SyFy’s series “Caprica” is not about spaceships. In fact I’d be hard pressed to remember actually seeing a spaceship. It is very much science fiction, and great science fiction at that.
I don’t mean to single the spaceship out as any kind of indicator to distinguish bad science fiction. There is good science fiction out there that almost never left the spaceship. But simply having a spaceship does not make a show great science fiction. A vast majority of Star Trek episodes are only science fiction because they took place on a spaceship. That would be lazy science fiction.
Truly great science fiction can do without the spaceships. The little secret to what makes Caprica great as science fiction is that it takes a similar society to ours and shows us what could happen, if we are not careful, by adding just a little bit of the futuristic.
The way Caprica addresses how the way we use technology will alter our social and theological realities from the individuals to the society as a whole is what makes it stand out in its greatness.
I could talk about the actors such as how Eric Stoltz as Daniel Greystone is a great idealistic scientist turned businessman with a penchant for being emotional in his professional decisions while brooding over the loss of his daughter and trying to keep his marriage going. But the brilliant acting on the parts of Stoltz and the rest of the cast is just the icing on the cake.
I have a pet peeve about cable shows being self-indulgent in their representation of smoking. Just because they can do it doesn’t mean they have to. In Caprica it’s usually used well, however. It’s an outward indication of stress or depression. Not only do the characters turn to nicotine and alcohol to deal with their grief, they also get to turn to a virtual world – where they can pretend to be with their dead children.
These virtual children are not just holograms they can turn on and off to assuage their grief, however. They are persistent entities in a virtual world that is always on, not too much unlike modern Massive Multiplayer Online Games. What sets these virtual characters apart is their sentience. Everyone in this virtual reality is a real person interfacing with a high tech visor like machine. That is, everyone but the daughters of Daniel Greystone and his adversarial grief buddy Joseph Adama. The virtual daughters are not transferred consciousnesses so much as constructed consciousnesses and they must deal with the emotions of realizing they are not able to exist outside of the virtual world.
The two daughters deal with it a little differently.
Daniel Greystone’s virtual copy of his daughter, Zoe, was created aware of what she was, by the actual Zoe. She has many of Zoe’s memories up until the day real Zoe is killed in a terrorist attack – an attack she is held responsible for after the fact. The first half of the season deals with the ramifications after Daniel steals the virtual Zoe and tries to use her AI to run his robotic soldier that anyone who’s ever watched Battlestar Galactica would recognize as a Cylon.
Joseph Adama’s virtual daughter is created by Daniel Greystone after Tamara is killed in the same attack. The entity is extrapolated from all the data relating to Tamara Adama out floating about in their version of the internet. The problem with Tamara is that she doesn’t initially know that she’s only a sentient computer program in a virtual reality. And Daniel and Joseph don’t realize that Tamara sticks around when they leave the virtual world.
Being only virtual in a virtual world makes Zoe and Tamara the only things real in a realm of people trying to escape their own realities of life.
Not only does Caprica deal with the challenges of coordinating a virtual existence with a real one, and face head on the morality of creating life, it deals heavy handedly with the concepts of religious terrorism.
The initial act of terrorism was by a monotheistic radical group in a world of polytheism. It really gets hardcore when the monotheistic radicals begin to alter their religion to further their cause. It’s never clear which religion is correct and true. A question that was never resolved in the preceding sequel series Battlestar Galactica. But we do see the way that people will twist their perceptions to fit their beliefs into reality. The warning here isn’t so much as telling us which religion is the right one, but that we should be cautious how we let any religion control us.
Are there lesson’s to be learned from this show? Probably but I’d categorize them more as warnings. The show can get a little preachy at times in some of the traits it associates with the perceived villains.
It’s difficult to understand who the protagonists are while some of the antagonists are clear from the start. Even the most moral character has moments of sinking to vile decisions. There is a little cheating going in the writing on with characters basing bad decisions on misperceptions.
There is no shiny white hero in the storyline so far.
Caprica takes a world of our near foreseeable future. The fact that there are twelve habited planets in their system doesn’t need to push their science so far ahead of ours. If our solar system had another easily habitable world, we’d have been there thirty years or so ago. The rest of their technologies, and all of the ones they focus on in the show, are all within our conceivable grasp. This makes the show a little bit edgier, knowing that it could be us if we are not careful.