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"Do all sci fi epic battles end with a Macaguffin?" Topic

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Gorgrat16 Jun 2021 4:44 p.m. PST

Could somebody please fix this???

Gorgrat16 Jun 2021 4:47 p.m. PST

This was a really nice topic, and took me a little while to compose, and I lost the whole post because I was trying to remove the duplicate topic.

Not the greatest tragedy in my life, and somehow I'm sure I'll manage to smile through my tears and move on, but it is annoying

Gorgrat16 Jun 2021 5:06 p.m. PST

Temper tantrum over.

Anyway, I was asking whether the trend of ending every major military battle in sci fi being ended with some technological macguffin pasted onto some version of "all we are saying is give peace a chance" will ever get old (at least to Hollywood). Whether its Sheridan telling the Shadiws and Vorlons to get the hell out of our galaxy, or Crichten telling the Peacekeepers and Scarrans that he will blow up the galaxy with his wormhole weapon… it's gotten a bit predictable.

Note that this is very different from earlier sci fi, such as original Star Wars, or Star Trek's Balance of Terror. While each of these featured an all-powerful macguffin, the victory came with overcoming it.

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP16 Jun 2021 5:20 p.m. PST

Not sure what you're asking.

A MacGuffin is something integral to the plot of a story which in and of itself serves no other purpose— the actual nature of the item being irrelevant.
The Maltese Falcon, from the novel and films, is a good example. It really isn't important that it's a statue of a falcon, or really that it's "Maltese". It's just an object of (assumed) high value which everybody in the story wants and will do anything to get. It might as well be a really great ham sandwich.

Thus, given that a MacGuffin is a plot motivator to kick off a story (or a scenario), I don't understand how a battle could "end in a MacGuffin."

Do you mean that the ultimate goal of the battle is the capture or destruction of a MacGuffin?

I would point out that in the strictest sense an object with functional, in game capability is not truly a MacGuffin. The Death Star is not a MacGuffin, as it has functional relevance based upon what it is— it can blow up spaceships and planets, and could presumably do so as part of a scenario. Therefore its nature is relevant and integral to the plot of the game. However, a scenario to recover the stolen plans for the Death Star would treat the plans as being a MacGuffin, as their nature has no impact or importance to the battle scenario itself— they might as well be the Emperor's favorite pair of pink, frilly underwear, as far as the battle is concerned.

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP16 Jun 2021 5:23 p.m. PST

Ah, typed while you were explaining. But still the end story moralizing isn't a MacGuffin, it's a moral, or an epigram. It's not a function of science fiction, but of storytelling. Most stories, even simple entertaining ones, have a point to make about human existence, even if it's "don't talk to strangers."

Gorgrat16 Jun 2021 5:47 p.m. PST

I'm using the term more generally, and perhaps lest properly, ad a big, bad ass, hey, check this out while I whomp the galaxy, plot device.

Again, perhaps less well defined, but I imagine you get the point.

JSchutt16 Jun 2021 7:17 p.m. PST

Yes…. It is firmly embedded in the genre.

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP16 Jun 2021 9:09 p.m. PST

For epic space war stories, often… but not always. And while that's a trope, it's not a MacGuffin.

Take Space: Above and Beyond as an example. While some episodes do have a MacGuffin, I can only think of one that has anything to do with a Dangerous Bad Guy Weapon, and it's only a single alien fighter ("Chiggy Von Richthofen") that's really good at shooting down Earth fighters. It has some sort of superior minor tech, but in the end it's no galactic threat. That show is a good resource for space battle scenarios, too.

In any case, essential to any battle, real or imagined, is a reason to have it. And essential to a work of fiction are obstacles for the protagonists to face— and in epic fiction the obstacles must seem insurmountable— the heroes must be on the verge of failure (or even suffer a temporary one) and then when all seems lost, rise to defeat the obstacles and obtain the cathartic release the audience expects— or perhaps even fail, to carry the message the story seeks to address. Thus, a grand obstacle or final opponent of some sort is indeed usually present at the climax of the story, and the triumph over it (or not) leads to the denouement— the final actions which close the story and ease the audience out of it, feeling emotional satisfaction (of some sort) from it. That's how fiction works.

Covert Walrus16 Jun 2021 10:15 p.m. PST

Jschutt, certainly in visual media. But it ended pretty quickly in literature as people moved away form the "world-shattering" space opera of prewar Jack Williamson and postwar Doc Smith: In fact, it probably reached an end with the delightful little piece by Sir Arthur C Clarke, "Superiority".

Only occasionally does it turn up in modern written space opera SF – And even then, mostly in Star Trek fiction.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP17 Jun 2021 6:56 a.m. PST

The B5 and Farscape conclusions are not inherent in SF, but in the modern intellectual West. The notion that the war isn't about anything, and so needn't be fought to a conclusion has been a cliche of literary fiction since about 1917, and now it's starting to bleed over into SF. No, it's not inherent in SF. Read the Lensman novels, Starship Trooper or Poul Anderson's "No Truce with Kings." Even Eric Flint understands that some wars are necessary.

Give Hollywood something IT imagines is worth fighting for, and video SF will be shot on the level of WWII propaganda pieces again.

DyeHard17 Jun 2021 9:15 a.m. PST

I think he is trying to ask:
"Do all sci/fi epic battles end with a deus ex machina"

That is, something introduced suddenly and unexpectedly that provides a contrived solution to an apparently insoluble difficulty.

Something that serials, like Flash Gordon, were quite famous for to resolve a cliff-hanger.

Since so much of Sci/Fi is space opera or melodrama, this pulled-out-of-the-hat solution to a dire situation is to be expected.

Some examples: In Star Trek "Best of Both Worlds" the battles ends by Data telling the Borg to Sleep. Or in "Independence Day" Data tells the invaders to sleep (that time is was a computer virus) or "War of the Worlds" the Martians die from a virus(or other infection). Or in Star Wars E4, the farm-boy drops a shot into a air duct and the Death Star explodes.

Or maybe he is trying to ask:
"Do all sci/fi epic battles end with beating a "Big Boss"."

Steeling that term from computer gaming. An ultimate foe, That would be something that seems unbeatable.

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP17 Jun 2021 10:40 a.m. PST

Point of order: in your examples, only The War of the Worlds ends in a true Deus Ex Machina ("God by machine"). The term really only applies when nothing in the story sets up the ending and the solution is provided from a source and party unrelated to the protagonists and their actions.

In "Best of Both Worlds" Data's successful command results from the deliberate actions of the crew to access the Borg "hive mind" and rescue Picard. Similarly in the film Independence Day the computer virus (as ridiculous a premise as that is) is deliberately developed by the protagonists for the very purpose it achieves in the film, and the plot to a great extent revolves around this concept.
And Star Wars is in no way a deus ex machina— from the beginning the whole plot revolves around the stolen plans for the Death Star which will reveal its weakness, and also around the young Luke Skywalker being mentored to use the Force to guide his actions. The ending is set up from the beginning and gradually expanded through out— and of course it is the hero himself who achieves the destruction of the Death Star through his own actions and choices. The sole "interference from outside" is the voice of Ben advising him— but that, too, is set up earlier in the plot, especially as Obiwan Kenobi is one of the characters in the film.
In The War of the Worlds, however, there is no hint of any vulnerability of the Martians to an Earth virus, and none of the protagonists are thinking along those lines or working to bring it about. Instead, the collapse of the Martians is explicitly chalked up to the actions of God. Literally, God saves the day when the characters can do nothing. That's what a deus ex machina is.
The arrival of Thor's ship to destroy the Go'auld in the Stargate SG-1 episode "Cimmeria" is a deus ex machina in almost every sense, save that the protagonists are actively trying to contact Thor throughout the episode to achieve that very goal. (Which makes it slightly more satisfying in a story sense when it happens.)

Raider of the Lost Ark ends in a true deus ex machina, but there are hints that it might be coming early on. (And, if you know the Biblical story of the Ark, its power is fully expected. The Nazis should have read up on it a bit more.)

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP17 Jun 2021 11:03 a.m. PST

As to what the OP is contemplating, Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis are in many ways the antithesis of the "all wars are useless" message. Both series revolve around a premise of an extinction-level fight to defend humanity from exploitation, slavery, tyranny and (in the last one) literal consumption by powerful, intelligent and evil alien threats. Surrender is presented as the utmost folly, as is "head in the sand" isolationism… or for that matter a strictly defensive stance. The military is presented largely as positive (especially the US Air Force), while politicians and civilian government bureaucrats are frequently (but not always) depicted as greedy, narcissistic, self-centered, opportunistic, close-minded, corrupt, and completely out of touch with the realities of the situation. But the show also isn't Gung Ho, kill ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out, either. In several episodes it recognizes that military power can go too far, and military secretiveness sometimes is a problem in itself— that there needs to be a balance. Of course, you can ignore all of that and just enjoy the goofy ride!

Korvessa17 Jun 2021 11:17 a.m. PST

I haven't watched a lot of SciFi, but I do enjoy Star Wars & Star Trek – especially DS9 (love the interaction and relationship of Odo & Quark).
But I will admit that it sometimes gets rather annoying that our heroes always save the day by doing some last minute techno-babble. Usually easily & quickly.
If it was so easy to do under pressure, why didn't they design it that way in the 1st place?

Maybe that sort of thing is what the OP had in mind?

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP17 Jun 2021 11:28 a.m. PST

You know, this is starting to resemble the blind men and the elephant. It's an interesting discussion of military SF, but I don't think we can better answer the OP's question until he comes back and makes the question a little clearer.

How about it, Gorgrat?

Gorgrat19 Jun 2021 10:48 p.m. PST

robert piepenbrink

All of this for me thinking about an early piece of scifi that the author, I think, didn't intend to be military, but that shares many of the same issues presented here.

Asimov's Foundation.

Here the deus in the machina is a professor who seems to develop the ultimate "weapon" of a pretty much absolute understanding of how humanity is going to react to problems on galactic level combined with mind control powers.

Oh. And just in case none of that works out, let's throw in a bunch of immortal, I corruptible robots. Just to be sure.

In fact, I think the psionic powers and the robots are just tripe, and the author should have taken a stronger standon whether his "psychohistory" would have stood or fallen on it's own merits.

Personally, I think it would have fallen on its face, as it never dealt with the fact that the now all-powerful (dei) psychohistorians were still humans like any other, and would have been tempted every bit as much by what they could do with it as any previous set of potential tyrants.

But who am I to poke holes? The man's universe was brilliant, flawed or not.

And it did deal with how the deus ex machina would handle more conventional threats, like the brilliant ruler (Cleon II) and the brilliant general (Bel Riose) even if it
needed another Macguffin (or deus ex machina, or how about "something I pulled out of my ass to save the day", just so we're all clear) when it came to the Mule.

My thoughts.

gregmita2 Supporting Member of TMP20 Jun 2021 4:34 p.m. PST

I think it depends on the subgenre of science fiction. Most military SF don't rely on plot devices, but on generalship, strategy, soldiers, etc. E.g. Hammers Slammers is basically all grit, with a good dose of cynicism.
As for the Foundation, I've always taken the multiple layers of plot devices as an admission that Hegel-derived "laws/progress of history" don't work.

Gorgrat22 Jun 2021 7:16 p.m. PST


I tend to agree, with the notable exception of Dickson's Chylde Cycle, which makes considerable use of psychic powers, mysticism and magic all the way up to and including Dorsai, Exotics and Friendlies coming back from the dead and distorting reality on a galactic scale. But, at some point, I suppose, military sf has to be about what man can do to himself.

Der Krieg Geist30 Jul 2021 1:59 a.m. PST

Unless you are a new Star Wars movie…….. then you need to go find the MacGuffin that lets you locate another MacGuffin while you acquire a third MacGuffin that lets the BB track you through the gaping plot holes by spotting yet another MacGuffin, none of which are needed at all for the story to progress because the GG can just steal the BBs spaceship after it has been utterly destroyed and fly off with another duplicate MacGuffin to get to the invisible planet were the long dead uberBB magically reappears with a whole fleet of MacGuffins that can be utterly destroyed by… guessed it right…destroying one more MacGuffin, that is then rendered pointless by yet another duplicate MacGuffin…….

J. J. Abrams
Derek Connolly
Colin Trevorrow
Chris Terrio
Kathleen Kennedy and
Michelle Rejwan :
Should all be banned from the movie industry, permanently and demoted by Disney to man refreshment stands at Magic Kingdom, during the off season for minimum wage, until the end of their days.

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