Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Science of Battlestar Galactica

It has been called the best show on television, and as real as science fiction gets. It has dealt with issues of religious freedom, patriotism, terrorism, genetic engineering, and the ultimate science fiction question: what does it mean to be human?

The show is Battlestar Galactica, a 21st century re-imagining of the classic 1970s tv show. It's got the same basic storyline – man-made robotic creatures called Cylons, having eliminated most of the human race, are chasing a ragtag fleet of the few remaining survivors in a race to find the mythical planet called Earth. The new Battlestar Galactica (BSG to its fans) eschews the meaningless whiz-bang shoot-em-ups of the earlier show – each episode does NOT have its required space battle – choosing to focus instead on character development and conflict, both internal and external, to the point where it sometimes becomes difficult to tell exactly who the good guys are.

For that reason, Battlestar Galactica has also been called a science fiction show without science. Every time we make a connection between events on the show and events in real life -- Caprica is America, Cylons are fundamentalist terrorists, the attack is 9/11, etc – we understand that nearly the exact same story could be told – is being told – without the trappings of spaceflight and robots.

Series Producer Ronald M. Moore, who previously was a writer and producer for Star Trek: The Next Generation is on the record as saying that the intense level of technological information known about the Starship Enterprise actually hindered some of the stories he wanted to tell in that series, because earlier episodes had established that the Enterprise worked in a certain way that contradicted his proposed story. Moore didn't want that to happen with Galactica, so the entire production is deliberately vague about how things work.

Yet while it is true that BSG is not a techies dream (the bad guys don't even have laser guns, for frak's sake!), the science that does exist in the show serves to illuminate the use of science and technology in our own lives. The debate over whether or not to use Cylon blood to cure human cancer is essentially an argument about stem cell therapy; the development of “The Farm” by the Cylons lays out the pro and con arguments for abortion and parental responsibility. Like all good science fiction, Battlestar Galactica takes us millions of miles away from Earth for the sole purpose of letting us turn around and see ourselves through another set of eyes.


Malak said...


Great blog. You totally need to add Billy Keikeya to the 'final Cylon' poll :(

Joshua said...

Second that. Billy would get my vote if he were there. Someone suggested it on the (now-defunct) Battlestar Blog back in the day - that a really chilling scene would be Roslin re-meeting Billy, realizing he's a Cylon. I think that's a door the writers will definitely keep open ... provided the actor can be brought back.

Norris Boyd said...

If I remember correctly, Cylons in the original series were not man-made but were constructed by some alien race.