Feb 11

The common themes of science fiction: There may be hope for us yet…

In the universe of “Babylon 5”, Doctor Stephen Franklin practiced a religious philosophy known as “Foundationism“, which came up shortly after humanity made contact with alien life for the first time. Put simply, this philosophy seeks to “get back at the roots of all the Earth religions, past the doctrines to the core of each belief system to find out what they have in common and proposes that they have a lot more in common than most would have thought.” In applying a similar process, when we look past the differences in various science fiction franchises– i.e. the alien species, the futuristic technology, the major players in the astro-political scene, etc.– we see a few common themes. For this and future postings, I will illustrate the overarching similarities in the universes of “Star Trek”, “Babylon 5”, and “Stargate”.

First off, these sci-fi franchises illustrate in their own ways the strong potential of humanity to be greater than what it is. Even in Gene Rodenberry’s utopian universe of “Star Trek”, humanity is still a long way from true enlightenment. In the words of the Metron at the end of “Arena”, “You are still half-savage.” We can’t say exactly what this level of enlightenment we may achieve thousands or perhaps millions of years from now entails. In the meantime, humanity has superior races such as the Metrons, the Organians, and the Preservers to watch over us to make sure we don’t destroy ourselves and other alien races. That much was clear when the Metrons came between the USS Enterprise and the Gorn warship that destroyed the Cestus Three colony and when the Organians called off a war between the Federation and the Klingon Empire in “Errand of Mercy”. “The Paradise Syndrome” further established the existence of an ancient race known as the Preservers, charged with preserving lesser cultures on the verge of extinction. Perhaps these aliens were the ones that raised Gary Seven, whose mission in “Assignment: Earth” was to prevent a nuclear apocalypse. Gary Seven was also a central figure in The Eugenics Wars novel trilogy. His initial role in the story was to end Project Chrysalis, which already bred Khan Noonien Singh and other genetically-engineered superhumans. Who knows how many other human proxies of the Preservers were out there, but countless possibilities are left to the imaginations of various novel and fan-fiction authors. But the Preservers seem to want to prevent humanity from advancing too far before it’s ready.

The Vorlons of the “Babylon 5” universe had similar motives. They are a mysterious alien race millions of years superior to the various humanoid species featured throughout that series. They have seen the potential in humans to become something far greater than what it is today. And that is in a futuristic world where humanity has not reached the same level of social and political unity as in the “Star Trek” universe, where all the problems of poverty, war, and disease have not been solved. The Earth military is far more paranoid and cynical than Rodenberry’s Starfleet or United Federation of Planets, and so a lot of its brass feels that Earth needs to get a hold on as much superior alien technology once belonging to long dead races as possible in order to gain any kind of advantage over its peers. Thankfully, the Vorlons and The Great Machine, the last remnants of a race that once inhabited the planet the space station orbits, are around to counter that human obsession. At the end of the episode, “A Voice in the Wilderness“, the Great Machine’s new humanoid central processing unit proclaimed, “This planet belongs to no one. It belongs only to itself, and to the future.” The Vorlons took a similar stance at the end of “Deathwalker” when Earth’s government sought to harness the notorious Dilgar war criminal Jha’Dur‘s anti-aging serum. But for one person to achieve immortality, another life would have to be sacrificed. That was to be her final act of vengeance for her race’s defeat and eventual extinction, stating, “You will fall upon one another like wolves… Not like us? You will become us.” Of course, the Vorlons destroyed Deathwalker’s ship as it was bound for Earth, and Ambassador Kosh proclaimed, “You are not ready for immortality.”. The Vorlons, however, did see humanity as one day achieving their level of superiority in another million years. But until then, they have made sure humanity and its peers don’t go anywhere their great empire even after they had departed the Milky Way galaxy for higher planes of existence.

The Vorlons or Preservers of the universe of “Stargate” are known as the Asgard. They are a benevolent race that have anointed themselves guardians of the Milky Way galaxy, which even gave rise to Norse mythology. At the conclusion of the episode “The Fifth Race“, in which Colonel Jack O’Neill accidentally had the entire database of a race known only at the time as the Ancients into his brain, the Asgard reveal their belief that humanity is on a path towards becoming the “Fifth Great Race”. Some time in the distant past, the Asgard were part of the Alliance of Four Great Races, composed the four most advanced known alien races. This dissolved when one of the four, the so-called Ancients ascended to a higher plane of existence. Earth would take a giant leap towards becoming that fifth “great race” in “Stargate:SG-1″‘s series finale. The Asgard, knowing their race’s extinction was inevitable and preparing for a mass suicide, chose to leave all its advanced technology to Earth’s Stargate Command. And this is with humanity in a much more precarious position than Earth of the B5 universe. Because the “Stargate” and all of its spinoff series takes place in “present day” Earth and all these interplanetary expeditions are conducted in secret. While the terrorist organization known as the Trust dissolved during the course of SG-1, who is to say other similar organization will not try to get their hands on this advanced technology? And not just those originating in the United States, but in Russia, China, or other emerging superpowers such as Iran. In any case, the Asgard had to have thought long and hard about this decision, and so they entrust Stargate Command to use these technological advances wisely.

In any case, these three sci-fi franchises address a potential for greatness in the human species, a greatness is not yet achieved as the only known sentient species. But that future for humanity, even in Gene Roddenberry’s utopian viewpoint, is at least a million years way. In the words of Q in the TNG episode “HIde & Q”: “Yes, the human compulsion (to explore and learn, as Riker put it). And unfortunately for us, it is a power which will grow stronger century after century, aeon after aeon…¬†Perhaps in a future that you cannot yet conceive, even beyond us.”¬† That’s provided we don’t destroy ourselves along the way.

Stay tuned for more postings about the commonalities of various sci-fi franchises. Up next: The mysteries of the universe.

  • Good post about how the various franchises share some similarities with each other E1981. Indeed, I think that is one of the great tenets of sci-fi is to write about / show the future potential of humanity and in a similar vein to hold up a mirror to what could be our darkest hours extrapolating from our present or past the horrors we could visit upon ourselves.

    Hope really can make for good story telling in one way or another because the challenge is to make it a reality or fight against that that would threaten to bring humanity down.

    Looking forward to the other similarities you raise between all the franchises.