Wednesday, February 15, 2012

It's THEM!

Question: how do you make bugs scarier than they already are to those who can't stand them? Answer: make them BIG trouble. Literally!

It's a convention that's been around since just after the birth of the atomic age, when America wanted a quick end to World War II and got it with a couple of city-breakers called Fat Man and Little Boy. We dropped them on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and we didn't care that most of those who died would be civilians who had no part of the war. Nothing's been the same since.

Science fiction quickly jumped on what might be possible because of the fallout of nuclear weapons. One possibility was latched on instantly, that radiation could create dramatic and unhealthy changes in some of the smallest creatures on our world...unhealthy to humans, anyway, because radition makes bugs big. That's right, big enough to EAT you! The first and most classic of these 'big bug' movies was "Them!" in 1954, which involved rads mutating desert ants into car-sized monsters; coincidentally enough in the same year, the first kaiju (means 'strange beast' in English) film "Godzilla" was created in Japan by director Ishiro Honda with similar 'consequences of atomic radiation' themes.

"Them!" and "Godzilla" each started their own trends in science fiction. Those of you who know and love Godzilla know how things have gone with Japanese monster movies since. After "Them!" came even more movies with big bugs..."The Deadly Mantis", "Tarantula", and others. Along the way the reason for bugs getting big changed, depending on the movie, until inevitably we had to fight giant bugs from space. "Starship Troopers" (1997), easily one of the most influential sci-fi movies since "Aliens", placed Humanity in conflict with the hostile Arachnids.

Before I go any further, a quick personal statement. I hate bugs. I can't stand them, whether they can sting my ass or not. Cockroaches and spiders are highest on my hit list for 'Things to Stomp to Paste the First Time I See Em'. Let me put it this way: if you have more legs than a dog, I'M ALREADY PREDISPOSED TO NOT LIKING YOU! Okay, done.

Bugs just bring out that reaction in people, which makes them perfect sci-fi monsters. This was undoubtedly how the writers of "Mass Effect" were inspired by movies from "Them!" to "Starship Troopers" to create the alien Rachni. The one positive is they're not the size of Buicks, but they're still big enough to be scary as hell. They look like someone tried to mate a roach with a squid, which means they have 'ugly' covered very well, too.

Their history in "Mass Effect" lore isn't exactly sympathetic...two thousand years before the Council races met Humanity, the Rachni saw other races as inferior and made war with them. The squid-roaches seemed to have the edge until the other races turned to the brawlers of the galaxy, the Krogan, for help. Eventually the Rachni were defeated and then believed to be outright exterminated. Or so the rest of the galaxy thought...

Spoilers from the "Mass Effect" games start here! You were warned!

A sole Rachni egg was found just before the events of "Mass Effect" and taken to Noveria, and a Rachni Queen hatched. Able to reproduce without the help of a male of the species, the Queen was made to breed in the planet's Peak 15 labs in order to create a powerful army to serve the renegade Saren and Matriarch Benezia, and the Reaper Sovereign as a result. Thankfully, this is when Commander Shepard and his crew arrive to seek out Benezia and why she and Saren were seeking the mysterious Conduit.

Shepard first had to fight through the Rachni Queen's children, which were insane with rage being apart from their mother, and destroy them all. After facing Benezia and dealing with her, Shepard then confronts the Queen, which is held prisoner in a containment pod...but the ancient Rachni is able to communicate telepathically by speaking through one of Benezia's dying Commandos. It's then up to Shepard (that is to say, you!) whether to destroy this Queen and end the Rachni once and for all, or listen to its surprising claim that its race was in fact peaceful in nature and heed its request for mercy, to be let go and start the race anew, and her children wouldn't trouble anyone else again.

If you don't buy anything the critter says that it won't trouble other races in the future, you can just dump the sucker in an acid vat and that's that.

But...if you lean toward a Paragon path and take a leap of faith, you can release the Queen and hope for the best. And I've got to admit, I took that path. I just didn't like the idea of performing genocide on an entire intelligent race, even if they were squid-roaches. So I'm weak!

In "Mass Effect 2", however, I discovered maybe I made the right call, after all. Shepard is approached by an Asari beauty who reveals herself to be an agent of the rebuilding Rachni. She gives Shepard a message telepathically imprinted into her mind by the Queen, and then has more information to give. Ever since her last meeting with Shepard, the Queen determined that her race was somehow manipulated by someone -- perhaps the Reapers -- into making war with the rest of the galaxy thousands of years ago. The agent then tells Shepard that the Queen and her children will be ready to help fight the Reapers, if that becomes necessary. However, tensions are rising from Council races in locations across the galaxy where Rachni have been sighted...

Needless to say, events in "Mass Effect 3" could prove to be very interesting when war breaks out with the Reapers. And you've got to like this twist offered to the 'big bug' story often found in sci-fi. In the case of "Mass Effect", maybe big bugs can finally be our friends, and not looking to eat us!

No comments:

Post a Comment