ASCENSION is an original mini-series that was shown on the SyFy channel in December 2014. The show, although originally six episodes, was shown in three parts over consecutive nights.
The basic premise is that in 1963 a generation ship was secretly sent towards Proxima Centauri on a hundred year journey. The story begins 51 years into the trip, supposedly with the second generation in command. (Come to think of it, there didn’t seem to be anybody over 50 on the ship – surely the people who started the journey would’ve been in there 20s or 30s at that time, so some would still be alive and not doddering idiots to be hidden in the ship’s equivalent of an attic?) There are also scenes on Earth involving the people who are running the Ascension program.
First, I want to make the point that I don’t want to dwell on the highly dubious morality of using hundreds of unknowing people as guinea pigs in an experiment, being willing to gas them if things go wrong, and for the head of the project to expect to be summarily taken out and killed when he’s replaced as project head. I will not say much about the plot but only mention in passing that it was soap opera-ish with gratuitous nudity and explicit sex. Instead, I will try to concentrate on the story from a science fiction point of view.
Back to the story.
In Part 1, several things don’t seem to add up. For one, the ship doesn’t seem to rotate to provide gravity. If the ship rotated the “walls” of the cylinder would be the floors, not what seems to be floors in a normal building. For another, the group on Earth seem to get information about what is happening on the ship almost immediately, where it should take about 2 years since the ship is about halfway to Centauri. And how could such a huge ship have been launched in 1963 without anyone noticing? (This was also a problem in the movie Interstellar.)
Then, at the end of the first part, we learn the truth. It’s a fake, a simulation. But the people supposedly on board the ship must believe they are headed for the stars. This, of course, answers the second and third points in the above paragraph. There’s no communications time delay because the Earthlings are standing right next to the “ship,” and there never was any launch to keep secret.
But this doesn’t solve the problem related to gravity. Of course, the ship isn’t rotating: it’s not a ship. Gravity is just like on Earth (because they are on Earth). But wouldn’t the ship people realize something is wrong? Surely there must have been scientists in the original group. And it can’t be accelerating at 1g because I calculated that the velocity after 50 years at 1g exceeds the speed of light.
In Part 2, we learn that the best and brightest were recruited for the “trip.” Didn’t they notice that there was no launch? (I can hear the first captain: “Wow, that was a really smooth launch – I didn’t feel anything!”) And how did they even get the people on board in a convincing manner, since the “ship” is inside of a building? You see a ship, but no rockets! The ship people would’ve had to have been drugged, put on board and awakened after the ship had been “launched!”
Harris, who’s the son of the program’s originator, now heads the program. He says that the program has paid for itself, because of things these ultra-bright people have invented, such as MRI. Now, I can imagine them working on the theory behind MRI, but where would they get the material (metal, etc.) and the means to manufacture it? (We actually see one on the ship in Part 3.) We also see someone using a primitive type of tablet sized computer (this is probably what they refer to as a stenotab). Again, although they could’ve gotten the ideas for smaller and smaller computers, as was happening in the real world, there is no way they could’ve obtained the materials and manufacturing facilities to make the integrated circuits and other components of a laptop or tablet (or even a desktop). Remember that in 1963, computers were huge, not personal, and couldn’t do very much compared to today’s small devices. Similarly, although there are regular books in the library, videos seem to be on a card smaller than a DVD.
Either the writers don’t know much about genetics or great progress has been made in that science. There are no love matches on the ship: couples are paired by the computer. In one scene it is implied that the pairing is genetic, in a later scene a character mention sending in his “profile” (genetic profile or simply their version of match or eharmony?) In the 1960s, genetic testing had not been invented. Even now, we do not even have a definition for “genetic compatibility” much less have a way to test for it. All you can really do is make sure that the potential mates do not both have a recessive gene that combined can lead to disease, for example, sickle cell anemia.
In Part 1 I wondered how they achieved population control since it was mentioned that a baby can’t be conceived until someone dies. The birth control pill was fairly new in 1963, but it is possible that they would have some aboard. However, in Part 2 we see that a girl has a contraceptive implant and in Part 3 we learn that they get them at puberty. But here on Earth, research on subcutaneous implants wasn’t started until 1966 and not marketed until the 1980s. So was this something else they invented on the ship?
The ship is supposed to be going to Proxima Centauri. That is, of course, the name of a star, not a planet. Nothing is said, or seems to be known about any planets around that star. And yet, that doesn’t seem to bother anyone. They’re blithely preparing to terraform a planet not known to exist, using some bulldozers and seeds brought from Earth.
In Part 3 things get even weirder. In Parts 1 and 2 we have seen a teenage girl named Christa who seems to know things before they happen and shows other paranormal gifts. Harris says that she’s the goal of the experiment. According to his father, it would take three generations to reach “morphic resonance.” Morphic resonance is a crackpot theory of Rupert Sheldrake. If you’re interested, you can read about it at: http://skepdic.com/morphicres.html
In the final climactic scenes things are going to hell on the ship, and Harris says: “They will go to the stars.” Then Christa saves one of the crew by focusing real hard, creating electromagnetic whatever, and teleporting him to … wherever. So what’s the plan? She’s going to teleport everyone and their equipment to the same wherever? Not to belabor the point, but note the spelling of her name.
So much for the improbabilities of the story. There are plenty of problems with the part on Earth, including the difficulty of keeping a project with so many people involved secret for over 50 years. One wonders if the President knows about it.
I just want to make a few general comments before ending this and allowing the show to mercifully fade from my memory.
One general problem, is that the writers don’t seem to have given any thought to what would’ve been taken on the ship or made there.
It’s well known that wherever mankind goes and whatever organic material is available, some means will be found to create alcoholic beverages (see for example the TV series M*A*S*H). But it makes no sense to take up room on the ship with bottles of wine and fancy wine glasses.
Cloth would be at a premium and clothing would be utilitarian. It is inconceivable that this valuable resource would be used to make evening gowns and high heeled shoes and men’s formal wear. There is also plenty of cosmetics on board including lipstick and nail polish. (At one point, one girl says to another: “I totally want that lipstick back.” Amazing that Valley talk developed independently on the ship.)
Even the set design for the ship wasn’t consistent. Mostly we see a vertical cylindrical plan with ring-like floors and vertical stairs. But sometimes we see a very long hallway which wouldn’t fit into the ship.
And then there’s the problem of the mole. Somehow Harris has an inside man on the ship. He has a high position and is married and has a young adult daughter. How can you sneak someone on board when there are only 600 people? Wouldn’t someone have wondered “who the hell are you and where did you come from?” The only way to have an insider would be someone from the beginning who knew it was a fake. But such a person would have to have been well over 70 and this mole definitely wasn’t.
To conclude, my husband thought that the show’s rating of LSV (language, sex, violence) actually stood for laughable, stupid, vulgar.
--Velvet Belle Tree
--Velvet Belle Tree