The McKinney-Purist FAQ
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Table of Contents:
Please note that Section 6 Miscellaneous is constantly under review as new novels are released or new "quirks" found in the published novels. It will be the policy of this editor to present this FAQ for perusal and approval by James Luceno before releasing it to the public.
Aubry Thonon (Neoculture)
A lot of debate has brewed over the years on the Internet, and other electonic means of communications, as to the accuracy of Jack McKinney's interpretation and novellisation of the Robotech Universe. Indeed, since its inception in 1985 from its three component series ("The Super Dimension Fortress Macross", "The Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross" and "Genesis Climber Mospeada"), the Robotech series' continuity and innuendoes have been the cause of more discussion than any phrase of Treknobabble in "Star Trek: The Next Generation" However, most of the proponents of this discussion can be classified into two categories - those that accept the universe as defined by the TV series, and those that follow its description in the McKinney novels. (There are, of course, sub-divisions even within those two groups, the return of the Invid to Earth being a case in point.)
Whether one side is right or wrong is no longer a matter of discussion, it has - in many cases - degenerated into name-calling. Thus the concept of this FAQ was created, to explain to those who have recently come into contact with the Robotech Mailing List why, in this forum, the TV show is considered the final word and the novels relagated to the rank of fan-produced stories, no higher.
It is not the aim of the FAQ to "convert" readers away from the novels. Indeed, this writer urges the novel-supporters to re-read the works by McKinney and add facts to this debate. This, then, is a record of some of the problems and contradictions found between the TV series and the novels - and why some in the Robotech Universe choose not to accept the version of events as proposed by McKinney.
Jason W. Smith (Skull Leader)
Many people rightly claim that people who dislike the novels are "McKinney Haters." This is entirely true when viewed literally. McKinney is what is hated - disliked - by most anti-book types, not Daley and Luceno.
A number of us have corresponded with James Luceno on a regular basis. Our experiences have been, to the letter, enjoyable. The man is extremely articulate and, in general, a nice guy. He is astonished at how people have reacted to his novelizations of the show, never expecting such wrath. He did not, after all, intend to hurt anyone; he merely wanted to write a story that would "stand on its own two feet" when compared to the television show - at least that is what Del Rey wanted out of him.
One sad part of the entire story is that the things that James Luceno thought were required to make the story stand on its own are precisely the things which have brought him such derision. Even sadder is the fact that he has overlooked the obvious things which do set his novels apart:
Luceno's ability to construct interesting events (Max's brawl in the alley being one) are wonderful, in my view. Likewise, the way he brought out the mindset of the characters (Max's professionalism in the novels is never more clear than in his efforts to protect Lisa's shuttle - something not shown, nor contradicted, in the show). (It should also be noted that perhaps Brian Daley had a great deal to do with this, though I am not clear on this point.) Either way, the things that do not interfere with the spirit of the show are excellent additions to the ROBOTECH saga, while the things which contradict the show (things like "Liquid Metal", "Thinking Caps," "The Shapings," and others) remain the ones most vehemently opposed.
Luceno is not a bad guy, and in fact, not that bad a writer. But his contradictory embellishments are both unwarranted and unnecessary, and are the Achille's Heel to all he has done. Had he not tried so hard, his efforts would have been far better. This is a tragic case of doing too much, rather than too little. In the immortal words of Steve McQueen, "Do less [Jimmy]. Do less."
Jason W. Smith (Skull Leader)
"If you can fly a jet you can operate a battloid - the controls aren't that much different."
One of the most hotly contested aspects of the Robotech Saga is the addition of the "Thinking Cap" concept by Jack McKinney. Second only to "The Shapings" in its ability to divide the Robotech Universe, the Thinking Cap is not only unecessary, it is refuted by the show.
Using the original Japanese Macross as an example, it is clear that the Valkyries are piloted by nothing more complicated than a few sticks, pedals, and buttons. There is no need for T-Caps there. By logic, one can follow that the Robotech series, too, is void of T-Caps. But this is often not enough for many people, and so facts from the show itself must be used to make the case against the T-Cap.
On numerous occasions we see pilots flying Veritechs without helmets (Rick, while flying his VF from the Grand Cannon, does so without his helmet; Scott Bernard flies his Alpha on several occasions - as does Rand in the Beta - without a helmet). On another occasions (in Episode 2) we hear Roy say to Rick, "The legs are controlled by the footpedals... I'll explain them to you while I make the repairs." Later in the same episode Roy tells Rick to "Switch on low energy and depress the footpedals slowly." There is no mention of "thinking" his way through the movement. The emphasis here is on manual control. On several occasions we even see VF pilots move the controls and see a correlational movement of the battloid itself (Episode 2: Rick uses the stick to turn the battloid's head; a VF fires on a battle pod with a GU-11; in "The Big Escape" Max moves the right stick forward and delivers a kick to the mid-section of a Zentraedi Foot Soldier). Finally, one must note the surprise at the inner workings of the Biroroids shown by scientists in Southern Cross.
The world of science has also yielded the lack of feasibility for the T-Cap. The reaction time of a Thinking Cap will actually lag behind the movement of the body part in question. In short, pressing the button on the stick is faster than thinking about pressing the button on the stick. Some argue that the movements seen are too difficult and so a T-Cap is a necessity. In this instance I must invoke the names of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. Games with two sticks for control, they allow a myriad of complex maneuvers. Mechwarrior and Battletech also come to mind. Possessing much cruder controls than any Veritech fighter, they still allow the player to perform numerous maneuvers - anything from walking and firing, to flipping and body slamming. If these simple games can do it, clearly a Veritech with its myriad of computers could do the same and more.
In light of this, one might ask, "How does one control a battloid if not through thought?" Simple. A combination of Fly-By-Wire technology, coupled with various "slaving" devices - i.e. the ability to aim a gun turret via the position of the helmet as in the Apache (something that is not shown in the show, but is used here as an example of how things can be done without a thinking cap), or the placement of the Gunsight Pipper as in any video game. For example, Max's kick could have been accomplished by the simple use of the pipper. Place the pipper where you want the leg to hit - by moving the stick perhaps? - and step on the appropriate pedal. Any combination is feasible, the actual one used is the only thing subject to debate. Also, the invention of the "Pupil Pistol" by Louie Nichols seems to refute any type of thought-guided weaponry.
Simply, there is no thinking cap.
Recording everything the body is capable of doing, as a whole, is impossible because "everything" is effectively infinite. But the range of motion of each individual joint is very limited, most in a single axis, a few in two axes, and a very small number in three. Take your arm, for example. Your shoulder rotates in three axes, so you capture the movements forward and back, up and down, and twisting back and forth. Your elbow is simple having rotation in a single axis. The wrist is a bit more complex having two axes of movement, a flex like the elbow and a rotation like the shoulder. Fingers and thumb are like the elbow and wrist, having one and two axis movements respectively for each joint. That is three basic measurements to record everything your shoulder does, one for your elbow, two for your wrist, 14 for all of your fingers and thumbs. That is a total of 20 measurements that will define everything your arm is capable of doing.
In order to "reach up and grab something" the drive computer sends various signals to each of the VF's arm actuators. It tells the shoulder to rotate up, it tells the elbow to flex open, it tells the wrists to turn the hand, it tells the fingers to open. When the object is in reach it tells the fingers to close. When the grip is secure it tells the shoulder to rotate up further, possibly with a bit of twist, it tells the elbow to flex closed.
Here is where the clever programming comes in. The pilot does not initiate the sequence and let the drive computer do all the work. All of this is happening in real time. The pilot moves the controls in such a way as to cause the arm and hand to move appropriately. If he wants to continue moving the arm he continues to manipulate the controls. If he wants to stop moving the arm he stops manipulating the controls. As long as the controls remain where they are the drive computer will maintain the arm's position.
Now, if you want to achieve human-like movement you apply motion capture to the samplings used by the drive computer for various joint movements. By using human input for the motion captures you get human movement out of the drive computer.
And just for the record again, this technology exists today. It was these kinds of techniques that created the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park, using motion captures of elephants to get the realistic movements of the dinosaurs. Similar techniques were used in the making of Toy Story. The best of the fight games, the ones that have fighters that move like real people use the same techniques. Olympic and professional athletes use these techniques to improve their performance by obeserving exactly what their bodies are doing at any given time during their performances.
We can achieve human-like movements in artificial constructs today, right now, without "alien technology" to make it possible, without thought control systems to make it possible.
Begin brief journey into neurological theory.-
Second point: noise. Even assuming you can get a system that reads conscious thoughts directly from the brain, you need to distinguish between thoughts that are supposed to go to the machine and those that are not. Unlike TCP packets, neurological packets do not have envelopes that include the recipient's address, so sorting out "walk left" from the natural reactions of a 17-year old boy who zooms his camera up on a pretty girl's backside becomes a nightmare (a point: the scene in question occours well before Rick even enlisted, let alone had any serious training in VF piloting, and he was using the battloid form at the time, and reasonably adeptly). Note that in Macross Plus, where in that continuity the thought control system is a new invention, you see exactly the kind of problem I am talking about.
Third point: speed revisited. The premise of a thought-driven control system is not totally bogus, if it is properly implemented. Given what is known about how the nervous system of the human body operates, the fastest system you could implement would be one that disables direct control of the body from the brain and hijacks reflexive signals outside of the central nervous system (brain, spinal cord, etc). This requires some fairly invasive surgery; the more invasive, the more connect points to the outer nervous system and the sooner reflexive signals can be redirected to the main control system in the machine, resulting in faster response times. The benefits of such a system are that it will be markedly faster than manual or conscious thought controls (electrical or optical signals travel some ten to twenty times faster than neurochemical signals given a reliable medium) without the need to distinguish between "stray" and "real" signals. However, it is quite obvious that such a system does not exist in Robotech.
Aubry Thonon (Neoculture)
In the early sections of the novel, McKinney states that the SDF-1 had been crewed by Zentraedi loyal to Zor. This, in itself, would not have raised an eyebrow since the crew might have ejected or died outside while defending the ship. However, the Human Investigation Team that subsequently entered the crashed "Visitor" found the remains of a dead Zentraedi. Indeed, many seem to think such a body would be required since someone would have had to pilot the SDF-1 to the Earth.
I always wondered why, in this age of high technology, people always seem to forget good old George - your friendly autopilot. Another nail on the coffin of the Macross having been crewed by Zentraedi during its flight to Earth is the fact that, in the words of the Narrator in the first episode, there was "...no sign of the crew." Dead bodies would be a sign of the crew. Heat-flashes on the wall would be a sign of the crew. Clearly, when the Macross landed there was no-one on board.
"But why the Valkyries?" then comes the cry from the masses. "Why build fourty-feet tall humanoid mecha if you aren't expecting giant aliens?" Well, obviously they were expecting such large aliens. In fact, Roy Fokker goes so far as to tell us that the Valkyries were designed specifically to combat the Zentraedi - although their name was not known at the time.
"Ah-hah, we've got you now!" generally is the reply. "If there weren't any crew, how could they prepare for aliens of a size unprecedented in Earth's military history?"
When Rick and Minmei are stuck in a disused part of the SDF-1 in the early episodes, they come across a large door. A really large door. In fact, most of the doors to the Macross must have been that size. It is then a simple step for those studying the ship to come up with the fact that the crew, when it was on board, must have been thirty-five to fourty feet tall. In fact the controls themselves, as well as the crew compartments themselves, would have added fuel to the theory.
"But Breetai was expecting a crew to be present." Well, a lot of people in Robotech make a lot of assumption. Breetai expected a crew because, as far as he knew, the Macross should have been crewed. This may have been, and in fact turned out to be, a false assumption on his part. While we do not know exactly what happened before the Macross crashed on Earth (although this period is covered in other publications such as the Del Rey novels and the Graphic Novel), one thing is certain - there was no crew on board the Macross when it crashed on Earth.
Aubry Thonon (Neoculture)
McKinney has, in his book, used a five-year fold discrepancy to get his dates to match in the end. A few people have often wondered if this five-year fold idea would work if it were held up to the information available to us in the show. The short of it is, it does not and here is why: Looking at McKinney's timeline as printed in the back of Sentinels #5, Rubicon we get:
But how well do these set of dates hold up? It is well known, from visual clues that the first two dates (1999 and 2009) and correct. However, we are told in Lisa's report to the UEG that the SDF-1 return twelve months (that's "12 months", not "1 year". Therefore the date is given to us to within 15 days) after the attack on Macross Island, which would place the SDF-1's return in 2010. But let's allow six months either side of this "one year" clue and accept McKinney's date of 2011. We also know that it was a couple of years between the Zentraedi Holocaust and the final battle between Khyron's battle-cruiser and the SDF-1, which would place the end of Macross at 2013-2014. This is still within McKinney's timeframe.
We have several quotes from the sentinels:
The RDF suffered from "ten years of inactivity and overconfidence".
Rick has had, according to Lisa, "nine years to prepare for this mission" to Tirol.
Both these quotes would therefore place the departure of the REF at 2021-2024 (using McKinney's 2014 for the end of Macross and/or 2012 for the Holocaust), and not 2020 as McKinney suggests. Macek gives the departure of the SDF-3 to be 2022. This date being within our 2022-2024 bracket, we will therefore continue using it.
Now, let us look at what is happening on Earth. According to Leonard, the Southern Cross saga happens to start on the 15th anniversary of the destruction of the SDF-1. This would place it at 2028-2029 and not 2031 as McKinney would have it. Assuming that Carpenter's ship returns within the year, this brings Carpenter's arrival at 2028-2030. And this is where McKinney, whose following of the clues was so far within expected deviations, falls down.
Carpenter's aide quite clearly states that the ship had been their home for fifteen years. Assuming a five-year fold delay, this would place the ship's commision at twenty-five years earlier, Earth Time, or 2005. Except that Carpenter's ship was a much more advanced design than the ARMD and Space-Destroyers seen in the Zentraedi attack of 2009. But if we assume a fold without the five-year gap, this brings the commisioning date to 2015, shortly after the end of the Macross saga - a much more acceptable date for the level of technology this ship represents.
I know this seems a round-about way of proving a point, but this little remark from Carpenter's aide disproves the five-year-fold theory. Not only that, but - at the same time - it hints at the fact that the SDF-3 was not the only ship which left Earth for Tirol.
This section is not related to major goofs, but rather to small, almost unseen, errors which have somehow crept into the novels. These can range from a simple proofing mistake to small contradictions of the source material. In this spirit, therefore, let the combing of the novels begin.
Aubry Thonon (Neoculture)
Sorry I didn't get back to you sooner regarding the FAQ. I think it's fine as is, and doesn't require a counterpoint from me. The books, after all, are the counterpoint.
It is my sad duty to report that Brian Daley, the better half of Jack McKinney, died on Sunday, February 11 1996, after a prolonged battle with pancreatic cancer. Brian had just completed writing the scripts for the radio adaptation of "Return of the Jedi," which will air on public radio sometime in the fall. The universe seems a dimmer place.
Aubry Thonon (Neoculture)
So what is the conclusion to this debate? Simply this: while the novels tend to be fairly consistent within themselves they are, however, inconsistent with the footage they originally came from. And while some of the inconsistencies can be excused (the five-year jump discrepency having been 'fixed' by ommitting the reference to the age of Carpenter's ship), some - like the Thinking Cap - have created a problem which is hard to overlook.
As stated in the introduction, this FAQ was not meant to force people to swap camps in the 'Purist Vs McKinneyist' debate. Rather, it was meant to illustrate the basis upon which the debate (for it is a debate, no matter how many tmie the individuals involve in it devolve it to a flame-war) has raged. Is it possible to reconcile the two? I do not think so, though valiant efforst have been made by some in that reguard - the points presented above basically clash between the animation and the novels.
So who is right, and who is wrong? And who has the right to judge?
There is no answer to that one, save that both sides agree to disagree - and sometime do so to shameful extremes.
I take my hat off to Luceno, and bow my head in memory of Daley, for the work they have done in the novelisation of the series... and yet, at the same time, I cannot but regret that the novels were not a little truer to the feel of the animated story-line.
In the end, it is a matter of personal taste, but we hope to have opened your eyes to one side of the debate - and that in doing so, we have brought you understanding about both.
In parting, I would like to thank the other Robotech fans whose writings make up the bulk of this FAQ - and, more importantly, I would thank James Luceno for his support in this endeavour.
Aubry Thonon, March 21 1996.