September 26, 2010

Asobi ni Iku Yo -- comments on the Cathean ship

We hypothesize that the Catheans have faster-than-light travel but they don't have faster-than-light sensors. There are only two ways to find out what's going on in a given star system: look at it with telescopes (with the inevitable centuries or millenia latency and poor visibility), or visit it to look around.

The Cathean mother ship is on an exploration mission. They move the mother-ship to an unexplored section of the galaxy, and then the mother ship dumps out a whole bunch of one-person scouts, that being the Rulos and her sisters. The scouts are capable of short-distance star travel (maybe 20 light years) but aren't capable of traveling galactic distances. The pilots of those ships (including Eris) all work for Chaika, commander of the exploration team and one of the top officers of the ship.

Each scout is assigned (one?) previously unexplored star system with instructions to check the place out. Does it have planets? What kind of orbits are they in? Are any of the planets habitable? Do any of them have life? How evolutionarily advanced is it? And prize of all prizes, do any of them have intelligent life? How advanced? Have they discovered stone tools yet?

Those advanced scouts are elite-of-the-elite. If they do make contact with a tool-using alien race, that very first contact is critical and can set the pattern for all future interactions. Get it wrong, and friendly relations may become impossible.

So the scouts are heavily trained, and are selected for certain characteristics, which Eris displays in spades. (And no, I'm not referring to her breasts.) Eris is smart, kind, even-tempered, happy, brave, resourceful, personable, even charismatic. She is exactly what you'd want a scout to be to give you the best possible chance for successful first contact.

Part of being a scout is that if you do luck out, you get to be the ambassador. This is an honor. It's a duty. It's also a considerable risk, as this series makes clear.

Eris hit the jackpot. The system she was assigned to explore contained a planet inhabited by a technological civilization which was within a couple of hundred years of developing star travel; it's the prize of all prizes for this kind of exploration mission.

Especially because Eris had reported her strong suspicion that the Doggies had been on Earth for quite a while, and that they were behind the first attempt to kidnap and kill Eris herself. Hardly any wonder that Captain Kuune decided to move the mother ship to the Sol system when they received the first reports from Eris. She clearly was going to need the resources and support of the ship. (No, they didn't show up because they wanted to taste braised beef. That was a joke.)

Ubu in comments mentions just how nice Eris seems to be. I don't think there's any reason to believe that this is a racial characteristic of the Catheans, though they do in general trend that way. It's a selected characteristic of the crew of the ship, and in particular it's a selected characteristic of first-contact specialists like Eris.

Most scouts won't ever find a planet like Earth, but all of them are ready to do so if luck favors them, and they're all trained for that mission. Any of the rest of the people working for Chaika would have been about the same, because anyone who isn't wouldn't qualify for that assignment.

Eris certainly understands the gravity of her situation, and the burden of responsibility on her is heavy. But she handles pressure well. And again, I think that's the result of selection. Likely they test for it, and those who don't handle the pressure don't get that job.

I'm thinking of a contemporary earth equivalent: submarine service in the US Navy. Crew for subs are recruited from the rest of the navy, and they're all volunteers. There are ten times as many volunteers as there are positions to fill, and they undergo really very strict testing to make sure that only the very best get in.

One test I've seen film of involves putting some of the men in a chamber full of pipes and valves, and having high pressure water leaks develop. This is something that can happen in a real submarine, and if you don't handle it well the sub could be lost. So the test is very realistic: it's loud, it's cold, the water pressure is very high, and by all accounts it's terrifying. Some men who go through it panic and start screaming and try to escape instead of dealing with the leaks. Obviously those don't pass the test.

How many billions of Catheans are there? How many volunteer for this kind of mission? Millions, maybe? Only the very best of the best make it through, and those are the ones we're seeing. Hardly any wonder they're impressive as hell.

The mission is a complex one. The Catheans are trying to make a good first impression on Earth, obviously. They're also trying to find out the real deep truth about what kind of people the humans are, and that's at least as important, and probably even more difficult. (And they're trying to avoid having the Doggies derail the whole process.)

Doing a knowledge-dump from the local library was a valuable part of that, and you have to believe that as soon as Eris transmitted all that information to the ship that a team of specialists on board began reading and evaluating it. But direct observation of how humans react to the Catheans, and direct observation of humans in daily life, is also immensely valuable and that's one of the areas where Eris shines. Close observation of three particular humans has been another aspect of the process, and the Catheans have learned a lot from Kio, Manami, and Aoi.

Eris has made mistakes. It's inevitable that there will be some misunderstandings (the swimsuits) but she hasn't made any that seriously jeopardized the mission. And all through the series, what becomes clear is that Eris (and Chaika, and Kuune, and Melwyn) are tremendously competent at their jobs.

Title of the show notwithstanding, they are not there to have fun. They are having fun, but that's not the mission.

UPDATE: Ubu responds (spoilers).

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in Engineer's Disease at 11:32 AM | Comments (1) | Add Comment
Post contains 1054 words, total size 6 kb.

1 Along these lines, "asobi ni iku" doesn't necessarily mean "to go to play", in the English sense of the word. It could be visiting a friend for the afternoon, going out sightseeing, any sort of "casual" excursion. But there's also another, less-common meaning for the verb asobu: "to study abroad".


Posted by: J Greely at September 26, 2010 12:21 PM (2XtN5)

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