Tag Archives | Science Fiction

Earth Angel

If you’re a Galactica fan who for some strange reason hasn’t yet seen the third-season finale, then stop reading now, because there’s SPOILAGE AHEAD.

The Final Five Okay, judging from the finale it looks as though my earlier guess (see here and here) that Ron Moore is intending to reprise the original Starbuck’s intended character arc from the 1979-80 show, including his eventual metamorphosis into an angel-being who returns to help the Colonial fleet, was right on the money. In that case, speculation about where season 4 is headed might well be guided by further reflection on the angel-beings from the original series.

If you’re not familiar with the original series, you might want to check out the following angel-related clips on YouTube so we can all be on the same page. In this clip a supernatural being calling himself Count Iblis visits Baltar in his prison cell and alternately threatens and reassures him in a manner interestingly similar to Six’s M.O. on the new series (well, mutatis some important mutandis). Iblis also reveals a thousand-year-old connection to the Cylons, his voice having served as the template for the Imperious Leader’s voice – thus anticipating the new show’s implied connection between Cylon and human mythologies. (Feel free to quit watching this clip midway through, around 5.52 when Iblis vanishes from Baltar’s cell; the second half isn’t especially relevant.) In this clip we learn that Iblis is identical with the Satan figure of Colonial mythology (no surprise, since “Iblis” is the Arabic name for Satan), and that he is in some sort of conflict with the angel-beings. In this clip we discover that the angel-beings are interdimensional travelers who were once as the Colonials are but have progressed to a higher level of being, that the Colonials may one day be raised to this same level, and that Iblis is a renegade angel-being. The angel-beings also raise Apollo from apparent death (explaining to the Colonials, as the Colonials in another episode – I forget which – would explain to a group of less advanced humans, that death is technology-relative), and offer to help the Colonials find Earth. Finally, in this clip we see Starbuck, given up for dead by the Colonial fleet, being judged worthy by one of the angel-beings, subtly named Angela. (In the unfilmed episode The Wheel of Fire we would have found out what Starbuck is being judged worthy of – namely to be raised to angelhood himself.)

Count Iblis Now I don’t expect Moore to follow any of this very closely. In particular, I don’t think we’re likely to see a Satan figure like Iblis; Moore is clearly more interested in conflicts among various sorts of flawed characters than in conflicts between pure good and pure evil. But Moore has followed the Starbuck part closely enough that it’s worth considering what further clues the original show’s angel-being arc might contain.

The similarity between the old show’s Baltar-Iblis interaction and the new show’s Baltar-Six interaction, together with Six-in-the-head’s claim to be an “angel,” invites speculation that Six-in-the-head is an angel-being (or whatever the new show’s equivalent is), and not a Cylon after all. And just as Baltar has a Six that nobody else can see, so Starbuck in “Maelstrom” had a Leoben that nobody else could see – and that Leoben admitted to not really being Leoben, and seemed to be an angel-being also.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Six-in-the-head and Leoben-in-the-head are on the same side; they might represent different factions of angel-beings, and indeed the conflict between Cylon and Colonial religion may reflect some war among the angels (though probably representing a more complicated conflict than the original show’s analogous one). (Which side Caprica Six’s Baltar-in-the-head is on I couldn’t say.)

I'm back! Miss me? Baltar’s and Starbuck’s respective Cylons-in-the-head appear to share still further similarities; each keeps telling its host human that he or she has been chosen for a special destiny – almost as though the different angelic factions are grooming different candidates for human messiah. (Does the “Baltar cult” among the Colonials have anything to do with this?) And just as Leoben-in-the-head evidently has something to do with Starbuck’s miraculous recovery from being apparently blown to bits in “Maelstrom,” so Six-in-the-head presumably has something to do with Baltar’s almost-as-miraculous recovery from a nearby nuclear blast in the series pilot. (That’s one reason I don’t think either Baltar or Starbuck is a Cylon. Because they can’t both be ….)

So what’s the relation between the angel-beings and the Cylons? My guess is that the Cylons didn’t make the transition from toasters to skinjobs entirely unaided, that angel-beings were involved. (For what it’s worth, in one of the Galactica comic books it was Count Iblis who originally tricked the Cylons into making the transition in the other direction, from organic to cyborg.) Given that in interviews Ron Moore has told us that the Final Five are “fundamentally different” from the previously revealed seven, could it be that the two groups of skinjobs, the seven and the five, were raised up by the two competing factions of angel-beings? Some squabble among the Lords of Kobol, perhaps? (Though I’m still not sure why the Final Five in D’Anna’s and Roslin’s visions look like angel-beings themselves.)

Does Starbuck know the way to San Jose? Certainly the Final Five seem to have a special affinity for the Lords of Kobol and/or the 13th tribe; witness Tyrol’s ability to sense the location of the Eye of Jupiter, the Five’s connection with both the Temple of Jupiter and the Kobol opera house, and now their self-awareness as Cylons being triggered, apparently, by the fleet’s approach to the location of the next beacon left by the 13th tribe.

I note also that the revelation of Tyrol as one of the Final Five means that there are now two Cylon-human hybrid babies on board the Galactica – but one is a hybrid of a human with one of the seven, while the other is a hybrid of a human with one of the Final Five. (The angel-beings were interested in hybrid babies in Galactica 1980 too – remember Dr. Zee.) Roslin’s dream could be interpreted as implying that Hera, the non-Final-Five hybrid, is in some sort of danger from the Final Five. (A related question: the being on the Cylon baseship also called a “hybrid” presumably isn’t a Cylon-human hybrid; but in that case, of what and what is it a hybrid?)

Among the many further questions these speculations leave unanswered:

Do the Final Five come in multiple versions like the seven, or are they one-offs?

Do the Final Five date from the same period as the seven, or are they somehow earlier (thus explaining Tigh’s service record)? Could they, somehow, even be from Earth?

Who’s the fifth member of the Final Five? Is he or she in the fleet or elsewhere? Did he or she hear the music too?

Are the twelve Cylon models based on the twelve Lords of Kobol, with the division between the five and the seven somehow reflecting an analogous division among the Lords? (Maybe; but don’t try too hard to link up the known Cylons with the traditional Olympian pantheon – only six of the original Olympians were male, and we already have seven male Cylon models. Though of course we don’t know for sure that the Kobol pantheon matches the Greek one exactly, since we don’t know all the names of the former.)

What lies beneath? How did the other Cylons track the Colonial fleet?

What caused the power failure (and Roslin’s reaction) just before they showed up?

How does the real Leoben know about Starbuck’s destiny?

Back when our protagonists were running around on Kobol, it was mentioned that the original Athena had committed suicide. Do angel-beings commit suicide? Was it really suicide?

Anders, Tigh, Tory, and Tyrol were all drawn to a room with a large, prominent bulkhead/hatch on the floor, to which lighting and camera angles blatantly drew our attention. What’s under it?

Both Cylons and angel-beings have told us that “this has all happened before.” Meaning what, exactly?

Is the Earth we see in the final scene our past, our present, or our future? (Given the appearance of the North American coastline it’s presumably no more than a few million years distant from the present.)

Is the version of “All Along the Watchtower” that the Final Five (or four of them anyway) hear really supposed to be a song from Earth, or something else?

Do the song’s lyrics have some special significance? Are the “joker” and the “thief” the same as the “two riders … approaching,” and do they refer to characters on the show? or factions of the angelic war? (If they turn out to be Ron Moore and David Eick, and the closing animations after the credits of each show turn out to be actual parts of the plot, we’ll have to kill them.)

Against Anarchist Apartheid

Consider the following two lists of names:

Group 1 Group 2
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
Josiah Warren
Stephen Pearl Andrews
Ezra Heywood
Anselme Bellegarrigue
Lysander Spooner
Benjamin Tucker
Francis D. Tandy
John Henry Mackay
Voltairine de Cleyre (early)
Franz Oppenheimer
Gustave de Molinari
Herbert Spencer (early)
Auberon Herbert
Wordsworth Donisthorpe
Rose Wilder Lane
Robert LeFevre
Murray Rothbard
David Friedman
Randy Barnett
Samuel E. Konkin 3.0
Hans-Hermann Hoppe

It’s obvious what the two lists have in common: all the names on both lists belong to thinkers who have favoured radically free markets and the abolition of the state – hence, one might infer, market anarchists.

But it’s quite common in left-anarchist circles to insist that while the Group 1 thinkers are genuine anarchists, those in Group 2 are not true anarchists at all – on the grounds that true anarchists must oppose not only the state but also capitalism. Group 1, we’re told, is commendably anti-capitalist and so authentically anarchist; but the members of Group 2 exclude themselves from the anarchist ranks by their advocacy of capitalism. (I’m not sure into which group geolibs like Albert J. Nock and Frank Chodorov, or migrating thinkers like Karl Hess, are supposed to fall, so I left their names off.)

I am not a fan, needless to say, of this putative distinction between “true” and “false” market anarchists. I plan to criticise the case for the distinction in fuller detail on a future occasion; for now I’ll limit myself to two major points.

Benjamin R. Tucker First: those who draw this distinction are hardly ever market anarchists themselves. They are more often anarcho-communists or anarcho-collectivists who regard both Group 1 and Group 2 as making unacceptable concessions to economic individualism. (Indeed they often dismiss even their favoured Group 1 – apart from Proudhon, anyway – as “Stirnerites,” even though most of the Group 1 thinkers developed their views independently of Max Stirner; in fact even Tucker, the clearest “Stirnerite” of the lot, was already a committed market anarchist before he’d ever encountered Stirner’s ideas.) When anti-market anarchists propose to decide who is and who isn’t a genuine market anarchist, it’s a bit like Christians demanding the right to adjudicate the dispute between Shi’ites and Sunnis. (One suspects that some of the anti-market folks would really like to purge both groups of market anarchists, but the anarchist credentials of Group 1 are too well-established for that to be a practical solution.)

Rather than inquiring as to the opinions of anti-market anarchists, then, it would seem more relevant to know whether the Group 1 thinkers regarded Group 2 as fellow-anarchists or not. And in fact such Group 2 luminaries as Molinari, Donisthorpe, and the early Spencer were indeed all hailed in the pages of Tucker’s Liberty (the chief American organ of individualist anarchism, which published most of the Group 1 writers) as anarchists – and Herbert as a near-anarchist. (Donisthorpe even wrote both for Liberty and for the journal of the Liberty and Property Defence League – thus bridging a supposedly unbridgeable ideological gulf.) Thus America’s leading Group 1 spokesman, while certainly critical of Group 2 thinkers on various points, apparently had no problem recognising them as fellow-anarchists. (Compare also the largely favourable attitude today of Tuckerite Kevin Carson toward Rothbardians and Konkinites.)

Nor was this because Tucker was especially generous with the term “anarchist.” On the contrary, Tucker withheld the term from anarcho-communists like Johann Most, Pëtr Kropotkin, and the Haymarket martyrs; from Tucker’s point of view, it was they, not the Spencerians, who were “false” anarchists. Needless to say, I don’t advocate following Tucker’s example on this point; one parochialism is no improvement over the other. But the fact that the editor of Liberty – who always called his position “consistent Manchesterism” – felt less close to contemporary anarcho-communists than to the forerunners of “anarcho-capitalism” (for surely Tucker’s views on Molinari and the radical Spencerians seem like the best guide we could have to what his views would most likely have been on Rothbard, Friedman, etc.) tells against the simplistic division of market anarchists into socialistic sheep and capitalistic goats. (Indeed the contributors to Liberty cited Spencer as often as they did Proudhon; while, for that matter, Karl Marx complained that Proudhon himself was more respectful toward quasi-anarchic classical liberals like Charles Dunoyer than toward revolutionary communists like Étienne Cabet.)

Second: it’s thoroughly unclear by what criteria Group 1 and Group 2 are supposed to be distinguished. Defenders of the dichotomy insist that Group 1 is “anti-capitalist” while Group 2 is “pro-capitalist”; but in order for this to be a useful marker it needs to be substantive, not merely terminological. The fact that Group 1 thinkers tend to use “socialism” as a virtue-word and “capitalism” as a vice-word, while Group 2 thinkers tend to do the reverse, by itself means little; because the two groups clearly do not mean the same things by these terms. Most Group 2 thinkers use the term “capitalism” to mean an unregulated free market, and use the term “socialism” to mean government control; most Group 1 thinkers use those terms differently, but agree with their Group 2 counterparts in favouring free markets and opposing government control, by whatever names they may call them. In Thomas Hobbes’s words: “Words are wise men’s counters, they do but reckon by them; but they are the money of fools.”

Given the enormous variability in the use of the term “capitalism,” then, it will hardly do to base a crucial distinction among antistate thinkers on their attitudes to some undefined abstraction called “capitalism.” We need to know what specific positions are supposed to divide Group 1 and Group 2. But it’s awfully hard to find positions that divide the two groups in the desired way.

Is it their stand on the labour theory of value? Except insofar as that translates into policy differences, what difference does that make?

Sweet Land of Anarchy Is it their stand on the wages system and the exploitation of labour by capital? By that standard, Group 2 thinkers Spencer, Konkin, and Friedman, who favoured abolition of wage labour, all belong in Group 1, while Molinari and Donisthorpe, who favoured reforming the wages system to shift the power balance in workers’ favour, fall somewhere between the two groups.

Is it their stand on land ownership and rent? By that standard Spencer, in rejecting land ownership entirely, is more “socialistic” than Tucker and so belongs in Group 1, while Spooner, in endorsing absentee landlordism, is more “capitalistic” than Tucker and so belongs in Group 2.

Is it their stand on protection agencies and private police as quasi-governmental? By that standard Tucker, Tandy, and Proudhon, who all favoured private police, belong in “pseudo-anarchistic” Group 2, while LeFevre, who rejected all violence even for defensive purposes, would have to be moved to Group 1.

Is it their stand on intellectual property? By that standard, IP fan Spooner would have to be assigned to the “pro-property” Group 2, while most present-day Rothbardians, as IP foes, would need to be shifted to the “anti-property” Group 1.

Is it their stand on the legitimacy of interest? Well, perhaps in the abstract; but both sides tend to predict a drastic fall in the price of loans as the result of free competition in the credit industry; and both deny that it will fall to zero. Group 1 thinkers tend to call this nonzero residuum “cost” while Group 2 thinkers tend to call it “interest”; ho-hum. This seems a weak reed to burden with so weighty a dichotomy.

None of the criteria I’ve most often seen appealed to, then, seem to divide the two groups in the desired manner based on concrete positions. I suspect what actually drives proponents of the purported dichotomy is no specific policy dispute but rather a general feeling that Group 2’s pro-market rhetoric is a cover for a rationalisation of the power relations that prevail in existing corporate capitalism, while Group 1’s likewise pro-market rhetoric – however misguided it may appear in the eyes of the dichotomists – is not. And that perception in turn is based, I suspect, on the fact that Group 2 thinkers are more likely than Group 1 thinkers to fall into what Kevin Carson has labeled “vulgar libertarianism,” that is, the error of treating defenses of the free market as though they served to justify various features of the prevailing not-so-free order.

Now it’s true enough that Group 2 is more liable to this unfortunate tendency than is Group 1. But:

a) few Group 2 thinkers commit the error consistently;

b) some Group 2 thinkers (e.g. Konkin, or 1960s Rothbard – or Hess, if he counts as Group 2) don’t seem to commit it much at all;

c) vulgar-libbin’ seems no worse an error, no stronger a reason to kick somebody out of the anarchist club, than, say, Proudhon’s egregious misogyny and anti-Semitism; and

d) if confusing free markets with corporate capitalism isn’t grounds to disqualify anti-market anarchists (who often seem to commit the same error in the opposite direction), why should it be grounds to disqualify vulgar-libbers?

Hence I see no defensible grounds for accepting any dichotomy between Groups 1 and 2. They are all market anarchists – with various virtues and various flaws, but comrades all.

Invade Mars, Kill Their Leaders, and Convert Them to Edison

In his classic 1897 novel War of the Worlds, H. G. Wells took aim at complacent Victorian assumptions of human superiority over animals and European superiority over non-Europeans, portraying what it would be like for his British readers to find themselves on the wrong side of natural selection and/or military imperialism. In Wells’ portrayal, the human defenders were hopelessly outmatched by the Martian invaders, whose defeat finally came not through human ingenuity but through accidental infection.

This gloomy message apparently sat ill with American writer Garrett Serviss, who in the following year penned an unauthorised sequel titled Edison’s Conquest of Mars, in which the human race, led of course by the United States, strikes back against the Martian enemy with the aid of weapons and spaceships provided by real-life inventor Thomas Edison.

Edison on Mars I’d never heard of this sequel until recently; turns out it’s a fun read. Stylistically the book owes more to Jules Verne than to Wells, and toward its end begins to anticipate Edgar Rice Burroughs as well – without, of course, being in the same league literarily as any of those authors. There are no great Wellsian lines here on the order of “minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us,” or “by the toll of a billion deaths man has bought his birthright of the earth, and it is his against all comers … for neither do men live nor die in vain.” In spirit and substance too it departs from Wells in a number of ways, most notably – and unaccountably – in substituting humanoid Martians for Wells’ rather more effective proto-Lovecraftian creepy-crawlies. (Plus, no tripods! Where are the tripods?!) And the appeal of the book’s high-tech can-do optimism is somewhat offset by its tiresomely jingoistic neocon-fantasy militarism. This is the sort of thing against which Wells’ original book was written! But it’s an enjoyable ride nonetheless.

The book’s chief merit, at least for science-fiction geeks like me, lies in the extraordinary scientific accuracy (at least for the most part) of its description of space travel, as well as its pioneering use of such later genre tropes as asteroid mining, disintegrator guns, and extraterrestrial origins of the Egyptian pyramids and Sphinx.

There seem to be more than one version of this book floating around. The version I read is this one from Apogee Books, but I’ve since found an online version from Project Gutenberg. I haven’t looked closely through the Gutenberg version, but a quick glance at the first page alone reveals many differences:

Apogee Version Gutenberg Version
It was supposed at first that all the Martians had perished, not through our puny efforts, but in consequence of disease. Subsequent events proved however that some of those who arrived in the last cylinder had not succumbed, and on discovering the fate of their fellows they fled in one of their projectile cars, inflicting their cruelest blow in the act of departure. The Martians had nearly all perished, not through our puny efforts, but in consequence of disease, and the few survivors fled in one of their projectile cars, inflicting their cruelest blow in the act of departure.
They possessed a mysterious explosive, of unimaginable puissance, with whose aid they set their car in motion for Mars from the Common. The force of the explosion may be imagined when it is recollected that they had to give the car a velocity of more than seven miles per second in order to overcome the attraction of the earth and the resistance of the atmosphere. They possessed a mysterious explosive, of unimaginable puissance, with whose aid they set their car in motion for Mars from a point in Bergen County, N. J., just back of the Palisades. The force of the explosion may be imagined when it is recollected that they had to give the car a velocity of more than seven miles per second in order to overcome the attraction of the earth and the resistance of the atmosphere.
The shock destroyed all of Boston that had not already fallen a prey, and all the buildings yet standing in the surrounding towns and cities fell in one far-circling ruin. The shock destroyed all of New York that had not already fallen a prey, and all the buildings yet standing in the surrounding towns and cities fell in one far-circling ruin. The Palisades tumbled in vast sheets, starting a tidal wave in the Hudson that drowned the opposite shore.

I don’t know what the story is about these two versions; the introduction to the Apogee edition mentions the existence of abridged versions, but “abridged” doesn’t seem like the right word here.

Smoke and Mirrors

According to Wikipedia:

When Katee [Sackhoff, who plays “Starbuck”] decided to quit smoking just before shooting started for Season 3 of Battlestar Galactica, the writers for the show decided to have her character also stop smoking. Both were in response to fan mail from young girls who said they wanted to be just like Starbuck when they grew up.

Oh please. Now it’d be great if these girls grew up to emulate Starbuck’s positive qualities while avoiding her negative ones. Starbuck smokingBut as far as the latter go, does anyone think smoking is anywhere near the top of the list of Starbuck’s self-destructive traits? Ahead of the binge-drinking, moody surliness, picking pointless fights, taking needless risks, wrecking all her personal relationships, etc., etc.? Not to mention deliberately crashing her ship in what looked like suicide a couple of episodes ago?

In fact nearly all the characters on Galactica, despite their many virtues, are self-destructive or otherwise seriously screwed-up; that’s part of what makes the drama so compelling. For that matter, the cylons on the show commit suicide as a handy form of transportation (Sharon) or enlightenment (D’Anna)! If the show’s writers were really to suppress all depiction of behaviour whose emulation might be inadvisable, they’d have to wreck the entire show. So why single out smoking, apart from its being politically correct to do so? (I’m reminded of when Marvel Comics decided to make Wolverine give up smoking, lest impressionable youngsters take him as a role model. Wolverine still leaps into fights and slashes away at people with sharp steel claws built into his knucklebones, however.)

In any case, I vaguely recall seeing an interview where Sackhoff said the reason her character gave up smoking cigars (which is the only thing I can recall the character smoking) is that Sackhoff herself has never liked cigars. So I have my doubts about the whole story!

Sometimes giving up a cigar is just giving up a cigar.

Lampkin’s Cat Is a Mechanical Daggit! Pass the Word!

Great! And I'm still stuck on this frakkin' sand planet. Good news for Galactica fans: the Sci-Fi Channel is extending the show’s fourth season from 13 to 22 episodes.

Moreover, a Galactica tv-movie is in the works (purportedly involving a backflash to the Pegasus, so we may hope for a reappearance of Michelle Forbes) to tide us over between the seasons.

(Conical hat tip to AICN for both points.)

In the meantime, season 3 concludes this Sunday, when we’ll find out … well, a number of things.

Two Riders Approaching

Cylon on board Okay, I’ve just seen what, if true, is an absolutely insane, over-the-top set of spoilers for Battlestar Galactica’s two-part season finale.

If you are even slightly spoiler-averse you should most emphatically not, NOT, NOT click here. What is once seen cannot be unseen.

You have been warned, human.

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