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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Book Five: BSG Theology

My SPOILER-heavy dissections of Lords of Kobol - Book Five: Of Gods and Titans continue ...

As the title promises, this is about The One True God, its Messengers and the greater Galactica universe.

Since it is so SPOILER-laden, we'll commence after the JUMP.

(If you've already read the big theology post I made a few years ago after I finished the trilogy, you're likely to see some overlap here.  Just a heads up.  Don't feel the need to go back and read that one after this post.  Not unless you really want to, I guess.)

Back in the fall of 2009 (holy frak ... six years ago), when I finally decided to write Lords of Kobol, I created a spreadsheet in Excel.  Running down the left side, I listed everything we knew about the Lords from the show.  Along the top, I created two columns.  One column was labeled "Lords are Angels" and the other was "Lords are Cylons."  In all my pondering after the then-recent end of the series, these were the only two possibilities.  The column for "Cylons" filled up the quickest.  I was able to devise decent solutions and scenarios to match up with what we saw in the show.  For the "Angels" argument ... that was more difficult.

The show was (in)famously cagey about who or what "God" is and the exact nature of its Messengers, the "Head" characters.  In reading interviews with and listening to podcasts from the creators, it was clear that this was an conscious choice.  They didn't want to explain everything.  I completely get that.  And since we're dealing with "God" here, the nature of that being is supposed to be nigh indecipherable to mankind.

If I had made the Lords angels (like Head Six), then I would have to "explain" God.  I would have to create a theology and universe for something that was deliberately muddy.  I didn't want to do that.  I knew that whatever I created couldn't measure up to people's own expectations.  That only helped make the case for the Lords as Cylons.

So I made the trilogy.  The Messengers appeared throughout, of course, influencing people and doing their thing.  Setting up contingencies for the end of the world ... and then it hit me.  While I was deep into Book Three, I had one of those eye-widening revelations that changed everything.

I had kinda thought of Head Six & Head Baltar as the R2D2 & C3PO of the Galactica-verse.  They were always around, doing their thing, but only on the fringes and only occasionally coming to the fore for one reason or another.  This is fundamentally incorrect.

The Messengers are the focal characters of the whole piece.  Their mission is the survival of mankind and that is a millennia-long effort that plays through the Lords of Kobol trilogy (and now Book Five), into Caprica and Galactica with the fall of the Colonies ... and the fall of Earth I ... and then, as we see at the end of "Daybreak," Earth II, as well.  Throughout human history, the Messengers are always there.  They have their schemes to guide and influence so that humanity continues to exist.  For more than 150,000 years, the angels are among the people doing what they do.

Yes, they are frequently in the background.  Yes, the drama of the story swirls around other characters, but often those characters are caught up in situations influenced by the Messengers.  They're not the droids from Star Wars ... maybe they're Keyser Söze.  No, because they talked about Keyser all through Usual Suspects and the angels don't have everyone talking about them as much.  I'll think of a better analogy later.

I'll admit it.  I panicked a bit there at my computer desk.  I was in the middle of the end of the world when I realized just how important to everything the Messengers (and by extension God) really were.  I knew I had to do some measure of explaining.  I had no idea what or how.

Then I thought of the Tree.

It's a simple, evocative thing.  A tree.  It branches and grows and diverges and bends.  It's a metaphor for anything I wanted.

I needed to preserve free will.  We saw in the show that sometimes a character could defy the will of a Head being.  That means the angels aren't allowed to make them do anything.  The characters have to be guided or goaded into it.

Brief tangent: I've always been fascinated with contemplating infinity.  The primary way I explain it in my head is through the multiverse theory.  That for every choice I make, there is another universe where I chose something else.  Think about your own day today.  Do you get up when the alarm first sounds or after one snooze period?  Do you put on this shirt or this shirt?  Do you have this for breakfast or something else?  Driving to work, do you go this way or that way?  What if you jerked the steering wheel right now?  Or now?  Or now?  Each microsecond offers a host of choices for you.  Now multiply that host of choices by seven billion people on the planet.  That's a shton of free will.

Thinking about free will this way always reminds me of a good episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, "Parallels."  In it, Worf finds himself bouncing around the multiverse.

Ah, a tree of choices and possibilities.

It took a few days, but I remembered this episode and thought of a tree.  A tree of free will, growing and growing thanks to the choices made by sentient minds.  If The One True God wanted this "tree" for some reason, that would give incentive to the Messengers to ensure that humanity survives and is free to choose so that the tree can grow more and more.

So I had "explained" the mission of God and the angels, but not in such a way to destroy the mystery around them.  The "tree" is ethereal enough to remain elusive to our grasp, but its imagery is simple and understandable.

That's when I wrote what would become the first chapter of Book Two, the one that shows The One placing the Messengers on Kobol to guide the growth of the tree.

In so doing, I also came up with the idea that this "god" was something of an extradimensional scientist, watching our universe through something akin to a microscope.  Think of a scientist looking at a slide of amoebas and paramecia.  If that scientist wanted to influence the organisms there, sure, he could poke them or something, but what if he could create amoebas that he could program and send onto the slide to do his bidding?  The amoebas could then interact on a whole 'nother level with the native amoebas on that slide.

That's pretty much how I view the angels in Galactica.

Now.  I had done what I didn't really want to do.  I had pulled the curtain back and explained the nature of the unexplainable.  I wanted to keep it murky, though, I still had some ideas.  That's when I decided to write Book Four.

To keep things murky, I had to cloak all of the detail in poetry, almost.  That's why I used the flowery prose of a Tolkien hack.  I could talk about the "light" of these Messengers leaving them and "going in unto" a human, so that the human gives birth to a demigod.  It's interesting and very reminiscent of Greek myth itself, but it's not realistic.  At all.  That lack of realism makes it feel wholly divorced from the world of Galactica, which is something I knew was essential to making my books work.  It's the thing that makes the choice of the Lords as Cylons easier to make and something, I feel, that makes the trilogy as good and connected to the show as it is.  It's also probably why Tales from Ancient Days isn't as well liked as the rest.

(Regarding Book Four, the best idea I had from it is that Prometheus and Athena are the angels we know as Head Six and Head Baltar.  I'm still somewhat disappointed that I couldn't work that concept into the trilogy, but ... oh well.)

What are we talking about?  Oh, yeah.  Book Five.  Geez.

Since Of Gods and Titans is a prequel, we see Zeus & the Olympians sorta like we see Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins.  They're working at becoming who we know from the trilogy (Zeus especially).  The same is true for the Messengers.

The One True God deposits them on Larsa with about 150 years to go before it all ends.  They spend much of their time trying to figure out their limitations in this universe, how humans work, and how they can influence them.  They can see "future echoes" which helps them decide whom to try to influence and how their efforts are going.  When it comes to Larsa, though, the world will end.  It's their job to save some of the people because the rest will die.

In the show, Head Baltar seemed standoffish.  He was aloof.  Head Six was reverent of The One, though.  She seemed to have faith and trumpeted the whole "God is love" concept.  I wanted to show how those personalities developed.

The Messenger who would later become Head Baltar was attracted by warfare and intrigued by the power of fear.  He experienced failure in one of my favorite chapters as he attempted to influence the Caesar.  But then he was profoundly affected at the very end ... something I'll get to later.  Does all of this add up to aloofness?  Maybe.  But it's still many centuries before the fall of Kobol, Earth I or the Colonies.  And he seemed to be closer to his regular personality in the trilogy.

(Yes, when an angel takes on the form of a person, they take on their memories and traits ... but I would suggest that some of the traits of the Messenger itself can come through at times.)

The Messenger who would later become Head Six is different.  She was intrigued by love and, most importantly, faith.  She was attracted to the Gaber family because they were so faithful and some of that faith rubbed off on her.  By the end of the world, she was dejected.  She saw what she perceived to be the futility of their faith and their devotion to God.  Her experience with The One at the end of the book changed all of that.  It solidified the idea that "God is love" in her mind, even if it only lasted for a moment.  She had used faith as a tool, though, and she would again and again.  The stars in her eyes faded once she was back in reality, but she knows the potent power it wields.  She experienced "God is love" firsthand.

Knowing this also explains the last scene in the series.

Head Six calls The One "God" and Head Baltar says, "You know it doesn't like to be called that."  (Which we see at the end of Book Five.)  She shoots him a look and the other Messenger smiles and says, "Silly me."

Why "Silly me"?  Because she knows what The One truly is and that it doesn't like to be called "God."  Still, she uses the power of faith to guide people into doing her, and by extension The One's, will.  She's so good at acting the part of a starry-eyed believer that even her companion of eons momentarily forgot that she doesn't really have that faith herself.  Silly him for making that mistake.

I'm leaving out a really big part of the end of Book Five.  The very end with Ahljaela, Ares, Caesar and the Messenger.  It's super important to the BSG mythos, so I'll give it its own blog post tomorrow.

Thanks again for reading.


  1. Just completed book 5.

    Wonderfully splendorous! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!