HMS Galactica

Do not read this if you follow BSG, haven’t yet seen last night’s episode, and are averse to spoilers along the lines of “Oh, look, it got  even grimmer.  Who’da thunk?”  Because today’s post will carry such vague, thematic spoilers.

Here we go.

Oh look. It got even grimmer.  Who’da thunk?

Way back in high school I remember reading an Alistair Maclean novel called HMS Ulysses. Set during World War 2, it described the slow, death-by-a-thousand-cuts of an Allied warship in the wake of an on-board mutiny, escorting a supply convoy across the wintry North Atlantic.  The story was relentless.  Things started off bad and got worse.  The convoy was lost.  The ship sank trying to ram the enemy after losing all its weaponry, and even that heroic final gesture failed.

Even at the tender age of fourteen, I knew it was my kind of book.

After watching last night’s “The Oath”, I have to wonder if Ron Moore et al aren’t taking us down exactly the same road. Mutiny.  A powerful, smarter enemy.  A failed mission,  all hope lost, a whole species staggering galvanic through the cold starry seas while enemies without and within tear at its flanks.  Is this how it’s going to end?  Are we in for eight episodes of death throes?  Will our last view of the ragtag fleet consist of nothing but charred wreckage,  tumbling  slowly on to heat death through sheer inertia?

No other show would have the balls.  Even this show will give us more than that.  They’ve promised us answers, after all: Kara Thrace, the Final Five, the hybrid prophecy.  They won’t just leave us hanging, nor will they desperately cobble together some half-assed topheavy retcon to insult our intelligence (*coughXFilescough*). There will be resolution.

But after that resolution— once the loose ends have been resolved — what use is the fleet?  What use is humanity?  There’ll be only one question left to answer, the very first question the series ever posed, back at the start of its epic journey:  what makes us, as a species, worthy of survival?

What if we’re not?  What if we don’t?

Could there be a more perfect ending to it all?

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Saturday January 31 2009at 01:01 pm , filed under ink on art . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

19 Responses to “HMS Galactica”

  1. Are we hearing there will be genuine disappointment if it has a happy ending?

    How about if the resolution of the various threads is cheesy – I mean, hinting at a monster is scarier than showing it, so they’re at a disadvantage.

    They might be able to pull it off they carefully planned the ending from the beginning, as a complete story arc. Has this series been extended beyond its originally conceived end date? There is no television down here in the tunnels, so I haven’t been following it.

  2. Originally I envisioned the last episode would consist of the fleet making a desperate jump to earth with the cylons in hot pursuit. Of course there would be a huge and terrible armada waiting for the cylons and they would mop up there.

    But now with little hope for earth things are way more interesting.

    There’s really no way for humanity to ever win against the cylons even with the rebels limited by no resurrection. Sadly I suspect they’ll pull a Dune and leave it with man and machine living together in some stable peace and then in the last frame have 20 bay ships show up on DRADIS.

    That’s how I would end it, dangle the nice happy ending right there wrap up all the outstanding personal stuff and then WHAM! Nothing but a sick feeling in your gut that this is how it all ends.

    But ‘this has all happened before and will happen again’ so there’s hope in that sentiment at least.

  3. Oh yeah, I read HMS Ulysses as a teenager too! Such a great book, I read it several times back then. It’s descriptions of the frozen North Atlantic and the sheer hell the sailors went through in WWII have stayed with me for decades now, long after I’ve forgotten most of the details of the plot. I must find a copy and reread it.

  4. I’m still stuck on the “Squid at 14″ image.

    14 was about the time my teacher started giving me books from his personal collection to read, so there was a lot of Japrisot, Millhauser, Emile Zola, and so on. I recall fighting with him over the Japrisot — we chased each other ’round the classroom for dibs on a new paperback. (He won.)

  5. [quote]
    There’ll be only one question left to answer, the very first question the series ever posed, back at the start of its epic journey: what makes us, as a species, worthy of survival?
    [/quote

    Our potential?
    Mankind could accomplish a lot even in its biological form. Imagine if, say, genetic engineering weeded out sociopathy* from the population, and the average man would be about as smart as Richard Feynman was…
    Genetic engineering has a bad rap right now, but that may change.

    If hard-AI proponents are correct, and it’s going to be feasible to have consciousness in different substrates, humanity’s potential is limitless.
    (as in perhaps giving rise to a vast range of intelligent beings, establishing low-key presence everywhere in this galaxy and so on)

    *crucial. Genius sociopaths.. that would be unpleasant.

    BSG. I watched the first series, but never got over why exactly the Cylons could not create those infiltrators with unique faces. I guess the budget wasn’t big enough for a few more models/actors..

    That, and if there were machineguns or what not on those fighters, why not semi-automatic heavy cannon on the bigger ships? Or railguns?

    This sort of thing, scaled up, loaded with nuclear rounds would sweep the sky very clean, very clean indeed..
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advanced_Gun_System

    Plus the religious overtones, the ridiculous episode with finding water .. though there are zillions of comets out there… I kind of got fed up.

    [quote]
    Could there be a more perfect ending to it all?
    [/quote]
    I thought Canadians were immune to the uniquely* American obsession with doomsaying or perhaps apocalyptism. Though I got the “mankind is wicked, deserves to die out” vibe from the Lenie Clarke books. I’m curious, is that projection?

    *in modern times: see Y2K, Peak Oilers, etc etc..

  6. If hard-AI proponents are correct, and it’s going to be feasible to have consciousness in different substrates, humanity’s potential is limitless.

    This is true, but the BSG backstory explicitly rules it out: the whole civilization went technologically retrograde following the Cylon uprising, as a deliberate strategy to avoid being hacked by the enemy. AI was an especially verboten pursuit, for obvious reasons. I saw a parallel to 17th Century Japanese culture, which toyed with forearms before deciding that going down such an avenue would not end well, and choosing to stick instead with bladed weapons. I don’t know if RJM ever cited that precedent, though.

    BSG. I watched the first series, but never got over why exactly the Cylons could not create those infiltrators with unique faces. I guess the budget wasn’t big enough for a few more models/actors..

    Again, it’s been stated pretty explicitly that the Cylons decided that there were only twelve essential types of human personality, and that adding additional diversity would be redundant. I myself remain skeptical of that conclusion, but it is part of the canon.

    Plus the religious overtones, the ridiculous episode with finding water .. though there are zillions of comets out there… I kind of got fed up.

    As an avowed nonreligious sort myself, I had no problems with the mysticism. They are us, after all, and most of us worship ass-hamsters of one sort or another. I was perfectly content to see a theistic (especially a polytheistic) civilization in which religious beliefs were the norm, but more thoughtful citizens rejected them as myths and legends, or used them to exploit others. I never saw the presence of those beliefs as advocacy for them on the writers’ part.

    The ice thing, though, bugged me too. You could always argue that comets are far more difficult to locate than planetary bodies, and thus are effectively rarer, but it would’ve been nice to have one of the characters at least mention them.

    I thought Canadians were immune to the uniquely* American obsession with doomsaying or perhaps apocalyptism.

    YT, meet reality. Reality, YT.

    Though I got the “mankind is wicked, deserves to die out” vibe from the Lenie Clarke books. I’m curious, is that projection?

    You must have been reading the special Scandinavian edition with 25% more pessimism. The version I wrote had this happy Hollywood ending where everyone gets a second chance, even though they don’t deserve it. And I’m on the public record as being of the opinion that mankind is no more or less worthy of extinction than any other species. (I regard us as not so much enemies of nature as amped-up exemplars of nature.)

    Don’t think I ever said anywhere that we were “wicked”, or that we deserved to die. I generally try to steer away from those kind of fire-and-brimstone religious viewpoints. Interesting that you’d attribute those views to me, though.

    I’m curious, is that projection?

  7. Umm, no. I just harbour some irrelevant notions .. but I should keep them to myself. As they say, I hear a whisper in my ghost :)

    Projection? I doubt that, while I do have a few strong opinions concerning mankind, those are generally restricted to human gulibility. I’m cautiously optimistic concerning our outlook.

    This climate change alarmism is suspect. For all the models, no one can predict weather three months in advance, with accuracy greater than that obtained by augury, yet policy ought to be made on models of Earth over decades.
    I don’t understand why James Hansen adjusted the GISS data set, but it stinks. I remain skeptical. Not that I’m against curbing CO2… burning fossil fuels is wasteful, so in principle, I agree with what’s being done, but I really dislike the feeling that Hansen & comp are lying to me. Didn’t Hansen predict an ice-age three decades back? Did anyone predict the return of sea ice in the arctic this year? The year before I heard a lot about ice-free arctic..

    There may be some credibility to the theory that GW alarmism is being stoked by companies that benefit from it, and perhaps those gray eminences who would like to see consumption down for the sake of the planet. (God knows who. There’s the Trilateral commission (btw 10% of its US members recently got appointed into the Obama administration..) .. )
    This planet and its biosphere has survived more heat. .. possibility of some kind of runaway greenhouse effect a-la Venus has been debunked afaik.

    BTW, what do you know about ocean acidification? I skimmed through some pretty worrying paper on it two years back.

    Oil? Even if it ran out, there’s coal gasification (dirty…), but there’s nothing that prevents mankind from gradually building up a sustainable power grid powered by say, fast integral breeder reactors, or other passively safe, efficient designs.
    So, there’s potential for a little rough transition to that.
    Sure, people would have to stop being consumer for a while, but that would be a positive change. It could all work out, unless resources get squandered on inefficient, unreliable nonsense like wind power (ask Germans how well they’re dealing with instability of the power grid thanks to wind power…).

    Population’s still rising, but it’s not accelerating, but rather slowing. We have AIDS, and perhaps biosphere’ll devise some new way of keeping our numbers in check. There are already very promising developments in drug resistant TBC .. (call me heartless, but if we can’t control our own numbers, we shouldn’t begrudge nature for trying to do it for us.. )

    There’s trouble on the horizon, like what’ll happen in China when the downturn’s at it’s worst, and the exploited masses there are going to demand justice. Won’t be pretty. Or how high’ll the inflation get in the USA.. Everyone’ll get their just desserts, and it won’t be pretty.

    Long term, it doesn’t look that bad. Economy’ll rebound eventually, and hopefully on saner grounds, once the dollar hegemony has disappeared.. (and the so-called US Empire with it..)

    [quote]
    The version I wrote had this happy Hollywood ending where everyone gets a second chance, even though they don’t deserve it.
    [/quote]
    Come on. It was contrived.. A deus ex machina. Unless appearances are decieving, South Africa is going to follow Zimbabwe’s example a decade into the future. Hasn’t Jacob Zuma of “give me my machine gun”/shower fame just ascended to presidency? Sure, China could develop something like that, but I could’nt shake the feeling that a happy end wasn’t what the write originally had in mind.

    Oh. I should know better.. but semester’s not yet started.

  8. “It could all work out, unless resources get squandered on inefficient, unreliable nonsense like wind power (ask Germans how well they’re dealing with instability of the power grid thanks to wind power…).”

    - uh, not so. Are you talking about difficulties in connecting decentralized wind turbines with varying output into the grid (technically feasible, and dealt with, as far as I know), or the power grid breaking down, lights going out, etc… ? Can’t remember that last one ever happening, not because of wind power at least.

    (And I thought the rest of your post sounded a lot like you’d enjoy some apocalyptism… :-))

  9. [quote]
    - uh, not so. Are you talking about difficulties in connecting decentralized wind turbines with varying output into the grid (technically feasible, and dealt with, as far as I know)
    [/quote]
    Dealt with?
    Ask the Germans. It’s not been dealt with. The crux of the matter is, that the wind power in the grid behaves as a variable load. And needs to be backed by quickly acting conventional power plants.
    See this article for example:
    http://maxedoutmama.blogspot.com/2008/07/problems-with-on-grid-wind-power.html

    They’re an eyesore. What’s sad is, how many people think that building lots of these bird-killing monsters and paying 5 times the market rate for the electricity from them is a good idea.

  10. Yeah, as I said, varying output of the wind turbines – and so far it’s been dealt with. It might become a problem with more wind energy capacity, – or until then they might just figure out how to start up the backup plants quicker/to manage the grid more effectively/better predict the weather/…

    But then, solar energy doesn’t work during the night and you still have the problem of storage, gas can apparently be held hostage as the last months have shown, geothermal is a gamble and very capital intensive in the beginning, with coal you get CO2, dams aren’t that environmentally good either, nuclear waste is one enduring problem … etc. There’s always disadvantages – for me the potential grid problems with more wind power capacity just aren’t that a big deal.

    In the end the decision of the energy mix of a country is at least in part decided by the people, and so far we are apparently in favor of guarenteeing a fixed (higher) price for alternative energies – perhaps with the hope that by using an energy production form and promoting it the technology will get more effective.

    Eyesores – well, personally I don’t like the over land transmission lines, whereas the wind turbines up on the hill here don’t bother me at all.

    (And sorry for highjacking the thread – it’s just that I’m working on this energy mix report here and couldn’t pass up the discussion.)

  11. Ehm, the “we” up there is we Germans. Seems I can’t correct my reply.

  12. Haven’t seen it mentioned yet, but I’m sure a few people here have read Dan Simmons Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion. From what I hear about the refitted BSG, it seems like a lot of the same ideas about God, AI and human development would resonate with the Hyperion novels.

  13. YT said I said “The version I wrote had this happy Hollywood ending where everyone gets a second chance, even though they don’t deserve it.” and then YT said “Come on. It was contrived.. A deus ex machina.”

    Well, uh… yes. Contrived, anyway. You didn’t catch the “Happy Hollywood Ending” remark?

    Deus ex machina, though, I disagree with. ‘Twasn’t that arbitrary. There was a lot of set-up to justify the payoff. It’s just that that payoff was too, you know, happy. A couple of people didn’t die. I blame myself. I fell in love with my characters, and didn’t have the heart to kill them off.

    As to the rest of your post, nt to pass any judgment on its quality, but it doesn’t seem to have a whole lot to do with the subject of the post. And I’d watch out for that huge difference between “weather” and “climate”; you’re skating pretty closing to conflating the two, much as Michael Crichton did. And look that happened to him.

  14. Rockets from somewhere else bearing Seppuku do have a bit of DeM flavour…. but you’re right. There was a lot of set-up for that.

    I should probably have a firmer grip on myself. The off topic.. I was just trying to explain that while I’m quite sure that this century’ll be even more interesting than the last one(I’m curious what exactly will top Auschwitz, but I’m sure once Israel falls, it won’t be pretty at all. Chinese are already making inroads, with them selling prisoners’ organs and thus making a healthy profit out of the Falun Gong business), overall, we don’t live in the end times.

    But, is it not true that climate is weather on a longer timescale?
    Even the models used to simulate it are similar…
    If we can’t accurately predict weather weeks in advance, claiming that we can predict how’s the average temperature going to look like in a hundred years. Models are models, and I’ve heard they’re pretty seductive, but not always reliable.

    Then there’s stuff like this.. :
    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/06/05/goddard_nasa_thermometer/print.html

    It’s possible that several years, down the road, a lot of people are going to be embarrassed. Drake equation shows, that not all thing scientists devise are worthwhile.

  15. “But, is it not true that climate is weather on a longer timescale?”

    God no. Climate is “arid subtropical”. Weather is “sunny with cloudy patches and a chance of rain”. Climate is a long-term line that extends across decades and centuries; weather is one of the little points scattered around it. Mistaking one for the other is like mistaking a red blood cell for a human being.

    The claim that “weather prediction is unreliable, therefore there is no evidence for climate change” is utter bullshit. When heating a pot of water on a stove, I cannot reliably predict the movement of individual particles from moment to moment. But I can sure as shit tell you that the water is heating up.

  16. [quote]
    The claim that “weather prediction is unreliable, therefore there is no evidence for climate change” is utter bullshit
    [/quote]
    I agree, but I merely pointed out that if weather models cannot accurately predict weather well in advance, perhaps we should not take climate models without question, not that climate is not changing.

    I think there is lots of evidence that climate is changing. It always has been changing.. the 1930-70′s were kind of cool, Little Ice Age was before that, and medieval warm period before that… and so on..

    Sure, the models supposedly can predict 20th century climate if given data from 1900, but I am quite certain that some amount of tweaking was done to them before they could.

    Perhaps tweaking of this sort ..
    http://regmedia.co.uk/2008/06/01/nasa_temperature_adjustments_since_2000.png

    Is there an innocent explanation? Perhaps thermal expansion coefficient of mercury has changed?

  17. YT said “Is there an innocent explanation? Perhaps thermal expansion coefficient of mercury has changed?”

    There are a few innocent explanations. For example, satellite-based estimates in the early nineties didn’t account for the effects of orbital decay (hence, changing altitude) on the instrument platforms. When those adjustments were made, previous outliers fell into line with the rest of the data set. In fact, the history of ACC studies has shown a consistent trend: the more data are gathered, the more they converge on a single endpoint– and that endpoint is always closer to the worst-case scenario than to the best-case. And even the worst-case scenarios predicted by climate models are not as bad as what the actual data are showing: observed rates of arctic ice melt, for example, are three times as high as the IPCC’s best models from 2007. The more we know, the less disagreement there is, and the worse it looks.

    As for the NASA angle, I haven’t paid much attention to their press releases since the Cheney administration came to power; for the past eight years, public output from NASA, the EPA and NOAA have been too thoroughly compromised by political interference to be reliable (although their internal analyses probably remain legit).

    What’s your agenda here, YT? If it’s just my mind you’re trying to change, you’re gonna have to do better than trotting out long-discredited bullshit from the Register: I don’t even follow the climate change issue very closely any more, and even I have over thirty recent, peer-reviewed, primary papers on the subject, sitting on my hard drive. All attest to the reality of anthropogenic climate change ( I would be happy to send them to you), as do thousands of other peer-reviewed papers that I don’t happen to have on hand. Plus, dude, I’m a biologist, and I hang around with other biologists; we see the distributional patterns of various species changing. We see the corals bleaching. Even Sarah fucking Palin has had to admit that Alaska is melting on her doorstep, that climate change is real. These are not model predictions; these are observed phenomenon, happening now. Australia is on fire; the melt area of the Greenland ice sheet has increased by thirty percent since 1980; The Antarctic is shedding icebergs the size of Delaware.

    And yet, despite all this, there many places on the web where the whole Climate-change-denial shtick continues to find a far larger and more appreciative audience than could ever be found on this modest little newscrawl. Why hijack the comments thread on a posting about Battlestar Galactica, of all things?

  18. Well. As I stated, I don’t deny climate is changing. However, whether it’s all our doing, is a question that I haven’t settled for myself in a satisfactory manner.
    [quote]
    What’s your agenda here, YT?
    [/quote]
    I’ve no agenda. I’ve been accused of having a compulsive urge to be a prick, but I’m doubtful. Probably just a procrastination habit. Not a serious one, I managed to keep my grade average above B last semester… (despite having read the ßehemoth trilogy twice over..)
    –>
    You suggested that it’s the end times, I replied with why I don’t think that’s the case. Exchange of views followed.

    [quote]
    ( I would be happy to send them to you)
    [/quote]
    I’ll settle for waiting a decade. I’m not particularly skilled in wading through climatological papers, nor inclined to. I don’t know enough to know when someone’s been pulling my leg..
    I’m in no real hurry.. as I really think that it will take more than even a ten degrees temperature rise to wipe out us two legged rats.

    However, if you have some sort of paper on ocean acidification, please send me a link or make a little post about it, if that would not inconvenince you greatly.
    That’s much more scary than air getting a few degrees warmer(it has been warmer in the past, I’m sure you know).
    As to me, I’m all for warming, I can’t stand cold due to my physiology. Ski-industry be damned. However, there was one really nasty winter three years back, and this one’s been cold too. I’m eagerly awaiting snow-less winters, but I’m afraid that I’ll sooner get an MG-42 for Christmas than that occurs.

    [quote]
    long-discredited bullshit from the Register
    [/quote]
    I’m sure there were no weather satellites back in 1910 or so. Has it been disproved that NASA has made adjustments to the temperature data set and those adjustments lowered earlier temperatures and increased more recent ones? What new information could’ve affected the way data 80 year old is viewed? Care to point out where it’s been discredited?

    [quote]
    I’m a biologist, and I hang around with other biologists; we see the distributional patterns of various species changing.
    [/quote]
    One doesn’t have to be a biologist. I’ve been aware of that for the last six years at least, and even if I weren’t, a few years back there was an article in one sunday newspaper supplement about exactly that.. (written by a biologist, no less), stating exacty that..

    [quote]
    Why hijack the comments thread on a posting about Battlestar Galactica, of all things?
    [/quote]
    If I hijacked it, you’re complicit at least. If you were not, you’d have posted that this is no place to discuss GW, and that I should go back to studying*…. instead of replying and thus abetting the hijacking..

    Anyway, let’s consider this exchange of views closed. I have lots of better things to do, and I think the same goes for you.
    I’ll write a note to self to check out the facts in ten years. I’ll do some gloating If I’m right.. and if not, I’ll send you a hundred inflation adjusted €..

    *mechanical engineering.
    [quote]
    If it’s just my mind you’re trying
    [/quote]
    Oh. No point in that. We can’t change our nature. Even if say, the majority consensus were that there is no AGW, I think you’d believe the opposite. You wrote Starfish after all..
    I hope that by following ‘crawl I’ll be able to verify for myself certain notions that I harbour concerning your person. It’s nothing sinister, just that I have a completely irrational but deep desire to acquire information of no conceivable use to me.

  19. Y.T. flailings aside,

    It seems clear to me that the whole series is moving rather swiftly towards some sort of unification of flesh with machine. The series strikes me as being rooted in a kind of Dickian (as in Philip) Christian Mysticism. I think you are underestimating the role religion will play in the final solution of the loose ends. I’ll bet right now that the show will wind up in a circle of human begets machine becomes cylon consumes human becomes lost needs human. It’s a variant of “the machine will consume us all” nightmare that is exemplified in everything from the Terminator to The Matrix to The Borg to Existenz to WALL E