Terraforming in Pop Culture

Welcome back to the wonderful world (pun!) of Terraforming. In my last post on the subject, I came to see that it emerged in fiction in the early 20th century as part of our growing awareness of the universe and humanity’s place within it. As western civilization grew and came to encompass the entire world through exploration, conquest and colonization, human scientists simultaneously discovered that our universe was much larger than previously thought, and began to postulate that life could exist on other planets.

In short, while our world grew smaller, the universe grew much, much larger. With no more nooks  or corners left to explore and conquer, we began to set our sights to the heavens for the next frontier. It’s such a fertile topic, but I shan’t get into it here. If I start waxing philosophical on all the thought that goes into exploring new worlds, we’ll be here forever.

Onto to the subject for today, which is terraforming in popular culture! As you can guess, there are quite a few instances of this taking place, and for good reason. Wherever science fiction and exoplanets have shown up in pop-culture, the concept terraforming was sure to follow. In some cases, this constituted a mere mention, but in others, detailed descriptions were given. Here is a list of just a few examples that I could find:

Aliens:
Central to the plot of Aliens was the fact that LV-426, the planet where the Nostromo and its crew encountered the Xenomorph in the first movie, had become a settler colony. As the executive at Weyland Yutani told Ripley, it was what they referred to as a “Shake and Bake Colony”, where terraformers were sent on ahead to run the atmospheric processors and make the planet suitable for human use. This was all in keeping with WY’s motto of “Building Better Worlds”. Pshaw!

Shortly after they arrive on LV-426, Ripley and the compliment of Colonial Marines determined that the colonists had been moved into the atmospheric processor, specifically to its lower levels where the air was hot and humid. Apparently, these conditions were favorable to the Xenomorph hatchlings, which began to use the colonists as hosts to breed”Chestbusters”.

After their disastrous confrontation in the hive, the atmospheric processor suffered a rupture to its coolant systems, which meant that the entire thing would go thermonuclear in just a few hours. After being all but eradicated in their first encounter with the Xenomorph and losing their only transport back to the ship, this served to add further urgency to the plot. And in the end, it was the destruction of the atmospheric processor which ensured that the Xenomorph colony was destroyed and all traces of them (with the exception of the Queen) wiped out.

Cowboy Bebop:
Set in the not-too-distant future, this anime from from the late nineties was set in a universe where humanity lived throughout the Solar System. This was made possible due to the discovery of hyperspace gates; however, due to the explosion of one near the Moon, Earth found itself being bombarded by meteorites which devastated large sections of the planet. As a result, much of the human race had to relocate to the Inner Planets, the Asteroid Belt, and the moons of Jupiter.

Many episodes of the show take place on the planets of Venus, Mars, Ganymede, Io, Callisto, and Titan, where terraforming has rendered them partially of fully habitable. Though the concept is treated as a sort of given, some degree of explanation is given as to how it took place and the varying degrees of success that resulted. In the case of Mars and Venus, the terraforming was so successful that Mars became the new hub of human civilization and Venus a major population center.

With this background firmly in place, the series plot arc – which involves a motley group of bounty hunters patrolling the system Space Western style – is then able to unfold. Though the show last only 26 episodes, it did achieve a cult following and a level of influence, similar to Joss Wedon’s Firefly (another Space Western that died prematurely).

Firefly:
Speak of the devil, or in this case, a show that made good use of the concept of terraforming. Intrinsic to the plot of this show, so much so that they opened every episode by referring to it, is the fact that in this future, the human race was forced to relocate to a new star system after Earth had been “used up”. Arriving at the “White Star”, they found dozens of planets and hundreds of moons around the system’s central sun and its many dwarf suns. These planets were then terraformed, a process which took generations, and began populated them soon after.

Another fact which is central to the story is the fact that while the central worlds were terraformed successfully and boasted large, advanced populations, the outer planets were poorly terraformed, leading to dry, desolate worlds that became havens for crime and backwards populations. Though life was show to be difficult in these colonies, they were also the only places where people can still enjoy a life free of the repressive Alliance regime.

But more importantly, this back story gave Joss Whedon an excuse for the look and feel of his acclaimed Space Western! It also played perfectly into the show’s historical narrative, where the expanding Alliance represented the closing of the American frontier and the death of a way of life. For not only were the First Nations and their culture being sacrificed in the name of “Manifest Destiny”, a great deal of the American Dream of an open frontier was as well.

Red Planet:
Set in 2056 AD, the plot of this film centers around ongoing terraforming efforts on Mars. Faced with the dual problems of overpopulation and pollution, NASA and other space agencies begin sending automated probes to Mars that contain atmosphere-producing algae. These probes have been seeding Mars for twenty years as the first stage in a terraforming effort that will make the planet suitable for human settlement. When the oxygen production is inexplicably reduced, a crew is sent to investigate so that the  terraforming efforts can be put back on track.

When the mission arrives, and endures numerous disasters,they eventually discover that the introduction of Earth algae has stirred up the native Martian life. This consists of nematodes that have come to the surface to feed on the algae, emitting oxygen in return. This, they realize, has changed the parameters of the original project, but leaving it otherwise intact.

Star Trek II and III:
What is generally hailed by fans as the best movie of the franchise (Wrath of Khan) opens up with a rather unusual take on terraforming. In fact, the plot of both the second and third movie revolve around a project known as Genesis, a means of instantaneously transforming a planet from a lifeless husk into a habitable M-class planet.

In Wrath of Khan, things begin when the starship Reliant, while searching for a lifeless planet in the Ceti Alpha system, is taken over by Khan Noonien Soong and his band of genetically-modified people. Having learned of their mission, Khan becomes obsessed with finding the Genesis device so that he can restore the desolate landscape of Ceti Alpha V, presumably with the intention of resurrecting his dead wife.

In the end, Kirk and the Enterprise disable his ship inside a nebula, prompting Khan to set the Genesis device to self-destruct in the hopes of taking Kirk with him. With their warp drive non-functional, the Enterprise could not escape, prompting Spock to sacrifice himself in order to bring the engines back online. Though he dies from radiation poisoning, the ENterprise escapes as the Genesis device detonates, which has the effect of turning the nebula itself into an M-Class planet.

At the very end of the movie, Spock’s body is placed inside a torpedo casing and fired into orbit around Genesis. After landing on the surface, the “Genesis wave” heals Spock’s body and he is reborn. This, as all fans of the franchise know, was the basis for the third movie where Kirk and the Enterprise come back to Genesis to retrieve him. In the course of doing so, the Genesis plant is examined in more detail and the effects of the project. Ultimately, though the device was capable of creating life out of lifeless, it proved unstable and resulted in the total collapse of the planet created.

Total Recall:
The film adaptation of Philip K Dick’s “We can Remember it for You Wholesale” differed from the source material in many key ways. For example, in addition to the central theme of memory and the dividing line between real and artificial, there was also an extensive backstory involving Mars. Ultimately, the character of Quad (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) learns that he is drawn to Mars because that is where he is from, and his false identity implanted because of something he witnessed there.

In the end, it is revealed that this secret has to do with an ancient alien device that lies at the heart of the planet, a device which has the power to terraform Mars into a habitable world. Apparently, this involved some super-heated coils that, when activated, would plunge into the planet’s watery core, evaporating them and filling Mars’ atmosphere with water vapor. When Quad activated the device, it had the effect of creating breathable atmosphere within a matter of minutes.

Not the most realistic depiction of terraforming, but it did have it’s upsides. For one, it took advantage of contemporary scientific theories that stated that Mars might have underground sources of water and ice. Second, it incorporated speculation of how these could be used to eventually create oxygen-creating plants on the surface and hence, an atmosphere. Last, it worked into the plot in that the villain, Coohagen, knew that if Mars had a natural atmosphere, it would destroy the basis of his power (controlling the air supply).

Cool Ships (volume VII)

Welcome to volume 7. Nuff chit chat, let’s get started!

The Blackbird:
Starting this list off right is the stealth ship from the updated Galactica universe. Christened the Laura, in honor of President Roslyn, this ship was the brainchild of engineer Galen Tyrol and his deck hands, who decided to build a new fighter from scratch to make up for their losses. Build for speed and skinned with carbon fiber instead of the usual metal, this ship proved to be invisible to both Colonial and Cylon tracking equipment, hence its designation as a stealth ship.

On her maiden voyage, Starbuck flew the Blackbird on an illegal reconnaissance mission to take pictures of the Cylon Resurrection ship that had been pursuing Galactica. The operation was a complete success, with Admiral Cain – the Pegasus’ CO – going as far to say that: “she flew right up their tailpipe and they didn’t even notice”.

As a result of the technical data obtained from this mission, a joint attack was planned between the Galactica and Pegasus to take the RS down. The Blackbird would go on to play a crucial role in this attack, using its stealth abilities to fly within a few meters of the RS and take out its FTL drive with a well-placed missile. Unfortunately, the Blackbird would suffer a fatal collision after performing this duty, and Captain Lee Adama, its pilot for the op, was almost killed.

Corellian Corvette:
Another mainstay of both the Rebel and Imperial fleets, this ship made its debut in the opening scene from Star Wars: A New Hope and has been with the franchise ever since. Otherwise known as a “Blockade Runner”, the CR90 corvette embodies the spirit of Corellian ship designs, boasting speed and versatility over size and raw firepower.

Because of its adaptability, another Corellian trademark, the CR90 could serve in a variety of roles. These ran the gambit from such mundane duties as freight hauling, to more dangerous assignments like raids and providing fighter escort. In some cases, they could even take on such high-profile missions as diplomatic envoys, carrying public officials to and from their assignments.

Because of these qualities, the CR90 had a long history of service in the Galaxy, serving in the navies of the Old Republic, the Galactic Empire, the Rebel Alliance, and the New Republic. Even after it was phased out of service, it remained a favorite among smugglers, pirates and smaller navies for some time.

Harbor Ship of Bentus:
Here is another feature from the Homeworld universe, the Harbor Ship of the alien race known as the Bentusi. Known for their focus on trade and supplying less advanced races with “short-jump” technology (i.e. FTL), the Bentusi soon found themselves caught in the middle of a series of interstellar conflicts between worlds.

As a result, the Harbor Ship was created, a mothership for the Bentusi fleet that was capable of housing, repairing and deploying smaller vessels. Thought not armed in any official capacity, it is the bulwark of the Bentusi armada and can be found wherever large-scale fleet deployments take place.

From what I can tell, this design was inspired by what historians believe the harbor of Carthage looked like. Much like the Harbor Ship, it was based on a sort of teardrop design, with a long entrance passage giving way to a sort of rotunda. This design, in addition to being aesthetically pleasing, also makes a lot of practical sense, ensuring that multiple ships are able to be serviced in a 360 degree arc rather than a series of enclosed bays.

Ixian No-Ship:
Another Dune entry which I failed to acknowledge in previous posts, can you believe it? Well, mistake remedied as of now, here is the No-Ship! Named for the fact that it is capable of shielding itself from prescient vision and other forms of detection, including sight. This all makes the No-Ship the ultimate in stealth technology, and led to its wide adoption by all factions in the Dune universe.

Based on the same technology which powered the No-Chamber, a device which the Ixians used to shield their inventions from Leto II’s prescience, No-Ships would become the mainstay of all fleets after his death. In addition to their stealthy characterisitics, they would also boast another invention that was proposed during the time of Leto II, the Ixian navigation machine. This device, which was capable of limited prescience, was able to guide these ships through foldspace without the need of a Guild navigator.

Much like Guild Heighliners, No-Ships appear to have massive capacities. In Heretics of Dune, the No-Ship which Miles Teg steals from the Honored Matres on Gammu apparently had a Great Hold which measured one kilometer in length. This hold was later used to transport an adult sandworms and several tons of its native sand off of Rakis before the HM’s destroyed it. In Chapterhouse and subsequent books, No-Ships served as the mainstay of the Bene Gesserit fleet as well as with all other factions.

The Pegasus:
Battlestar Galactica gave so many cool ship designs that its hard for me to know where to look next. But today, I thought I’d go for the obvious and cover the ultra-modern and behemoth-sized Pegasus, the other Battlestar to survive the destruction of the Twelve Colonies. As with the original, the Pegasus makes an appearance in the re-imagined series. And like everything else, its appearance received an update, as did the tone and nature of its crew.

Although networked like all other modern Colonial ships, the Pegasus survived the assault through sheer luck, having taken its systems down for a diagnostic before the first wave came. Since that time, it’s CO, Admiral Cain, had been fighting a guerrilla style war with the Cylons, attacking their holdings and raiding small convoys in order to keep them off balance.

A mercury-class battlestar, the Pegasus was far more advanced and boasted significantly greater firepower than the Galactica.  In addition to its 30 defensive turrets, four heavy cannons, multiple missile launchers and compliment of nukes, its massive bays also hold 10 squadrons of Vipers, as well as dozens of Raptors and support craft. It also carries a series of Viper VII production facilities, meaning that it is capable of replenishing its losses.

With all of these attributes, the arrival of the Pegasus was a great boost to the Colonial fleet, adding a great deal of firepower, manufacturing and many of the latest ships to their arsenal. Nicknamed “The Beast”, the destruction of this ship over New Caprica was considered an immeasurable loss, though its sacrifice was hardly in vain.

Primus-class Battlecruiser:
Here we have another installment from the B5 universe, from the Centauri Republic to be specific. Known as the Primus-class Battlecruiser, this baby is renowned for packing firepower and artistic design into one package.

Discernible from its manta ray-like configuration, the Primus remains the mainstay of the Centauri navy even after two centuries of service. Although lightly armored, the ship boasts an impressive array of ion guns, a hyperspace drive, and artificial gravity for its crew.

Making its first appearance in season two of the show (“And Now For a Word”) when televised a standoff occurred outside the station between the Centauri and the Narn. In that battle, the cruiser in question was destroyed, but managed to inflict enough damage that the G’Quon class cruiser also blew up while attempting to make a jump. This demonstrated that the Primus, though an older design, was still capable of standing toe-to-toe with its Narn equivalent.

This encounter was followed up during the season two finale (“The Fall of Night”), when another such cruiser threatened the station when it was discovered that Sheridan was harboring a Narn heavy cruiser. This cruiser managed to inflict serious damage on the station before a squad of Starfuries and the station’s own defenses managed to destroy it.

Primus class cruisers would go on to make several appearances in the course of the show, serving throughout the Narn-Centauri war and even making an appearance during Sheridan’s war to liberate Earth. During the Alliance-Centauri war, these cruisers appeared to have been relegated to defensive duty, leaving offensive operations to the newer and lighter Vorchan-class cruisers.

USS Reliant:
Thank you to Victor for suggesting this one. I was wondering if I should go back to the original Star Trek for ideas, and this was just the push I needed to include some. And given that this ship made its appearance in Wrath of Khan, arguably the best of the bunch, I figured it would be the perfect candidate.

A Miranda-class starship, the Reliant possessed capabilities comparable to that of the USS Enterprise. She is best known for being the ship that was charged with investigating planets for the Genesis Project and then being commandeered by Khan Noonien Singh, a warlord from Earth’s Eugenics Wars who had been marooned on the planet for many years.

After commandeering the ship with his people, Khan used the Reliant to seize Genesis and attack the USS Enterprise. During their initial encounter, Khan was able to use surprise to disable and inflict considerable damage. He was only defeated when Spock, using the ship’s prefix code, was able to bring the Reliant’s shields down long enough for the Enterprise to strike back and take out its weapons and warp drive.

During their second confrontation, Kirk was able to lure Khan into the nearby Nebula where neither ship had the tactical advantage. There, the Enterprise was able to outmaneuver the Reliant and crippled her with a series of torpedoes and well placed phaser shots. Rather than face capture, Khan chose to initiate the Genesis’ self destruct sequence and nearly destroyed both ships in the process. The Enterprise narrowly escaped, thanks to Spock’s decision to sacrifice himself to bring the warp engines back on line.

Viscount-class Star Defender:
Last on the list is an entry which I’m personally impressed with. Known as a Star Defender, this class of Mon Calamari heavy cruiser comes from the Star Wars universe, and reminds us that not only the Empire was capable of creating some badass ships!

Commissioned during the time of the New Republic at the behest of Admiral Ackbar, the Star Defender was the Alliance’s answer to the Super Star Destroyer and other classes of Imperial terror weapons. Measuring 17 km in length and boasting over 5000 weapons turrets, this ship was more than a match for the Executor, Eclipse and any other vessel of similar size.

Like all Mon Calamari cruisers, this ship was studded with hangars and launch bays and could carry fourteen fighter squadrons, dozens of troops transports and any number of shuttles and support craft. It can also house over 12,000 troops and carries a standard crew of about 70,000. Though production of these vessels stalled due to the diminishing threat posed by the Empire after the Battle of Endor, the Thrawn crisis and the threat posed by the resurrected Emperor and his Eclipse dreadnoughts provided the final push.

Several versions of the Viscount class were commissioned for service over the years, including the Mon Remonda, pictured below.

Okay, that’s seven down. Do I really need to do an eighth? Ha! Just kidding, of course I do. Perhaps I’ll end this series at ten, or maybe it will become one of those things that slows down but never really goes away. As long as people keep suggesting things and I keep having ideas of my own, there’s no real end in sight! See ya next time 😀