Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Today's post will be interesting to nobody.

While it doesn't come up on the blog as often as, say, vaccines, I have mentioned before that I am a fan of science fiction. So much so that I actually have a tag for posts relating to sci-fi, which you can find at the bottom of this post. So much so that for a while I wanted to be a science fiction author and have even posted a rather tacky little story that I wrote back in high school. Have fun. So, yes, I am one of those people. And while my desire to write sci-fi has largely faded, I still take a keen interest in both written science fiction and its retarded cousin, televised or film science fiction.

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.

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Blogger Marf said...

Ah, but they know the humans could also do the same thing. So no-one dies it because that would result in mutual annihilation.

But, I'm more of a Star Trek guy... I've never actually seen Battlestar Galactica.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009 12:57:00 PM  
Blogger Drek said...

Yeah, I thought of the whole MAD thing but I don't think it'll work here. I base that on several issues I didn't mention earlier including, but not limited to:

(1) The colonials don't know the location or locations of the cylon homeworlds. So the cylons are immune to a retaliatory strike.

(2) Cylon jump drives have significantly greater ranges than their colonial equivalents, thus introducing substantial first-strike capability.

(3) We have never- not once- seen a similar weapon deployed in an anti-ship role. And, really, you'd think that would be the nice way to go about this kind of thing- rather than attack with STL fighters, just stealthily detect your enemy and whack him/her/it with an unstoppable FTL-nuke. The fight basically devolves into a first-detect first-kill scenario sort of like with nuclear submarines.

So, much as I would love to go with that answer, it's not consistent either. Good thinking, though.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009 1:14:00 PM  
Blogger Marf said...

Then would it be possible that the Cylons have never invented a nuke?

Unlikely yes. But there's no reason to assume an alien civilization would progress in the same technologies at the same pace that humans would. They could be incredibly advanced in some technologies, but be lacking in others.

I know, you'd think they would have made a large explosion in an accident if nothing else... But perhaps that's all they saw it as: an accident.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009 1:42:00 PM  
Blogger Drek said...

Again, good thinking, but untenable. In the first place, the cylons are derived from humans in the reimagined Battlestar Galactica. So, basically, their initial technological endowment was more or less what we had at the time they broke away. In the second, and more important place, they have been depicted as using nukes multiple times in the series, so they most definitely have access to them. Even if they didn't, however, jumping a large dense mass into a terminal orbit would still be pretty effective as kinetic bombardment.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009 2:02:00 PM  
Blogger Marf said...

Well, then they just wanted a storyline with heros on a ship.

Just like any work of science fiction, it falls apart when you over-analyze it. It wouldn't be fiction otherwise. If everything actually worked like they say it does, then it would be in use today in real life.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009 2:24:00 PM  
Blogger Mister Troll said...

A friend tried to get me into BSG a few years ago, but at the time it didn't take. But last week my wife and I picked up the first season of BSG and we're hooked. Possibly the difference is that this time around my brains are fried (we have twins: they're teething).

You're right about the tactics. It's pretty much universal in sci-fi that awesome technology is coupled with moronic tactics. (Star Trek example: any time some intruders board the ship, couldn't you just tell the computer to beam all non-StarFleet personnel to 100 m off the starboard bow? Invasion over: go back to the holodeck.)

As for the Cylons, the pilot mini-series does mention a defense grid. It is possible that such a grid provides a sufficient defense against Cylon technology near orbit or even in the system. Since it wasn't described, it *could* suppress unauthorized jumps (begging the question, can't we get a portable one of these toys, because boy would it be useful), or maybe it just scrambles Cylon technology (ala the Ragnarok depot, only quicker and better). Or you put enough automatic laser systems up there, and you could vaporize incoming nukes.

I think there are plausible ways of patching this particular problem, although I get annoyed when the writers can't be bothered to provide these explanations.

I think the ship-to-ship tactics are hopeless. You're right about the hot-shot pilot problem. These would be completely useless.

Another problem I've seen: every so often, a ship (Colonial One perhaps) has to "hug" the Galactica for protection. But obviously when they do that, that ship completely blocks outgoing fire (you can see the guns actually can't even fire in all directions anyways). Which means, of course, that the ship, ostensibly protected, is actually a sitting duck if the Cylons bothered to attack from a different (or multiple!) direction.

The whole stick-close-the-guns thing works in 2D; don't see how it works in 3D.

And then, if the Battlestar is shooting at the Cylon Raiders, and the Vipers are aimed straight at the Raiders, then should the Vipers get vaporized by friendly fire?

I may... be spending too much time thinking about this.

(As for the Cylon-human interbreeding, clearly I haven't got there --- being on season 1 and all --- but given that the Cylons are synthetic and essentially perfect simulcra, then shouldn't the reproductive organs be functioning as well? Possibly when I get there, I'll see what your objection was.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009 6:49:00 PM  

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