Science fiction is compelling like few other narratives, as it's the space-travelin', open-the-pod-bay-door-HAL, candy-coated shell to a firm center of serious truth. The genre is enjoying a revival with the blessing of excellent writing by those who understand the power of delivering impactful ideas wrapped in the gossamer of fantastic surroundings. This Birdie wasn't game for adding yet another thing to the DVR list, but became engrossed with Syfy Channel's Caprica, the prequel series to their widely-hailed Battlestar Galactica redux. I initially thought of it as network-hyped, big budget eye candy methadone for BSG-withdrawal, but was pleased to see that Caprica clearly has its own story to tell. Frak Yeah.

The series' genesis revolves around the tragedy of a religious fundamentalist terrorist bombing of a crowded passenger train that leaves a city in emotional shambles and the lives of two families in distraught as the respective patriarchs grieve the loss of their daughters  killed in the attack. Amid the technobabble of an alternate galaxy of planets and headband gadgets that allow people to exist in Sim City-like virtual worlds, the grief that is profiled in these different families of contrasting cultural and economic backgrounds is resonant with the sting of 9/11 that haunts their every step. The scenes of mourning cuts deeply, and by then you know you're helplessly hooked in.

Things get complicated when one of the family's daughters, Zoe, a brilliant and disillusioned teenager, is discovered to be involved with the terrorists behind the attack. A tailspin of grey area follows, as characters begin to churn up the sediment of morality and religion, and the roles people choose for them to play in family and love. In this faraway galaxy of planetary colonies, the technology exists to create fully-formed avatars that live in virtual landscapes, not unlike the way we navigate the universe of social networks and multiplayer online games. Before Zoe dies in the attack, she had made a self-aware avatar of herself that is able to exist indpendently in the virtual world, leading some members of the religious fanatical group to consider her a prophet and proof of a divine soul existing after death. Her wealthy scientist father, Daniel Greystone (think Steve Jobs to the tenth power), discovers his virtual daughter, and like a futuristic retelling of the ominous fable of The Monkey's Paw, he brings her back into his crumbling family's life by putting her into the prototype of a humanoid cyborg. He also dares to navigate the murky waters of using the avatar's advanced AI technology to further his equally crumbling corporate empire.

In contrast to the Greystone family's elitist world of science, wealth and serious father-daughter interpersonal issues, is the working-class Adama family, where Joseph, the old man of BSG's "Old Man," is a portrait of emotional unrest, mourning the loss of both his wife and daughter who died in the attack. The Adamas are Tauran refugees from a neighboring planet -- proud, orthodox, intensely family-oriented, with a blood-for-blood culture of retribution. A mix of the mafia with the overtones of racial persecution, the Tauran people are a fierce combination of family devotion and strict adherence to old world values.

The portrait of scientific innovation clashing with humanity's quest for soulful meaning becomes clear, as the virtual Zoe Greystone grasps at mortality by developing a sense of self-preservation. The Adama family's tenuous integration into Caprican life smacks of cultural legacy at the price of intellectual progress. The consequence-free virtual reality of digital avatars predicts a terrifying vision of a world without morality; hints of our own forays into creating apparitions of our real selves, either through Facebook accounts or characters in an online game is of course intentional, and intended to make the viewer squirm. The creators behind Caprica created a comfortably distant galaxy of worlds light years from our own little blue planet, but populated it with lost souls who are heartbreaking reflections of our own struggles with fast-moving times and the quest for spirituality.

Jaunty Fine Print: Photo Illustration by Denise Sakaki; images taken from Syfy Channel website

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