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back to article Shut up, Spock! – how Battlestar Galactica beat Trek babble

No guns firing beams of light. No photon torpedoes. And, sorry, no aliens – menacing or otherwise. The "re-imagined" Battlestar Galactica that concluded last year couldn't have been further from its 1970s namesake – or from what most of us think of as sci-fi. In fact, the science and technology in the award-winning show – the …

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Silver badge

One man's technobabble is another mans daily life

"I googled that virus and all I got was spam"

"Pass the remote, I want to watch Strictly off the PVR"

"Who left a readymeal in the microwave?"

Pop back in time 100 years, go around speaking like any of the above quotes and you'll get funny looks. Talk about the things we take to be commonplace today and you're likely to get committed. The point is that all the "Roddenberrian nonsense" used in ST would have been everyday phrases for the crew (and, frankly not that hard for the rest of us to get the jist of). In fact it no more hinders a show than hearing medical people in a contemporary drama rattle on about all the medical terms and jargon "I'm sorry nurse - he's got a subdural hematoma".

So no, I don't buy the BSG guy's premise about banishing the technobabble from BSG. You can't explain 99th century (or whenever it was supposed to be) concepts and occurrences with 21st century words - just like it's completely incongruous that a civilisation with star-travel and AI robots would still need spectacles and WW2-style field telephones (complete with Bakelite handsets) - and yes, I do know all about the profoundly shaky rationalisation for not having networks in the show.

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Boffin

Technobabble

I think you may have misinterpreted what was meant by "banishing the technobabble" - which is fair enough, as it wasn't explained all that clearly.

The show never intended to dispense with any and all terms that would not be familiar to the audience - take DRADIS (the BSG equivalent of "scanners") for one prominent example. What they actually banished was the Trek-like use of random techno-phrases as a dramatic device: -

1) Dramatic situation occurs.

2) "Quick, reverse the phase of the x by re-routing the y through the z!"

3) Dramatic situation is resolved.

I'm making a terrible generalisation about Star Trek here, for which I apologise to all Trekkies, but this (along with the lack of decent intra-episode plot arcs) is what turned me off Trek and onto shows like BSG - speaking purely from a personal perspective.

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Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome....

also know as "Caprica tanked and we want to keep the franchise running"

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Anonymous Coward

caprica tanked

not because it's particularly bad, but because it's odd. It seems almost designed, from the ground up, to try and get a cult following. A high tech society (with technology that's not a massive stretch above what we have now) that seems to be set during the equivalent of the 1930's depression! The continual switching between reality and VR also catches people out.

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Excellent article

Thanks for a very good read. I like my scf-fi but hate anything Star Trek for exactly the reasons outlined here. There seems to be this smugness amongst the characters that they know they are much cleverer than the viewer and spout all kinds of technobullshit that the Fanbois take as literal. A friend of mine, a big fan, heard that when Stephen Hawking was given a tour of the set he was heard to say "yes, I'm working on that!" when he saw the Warp Drive. He seems to think that Star Trek 'invented' many of the things we use today, communicators became mobile phones, etc.

This is why I'm a BSG. The technology isn't stuffed in your face and so the story can concentrate on real character development. Characters have weaknesses and faults set against the wider arena of political machinations. I'm a fan of Babylon 5 for the same reasons, which, whilst a bit cheesy in parts, does have some incredible dialog. I want dialog, I don't want a show with a load of bollocks about how a hypermegaplasmeriser works or seeing the characters dicking around in a hologram suite...

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neb
Happy

Babylon 5...

...for the win!

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Sometimes...

Just don't mention King Arthur?

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wow...

really good article.

Always fascinated at the level of detail in some science fiction. The one aspect I liked in the new series was the vipers weren't like spitfires but had Newtonian physics and reverse propulsion to enable them to turn around and manoeuvre. Brilliant.

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Star Furies

As did the Star Fury fighters in Babylon 5

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Good article

Good article.

Nice to hear there's some more proper BSG on the way. Caprica has lost some momentum after the stupid mid-season break.........

I'm now off to find which Voyager Episodes Ron Moore wrote........

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It was DS9

Ron Moore only wrote a couple of Voyager episodes, at the time he much more into DS9, which is a much better series.

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Caprica has been cancelled

At least the SyFy network (or however they spell it) has pulled the remaining episodes from the schedule in the US.

Bummer.

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SF

True Science Fiction is about stories that explore what might happen in situations that cannot currently exist but may do if the technology becomes available. It doesn't have to involve laser beams and space travel. If it doesn't rely on advances in science and technology it isn't SF. Yes, Star Wars I'm talking about you and your Western set in space stylings.

To my mind BSG could be set as a native tribe fleeing before ruthless invaders at almost any point in history. It is, like SW a contemporary story set in space. Try setting I Robot in a historical slave owning society and you get a completely different story. 1984 doesn't work without the technology to oversee every aspect of every citizen's private life (which still doesn't exist despite tabloid journalists protestations).

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Spot on

+1

This is absolutely, dead, right.

Sadly, Hollywood thinks of SF as "space ships" or stuff we can't explain (a la X-Files). When it's really about the concepts, opportunities and problems that will come about as a result of the SCIENCE we will discover and the technology we'll develop from it. Almost all the SF on TV is derivative. Whether it's the insultingly obvious cowboy ripoff of Firefly, or the "running from the law" of Blakes 7 (or Farscape) - or pretty much anything else between them and now.

I have a suspicion that if anyone had a truly original SF idea, it would be so foreign to the studios' money people and so far outside their comfort zone ("where are the disintegrator guns?" "but it's got to have e a warp drive?") that it wouldn't stand a chance of getting onto the screens - certainly not in its original form and not without turning into yet another WW1 dog-fighting, our guys against the other guys piece of pantomime. Thank god we still have books.

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Ummm

SF is frequently NOT about pulpy rockets and rayguns. This is just a characteristic of one particular type of SF - Space Opera. There is a whole sub genre dedicated to scientific realism, and there's even movements to take SF in a realistic (and potentially optimistic) direction.

Retro-Futurism is also nothing new, so I am a little perplexed to discover you're surprised by it..

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Unhappy

I consider myself a science fiction fan . . .

but I'm not at all surprised that the science doesn't leak heavily into good sci-fi. I AM surpised when that ethos leaks into TV sci-fi.

I enjoyed most of the article except the opening few bars where it seemed astonished that a sci-fi show might not be 'all about the science' (real or imagined).

Am I alone in this?

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Didn't work too well with Caprica though...

Just a soap opera which put off the non-nerds and didn't have enough sci-fi for the nerds.

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A wicked case of the bends?

"Rather, you'll get a wicked case of the bends, which occurs when nitrogen bubbles enter the bloodstream. It can prove lethal to ocean divers who surface too quickly."

I'm not sure where this nitrogen's going to come from in a vacuum. I accept that you maybe don't die quite so pyrotechnically as Hollywood suggests but surely it'd be more akin to drowning than the bends?

Nitpicking aside, a good article. I read the lot and haven't even watched New Battlestar Galactica.

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@Code Monkey

The gas is already dissolved in your blood stream and will be present in various body cavities, etc. With the drop in external pressure when 'entering' vacuum the gas expands.

Similarly with the bends; the Nitrogen does not come from the water but is already in the body.

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Aready there

Its already in our bloodstream if you are breathing air - the reason it becomes and issues is that low pressure allows it to bubble out of our blood. Therefore you get the bend both when ascending too fast from a dive or being exposed to a vacuum.

That is of course assuming that the person has been breathing standard air on BSG and not some strange mix like Tri-Mix

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@John Mangan, Gordon 10

Oh righto. Cheers.

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Vic
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A smell he thought was just the drain

> That is of course assuming that the person has been

> breathing standard air on BSG and not some strange mix like Tri-Mix

Trimix isn't giong to help - you might have less nitrogen in the mix, but you've got helium to deal with, and that comes out of the tissues quite a bit more quickly than nitrogen does. The bend is even more dangerous...

I understand, though, that spacecraft don't usually contain air - all the N2 doesn't really serve much purpose. By using low-pressure oxygen, you can keep the ppO2 high enough to sustain life, but keep the ambient pressure right down, thus reducing the force on the hull. That makes the craft lighter.

Now oxygen does dissolve in the body, and you can cause an oxygen bend if you drop the ambient pressure rapidly enough. But oxygen bends don't create the cell hypoxia risk of an inert gas bend (even if they occlude the blood vessels, you'll still get oxygen from the bubble), and they spontaneously resolve. So an explosive decompresion from O2 saturation would undoubtedly be painful - but would it be lethal? Inquiring minds...

Let's not go near the barotrauma risk of such a decompression, though - that sort of thing gets very messy.

Vic.

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Spacecraft air mix

I believe the Soviets always used a mix of N2 and O2. The Americans initially used pure oxygen but I believe most shuttle flights these days use a blend close to that of atmospheric air.

Aside from the the reduced fire hazard, there appear to be other reasons why breathing pure oxygen is not good for one, even in a low pressure environment like a spacecraft.

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FAIL

Huh...

So who sponsored this 'news article' if I can use that term very loosely? Do you want us to buy the book or the series? Tell us! Enquiring minds want to know. Oh and what's the official hamburger of the series? Tell me so I can go eat one.

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(Written by Reg staff)

Re: Huh...

You signed up for an account just to say that? Well done sir or madam but probably sir!

The official hamburger is your face.

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FAIL

News?

This is The Reg, you're obviously confusing it with a serious news site. In all the years of reading The Reg (or El Reg if you prefer) I can honestly say it's always come across as a site more about "news articles of interest to IT geeks", rather than "news for IT professionals". The fact that a lot of the stories are also for IT professionals is purely coincidence and based on the fact that many (but not all, I recall an IT director at a previous company who clearly was not a geek, he seemed to assume you needed a degree in order to find the on switch for the PC) IT professionals also happen to be geeks

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Dead Vulture

The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

The hamburger is my face? Just the kind of intelligent comeback we've come to expect from you, Sarah. I like the 'sir or madam probably sir' bit, too. Normally we have to wait whole hours before your sexist inferiority complex comes out. Maybe its just your time of the month - but believing in equal rights I don't think that's an excuse for your crap. You really make this site look like the amateurish trash it actually is. Shame.

I'm still annoyed about the Christmas 'prank' when you pretended you were leaving. This place would be better without you. You stupid, sexist old bag.

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(Written by Reg staff)

Re: The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

Well, I can't argue with any of that. Except that it was an April Fool.

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(Written by Reg staff)

Re: Re: The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

Oh, and... you are a bloke, right? I made the assumption based purely on our readership, which is mostly male, but that may have been rash of me.

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Joke

well done madam

Aside from the casual sexism that was a quality post petal ;)

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(Written by Reg staff)

Re: well done madam

Most of our readership is male, it's a reasonable assumption on that basis alone.

I'm as much a sexist as you are an elephant, but if anything was going to turn me into one...

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Coat

But Sarah...

why are you turning into an elephant?

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(Written by Reg staff)

Re: But Sarah...

All the better to TRAMPLE ALL THE MEN IN THE WORLD, etc.

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bsg

bsg = soap opera with some sci-fi backdrops

quite dull most of the time, lots of talking heads

and general yak-yak-bla-bla-whine-whine

(and same goes for stargate universe)

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Alien

SG:U

for me SG Universe draws from all previous SG incarnations, but giving time for personal development and back story. And not many shows cross between galaxies, which gives the show a true feeling of going into the unknown.

BSG is men in brown flight suits and star buck was the guy from the a team, as soon as i heard that nugget, i vowed never to watch anything related to it, and i havent.

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FAIL

stargate universe = Lost set in space

BSG - who was sleeping with whom this week and who did the Cylon lovechild grow up to become?

Caprica just dropped any pretense.

As the Twelve Worlds Turn...

All My Cylons

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Indeed a dream job

I have to agree with him that REAL science makes something more dramatic.

I never really got into the new Galactica unfortunatly. Seems like I really did miss out :-(

Makes me wonder though, if the science on Red Dwarf was accurate...

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Shame about the story .....

... with the god aspect etc.

Ruined it for me, doing the same with Caprica too.

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Don't worry about Caprica

the shows has been axed and the current run pulled from the schedule. It gets about another 5 episodes next year, presumably containing some hasty rewrites to wrap things up and set up the Cylon war show.

The socio-religious aspects during the first couple of seasons made it really interesting. The Cylons representing Muslim extremists\Al-Queada with thier 9-11 esque attack on the colonies and the subsequent enemy within paranoia, whilst also being 12 disciples of a single God.

And then the Colonials being the US, a supposedly enlightened mostly secular culture that accepts all faith's as having value except one. But is prepared to use suicide bombings as legitimate tactic against thier oppressors.

Also don't him God, you know it doesn't like that name.

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Folding Space

"It was Moore who laid down the concept of a warp-drive-like folding of space"

I could have sworn it was Frank Herbert who came up with that concept!

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I'm surprised no one's mentioned this yet.

Caprica Six >>>>>>>>> Seven of Nine.

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Good, Good, Ok, Iffy, Terrible

That is my summary of the 5 BSG seasons. The story really went off-base towards the end and became more like an clandestine attempt at indoctrinating people into Christianity than a Sci-Fi story; which was a real shame as up until part-way through season 3 it was kick-ass.

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More 'space soap' than sci-fi

I watched it on and off, and as a fan of the original series I can honestly say it didn't win me over at all. I certainly wouldn't have called it science fiction, at least not in the traditional sense, it was more like a 'soap in space', maybe they should call the prequel 'Caprica Street' or something similar instead.

I didn't even bother with Caprica the trailers put me off completely, I just found the whole 're-invention' of BSG very dull to be honest.

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Anonymous Coward

meh

Galactica was pretty dull. And parts of it made no sense to me (unless it started making more sense after the first season) how are you going to come up with astrogation co-ordinates and send all the data to a jump drive? How is the jump drive going to do all the math, ensure it's getting power it needs, have safeties, how do you co-ordinate your firing algorithms, launch missiles, so on and so forth. I understand the why, and so don't get hung up on it, but I did always find it a bit :/ but on the whole, it's a sci-fi, it should be a "imagine if" affair.

Most science fiction will depend upon certain "magic wands". Whether it's FTL, Transportation, Transendental AI, Immortality, instantanious communication meshes, inertial nullifiers, gravity, etc.

We like to call them magic wands because from our current technological point of view they are little more then magic.

Of course show a caveman an iPhone and I'm pretty sure it would seem like magic. The truth of the matter is we don't really know that much about how everything works, and what we do know is limited to our point of view. Thing is when it comes to technology and science perspective hasn't moved forward a whole lot, for the most part our power comes from heating liquid to turn a wheel that makes energy, and we've been doing that a long darn time now lol.

There's an interesting trpg called Sufficently Advanced which talks about the issue (written by a physicist) that talks about the issues.

Both BSG and ST are space opera, and both make use of magic wands, and both focus on telling stories about characters and peoples instead of focusing on tehcnology. That's part of the point of the techno babbel in star trek, it's meaningless but adds colour.

Space above and Beyond is a good show. Silly at times and awful acting, but good fun. Babylon 5 was also interesting.

There are Sci-Fi novels that are termed "hard Sci Fi" these work from the point of view that our current understanding is static and that no new discoveries in physics will ever be made (so no AG, no FTL, no inertial nullifier, etc) they can be very good but tend to look at the technology and science fact a lot more then characters and story.

Talking about the effects of vacuum, they were quite nicely covered by Event Horizon.

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FAIL

Too much teen-type angst - not enough fantasy

*minor spoilers* I have to confess the only part of the newer BSG that I was interested in was the whole buildup to 'the Final Five', but then after that the entire mysticism and fantastical side to the show disappeared again.

All I ended up watching was a load of miserable people in a miserable situation all trying to find ways to fight with each other. It was like EastEnders in space.

They never had to go completely over the top or remake the original, but couldn't there at least have been a fun character or two, or someone with some cheer - the original Apollo was a good man, a heroic type who tried to help others and risk his own life, Starbuck was a charming rogue - fun and funny but with a surprising depth. The new ones were miserable angst-ridden sods with no fun factor to them whatsoever.

Personally, I wasn't entertained. It really was an effort to watch the show through to it's weak and boring conclusion - and I wish I hadn't bothered.

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That was the whole premise behind BSG

"All I ended up watching was a load of miserable people in a miserable situation all trying to find ways to fight with each other."

Yeah, but what else do you expect from a bunch of people whose homes have been destroyed, who know they can be killed any time through an accident or hostile action and who are forced to live in a steel bucket for years on end without any possibility to escape or resign? Oh, and if they screw up that means the end of the whole human race, so no pressure at all...

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Bronze badge

Disaster was the premise, fighting through it should've been the story.

I expected mixed reactions from people. Some people out there thrive in the face of disaster. Some people get gung-ho, some collapse completely, some laugh and face adversity with humour, some are a*seholes who make jokes about other peoples' miseries....but in Sci-Fi, particularly a show that was building off the back of a classic, there should be something to entertain the audience, not make them feel like someone is thumbscrewing their teeth.

So yes, it's a dire situation, but I reiterate that if I had wanted to watch miserable people in dire situations I'd watch EastEnders or X-Factor or some cr*p like that. I watch sci-fi to be entertained, to see the best of what people could be, to gain hope for the future, and to fall in love with the characters and see them develop.

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Excellent!

Now I know the name of the man that found the 70s-era sound-powered-phone warship equipment and installed it on Galactica. The "aircraft carrier" vibe was pretty strong in the series (particularly in the first couple seasons) and I appreciated the relevance but seeing actual gear that I'd used shipboard was a little jarring.

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The new BSG

Was utter utter utter shit. Dynasty in space.

Bring back metallic cylons and their red cycloptic scanning eye.

oooh yeah.

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But...

For all the supposed true-to-physics-ness, the ships still made zooming noises when they went past the camera though. Sound is the result of air molecules being pushed. No air, no sound.

Babylon 5 stands alone as the only sci-fi series to get this right. It's also the only series to abandon the "jet fighter" look for its ships - again, if there's no air then there's no need for aerodynamics.

Incidentally, building ships on BSG. They *did* build a ship - the Blackbird - which was a crucial part of a strike against the Cylons due to it being ultra-stealthy. And then the whole crew conveniently forgot they'd done it and never built any more, when you'd think a squadron of stealth bombers would be kind of a useful card to have up your sleeve.

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