Of Faster-Than-Light Travel

It’s a popular concept, the fictional technology that could help us break that tricky light barrier. And it’s not hard to see why. The universe is a really, really, REALLY big place! And if we ever want to begin exploring and colonizing our tiny corner of it – and not have to deal with all the relativistic effects of time dilation and long, long waits – we better find a way to move faster.

And this is where various franchises come up with their more creative take on physics and the natural universe. Others, they just present it as a given and avoid any difficult, farfetched, or clumsy explanations. And in the end, we the viewers go along because we know that without it, space travel is going to be one long, tedious, and mind-bendingly complex journey!

Alcubierre Drive:
Proposed by Miguel Alcubierre as a way of resolving Einstein’s field equations, the Alcubierre Drive is an untested by possible way to achieve FTL travel. As opposed to Warp, Foldspace, or most other proposed means of FTL that involve some kind of internal propulsion of jump drive, the Alcubierre Drive is based on the idea of generating a wave that a ship would then “surf” in order to travel.

The creation of this wave would cause the fabric of space ahead of the spacecraft to contract and the space behind it to expand. The ship would then ride this wave inside a region of flat space known as a warp bubble and be carried along as the region itself moves through space. As a result, conventional relativistic effects such as time dilation would not apply in the same way as if the ship itself were moving.

The Alcubierre drive is featured in a few different science fiction genres, mainly those of the “hard” variety. This includes Stephen Baxter’s Ark, M. John Harrison’s novel Light, Warren Ellis and Colleen Doran’s Orbiter, and Ian Douglas’s Star Carrier where it is the primary means of transport.

FTL Drive:
The primary means of interstellar travel in the Battlestar Galactica universe, where every ship larger than a in-system transport is equipped with an FTL drive. How it works is never really explained, but it is clear that the technology is complex and involves a great deal of calculation. This is not only to ensureolve n accurate relocation through space-time, but also to make sure they don’t up jumping too close to a planet, star, or worse, right in the middle of either.

Whereas Colonial ships use their own computers to calculate jumps, Cylon ships rely on the Hybrid. These “machines” are essentially semi-organic computers, and represent the first step in Cylon evolution from pure machines to organic beings. Apparently, the hybrids were more sophisticated than Colonial computers, especially the aging Galactica. Hence, they were able to calculate jumps more quickly and accurately.

Holtzman Drive:
This FTL drive system comes to us from the Dune universe, and is otherwise known as a “Foldspace Engine”. Relying on principles that are not entirely clear to those in the Dune universe, the system involves depositing a ship from one point in space-time to another instantaneously. Though the workings of the drive are never really explained, it is intimated in Chapterhouse: Dune that tachyons are involved.

Another key component in the system is a Guild Navigator, a mutant who has been given natural prescient abilities thanks to constant exposure to spice. Using this prescience, the Navigator “sees” a path through space-time in order to guide the ship safely through. But in time, the Ixians invented a machine that was capable of doing this job as well, thus making the entire process automated and breaking the Guild’s monopoly on spacing.

Hyperspace:
Like the Warp drive, the terms hyperspace and hyperdrive have become staples withing the science fiction community. It’s most popular usage comes from Star Wars where it is the principle means of interstellar travel. Though it is never explained how a hyperdrive works, it is made abundantly clear through a series of visuals in the first and subsequent movies that it involves speeds in excess of the speed of light.

In addition, Han Solo indicated in the original movie that the Falcon’s top speed was “point five past light-speed”, indicating that it can travel 1.5 c. All other references to hyperspace speed factors in the franchise are similar, with velocities given in terms of a decimal point value. As a fast ship, the Falcon can reach point five, whereas most of the larger Imperial and Rebel ships can make only point three or four at most.

Though Star Wars is the most popular example of hyperspace, it is by no means the earliest. The first recorded example was in John Campbell’s “Islands of Space,” which appeared in Amazing Stories in 1931. Arthur C. Clarke’s also mentioned hyperspace in his 1950 story Technical Error. However, the most enduring example comes from Asimov’s Foundation universe, where hyperspace is the principal means of travel in the Galactic Republic. In I, Robot, the invention of the “hyperspatial drive” is the basis of one of the short stories, and was meant to provide a sense of continuity with his earlier Foundation series.

Other franchises that feature the concept of hyperspace include Babylon 5, Homeworld, Macross/Robotech, and Stargate. Combined with Star Wars and the Foundation series, it is the most popular – albeit the most ill-defined -form of FTL in the realm of science fiction.

Infinite Probability Drive:
The perfect mixture of irreverence and science: the Infinite Probability Drive from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. This FTL concept is based on a particular perception of quantum theory which states that a subatomic particle is most likely to be in a particular place, such as near the nucleus of an atom, but there is also a small probability of it being found very far from its point of origin.

Thus, a body could travel from place to place without passing through the intervening space if you had sufficient control of probability. According to the Guide, in this way the drive “passes through every conceivable point in every conceivable universe almost simultaneously,” meaning the traveller is “never sure where they’ll end up or even what species they’ll be when they get there” and therefore it’s important to dress accordingly!

Subspace Jump Drive:
Here we have an FTL concept which comes from one of my favorite games of all time, Descent Freespace. Subspace jumps, relying on the drive system of the same name, represent a very quick method of interstellar travel. By relying on subspace “corridors” that run from one point in space-time to another, a ship is able to move quickly from one star system to the next.

The only drawback to this concept is the fact that travel must occur along officially designated “nodes”. These nodes usually pass between large gravitational sources (i.e. between stars systems) but also can exist within a system itself. Virtually all nodes are unstable, existing for mere seconds or minutes at a time. However, nodes which will last for centuries or longer are designated as “stable” and used for transit.

Another favorite franchise which uses a similar concept is the Wing Commander universe. In all versions of the game, particularly Wing Commander: Privateer, interstellar travel comes down to plotting jumps from predesignated points in space. One cannot simply jump from one spot to another provided accurate calculations are made, they have to use the mapped out points or no jump is possible. This, as opposed to hyperspace travel, posits that subspace is a reality that exists only in certain areas of space-time and must be explored before it can be used.

TARDIS:
Officially, the Time and Relative Dimension in Space is a time machine and spacecraft that comes to us from British science fiction television program Doctor Who and its associated spin-offs. Produced by the advanced race known as the Time Lords, an extraterrestrial civilization to which the Doctor belongs, this device that makes his adventures possible.

Basically, a TARDIS gives its pilot the ability to travel to any point in time and any place in the universe. Based on a form of biotechnology which is grown, not assembled, they draw their power primarily from an artificial singularity (i.e. a black hole) known as the “Eye of Harmony”. Other sources of fuel include mercury, specialized crystals and a form of temporal energy.

Each TARDIS is primed with the biological imprint of a Time Lord so that only they can use it. Should anyone else try to commandeer one, it undergoes molecular disintegration and is lots. The interior of a TARDIS is much larger than its exterior, which can blend in with its surroundings using the ship’s “chameleon circuit”. Hence why it appears to outsiders as a phone booth in the series.

Warp Drive:
Possibly the best known form of FTL travel which comes to us from the original Star Trek and its many spinoffs. In addition to being a prime example of fictional FTL travel, it is also perhaps the best explained example.Though said explanation has evolved over time, with contributions being made in the original series, TNG, and the Star Trek technical manual, the basic concept remains the same.

By using a matter/antimatter reactor to create plasma, and by sending this plasma through warp coils, a ship is able to create a warp bubble that will move the craft into subspace and hence exceed the speed of light. Later explanations would go on to add that an anti-matter/matter reaction which powers the two separate nacelles of the ship are what create the displacement field (the aforementioned “bubble”) that allows for warp.

Apparently, Warp 10 is the threshold for warp speed, meaning that it is the point at which a ship reaches infinite speed. Though several mentions are made of ships exceeding this threshold, this was later explained as being the result of different scales. Officially, it is part of the Star Trek canon that no ship is capable of exceeding Warp 10 without outside help. When that occurs, extreme time dilation, such as anti-time, occurs, which can be disastrous for the crew!

In addition to Star Trek, several other franchises have made mention of the Warp Drive. This includes StarCraft, Mass Effect, Starship Troopers, and Doctor Who.

Final Thoughts:
Having looked through all these examples, several things become clear. In fact, it puts me in mind of a clip produced by the Space Network many years ago. Essentially, Space explored the differences between FTL in past and present franchises, connecting them to developments in real science. Whereas Warp and Hyperspace tended to be the earliest examples, based on the idea of simply exceeding the speed of light, thereby breaking the law of physics, later ideas focused on the idea of circumventing them. This required that writers come up with fictional ideas that either relied on astrophysics and quantum theory or exploited the holes within them.

One such way was to use the idea of “wormholes” in space-time, a hypothetical theory that suggests that space is permeated by topological holes that could act as “shortcuts” through space-time. A similar theory is that of subspace, a fictional universe where the normal rules of physics do not apply. Finally, and also in the same vein, is the concept of a controlled singularity, an artificial black hole that can open a rift through space-time and allow a ship to pass from one point in the universe to another.

Explanations as to how these systems would work remains entirely hypothetical and based on shaky science. As always, the purpose here is to allow for interstellar travel and communications that doesn’t take decades or even centuries. Whether or not the physics of it all works is besides the point. Which brings me to two tentative conclusions.

  1. Explanations Need Not Apply: Given the implausible (or at the very least, inexplicable) nature of most FTL concepts, the best sci-fi is likely to be the stuff that doesn’t seek to explain how its FTL system of choice works. I’st simply there and does the job. People hit a button, push a lever, do some calculations, or fly into a jump gate. Then boom! seconds later (or days and weeks) and they find themselves on the other side, light years away and ready to do their mission!
  2. That’s Hard: Given how any story that involves relativistic space travel, where both time dilation and confusing time jumps are necessarily incorporated into the story, only the hardest of hard sci-fi can ever expect to do without warp drives, hyperspace, jump or FTL drives. Any other kind of sci-fi that is looking to be accessible, and therefore commercially successful, will have to involve some kind of FTL or face extinction.

Well, that’s all I got for the time being. In the meantime, keep your eyes on the skies and don’t stop dreaming about how we’re one day going to get out there. For even if we start sending ships beyond our solar system in the near future, it’s going to be well into the distant future before they get anywhere and we start hearing back from them. At least until someone figures out how to get around Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, damn bloody genius! Until then, I’d like to sign off with a tagline:

This has been Matt Williams with another conceptual post. Good night, and happy spacing!

Futuristic Guns

Many of these will look familiar, and for good reason. In addition to being futuristic looking, they also happen to be real! For many years, science fiction movies and series have used weapons of legitimate manufacture in order to inspire a futuristic feel.

Calico M960:
Calico960aHere’s a gun that has been featured in several movies, games and television series, and its obvious why. Just look at the thing. A fully-automatic pistol, this baby provides a lot of firepower in a small and uniquely shaped package. As one of the first personal defense weapons to feature a top-mounted magazine, a revolutionary concept for its time which has since caught on bigtime.

Guns of this class were featured in the sci-fi movies Robocop 2, Robocop 3, Total Recall, Virtuosity, and Star Trek: First Contact.

Daewoo K11:
daewook11This gun not only looks futuristic, it is downright revolutionary in its design. Whereas most assault rifles have grenade launchers slug underneath the front barrel, this version carries an launcher mounted on top and fed by a bullpup magazine.

Designed by the Republic of South Korea in 2006, the weapon also comes with a state of the art scope which features the latest in a ballistics computer technology as well as thermal/night vision. I have yet to find a sci-fi franchise which has used it, but time will tell. These things aint cheap, after all!

FN F2000:
f2000As part of the new generation of bullpup assault rifles, the F2000 is of Belgian manufacture that’s been around for the better part of a decade. It’s futuristic features include the revolutionary new handle and trigger grip, bullpup magazine and updated sights.

Because of its aesthetic appeal, the F2000 has been featured in numerous places, including Terminator: Salvation, the Modern Warfare and Ghost Recon video game series, and the upcoming G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra.

HK XM29:
Xm29Also known as an OICW (Objective Individual Combat Weapon), the XM29 is part of the new generation of hybrid assault rifles that features the a secondary bullpup magazine which houses its compliment of grenades.

Much like the K11, this weapon combines the benefits of a 5.56mm assault rifle, a 20mm grenade launcher and an ultra-modern scope that contains a ballistics computer, laser range finder, advanced optics and night vision. It was featured in the Ghost Recon series, Die Another Day, and Universal Soldier: The Return.

KRISS Vector:
kriss1When I first saw this weapon, all I could say was “Wow, now there’s something that doesn’t qualify for home defense!” A .45 caliber weapon, fully automatic, and very compact, this weapon is futuristic, uniquely designed and deadly. A triple threat, quite literally!

And the list of features and featurettes include the upcoming Total Recall remake, Resident Evil: Retribution, the Nikita television series and the Modern Warfare and Ghost Recon game franchises.

Mossberg 500:
mossberg_500_bullpupHere we have a game changer! And interestingly enough, it’s been around for quite some time. Back in 1985, Mossberg decided to upgrade their long lineup of shotgun stocks by taking advantage of the concept of bullpup firearms. Essentially, this means that it is loaded from the rear and ejects spent cartridges from behind the trigger mechanism.

Given it’s futuristic look, it was featured in several sci-fi movies during the 80’s and 90’s, most notably The Running Man, Predator 2, and the film version of Stargate.

NTW-20:
ntw20_1Go big or go home! That seems to be the reasoning behind this 20mm (.78 cal) assault rifle, which comes direct from South Africa, famous purveyor of grisly firearms! As part of an international series of large-caliber rifles which emerged during the 1990’s, this weapon was meant to give snipers the ability to take down armored troops and vehicles. Well, it certainly does that!

In addition to appearing in the movie District 9, it was also featured in the Halo series as the USNC sniper’s rifle. And anyone’s who played that series knows just how powerful that baby is. Blamoo! They all fall down…

PP-2000:
pp_2000Next up, the Russian sidearm of choice for today’s military, police forces, and apparently even cilivians. At least that’s what the designation PDW (Personal Defense Weapon) means. Can’t imagine most houses have any real cause for stocking a 9mm submachine gun, but that’s a matter for the courts.

Because of it’s appearance and popularity with modern armed forces, it was features in the video game series’ Modern Warfare, Ghost Recon, Bad Company, SOCOM, and the Russian sci-fi thriller The Interceptor (Zapreshchyonnaya Realnost).

P90:
P90Here we have yet another PDW that really doesn’t seem to fit that criteria, not when its a compact submachinegun and packs as many as 50 bullets! And in addition to its ammo count, it also boasts two very high-tech advancements, including a top loading magazine and the same handle/trigger grip as the F2000. Not surprising since they have the same maker – Fabrique Nationale (FN) from Belgium.

For obvious reasons, this gun has a long history of making special appearances. Its credits include Equilibrium, I, Robot, Babylon A.D., District B13 and its sequel, and was specifically chosen to be the sidearm of choice on the shows Stargate and Stargate: Atlantis.

Steyr AUG:
Steyr_augAnother popular item, and one which I’m sure everyone out there is familiar with. Invented back in 1978 by the Austrian-based Steyr company, this weapon was the first assault rifle to introduce the bullpup loading design. On top of that, its appearance is downright futuristic!

It too has a long list of credits, including Robocop 1 and 2, Predator 2, District B13, as well as the television shows Red Dwarf, Space: Above and Beyond, and Firefly.

Okay! There’s more, of course, but ten examples is kind of my limit. And because I think something like this could go longer than I’m willing to type… at least in one sitting. Enjoy the gun show (no bad pun!) and see y’all next time.

Cool Ships (volume IV)

Back with a fourth installment. As usual, I am indebted to people for making suggestions and offering critiques. Funny thing, these lists seem to be getting longer and more diverse the longer this series goes. But I guess that tells you something about the world of sci-fi. No shortage of material, and kind of like fossil hunting in that the deeper you dig, the more fascinating things get.

Ancients City Ship:
You know the old saying “you can never go home”? Well in this case, the Ancients seemed to think that the best away around that was to take it with you. This one goes out to Nicola Higgins. Thanks for the suggestion, you Stargate fangirl!

Known as a City Ship, this piece of Ancients technology is in centerpiece of the spinoff series Stargate: Atlantis. A self-contained city that is capable of traveling through space, and comes equipped with a hyper drive, this vessel was designed to transplanting colonies of Ancients on distant worlds throughout the Galaxy. It also heavily armed and shielded, making it a veritable mobile fortress.

Beginning several million years ago, the Ancients began what was known as the “Great Migration”, where they left Earth for the Pegasus Galaxy and other destinations in deep space. One such ship which took part in the migration was the Atlantis, which departed from Antarctica and landed on the world known as Lantea, where it was again discovered by humans in the course of the show.

Measuring roughly the same size as Manhattan island, an average city ship comes equipped with extensive living quarters and amenities that make it suitable for large-scale population for extended periods of time. Though capable of space flight and space combat, it’s environment of choice is terrestrial, preferably on water.

Colonial Viper:
This one kind of seems overdue. But I felt the need to push this one back so I could cover the bigger ships from the Battlestar Galactica franchise first. With them done, I can now pay tribute the fighter-craft of choice for the Twelve Colonies, the Viper! Taken from the original series, the Mark II was your basic space superiority fighter, fast, maneuverable, and boasting two laser guns for defense.

In the updated series, the Mark II was considered a relic from the Human-Cylon War, its systems outdated and its controls antiquated (the laser guns were also replaced by two ballistic weapons and a compliment of missiles). However, it was these very antiquated features that would prove to be the saving grace of the Mark II when the Cylons attacked the Colonies at the beginning of the new series.

The updated Mark VII Viper was the pinnacle of Colonial technology at the time. Boasting updating targeting, controls, all of which were networked with the fleet’s central computer system, the Mark VII was far more sophisticated than its predecessor in every measurable way. However, being a networked fighter made it vulnerable when the Cylons unleashed their crippling virus on the Colonies defense mainframe. Several models remained in operation though, thanks in large part to the Pegasus surviving the initial Cylon assault. Once the two fleets combined their resources, the Colonial fleet had several Mark VII’s at their disposal and even began manufacturing new ones to replace their losses.

The Colossus:
Now here’s a franchise I haven’t covered yet! Fans of Freespace and FS II know that when it comes to cool ships, there was no shortage to come out of this video game series. Classically inspired, well-designed and just plain awesome to behold, the Colossus is definitely top of that list. Big, bad, and boasting enough firepower to take down an enemy armada, the Colossus was appropriately named!

Designed by the Terran-Vasudan Alliance in the wake of the Great War, the Colossus was a prototype super-destroyer that was designed to confront all future incursions by a hostile race. Foremost amongst these was the threat of the Shivans, the species that appeared in the first game, destroyed the Vasudan homeworld and nearly destroyed Earth as well.

Measuring 6 km in length, bristling with weapons and boasting a crew of over 30,000, the Colossus took over 20 years to complete and involved dozens of contractors from both races. In terms of defense, it has over 80 weapon turrets, consisting of cannons, missile launchers, and multiple heavy beam emitters. It also houses 60 fighter and bomber wings and requires a crew of over 30,000. In short, the Colossus wields more firepower and fighter wings than an entire Terran or Vasudan armada.

Deimos-class Corvette:
You know the old saying, “it’s not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog”? That’s what comes to mind whenever I see small ships that are solidly built and pack a wicked punch. As you might have guessed, that precisely what the GTCv Deimos-class vessel is all about! Also taken from the Freespace universe, this corvette was designed for fighter support and attack purposes, providing some added firepower and punch to light assaults and defensive screens.

As the newest addition to the Terran fleet in FS II, these corvettes were designed to replace the aging Fenris and Leviathan-class cruisers from the Great War. In addition to their small profiles and heavy firepower, their hulls are strengthened with collapsed-core molybdenum sheathing for better protection against beam fire and their Vasudan-designed reactor core provides more energy per ton than any other allied ship class.

In a way, these ships remind me of the USS Defiant. Much like that little ass-kickers from the DS9 universe, she packs a lot of power and toughness into a small frame, proving that you don’t have to be big to bring a big ass-whooping! As you might be able to tell, this is a bit of a vicarious experience for me 😉 Being only 5’8”, I too had to be known for scrappiness whenever height and reach failed me in a sparring match!

Drakh Raider:
Once more onto B5 friends. God, I worry people are going to get so sick of this universe given all the attention I devote to it. But as long as it keeps providing ’em, I’ll feel obliged to honor ’em! This time, it’s the Drakh Raider which I’ve chosen to represent. Small, sleek, fast and powerful, these ships were the first line of assault and defense for the Drakh fleet, providing attack screens and defensive escort to their larger destroyers and carriers.

As Londo remarked in the course of the show, “They’re a legend. The kind you would use to frighten small children at night... They were ruthless, savage, but extremely bright. A very bad combination.” And these ships certainly embodied that. Making their first appearance in the third season (“Lines of Communication”) when it became revealed that the Drakh were manipulating the Mimbari into a civil war, and later in the Call to Arms TV movie when the Drakh began assaulting Earth.

Being quite small and based around a central beam weapon, these ships were either unmanned or had a very small crew. They were also quite effective, as two were able to destroy a White Star during their initial encounter with Delenn and the Alliance fleet. However, being small and light, they were also relatively easy for more sophisticated ships of the Alliance to shoot down, and even a small fleet of them could not stand up to larger vessels like the Excalibur. Still, these puppies could wreak havoc against shipping and military vessels that belonged to the younger races. Once they began conducting raids on League Worlds, all parties were forced to turn to Sheridan and the White Star fleet for help.

Romulan Warbird:
Also known as the D’deridex-class, the Warbird class was one of the largest and most powerful ships in the Romulan Star Empire’s armada and served as the backbone of the Romulan fleet during the latter half of the 24th century. In addition to its impressive array of disruptors and photon torpedo banks, the Warbird also has a cloaking device, the result of military exchanges between the Klingon and Romulan Empires.

After their debut in the first season of TNG (“The Neutral Zone”), the Warbird went on to appear in several engagements with Star Fleet (most notably the Enterprise) and the Dominion. In the spinoff series of D29, they would figure prominently in the Dominion War. Initially, this consisted of providing defense against Jem’Hadar incursions, but eventually went on to take part in most major offensives. These included the battles of Chin’toka and the final assault on Cardassia Prime.

Measuring twice as long as a Galaxy-class starship (such as the Enterprise D) the Warbird is powered by a forced quantum singularity and boasts the latest in Romulan technology. This makes it not only one of the most advanced ships in the Romulan fleet, but the Alpha Quadrant itself!

Rama:
Once again, I find myself looking back and wondering how the hell I forgot this one. You can’t call yourself an Arthur C. Clarke fan and a sci-fi geek without knowing about Rama. Lucky for me, ongoing segments give us chances to correct for our mistakes, which I am doing now.

Taken from Clarke’s famous novel Rendezvous with Rama, this namesake was what can be termed a “generational ship”, meaning a spaceship where successive generations of people are expected to be born and die before it finally reaches its destination. In the course of the story, this massive ship was detected on its way towards Earth. Once scientists and astronomers learned that it was not an asteroid or some other natural phenomena, they became mighty interested mighty fast!

Basically a large cylinder in space, the ship measured 50 km in length, 16 km wide, and rotated in order to provide gravity equal to 0.25 g’s (or a quarter of what we’re used to here on Earth). After boarding it, astronauts from Earth noticed an interior layout that resembled cities, rivers and other common geographical features, but being based on technology and chemical compositions which they could not recognize. The horizontal sections of the ship also housed windows which appeared to be letting in outside light, which in turn was having a thawing effect on the landscape since it was frozen from being in deep space for so long.

In addition, they discovered that their was no crew to speak of, nor any cryogenic tanks that held them in stasis. Evenutally, it was determined that these chemical rivers contained the trace chemicals needed to “manufacture Ramans”, and that as it neared a star, it would take the energy and heat necessary to perform these and other life-restoring functions. In the end, Rama was just passing through, a grave disappointment for Earth people… until they realized that more were on the way!

Pretty damn cool huh? This concept of a cylindrical hull with a self-contained city went on to inspire countless franchises and writers, not the least of which was J.M. Straczynski who modeled the interior of Babylon 5 based on Clarke’s descriptions. Generational ships also appear in many science fiction franchises, not the least of which are Alastair Reynold’s Revelation Space series and Joss Whedon’s Firefly.

USS Saratoga:
Space Above and Beyond is back for another installment, this time with the main ship of the fleet! Designated as a SCVN (Space Carrier Vehicle Nuclear) the USS Saratoga is the futuristic equivalent of a modern-day aircraft carrier and was home to the 58th Squadron (“The Wild Cards”) for the entire series.

In the course of the show, the Saratoga served on the front lines for the entire Chig War. This included the defense of Earth in the pilot episode, the offensive at Ixiom and Deimos, and in Operation Roundhammer – the assault on the Chig homeworld – at the end of the series. For the duration of its service, the Saratoga was commanded by Commodore Glen Ross, a no-bullshit naval officer who enjoyed playing guitar, cared deeply for his people, and was known for his catch-phrase “take that bird out of my sky!”

In addition to its compliment of fighters, the Saratoga boasted some pretty heavy armaments, including laser pulse cannons, phalanx missile launchers, and anti-ship torpedos. The vessel was also powered by a helium 3 fusion engine, measured 525.6 m in length and was capable of FTL travel thanks to a wormhole-generating engine technology.

Tigers Claw:
Yet another franchise I have neglected to include so far, but which deserving since cool ships was kind of their thing… Here we have the TCS Tiger’s Claw, the carrier and command vessel from the video game series Wing Commander. In the first installment in the series, the Tiger’s Claw was as the focal point of the story, a Bengal-class carrier that was deployed to the Vega Sector to fight in ongoing conflict known as the Terran-Kilrathi war.

In the course of its deployment in the Vega Sector, the Tiger’s Claw participated in many successful campaigns. These included the destruction of the Kilrathi base of operations for the entire sector in the campaign known as Custer’s Carnival, and the destruction of the KIS Sivar in what was known as the Goddard Campaign.

Unfortunately, after proving victorious in Vega, the ship was transferred to the Enigma Sector where it was destroyed during an assault on the Kilrathi starbase K’tithrak Mang. Using stealth fighters, the Kilrathi managed to ambush and then obliterate the carrier using torpedoes. These events took place between the first and second installment in the series and formed the basis of the latter’s backstory. Save for the main character of the story – Col. Christopher Blair (aka. you) – all hands aboard her were killed, including her air group commander, General Halcyon.

In addition to its vast compliment of 104 fighters, the Tiger’s Claw also possesses 8 heavy laser turrets, 20 defensive batteries, and powerful shields. Measuring 700 meters in length and weighing over 80,000 tons, her crew numbers in the thousands. Although slow and lumbering compared to smaller craft, she is still capable of a high maximum velocity (468,000 km/hour) and can make FTL jumps.

Voth City Ship:
Here’s another example of something the Star Trek franchise did really right! Appearing in the third season of Star Trek: Voyager (episode 64: “Distant Origin”), the Voth City Ship was something that was both intriguing and heavily-inspired. Based on the concept of a self-contained city in space, she was the command and administrative center of the entire Voth race and home to its ruling matriarch.

As the episode which featured her progressed, we learn that a group of alien scientists have discovered Voyager and have become convinced that she holds the key to proving their “Distant Origins” theory. When they meet these creatures, they learn that their kind evolved from dinosaurs on Earth to become a race of talking, bipedal humanoids who developed an entire civilization before they were forced to flee. After millennia of wandering, they landed in the Gamma Quadrant where they have since become the dominant power.

Unfortunately for said scientists, and the crew of Voyager, the Voth leaders are not too crazy about this idea. In addition to contradicting their beliefs that they emerged in the Gamma Quadrant (known as “Doctrine”) they are insulted to think they are related to mammals, creatures they consider inferior. Once they make contact, they are able to capture Voyager and neutralize her defenses quite easily, beaming the entire ship into one of their massive internal bays and knocking out all of their equipment using a dampening field.

In addition to all this impressive technology, the Voth also appeared to possess cloaking technology, trans-warp capability, and no doubt had some serious mother-loving weapons technology. It was a major blessing that Janeway and her crew didn’t press matters too hard and try to get into a firefight with these aliens, otherwise we would have seen some serious fireworks.

Final Thoughts:
Woo! Okay, that one was pretty good. And some rather new and unique examples made it in this time. Thanks for the suggestions people and my endless thanks as always to the good folks who maintain the Wiki’s and other source info sights for these franchises. Without you, I’d be very limited and would have quite doing these long ago! Also, I seem to have focused on city and generation ships a lot in this posting, which got me thinking…

It was the physicist and mathematician Freeman Dyson who claimed that the pinnacle of technology would be the ability to build a “Dyson’s Sphere”. That is, a sphere so large that it could encompass an entire star system, or at least the star and its primary planets. After all, the amount of materials and engineering capabilities required to build such a thing are just staggering and clearly beyond the means of anything we now know. Now that all may be true, but might I suggest that a more realistic and attainable measure of technological prowess would be the ability to create self-contained environments where several successive generations of humans and animals could survive for long periods of time?

Think about it. A species that can do this would be capable of leaving whatever world they call home behind and transplanting themselves in a distant star system or galaxy, meaning that their fortunes would never be tied to one rock in one star system. Even if our survival didn’t depend on it – which it might given the state of the planet! – it would still be a rather elegant way of planting the seed of humanity elsewhere in the galaxy. Instead of sending people out land on a planet and then do all the hard work of terraforming and building infrastructure, you just send the ship, and people can grow outwards in their own time without having to worry about hostile environments or organisms.

Pretty anthropocentric, I know. And yes, colonization is chock full of potential for evil, especially where indigenous life is concerned. Still, it’s a cool concept and it got me thinking, which is partly why I like to do these things. An excuse for research and to expand my mind!

Until next time, keep those idears coming!

More Cool Ships

And I’m back with more examples, in part because people had some suggestions but also because I found the last list lacking. I mean, you can’t suggest a concept as big and as awesome as cool science fiction ships and only provide a handful of examples. It’s just not decent! So here’s installment number two in the series, cool ships from various sci-fi franchises and what made them so. Keep in mind that suggestions are always welcome. I’m thinking a third and even fourth list might be necessary 🙂

Alliance Cruiser:
alliance_2Back to the universe of Firefly for another installment! This time around, it’s the Alliance Cruiser that I’ve chosen to talk about. In short, I think the design of this particular ship is quite inspiring. Unlike your average cruisers from other franchises, this ship is not based on the usual seafaring or aerodynamic-ship paradigm. It’s long axis is vertical rather than horizontal, making it a platform instead of a cutter.

In addition to making a lot more sense from a physics standpoint, this design offers many advantages in terms of navigation and defense. Unlike longitudinal designs which are forced to turn around on their long axis, this ship can simply fire thrust from any of its four sides to change course and direction. It’s tall appendages also make it easier for sensors or long-range telescopes to spot things out in space, no blindsides from which to approach on.

Basically, ships like these remind us that spaceships operate in vacuum and are therefore subject to a vastly different set of physical requirements. Since they do not operate in atmospheres, they don’t need to be aerodynamic or sleek like planes. And since they don’t cut across water, they don’t need to have sculpted hulls or prows to part the waves. So why then do a whole slew of spaceships look like aeroplanes or boats?

Simple, it’s a paradigm thing. When we hear ship, we automatically think of airships and seaships since that’s our frame of reference, and our artistic sensibilities naturally follow. But spaceships are a whole ‘nuther ballgame, requiring the ability to withstand inertial pressures instead of drag. So while sleek and streamlined models are cool to look at, they aren’t really the best spaceship design from a technical standpoint.

And in a lot of ways, the Alliance cruiser reminds me of another classic design, that of the Nostromo. Much like the mining vessel from the original Alien movie, it is vertical in design, boasting towers instead of horizontal compartments. It’s size and towering appearance also make it intimidating to behold, illustrating the power and imposing nature of the Alliance itself. Those who crew it tend to be pretty imposing as well, always boarding you and asking question!

Borg Cube:
https://i2.wp.com/img2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20060721051747/startrek/images/7/76/Borg_cube.jpgHere we have the capital ship of the Borg, the frightening cyborg race from the Star Trek: TNG series that assimilates or crushes everything in its path. Introduced in the second season of the show (episode 42: “Q Who”), this fearsome foe went on to become a recurring element of the show and was even central to the plot of the spinoff Voyager and the movie First Contact. Much like their raison-d’etre, their ships reflected a sort of cold technological rationalism, like something out of a cyberpunk fans wet dream!

The design of the basic cube, which was later supplemented by spheres and upgraded cube designs, is clearly based on a pythagoran aesthetic: nothing frilly, sleek, aerodynamic or even remotely artistic about it. They are simple, utilitarian, and equilateral, a testament to the precise and unsentimental mindset of those who designed it. It’s basic profile also came in handy when taking on multiple enemy ships. By having six sides, each with the same surface area, weapons and tractor beam mounts, the cube had a 360 degree sphere of defense, making it damn near impregnable.

On every occasion when one of these cubes showed up, bad things were known to happen! In their first encounter with one, the Enterprise barely got out in one piece. In the second, 39 ships were destroyed before the Enterprise and her crew were able to trick one into going into sleep mode, which it then responded to by blowing itself up! In the third encounter, which took place in First Contact, several more federation ships were destroyed before Captain Picard was able to use his inside knowledge of the Borg to help the fleet destroy another ship. In all subsequent encounters, future technologies, viruses, trickery, or a combination thereof were needed to overcome the Borg’s technology and singular mindset.

Chig Cruiser:
chigMuch like Firefly, this example comes to us from a franchise which was cancelled by the executives over at Fox after its first season. Yes, Space Above and Beyond was yet another sci-fi series which had a lot of promise, but got axed when the execs concluded it wasn’t doing well enough for their liking. What the hell goes on over at Fox anyway?! Does every new show get this kind of treatment, or do Rupert Murdoch’s minions think sci-fi is just inherently liberal?

In any case, the Chig Cruiser was much like the concept for the Chigs themselves. Cool, original, and quite alien in appearance! Basically, the vessels shape can be described as two right triangles attached end to end with the tips removed. The command center appeared to be located in the middle, along with much of its weapons and observation deck. The outer hulls also appear to have been constructed out of the triangular-shaped panels of some alien metal that gave of a peculiar sheen when seen from the right angle.

Like everything else in the series, the concept never really had time to be fully developed. Which is really too bad. Their fighters, encounter suits, and capital ships were all cool to look at, and some explanations as to their utility and even artistic inspirations would have been nice. But what can do? Fox is run by idiots! Rest in peace Space Above and Beyond! You died too young!

Earth Alliance Destroyer:
Thanks to Goran Zidar for suggesting I include this one! And please know that you are alone in thinking that it is cool to behold, Mr. Z 😉 Coming to you from the Babylon 5 universe, source of so many cool ships (see below), the concept for the Earth Alliance Destroyer was nothing short of pragmatic genius. Given that the show boasted dozens of alien races, J.M. Straczynski and his design teams had to come up with countless design concepts that would reflect the multicultural and multiracial tone of the show.

In the case of humanity, Straczynski and his people concluded that the spaceships should look boxy, utilitarian, and should reflect the fact that Earth was one of the less advanced races in the story. As a result, the Earth Alliance Destroyer was built around the concept of a compartmentalized hull with its engines at the rear, a central rotating section (to provide artificial gravity), and a forward section where the bridge, carrier deck and command center would be located. And, as you can plainly see, the end result was quite cool!

While not the most advanced ship in the Galaxy, the Omega-class destroyer was certainly realistic, aesthetically pleasing, and could also holds its own in most firefight situations. And unlike their organic, alien counterparts, these ships were also a lot cooler to watch in battle. Instead of “dying” or breaking apart, they would catch fire and throw off flaming debris, not to mention life pods and floating bodies. Yes, since ships didn’t have energy shields or a lot in the way of armor in the B5 universe, firefights tended to get real serious, real fast! Like I said… realistic!

The Daedalus:
daedalusNext up, and taken from the Stargate universe, is the battlecruiser Daedalus. After appearing in the spinoff show Stargate: Atlantis, this class of vessel (codenamed 304) became the basis for an entire fleet of vessels who’s purpose was to defend Earth from an alien invasion. Based on various alien technologies that were taken from the Goa’uld and Asgard, the Daedalus was the first Earth Battlecruiser and FTL ship ever constructed.

Based on the design of a modern aircraft carrier, the Daedalus bridge and command center were located along the top of the hull at the rear while the forward section contained the ships compliment of fighters and takeoff and landing bays. The ship also contained a hyperdrive which was powered by a Zero Point Module (an alien power source), giving it FTL capabilities.

In terms of armaments and advanced technology, the ship boasted beaming units, shields, multiple rail gun and missile systems, and a compliment of nuclear warheads. Designed to stand up to a potential Gua’old or Or’i invasion, the Daedalus and her kind were built to combine the best that Earth and her alien allies could offer. Yes, if the war came to Earth, we would be ready!

The Executor:
Hello terror! Next up, we have the gargantuan and terrifying Imperial command ship known as The Executor. Who among us can forget that introductory scene in The Empire Strikes Back when a whole fleet of massive Star Destroyers were assembling, only to be suddenly overshadowed by the even larger Executor? Cut to the bridge where we see the terrifying Vader looking out over the fleet, and you begin to see just how big and powerful the empire truly is! Yes, those visuals really gave a sense of size and scale to the bad guys and let us know just how much they meant business!

Commissioned roughly one year after the Battle of Yavin, where the first Death Star was destroyed, the Executor was intended to be a terror weapon, replacing the Death Star as the symbol of Imperial might and badassery! Measuring 19 kilometers in length and bristling with turbolasers, ion guns, multiple tractor beams projectors and a complement of fourteen TIE fighter/bomber squadrons, the Executor was every spacers worst nightmare! No ship in the Alliance was capable of standing toe to toe with it, making a strategic withdrawal an inevitability once it showed up in a theater of battle.

However, during the Battle of Endor, the Alliance was able to destroy it through a combination of strategy and dumb luck. After several Rebel fighters took out the Executor’s shield generators, a single fighter who lost control of his ship crashed directly into the bridge. The Executor then lost control of its helm and was pulled in by the second Death Star’s gravitational field, destroying the ship and causing extensive damage to the Death Star’s outer hull. An ironic death for such a big ship, but at least she went down in a blaze! A big, embarrassing, expensive blaze! I don’t envy the bastards who had to pay the premiums on that one!

Home One:
HomeOneAnother vessel that comes to us from the Star Wars universe, Home One was the mobile headquarters of the Rebel Fleet and the biggest Mon Calamari cruiser in existence. As Admiral Ackbar’s command vessel in the original trilogy, it distinguished itself during the Battle of Endor, during which the Executor and the second Death Star were destroyed.

Like most Mon Calamari cruisers, Home One was cylindrical in design and originally served as a star-liner that got modified for combat. This consisted of equipping it with fighter bays, multiple shield emitters, a reinforced hull, and many turbolaser mounts. It’s revolutionary targeting and computer system also gave it a decided advantage in a firefight with Imperial vessels, which boasted heavier armaments, but lacked the ability to coordinate and amass their firepower as effectively.

The largest bay on Home One was on the starboard side where larger vessels would dock. However, a total of twenty hangers were placed throughout the hull, giving it the ability to carry multiple squadrons of X-wings, A-wings, B-wings and Y-wings. It also boasted a crew of over 5000 personnel and could carry 1,200 troops and 20,000 metric tons of cargo. While most of its systems – especially targeting and navigation – were designed for Mon Calamari use, the ship was crewed by a variety of races, reflecting the multiracial nature of the Alliance.

Lexx:
lexxThough not the prettiest ship in the Galaxy, the Lexx certainly deserves a spot on the Cool Ship list. Much like the show that featured it, it was weird, conceptually skewed,  but still damn original! A planet-destroying bioship by design, the Lexx was clearly inspired by the concept of a giant, wingless dragonfly and was created out of resynthesized proteins that were obtained from confiscated organs. Hmmm, gross!

Originally intended for use by His Divine Shadow, the evil ruler of the Divine Order, the Lexx was essentially a terror weapon that would be capable of destroying whole planets. However, the ship was commandeered in the first episode by the show’s crew – consisting of anti-hero Stanley Tweedle, the sex slave Zev Bellringer, and the Kai, an undead assassin, and the bodiless AI 790 – and became the means through which they traveled the universe looking for a new home.

This journey would take them over 6000 years, since the Lexx does not have FTL capabilities, and the crew would go into cryostasis for much of the voyage. Being sentient as well as organic, the ship was required to feed from time to time in order to maintain the life force which powered it. This could involve landing on a planet and eating organic matter directly, but more often than not, required that it blow up an entire planet and eat the resulting debris afterwards.

In the latter case, this consisted of emitting massive amounts of ionized energy from its “eyes” which was then channeled into the “mouth”. This energy was then fired outward in a planar wave which would intercept and obliterate any planet in its path. The Lexx would then take in the giant rocks and debris from the explosion and feed off of all the organic matter they carried. If not permitted to feed regularly, the Lexx could apparently become quite cranky and agitated, which would prove to be hell for whoever had to interact with it!

Narn Cruiser:
narn02As promised, another cool ship from the B5 universe. And as I said earlier, when it came to producing concepts for alien ships, J.M. Straczynski really had an eye for aesthetics, art, and functionality. Whereas Earth vessels tended to be compartmentalized and practical in nature, other alien races tended to be a bit more flamboyant, a reflection of their particular cultures and levels of technology.

When it came to the Narns, an aggressive but artistic race, their ship designs exemplified this dual nature. Originally a pastoral and peaceful people, the Narns had been brutalized by generations of occupation at the hands of the Centauri and had become quite warlike as a result. Their heavy cruisers, the mainstay of their fleet, were thus powerful and fierce looking, but still managed to achieve an aesthetic quality which brought beauty into the mix.

Boasting two massive beam cannons, several pulse guns and a compliment of space mines, the Narn Heavy Cruiser could take on just about any ship in the Galaxy. Though most were destroyed in the Great War against the Centauri, the ship proved to be effective in numerous engagements, not the least of which were against the Shadows themselves. For example, at the battle of Ragesh 3, two Narn Cruisers combined their beam cannons to seriously damage a Shadow vessel. During the battle in Sector 83, when Sheridan and the White Star Fleet engaged a fleet of Shadows vessels, the Cruiser G’tok managed to assist a pair of White Stars in destroying two Shadow vessels. Quite the accomplishment for this class of vessel!

After the Great War, the Narn regime began rebuilding its fleet, and the Narn Cruiser remained the mainstay of their forces. Several were used during the Alliance war with the Centauri and participated in the assault on Centauri Prime, where its massive compliment of weapons proved quite devastating against the planet’s surface!

Prometheus-Class Assault Vessel:
PrometheusYou know, I’ve never been that big a fan of the Star Trek franchise. But even I have to admit, when these guys do something right, they really do it right! And this ship, the Prometheus Assault Vessel, would be one such example. Much like the USS Defiant from my previous list, this ship demonstrated that when required, Star Fleet could produce ships that really excelled at kicking ass and taking names!

A revolutionary prototype, the Prometheus-Class vessel appeared in a single episode of Voyager where it was being stolen by a bunch of Romulan agents. However, thanks to the combined efforts of the ship’s own holographic surgeon and Voyager’s similarly holographic doctor, the ship was saved and even managed to turn the tables on its Romulan adversaries.

Incorporating advanced phasers, quantum torpedoes, ablative armor and regenerative shields, the biggest surprise the Prometheus had was its multi-vector assault capability. This involved the separation of the ship into multiple modules, much like the USS Enterprise-D would do with its saucer and engine sections. However, in the Prometheus’ case, this resulted in the creation of three semi-independent sections which were capable of unleashing a single, coordinated attack against multiple opponents.

After it was done dispatching all its enemies, it would then come back together, perform repairs as needed, and move on to the next target. And since the ship was programmed with extensive routines, a very small crew was capable of operating it and really only had to speak the requisite commands to get it to kill, kill, kill! Not a bad ship to have in your arsenal!

Shadow Attack Ship:
shadow06“It was jet black. A shade of black so deep your eye just kinda slides off it. And it shimmered when you looked at it. A spider big as death and twice as ugly. And when it flies past, it’s like you hear a scream in your mind.” These were the words Lt. Warren Keffer used to describe a Shadow vessel, right before he died chasing one down. An apt description for a ship that was clearly designed to inspire terror in its enemies, and a reflection of the race that built it.

As my final installment, taken again from the B5 universe, I’ve decided to include the Shadow Attack Ship, which is perhaps the most original and artistic spaceship I have ever seen. Granted, it had some stiff competition given the franchise it is coming from, but in terms of its design, performance, and sheer alien appearance, I can’t think of anything that can top it.

Given the fact that Straczynski and crew were working with the concept of organic technology, the ship was clearly meant to look like a living creature. Apparently, they settled on the combination of an arachnid and a giant octopus for the design, which combined with its jet-black sheen, made it both terrifying to behold and aesthetically awesome! And since every Shadow vessel is a living thing, they required sentient beings to merge with them in order to become active. When inactive, they would lie dormant and could remain operable for thousands of years.

More often than not, the Shadows preferred to use telepaths as drivers since only a telepath was capable of jamming the ship’s central operating system (i.e. a person’s mind). When damaged, the ships would emit a high-pitched screeching noise and often required another ship to merge with them and carry them to safety where they could. Of course, the screech couldn’t be heard through space. As Keffer noted, the sounds it made seemed to take place in the observers mind – aka. it was being telepathically conveyed. Hence, in addition to scaring the shit out of their opponents with their appearance and awesome firepower, these ships also had a calculated psychological edge in battle!

Not that they needed it though. In addition to their speed and firepower, the ship’s organic hulls were also incredibly tough, capable of absorbing tremendous amounts of energy before dying. As Sheridan and his people learned, pulse cannons were virtually useless against the Shadow’s skin, and beam weapons were only capable of killing them when focused on its central region for extended periods of time. On multiple occasions, Sheridan and the Alliance forces were only able to destroy one of these vessels by relying on telepaths to jam them while multiple ships combined their firepower to finish them off.

For the Shadows, the weapon of choice seemed to be the beam cannon that was located in the ship’s “mouth”. This focused, pink-purple beam was capable of slicing through the most hardened of structures and ships, and could reduce an entire colony to rubble in the space of a few seconds. However, the standard Shadow vessels also contained a type of space mine that was capable of c0llapsing hyperspace jump nodes and also carried a compliment of Shadow fighters which they kept embedded in their skin. These appeared to be independent in nature seeing as how they were too small for a person to fit in, and served as a mere screen for the larger vessels to make their attack.

In short, a Shadow vessel was the sort of thing you didn’t stick around to fight unless you had plenty of ships watching your back. Fast, furious, and shit-your-pants scary to look at, if you managed to kill one, you counted yourself amongst the few, the proud, the luckiest sons of bitches in the universe!

Okay, thanks for sticking around for the second installment! I think I have one more in me, but I’ll wait a few days before posting that. In the meantime, be sure to check out this cool chart. It provided me with a couple of ideas during the course of my research:
The ultimate starship size comparison chart

The Alien Graph

The Alien Graph

Behold! After a few days of contemplating what I said in the Ancient Aliens post – you know, about how alien’s technology and moral capacity are often interrelated in sci-fi – I realized I needed to put it into graphic form. And as I said in that post, if we are to consider technological advancement as one axis and level of benevolence as another, then the outcome would look something like this:

click to enlarge

The design is based on the Zombie graph that’s been floating around the internet for some time. There, the designer placed different Zombie movies based on two criteria: intelligence and speed. In much the same way, I’ve designed a graph for aliens that is based on two similar criteria: technological advancement and level of friendliness.

I selected aliens that I thought best represented the range of development and behavior in the sci-fi genre. I also included as many franchises as I could think of, just off the top of my head. I certainly wasn’t scientific about it, just relative and to the best of my abilities. And when I was done, I noticed an interesting pattern…

Hostile/Advanced Aliens Rule!:
For example, notice how the vast majority of races from your well-known franchises (Star Trek, B5, Stargate, Star Craft, AvP, Halo, etc) fall into the upper left quadrant. This is the area where malevolence and technological sophistication combine in varying degrees. By contrast, the second largest concentration of races occurs in the advanced/benevolent quadrant, again to varying degrees. Almost no races fall into the nascent (i.e. primitive) quadrants, be they hostile or gentle.

On the one hand, the Xenomorph from Alien and the Arachnids from Starship Troopers both fell into the technologically backward category (technically), and were both classified as malevolent because of their innate hostility to foreign organisms. The Na’vi, from Avatar, were the only alien race that fit the bill for technologically nascent and benevolent. I’m sure there are plenty of examples that could stack this analysis in a different way, but like I said, this was off the top of my head.

The Zerg, I have to admit, were a bit of a conundrum for me. While they are technically a race that does not employ technology per se, they are highly advanced in terms of their biological evolution, to the point where they rely on specialized creatures in the same way that humans rely on machinery. But then again, that’s all for the sake of ensuring that the different factions in the video game are evenly matched. It’s not meant to be a realistic assessment. Much the same is true of the Xenomorphs. While they do not employ tools, fly around in spaceships, or use guns, they are nevertheless an extremely evolved organism that is capable of besting humanity in any contest.

And just to be clear, the middle point of the graph (0,0, where the axes meet) is where humanity stands now in terms of moral behavior and technological development. Sure, some say we’d fall into the evil quadrant, but I tend to believe that humanity is morally ambiguous, neither too good or too evil. Where aliens fall into the spectrum in most sci-fi franchises is meant to reflect this. Much the same is true of technological prowess, where aliens are classified as “advanced” or “primitive” solely in comparison to ourselves.

This all might sound anthropocentric, but that’s the point, isn’t it? These are stories written by human beings for other human beings. All the references, symbols and measuring sticks come from inside us. So in the end, aliens themselves, as represented in our best science fiction, also come from inside ourselves. Their values, their tools, and even their appearances are all constructs of what is familiar and accessible to us. In short, they are merely tools with which we measure ourselves, both morally and technically.

Conclusions:
Well, right off the cuff I’d say the reason we prefer our aliens hostile and advanced is because it makes them seem more threatening and scary that way. Clearly, this makes for a more interesting story. While an alien race that is kind, innocent and backwards can make for an effective tale about the evils of colonialism and imperialism and how one can easily find themselves on the side of evil, these seem to be fewer and farther between. I’d say this is most likely because moral allegories are less intriguing than action dramas. Or maybe just prefer to think of ourselves as the good guys. Let someone else serve as the allegory for evil, selfish and runaway imperialistic behavior!

In addition, there’s the very real possibility that humanity will be making contact with an intelligent life form at some point in the future. And when we do, it’s likely to be the most awe-inspiring and frightening of experiences. When it comes to the unknown, ignorance begets fear and we prefer to err on the side of caution. So it would make sense that whenever we think of aliens, even if its just for the sake of fiction, we would naturally prefer to think of them as both learned and potentially hostile. If indeed aliens serve as a sort of projection for humanity’s own thoughts on itself, than pitching them as potentially hostile beings with advanced technology represents our own fear of the unknown.

In any case, if there is life out there, all these questions will be resolved in the distant future. Hell, maybe even the near-future. If some theorists are to be believed, aliens have already made contact with us and might even be walking among us right now. Granted, most of these people are hanging around the 7/11 with tin foil hats on, but they can’t all be crazy, right?

Cool Weapons!

Last time, I spoke (at length) about all the awesome firearms that come to us from a variety of science fiction franchises. But let’s face it, there’s a lot more than just guns to speak of! In fact, part of the genius of sci-fi is in how it is constantly inventing entire arsenals of weaponry, tools, and the various nicknacks that make the world go round. Any director or writer who show attention to detail will make sure that their characters come equipped, looked the part, and that their settings have plenty of believable gadgetry taking up space in the background. Here are just some of the cool examples:

Claws:
Predator_clawsAlong with the burner/plasma caster, these weapons are the most basic of Hunter weapons in the Predator universe. According to tradition, every Hunter must distinguish themselves in battle by confronting an enemy in single combat using no other weapon than their claws. Based on the two non-crossover films (Predator and Predator 2), this is apparently done once all lesser prey are eliminated and only the top prey is left. When that occurs, the Hunter will ensure that this finale opponent has been deprived of any additional weaponry, and then will shed every other weapon in their arsenal and engage them in hand to hand combat.

Combi-Stick:
Part of the Hunters arsenal, this weapon comes from the Predator universe and is part of their wider arsenal of cool weaponry. The name refers to the fact that this staff serves multiple functions. Collapses, it serves as a sort of quarter staff. However, the stick has telescoping sections with a blade like end, which when deployed turn it into a spear. In Predator 2, a hunter used his stick on multiple occasions. Against a group of the Jamaican gang members, it was used strictly for impaling, but during a later scene, it was used as a throwing spear against Danny Glover’s character.

Crysknife:
The Fremen weapon of choice, made from the tooth of a Maker (i.e. a Sandworm). The name and design of the weapon are based on the kris, a ceremonial dagger that was traditionally used in Indonesia and is associated with many cultural legends.

A testament to Herbert’s ability to incorporate historic and cultural elements into his stories, the kris is an enduring symbol of the Dune universe and was used by Fremen for warfare, duals, and ceremonial purposes, much like the real thing! In addition, the Fremen had very strict rules about the use and exposure of these knives. According to the Shadout Mapes – the Fremen housekeeper in Dune – who gives one to Jessica: “Who sees that knife must be cleansed or slain!” And as Leto II remarked in Children of Dune: “The crysknife dissolves at the death of its owner.”

Lasgun:
This weapon was the brainchild of Frank Herbert, and is a familiar weapon in the Dune universe. According to Frank’s many novels, the lasgun was a continuous-wave laser projector weapon that when fired emitted a constant, narrow beam of photons. Though it was able to cut through just about anything and was the weapon of choice in the Old Imperium, it had since fallen into disuse by the first Dune novel.

This apparently had to do with the invention of personal shields. Rather than protecting against a lasgun burst, the interaction of the two would cause a reaction that rivaled that of an atomic explosion. Hence, attacker and defender would both be killed instantly if either ever came into contact. Much like the prohibition against the use of nukes in Herbert’s universe, one would get the distinct impression that he was commenting on the futility of nuclear deterrents and arms races.

But that’s another matter. The lasgun, from its first appearance in Dune, has gone on to inspire many a sci-fi franchise. One that immediately comes to mind is Akira. In this movie, riot squads and the military employed large, external cell powered weapons to fire focused beams of light on a large mob, hewing off limbs and burning holes straight through some people! The main character Kaneda also commandeered one and used it to fight his psionic friend, Tetsuo, near the end of the movie.

Lightsaber:
Just what is it about lightsabers that make them so unbelievably cool? Is it that warm glow? The otherworldly feeling one gets from seeing one being activated? Could it be that crack, hiss sound they make when they clash, or that warbling noise when they’re spun around? Or could it just be the fact that they deflect blasters and cut through anything? Well yes! It’s all of the above, clearly! Yet another brainchild of George Lucas, meant to call to mind scenes of swashbuckling and chivalry from old samurai movies, the lightsaber has since gone on to occupy a central spot in the collective unconscious of an entire generation. It is a staple, perhaps THE staple, of pop culture’s take on sci-fi.

Making its debut appearance in the first Star Wars movie, the lightsaber was the established weapon of the Jedi. In addition to being their mainstay, lightsabers were also highly personalized, every Jedi being tasked with building one as part of their training. Originally, the only two designs were that of the blue and red, the former being associated with Obi Wan and Anakin Skywalker (which Luke then inherited), and the latter being associated with Darth Vader. However, Luke went on to create his own and fashioned a green beam. With the expanded universe, significance has been given to different colors, each one associated with a different class of Jedi, and indicating whether they are a member of the Sith or the Jedi Order.

For starters, blue is the color of the Jedi Guardian, the warrior class of the order who focus on combat training and fighting. Green is used by the Jedi Consuls, people who focus more on the force and accumulating wisdom and insight. Yellow represents a sort of middle ground, belonging to those Jedi who focus on a combination of both and are usually called upon to settle disputes and act as arbiters. When it comes to the Sith, only one color appears to be used, and that is red. However, purple, orange, and other closely related colors have popped up from time to time in various places as well. In addition, Mace Windu, the Jedi Master portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson, wielded a purple lightsaber as well. However, this was apparently due to Jackson’s insistence that his character have a purple weapon, as well as the initials BMF etched onto the side!

Ma’Tok Staff:
Coming to us from the Stargate universe, the Ma’Tok is a combination laser gun, club staff that is used by Jaffa warriors (the specially-bred human servants of the Goa’uld). According to the Stargate Wiki, the Ma’Tok relies on a plasma discharge to strike and cauterize the enemy, causing severe damage and intimidating resistance. It takes its power from an internal cell that employs a liquified mineral (Naquadah) to generate plasma energy. This liquid mineral gives the staff a virtually indefinite shelf life, making it the perfect blend of aesthetics and lethality!

Monomolecular Wire:
Here’s an idea that comes in various forms, but for the purposes of this post, I shall stick to the examples that I know best. The first one comes in the form of the Yakuza enforcer from Johnny Mnemonic! Anyone who’s seen this movie (or read the short story it was based on) will remember the main badguy who had an artificial thumb that contained a long filament of glowing wire. When he pulled that thing out and started whipping it around – LOOK OUT! – things began to get lopped off and sliced up! Another example of this being used as a weapon is from the Japanese anime Hellsing. In that show, the butler of the namesake character had monomolecular wires attached to each finger which he would break out whenever there was a crisis. Perhaps they were fashioned from silver, I really can’t recall. Would make them more effective against vampires though!

Plasma Sword:
And we’re back to the Halo universe for another example of cool gear! And today, the item in question is the plasma sword. As gamers are no doubt aware, this weapon is melee weapon of the Elites, but can be employed by humans as well since it’s your basic hand-held weapon. And much like lightsabers and lasguns, it can cut through just about anything and makes short work of any opponent. In many ways, its even more effective than the ballistic and energy weapons in the game. Whereas those can take several shots to take down an enemy (especially someone infected by the flood) one good hit from this baby will turn them into pulp! And if you see an enemy approaching you with one, be sure to hang back and unload your weapon in their direction!

Stone Burner:
Doubling down on the Dune universe, the next example of cool weapons comes in the form of Stone Burner. As a tactical nuke of limited yield, this weapon was the only form of nuclear device that was not prohibited by the Great Convention. This body, in addition to banning all forms of AI’s, also put a stop to the use of nuclear weapons, though it did not forbid the Great Houses from owning any. In any case, Stone Burners, when used strategically, could have a devastating effect on an enemy.

This weapon makes only one appearance in the Dune saga. In Dune Messiah, Paul Atreides is lured into a trap in the old quarter of Arrakeen where a stone burner is set off, which leads to the loss of his eyes.  Though physically blinded, Paul was not deprived of his vision (i.e. his prescience). This all had to do with a larger plot to force Paul to surrender his power as Emperor in order to save his children. And I think we can all agree, any plot that involves a tactical nuke and blinding your enemy Samson-style is pretty badass!

Throwing Disc:
Another Hunter weapon, this particular one made its first appearance in the second Predator movie and then went on to become a regular part of the Hunters’ arsenal. Much like their other weapons, the throwing disc appears to have many variations and may even be personalized to an extent. This may be the result of constant upgrading, or it may be that individual Hunters have a hand in designing their own gear. In either case, many types of throwing discs have appeared. Some employ simple curved blades, blades with spikes, or even shuriken-like appendages (as the picture at right demonstrates). In each and every case, the result generally involves hewed limbs and decapitations!

Thermal Detonator:
“Because he’s holding a thermal detonator!” Yes, whenever a bounty hunter pulls one of these out, you know they mean business! This weapon, which comes to us from the Star Wars universe, made its first appearance in Return of the Jedi. Since that movie came out, the device has been mentioned and referenced countless times in the expanded franchise. Apparently, thermal detonators are the grenades of the future, using plasma charges that when detonated, cause a large explosion that will burn through just about anything. Always be sure to bring one to a negotiation, just be sure to get the ones with the fail-safe triggers!

Vibroblades:
My third and final act of doubling down on a single franchise! Vibroblades are an integral part of the Star Wars universe, but also appear in a number of other franchises. In each case, the weapon revolves around melee weapons that are powered by ultrasonic devices. This increases the weapons cutting effectiveness, and makes them almost as dangerous as a lightsaber. Well, more like a distant second! But non-Jedi’s got to settle for what they can get.

In the video game Knights of the Old Republic, vibroblades and melee weapons are used due to the introduction of personal shields. Some might call this a rip-off of the Dune universe, but in this case, its not so much a matter of necessity as practicality. If an enemy can absorb your blaster fire, then rushing and attacking them with a sword kind of makes sense. And it gives the characters some practice with melee combat before they learn to harness their Jedi abilities.

Last Word:
Okay, I got nothing! Yep, after looking through all the aforementioned examples of cool weaponry, I really couldn’t find any particular patterns that were worthy of comment. Basically, it all comes down to things that augment or go beyond the usual arsenal of guns. It’s only where the swords and knives come into the mix that I see anything beyond simple coolness. And just about all that drinks from the cup of Frank Herbert, a man who merged the ancient and futuristic in order to make a point about technology and how one could find the past in the future and the future in the past. Yeah, that stuff was deep!

As for the rest of it, it’s just plain cool to behold… and fantasize about! Yeah, twenty years later and I still want a lightsaber of my own! 😉

Ancient Aliens (Updated)

And I’m back with another conceptual post, hard at work exploring the ideas that run deep in the grand genre that is sci-fi. And this is one that I find particularly cool, mainly because it’s just so freaking existential! I mean what is there that can possibly throw a wrench into our collective anthropomorphism more than knowing that there is sentient life out there that significantly predates our own, especially if we were to find out that they had something to do with our own evolution…?

In some ways, this is a shout out to the “ancient astronauts” theory, which speculates that extra-terrestrials came to Earth long ago and left some evidence of their visit behind. This can be limited to something as basic as a structure or a relic, or can run as deep as having influenced human cultures, religions and technological development. Regardless of whether or not this theory is to be taken literally, it is well represented in the sci-fi community. Here are some examples that I have assembled:

2001: A Space Odyssey:
A classic example of an ancient species, ancient astronauts, and one of my personal favorites! Originally conceived in the form of a screenplay by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick, the concept of the TMA-1 monolith aliens was a central plot element to one of the most groundbreaking science fiction movies of all time. However, owing to Kubrick’s esoteric style, not much was ever made clear about the species that built the monoliths. Luckily, Clarke went on to develop the idea at length in his novelization of the movie and its many sequels.

According to the novel, and ongoing interviews with Kudrick, the beings that built the monoliths were known as the Firstborn – an extremely ancient race that achieved sentience millions of years ago and were exploring the galaxy long before humanity even existed. The monoliths were their means of traveling from star to star, which they did in order to seek out life and help it along. In the course of their travels, they came upon Earth four million years ago and discovered Simians that were on the verge of starvation. By teaching them to expand their diet through hunting and some basic tricks to cultivate their manual dexterity, they ensured not only the survival of higher order primates, but the eventual emergence of humans as a species.

The story of 2001 thus takes place in the near-future (from when it was originally written) where humanity has developed into a star-faring race and colonized the Moon. Not far from this colony, a monolith is discovered buried under millions of years of moon dust. After examining it, to no avail, they discover that it has sent a signal out to Jupiter. The ship Discovery is then dispatched to investigate, where it finds an even larger monolith in orbit around Europa. The mission ends quite mysteriously as David Bowman, the last surviving member of the crew, flies closer to it in a small pod and disappears. Adding to the mystery were his last words: “My God, it’s full of stars!”

In subsequent books, the mystery of Bowman’s disappearance and the nature of the monoliths is made clear. Essentially, the monoliths are alien machines that contain their consciousness, and some are gateways which allow for FTL space travel. Bowman, when he came into contact with the one around Europa, was transformed or downloaded (depending on how you look at it) and became one with the monolith. The reason they are hanging out around Europa is because they are currently working to transform Jupiter into its own star so that life may blossom on Europa (which scientists speculate is already teaming with life underneath its icey shell).

Cool idea! But you see, there’s a snag… Apparently, the First Ones have also been known to weed wherever they’ve sown. What would happen if they came to the conclusion that humanity was too aggressive for its own good, the result of them teaching us how to harness an appetite for killing other animals and members of our own species? This is the premise that is explored in the finale 3001: Final Odyssey, and which was left on a cliffhanger note. Unfortunately, Clarke died in 2008, leaving fan fiction authors to speculate on how this would all play out…

Alien vs. Predator:
Note: this is not a reference to the terrible movie or its even more terrible sequel! No, in this case, I am referring to the wider franchise, as exemplified by its many video games, comics, novelizations, and even the independent (non-crossover) movies. In these cases, we get a glimpse of two races that predate humanity by hundreds of thousands or even millions of years. Their outward characteristics alone make them cool, and they are both pretty badass in their own special ways. But what is especially cool about them is the fact that very little known about them, other than the fact that they are very, very dangerous!

“I admire its purity. A survivor… unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality”. That is how the Alien, or Xenomorph in AVP terminology, was described in the very first movie. Their origin is unknown, as is the timeline of their existence and the circumstances of their evolution. However, one thing is clear: on this last note, it must have been something pretty harsh! I mean really, how difficult must life have been on their homeworld for something like the xenomorph to have emerged. They proliferate at an alarming rate, require living being to gestate, and are designed purely for the hunt!

Overall, their race is divided into two symbiotic and interrelated species. First, there are the “Facehuggers”, the spidery creatures that attach themselves to living creatures and implant them with embryos. This in turn gives rise to the “Chestbusters”, the warrior aliens that seek out, kill and capture creatures for the Facehuggers to use. At the top of the pyramid is the Queen, a Chestbuster who has evolved to become the egg-layer who gives birth to more Facehuggers. An interesting chicken and the egg type arrangement, and something which only adds to their mystery!

The Predators, on the other hand, are relatively straightforward. At their core of their society lies a warrior ethic, where each and every male member of their species is trained to be a hunter. In time, hunters accumulates honor and seniority within their culture by attaining as many kills and trophies (i.e. skulls) as possible, preferably from different species. In fact, it is rumored that a single scene from Predator 2, in which an Alien skull appeared in a hunter’s trophy case was the basis for the whole AVP crossover.

In addition, there are also some clear and apparent rules to the hunt. First, each hunter is drawn to arenas of conflict. In the first movie, one chooses a hunt in Central America where a guerrilla war is taking place. In the sequel, one travels to LA during the height of the drug wars. In both cases, the get a sense of their terrain, taking out the easy prey first, and gradually working their way up to the top carnivore. At first, they rely on their advanced weaponry and stealth. But when at last they face off with the strongest prey, they fight them in the open in hand to hand combat.

God knows how long they’ve been doing this. But given their obvious level of technology, its clear they are not exactly recent additions to space race!

The “Ancient Humanoids”:
Now this was one I didn’t much like, but it’s an example of the concept of ancient astronauts nonetheless. And it comes to us courtesy of Star Trek: TNG. from an episode named “The Chase” (episode 146). In it, Picard’s old friend and mentor turns up dead in the course of an expedition which he claims could be the most profound discovery of their time.

After retracing his footsteps, Picard and the Enterprise are joined by three other search parties – one Klingon, one Romulan and one Cardassian – in orbit around a dead planet. When they reach the surface, they find that all the clues lead to a recording left behind by an ancient species. In the recording, the humanoid alien tells them all that they are the progenitors of every sentient race in the quadrant, that their DNA was planted on countless worlds. This is apparently why so many species are humanoid, and means that humanity shares ancestry with all these would-be enemies.

Heartwarming, and kind of cool if it weren’t such a convenient explanation as to why all aliens in the Star Trek franchise are humanoid. This is something that’s always annoyed me about the franchise. It’s not enough that all the aliens speak English and look like people, minus the occasional molded plastic on their faces. But to make matters worse, they always got to make a point of drawing attention to their humanoid forms. So when it came right down to it, this episode felt more like a contrived explanation than a homage. Personally, I would have thought that limited budgets would be the reason, but what do I know? I’m no xenobiologist!

The First Ones:
Another favorite which comes to us courtesy of the Babylon 5 universe. According to the expanded storyline, the First Ones were the first beings to achieve sentience in the Milky Way Galaxy. By the time of the show, most of them had left our corner of the universe in order to explore other galaxies and what lies between them. Only two remains behind, ostensibly to act as shepherds to the younger races. They were known as the Vorlons and the Shadows. However, in time, the two races turned on each other because of their diametrically opposed ideologies.

The Vorlons believed that development and progress came from order. In the course of their long history, they travelled to many worlds inhabited by sentient races and began tampering with their evolution. In each case, they presented themselves as angels, thus ensuring that sentient beings would see them as creatures of light and truth. In addition, they fostered the development of telepaths for use in the coming wars against the Shadows, whom they knew to vulnerable to psionics.

To illustrate this, the Vorlons are often presented as being aloof and rather stodgy figures. In fact, Lyta Alexander, one of the show’s secondary characters, commented that despite their power, the Vorlons are a highly sensitive people who do not react well to change! In the course of the show, they were initially hesitant to commit their forces to fighting the Shadows, they were extremely irked when Kosh (their ambassador to B5) was killed, and when Sheridan went – and presumably died  – at Z’ha’dum, they began destroying entire worlds in the hopes of erasing every trace of the Shadow’s influence.

In addition, their esoteric, mysterious nature was summed up with one question that they would ask anyone who was privileged enough to speak to them: “Who are you?” If ever you found yourself being asked that, odds were you were meant for some higher purpose, one which the Vorlons had a hand in arranging!

The Shadows, by comparison, were much more enabling and  intriguing, even if they were a little… oh, I don’t know, shit-your-pants scary!  In the course of their history, they too traveled to many worlds as ambassadors, encouraging different people and races to embrace their ambitious, darker side and go to war with each other. Whereas the Vorlons asked “Who are you?”, the Shadows big question was “What do you want?” Again, if you found yourself being asked this question, it meant that you were on their radar and they had big plans for you. The proper response to this would be feelings of flattery followed by abject terror.

In any case, whereas the Vorlons believed in order and stability, the Shadows believed that evolution came only through conflict and disorder. This, they reasoned, is what lead to the development of stronger, more advanced races. As Morden, their own representative to B5 said, humanity would never have come so far so fast were they not constantly “at each others’ throats”. Sure, some races had to be sacrificed along the way to make this philosophy work, but that was all for the greater good. In the end, what came out of it was a series of species that were stronger and better than they were before.

This philosophy eventually led them into conflict with the Vorlons as well as several other First Ones. Many younger races found themselves taking sides as well or just getting caught in the middle. In fact, wars between the two sides became a recurring thing, happening every few thousand years. In the last, which took place 10,000 years before the main story, the Shadows were defeated by the last great alliance between the First Ones, most of whom then chose to leave the galaxy. Then, just 1000 years before the events in the show take place, the Shadows were once again defeated by the Vorlons and an alliance of younger races and forced out of the galaxy entirely. However, as the show opens, we quickly learn that the Shadows are once again returning to their old stomping grounds, and the first spot on the tour is a planet known as Z’ha’dum.

This world is doubly significant because it is this planet where another First One – THE first one in fact – is thought to reside. His name is Lorien, and he is the last of his kind and the sole First One outside of the Vorlons and Shadows that is left in galaxy. All of the others have long since abandoned it, leaving the Shadows and Vorlons to their war and all the other races that have chosen to enlist in it. In the end, however, Sheridan, Delenn and the younger races form their own alliance which they use to draw a line against both races. With the help of those First Ones that they are able to reach and enlist the help of, they are successful. After a brief but decisive fight, both races agree to leave the galaxy with Lorien, never to return. In the last episode, when Sheridan is on the verge of death , he is found by Lorien who takes him to the great beyond where the other First Ones now reside.

Like I said, its a personal favorite, mainly because I felt it was so richly detailed and in-depth.

The Forerunners:
Now here is an interesting take on the whole ancient astronauts concept. Whereas in most versions of this idea, aliens make contact with a younger race and influence them for their own purposes, in the Halo universe, things happen in a sort of reverse order. It is established as part of the game’s back story that eons after they died out, the Covenant races came upon the remains of an ancient race which are referred to as the Forerunners. After learning how to reverse-engineer their technology, the Covernant began to merge it with their own and was able to jump thousands of years ahead as a result.

At the same time, they began to develop a religion and even a theocracy based on the Forerunners and what they believed their most important relics to be. These would be the Halo devices, for which the game takes its name. Believing that the Halos were the gateway to the afterlife, or the source of deliverance, the Convenant became obsessed with finding a working Halo and activating it. All of their mythology for the past few thousands years was based on this, and they pursued it with absolute single-mindedness.

So in this way, the Forerunners had a profound impact on the development and beliefs of the Covenant, but not intentionally. Rather than coming to the Convenant while it was still in its infancy and manipulating them for their own purposes, the Covenant instead found them, but only after they were long dead. In addition, they were influenced by their own assumptions about the Forerunners, and not anything they chose to tell them. And in the end, this influence had a near disastrous effect, given that the Halo devices were weapons of mass-MASS destruction and not holy relics. By attempting to activate them, the Covenant very nearly brought about their own extinction, and that of every other sentient race in the quadrant. One would think there was a message in all this about the dangers of blind faith and the dangers of deification or something!

The Goa’uld:
Here is a perfect example of the ancient astronauts theory, so bang on that you’d think it was tailor made to fit the premise! In the Stargate universe, which has expanded considerably over the years, an advanced extra-terrestrial species known as the Goa’uld came to Earth during the neolithic period and had a vast influence on our history. In the original movie, this involved a single alien who took on human form and appointed himself God Emperor over his human subjects. This, in turn, gave rise to the Egyptian civilization, with the alien-god Ra at its apex.

In addition to creating ancient Egypt though, Ra was also revealed to have taken human beings through the Stargate, an means of near-instantaneous interstellar transportation, and established similar civilizations on distant planets. On each of these, the Egyptian motifs of pyramids and the cult of Ra persisted, in some cases for thousands of years. Meanwhile, back at Earth, a revolt unseated Ra and he fled into the cosmos, to be found thousands of years later when humans accessed the Star Gate on Earth.

In the expanded universe, we learn that the Goa’uld were merely one of many races that visited Earth and appeared as gods to humanity because of their advanced technology. But whereas most had benign intentions,  the Goa’uld were concerned solely with establishing slave colonies on many worlds throughout the universe. In addition, their interference extended to other less advanced races as well. As a result, humanity is now faced with the task of preparing to face this and other threats, all of which involve highly advanced races that have visited Earth at one time or another and could very well be hostile.

Although it was not too good a movie (in my opinion), the concept is still a very fertile one! It’s little wonder then why it was made into a series, one which has done quite well for itself. Aliens came before, they may come again… Can we stop them this time. Who knows? Spooky stuff!

The Orions:
In the video game series Master of Orion, there is yet another take on the concepts of ancients aliens. In this turn-based strategy game, players select from different alien races that inhabit the galaxy and begin the process of colonization and expansion. In time, the concept of the Orions comes up. It seems that each race, though they are different and possess varying special abilities, have their own legends about this particular race.

One of the aspects of the game is to find the Orions homeworld, a place full of secret and advanced technology, but which is defended by a powerful robotic starship known as the Guardian. Whoever is able to destroy this ship and land on the planet is the most likely to win the game. This is advisable, seeing as the how the purpose of the whole game is to become the undisputed master of the galaxy – the Master of Orion, as it were 😉

The Xel’naga:
Another example of this concept which comes to us from the gaming world. of which fans of Starcraft will no doubt be instantly familiar with! Translated literally as “Wanders from Afar”, the Xel’naga were apparently a race from a distant galaxy that was concerned with creating the perfect life form. In the course of their lifetime, they apparent “seeded and cultivated thousands of various species” (from the SC game handbook). This included the Protoss and Zerg, two of the major players in the game, and figures pretty prominently in the game’s backstory.

In the case of the Protoss, the Xel’naga thought that they had found beings that possessed “purity of form” and began manipulating them. However, when they revealed themselves to the Protoss, the latter turned on them and they fled. They discovered the Zerg shortly thereafter, a species which they believed possessed “purity of essence”. They began by enhancing them from the small, parasitic larvae that they were, but found that they were too primitive. They therefore developed the Overmind as well to give them purpose and direction, but this only made matters worse. In time, the Zerg found the Xel’naga, who had chosen to remain hidden this time, and consumed them.

In the course of the game, Xel’naga ruins make only one appearance, in the form of an ancient temple which possesses the ability to sterilize the planet of all other species. However, other ruins are apparently featured in one of the game’s novelizations. Otherwise their is no mention of them, their existence merely constituting part of the story’s deep background.

Final Thoughts:
After looking through these and other examples of ancient astronauts, a few things began to stand out. Like I said before, sooner or later aliens serve an anthropological purpose in science fiction. Or to put it another way, they will always play the role of mirror and meter stick. On the one hand, they are the means by which we project aspects of ourselves onto others so we can study them better. On the other, they are means by which we measure our own flaws and development.

But above all, aliens tend to fall into any one of four categories based on where they fit into the moral and technological spectrum. This spectrum, which I made up myself (!), breaks down as follows:

  1. Benevolent/Malevolent: How aliens behave in our favorite franchises and what purpose they serve often has much to do with their basic motivation. In short, are they kind of benevolent, enlightened overseers as envisioned by Arthur C. Clarke in 2001: A Space Odyssey and Childhood’s End, or are they hostile, conquering species as envisioned in War of the Worlds and Invasion of the Body Snatchers? In either case, the alien serve a basic purpose: as a commentary on humanity. Their murderous ways are our murderous ways, their benevolent, technical perfection what we aspire to be. As Nixon is said to have muttered to JFK’s painting: “Men look at you, they see what they want to be. Men look at me, they see what they are.”
  2. Advanced/Nascent: Another important aspect to the aliens in question is their level of technical development. And, interestingly enough, this can have much to do with their moral character. Oftentimes, the aliens in a franchise are both advanced and malevolent, blowing up the White House Independence Day-style or trying to make us one with the Borg! Other times, they are advanced and enlightened, technology and evolution having erased whatever primitive impulses they might have had, but which humanity still possesses. And in other cases still, their are aliens who are less advanced than humanity and are either ethically challenged because they are behind the times, or noble and “untainted” because they haven’t been perverted by civilization’s greed and avarice. It’s a toss up, really, where the benefits and downfalls of technological progress are seen as having an influence on moral and social development.

Again, these are all mere projections, designed to focus attention on moral and ethical dilemmas that arise out of our collective history. Still, it is fun to take these various examples from popular culture and see where they line up on the moral/technological graph. That way we can see where different franchise place their aliens in terms of the overall spectrum.  And like I said at the beginning, its a cool concept. I mean seriously, wouldn’t it be cool if it were actually true? No one can prove aliens didn’t visit Earth thousands or even millions of years ago and mess with our evolution, right? Yeah, it’s not exactly a sound basis for a scientific theory, but a very fertile source for science fiction!