Battlestar Galactica revisited: Gaius Baltar’s trial

Great stories must include these 3 elements: a strong premise, great characters, and a compelling plot. Two now-classic TV shows from the last decade—Lost and Battlestar Galactica—had the first two in spades.

Take Lost. The premise: a plane crashes on a mysterious island and the survivors must battle not only each other, but the island’s inhabitants and the island itself. The characters: Jack Shepard, John Locke, Kate Austen, Sawyer, and Ben Linus, to name a few, were all strong and dynamic.


And then there’s Battlestar Galactica. The premise: Cylons (sentient robots) destroy their creators, but a ragtag group of human survivors flee through the universe in a search for a mythical planet called Earth. The characters: Admiral Adama, President Laura Roslin, Starbuck, Gaius Baltar, Apollo, the cylon Caprica Six, and many more. Again, all compelling.


Both shows faltered when it came to plot. It’s safe to say that the endings of Battlestar Galactica and Lost were troublesome.

Nevertheless, what these shows gave us was a new and dynamic way to tell stories.

Battlestar Galactica was a reimagining of the 1970s series. The new version, written by Ronald D. Moore, was a gritty sci-fi drama that mirrored the American experience in the 2000s as the country suffered through the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks and the resulting global war on terror and Iraq War. Battlestar Galactica was unflinching. It ran headfirst into controversial issues.

baltarOne of the best examples was the trial of Gaius Baltar. A haunted genius, Baltar was an amoral man whose sole concern was his own survival. In the old series he was a stock villain. In the new show, there were times, many times, when I found myself rooting for Baltar, even when I knew he was a jerk.

One of those times was his trial.

Baltar was elected President of the surviving humans, beating Laura Roslin (who nearly rigged the election to stop Baltar). Under his leadership, the humans chose to settle on a habitable planet, dubbed New Caprica, instead of seeking Earth. But the humanoid cylons soon found them. Instead of wiping them out, they instituted a terror-like regime to control the humans.

Baltar went along with them. What choice did he have?

Once the humans broke free from the cylons and escaped, Baltar was ousted as president and then put on trial for crimes against humanity. The resulting trial was a brilliant piece of drama. Obviously Baltar colluded. How could he be found not guilty?

baltar trial

This article from revisits the trial. It’s a fascinating look at the law and its use in fiction. Was the trial a farce? To an extent, yes. But the whole point of the show (and a theme of our own global war on terror) was that these were not normal times. When the whole of humanity has been reduced from 20 billion to fewer than 50,000, who are actively being chased by murderous robots, you do the best you can.

Some of the plot twists of Battlestar Galactica, including Gaius Baltar’s trial, pushed the bounds of logic and reason, but it’s great to see that so many elements of this iconic series still resonate.

Spider fangs: nature’s perfect piercer

Some people love spiders (why??). Some people love to hate spiders. My view is: hey, Mr. Spider, you stay over there, I’ll stay over here. To me, they’re creepy as hell — horror movie creepy.


Now there’s more to add to their creep factor. Not only are spiders adept at trapping their prey alive in a sticky web and sucking their blood and bodily fluids out in a slow, agonizing death, their fangs were honed by nature, God, evolution (take your pick, or as I believe, all of the above) to be the perfect piercing tools.

This article published in Scientific American discusses a study of spider fangs. It turns out that the curve of the spider fang allows the spider to not only attack from different directions, but also hold their prey while injecting their venom. And the hollow, conical shape gives the fangs strength.

Not cool.

The upside?

1) More fodder for horror writers. Now we’ve got an even more gruesome way to describe spider attacks.

2) Maybe they can design better piercing equipment, not only for medical applications, but also for those casual body piercers among us.

(Image courtesy of

Read this book: After Dark

In the hands of this fiction master, After Dark is nighttime Tokyo reimagined as a surreal noir-ish dreamscape.

after darkI was in one of my favorite bars in Jersey City talking to the bartender Tom about the new insomnia-themed sci-fi novel Black Moon (which is on my shortlist). After a quick tour of books — others and mine — he threw one title at me: After Dark, by Haruki Murakami. Tom said it was strange, offbeat and captivating.

So I tried it. Tom was right.

The best words to describe After Dark is The Twilight Zone. The classic TV series often featured stories, settings, and characters that weren’t outright sci-fi or horror, but were just off-kilter enough to not be truly of this world. That describes After Dark.

The novel is set in a not-so-safe district of Tokyo. The narrator brings us in with a swooping eagle-eye view of the city (pretty after dark altmuch literally). Murakami uses an interesting technique where the narrator is our guide. He is nearly a character himself, though one who is never named or described. Instead he is the all-knowing, all-seeing, and he lets us have a glimpse.

What exactly do we glimpse? A pair of protagonists in their late teens chatting in a Denny’s after midnight. Mari is a 19-year-old student who doesn’t want to go home. Takahashi is a jazz musician on his way to an all-night practice. Mari and Takahashi met months earlier when Takahashi’s friend went on a date with Mari’s beautiful sister Eri.

What we get is a lot of talk between the two — on life, loneliness, alienation. After Dark almost reads like a play. We don’t get much action, but it doesn’t matter. These two characters are compelling.

Once Takahashi leaves Mari the action picks up. Mari gets tangled up with the manager of a “love hotel” where a Chinese prostitute has been beaten. We get glimpses of the dark side of this city, and it’s fascinating.

two girlsThe real strangeness comes when we get to the story of Mari’s sister Eri, the breathtakingly beautiful model. Eri sleeps through the whole book. Except for when she becomes trapped inside a TV.

Yes. That’s right. Trapped in a TV. The brilliance of Murakami is that he could write that and pull it off.

If you choose to read After Dark — and you should — don’t expect plot-twisting thrills. What you’ll get instead is a haunting story about young people on the edge.

(Two Girls image courtesy of


Waiting for the Doctor to return

As we sit here like young Amy Pond and wait (and wait and wait) for the British sci-fi classic series Doctor Who to return to us — the rumor is that we’ll have to wait until Christmas — here are a few tidbits to hold us over.

doctor-whoFirst, Matt Smith, the bow-tie-wearing previous Doctor, who we last saw die defending Trenzalore, told an interviewer at a Calgary sci-fi expo that he’d love to make a return.

“I’m just waiting for the next anniversary. I spoke to Steven (Moffat) the other day and said ‘what’s the quickest one we can do?'”

I’m not sure how I feel about that right now. The 50th anniversary show, which featured a few Doctors running around, was tons of fun but it got a little confusing. Then again, with the rate that Doctor Who episodes are produced, we wouldn’t be seeing Smith reprise his role until 2025 at the earliest.

And, there’s a very tenuous rumor that Alex Kingston could come back as River Song, the Doctor’s wife and one of my favorite characters. What’s the evidence? An interview in RiverSong321_0which Kingston said she looks forward to sharing more of River with the audience.

But then we have Doctor Who head writer Steven Moffat hemming and hawing, wondering if there are more River stories to be told (I vote yes). His logic is that Matt Smith and Alex Kingston worked as a couple because they didn’t look like a couple, while the opposite would be true with Kingston and the latest Doctor Peter Capaldi. I don’t buy it.

Finally, here are a couple of set photos from Doctor Who featuring new Doctor Capaldi, his companion Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman), and some other people hanging around, via

new doctor 1

new doctor 2




Don’t see this movie: The Host

The Host is proof that a great concept won’t work when saddled with a bad plot and annoying characters.

The_Host_PosterGranted, I’m not the target audience for a YA movie with a romantic subplot based on a book by Twilight’s Stephenie Meyer. But the premise sounded intriguing: the human race is taken over by alien body snatchers that obliterate the host human consciousness. Think of this as a more literal Invasion of the Body Snatchers than the original movie(s), which were all great, but should have been called Invasion of the Body Copiers.

I watched The Host solely for that premise, and that was the only good thing I can say about it.

The plot: Human holdout Melanie Stryder (played by Saoirse Ronan) is captured and taken over by an alien called “Wanderer” (that name was the first warning sign of trouble ahead). But Melanie manages to hold on. Melanie/Wanderer seek out her fellow human holdouts, trailed by a Seeker (the unbelievably beautiful Diane Kruger) who is determined to wipe them out.

The Host ends up turning into a weird love quadrangle. Melanie/Wanderer reunite with KrugerMelanie’s boyfriend Jared, and Wanderer falls in love with some guy named Ian.

How can true love work out if Melanie/Wanderer share the same body? I didn’t really care, because I never bought it. The love story was not developed, it was unrealistic, and the tension felt manufactured.

The rest of The Host was clunky as well. Great actors like William Hurt had little to do, because nothing really exciting or unpredictable happened. Saoirse Ronan is usually a phenomenal actor, but she couldn’t do much in this part. If you want to see her shine in an action flick, watch the surreal Hanna.

The worst part of the movie? Melanie’s voiceover. Since Wanderer had active control, she spoke through the body. Melanie spoke through thoughts, which we heard as a voiceover. Very early on I was wishing that Wanderer had indeed obliterated Melanie. That’s not a good sign.

All of this is a shame, because, like I said, the premise is great. But The Host is bad, and not even in the “so bad it’s good” sense. You’ve been warned: watch The Host at your own risk.

A world of bizarre creatures in a drop of seawater

Coming back to my love of science and belief in monsters…

Sometimes the monsters are tiny. Consider yourself lucky in those moments. So, next time you’re at the beach going for a swim and you get an extra big mouthful of seawater, don’t think about the fantastically alien looking creatures you’re swallowing. Remind yourself instead that you’re the monster this time.

Drink deep, people.

The Girl and The Boy: local paranormal thrills

I’m a fan of supporting my local community, and that doesn’t just mean going to the local bars. I’ve become involved in my writing community here in Jersey City, and one of the girlwriters I’ve met is Madhuri Blaylock, a woman with a penchant for fantastical stories of page-turning urban paranormal fiction.

Her first book, The Sanctum: The Girl, follows our teenage hero Dev, a demon-angel hybrid. She’s targeted for death by a shadowy organization called the Sanctum, a worldwide group of families that monitors all the paranormal activity in our world. Dev, however, proves difficult to kill. Not only that, but she falls for one of he Sanctum’s best killers, Wyatt.

This was a fun book, full of relatable characters that ranged from stalwart best friends to seductive vampires, as well as The_boy_finalmustache-twirling villains I loved to hate.

Now Madhuri has released the second book in the trilogy, aptly titled The Sanctum: The Boy. Check it out, help me support my local community, and have some fun in the process.

Playing the Game of Thrones

I love this TV show, and I’ve read book 3 (mainly because I’m a sucker for spoilers) but I game-of-thrones-iron-throne-1024x576hesitated writing about Game of Thrones for two big reasons.

1) It’s more in the realm of fantasy (though with strong supernatural elements). I’ve never been big into fantasy — I struggled with the Lord of the Rings series.

2) Game of Thrones, both the print and TV versions, are deep and intricate. I don’t think my analysis, on an episode-by-episode basis, could do it justice.

Nevertheless I’m a big fan of all things Game of Thrones. I think it’s brilliant storytelling. ned starkThe show hooked me late in the first season, when Ned Stark, played by Sean Bean (the biggest name in the cast), met his fate. I knew then I was in for a wild and unpredictable ride.

On TV, the production values are excellent, the pacing is consistently solid, and the actors are all pros. My favorite, and I’m not alone in this, is Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion Lannister. Tyrion as played by Dinklage is the complicated heart of a complicated show. Catelyn Stark, played by Michelle Fairley, a woman who is smart and tough and willing to do whatever it takes to protect her family, is/was a close second.

TyrionIn the books, writer George RR Martin alternates character viewpoints as he bounces around the fictional world of Westeros and beyond — Daenerys, Jon Snow, Sansa Stark, Catelyn Stark, Jaime Lannister, and Tyrion Lannister. Each of these viewpoints is utterly unique and fully formed.

But neither book nor TV show is perfect. The books are rambling. No, I don’t need listings of every Ser who fought in a certain battle twenty years earlier. And the TV show revels in gore and violence to the point of overkill. One blogger commented that the show uses rape as a set piece. Okay, I get it — this world is brutal.

These are minor points. Game of Thrones is great entertainment. Very few moments in recent TV history can top when Daenerys ordered her dragon to burn the evil Kraznys.

Game_Of_Thrones Daenerys

And then there’s the infamous Red Wedding episode, where Catelyn, Robb and his pregnant wife weren’t treated very well by their hosts (huge understatement). Check out this link for some great reaction videos.


Watch/read Game of Thrones if you’re up for some excitement. And for great postgame reading, the best I’ve found on the Internet comes from the A.V. Club. Their website has intelligent commentary, with articles geared toward those who haven’t read the books and those who have.