! Mick, it's right in your front window sights, Tom, it's behind you!"

    See why all the ships would be in a natural "up" direction? Simple communication. It's a formation for a reason.

    For the fleet, of course. But there is no reason why Cylon Basestars would pop out on that same horizontal plane. That's where the natural 'up' feels dodgy to me.

  • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Thursday November 04, 2010 @08:03AM (#34122872) Homepage Journal

    If they weren't making it up as they went along they sure did a good job of covering that up.

    Heroes was a TV series made to be like a comic book by fans of comic books. Looked at the world of comic books lately? I believe that at least one major publisher is now on their third universal reset, because they ran out of plots and want to go revisit the old good ones and you can't do that if he's already done it! Heroes thus became a sort of accidental meta-parody of comic books...

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