The recently completed Battlestar Galactica was the story of the death and rebirth of humanity and its creations, a story of humans hunted by their creations to near-extinction — only to reconcile with their creations in order to start anew on a fresh, untamed planet, with their erstwhile enemies as allies.
One of the interesting things about that fresh start was that it was just that — a complete reboot of humanity, jettisoning any technology more advanced than agriculture. Of course, that was partially because BSG was set roughly 140,000 BP, and you can’t have us only inventing electronics in the 20th Century if we were using them 140 millennia ago.
Now, I never found the idea that humans might trade technology for a new start as ridiculous as some people — after all, if technology came a hair’s-breadth from destroying you, you may want to emulate the Amish as well. Especially if you could do it in Africa, with a pretty yellow sun overhead and plenty of food to eat that wasn’t derived from algae.
But there are other reasons that the survivors of the Fall of the Twelve Colonies might want to give up technology. After all, while the Colonies were portrayed as earthlike in their existence, they weren’t Earth. These were peoples with a different history than ours, who had seen technology literally rise up against them and destroy everything they held dear.
That history begins with Caprica.
The new prequel, set 58 years Before the Fall, is the story of two grieving fathers — Daniel Graystone and Joseph Adams — both of whom lost their daughters in a terrorist bombing of an elevated train. (Adams lost his wife as well.) Zoe Graystone was a brilliant, temperamental 16-year-old with a fervent, heretical belief in monotheism — and a boyfriend whose fervor led to the bombing. Tamara Adams and her mother, Shannon, are innocent bystanders.
Adams is a defense attorney from Tauron, a member of a persecuted minority. He’s Capricanized his name — he was born Yosef Adama, but such a name makes him seem more ethnic. He does business with the Tauron mafia, who like many minorities chose a life of crime over toiling as second-class citizens. He does so reluctantly — he has a conscience, and he doesn’t like the violence associated with the mob. But he works with them because they helped him go to college, because his brother is a part of them, and because honestly, it’s easier than the alternative.
Graystone, on the other hand, is a multibillionaire, the Caprican equivalent of Bill Gates, only he’s played by Eric Stoltz, so he’s both more attractive and creepier. He’s working on a defense project — a military robot, one that can be used for defense. It’s not going that well, though — a rival from Tauron has developed a new processor that could doom his project. But he’s not as concerned about that as he is about data left behind by his daughter, including a link to a virtual night club full of unspeakable virtual perversions — including bland ones like orgies and drugs, and more sadistic ones like torture, murder and human sacrifice — all set to bumping techno music. (This is not farfetched. As Graystone’s guide, Zoe’s friend Lacy, notes, the first use for the virtual imagers Graystone himself invented was pornographic — and porn was one of the first serious industries to tap the internet. All of this has happened before….)
But nothing in this virtual club is more odd than Zoe Graystone’s avatar.
That’s because Zoe’s avatar is not just an avatar. It’s Zoe, more or less — a copy made by Zoe before her death, one that includes her memories, her personality, her likes and dislikes, her faults and strengths. The copy is made from many sources, including her school records, medical records, television viewing habits — things that could be used to make a good simulacrum of any human.
And thanks to his daughter’s genius Daniel Graystone finds the chance to do the unthinkable — to raise his daughter from the grave.
Daniel finds an unlikely ally in Joseph, who he meets at an information session for family members of victims of the bombing. He uses Joseph’s connections to steal the Tauron technology that could make his daughter live in the real world — albeit in a body that is made of metal. And he promises Joseph the same — a resurrection of his daughter, and his wife.
Joseph ultimately balks when Daniel shows him the proto-avatar of his daughter — she’s afraid, confused, and certain that something is terribly wrong. Joseph agrees, believing that there’s something Frankensteinian in what Daniel is doing. And yet Daniel is trying to do what any heartbroken, desperate parent would do if they could do it without punishment — bring back his daughter. To let her live the life she was supposed to live, before it was senselessly snuffed out.
Is such a thing Right? I don’t know. I do know that I would rather rip my right arm off than even think about my daughter coming to harm. That I can’t bring myself to write the comparative sentence between myself and Adama or Graystone because the mere thought is too painful for me to bring into enough clarity to express it in English. Suffice to say that I would gleefully make a deal with Satan himself if it guaranteed my daughter’s safety through a long and happy life. Eternal damnation would be a small price to pay. Simply messing with the laws of the Gods and Nature? That’s kid stuff.
That doesn’t mean that there will be no price for violating those laws. Just that in that pit of grief and despair, I can imagine being able to justify almost anything, grasping at any straw, praying to any false idol.
This tension — between Upholding That Which is Right and Saving Those We Love — is the driving force behind Caprica. We know, of course, how it will end — with the nuclear bombardment of the Twelve Colonies, with the flight of Galactica and the fleet, with the eventual colonization of Earth (Mark Two). But how we get there — a path that, like BSG, is not straight or clear, not good or evil, but rather a road paved with good intentions — that appears to be a fascinating journey. And one that I’m looking forward to.