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Archive for February, 2010

Farscape: More Fi than Sci

February 27th, 2010 | Category: dramatic criticism,Farscape,scifi,Technology

I occasionally run into people who complain about Farscape and how its science isn’t “real”. This always stumps me because I think that of all the scifi shows I’ve seen on television, Farscape seems to me to be the most realistic. When I ask people what they mean by that since nothing in a scifi show is “real”, they point to one of the Star Trek iterations, or the Stargate shows, as an example of shows that make the science more “real”. By that, what they really seem to mean is that because these shows have a lot of expository dialog (long-winded speeches) where people explain the science (or pseudo-science) behind all the scifi gizmos in the show, then to them it seems more real.

It is true that Farscape rarely explains the technology you see in the episodes. Most of the technical gizmos that the audience sees are merely used as part of the action in a scene. In an early first season episode, Throne For a Loss, there’s a scene down on a planet where Aeryn puts on a set of weird looking oculars. Afterwards Crichton also puts them on. We see his reaction to the sudden magnification. Then we see what he’s looking at through the oculars. Throughout this scene no one stood around explaining that this gizmo is an “ocular”, and then explained how it works. Aeryn does not say, “Here, Crichton, put these on and you’ll see everything more clearly.” and Crichton does not say “Wow, Aeryn, these are just like the binoculars we use where I come from, only more convenient.” We are left to infer that for ourselves. More importantly, these little interactions with the weird looking oculars are not central to the scene, which is about figuring out how to rescue Rygel from his kidnappers.

In the Farscape world technology and the way it makes life easier is taken for granted. This is exactly the way we handle technology in our world. When we plug our microwaves and hair dryers into a wall outlet, we expect them to turn on and operate. Even if we knew that electricity was generated with a steam turbine and then transmitted through copper and aluminum wires, and even if we knew how an airdryer or microwave harnessed that electricity to do our cooking or dry our hair, we wouldn’t really think about all those things as we were using those devices. Real life doesn’t work that way.

In our world we put itty-bitty lenses in our eyes to improve our vision, use devices as small as a candy-bar to talk across vast distances, and capture the sound of huge orchestras on shiny little disks. Most people have no idea how this stuff gets done, and yet it all just works.

In the Farscape world, little parasitic microbes can translate sounds into brain-waves so that everyone understand each other’s speech, chakan oil can be used for deadly fire power in hand guns without that irritating recoil, and DRDs zoom around cleaning things up and fixing them. Here, too, nobody spends any time explaining how these things work — not even to the “slow” human, John Crichton. Farscape expects the “slow” human (and us) to figure it out for ourselves, but even if we don’t, the action isn’t interrupted by taking time to explain things that really don’t matter to the story.

Of course, part of Farscape’s charm — for me, anyway — is that although not a single moment in any episode is wasted on useless technobabble, I can while away my idle time when I’m waiting in line, or trying to fall asleep, or sitting in a boring meeting at work, pondering how technology in the Uncharted Territories works. Gosh, if during starburst Leviathans disassemble in one place and reassemble in another place, isn’t that a lot like the transporter in Star Trek? And if that’s how starburst works, then that might explain why neither Moya nor Pilot ever seem to know exactly where they are after starburst. How do you suppose translater microbes translate songs? And man, wouldn’t it be NEAT to have my own DRD! It could do the dishes for me, make the bed, have dinner waiting when I got home maybe, and vacuum the carpet. Oh wait, they already have robots that can vacuum. Well, maybe I CAN make myself a DRD if I just put my mind to it.
To say that Farscape is more “fi” than “sci” is to say that in Farscape, the story is more important than the technology. And really, isn’t that also true about the story of our own lives?

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