Lightspeed: Edited by John Joseph Adams




Cyborg vs. Cyborg by Nigel Watson

When biology and technology is mixed and matched, you get a big bad mean biomechanical fighting machine. Well, that’s what happens to cyborgs in the cinema and on our TV screens.

Cyborgs have to come to terms with their vulnerable, emotional, biological nature in combination with the hard, emotionless mechanics that give them superhuman strength and abilities. Not surprisingly, some turn against biology and want an ordered, rational, mechanical universe, others try to keep their “humanity” and free us all from the chains of evil. What wins out: the human spirit or the technical perfection of a robot? What has the advantage: the good, the bad, or the ugly? Let’s take a look.


Evil Wins the Early Battles

First in the ring is Steve Austin (Lee Majors), The Six Million Dollar Man, who is pitted against a replicant from Blade Runner.

Austin is a good guy with an infrared bionic eye and new legs and right arm. He can run at high speed and is strong. In the opposing corner, the genetically engineered replicant is equally strong and agile. What gives the replicant the edge is that it has no empathy and is highly intelligent. The replicant would win by asking the ex-astronaut brooding philosophical questions, or by squeezing his head in a thigh lock.

Needing no introduction, Darth Vader—given the opportunity to fight the replicant—would stride into the ring swishing his light sabre and exert “the Force” against his opponent. The replicant can dance around the sabre and laugh at the notion of a universal Force, yet Vader would win by telling the replicant in his rasping voice that he’s its daddy. With that bombshell the replicant would wither into the shape of an origami unicorn—no, that wasn’t a dream or false memory, I think.


Round Two Will Come Down To Collective Personality

The Darth may have cleared out the early contestants, but later battles will present more of a challenge. Dr Who’s Cybermen are more of a challenge for Vader as they are basically a clunking robot operated by a brain that has been sucked dry of its emotions and sense of self. High levels of radiation or gold bullets will finish off a Cyberman, and they are not very agile. However, they can kill their opponent by electrocuting them with their touch.

Since Vader would not be easy to fight on his own terms, a Cyberman would be best advised to deploy their cybermat weapon against him. The cybermat weapon gives offsmall metallic “life forms” that are built around the brains of birds or cats, and are able to tune into and feed off the brain waves of humans. In this manner, they would suck the Force from Vader and render him defunct. It seems there are things in the universe more powerful than the Force, and they have the brains of kitties. They Cybermen would win the first battle. But Vader’s just one man.

The Borg are a more formidable enemy who have plagued the Star Trek Federation for generations. “Resistance is futile” is their message to anyone who tries to fight their mission to assimilate biological beings into their collective cyborg society. They are more than just one man—they are every man. The Borg drones generally have a bionic eye and a robotic arm and are under the collective rule of the Queen Borg. They are tough to kill as they are resistant to phaser fire.

In combat with a Cyberman, a Borg would find an enemy who on many levels is similar to itself. Cybermen also have no individuality and their mission is to survive and convert humanoids into Cybermen, through a process of cyber-conversion; whereas the humanoid Borg add bits of technology onto biological entities like attachments to a Swiss army knife, the Cybermen stick brains into exoskeletons or wrap their victims in cybernetic shells.

The Cybermen, besides using the cybermat, often use a wide range of hand weapons or have weapons built into their arm, chest or helmet. They are certainly well armed but they don’t seem that intelligent, and if Dr. Who can beat them with only a sonic screwdriver, then I think the Borg, with their collective willingness to sacrifice any of their interchangeable units, would get the better of the Cybermen.


Does Humanity Save the Day in the Final Battle?

RoboCop, as former police officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller), is used to fighting all forms of evil and would of course resist the Borg with all his might. Although he is encased in a robotic body he has a flickering sense of his own humanity that guides his actions, and he knows the difference between good and evil—unlike the Borg who are a hive of evil-doers without enough self-awareness to realize it. Indeed, RoboCop can be seen as a Christ-like figure who suffered death and resurrection as a cyborg. In life he was shown to be a good man and an honest cop. But will this hurt him the way it did Steve Austin?

The Borg might be intelligent and tough, but RoboCop has a good track record for dealing with badass technology. He lets his understanding of good and evil guide him, not hinder him. He was able to take on the powerful Enforcement Droid robot series 209, who was armed with heat-seeking missiles, gas grenade launchers, two 20mm cannons and a 20mm gun. Robocop has a good history of taking on a better-armed foe. He even uses his opponents’ weapons against them. He acquires the experimental Cobra Assault Cannon from a local crime boss and takes the boss and his gang out with it. With some luck, he’d be able to defeat the Borg with weapons that they themselves created.

The final showdown is between those two cyborg gods of the eighties: RoboCop and the Terminator. The flesh-covered Terminator has a fullyarmored combat body that can withstand gunfire, heavy weapons, and even explosions. Although the Terminator has at its core a chrome exoskeleton and hydraulic servomechanisms, it can be modified—it can also learn to acknowledge or even feel emotions. The Terminator T101 comes in the form of Arnold Schwarzenegger and can be a hero or a villain according to the demands of the various sequels and spin-offs of the original film. The battle is the ultimate test of man versus machine. Does something that was originally—and mostly remains—a man win out, despite his relatively primitive body? Or does a superior robot with a little man around the edges, and some learned humanity, have the advantage?

At first sight, it would seem that a Terminator would easily grab and smash poor old RoboCop into an unattractive pile of scrap metal. Yet, RoboCop is well protected by his armored body and is armed with a powerful weapon. Although having the emotional weaknesses of a human, he also has the human ability to think quickly and adapt to rapidly changing situations.

RoboCop would have to resort to sophisticated methods of combat rather than meet his rival head-on. Yet I don’t think it would be such an easy battle for RoboCop. His best opportunity is to take action against the Terminator as it arrives back from the future. In its naked state it experiences a few seconds of disorientation, so RoboCop could use those moments to make his move.

One idea, which he could steal from Independence Day, is to plant a computer virus into Arnie’s head. However, that depends on whether he is wireless-enabled or has a suitable input socket accessible to RoboCop—not likely, eh? It wasn’t a very convincing plot device in Independence Day either …

A far more credible battle scenario is for RoboCop to lure Arnie into a nearby steel mill. After much fist-on-fist action and plenty of shooting, RoboCop could trick Arnie into diving into a huge vat of molten metal—a 100% certain method of disposing of Terminators. Nuclear missiles should blast any left-over bits of Arnie that might try getting away. Easy really, and it would prove for certain that skin is superior to tin.

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Nigel Watson

Nigel WatsonNigel Watson holds a BA degree in Psychology (Open University) and a BA (Hons) degree in Film and Literature (University of Warwick). He lives in Plymouth, U.K., with his wife and three children and has an unhealthy interest in alien abduction research. He is the author of The Alien Deception (2009), Portraits of Alien Encounters (1990), Supernatural Spielberg (with Darren Slade, 1992) and editor/writer of The Scareship Mystery (2000).