Friday, June 03, 2011

how close I was!

I check my SiteMeter regularly to see who's reading what on my blog, and last night I saw that someone had found my old BSG and Foundation and Earth post. I slapped an update on that post, in the hopes that the mysterious reader might hit "refresh" and see it (note to readers: some of my typos magically disappear when you hit "refresh," because I usually go back and retro-proof my published posts, often within the first few minutes after hitting "publish"); the update links to my post at Kevin's Walk re: BSG's deity.

What struck me about the Foundation post, which was written soon after the end of BSG's Season 3, was how close it was to predicting the actual finale. It's a point of pride, among us SF geeks, to be able to anticipate where the writers will go in their story arc. Here's part of what I wrote:

Instead, I want to ponder the BSG version of Earth. What will Earth be like? I think we can assume it will exist: the final moment of the season-ender for Season 3 shows us a glimpse of the North American continent. Because the continent is recognizable, we can further assume that, when the ragtag fleet arrives, they won't be seeing Earth during its Pangaea phase, nor during some future time, millions of years hence, when the continents will have drifted and rearranged themselves into something unrecognizable. At the very least, then, we know the fleet will see Earth during a period when it's possible that humans will be there.

So far, so good, right? I should note, though, that geekier geeks than I have pointed out that the Earth we see briefly at the end of Season 3 has terrestrial features that wouldn't have existed 150,000 years ago.

The next part of my post gets things totally wrong. I immediately dismiss the parallel-evolution hypothesis (which turned out to be the path that series creator Ronald D. Moore took) in favor of the as-yet-unnamed-homeworld hypothesis. The BSG writers actually did a great job of confounding expectations, here: they threw us a "first Earth" as a red herring before eventually showing us, in the series finale, our very own Earth.

But then I get back on track first by noting what Isaac Asimov did in his Foundation series:

The characters eventually do find Earth, but Earth turns out to be a dead world, long since turned radioactive by various conflicts early in the period of imperial expansion.

Moore took the above route, probably knowing that many of his viewers would recognize the ghost of Asimov in this turn of events. But as we now know, this Earth, which was established by a more advanced version of the Cylons we know and love, isn't "our" Earth. In the BSG universe, it counts as the real Earth to the remaining human population, because its existence dovetails in most respects with the legends they had been taught about the thirteenth tribe/colony. Our Earth turns out to be, in a sense, Lucky Fourteen.

My very next paragraph would have been prescient had it been written without question marks. It begins:

What Earth will the characters in BSG find? Will Earth turn out to be a red herring or a MacGuffin?

Damn, damn, damn, I was so close to getting this right!

Near the end of my post, I speculate:

I trust that Ron Moore and his team of writers are smarter than the "Galactica 1980" crew, who had the ragtag fleet find Earth and be able to speak with Earthlings in fluent modern English. This makes me all the more curious as to what Earth our characters will find. I'd love for them to find a future, technologically fearsome Earth-- that, or a completely "parallel" Earth, i.e., one whose history has absolutely nothing to do with our own. But that's going to be a major stunt: the culture of the ragtag fleet already mirrors North American culture, which means that North American culture already exists in the BSG universe. Perhaps the best solution is for our intrepid group to find Earth devoid of human life-- an Eden waiting to be colonized.

The last sentence of the above paragraph is so close to being on the money that it almost pains me physically to read it. The ragtag fleet finds "our" Earth, which turns out to be Earth back when the human population was pretty sparse: in effect, an Eden almost devoid of human life. But Moore was cleverer than I suspected, and he went for the parallel-evolution scenario (nicely tying into the series' background theism), which led us to little half-Cylon Hera being the MRCA for modern humanity, sharing her Cylon mitochondria with all of us alive today.

And the greatest pain of all comes from knowing that I had the puzzle pieces in my hand. Near the very end of my post, I write:

Maybe the colonists should arrive at Earth and find signs from the thirteenth colony: "Earth sucks. Went elsewhere."

Fuck. This is almost exactly what happened when the first Earth was discovered. The fleet didn't find a sign, per se, but they found radiation and desolation. Earth sucks. And the Final Five Cylons, who are of this race, definitely went elsewhere, slipping in among the human population of the Twelve Colonies the way the robots in Asimov's novels have done in the Galactic Empire.

I was so damn close. Even now, this bugs me.

You know what this reminds me of? It reminds me of a scene in "The Princess Bride": the battle of wits between Westley/The Man in Black and Vizzini the Sicilian mastermind. Vizzini doesn't realize it, but every time he says "So I can clearly not choose the [goblet] in front of me" and "So I can clearly not choose the [goblet] in front of you," he's got the answer! He can choose neither goblet! But despite having all the pieces of the puzzle in his hands, he's unable to see how they fit together. My BSG/Foundation post was pretty much the same thing: tantalizingly right in the particulars, but unable to synthesize the mess into a coherent whole.

This won't stop me from predicting other series finales, of course. The upcoming eighth season of "House" will most likely be its final one. So I've got that to look forward to. Which is nice.



Charles said...

I never saw BSG, so I can only read your posts with outsider interest, but TPB is one of my favorite films and the MiB/Vizzini encounter was absolute brilliance. Given the parameters, Vizzini makes the best choice he can make. He has agreed to the battle of wits, which means he has agreed to either drink or forfeit. However, he makes two fatal assumptions: 1) that the MiB only poisoned one glass, and 2) that the MiB would not drink a glass that he knew was poisoned. He has actually lost the battle of wits when he agrees to see it through to the end. He falls victim to his own hubris.

After reading your post, a new thought occurred to me: throughout the encounter, the MiB grows increasingly more nervous. I had always thought that this was a ploy to lull Vizzini into a false sense of security, but now it occurs to me that the nervousness may have been real--he could have been nervous that Vizzini would realize he had no valid choice and reject the agreement.

Fascinating that it's possible to see this in a new light after all these years.

Kevin Kim said...

Thanks for the meaty comment.

Regarding assumption (2) above, doesn't Vizzini actually consider this possibility at one point when he notes that the MiB had beaten his giant, which would have taken strength, and that the MiB might be relying on his own strength to save him from the effects of the iocaine (sp?)? I'd need to review the dialogue, but I'm pretty sure that was a "so I can clearly not choose the cup in front of you" moment.

And if the MiB was growing increasingly nervous, well... that fact somehow escaped my notice. It's been years since I watched the film, so maybe it's time to hunt it down on DVD, or download it from iTunes or something.

It's interesting to ponder what might have happened if Vizzini had rejected the agreement. Would the MiB have run him through? Would the MiB have been honorable enough to allow Vizzini to live?

One of my college friends complained that the MiB unfairly stacked the deck, since he (the MiB) says, "The battle ends when you decide, we both drink, and we find out who is right, and who is dead." The "we both drink" part was, if I remember correctly, the focus of my friend's complaint.

I was about to write that the MiB never mentioned forfeiture as an option, but then it occurred to me that, in introducing the battle of wits, he said rather cleverly, "Where is the poison?" as opposed to "In which goblet is the poison?" It seems he left open the possibility that Vizzini might conclude the poison was in both goblets. The MiB also said that the battle would end when "you decide," which isn't the same as saying "when you choose one of the goblets," so here, too, it seems the MiB left open the possibility of forfeiture, should Vizzini realize the truth. (But as my friend said, there's that naughty little "we both drink" clause.)