The Ultimate Rotary Phone

Geeky Thought of the Day #242: “How the hell could you possibly remember any Stargate Atlantis address.”

I watch a lot of sci-fi TV shows. I’ll turn on shows I’ve watched a hundred times just for background while I do something else. They’re shows I love, but having seen them so many times I don’t have to really watch and can do something else while still enjoying the company of “an old friend”.

So it was that I had an early episode of Stargate Atlantis on the boob-tube recently while doing some house work. The day before it had been Stargate SG-1. Having seen them both so close together, despite the tons of times I have set them both, something dawned on me that never really “clicked” before…

Stargate Symbols

“Damn, are the symbols on the Stargate Atlantis ‘Pegasus Galaxy’ gates complex, or what?!” To my eye those symbols are just a bunch of unrelated dots that could have been changed from show to show and I would never be able to tell the difference.

If you aren’t familiar with the Stargate movie or the three TV series that it spawned, the premise is that humanity has come across ancient alien technology called Stargates and figured out how to use them. The “original” Stargate SG-1 TV series used these Stargates to travel the Milky Way galaxy. These gates used symbols based on star constellations (as seen from Earth) to “dial” the coordinates or “addresses” of the destination you want to travel to. It’s kind of like a giant rotary phone that can teleport you in nearly an instant to a phone on another planet hundreds of light years away. The point is, the symbols on these giant rotary phones are strange and unfamiliar (even to an Earthling). But at least, like most constellations, they were relatively simple shapes and patterns that you could believe someone would use as a kind of galactic navigational “landmark” and letter / number system.

The sequel TV series, Stargate Atlantis, was based in another nearby galaxy to our own (the Pegasus Galaxy) that some of the last Ancients had traveled to after leaving the Milky Way to escape a galaxy-wide plague. On arriving in this new galaxy over a million years later, our human cast discover the Ancients had created a new and improved gate system for travel around the new galaxy. Essentially the Pegasus gates were to Milky Way gates what dial-tone phones were to rotary phones. This new gate system, designed to travel to coordinates in another galaxy, used symbols based on constellations in that galaxy, as seen from the first planet the Ancients colonized there.

But those constellations!… What were the concept artists for the new show thinking when they designed them? The symbols contain so many points, and are so much larger and complex, that to represent them, what you mostly see on the gates is just an apparently random scatter of dots. You would have to be a genius… well, ancient alien frankly… too easily visualize grasp and remember these symbols, let alone a string of seven of them in the proper order necessary to travel to a specific location. Seriously they make the dots of Braille look tame, and Morse Code dit-dah patterns seem like child’s play. I would hate to try and remember my own Pegasus Galaxy gate “phone number”, let alone “catch” the number dialed by someone else while under fire as is often seen in the show.

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