Saturday, July 07, 2007

Ultimate Force vs. The Unit - Parte Prima

It's probable that you, who read this blog, are at least a passing-affection aficionado of the SF/F genre and things related to it. As such you may be familiar with the thought-game played by by some fans, where they go "So, whatcha think, in a fight between the USS Enterprise and a Star Destroyer, who's gonna win?" That, for those not in the 'know' is a question comparing two completely different universes and realities. Apart from a serious suspension of disbelief to begin with—you've got to accept the credibility of the premise(s), but why not; in fiction you do it all the time, so that's cool—you've got to perform another leap of imagination and actually accept two of these fictitious worlds at once, and then you've got to compare them.

But it's fiction, and people who play this game are probably considerably saner than governmental think-tanks who imagine much more insane things—and who take themselves seriously. So let's keep that in mind. I'd rather listen to the screwy things going on at your average sci-fi convention than to think-tank wallys. The former, apart from anything else, aren't a gazillionth as scary.

Anyway, suspend your disbelief for the following discussion. I'm talking about fiction here, even though that fiction is derived from fact, namely the existence, in the US and the UK, as well as most other nations who can afford it, of 'Special Forces'. In this case, in the US, those known as 'Delta Force' and in the UK as the 'SAS' (Special Air Services). Now, let's not draw any conclusions from the two series 'based on characters' from said Special Forces units—The Unit from Delta Force (one of the producers is Eric L Haney, former Delta Force member and author of a fascinating account called Inside Delta Force) and Ultimate Force from the SAS (based on which, according to its founder's Delta Force, it was modeled)—to what the real people are like. The representations may be accurate in some respects and not in others; in fact this is almost certainly the case. But the issue isn't how 'real' things are, but let's take this as complete fiction, similar to the Star Trek and Star Wars universe scenarios mentioned earlier.

The Unit is not being shown at the moment, but Ultimate Force, Season 4, has just started. There will only be five episodes, though they're all double-length ones, but seeing the series again I asked myself a few questions, that go a tad deeper than your usual USS Enterprise vs Star Cruiser scenario, which is a purely military one, since Jean-Luc Picard usually doesn't factor into this and the captain of the Star Cruiser is completely anonymous and might as well not exist. These questions have as much to do, I guess, with the nature and character of the real-life models for the two groups, the national spirits and personas of the nations that gave birth to them, as well as the character and context of those who write, direct and produce the two series.

Don't get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy both series, but I definitely enjoy one of them more than the other. So, I wondered:
  • Given the choice of inviting any of these people into my house and having dinner with them, which of these guys would I invite?
  • Suppose the two teams in question were set up against each other in whatever might qualify as a 'fair' confrontation—that is, one in which it would indeed depend on the teams themselves, rather than their support systems, who would have an advantage—who would I bet on as winning this thing?
  • Given the nature of these people—after all they have to be a certain dispositions, which wouldn't exactly qualify as 'pacifist'—whom would I rather entrust my life and that of those people I care about?
These questions, relating as they do to purely fictional characters—remember that, please; for this isn't a Reality Show—are pertinent, if for no other reason that they relate to a whole host of issues I'm wanting to tackle in Dance of Tigers. Having these two examples placed before me is extremely helpful, as fiction often is, for other fiction writers. Also being very helpful at the moment is a little book called The Existential Joss Whedon, which ponders, at length, the existentialist dimensions of Buffy, Angel, Firefly and Serenity. Having it laid out like this is fascinating, because I realize just how much of one's philosophy does indeed creep into one's fiction, written or cinematographic—intentionally or not.

I mean, I know it does, of course, because how could it be different. But how openly it does is another thing altogether. I mean, I do try to keep this stuff underground and the story on the top, so that it doesn't sound like I'm preaching or using my characters as mouthpieces, as some real bad fiction writers did, do and will continue to do. But then again, everything a character, protagonist or antagonist, says, is a construct of the author's mind, so I guess you can't win here. Still, one can try to be subtle and keep the messages and meta-messages subterranean. Having just read through both Fontaine and Tethys, I notice just how woefully I have failed to do this. Comes as a bit of a shock, really.

The other thing that comes as a bit of a surprise is the 'existentialist' thing. I never really had a lot of time for Sartre, the arch-existentialist, because I found and find him by and large too damn depressing. I read some of his stuff during various university courses I did years ago, but it was like "how about you get a bit of a life here, man!" What a humorless philosophical downer. Camus was a considerably more to my liking and less morbid, but when it comes to existentialism I'm really all on the side of Colin Wilson, who probably has the best take on it, if you will. And, yes, I deliberately ignore that Kierkegaard even existed, because he blinked. 'Religious existentialism' is an oxymoron; at least in my book.

Still, I share a lot of philosophical ground with Sartre, and reading The Existential Joss Whedon is reminding me of that. Doesn't mean I disagree with even more, and the book reminds me of that, too. Because existentialism, like all systems of thought, has what I think of its 'silly nooks', where stupid ideas live, that are by no means consistent with the rest of the system of thought in which they appear and are more the result of the philosopher's laziness and, to use a Sartrean term, 'bad faith'—something Sartre was guilty of himself aplenty.

Anyway, all the things you notice when you look more carefully at something you thought you'd sorted out a long time ago—only to find that very little has been 'sorted'....

(And, yes, I'll get back to The Unit and Ultimate Force soon. We still have to sort out those questions up there, right?)

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