The SyFy network’s announced that they won’t be moving forward with Blood and Chrome, a prequel to their critically acclaimed hit Battlestar Galactica, which would have flashed back to the first war between humans and their robot creations, the Cylons. For Battlestar Galactica fans who have missed the space opera, which drew parallels to everything from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to student protests in the 1960s, since it went off the air in 2009, and the show’s prequel Caprica, which finished its run in 2010, this may be bad news. But it’s a good decision by the network. Battlestar Galactica was terrific, but it’s time for SyFy to stop milking the same concept, and to find a new great science fiction show worthy of the network’s name.
In recent years, one of SyFy’s most pronounced trends has been towards fantasy programming rather than science fiction. Alphas, its flawed-superheroes show, is wonderfully fun, but its characters’ abilities are of the X-Men-style, Children of the Atom mumbo-jumbo variety. The biological explanations are for the most part (Gary, who appears to be somewhere on the autism spectrum, is a notable exception) more hand-waving than serious exploration of the human body. Eureka, the network’s show about a town inhabited by the descendants of America’s greatest scientists and their cantankerous creations, is entering its final seasons. The artifacts that are stored in Warehouse 13 and hunted down by FBI agents gone steampunk are decidedly the stuff of literature and legend, rather than scientific discoveries that are key to American hegemony. Haven is about a town with supernatural troubles. Sanctuary is about a monster scientist. The network has no fewer than four shows about ghosts. And its latest mini-phenomenon, a syndication of the Canadian show Lost Girl, is delightful, but that doesn’t make it any less about a succubus making her way in the fairy community.
This seems like a real missed opportunity. There’s nothing wrong with fantasy, and fantasy can set up moral dilemmas as well as science fiction: power is power, and decisions about how to use it can be fascinating whether it’s a new scientific discovery or a newly discovered supernatural ability. But, to go all Southland Tales on it, the future is going to be more futuristic than we imagined, and it’s getting here awfully fast. There are so many pressing questions that would also make for fabulous entertainment. What will it mean for space travel, something we once thought of as a scientific frontier and an escape hatch for humanity, to become a luxury tourism industry? What will it mean to be human as we’re increasingly integrated with our technology, perhaps to the point of having smart implants, like Ender Wiggin in Speaker for the Dead, or a bunch of the characters in Kim Stanley Robinson’s forthcoming 2312? How will technology, medical advances, and the ability to augment ourselves exacerbate our class divides?
These questions are imminent, not theoretical. And they all lend themselves beautifully to television devices. You could do an office comedy about running a space tourism company, or a drama about corruption in the industry and an interstellar land grab. You can have chatty, snarky AIs as characters, or show humans growing overly invested in their technology — Apple clearly means for us to attach to Siri, and as she works better, I can see that happening. When there’s this much potential available, there’s something kind of unfortunate about turning away from the possible and the probable to the purely fantastical. Fiction doesn’t have an absolute responsibility to help us work out our problems, but it’s an incredible tool for helping us think through them. For a network with the motto “Imagine Greater,” that ought to be an exciting prospect.