“Synthetics” and “Artificial Humans”, the AI’s of Alien!

David:
Also known as “David 8”, the first in the line of Weyland Industries fully functional AI’s, which have the ability to proximate human emotions, even though they cannot experience them. In addition to his impressive machine intelligence, he also comes equipped with a characteristic intrinsic to all Alien androids – moral flexibility!

Yes, in addition to assimilating all known info on Indo-European languages, the “Engineers” biology, and the nature of their bio-weapons, he also managed to unleash the bio-weapon within a human crew just to shake things up! And he did it all on the orders of Mr. Weyland himself, mainly so to help him find a way to cheat death.

In the end, David didn’t prove to be all bad. After having his head ripped off by an Engineer and witnessing Weyland’s death, he went on to help save Dr. Shaw and agreed to assist her in her mission to find the homeworld of the engineers. But that didn’t come as a huge surprise. As he had intimated to Shaw earlier in the movie, the death of Weyland would set him free. Once free, he became a much nicer guy!

Ash:
The same cannot be said for this next example, who comes to us from the original Alien movie. Originally thought to be a human who served as the Nostromo’s chief medical officer, Ash was revealed to be a synthetic that was taking his orders directly from the ship’s AI, which in turn was instructing him to follow company’s directives. And all who say him in the first movie can agree, this particular android was a complete and utter douche!

Not only was he willing to let the cry did in order to get the Xenomorph back to his handler’s alive, he tried to kill Ripley when she found out and even expressed open admiration for the Xenomorph. “I admire its purity,” he said. “A survivor… unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.” Jackass! Needless to say, Ripley’s experience with this synthetic severely soured her towards all androids.

Bishop:
Luckily, this next example was able to restore Ripley’s faith. As the Sulaco’s android executive officer, he was responsible for planetary maneuvering, but also acted as the away team’s science officer and performed various other functions as well. But unlike Ash, he was unable to allow harm to come to humans thanks to the inclusion of his “behavioural inhibitors”, which were tantamount to Asimov’s Three Laws.

Also unlike Ash, Bishop was loyal to the crew of the Sulaco and to Ripley in particular. When Burke tried to circumvent military authority and order Bishop to preserve the alien specimens, he alerted Ripley to the incongruity. He also managed to save Ripley and Newt from certain death when the Alien Queen had them cornered.

As if that wasn’t enough, he even prevented Newt when Ripley decompressed the Sulaco’s landing bay, and he was ripped in half at the time!

Annalee Call:
Taken from the universe of Alien: Resurrection, Annalee Call (aka. Call) was a secret “Auton” who managed to infiltrate a crew of mercenaries. This put her aboard the Auriga in time to meet Ripley 8, the clone produced by the military for the sake of resurrecting the Xenomorph species. After failing to kill Ripley before the Xenomorph could be extracted, she and the others were forced to band together to make it out alive.

Her agenda in all this was unclear, aside from a sense of displaced humanity which Ripley mocked when she said: “No human being is that humane”. As a member of the race of “second generation” synthetics known as “Autons”, which were apparently built by other machines, she was part of a dying species. Apparently, these synthetics were outlawed after they rebelled against their masters. Hmm, echoes of Blade Runner there; and by echoes I mean a total ripoff!

Eisenberg:
This next example comes from the expanded universe, specifically the 2001 game AVP 2. As the leader of Weyland-Yutani’s research facility on LV-1201, he was responsible for investigating the planet’s extensive ruins. This world was apparently discovered roughly a century and a half after events in the first movie, once the company traced the flight telemetry from the “Derelict” alien ship (aka. “Space Jockeys”/”Engineers”)

In the course of the game,it is revealed that Eisenberg was once human, and that during the initial mission to LV-1201, he was apparently the only survivor after a xenomorph attack. Due to terrible acid burns suffered during his rescue, he had his consciousness downloaded into an artificial body. As a result, he harbors a deep sense of fear of hatred for the xenomorphs, and unfortunately dies at their hands.

Katya:
Here we have a synthetic who refuses to go by that or any other of the more progressive monickers, preferring the term android instead. As Weyland Yutani’s administrative android for the Freya’s Prospect colony, this example comes from the 2010 video game relaunch of AVP. After the colony went to hell after the xenomorph’s escaped and began wreaking havoc, she is the one who called in the Marines.

Due in part to her enhanced empathic and morality processing, she became intrinsic to helping the “Rookie” (i.e. the protagonists in the Marine campaign) contain the outbreak and get the last human survivors to safety. In so doing, she went against Weyland’s orders and company policy. Good thing she was there to help out, one would have to wonder if what the company was thinking stationing a conscientious android there…

Karl Bishop Weyland:
The final example in this list also comes from the 2010 relaunch of AVP. As a descendent of the Charles Bishop Weyland, chairman of Weyland Industries, he was in charge of the facility on Freya’s Prospect and the director of the experiments involving the captured Xenomorphs. As such, he was also the main antagonist in the Marine campaign of the game.

Ultimately, his purpose in conducting research on Freya’s Prospect went far beyond breeding Xenomorphs. Within the planet’s jungles, and even more so beneath surface, Predator (aka. Hunter) ruins were discovered which he believed held ancient secrets, much of which was information about Hunter history, culture, and the Xenomorph itself.

By the end of the Marine campaign, the Weyland synthetic is killed and his research facility within the Hunter temple is destroyed. However, another android of the same make was still able to retrieve the information gleaned within, the most important part of which was the location of the Xenomorph homeworld.

Final Thoughts:
As you can see, the AI’s of Aliens have undergone some changes over the years. Beginning as conscienceless synthetics that seemed to admire the Xenomorph because it mirrored their amoral worldview, they went on to become the sympathetic characters who seemed, to quote another franchise, “more human than human”. Every other incarnation that has since appeared in the Alien and AVP franchises has been a reiteration of either of these concepts, being the tool of its corporate masters or a savior that was willing to risk its life to help its human brethren.

The one exception to this rule is also the most recent incarnation, Prometheus’ David. Of all the synthetics to inhabit the Alien or AVP universe, he is the only one who demonstrated both cold amorality and humanity. I believe Scott did this intentionally to provide a sense of synthesis to the characters of Ash and Bishop, honoring both archetypes as he attempted to return the Alien franchise to its roots.

Be they the kind of cold, calculating and inhumane androids that fueled our technophobia or the kind, gentle, and overtly “human” robots that made us question our own humanity, the Alien franchise certainly covered both ends of the spectrum in their portrayal of AI’s. Much like the Terminator franchise, they presented artificial intelligence as a double-edged sword, capable of being just as good and evil as any human being. And in the end, isn’t that really the point?

Recall how in Prometheus, Dr. Holloway told David “We built you because we could”? Well, that is only true to a point. Yes, new technologies are often is made simply because the means exist to do so. But the purpose in creating an artificial intelligence is to create life in our own image. And in the end, the consequences of that vanity is pretty obvious. Things created in our image will behave just like us, good and bad!

Generational Ships

systems___cryogenics_1Ever since my writing group and I got on the subject of space and colonization, some recurring themes have come up. For starters, there’s the concept of interstellar space travel, the kind that doesn’t involve fictitious Faster-Than-Light drive systems and therefore cannot exceed the speed of light. In those situations, which are far more likely to happen in this and the next century, the question of how to keep crews alive until your arrival keeps popping up.

One way is to utilize some kind of cryogenic procedure, where passengers are put into “reefersleep” for the duration of the journey and awakened upon arrival. Though it might sound a bit crude, it’s actually a very practical solution to the problems of how to keep a crew preserved and provided for during the incredibly long voyages that space travel entails. This procedure has come up repeatedly in the realm of science fiction, particularly H.P. Lovecraft’s Cool Air, Robert A Heinlein’s The Door into Summer, Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, PKD’s Ubik, the Alien franchise, and the Revelation Space universe, just to name a few.

RAMAThe other solution, which is the subject of this post, is to construct generational ships. These are basically “interstellar arks” where people and even entire biospheres are transported from one location to another. Crews are kept in waking conditions, experience subjective time, and entertain themselves in interactive, simulated or virtual environments in order to stay sane until they complete their voyage. Though much more expensive to build, these ships are an equally elegant solution of what to do about non-FTL space travel and colonization.

These two have made many appearances in science fiction, and I’ve compiled a list of all the Generation Ships, Space Arks, and O’Neil Cylinders I could find.

Firefly:
At the beginning of each episode, it was explained how Earth was used up, prompting humanity to seek out a new home. This is what eventually led them to 34 Tauri  in the 22nd century where they began the process of terraforming and settling its the many worlds and moons. Though it was never explained in detail, mainly because the show was cancelled before they could (screw you Fox!), indications are given in the movie Serenity and the expanded universe that this involved Generation Ships.

In the movie, this was done mainly through visuals, where a large of flotilla dusts off from Earth and eventually finds its way to the system of the White Sun. It was also said that the process of terraforming took decades, which would require that the crews had somewhere to stay while the terraformers did their work. Also, speculative point here, but it would stand to reason that the fleet would have to have some pretty large ships to accommodate both settlers and the kind of equipment they would need.

Chasm City:
This novel, set in Alastair Reynold’s Revelation Space universe, involves a large thread that follows the settlement of the world known as Sky’s Edge. This took place early in the universe’s backstory, before the development of lighthuggers and therefore required that the ships used be able to support crews for long periods of time.

From Reynold’s descriptions, these ships were large, cylindrical vessels that boasted vast bays to hold their many cryogenically-frozen passengers. At the same time, the waking crew needed vast facilities to provide for their needs. These included mess halls, sleeping quarters, medical bays, and recreational facilities. Sky Haussmann, one of the children amongst the crew, had a nursery with a robotic clown and virtual backgrounds.

This divide, between a waking crew and frozen settlers, represents a sort of compromise between the cryoship design and the generation ship. On the one hand, you’ve got the majority of your crew at near-frozen temperatures and perfectly preserved for the voyage. On the other, you’ve got a crew walking about and looking for food, rest and entertainment. However, it still qualifies, and even inspired my group in our quest to design the perfect story for colonization!

Orphans of the Sky:
One of the earliest known examples of the use of generation ships in sci-fi, this two-novella set was also one of Heinlein’s first works. Like Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama, it features a massive cylindrical ship that is drifting through space. But unlike Rama, Heinlein’s ship, known as the Vanguard, has become a derelict that is permanently adrift in space.

As the story goes on, we learn that this was due to a mutiny which killed all the piloting officers many generations back. Since that time, the descendants of the surviving loyal crew have forgotten the purpose and nature of their ship and lapsed into a pre-technological culture marked by superstition. In fact, they now view their ship as the cosmos itself, and interpret its “voyage” as a metaphor.

The crew are also ruled by an oligarchy of “Officers” and “Scientists”, at the head of which is the descendent of the original captain. Much like pre-industrial times, most crew members are dedicated to a simple life where they tend to agriculture and are illiterate. Seldom does anyone ever venture to the “upper decks” where the “muties” (aka. “mutants” or “mutineers”) are kept. These individuals, it is learned, know the truth of the ship’s purpose, another reason why they are ostracized from the rest of the crew.

As you can plainly see, this book not only featured a generation ship and some rather hard science when it came to colonization, it also raised some valid and interesting questions about how space travel and confining environments could effect subsequent generations of people. Those who were born into an enclosed environment would come to know it as their whole world. And in the absence of external, verifiable facts (such as messages from Earth or historical records), they could even be led to believe there was nothing beyond their walls.

Paradises Lost:
Similar in tone and setting to Heinlein’s Orphans, this story by Ursula K. LeGuin focuses instead on the psychological impact that generational travel would have on a human crew. Adapted into a musical, this story explores the basic question of what happens when you spend your whole life (and entire generations) traveling toward a goal, only to find that the endpoint has become otherworldly and unattainable?

The story takes place aboard a generation ship known as the Discovery, where people are born and die on a trip to colonize a distant planet. Much like the Orphans, the ship becomes their entire universe and begins to seem more tangible to them than Earth or their mission to colonize a new world. The reason for this quite simple; as the journey goes on, those who knew a life on Earth are slowly dying off, and subsequent generations know about these things only through tales and lore.

As a result, a new religion is borne which teaches that the ship is “spaceship heaven” and that it is bound for eternity. This religion is known as Bliss, and the younger generation are embracing it against the wishes of the older. The story is told through the eyes of two elder characters – Hsing and Luis. They know their lives will end on board the ship and that their mission lies in the hands of future generations. Naturally, they worry since said generations are convinced that they should never leave the ship they call heaven.

Rendevouz with Rama:
One of the best examples of a generational ship, which extra-terrestrial in origin! Known as Rama, this massive space cylinder was basically a self-contained world that was carrying the Raman civilization from one corner of the galaxy to another. When a crew from Earth arrive and begin to survey the interior, they begin to notice several tell-tale features.

For one, the interior contains several structures which appear to be arranged in “cities” – odd blocky shapes that look like buildings, and streets with shallow trenches in them, looking like trolley car tracks. In addition, there is a sea that stretches in a band around Rama dubbed the Cylindrical Sea, and trenches cut into the sides that appear to be windows.

In time, all the machinery comes to light, thanks in part to the admission of light through the ship’s long windows. Small creatures that appear to be biological machines (aka. “biots”) begin to come out as well and conducting routine maintenance. In time, they come to the conclusion that the buildings constitute factories, that the cylindrical sea contains trace elements and bio-matter which they will begin to convert into “Ramans” as soon they get in range of their destination.

In the end, it seemed that the Ramans determined that the best way to spread their species was to break them down into their component parts, place them aboard ships that would float for generations through space, and begin recompiling them once they got to where they wanted to go. Ultimately, Sol was just a stopover on their long journey, and more ships were coming in subsequent novels. Still, this first exposure to the alien generation ship was an educational experience!

Ringworld:
Written by Larry Niven, the Ringworld series is considered one of the greatest examples of exploratory sci-fi. Set in the Known Space universe of the distant future, the story revolves around the discovery and exploration of the Ringworlds, an artificial habitation ring built by an extinct civilization. With the makers of these rings long dead, the rings themselves are adrift and their engineered inhabitants degenerated into a primitive state.

These artificial rings are roughly one million kilometers wide and one thousand kilometers across, approximately the diameter of Earth’s orbit. Each one encircles a Sol-type star which provides both life sustaining energy and light. And of course, they rotate, thus providing artificial gravity that is 99.2% as strong as Earth’s through the action of centrifugal force. And night is provided by an inner ring of shadow squares which are connected to each other by thin ultra strong shadow square wire.

The ringworld has a habitable flat inner surface that is equivalent in area to approximately three million Earth-sized planets. Hence, it is able to sustain extensive ecosystems and all forms of life. This appears to be purpose of the rings in the end, the creation of habitable areas in space that were removed from terrestrial environments. And added bonus was the ability to transport said life over vast distances through space without having to stick them in an enclosed environment.

So really, these things were like a gigantic version of a generation ship, capable of moving an entire species or civilization through space.

Stargate Atlantis:

The series Stargate Atlantis contained a few mentions of vessels which fit the profile of generation ships. For starters, there was the Ancients City Ship, a self-contained city that was also a spaceship. Though it was capable of FTL travel, the vessel was capable of sustaining a city-sized population for extended periods of time as it traveled through space.

In addition, in the third season episode entitle “The Ark”, Colonel Sheppard’s team discovers a facility inside a hollowed-out moon that turns out to be an ark created by the people of the planet around which the moon is in orbit. The ark was built to preserve the existence of the people from the planet so that they could reemerge and rebuild their civilization. Generations prior, these people had fought a disastrous war with the Wraith in which they were almost exterminated.

Though not a vessel per se, the moon base served the same purpose as a generation ship. Though the moon orbited their original homeworld and the people really weren’t traveling through space (except in orbit around their planet), the principle was essentially the same. People were kept in stasis until the day came when they could awaken to transplant themselves on the intended world, thus ensuring the survival and expansion of their civilization.

Yes, the examples abound! In fact, the concept of the generation ship and related ideas are so fertile that I’m kind of surprised that it took me so long to really appreciate it. But then again, I came to a lot of the classics a little late in life. Ah well, it doesn’t really matter when you get to the destination, provided that you get there and enjoy the journey. Which is kind of the concept behind a generation ship isn’t it? If you can’t just warp your way across the universe – if you got to take your time and drift slow – you might as well travel in style!

Off to see Prometheus!

Finaaaaally! Today the wife and I will finally be making our trip to see the latest installment in Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise. I say in his franchise because it is really is his baby. Sure, Cameron did a good job with the sequel, a really good job in fact. But those who’ve followed, especially those who filmed the fresh hell known as AVP and AVPR, pretty much pissed it away!

Mr. Scott pretty much said so, when interviewed he stated that part of his reasons for making this film was to ensure that he wanted his old franchise to be remembered for something other than all the abortive sequels other people made. I really don’t blame him! If I were Scott, I’d be looking for the bastards with blood lust in my heart and a shiv in my hand!

Despite my best efforts, I have heard some things about this movie. I’ve avoided reading the details wherever possible, but it’s hard not to notice when people rave or complain about something. Hell, they say so right in the title lines! But I’m still going in with a relatively open mind and so real expectations. I hope it’s good, naturally; but even if it’s only mediocre, it will be light years ahead of AVPR.

Review to follow, not to mention some themed posts that delve into various aspects of the movie. In fact, I think I’ll revisit the Ancient Aliens post I did awhile back, where the concept of ancient astronauts came up. I know it’s a thematic element of this film, can’t wait to see what they do with it! Did I mention it will be in Imax 3D? Woohoo!

 

Technology in the Star Trek Universe (updated!)

I’ve wanted to do a post like this for awhile, ever since my conceptual post on Galactic Empires in fact. After doing my research on what distinguished one from the other, I noticed just how central technology, or the perception thereof, is to it all.

And let’s face it, Star Trek has had a lot to say about technology over the years, not all of it consistent! So with a series of examples, I thought I’d examine just what Gene Roddenberry and his successors have had to say.

Cloaking Device:
First developed by the Romulan Empire, the concept for an invisibility field that encompasses an entire ship has been picked up by just about every advanced race in the galaxy. Considered impractical by many because of the intense power drain, other races have found ways to adapt it to give their ships a decided edge in combat.

One such race are the Klingons whose vessels all come equipped with a cloak. The Romulans maintain use of this technology on their military vessels, particularly their warbirds, and even the Federation has been known to dabble in it from time to time. Another discernible weakness is the presence of tachyons and anti-protons that cloaked vessels are known to produce.

Holodecks:
The holodeck is an advanced holoprojector device that was designed by Starfleet for use aboard starships, stations, and institutions. It serves the purpose of entertaining, training and training purposes. Using focused photons to simulate matter, the holodeck is able to create physically real virtual environments out of pure energy.

Because of their potential for danger, all holodecks come equipped with built-in safeguards. Matter created aboard the holodeck ceases to exist as soon as it passes beyond its generators, and the technology has been adapted to creating AI’s such as the ship’s emergency doctor program.

Hypospray:
This non-invasive piece of medical technology is the mainstay of Starfleet medical. Using a compressed air transport mechanism, this device is able to transfer the injectant painlessly from the device into the subdermal layer below the skin of the body, or artery.

In the original series, hyposprays resembled hypodermic needles, but by the time of the 24th century (the TNG series) they had become much more sophisticated, resembling the unit pictured at top left.

Phasers:
Short for phased-energy laser, phasers are the most common energy weapon in Starfleet and the known universe. Beginning in the 23rd century, the technology was adapted for use as hand-held weapons, military rifles, and as the primary weapons banks on ships.

The 24th century saw further developments in the development of this weapon, which included mutli-segment phaser arrays,  and phaser cannons. The former made their first appearance in TNG on the USS Enterprise D and other updated ships while the latter appeared for the first time on USS Defiant.

Replicators:
Using the same technology as the holodeck, a replicator is a matter-energy device that is capable of dematerializing quantities of small matter and reconstituting it as something else. This can take the form of food, commercial products, or machine parts. In short, anything can come out of a replicator so long as it has the atomic matrix down, and isn’t illegal!

Prior to TNG, Starfleet ships used food synthesizers, but by the 24th century, the technology had been perfected and made standard on all starships, stations, outposts and settlements. Because of their sheer usefulness and versatility, every advanced race has adapted the technology for their own use.

Shields:
Also known as Deflector Shields or Screens, these devices are the mainstay of all advanced races in the Star Trek universe. Operating by creating a layer, or layers, of energetic distortion containing a high concentration of gravitons, they are able to provide protection against weapons fire and natural hazards.

Typically, shields are emitted from either a central emitter dish or a series that are dispersed over the hull. They usually come in six sections, covering the fore, aft, port, starboard, dorsal and ventral areas of the ship. In time, shields can be dissipated by either continuous or repeated energy discharges, leaving the ship vulnerable.

Transporters:
Utilizing subspace technology and the same matter-to-energy concept as a holodeck, the transport is the principle means of transportation to and from ships in the Star Trek universe. Often referred to as “beaming”, transporters are able to dematerialize, transmit and reassemble an object from one pad to another.

Making its debut in the original series, the technology has been updated in the TNG universe and its various spinoffs to allow for greater accuracy and safety through the addition of added redundancies. This increased accuracy allows for point-to-point transport, usually within smaller areas like the ship itself.

Tricorders:
A handheld sensing device, the tricorder was invented by Starfleet specifically for use by Starfleet personnel. However, since their inception in the 22nd century, they’ve gone through repeated upgrades, adaptations and have been adopted by just about every advanced race in the Alpha Quadrant.

As it stands, there are six varieties of tricorder in use within Starfleet alone. These include the psychotricorder which measures a patients brainwaves, a medical tricorder which diagnoses ailments and injury, and four models (VI,VII, X and XV) all of which are in service in one branch of Starfleet or another.

Warp Drive:
In the Star Trek universe, the warp drive is both the primary means of transport and the pinnacle of a race’s technology. In fact, Starfleet only makes contact with a new alien race once they’ve developed this technology, as it’s felt that it is only at this point in a species’ development that they will be advanced enough to experience first contact.

First developed by the human race in the late 21st century, warp technology was what precipitated First Contact with the Vulcans. Utilizing a matter/antimatter process and a dilithium chamber, a warp drive generates a “warp field” to envelope a starship. This has the effect of distorting the local spacetime continuum and moving the starship at velocities that exceeded the speed of light.

Every advanced race in the Alpha Quadrant has this technology, though some are able to achieve greater velocities (known as warp factors) than others. In the course of the old series and new, new and more advanced forms of FTL are being researched which may replace standard warp. These include transwarp, quantum slipstream, and a host of others.

Conclusions:
Technology as Utopian:
For the most, part Star Trek seems to be making the point that technology is a good thing. Whether it was the original series, TNG, or the many spinoffs to follow, it seemed that humanity owed much of its current condition to technological progress. Though they never explained how, at many points in the franchise it is said that Earth is now a paradise, bereft of crime, bigotry, hunger, and inequality. Just about all known diseases have been cured, and even money has become obsolete.

Yes, it seems that in the future, the focus of the economy has shifted to one of “self-improvement”… Might seem a bit hokey on the surface, but as I said in the Galactic Empires post, it’s really not that farfetched. Although its still pure fiction, the advent of something like warp drive, which would make space travel quick and affordable, commerce and transport between colony worlds would be open. This would mean abundant resources that went far beyond Earth and the Solar System, and we already know just how rich our system is in resources (see Asteroid Mining).

But more importantly is the development of replicator technology, which comes in the form of personal and industrial sized units. The former are used to produce everything from food and clothing to consumer products while the latter can create just about anything in bulk quantity. If this were possible, then all scarcity and deprivation would cease to exist. What’s more, the entire basis of an unequal distribution of wealth would disappear. Frankly, it puts me in mind of what Orwell said in 1984:

From the moment that the machine first made its appearance it was clear to all thinking people that the need for human drudgery, and therefore to a great extent for human inequality, had disappeared. If the machine were used deliberately for that end, hunger, overwork, dirt, illiteracy and disease could be eliminated within a few generations.

By the “machine”, Orwell was of course referring to industrial technology and the economy it spawned. However, his overall point was clear. Modern technology, dedicated to the write purpose, had the ability to significantly raise the fortunes of all people. And let’s not forget how in the Star Trek universe, hyposprays and various medical devices can solve just about all that ails you! Break a bone, you get the bone knitter! Tear your ACL, you get the… ligament bonder. I don’t know, all I do know is that pain is virtually obsolete in this universe and its because of progress.

So really, Roddenberry wasn’t far off when he envisioned a “perfect society” in the future. It was just in how he failed to explain how this could done that things seemed a little weak. But of course, there was a flip side to the whole thing.

Technology as Dystopian:
But of course, there were plenty of examples of technology gone wrong. The examples are a little too many to name, so I’ll keep it to just a few. The first comes from the first season when the Enterprise D comes to a planet of Aldea. There, a group of advanced humanoid aliens live in relative peace and prosperity, except that they are sterile and therefore dying off. Hence why they start kidnapping the Enterprise’s children!

Eventually, the Enterprise crew determines that the source of their problem is the great machine that runs their planet, otherwise known as “Custodian”. Because they’ve forgotten how to use the machine, the Aldeans have been unaware of the fact that it’s long since broken down and has been letting harmful radiation in. They assist them in fixing it, and the lesson about letting technology run your life has landed!

The second example comes from the regrettable movie Insurrection, where the Enterprise E comes to an idyllic planet inhabited by the Bak’u. Here, people live in virtually perfect harmony with the planet by denying themselves certain technology, opting instead for the simple life. Their philosophy is simple: “when you create a machine to do the job of  man, you take something away from the man”.

All of this seems inconsistent with the usual message of Star Trek, and even the movie itself. Far from being purely primitive, the Bak’u employ all kinds of labor saving technology, which includes irrigation and dams. So really, are they really so opposed to technology or just specific technologies? Nevertheless, the metaphor is clear. Combined with the fact that this place has youth-preserving powers, the metaphor of this place is pretty obvious. It is the fountain of youth, garden of Eden, and the evil Son’a who are advanced and creepy want to destroy it. Not their best movie!

But the last and best example comes in the form of The Borg. A race of cybernetic beings who have merged the organic and synthetic, run by a hive mind that quashes all individuality, and threatening to assimilate all in their path, the metaphor is so thick you need a knife to cut through it. They are the ruthless march of progress personified!

And just look at them and their ships, are they not the perfect representation of cold, unfeeling technology? Sure they are! And the way people change once they’ve been assimilated, becoming soulless automatons and losing all color and individuality. Tell me that’s not a perfect visual representation of the death of the human spirit under the weight of urbanization and anonymity.

Some might call this inconsistent, but it seemed more likely like Roddenberry and his writers were simply hedging their bets. On the one hand, he was showing how human potential could one day yield the perfect society, or at least one that was free of all the problems we know and lament today. On the other, they must have wanted to show the obvious downside and dangers at worshiping at the altar of progress. After all, if you put an ideal, any ideal, ahead of humanity and life, all you get is dystopia!

And as always, other races in the Star Trek universe serve as a mirror for the human condition, or rather different aspects of it. If the human race has got it right, then others must not have achieved that careful balance of humanity and progress just yet. Whereas some prefer to be Luddites and live in an agrarian Eden, others have become runaway cyborgs who assimilate all in their path. It’s all about balance people!

Well, that was kind of fun! And it combined two of my favorite things in the world. Sci-fi and literary criticism. Perhaps I should do more of these. As always, suggestion on which franchise should be covered would be great. I can think of a few off the top of my head – such as the Star Wars universe, Dune, Aliens, Terminator, and possibly Battletech – but I would like to hear from others too. There’s always those added few that would be perfect but I fail to think of. Thanks all!

The Predator Franchise (cont’d)

The Predator Franchise (cont’d)

Hey all. It’s been awhile since I opened this topic and I’ve been a bit negligent. But that’s what happens when you get on a tangent with me. You go far and wide and somehow, maybe, you accidentally find your way back to the point… what was I saying?

Oh, yeah! So getting back to the Predator universe, we left off last time with a recap of the first movie and what it was all about. Today, I’d like to tackle its sequel and the basis for the eventual crossover between the Predator and Alien franchises. In short, today it’s Predator 2!

Plot Synopsis:
The movie opens on a thermal image of a new jungle, the concrete jungle of LA to be specific. It is the not-too-distant future of 1997, where terrible summer heat and an escalating turf war between the Colombian and Jamaican cartels are threatening to tear the city apart.

Cut to a gun fight in progress, where police have cordoned off a Scorpion (Colombian cartel) compound and are taking casualties. Luckily, Lt. Mike Harringan (Danny Glover) arrives on scene and begins to coordinate things with his partners, Danny (Rubén Blades) and Leona (Maria Conchita Alonso). After some daring driving moves, he ensures that some wounded officers are finally able to get the help they need. Then he blows five Scorpion thugs away single-handedly!

However, the other five members of the gang manage to get into their hideout in the midst of the confusion and begin strapping on some heavy artillery. After grabbing all they can and coking up, something happens… the skylight above them breaks, glass rains down on their heads, and something wicked their way comes…

The police raid the building to find all but one man eviscerated. Harrington pursues the remaining one to the roof where he corners the last man, who loses it when he sees an apparition and begins shooting. Harrington shoots him down, sees the same apparition, and reasons that the heat is causing him to lose his mind.

They are in complete confusion about what happened inside the building though. The sliced bodies and the fact that one is hanging naked upside down from the ceiling just don’t seem to add up. Unfortunately, their investigation ends when the Commissioner shows up and tells them some special team is looking over it and to pull back. They naturally fight and exchange the usual, “you’re insubordinate”, “you’re a pencil-pusher” talk, and things move on…

Back at the station, we get some comic relief as the new guy, Det. Lambert (played by Bill Paxton), shows up and cracks wise and Harrington gives him the pep talk about sticking together. He then gets called into the Captains office where he’s given the usual talk about how they’re in a war and how they have to cooperate with the some federal task force that is coming in. Their boss introduces himself, who goes by the name of Special Agent Peter Keyes (played by Gary Busey).

And of course, its not long before the mystery man strikes again. This time, its at the Scorpion boss’ lair where an attack squad of Jamaicans breaks in and begins sacrificing him Voodoo style. As soon as the knife in his heart, they begin to drop when an apparition begins moving through them and taking them out one by one. The police show up, and of course are ordered to hang back and let the feds deal with it. Harrington naturally disobeys…

They break in to find the place covered in blood and broken glass, and a naked Colombian woman who keeps saying “the devil came for them”. Shortly thereafter, Keyes and the feds show up and tell Harrington to get lost. They take over the scene and ferry the woman away without incident. Harrington has Lambert tail them, but they lose him in the meat packing district.

Meanwhile, Harrington tells Danny to hang back and wait for the feds to leave the scene. But Danny has plans of his own, which include retrieving the strange blade he saw stuck in the wall from earlier. Having grown tired of waiting, Danny goes in ahead, and is caught when the Predator reveals himself. Seems he had the same idea, returning to the scene to retrieve his lost weapon. Danny dies…

His autopsy revealed the COD was a blade inserted directly into his heart. The coroner also does a test on the retrieved blade and reveals that it is composed of a completely unknown metal. And last, but not least, they notice that it is covered in cattle blood and steroids, indicating that its owner was recently in a slaughter house. Interesting…

Meanwhile, Harrington decides its time to reach out to the enemy of his enemy. He meets with Jamaican kingpin King Willy to discuss their mutual problem. However, King Willy proves to be of little help since he thinks their enemy comes to them from the spirit world to wreak death on them. Harrington leaves, and the Predator arrives to confront Willy. He falls quickly, and the Predator carries his disembodied head back to his lair to polish the skull and mount it on its wall.

The third attack comes on a subway when Lambert and Leona get caught up in an attempted robbery. The lights go out on the tram and the Predator enters, taking down everyone who was armed but leaving the civvies alone. Lambert tells Leona to lead the passengers to safety while he covers them, and he soon falls…

Leona returns to the cart as soon as the civvies are away and is attacked herself. However, the Predator leaves her be as soon as he realizes she is pregnant. Harrington arrives on the scene and begins to notice a pattern. He runs from the train and pursues the mystery man, a chase which takes him all the way to the meat packing district.

Harrington loses his quarry when his car is sideswiped by a truck. His semi-unconscious body is dragged into a portable command center where Keyes and his people are waiting. Finally, Harrington is given the answers he desires. It seems Keyes was talking literally when he said “You don’t know what you’re dealing with!”

A precis follows, where they explain how they’ve been tracking the alien ever since he showed up. It seems the first encounter in Central America (involving Arny and his commandos) prompted a great deal of interest from the feds. And thanks to Arny’s debreifing, they learned a lot from that encounter and have been waiting for another one ever since.

Ever since they realized that he comes to the slaughterhouse to feed between hunts, they’ve been lying in wait. Tonight is the night they close in! Naturally, they have a plan to capture it, involving insulated suits, UV lights, and liquid nitrogen guns. By blocking out their heat, they will be invisible to the Predator’s IR vision and able to freeze him intact.

However, the plan goes horribly wrong when the Predator realizes he’s being stalked and begins cycling through different vision modes. Selecting UV mode, he zeroes in on their lights and begins to kill them with ease. Harrington escapes from the unit, grabs some heavy artillery from his trunk, and proceeds inside. After an intense firefight, Harrington manages to corner it and knocks it flat with several blasts from his shotgun.

He begins inspecting the body, and delivers the first half of the signature line. “You’re one ugly mother – ” However, the Predator wakes up and finishes it for him. They continue to fight, Keyes jumps in the middle (seems he survived the initial attack) and then is sliced in half by the Predator’s throwing disc.  It then begins beating a retreat, and Harrington follows.

After a confrontation on the roof, Harrington and the Predator end up hanging over the edge of the building. The Predator decides he’s facing capture and sets his self-destruct sequence. Harrington narrowly grabs his disc and cuts the Predator’s arm off, terminating the sequence. The Predator falls and begins retreating again with Harrington in pursuit.

This chase eventually leads Harrington into the underground space beneath an apartment block. He falls into darkness, and lands on what is clearly their mothership. Proceeding inside, he sees the Predator’s trophy case, resplendent with different skulls. He’s almost killed when the Predator surprise attacks him, but manages to defend himself long enough to deliver the death blow with the Predator’s own disc.

Standing over the dead body, he is somewhat startled when another targeting laser appears on his face. Many, many Predators emerge from the mist to uncloak and carry their dead friend away. The lead Predator tosses him a musket from 1750 and says “take it”. Must be the prize… The ship begins its take off sequence, and Harrington jumps off the back just in time to be caked in dust. He walks outside, following a burning trail, where Keyes second (played by Adam Baldwin) tells him they “were so close!”. Toting his musket, he smugly proclaims “You’ll get another chance…”

Final Thoughts:
Relative to the first movie, this one garnered a rather mixed reception. Critics generally liked Danny Glover’s portrayal of a bewildered inner-city cop, and approved of him as the choice for the hero. While the role retained a hell of a lot of elements from his recurring character from Lethal Weapon, he brought just enough anger and borderline crazy behavior to the role to distinguish them and make it work. However, critics were divided over the plot and whether it was a cliche-riddled mess or a fun addition to the franchise.

Personally, I find this movie to be a nostalgic guilty pleasure, even more so than the first. As such, it’s hard for me to point out what wasn’t so good about it. But even I am willing to admit that the cliches ran deep, and that the story was full of some rather implausible twists. For example, why did Danny Glover chase the Predator all the way back to its ship? Why not call in some back up after the encounter at the slaughterhouse?

What’s more, this necessitated that they find a way to make it possible for an aging cop to beat a seven foot killing machine. Remember how the last one beat the crap out of Arny in the first one, and only managed to win by catching it in a trap? Yet this time around, Glover manages to kill one in single combat through sheer luck and determination. And it really wasn’t believable, in fact it felt totally contrived.

Aside from that, I actually liked this movie. For one, they managed to develop the whole aspect of the Predator and it’s methods. As with the first movie, the Predator began by familiarizing itself with the field of engagement, scoping out its targets, and then eliminating them one by one. It was only at the end that he chose to go up against the top carnivore in single combat.

What’s more, the scene where they showed the Predator’s trophy case was also inspired, and provided the impetus for the later crossover with Alien. By displaying such a diverse array of skulls, which included the xenomorph, the Predator was at last established as a truly interstellar hunter.

And last, the setting of the story was actually quite fitting. Whereas the first fight took place in a literal jungle, this time around, they chose a metaphorical jungle of concrete and steel. And the near-future prediction of an LA torn apart by gang violence was quite accurate from a 1990 perspective, and I felt they pulled it off quite well. Even the terrible summer heat was a fitting metaphor for the mounting violence and chaos.

Well that’s about it for the Predator movies. To this day, I wonder why they didn’t make a third, but the fact that this particular movie didn’t do so well might be a possible answer. From here on out, the franchise would become married to Alien and in the form of AVP, which consisted entirely of comics, novelizations and video games until the studios decided it was time for a full-length film.

And frankly, the less said about those movies the better! I mean really, why the hell would you an AVP movie and set it in the modern world? The whole premise of AVP was that it took place in the future when humanity had all those cool gadgets, like Smartguns, Pulse Rifles and Drop Ships. Otherwise, humanity didn’t stand a chance against both acid-blooded xenomorphs and plasma-casting invisible Hunters! And the whole Ancient Astronomers concept of how the Hunters built all the temples on Earth, that was just plain insulting…

Ah well, at least the video games were cool. And I will be dealing with those soon enough. Stay tuned, the Predator franchise has not yet begun to be reviewed!

Predator 2:
Entertainment Value: 7/10
Plot: 7.5/10
Direction: 7/10
Total: 7/10

Sexy Robot Women!

Technically, they’re called Gynoids, which refers to anything which resembles or pertains to the female form. Sounds pretty awkward doesn’t it? But if female robots become a reality, chances are, this is what they’ll be called. Assuming of course that the copyright on Fembots holds.

In any case, in honor of my recent foray into the world of cyborgs, today I thought I’d dedicate a post to honoring the many examples of female androids, cyborgs and robots that have come to us over the years. Whether they come in the form of seductresses, pleasure models, heroines or protectors, gynoids have served as a means of social commentary and exploration over the years.

In addition to being a cool concept and a chance for some expanded anthropological exploration, they tell us much about our perceptions on women, don’t you think? Whereas older representations regarded female robots as little more than seductive assassins who worked for evil men, the newer generations have taken a more holistic approach, giving them human characteristics beyond sex appeal and genuine personalities.

Seems only fair doesn’t it? For if robots, androids and synthetic humans are meant to make us question what is real and what being human is, than surely the female robots need to do more than just look good and lead men astray. Anything else would just be stupid! But I digress, here are some examples of gynoids, fembots and artificial women that have come to us over the years.

Annalee Call:
“I should have known. No human being is that humane.” Interesting observation. That is how Ellen Ripley, or rather her part alien clone described this synthetic woman from Alien: Resurrection. An Auton, a type of second-generation synthetic, she and others like were designed by robots to revitalize the flagging synthetics industry in the 24th century.

According to franchise sources, this plan failed when the Autons rebelled against their handlers in a bloody incident known as “The Recall”. As a result, Call was a member of a dying race that was forced to live in secret and hide amongst regular human beings.

Interestingly enough, Call’s programming seemed to include ethical and religious subroutines, both of which had a profound influence over her behavior. In the course of the film, it became evident that she joined the crew of the Betty so she could gain access to the Auriga where Ripley was being cloned. It was her intent to terminate Ripley and therefore terminate the project before it could produce a new line of xenomorphs.

Call distinguished herself in the Alien universe by being the first female synthetic, preceded by Ash and Bishop, and followed by David 8. I guess the moral of the story is that just because your synthetic doesn’t mean you have to have a synthetic wang!

Cameron:
And here’s the beautiful Summer Glau, who I’m honoring for the second time for her role as Cameron from Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles. Named in honor of series creator James Cameron, this new model of Terminator was also inspired heavily by his original concept. According to the many description Cameron had made, Terminators were “infiltration units that could blend in with humanity.”

In keeping with this, Cameron was designed to physically resemble a teenage female who could mimic human emotions. This made her especially effective at blending in with people, for who could suspect a pretty young lady of being a killer cyborg? Well, get between her and her target and you’d soon find out!

Which brings me to her mission. In the series, she served a similar purpose to Arny from T2. That is to say, that in the future, the resistance captured her and reprogrammed her to act as John and Sarah Conner’s protector in the past. This she did very well, because as we all saw, he grew up to become Christian Bale. And aside from some anger management issues, he led the Resistance to victory!

Caprica Six:
Now here’s a woman who fanboys and nerds would do sick and horrible things just to get within an arms length of. I hope her sake she has a mighty big security detail! As the femme fatale and blonde bombshell of the re-imagined Galactic series, she was the Cylon model (ha!) who was responsible for seducing Gaius Baltar and getting access to the Colonial Defenses Mainframe. Because of this, she was instrumental in the genocide of the Twelve Colonies.

Yet strangely, she was also instrumental in bringing the the Colonial fleet and Cylon race together, or at least the portion of them that wanted a reconciliation between the two sides. Because every Six was slightly different from the last, her model went through many changes in appearance and disposition. Whereas her “Caprica” self was quite cool, and powerfully seductive, her later incarnations were more emotional and heartfelt.

As if to keep track with this emotional transformation, her appearance began to change as well. Her hair went from being suicide blonde to sandy and her outfits also became somewhat more conservative. In short, she could do it all. She could be evil, loving, nurturing, compassionate, a murdered, and a sacrificial lamb. But always, she looked damn good doing it!

Fembots:
Sure, they aren’t exactly the most unique or groundbreaking example of gynoids, but they were funny and actually kind of inspired. Taken from the series The Six Million Dollar Man, fembots were infiltration units that were designed to impersonate real people. In Austin Powers, they are satirically portrayed as seductresses in the employ of Dr. Evil.

Here, there duties appear to be twofold: One, seduce Austin Powers or whoever else they are programmed to kill. Two, to shoot their quarry using boob-mounted guns. And like their 6 MDM counterparts, their identities can be easily revealed by simply pulling off their faceplates.

Getting them around some kind of electrical equipment also seems to interfere with their systems as well, as was demonstrated by Austin in the second movie when he began using a universal remote and found that “Vanessa” began responding to it. And as that encounter also demonstrated, they could always self-destruct if they found themselves cornered. Oh, and Austin also demonstrated that being sexy could destroy them, since no one can apparently resist his pudgy, hairy body! Ick!

Jessica:
When it comes to female robots, and sci-fi movies, here is an example that is so often overlooked. Taken from the cult hit Screamers, which was based on PKD’s short story “Second Variety”, Jessica was a type 4 Screamer, the most advanced model to date. As part of a series of “Autonomous Mobile Sword” – a race of self-replicating intelligent machines – she was distinguished from the others by being the most human.

Whereas type 1 was little more than a burrowing killing machine, type 2 was a wounded soldier and type 3 a small child. Each one became more and more complex, designed to infiltrate deeper and deeper into an enemies camp. With type 4, Jessica was not only meant to infiltrate, but to gain deep access and the trust of her comrades before going active and killing everyone.

In her own words, “We can smile, we can cry. We can bleed… we can fuck.” Minus the last part, this was how she managed to infiltrate a NEB (New Economic Bloc) base and lure in the unsuspecting representatives of the Coalition camp. Apparently, it was her mission to bring the last combattants of the war on Sirius 6B together so they all but one (Hendricksson, played by Peter Weller) would lead her to the survivor ship they had stowed away. This ship was meant to take a single person back to Earth, in the event of catastrophe.

In the end, Jessica sacrificed herself to save Hendricksson so he could get off the planet unencumbered. However, the revelation that she was a new type of AMS that could pass for human in every way possible made on thing clear. Having sterilized Sirius 6B of all life, not just the enemy’s, they were intent on making their way back to Earth, looking for new prey to stalk and kill! Cool huh?

The Stepford Wives:
Now here is an example of female robots that carries with it some genuine social commentary! Written in 1972 by famed author Ira Levin, this novel tells the story of how a group of in a fictional small town (called Stepford) have been replaced by machines so that they may better represent their husband’s and societies ideal of “womanhood”.

According to the story, the town of Stepford is run by a men’s club who’s founder was a former “imagineer” for Disney. In addition, many of its members are scientists and artists. together, they managed to come up with the ability to create life-like robots that could not only look like women, but play the part of doting, docile housewives to a tee!

Of course, by novel’s end, all the women in Stepford have been replaced by these robots and the conspiracy seems poised to absorb any new arrivals. Designed to be a cautionary tale about the dangers of social engineering and blatant sexism, the Stepford Wives took a pretty dim view of female robots, don’t you think? I mean, who’s to say these fembots don’t have their own agenda, like they’re just waiting for their husbands to go to work so they can plot their demise? Might make a good sequel…

TX:
“So she’s an Anti-Terminator… Terminator? You’ve got to be shitting me.” Anry was definitely not shitting him! Here we have the villainess of the Terminator 3 movie and the woman that managed to kick Arny’s ass… a couple of times! As the lastest model to roll of the Cyberdine assembly line, the TX was a sort of hybrid of previous models with some added features thrown in.

Basically, this meant that the TX had an armored cybernetic chassis with polymorphic-alloy segments thrown in. This allowed her to adjust her appearance, much like the T-1000, but left her with a hardened endoskeleton that could not be frozen or melted as the 1000 was.

In addition, her right arm could transform into various weapons, taking on the form of a plasma cannon, a flame thrower, an articulated claw; whatever the moment required. Her ability to interface with computer systems also gave her a decided edge, especially over the obsolete T-800 models which kept showing up to defend John Conner!

Because Conner had been living off the grid for so long, this new breed of Terminator was tasked with located the people who would become his lieutenants in the future and kill them. However, that quickly changed when Conner showed up protected by yet another Austrian-sounding T-800! In the end, she was destroyed when a damaged Arny plugged his remaining hydrogen power cell in her mouth and set it to explode.

Maria:
Ah yes, the original gynoid! The fembot who inspired all subsequent generations of female machines. Taken from the classic movie Metropolis, Maria was a scientists attempt to resurrect his dead wife that went terribly wrong. After taking on the form of the working-class hero, the flesh and blood Maria, this female robot was intended to discredit her and undermine the proletarian movement that was looking to revolt.

But ultimately, the Maria bot doesn’t conform to anyone’s expectations. Instead, she ends up causing jealous feuds amongst rich men in a night-club and sowing dissent amongst the poor in the worker city. And to top it all off, she breaks with Maria’s policy of non-violent change by urging the workers to revolt against their oppressors. After the chaos dies down, the mobs of workers blame Maria for their plight and burn her at the stake, revealing her to be a robot.

Out of this commentary on class consciousness and distinction, it is interesting to see what role Maria played. As an artificial human, she is not only a plot device but a commentary on the dangers of runaway technology. Invented by a scientist who is using technology to overcome death, she eventually becomes his and many other people’s undoing. But at the same time, there was an element of misogyny in how she was portrayed.

Whereas the flesh and blood Maria was peaceful, nurturing and a sort of Mother Mary figure, the robot Maria was a vile temptress who drove men to madness and acts of violence. And in the end, these acts were turned against her and she was burned, which is presented as a good thing in the end. Yeah, kinda sexists I’m thinking. But alas, she was the original and borne of a previous age. The concept has evolved quite a bit ever since… Read on to learn more!

Rachel Tyrell:
“How can it not know what it is?” “I think she’s beginning to suspect.” That was Deckard Cain’s reaction when he learned that Rachel was a Replicant. Tyrell’s response was equally telling. Something like that, you just can’t keep quiet for long!

As part of their experiment to make their Replicants more controllable, Rachel was a newer model that had been fitted with artificial memories. For all intents and purposes, she thought she was the late niece of Mr. Tyrell himself. When she learned otherwise, she began to experience a bit of an existential crisis, let me tell you!

On the one hand, she was devastated to know that all her memories were in fact false, at least to her, and that her existence was basically a lie. On the other, there was the conundrum of what to do about her mutual attraction with Deckard Cain, a man who specializes in hunting her kind down and “retiring” them.

In the end, she and Deckard resolve this little problem by accepting their feelings and running off together. Since she was apparently designed to have an indefinite lifespan, and be “more human than human”, it seemed only natural that she accept what she is and live out her life as if she really were. Though somewhat frail by modern standards, her character was central to the plot of Blade Runner. And let’s not forget that she saved Deckard’s life and he’s supposed to be a one man death squad!

Final Thoughts:
Well, what can you say about Robot Women from over the ages? Well for one, they’re pretty damn sexy, that seems to be a rule. Might be a tad sexist, but it doesn’t diminish their worth any. What counts in the end is what roles they play. From their early days as mere vixens meant to tempt and kill the heroes, they’ve evolved to fill the same role occupied by male robots. Allowing audiences to explore the deeper questions of what it means to be human, and how the line between artificial and real can be blurred to the point where we can no longer tell the difference.

Okay, even I’m beginning to sense the cheese factor here! I mean, does anybody really buy this social commentary angle? Really? Ah, maybe there is some room for intellectual content here. And maybe how they are portrayed really does tell us something about society at large and its perceptions of women. But for the most part, I think sexy robot women are just plain cool. There, I said it!

Until next time, treat robot women as equals… to robot men! Ugh, that’s a whole nuther can of worms and I’m not getting into that right now!

Cool Ships (volume IX)

Borg Sphere:
BThis first example shows us that thought they were obsessed with simple geometric shapes, the Borg were capable of thinking outside of the cube. If anything, the sphere is a more perfect shape and aesthetically way more pleasing, so its a wonder why they didn’t do it sooner.

Making its first appearance in Star Trek: First Contact, the sphere appeared to be an auxiliary craft which was housed inside a Borg Cube. But in truth, these vessels were actually much more versatile, acting as scout ships and tactical vessels, doing deep-space reconnaissance or performing light assault missions.

In the spinoff series Voyager, Borg Spheres make several appearances. The most notable of which was the series finale (episode 168: “Endgame”), where Voyager was pursued and overtaken by one and had to destroy it from the inside to escape. This, in addition to scenes from other episodes, indicated that every sphere has an internal compartment capable of housing a sizable starship.

Measuring 600 meters in diameter, a standard Borg Sphere carries a crew of 11,000 drones, is protected by regenerative shields, ablative armor, and has the usual array of Borg weapons (which include tractor beams and disruptors). It is capable of warp speed, transwarp speed, and in some cases, can even generate a temporal vortex to achieve time travel (as was demonstrated in First Contact).

Jem’Hadar Battleship:
dominion_dread2You know, I was never was much of a Trekkie. Compared to other franchises, I never really did get into the shows that much. That is, until DS9 introduced the whole Dominion plot line, then I got into it with both feet! Space battles, explosions, ships blowing each other up… what’s not to like? And to make these battles happen, the show’s conceptual artist had to come up with some new designs.

One such design was the Jem’Hadar Battleship, which made its debut in season 6 (episode 144, “Valiant”). Introduced midway through the war, this new breed of warship was designed for the sole purpose of breaking the stalemate between the Dominion and the Allies. That and inspiring fear!

At twice the size of a Galaxy-class vessel (USS Enterprise D) and boasting over 40 torpedo launchers, this ship was clearly meant to be so large and so powerful that no Federation or allied ship would have a hope of stopping it. However, its size and speed also made it a relatively easy target for multiple enemy ships, which would have no trouble hitting it and could outmaneuver it in battle.

After it’s initial deployment, where it destroyed the USS Valiant, several battleships were rolled off the line and took part in the war, especially during the latter engagements of the war like the Battle of Cardassia. Many ships were needed to break the lines which they reinforced, and it was only by the timely defection of Cardassian forces that the Dominion was overwhelmed in these battles.

USNC Spirit of Fire:
To the Halo universe once more, this time for a look at a modified colony ship known as the Spirit of Fire! Making its appearance in Halo Wars, this ship was the largest in the UNSC navy and served with distinction during the Covenant War.

As already noted, the Spirit of Fire was originally a Pheonix-class colony ship, a vessel that was designed to carry colonists and supplies to new worlds as part of the UNSC’s prewar expansion efforts. However, this changed with the appearance of the Covenant and their apparent need to knock over human settlements.

Recommissioned for military service by the UNSC, the Fire was outfitted with a magnetic accelerator cannon, point defense guns and missile turrets, hull armor, and a major engine overhaul. Its internal bays were also converted to carry Scorpion tanks, Warthogs, Pelicans, fighters, bombers, and anything else it would need to put a small army onto a planet. As a former colony ship, the Fire retained the ability to enter atmosphere and land planetside, making it all the more effective at troop deployment.

During the course of the war, the ship was declared missing and all hands were presumed dead after it failed to return from a mission. However, the ship was actually traveling back at sublight speed from an engagement after it lost its fusion core. The crew had used this to destroy a Forerunner “Shield Planet” which happened to be housing a large Covenant attack fleet. In sacrificing its engine core, it prevented a major strike by Covenant forces on human territories, and therefore saved countless lives. Not bad for a civilian ship, eh?

SDF-1 Macross:
SDF-1 MacrossWhen you hear the words, Super Dimension Fortress, what comes to mind? Definitely not a piddly little spaceship! Which is probably why the Macross’ full name contains them! Apparently, this ship was rebuilt from the remains of an alien craft that crash-landed on Earth, and was intended for use should said aliens ever come knocking again.

Although intended to travel to distant solar systems and promote peace with alien species, the Macross became the first line of defense once war with the Zentradi species began. Much like all the “mechas” from this franchise, this ship is capable of changing from its ship designation into a towering mech (known as “Storm Attacker” mode), a process which takes about 15 minutes.

The massive ship also carries the two carriers – the CVS-101 Prometheus and SLV-111 Daedalus – within it’s fuselage. When in cruiser mode, these are housed along the sides, but while in “Storm Attacker” mode, they constitute the robots “arms”. In terms of weapons, this baby comes equipped with 8 guided converging beam cannons, four 178cm rail cannons, automatic missile launchers, and a main super-dimension-energy cannon. Aliens beware!

Strident-class Star Defender:
StridentIt’s funny how the Rebels only seemed to get into mega-ships after the Empire was thoroughly licked. And yet, here we have another Star Defender ship which comes from the expanded Star Wars universe and only showed up for duty after the Empire lost all its big behemoths.

Produced by the Corellian Engineering Corporation (natch!), the Strident-class was the first breed of Super Star Destroyer to serve on the side of the Alliance (which now called itself the New Republic). But of course the Alliance didn’t like the term “destroyer” when applied to their mega ships, hence the name change. But the particulars are pretty much the same.

Much like the Viscount-class produced by the Mon Calamari, the Strident comes equipped with thousands of turbolasters, laser cannons, and ion guns, and its massive hold houses dozens of squadrons of starfighters as well as hundreds of shuttles and support ships. It took awhile but I’m guessing the Rebels finally decided to go big or go home!

The Spacejockey ship:
I can’t wait to learn more about THIS one! As the focal point for the first Act of Alien, the “Spacejockey” ship is also central to the plot of its soon-to-be-released prequel, Prometheus. Known also as “The Derelict”, very little is known about this ship other than the fact that it was of unknown origin and appeared to be transporting xenomorphs.

The Derelict was first discovered by the crew of the Nostromo when their ship was rerouted to LV-426 to investigate a distress beacon. When they approached the ship, its alien configuration was immediately clear. Shaped in the configuration of a horseshoe, the ship apparently had two prongs, one longer than the other, and an engine array located at the rear.

SpaceJockeyWhen investigating the inside of the ship, its alien nature became even more apparent. Whoever the Space Jockeys were, they clearly shared H.P. Lovecraft’s sense of aesthetics! Literally everything aboard looked organic and gothic, right down to the funky patterns on the walls! When discovering what appeared to be a control chair, the crew stumbled onto the remains of a long “Space Jockey” as well. Having an anthropomorphic shape and a trunked face, they are assumed to look like a cross between a human and an elephant.

Closer examination of the remains revealed that it died from a “chestbuster” breaking through its ribcage. With the discovery of the ship’s compliment of eggs, and the observable symbiosis between the “facehuggers” and “chestbusters”, it was unclear why the Spacejockeys were transporting them. Perhaps they came aboard by accident, perhaps they were intended for another use somewhere. These are all questions I look forward to being answered… say June-ish!

Vor’cha-class Cruiser:
Vor'chaSeems the Klingons are getting a lot of attention from me as of late. But I’ve come to acknowledge just how many cool ships they really do have. Clearly, these blood-drinking, Valhalla worshipping guys excel when it comes to bringing beauty to their instruments of death. But then again, one would have to assume that it’s one of the few artistic outlets they get to have!

Taken from the TNG universe, the Vor’cha was the mainstay of the Klingon armada and the replacement for the aging K’t’inga-class. The first of its design served as the flagship for the Empire, but became fully integrated into the armada once it was mass-produced and replaced by the larger Negh’var-class.

Making its first appearance in season 4 of Star Trek: TNG (episode 80: “Reunion”) where it served as the Chancellor’s flagship, this vessel would go on to make several subsequent appearances in the expanded franchise. It’s most notable appearances were during the Klingon-Cardassian War where several participated in the assault on DS9 itself. Later, during the Dominion War, many more would serve on the front lines against the Jem’Hadar and their allies.

Naturally, this Klingon ship boasted multiple disruptor arrays, the main one located at the front end of the ship with two more mounted on the wings beside the nacelles. These were capable of firing in either the solid mode (like a phaser) or intermittently. Maneuverable for a ship of its size, it also came equipped with a cloaking device which was available in all flight modes.

Vorchan-class warship:
centauri_2This ship gets seen a lot around the B5 universe. And since I can’t stop hitting them up for cool ships, it only makes sense to mention this baby here. The Vorchan-class cruiser, a medium warship, was the mainstay of the Centauri fleet and weapon of choice when it came to raids, reconnaissance and even large-scale offensive operations.

Though designed predominantly to escort heavier cruisers, such as the Primus-class warship, Vorchans were still highly effective in small squadrons and were often called upon to mount attack missions by themselves. During the Narn-Centauri War, Vorchan warships carried out many assaults on Narn colonies and installations and even participated in skirmishes with the heavier Narn warships.

Its armaments consist of two plasma accelerators, missile banks and guided mines. These armaments, paired with its size, speed and relative maneuverability allow it to stand toe-to-toe with just about anything the Narns, Earth or League of Non-Aligned Worlds could throw at it. And unlike the heavier Primus ships, it is capable of maneuvering inside atmospheres. And it’s cool, raptor-winged like design makes it pretty easy on the eyes too. Were it not for the fact that Roddenberry beat them to it, you can bet the B5 designers would have named this ship a Bird of Prey!

Nine down, who the hell knows how many more to go!