In honor of Glen A. Larson’s recent passing on November 14, 2014, I am running several reviews about books related to Battlestar Galactica, his most famous and greatest creation.
In academic literature about popular culture, scholar-fans have to strike a delicate balance between analyzing the work through a scientific lens and appreciating the work as art. I suspect most potential readers would not read Battlestar Galactica and International Relations just to learn basic international relations concepts (there are plenty of good IR textbooks). However, readers also expect the academic discipline to provide new insights into the show. Fortunately, most of the chapters in this book pass the test; they both enhance my enjoyment of Battlestar Galactica and raise thought-proking questions about politics.
One word of caution beforehand. This book is about “international relations” only in the broadest sense. The book includes chapters about human identity, genocide, insurgency, and religion. I would have titled it Battlestar Galactica and Political Science. So don’t expect an analysis of why Cylons don’t set up embassies on Caprica. Also, if focuses on the BSG remake during the 2000s, not the original BSG.
The chapters on genocide really drove home the subtlety with which BSG remake handled the topic. As Jon Bohland notes, in BSG we see genocide from the perspective of both the perpetrators and victims. In Season 1, the Cylons attack the Colonies and nearly wipe out humanity. In Season 3, President Roslin struggles with a decision to use a biological weapon against the Cylons. Bohland argues that, by depicting the protagonists as both victims and perpetrators, provides a more challenge and educate viewers about genocide than most movies about real-world genocides.
Another interesting point raised in the book is the importance of the concept of “otherness” in BSG. Obviously the theme is present in the show, but the chapter by Nicholas Kiersey does an excellent job bringing the theme into focus. I found this chapter enhanced my viewing of BSG because I had previously had trouble reconciling the Cylons as robots with Cylons as religious fanatics. After all, the 12-ish Cylon models don’t look or act like “robots” (or at least what we’d expect from typical sci-fi robots). The chapter convinced me that ultimately the Cylons’ identity as “others” was more important their arc throughout the series. In that sense, Caprica Six has more in common with ethnic minorities than with Asimov’s robots or the Terminator.
For readers pressed on time, I’d recommend chapters 3-4 and 6-11 in particular. The first two chapters are a bit too erudite, even for me. I’d recommend this book for BSG fans who are somewhat familiar with academic articles, although readers do not need much in the way of knowledge about international relations to follow the discussion.