Planetary Explorers Confounded By Giant Enigma

Don’t mess with the Giant.

We learned that fundamental rule very early in our stay here. The natives take their god seriously.

“Do Not Touch” is a simpler way to put it.

Our lesson came the hard way. Six of our best people were killed on the first expedition to the Giant – felled by the otherwise most congenial people we have ever encountered on our planetary explorations.

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We don’t know whether the Giant is animal, vegetable or mineral. It was visible from orbit upon our arrival, which was the primary reason we set down here. The giant rules the horizon, driving us crazy with its nearby unknowability.

The giant appears to be worshiped by the planet’s primitive humanoids. We’ve been close enough to see the structures erected at its feet. Temples?

We’ve observed that some of those who march, single-file to the temples every four planetary rotations don’t always come back. Sacrifices?

Theories about the nature of the Giant abound, as one might expect in a scientific community denied access to the focal point of its curiosity and further hampered by an incredibly hostile environment.

A few of us speculate that the Giant is a natural landscape feature, mindlessly forged by the same forces that shaped the planet as whole.

Unlikely.

The least discerning eye cannot escape the detail of the Giant’s sagging face and posture. Random elements of nature could not create that figure.

More likely. The Giant is a mountain, painstakingly transformed, Mount Rushmore-style, as a tribute to some fallen hero from the planetary past.

Yet, the inhabitants to not appear to have the technological means to create such a monument.

That leads to my pet theory: The giant was a living being. He was a member of a king-sized race which preceded the current dominant species.

Slumped in despair at the demise of the rest of his kind, he was the final victim of an ice age that suddenly engulfed his world.

I am alone in this flight of fantasy. Most scientists, meaning those who are not me, require empirical data to support a hypothesis and form a theory. I had gone straight to theory.

I argued that, completely lacking scientific evidence for any theory explaining the giant’s existence, my conclusion was as valid as any other. As highly-educated and rational people, my fellow expedition members refrained from burning me at the stake, but I could read the look of dismissal in their eyes whenever we met.

Then came the awakening.

I had taken advantage of a toasty, minus 40-degree day to make a solo trek to an ice ridge about a quarter-mile from camp when the ground abruptly heaved and tossed me on my face. Somehow, I did not feel surprised when I looked back to see that the giant had risen and was facing the camp.

He did not look pleased.

I watched in horrified fascination as the giant strode purposefully toward the camp. The ground shook with each step.

When he reached the camp, he paused to look down on those who had invaded his domain. The entire expedition had grouped at the edge of the camp, staring up at the giant with, I assumed, an intense, scientific thirst for knowledge.

I cupped my hands and shouted in their direction.

“Ha! I told you so!”

Big mistake. As my words of vindication still echoed across the barren landscape, the giant squashed all of my colleagues with one well-placed foot.

Now, he’s coming in my direction. I wonder if I can somehow convey “I believe in you, Mister Giant,”  when he gets here.

 

Expounding on The Expanse

SPOILER ALERT

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Syfy has another contender for its winners column with The Expanse.

The new series made an impressive double debut Dec. 14 and 15. The show is Dark Matter done right — mixed with a little Killjoys to produce something that might even rival the gritty, dramatic appeal of Battlestar Galactica.

Blasphemy, I know. Also going out on a limb for an unproven series, but the first two episodes have been that good. Besides, I’ve been out on that limb before (Dark Matter, Zoo), and I know that the fall won’t kill me.

The Expanse encompasses a large swath of our solar system — from Earth to the asteroid belt. I was excited to see that the Human Race had colonized all the way out to Ceres. I was disappointed that greed and war had been taken along for the ride.

But, hey. What’s a plot without conflict?

We’ve got conflict aplenty, here. It’s Earth vs. Mars vs. The Belters. Earth, run by a sinister United Nations which has somehow grown very sharp teeth, is at the top of the pecking order. Coming in second are the rival Martians, a name requiring some mental adjustment knowing that they are humans who are neither green nor small. At the bottom are the rebellious Belters, who mine the asteroids and are heavily dependent on the kindness of the “Inners” for little things like water and air.

The war drums are pounding, and the Martians seem to have the biggest drumsticks.

In the premier episode, an asteroid mining ship, the Canterbury is taking a load of precious ice back to Ceres when it reluctantly responds to a distress call from another ship. The Canterbury is nuked for its trouble, vaporizing 50 crew members and leaving only the five who had been sent to investigate the disabled freighter alive. Things go downhill from there.

The world-building gets off to a fast start. Viewers get looks at life on Ceres and the political structure on Earth. It seems that UN officials are not above “gravity torture” when it comes to extracting information from off-world terrorist suspects.

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The characters develop nicely for an opening episode. On Ceres, we’ve got Josephus “Joe” Miller (played by Thomas Jane), a hard-nosed Star Helix Security detective with a heart. Lost in space is Canterbury second officer and reluctant acting ship’s executive officer Jim Holden (Steven Strait); and fellow Canterbury crew member Naomi Nagala (Dominique Tipper), the captain Holden will never be. Back on Earth, we get a taste for UN authority with Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), nasty deputy undersecretary.

The special effects are great — from tiny details like how birds might fly on a low-gravity dwarf planet to exterior scenes in deep space. The plot, with its world-building and political intrigue, has me anxiously looking forward to learning more in episodes to come.

Syfy has pulled out all the stops in its website supplements to The Expanse, including this very cool interactive page: http://www.syfy.com/theexpanse/enterthefuture/inside

It’s almost as impressive as the premiere. Check it out, then check out the series.