Ron Moore's original series bible for Battlestar Galactica is online, and it's full of critiques of "bumpy-headed aliens," "techno-double-talk" and other Star Trek mainstays. The most important thing to remember about the Cylons? "They are not the Borg."
The jabs at Star Trek from Moore — who had only recently ended a long stint on The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and (briefly) Voyager — are the first thing that jump out at you when you read the bible. Moore is out for "nothing less than the reinvention of the science fiction television series." And that means avoiding "the usual stories about parallel universes, time-travel, mind-control, evil twins, God-like powers and all the other cliches." And the roster of characters should not include "'the cocky guy,' 'the fast-talker,' 'the brain,' 'the wacky alien sidekick' or any of the other usual characters.
It's sad to realize that in 2003, when Moore drafted this document, televised space opera included not only Star Trek, but also Stargate and Farscape. (And Lexx had recently gone off the air.) So even though Battlestar Galactica succeeded in a lot of Moore's aims, helping to reinvent the space opera genre, it also was one of the last space opera shows to make it onto television.
But once you look past the criticisms of Star Trek-style space opera, you get to the details of Moore's reimagined BSG universe, and you realize just what a master world-builder the man is. (There's a lengthy discussion of the terminology that a Viper pilot will use when flying back into Galactica's docking bay.) And how clever a lot of the early details of BSG really were — Moore goes into a lot of depth about the fact that the Colonials had to remove computer networking from all of their machines to avoid having them taken over by the Cylons. And this has had a huge impact on their overall technology:
A useful way to think about this is to take any piece of equipment and strip out its ability to talk to another piece of equipment. If your cell phone did not have access to a computer network, how efficiently could it operate? Could it operate at all? How do you design a navigational system for a spacecraft if the various components cannot be networked together? How do you design a fighter that relies more on human brainpower to identify threats and make decisions than anything built into the cockpit?
One of the most important concepts is that there is no "master computer" aboard Galactica or any other Colonial ship.
In fact, our computers are very dumb in comparison to even the PC sitting on the average writer's desk. We should always endeavor to find ways of forcing human beings to do the hard work involved with operating and maintaining a spacecraft. Human brains need to crunch numbers, organize data, and come up with solutions to complex problems.
His description of Cylon society is also pretty interesting, with its emphasis on art and beauty and individuality — and Moore writes: "In general, the Cylons should be an extension of current, cutting edge ideas about how computer technology could potentially be exploited and be put.to use in the service of an artificial intelligence." (Unfortunately, it seems like some of Moore's grander ideas about Cylon society failed to translate that well when we finally spent more time on a baseship, in season three.)
One of the fascinating things is that Moore talks about how the Galactica crew could encounter alien life forms — like, actual aliens, who aren't Cylon or an offshoot of humanity. And how these creatures would be completely unlike any lifeform we've ever seen, not like the usual science fiction aliens.
There's also reams of backstory on all the show's major characters. (Interestingly, he envisioned Commander Adama as defending personal liberties against Laura Roslin's more "hawkish" tendencies.) And Moore elaborates on his theory of arc-based storytelling, which he credits to Hill Street Blues. And he talks about how to maintain the feeling that the Cylons could attack at any time:
As a general rule of thumb, we should encounter an actual Cylon raid every third episode and in between encounters our people should constantly be studying and testing new ways of fighting their implacable enemy. It's important to note that while the Cylons were virtually invincible in the pilot, that there will be a more level playing field as the series goes on. This will be a result of the natural tendency in warfare for both sides to learn from their enemy, and develop new counter-measures for their opponents' strengths. As a general rule, Galactica's fighters are generally outmatched in combat with the Cylons, but the more we fight them, the more we learn, so that this week we have a temporary advantage and next week it's gone again. The on-going struggle will force both sides to constantly improve their technology and tactics to keep pace with their enemy.
All in all, the Battlestar Galactica series bible is a must read for anybody who's interested in science fiction world-building and the process of creating an arc-driven television series from the ground-up. And it's definitely a reminder how fresh and exciting the show was when it launched. [Battlestar Galactica series bible (PDF), via Between The Pages]