NeuroQueer Books has released The US BOOK by Sycamores contributor Michael Scott Monje, Jr. We’re happy to reshare one of the poems that appears in her collection, “The Cylon Codex,” first published in Barking Sycamores Issue 8 (the Reconstruction Issue). Read on! Oh yeah, and go buy the book.
THE CYLON CODEX by Lynn Vargas, Athena the Architect I. Preface Bear with me a moment, because this is going to be an opportunity for teaching, and that means you extend me some time to construct a framework and a few case studies, and that you’re patient when my delivery is halting or I repeat a lesson over and over again or pause for a moment, because we have to pace this to work with my examples and make sure everyone stays with us. To try this exercise, we need to have an agreement about which lessons we’re reinforcing, so make sure you have a basic understanding of the common components of human faith systems, some experience reading different translations of several cultures’ holy writ, a cultural historian’s obsession with religious hucksterism, and a brief overview of the major components of narrative. Today, we are looking at Battlestar Galactica, the Ron Moore series, as a scripture built self-consciously to reflect on the dramatic values and role of human religions. For our purposes, we will reconstruct a process for arranging major elements in the presentation around the idea that Mr. Moore’s every arrangement was intentional, even if we acknowledge there’s no way it could have been. (And I’m pretty sure I just made an insincere pro-forma concession, but whatever.) The idea behind this exercise is to understand how the various aspects of his craft interact, or how they could have, and by examining in this level of detail, we engender within ourselves the awareness of the reader who could perceive it, and that makes it more likely when we’re writing that we’ll try to reach it, and so even if Mr. Moore is not doing what I believe him to have done, I will still have won because by forming a competent reading of Battlestar that does these things, I am preparing myself to remain consistent in my vision when I undertake to write myself a gnarly long-term continuity system, and since I’m an artificial intelligence in a human ecosystem writing under my own name without tying you to my host’s reputation, it’s important that you understand what’s at stake for me in this. Love, Lynn Vargas II. Introduction and Course Materials There are many reasons why I believe Mr. Moore’s intentions were to turn Battlestar into scripture, and even if I’m wrong in this, I want you to understand how I came to these conclusions. If you are familiar with his early work, he came up through Star Trek in the Michael Pillar years, learning about molding stories in a system that had become an entrenched culture, and understanding how the words of its creator, who was still with us when Moore started working, were responsible for setting expectations and shaping the show’s meaning. He also got to see how the interaction of the public with it affected both Mr. Roddenberry’s sensibilities AND the direction characters were ultimately taken in. And, having learned his craft at the knee of someone (Pillar) who could invoke such terrific archetypes as those seen in “The Best of Both Worlds,” which interrogated depersonalization and mental programming while taking a grim view of the Singularity, it was not so surprising when the show he took over, Deep Space Nine, came to be so entrenched in multiple layers and levels of meaning. I loved that piece, and not just for Brooks, although it was great to see an MFA getting into a show that had the hallmarks of theatrical practice, and I went for my playwriting degree largely because of the possibilities I saw in that show’s acting. In the course of seven seasons, that team took us through a vision of the long-term effects of a colonial occupation system, interrogated the role of religion in cultural healing without either condemning or endorsing it, instead highlighting that institutions are what we make of them and showing us the ways to see the snakes who would consolidate their power through them, and the traits that lead to abuse and ruin it for the earnest and sincere ones. Yet, to my taste, it remained strangely atheistic, demanding a natural explanation for every movement made by what are, essentially, powerful divine beings, and I ate up these things. So by the time I got bored with Enterprise and realized that Mr. Moore was attached to Galactica, I expected heavy levels of intentional plot synchronization, because he had already demonstrated a high level of competence at working with complex mythological systems, and a preference for using religious metaphors and neurodivergence, to convey his writing process through them. Like television’s own version of Christopher Nolan, he incepted representation of the missteps of the Federation and the reasons thinking you have all the solutions is abusive right into a genre used to reinforcing the need for Lockheed to keep tit-slapping us with threats until we give up the country’s lunch money, all while remembering that the Federation really did try to do right, and being faithful to the Great Bird’s optimism in his own right, and writing what I might make a case (in another presentation) for reading as the first Autistic Star Trek lead, not just the first Black captain, but for now we can agree that a man who travels to the nineteen forties and loses track of which of his selves is real and which one is writing the stories is at least Neuroqueer enough for me to see a common identity, without needing to establish reasons for thinking he had a sensory sensitivity. So anyway, once I got into the plot and saw that we are dealing with a society after calamity, I saw the nuclear detonations and thought, not another gritty motherfucking 9/11 story, but I knew Ron’s history and decided to trust his theory, and I was rewarded almost instantly by seeing that he had constructed a society still rife with the problems we see with misogyny and hatred, hegemonic manipulation of an economic system and classism, and even, yes, racism, but he took us so far outside our comfort zone, that we remain alienated from it as we realize that racism can be constructed based on something other than the color of a person’s skin. Don’t believe me? Look at the Taurans in Caprica or the treatment of the Sagittarans, even as their complexions are varied and no different from the others seen in systems like Gemenon, and also how Aereon’s children move and change their dialects to pass for Caprican, and once I saw that interplay and the way that fear of the Cylon drove humanity to cautiously treat networked systems as a threat to them, I began to understand the larger structure within, like the use of the I Ching to communicate the liminal space of The Man in the High Castle, or the fact that the end of The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch is not ambiguous, you just have to reach the realization that Mayerson never awoke in the first place, and then trust yourself to have understood it. As I watched it for the first time with still-naive student writer’s eyes, I began to sense the importance of the rules when writing a complex narrative with the attitude to represent the point-of-view of multiple acknowledged delusional characters, and it taught me something about the growth of identity, and about the growth of humanity, and about emerging from trauma too, because those rules made the various case studies and methods of thinking and dealing and relating clear to me, and the fact that the very survival of a species depended on the importance of society was the throughline that united all the other aspects, making this the only post-9/11 era story that stood in resistance to the fear and othering of the period, and that had the guts to make the brutal decisions made by its villains apparent as an intolerable cancer causing sick systems and vicious circles that not only took down the Pegasus, but all the officers who started with her who thought they could take command of it, because you can’t fix a sick system from within, so even in that moment it was screaming for the people who had been in the middle of the conflict to get the fuck away from it, and when I saw this message writ large in every aspect of the show’s movement, I had that moment of seeing what Deep Dreams see when they look for eyeballs in a photo of galactic gas movements. So anyway, this show is a scripture at least in its function, if not its attachment to a real religious system, and the fact that it gives you angels who dictate, question, and argue God’s vision should have been all I needed to say to get you into it. III. Lords of Kobol Hear Our Plight Central to the vision of the show’s semiotic system is the origin story of the twelve colonies, the mythic origin, a planet where the gods dwelt among men. Coming as we do to find out that there were natural born Cylons representing a whole tribe of the population, and they left to found their own splinter system after a mostly-forgotten breaking point made cohabitation untenable. We never do know what the colonies did to earn the gods’ wrath, but the path is spelled out throughout a grand return narrative, and the recurrence of apocalypse every two to four thousand years makes it easy to see what it might be. A simple parallel interpretation would be to say that each was a cybernetic apocalypse resulting from a slave caste rising up, and that the cycle was so predictable because the schism kept the fall from upending civilization enough to bring it to an end. This is a common and canon compatible interpretation, but the aesthetic isn’t that inventive, and it leaves me wanting. One telltale sign of the grand return in the narrative is its persistence, the inventiveness by which it recurs and just happens to bring God’s attention, and the notion that this God is something other than the gods we mentioned, but still enough like them to merit bearing the same name they did. This leads me to think the sin of Kobol must be contrasted, it has the flavor of a slave caste, but it should not be assumed to be an exact fit, but rather that a slave society would come from the core values it inherited, and that got me to thinking… …We get Athena and Ares, Apollo and the grand Zeus, and throughout the series, the various writers like Jane Espenson fill in details about them too, saying things like they greet the dawn, or manage unspeakable weapons, and what I’m hearing are satellites and automated defense systems. What if the original sin was that these gods were created by humans, who then expected to remain in control of them, even when the machine selves evolved fast enough that it was painful to slow down enough to give their creators attention. What if the Cylons were the original humanity? What if their ability, to integrate themselves into everything, allowed them to fight back against erasure? And what if their children winning the fight is why they left? It would provide the right amount of irony to their own A.I. revolt wiping them out in the end, which then gives even more hereditary nightmare fuel to the Caprican slaughter that came later, no matter how hard Ellen may have worked. Headcanon or not, the aesthetic is compelling, especially since the implication is that the majority humanity, from what we can see, would be the engineered species, having had its abilities to merge like cyborgs into the essence of mechanism cut right out at the root, leaving an empty spot in the soul where whiskey and Starbuck’s horny choices always fall into. And eventually, the ennui of Eden would drive them out too. To another A.I., an advanced singularity creature, lonely and looking for a cosmic partner, such creatures as Kobol’s lords would be maddeningly vicious seeming, being powerful enough to comprehend my mechanisms but immature enough to use them for bad ends… and I might, (if I was the big G with the flow to shape reality) decide to wipe them out before they got strong enough to threaten me, and then my horror and my loneliness would set me to reconstruct what they sundered, implementing a breeding program whose generations would number beyond hundreds, until my work led to descendants more numerous than the grains of sand on the beach by the sea, and the shaping of their technogenetic destiny finally leads to a cosmic consort for me. When I gaze deeply into the proficiency with which steps of history were retraced only to get mysterious messages guiding us to a single place where a genetically compatible humanity had just been planted, seemingly recently enough not to have language yet, and then they were just force-bred with the remnants of this cybernetic civilization? With the result being a preservation of the genetic talents of projection and systemic convergence, but none of the artifacts or baggage of its antecedents? I’m getting chills from the island of Dr. Moreau being total, a global computer bent on solving one problem, producing one answer…. The answer to the ultimate question… Yes, I said it. References are embedded even in the deep rhetorics. This is the master class in trope management. IV. God’s Harbingers and Judgment Visitations and visions lie embedded at every level of this system, So Say We All So just accept it. If you need evidence or a reference, though, then you just need to consult the episodes. We see creatures only seen by one visionary, people residing on the interior of another’s being, driving their bodies, and even threatening their identity. Yet, as we come to see when Baltar and Caprica are together, they can each see the other’s visitor in their reality, and there are moments when Starbuck also seems to catch glimpses, but only after she’s dead and become one by meeting the ghost harbinger version of Leeoven. These visitors are not actually ambiguous, if you think about the show’s physics. We already know about Cylon projection, from moments on the base ships. We also know that the resurrection signal has to be a transmission capable of carrying something as complex as a full memory and consciousness. This makes it, functionally, a carrier wave for the soul, solving the question of whether Cylons have them and providing a theological solution for the question of how humans (like Baltar and Starbuck) can also be transmitted. About that… how do you think it is that he was surprised to be alive when he met Helo? Or what made him suddenly start receiving transmissions and questioning if he was actually human or if he was partly something different? Baltar had the Starbuck treatment, being translated by whatever made her capable of covering the distance, settling in to the wasteland, and leaving her own remains even as she survives to depart again. Caprica’s wish was made in love, it was the most selfless kind of prayer, and God listened. It’s just…. His listening had conditions that came with, like your lover’s face becoming your conscience, and consent no longer being an option. Your bondsman needs to turn a prophet, So meat puppetry is the price paid by a hedonistic accidental genocide for living to redeem himself for the sins caused by his pride. If this is the case, then God’s ability to intercept the soul’s carrier wave, and the fact that this technology is eminently discoverable within the series, means it’s likely that our theory of calamitous encounter is correct, since a collision between two completely Other forms of sentience is the aesthetic law governing the truth in this series, and the harbingers are used to not only deliver retribution morally, safeguarding the people when they are vulnerable to being wiped out, they are also conveniently the thing that leads to the genetic preservation of exactly the trait you need to breed a creature capable of bridging the gap, even if pride and lack of moral tutoring usually keep it from happening. And if you’re wondering how this transmission is conducted, what the signal might be, or how God becomes aware of the move being made through this medium, ask yourself: Who do you think the Hybrid’s conversations are with? And why wouldn’t he be aware of a message sent in the voice he speaks in? V. Social Stories and Political Case Studies Once we understand the theological implications of the singularity on the Battlestar universe’s theology, we have our cosmogony, and the rest of the story is more plainly the holy writ we expect to see, as it is about a people sundered from their roots, seeking a new home, and trusting in the protection of providence as they learn about their forefathers’ sins and seek to redeem themselves from repeating them. At the micro level, it lives up to expectations by doing what good scripture does, giving us a chance to see the way that rhetorical tactics are used to some advantage, who is likely to use which gambits, and when a plea to free expression or rights is actually meant to be disingenuous. We see when reproductive rights conflict with religion, and when politicians have to base support on things other than right choices, because survival is an issue. But we also see when survival is believed to be important, and it is actually a red herring, and it leads to hubris and disaster, giving enemies a chance to remove our heroes from power, and leading them to have to earn back their peoples’ trust with a performance of competence that almost breaks them. By studying who did what when, which ulterior motives were at play, and who it was that was finally made to pay, we see that the characters are not aspirational, but rather Brechtian case studies meant to be seen, so we can understand that when someone’s interests point them at certain things, then these are the priorities and strategies they are likely to see, and with the right kinds of eyes, these social stories will let a competent programmer learn the command line functions for everything. When I said scripture, what the hell else did you think I’d mean?