02 March 2014


Sliders: Nature Preserve

There may not be a TV in this episode, but there's a TV camera. And it's used halfway well. I'll take what I can get. I mean, it makes some sense for our main cast to end up on the evening news in a world where "the unvarnished truth" is valued so highly that everyone must wear a collar that gives you an electric shock for telling a lie: they wouldn't be able to keep their secret so easily. (Plot Hole Alert! Is there no equivalent of the Fifth Amendment in this version of the USA? You'd think it would be many Americans' favourite part of the Bill of Rights. =P)

It's the collars I don't like much. While it's great that Sliders has finally attempted to show how an artefact from one slide could influence events in your next world, the collars don't actually do anything for the plot. Yes, it's interesting to think about how many little white lies we tell even ourselves on a regular basis . . . but such philosophical musings are as out of place in this world as an Allosaurus in modern San Francisco. 

Welcome to San Francisco National Dinosaur Preserve and Spotted Owl Sanctuary!

Oh, look: I typed too soon. =P There's no doubt which movie Sliders is "ripping off" in this episode, is there? I think that if I had been watching the series in the 90s and having the same reactions to the quality of Season 2's writing . . . I would actually really like this one! =D

The thread of awesome missed potential admittedly still runs through the story: this could have been a chance to imagine what earth would be like with dinosaurs as the dominant species and humans somewhere else on the food chain. What kind of technology and culture would we have on such a planet? But when a National Dinosaur Preserve ranger shows up and reveals that dinosaurs are another species seriously threatened by poachers, the satire proves an excellent tradeoff to the fantasy.

So why are dinosaurs being protected? Likely for the same reason spotted owls are protected: for their own sake. We humans don't like losing a species forever. But all this effort would come at a cost. And when the poacher enters the scene, we learn that dinosaur parts are valuable not also for their own sake, but for their life-saving medical properties. He may not be the most virtuous character, but at least he's on Team Human . . . even if he's mostly a mercenary . . . right? 

What would have totally kicked this episode into a higher gear is better chemistry between the ranger and the poacher. I wouldn't mind if it were merely romantic chemistry (because that would have been cute), but the real opportunity here was for a morality play. Remember that the three main characters of a morality play are mankind, a virtuous but boring priest, and a funny, charming devil, with the latter two struggling for the soul of the former. The ranger gets to be our priest figure because she is so straight-laced about the laws; and the poacher gets to be the devil inasmuch as he mixes an enticing sense of adventure with his rebellion. And of course our main cast, representing mankind, would be seriously tempted to pick the poacher.

Then again, perhaps we should stick with the love story. For one thing, there really should be a "marriage" between stewardship of the environment and the proper valuing of human life. For another, it is wrong to rank the saving of species with the saving of souls--and outright disastrous to do so.

But it will be another eight years before this world's Michael Crichton publishes a State of Fear which uses San Francisco National Dinosaur Preserve as a case study instead of Yellowstone National Park. I touch on the well-meaning debacle that is wilderness prevention in the "Two or Three" Book Club discussion of State of Fear. Feel free to crash Meeting 88! =)

Your Turn to Slide: If you could go back in time and protect one extinct species so that it has enough numbers to fill a wildlife sanctuary today, which species would you pick?


Sheila said...

One reason for saving a species is the good it can do for humanity. After all, if dinosaur organs were capable of saving human lives, and we hunted the dinosaurs to extinction, that's one lifesaving treatment gone forever! We have to steward that precious resources so our kids can have it too... and a poacher who wants the medicine NOW, even if it kills the whole species for the future, is a Bad Guy.

On that note, I seem to remember reading of a famous herb known to the Romans to be the cure for something or other, but it couldn't be domesticated and ended up being wiped out through overharvesting. I'd choose that to answer your question, but the trouble is, I can't remember what it was called or what it cured! So perhaps the whelk? I sure would love to dye with Tyrian purple.

Enbrethiliel said...


My impression was that dinosaurs are so endangered that nobody is allowed to kill them for their organs. At least not until their population has grown enough to let humans breed them properly. I also think dinosaurs were deliberately juxtaposed with the spotted owl: the latter species isn't one that is of direct use to us--which is also true for the former if we're not allowed to hunt or to breed them. Of course, this isn't to say that the spotted owl is unimportant. There is the big picture to consider.

It occurs to me now that the most interesting element in this story is the main cast's knowledge that our earth's ecosystem actually did pretty well for itself after our dinosaurs became extinct. If the cast stayed in this world longer, perhaps they'd learn that some species which are abundant and necessary to the ecosystem of our earth weren't allowed to thrive because the dinosaurs didn't give them much room. And maybe there are sliders from a world in which one of our protected species has disappeared, and they don't see why we are making such a big fuss because they saw that losing the species turned out not to be that big a deal.