I have long been a big fan of science fiction literature. My first favorite authors were Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Ira Levin and Isaac Asimov, and despite the fact my reading routine has expanded somewhat in the intervening years, my interest in alien societies and their interaction with human beings has not waned.
On TV and the big screen, I`m just as much a sci-fi fan. From `Star Trek` to Star Wars, `The X-Files,` Planet of the Apes, three Matrix movies, several versions of Dune, plus all of the Terminators, I`ve seen more than my share.
But I wasn`t prepared for what I think is clearly the most compelling sci-fi series yet made: `Battlestar Galactica.`
Because `Battlestar Galactica` is not just about pointy-headed humanoids who somehow speak English fluently while wreaking havoc on the space-time continuum. Rather, BSG is about the world we live in today, and how bad it could get if fundamentalist terror is not stopped.
`Battlestar Galactica,` you see, is a not-so-loosely drawn metaphor for a universe torn apart by jihad. The show began its third season on the Sci Fi Channel Friday night, Oct. 6.
Keep in mind that the `Battlestar Galactica` I`m talking about is not the cheesy series of the late 1970s that featured a robot dog named Muffit. The new `Battlestar Galactica` was launched as a mini-series by the Sci Fi Channel in 2003, featuring high-end production and superb acting, writing and direction. It quickly rose to become the top-rated program on the network.
`Battlestar Galactica`s` protagonists are human, but they`re not from Earth ` rather the `12 Colonies of Kobol` that seem to share with us a common Homeric.
In this parallel universe, human beings have created a race of artificially intelligent robots known as Cylons to serve man. In standard sci-fi style, the robots rebel and war breaks out. An armistice is drawn and the two sides separate for 40 years until a surprise nuclear attack by the Cylons kills billions, leaving less than 50,000 humans alive in the galaxy.
The humans who survived the genocide were those who had been `off-planet` during the attack, most onboard what the show describes as a `ragtag fleet` of spacecraft defended by a single aging warship ` the Battlestar Galactica.
Over the course of the next 33 episodes, there are battles between humans and Cylons, inter-species intrigue, and plenty of mythology and back-story to keep even the most die-hard sci-fi fans fully engaged.
But `Battlestar Galactica` ` which has been described by critics as `the best show on TV today` ` is not really about space at all. It`s more a drama that happens to be set in space. The show is about human relationships and what happens to survivors after a holocaust of such immense proportions.
Now, here`s where the parallels with our own universe become sinister. The Cylons ` the genocidal bad guys ` are monotheistic believers in what they call the `one true God` while the humans are a bunch of polytheistic pagans who pray to little idols they keep in their storage lockers.
The Cylons believe God speaks directly to them and their actions ` however morally and ethically reprehensible ` are according to a carefully laid out (and slowly revealed) `Big Plan.` The Cylons have somehow internalized a belief that they are the new inheritors of the mantle of Moses (or Zeus in this case), with humans as the infidels who must be eliminated at all cost.
Sound at all familiar?
In one particularly politically challenging episode, a group of survivors decides it`s human beings who are really at fault. They conclude that the reason Cylons hate their creators and have murdered most of humanity is that humans simply treated the Cylons poorly.
All humanity has to do, this group argues, is to admit its wrongdoing, appease the Cylons and they will willingly lay down their arms and stop trying to kill the survivors. The military responds that giving in to terror is not an option, but it is another suicide bombing (this one by the humans themselves) that ultimately derails the debate.
Such parallels for our own Middle East reality ` and the global war on terror in general ` are what make `Battlestar Galactica` at once riveting and deeply disturbing.
Despite the BSG`s overall depiction of good guys vs. bad robots, the show consistently confounds the ability for viewers to easily take sides. The Cylons are for the most part beautiful and sexy. They are networked to each other in ways to which our own bio-silicon designs can only breathlessly aspire.
The humans, on the other hand, engage in petty squabbles, descend to fisticuffs on regular occasions, swear, sleep around, drink and use drugs. There is inter-human gang warfare and a black market replete with corruption that extends to the highest echelons of political leadership.
When a captured Cylon tells the human commander of the ship something along the lines of `maybe you don`t deserve to continue on as a race, maybe we are the new chosen ones,` the words don`t sound ridiculous.
Battlestar`s second season ended on a compelling cliffhanger. Over the course of the show, we learn that, despite their strong monotheism, the Cylons are no more uniform in their beliefs than humans. Two influential Cylons convince their fellow evildoers to declare a truce ` what would be called in the Middle East a hudna, of sorts.
The Cylons can`t exactly `convert` the humans, but there will be no more killing ` as long as humans agree to live as second-class citizens, lacking equal rights under the benign, `loving` occupation of their robot masters. It`s a twisted space-age dhimmi.
The show asks tough questions that are particularly relevant and `in your face` to someone such as myself, living here in the gritty reality of the Middle East.
What if terrorists, or states that sponsor terror, get their hands on weapons of mass destruction?
What if the `normal` assumptions about the power of d`tente to constrain both sides don`t apply? We`ve already received a taste of that in the past summer`s war between Israel and Hezbollah. What if that had been a nuclear conflict?
When you live in a tiny country that is the subject of daily threats of total annihilation from a near-nuclear neighbor, and have lived through a punishing barrage of more than 4,000 missiles in 32 days, the questions posed by `Battlestar Galactica` can sometimes feel too close for comfort.
Brian Blum writes the syndicated column `This Normal Life.` He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and three children. Contact him at brian@ThisNormalLife.com.