Wednesday, December 17, 2014

"Mad Men"-like sci-fi: Part II of "Ascension"




  • You can watch it online a day after it's broadcast.
  • Of course there's a twist. The main story line: will the crew and civilian colonists find out the truth about the mission?
  • The critics don't like it but so what? More.
  • Math and science geniuses explain how the space-mission premise is unscientific, and of course scientists in 1963 would have known it. Even if Einstein's right so light-speed travel (warp drive) is impossible (why supposedly it'd take 100 years to get to Proxima Centauri, the closest star besides the sun): Speed of light is 3 x 10 ^8 m/s, so dividing by 9.8m/s^2 gives you just under a year to reach light speed. Of course that's impossible under relativity, but it does mean that they should have reached relativistic speeds quite early into their journey, and after 50 years would probably be beyond the edge of the visible universe. The figures don't add up if they're only going to Proxima Centauri. It does look as though they think they're under thrust. But at a constant 1 gravity acceleration, a ship approaches light speed in about a year and serious relativistic effects start to kick in. Proxima's a bit over 4 light years and they'd be there in about six years, Earth time; shave a bit off for ship time. But they're measuring fifty ship-time years of one gravity acceleration, and they'll have built up a huge time-dilation factor. The outside view will be massively distorted. Thirty years at one G (gee), ship time, is enough to reach Andromeda, a couple of million light years away — and for two million years to pass back on Earth. Fifty years and you're over the rim of the universe... After 100 years of 1 gravity, you'll be travelling a hair's breadth less than the speed of light, and you'll have travelled untold trillions of light years. Your time-dilation factor will be so huge that the current age of the universe would pass by in the time it takes you to blink.
Of course what grabs me is the premise "What if we started over in 1963 with NO Sixties?" Not perfect (fallen human nature) but undoubtedly better off in many ways; at least better-looking.

At first I was hard on the show for putting 2014isms into 1963 but changed my mind after watching the whole first episode. "'Mad Men' shot into space in a tin can" would have evolved; the projections seem pretty realistic. Take the era's brightest, most "progressive," and most secular, and look what happens. The Pill came out around '60 so why wouldn't scientists develop Norplant aboard the Ascension? (In other words, as the paleocons keep telling me, by the '50s, in America the rot had already set in.) Futurism and faith in government planning and control, with a nod to Plato's Republic. It's not Catholic (although this futurism caused Vatican II, why not the Tridentine Mass aboard the ship?) or even Christian, but neither were the intelligentsia in '63, in Protestant America. (Catholics, and Jews, were accepted, but the Rockefellers were still in charge. Probably still are.) Racial equality (the black second-in-command)? Why not? The military has been integrated since '48. In fact the dog work for civil rights had been under way since the '50s. So sure, they could have a black XO in '14. Ditto "Dr. McCoy" being a woman.

Much like with "Mad Men," the audience is supposed to say they hate the "sexism" (women being women, and valued for it) but they really love it. There's even a lyric-less "Zou Bisou Bisou" scene; that and the Horn & Hardart-like automat cafeteria aboard the ship are probably the best scenes of the second episode.

There's an obligatory 2014 homosexualist sermonette: the detective on Earth is a second tall Nordic blonde as a what-a-waste lipstick lesbian; she's basically Agent Scully out to reveal the truth about the mission. But she gets a practical answer on the matter from the project's head, the founder's son: even though reproduction is controlled (genetically arranged marriages but Norplant, affairs, and the stewardesses as call girls and spies), the colonists are supposed to procreate of course so homosexuals were disqualified in '63.

Interesting detail: while Wernher von Braun, the father of our space program including the moon landings, was a Nazi (I think he was a rocket scientist far above all else, but he did get away with being a Nazi), the project's founder is a Jewish refugee from the Nazis (how 2014 politically correct)... doing eugenics (which was a pet cause of the left, certainly before World War II).

Idiocy note: I'm surprised Syfy would condescend to its audience by using the TV convention of having modern computers buzz and bleep every time you touch them.

The finale's tonight so you can see it and read my take on it tomorrow.

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