Today's post will be interesting to nobody.
In line with this, my wife and I have been watching the past seasons of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica. I have generally found the attempt at gritty realism to be much more compelling than the original's weird mixture of camp, comedy, and "drama." And just to make sure she understood what I meant, I actually conned my wife into watching the first twenty minutes or so of "Saga of a Star World." Yes, I am in fact a bastard.
Now, the thing to keep in mind at this point is that I know a few things about both modern physics, and about the fake physics commonly used in sci-fi. I've read enough books and short stories, and seen enough programs, that I can actually feel comfortable discussing the political, economic, and military implications of many types of fictional technologies.* Sometimes I feel so compelled to remark upon them that it can be quite amusing for others. My Former Hypothetical Roomate** frankly found the experience of watching Tim Burton's remake of Planet of the Apes with me to be utterly hysterical, as it reduced me to incoherent stuttering inside of ten minutes. It isn't that I can't suspend disbelief- I can- it's just that having suspended disbelief, the new rules I've accepted have to make some kind of sense. And all too frequently, there are little... problems. And it's one of these "little" problems in Battlestar Galactica that I want to bitch about right now.
Okay, here's the thing: I'm not going to talk about the whole resurrecting cylon deal. No, it doesn't make any kind of sense, but I'm prepared to let that slide. I can sort of make some shit up about quantum entanglement and feel okay about it. I'll also ignore things like the difficulty in maintaining sustainable biospheres when so far removed from resupply. I'll even ignore the whole "love can enable humans and cylons to have children" thing because, really, it's so stupid that I have to just hum really loud and pretend it's not there. No, what I need to mention has to do with two things: (a) the Human-Cylon war and (b) jump drives.
Right, so, in Battlestar Galactica the Humans and the Cylons had achieved a sort of stand-off. The humans had their worlds, defended by the "Colonial Fleet" and the Cylons had their own worlds defended by... uh... creepy metal starfish filled with entrails and croissants of death. So, great, balance of power. Now, let's consider how the colonials and cylons get around. See, space is pretty big and it takes a long-ass time to get anywhere. So, both humans and cylons use "jump drives" which is sci-fi shorthand for a faster-than-light drive that more or less approximates teleportation: you pop out of existence in one spot, and pop into existence elsewhere. Now, this kind of drive almost always has a restriction attached to it: sometimes you can only use it in particular spots (e.g. "jump points"), sometimes it requires special fuel, etc. In the case of Battlestar Galactica, the only restriction seems to be that it takes some time to calculate the proper way to jump to a specific location. So, multiple jumps are difficult to execute quickly because you have to recalculate after each one. This appears to be the only restriction on the drive. It isn't big or fuel intense because a number of small craft are jump capable. Moreover, there appear to be no limits on where a jump can originate or terminate as ships have repeatedly jumped in and out of close orbit around a planet.
And there's the problem y'all need to take note of: they can jump in and out of close orbit.
See, here's the deal. Let's say YOU were the cylons. You knew where the human worlds were. You wanted to kill them all- and I mean every goddamn one of them. You have these faster-than-light drives that allow you to pop into existence without warning anywhere in range and you can place these drives on small craft.*** What do you do? Well, I'll tell you: you build a while bunch of high yield thermonuclear weapons, strap jump drives to them, and then just jump them straight into terminal trajectories over colonial cities. Maybe this is a difficult computation? Sure, but the thing is, you know where the planets are going to be at any given time. It isn't like they can take evasive action. So, take as much time with the supercomputers as you want- the targets will still be where you predict when the time comes. And this is, weirdly, the thing that bothers me most. The heroic colonial fleet? It's hot-shot viper pilots bravely defending the colonies from the cylon menace? Utterly pointless. It's like opposing ICBMs with platemail. It might make you feel tough, but it's completely useless. The show has actually written itself into such a position as to make itself nonsensical. And that just bugs the hell out of me.
Okay, I'm done.
* And people wonder why grad school has been taking me so long...
** God, when was the last time the good old FHR got a mention here? Sorry, buddy!
*** As a side note, unlike the colonials, the cylons place jump drives on every one of their killer-croissants. So they can't be either fuel costly or expensive to manufacture in large numbers.