Stargate: Universe Is the Perfect Show for Me

Lately I’ve embarked on another rewatch of Stargate: Universe (one of the few TV shows I like enough to have the full series on DVD). I’m once again struck by how fiercely I love this series, and while I’ve already talked about it on this blog some, I felt compelled to gush some more.

The starship Destiny in Stargate: UniverseRather than try to make the objective argument that Universe is a great show, however, I thought I might look at why it appeals so strongly to my own personal artistic sensibilities.

Not that I don’t think it’s an objectively good show, and not that I would be unwilling to make that argument, but I think it may be more interesting to examine my personal relationship with the show, and why it’s so perfect for me.

A journey into the unknown:

One of my favourite scenes in all of fiction comes near the end of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Q Who,” where Q hints at what awaits Starfleet in deep space:

It’s not safe out here. It’s wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross… but it’s not for the timid.

This, to me, cuts to the very heart of what speculative fiction is all about: The wonder and the terror of the unknown. Sci-fi, fantasy, and horror are about expanding your mind. They’re about making you think it new ways, about new things. They’re meant to expose you to ideas and concepts you never would have considered otherwise.

But that’s just one scene. It’s a brilliant scene, from a brilliant episode, but the rest of Star Trek has lived up to that promise only sporadically at best.

Dr. Rush examines his own skull in Stargate: Universe

Alas, poor Nicholas, I was him…

Stargate: Universe, however, is that one line of Q’s adapted into an entire series.

Space — as depicted on Universe — is a scary place, filled with deadly hardships ranging from the mundane to the incomprehensible. It’s full of threats to snuff your life in an instant, and terrors to chill the soul.

But it’s also a place of beauty. Audience insert character Eli Wallace is always a wonderful reminder of just how lovely and wondrous so much of what Destiny discovers is, just how cool it all is.

Universe gives us both, the terrible and the wondrous, the bitter and the sweet. There’s battles with ruthless alien monsters, and there’s the thrill of aero-breaking through the atmosphere of a gas giant. There’s the brutal deaths of beloved crewmembers, and there’s the beauty of garden worlds never before glimpsed by human eyes.

And at the heart of it all are questions about the very fundamental nature of life, the universe, and reality itself. It makes you think. It makes you wonder what could be out there. It makes you ask yourself how much of the universe we still don’t understand, and what the answers to our questions might reveal.

That is what speculative fiction should be at its best. That’s what Universe was all about.

The Destiny flies between galaxies in Stargate: UniverseDark done right:

I’m a fan of dark, grim stories. Anyone who’s read anything I’ve written can confirm that. It’s not like Leha’s life was all sunshine and lollipops.

I remember back in the TrekUnited days I was always butting heads with people about this. I wanted Star Trek to be darker. I wanted Stargate to be darker. I wanted everything to be darker. I was fed-up with stories where there were no consequences, where characters were always shiny and perfect.

Nowadays the pendulum has swung the other way. Dark stories seem to be the order of the day now. Perhaps due to Game of Thrones, it almost feels like TV shows are now in an arms race to determine who can have the most gore, the most tragedy, the most warped and twisted characters.

You might think I’d be happy about this, but I’m not. I think the current trend toward cynical fiction misses the point of what makes grim stories compelling in the first place.

I don’t want stories that wallow in awfulness, that revel in the worst aspects of humanity. The point of a dark story is to make the light, the optimism, the goodness shine all the brighter.

The cast of Stargate: UniverseThat’s what so much of current television — so much of current fiction generally — doesn’t get. But it’s something that SG:U understood very well.

One of the iconic lines of the series is when Colonel Young declares, “These are the wrong people, in the wrong place.” That sums up the character of Universe very well.

The people aboard the Destiny find themselves in an impossible situation, trapped on a decaying alien ship they have no control over at the far end of the universe. To make matters worse, none of them are quite the right people for the job. They’re all battling their personal demons, and things only get worse as the stress of their situation begins to press down on them all.

But they don’t give up. They keep fighting — to get home, to survive, and to be better people. For all their many and sundry flaws, deep down they are largely good people. And that’s what makes it such a powerful show. Watching them triumph despite their demons.

I don’t like stories that are too shiny and happy because they feel cheap. They feel dishonest. When the characters succeed, it doesn’t feel earned.

That’s what makes darker stories more interesting. If the characters are allowed to fail sometimes, it makes it all the sweeter when they do succeed. It does feel earned.

The sky over an ice planet in Stargate: UniverseThat’s what Universe gets so right that so many other shows don’t. It’s grim enough to feel real, and uplifting enough to inspire. It’s the perfect balance of joy and sorrow, darkness and light.

That’s what I crave in fiction. That’s what makes a story stick with me, and that’s why Universe will always be a favourite.

Things I Hate About Things I Love

I think nuance is important in life. It’s always good to remind yourself nothing is entirely good or bad, to see the flaws even in things you enjoy. Blind devotion is never a positive trait.

To that end, I have compiled a list of things I truly hate about things I truly love. None of these things are enough to turn me off my passions, but that doesn’t mean they don’t really get under my skin.

This is by no means a comprehensive list; it’s just the things that stood out to me as I was writing.

And just so you know, to continue the theme of balance and nuance, I will also be doing a post on things I love about things I hate.

World of Warcraft: Mandatory subscription

There’s no shortage of things I could have picked where WoW is concerned. It’s a game with much that I love, but also much that I would gladly purge with cleansing fire.

I settled on the subscription. I’ve said it all before; I don’t like subscriptions and the psychological pressure they create.

My warlock's awesome new look following the Blood Elf model revamp in World of Warcraft: Warlords of DraenorIn WoW’s case, I find the subscription is having an increasingly toxic impact on the game’s design. More and more the overriding thought behind Blizzard’s decisions seems to not be “How can we make this more fun?” but “How can we make this take longer?”

Star Trek: Enterprise: Gratuitous T&A

Enterprise’s infamous decon scenes and other acts of shameless fan service have received much criticism, and while I think it’s a bit unfair to act as if this was something new to the Star Trek franchise (mini-skirts — just sayin’), it does deserve to be criticized.

Yeah, it’s sexist. It’s also silly, ridiculous, and unnecessary, and it cheapened what was otherwise a fantastic piece of intellectual science fiction.

I mean, I was going through puberty when Enterprise was on the air, and even so, I still didn’t enjoy the decon scenes.


Seriously, though, even then I was like, “This is dumb. Why are they doing this? I mean, I like seeing Linda Park in her underpants and all, but really, this is dumb. Get back to the plot.”

At least they made some small effort toward being equal opportunity. Trip did spend an awful lot of time in his underwear and/or sweaty and covered in dirt.

Yeah. This happened.Fun fact: TrekUnited’s “let’s drool over Connor Trinneer”  thread was roughly ten to twenty times longer than the equivalent threads for Jolene Blalock and Linda Park combined.

This is not an exaggeration.

Battlestar Galactica: Season four

I have a lot of love for Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica reboot. My autographed photos of Katee Sackhoff and Aaron Douglas sit proudly next to my computer desk. My pilot’s wings pin occupies a place of honour on the headboard above my bed. One of my first major writing projects was a massive BSG fan fic up that ended being nearly novel length. BSG produced three of the best seasons of television ever made.

And then season four happened.


I mean, there was still some really great stuff in season four. I loved the mutiny arc. The acting and character arcs were fantastic until the end. “Revelations” was possibly the best episode of the series.

But most of season four was defined by random drama and shock value for the sake of drama and shock value. It killed off beloved characters for no apparent reason.

A screencap from BSG's rambling mess of a series finaleWorse still, it became clear that, despite what the opening credits said, they did not have a plan. The writers were clearly making it up as they went along, and in the end, the show “collapsed under its own weight,” as an old friend of mine aptly put it. The ending was a nonsensical mess that boiled down to two hours of “a wizard did it.”

The first three seasons of BSG were so brilliant that season four cannot diminish what they accomplished. But that’s not for lack of effort.

These days I mostly try to pretend season four ever happened. Though not as hard as I try to pretend Blood and Chrome never happened.

Stargate: Universe: Montages

I loved SG:U. After its shaky first few episodes, it evolved into one of the great sci-fi shows of all time. But there’s one nasty habit it never quite shook off.

Those damn musical montages.

Nearly every episode had to conclude with five minutes of the cast staring off into space and looking depressed while some crappy song plays in the background. It never stopped being irritating.

The starship Destiny in Stargate: UniverseTake that time and come up with some proper opening credits instead. Would be as useful.

Mass Effect: Asari

With a few notable exceptions, I’m not fond of the alien races in the Mass Effect franchise. It feels like very little effort was put into them — they’re almost entirely bland archetypes the likes of which you could find in any generic sci-fi story.

The Asari stand out as the worst, though. They’re basically an entire species of adolescent sexual fantasies — gorgeous, bisexual alien girls. Considering how progressive Bioware tends to be, shameless fan service such as the Asari sticks out like a sore thumb.

I find it ironic that the games try to make it this offensive stereotype that Asari are defined by sex, but the games spend more time stereotyping them than any of the characters. There’s next to nothing unique or noteworthy about the Asari culture or temperament other than their sexuality, nearly all Asari plots revolve sex or relationships in some way, and Asari strippers are utterly ubiquitous.

Admittedly, my view has perhaps been skewed by the fact Liara is the most prominent Asari in the franchise. Her entire personality boils down to, “Gee, Shepard, you’re so awesome; wanna feel my boobs?”

Catching up with Samara in Mass Effect 3: CitadelIn fairness, Samara is pretty cool.

Heroes of the Storm: Dragon Shire

I was going to mention the amount of filler in Bioware games, but then I remembered how much I hate Dragon Shire, and there wasn’t room for both.

Heroes of the Storm’s map variety is one of its great strengths… unless you get Dragon Shire.

I hate this map so very, very much. It’s just endless back and forth — you can easily go ten to fifteen minutes into a match without either team winning the map objective. It’s so slow, and so tedious. It’s also really easy to get screwed over by your team composition in quick matches because you need a very specific set of heroes and roles to hold all three shrines effectively.

It also seems very snowbally compared to other maps. Winning the dragon is such a massive advantage, and there’s no “consolation prize” for the team who doesn’t capture it. It’s agonizing to spend half a match fighting over the damn thing, only to have the enemy team cap it and wreck half your forts because your team made one mistake.

Oh, and it has the most boring visuals and the dullest announcer of all the maps.

Zoning into a Heroes of the Storm match as JohannaI have my highest win rate on Dragon Shire, but even that does nothing to quell my hate for this awful, terrible, no good map. I have at times (briefly) considered quitting Heroes because of Dragon Shire — I’m not kidding.

Fantasy in general: Lack of diversity

This isn’t necessarily something I hate, but it confuses and disappointments me.

Science fiction has a pretty rich tradition of showing a future where humanity is more united and giving us diverse casts composed of a good balance of sexes, races, and even sexual orientations.

Fantasy, for whatever reason, isn’t like that. The vast majority of fantasy novels are about straight white guys. If an author is feeling really daring and progressive, it might be about a straight white woman.

There are a few exceptions. Ian Irvine and Glen Cook have made at least some effort toward racial diversity in their casts, Mercedes Lackey gives good representation to LGBT characters, and… that’s all I got.

I guess Dragon Age could merit a mention, too. Good balance of sexes and sexual orientations, at least.

StarCraft II: Too much macro

The beginning of a Starcraft 2 ladder matchStarCraft II is one of the great RTS games of all time, and the countless hours I’ve sunk into prove my love for it. But it always bothers me how much of the game boils down to macro, to economy.

If you run your economy well, you can all but ignore what happens on the battlefield, at least until you reach the highest levels of play. I remember hearing a guy saying he made it from silver to platinum league by giving up on commanding his army and just devoting all his attention to macro.

That’s pretty messed up.

And it’s just boring. Way too much of every game is spent churning out workers, and pylons, and overlords, and so forth. “YOU MUST CONSTRUCT ADDITIONAL PYLONS” is a meme for a reason, but it’s not necessarily a good reason.

Everything: The fans

“It’s not the band I hate. It’s their fans.”

The sad truth is I have yet to find anything that can’t have the fun sucked out of it by its fans. The worst part of playing WoW is the other WoW players. The worst part of being a Trek fan is the Trekkies. And so on and so forth.

That’s not to say you won’t encounter nice people in fandom. Some of the best friends I have were made through fan communities. But on the whole, I’ve found my every attempt to engage in the fan community for any game, TV series, movie franchise, etcetera has ultimately proven frustrating and lessened my enjoyment of the original product.