Caprica Review (spoilers after the break)
The prequel series, Caprica, is now available on DVD and for download. Caprica is set 56 years before the first Cylon war, and deals with the origin of the metal Cylons. This meta review provides links to some of the recent low-spoiler reviews. As you will read in all of them, Caprica is very different in tone from BSG. It's a drama set on a planet, not a space opera.
My disappointment with how BSG was ended lowered my expectations for Caprica, which is of course a good thing. You always enjoy a work more when you go into it with lower expectations. In an ideal world, one would wish for a way to get great recommendations on worthwhile things that don't raise high expectations -- you would enjoy life more. It was the high expectations I put on BSG that in part led to the ending being such a letdown.
However, the overall review is positive. If you did not know it was Battlestar, you could treat Caprica as near-future SF set on Earth. If you didn't have the references to polytheistic religion, in fact, a viewer would be hard pressed to spot differences from a typical tv-SF depiction of a decade or two in the future. Of course, the religion is important in this show, as it became important in BSG. While the God of Galactica (Gog) does not show it's face directly, we must wonder if it will do so later. However, the religion is fundamental to the plot in that many of the characters do very dramatic things motivated by their religious beliefs. Which is perfectly fine, of course -- some people mistook my criticism of the presence of an interventionist god in BSG as criticism of religion playing a role in a story.
You will get some items from Caprica that help explain important elements of BSG. They are more subtle than normal, but there. So the verdict is to watch it, though you will also do fine waiting the 8 months for it to appear on the air. The DVD version contains a bunch of mostly lesbian makeout scenes which won't show on TV; presumably they are there to keep the boys titillated. They occur -- no spoiler here, as you see this in the first 2 minutes of the show -- in a virtual reality club which is the setting for a number of scenes in the show. It may be a bit surprising at first to see the Capricans using technology far beyond what is seen on BSG when it comes to computers and robotics. Obviously the colonies had a minor Butlerian jihad after the Cylon war. This was hinted at several times during the BSG series.
But now on to the spoilers...
In BSG, Moore decided, correctly I think, to show very little of the technology behind the show. He avoided explaining how the FTL or computers or Tylium fuel worked. This is good because most SF shows get it wrong when they try to explain these things, and even the best ones provide explanations that quickly become dated.
In Caprica, a few errors are made along these lines. The show has to focus on AI, robotics and computers, and it's hard to do these in TV without technobabble. The first such item is a magic AI processor developed by Graystone's rival, which he has Adama steal for him. It's not clear what is special about this processor, since the uploaded mind of Zoe seems to run fine in the V-room processor and on the system at Graystone's home, though these are advanced systems. It is possible it's much smaller or does other functions we don't see.
However, the cliche element is not that, but rather the fact that Graystone, after getting the chip -- which he has never seen before -- is able to integrate the Zoe upload (also a brand new technology he has never seen before) onto it in just a couple of days. The writers may be aware of this -- Adama expects it to happen right away and Graystone says "don't be silly it will take a couple of days." This seems to happen often in TV about computers. Not unlike Scotty from Star Trek, TV computer wizards can often perform tasks that would take months or years of time in seconds or minutes. That's human time, of course. TV computer wizards can also break any encryption code in a matter of seconds, and Graystone quickly breaks his daughter's encryption, even though she is a more skilled programmer than her father.
Of course, encryption codes that can't be broken, or which take time to break, would not make for good TV, even in a slower paced show like this.
I would like to imagine that this show will spend a lot of time on the worthwhile SF issue of uploading -- the transfer of a human biological mind into an alternate, digital implementation. In the literature, the usual approach is some sort of way of scanning the brain on a finely detailed level and copying all the interconnections. The scan can be safe or destructive, and on a live or only on a dead person.
However, there has been some discussion (the more fantastic) of the idea that the contents of one's brain could be determined by calculating back from one's "output" (recordings of all you said and did, all your e-mails etc.) Many would argue that's not likely to be possible, but if it is, it's a vastly more involved technique. This is, however, the technique that Zoe develops to create her upload, though since she personally tweaks it she is able to do a lot better job.
When the same software is used to make a Tamara Adama (Bill's sister) upload, I give credit to the writers that this upload is incomplete and hollow. Joe Adama rejects it immediately, as an abomination.
The ability to have beings that can be copied is another one of SF's hot issues, and this was covered in BSG to some extent, both in the downloading process for Cylons, and the ability of Cylons to share memories with those of the same model. In addition, it was revealed late that each Cylon model began with a prototype, and then many copies were made by the Final Five. These were presumably whole copies.
All this is good, but for some reason the Caprica writers twice worked as though copying a mind meant destroying the original. When Zoe is pulled from the V-Club onto Graystone's thumb-drive -- her mind an improbably small 300mb -- she is removed from the V-Club. We could see this as Graystone's intention, but later, when he wants to try the first experiment of transfer into a robot body, the same thing happens. Destroying the original should surely not be his intention here, and doesn't seem to be, but it's also silly to imagine he would not have a backup -- on the thumb-drive if nowhere else.
We must presume the plot demanded this, and I wonder if the writers will continue to have the uploaded beings always copy and delete, or if they will have more copying. As more Cylons are created, it seems that copying will be necessary. In addition, the casting sheets tell us we'll see more of the actors playing Zoe and Ben, indicating a VR copy of Zoe is seen again, and that Sister Clarice may have a copy of the upload software.
That the Cylons come from a rebellious zealot teen-ager with a is a nice touch. What we see in the show does explain why the metal Cylons, many years later, will be so keen on developing biological bodies. Zoe didn't want transfer into the robot, and her successors follow up on this. It explains why the Final Five's offer of biological bodies is enough to get the metal Cylons to stop the war. It may even explain something that so far has made no sense -- the apparent lack of transfer of metal Cylon memories into the 8 biologicals. At times it seems as though the metal Cylons gave up everything so the Final Five could creation new Earth-style biological cylons unconnected with them. Zoe's emotions may explain this, if it is indeed the case.
I wonder if we will see a background for why John was so keen to have a metal form, or to return to a metal form if he has memories of Zoe or the others.
As noted, the setting could be a future Earth, if not for the religions. In fact, it's a bit too much like one. They still drive their cars, which they would not do if they had robotics at this level. In fact, they would also not have gasoline cars if they had the sort of battery and power technology necessary to make self-contained Cylon robots. I hope the writers take the time to think through other consequences of advanced robotics and power technology as they show more of this world. Of course, 50 years later, their world still looks like Earth in many ways, but that's after a butlerian jihad and a war.
I expect we'll see more of th virtual clubs. TV producers love VR, it lets them get away with so much. Like most TV VRs, the VR goggles are tiny things which must be beaming directly into the brain rather than the eyes. This reminds one of Cylon projection, and if we didn't know better, I would take it as a sign that they are all Cylons :-).
It's no secret that I hated how the religious aspects of BSG ruined the ending and cheapened the characters' meaning. So far, there is no evidence of a direct connection between the "One true God" of Zoe and the "Soldiers of the One" cult and Gog, the real God of Galactica. The Soldiers of the One think of their god as a loving god, one who clearly defines right and wrong, good and evil. They are attracted to this god for that very reason -- they feel the polytheist religions are lacking in morality.
They do claim their god is real, and suggest they have evidence, but do they? Or is this, for now, just another invented god of a cult, a cult that just happens to be right about how many gods there are? Or has Gog sent messenger angels to members of the Soldiers of the One, or performed some of its many miracles and interventions? Is Gog manipulating things to help create the Cylons, knowing the Final Five are just 15 years away on their 2,000 year sub-light journey?
Gog is not a loving god who defines good and evil. As Baltar declares with authorial voice in Daybreak, Gog is beyond good and evil, more like a force of nature. Man, Baltar says, created ideas like good and evil. Gog is an amoral, interventionist force that seems content to lay out a plan with many cycles of genocide, and who acts to have that plan become real.
As we watch Caprica, we can't avoid knowing that Gog is real, but I hope it stays offstage as much as possible. Characters who have religions are great. Real gods are another matter.