Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Caprica and the Spi-Fi Ascendency


 OK, I need to rinse the rancid taste of Braintree out of my mouth...

A lot of you may have seen this already, but I'm so jazzed on this series I want to make sure the rest of you do as well. This is the prequel to the Battlestar Galactica revamp, but it's grabbed me in a way that BSG still has not (never fear, the missus and I have the first season DVDs and plan to dig into them soon).

There are several aspects to this show that have really hooked me. First is the alternate reality vibe of Caprica itself- it's no much a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away as an other-dimensional version of 21st Century Earth (particularly considering we're currently trying to build our own Cylons). I've always been sold on that concept. It's an old standby in comic books (Earth 2, 3, 4, etc) and in a way in Ed McBain's 86th Precinct novels (set in the fictional city of Isola) or his Matthew Hope novels (set in a fictional Florida exurb).

It's almost as if by taking a step back from our reality- or looking at it through a mirror- we can better understand ourselves. But it also gives lots of room for the imagination to run free and rewrite our histories and reconfigure our environments.

Second, Caprica is part of the sudden revival of cyberpunk, specifically the immersive virtual reality environments in William Gibson's seminal Sprawl novels (or his Matrix novels if you prefer). Lots of really mediocre-to-horrible cyberpunk films in the 90s tarnished the brand (one of which- Johnny Mnemonic - Gibson is partly to blame for) and the fizzle of VR hype soured people on the concepts. But the immersive environments of Avatar seem to have reawakened the VR meme, and we're also looking down the barrel at the same dystopian conditions that Gibson prophesied. And I mean "prophesied" quite literally.

Which brings me to my next point- like the Sprawl novels, Caprica is a landmark in the burgeoning Spi-Fi (or spiritual sci-fi) movement. Meaning that spiritual concepts like reincarnation and resurrection - and yes, apotheosis- are playing out in a technological context (as is a very compelling subplot of religious extremism). And the whole idea of an artificial intelligence achieving not only sentience but spirit is straight out of the Gibson playbook.

The main conceit here- the very origin of the Cylon race- is ripped straight from my favorite all-time short story, Gibson's 'The Winter Market', in which a gifted cyberspace artist reincarnates in the Matrix. Read this:
I looked down at my feet and saw my toes clear of the edge of concrete, the water between them. I was wearing Japanese shoes, new and expensive, glove-leather Ginza monkey boots with rubber-capped toes. I stood there for a long time before I took that first step back.

Because she was dead, and I'd let her go.

Because, now, she was immortal, and I'd helped her get that way.

And because I knew she'd phone me, in the morning.
Caprica fans know what I'm talking about here.

It's a shame that it will all have to end badly- well, at least until the events of the BSG series finale- but I'm really looking forward to the ride. Apparently the show hasn't found its audience yet- at least not in the Friday night death slot, but I'm willing to be a lot more people are doing what I've been doing and watching it on DVR or online.

It kills me that this and Fringe are put in such tough slots in the weekly schedule, but perhaps by now the nets have factored in all of the viewers coming in from secondary sources. I hope so-I desperately need this stuff. The Fringe winter finale kicked my ass so damn hard I'm still having trouble sitting down.

I'm willing to bet SyFy is in it for at least two seasons, since Ronald Moore (who cut his spi-fi teeth on my beloved Deep Space Nine) is someone whom they want to stay on the good side of.