Watching Babylon 5 for the first time- Season 3: Episodes 1-4

A fragile human moment.

I am very late to the Babylon 5 party. As it came out, I was a bit young for the show and the few times we tried to watch as a family, it was clear we had no idea what was going on. After several people bugged me, telling me it was the show I needed to watch, I grabbed the whole series around Christmas last year on a great sale. I’ve been watching it since, sneaking it in between the many things going on in my life. It quickly became apparent that I’d want to discuss the episodes with others, so I began this series of posts. Please don’t spoil anything from later seasons or episodes for me! 

Season 3: Episodes 1-4

Matters of Honor
I loved the new intro but I stopped looking at it because it looked spoiler-filled to me for the season. The Vorlon ambassador remains delightfully aloof. Mollari trying to be rid of the guy who’s so closely tied to the Shadows is interesting. I wonder how that will play out. I loved Mollari in the first season, but he became a heel in the second. How will he ultimately turn out? I don’t know, but I cant wait to find out. I especially liked the part of the episode where Mollari and Morden–that’s the guy’s name!–split up the galaxy. That random planet is totally not going to be important, right? Mollari also says he’s seen the Shadow type ship when asked about it, and he appears almost haunted by a dreamlike vision of them over his homeworld. I loved when G’Kar is finally asked by the Earth intelligence guy about the Shadows, and he just opens his holy book, eager to finally have someone to listen: Yes, let me tell you about the coming evils! It’s chilling and a great character moment for G’Kar all at once.

Some random bombings are occurring all over the station, and as the crew races to stop them, G’Kar and Mollari get stuck in an elevator after one of the bombs traps them. Their air is running out, and we finally see a serious face-to-face with these two. G’Kar has the perfect opportunity to kill Mollari, and I was initially shocked he didn’t do it and try to frame it on the bombing. But, the depth of this show goes much farther than you might think, and I’d forgotten they’d already given an answer for why G’Kar wouldn’t do that: G’Kar himself reasons that 500 of his people would be killed, including his relatives, should he even be suspected of harming Mollari. Instead, he laughs, delighted that the bomber will kill Mollari for him as they run out of air. It’s a poignant scene that reveals the intensity of G’Kar’s hatred, the way Mollari is conflicted himself, and the thoughtfulness of G’Kar all at once. It’s so good. The only downside for me is the slang thrown in there from the time of the show, when G’Kar says ‘”up yours!” to Mollari. It’s funny, but a comedic moment that wasn’t hugely necessary. Anyway, Sheridan goes in and saves the day, of course, with the help of several others. This episode felt like a building one but had enough action and intensity in it to not drag at any point.

A Day in the Strife
I hadn’t realized until this episode how refreshing it can be to not have to deal with anything even approximating a “Prime Directive” type of orders in Babylon 5. There’s not concern here from humanity about how they might impact other species across the galaxy. This is the real world, not some idealistic fantasy-land. I love Star Trek, so I’m mostly saying that previous bit tongue-in-cheek. One can only hope that by the time humanity encounters other intelligent life, we will have learned not to destroy everything we touch. But Babylon 5’s vision of future humanity is unrelenting in an almost cynical way: humanity would put its own interests first, and people would not magically stop yearning for power. Anyway, the thing that brought this up for me was Sheridan basically flat out saying “no” to G’Kar being recalled. In Star Trek, there’d be some huge sequence about the Prime Directive, etc. Here, Sheridan just denies the request. “Nah.” It’s a cool moment, though we later see Sheridan makes it conditioned upon G’Kar’s own desires. And those desires are placed at the center of this episode, along with a second plot featuring some probe that comes offering humanity all its desires if it can pass an intelligence test. Anyway, G’Kar ultimately decides to stay after many of his people come to him basically saying he must stay and continue his resistance. The moment that convinced him: when he asked whether anything is more important than their families’ safety, and his people responded: “Yes, our freedom!” The probe–I loved how this hearkened to being a Berserker type entity and that the writer(s) specifically put that in the episode by using the word. The Berserkers I’m referring to are the pretty fantastic series of short stories and books by Fred Saberhagen (I linked the first book there) which feature Berserkers as the main antagonist–some awful AI things going out and clearing all intelligent life from the universe. It’s a cool nod to older sci-fi in the show. I definitely distrusted the probe immediately, but I thought it might have been sent to steal intelligence. I hadn’t thought of it as a way to destroy competition, and I absolutely loved that twist. 

Passing Through Gethsemane
There are moments when you’re watching something on TV or a movie when you realize it’s a transcendent time. Something about what’s happening on the show clicked; one of those moments where everything aligned. And “Passing Through Gethsemane” was one of those episodes for me. Look, I already love this show. It’s my first time through and I’ve already gone looking for novels, companion books, etc. to read for the second time. But this episode had so much that I love. Near the beginning when we see Brother Edward talking about the Garden of Gethsemane. He says that there, Jesus could have chosen to leave, postponing the inevitable. It was a “very fragile human moment” that resonates so deeply with Brother Edward. But then we see Edward has been mind wiped and is, in fact, a notorious killer. He himself starts to discover this as a telepath reawakens his memories, apparently as a step of a plot to get revenge from families of the victims. Edward finds himself in a kind of broken psyche, realizing who he was, but also that his entire life and outlook on the universe has changed. He asks whether there is “enough forgiveness for what I’ve done” and the answer, provided by Brother Theo of the Trappist Monks, is simple: “Always. Always.” He’s killed by the families of his victims, but he chooses to go to his death, knowing what they will do. He sees it as his own “passing through Gethsemane” and the fragility of the human condition one finds there. He apparently saw justice and forgiveness align and chose that path.
Theo and Sheridan have a conversation about “Where does revenge end and justice begin?” and Sheridan makes a point that forgiveness is a “hard thing”–likely himself thinking about his wife. But then, we discover one of his killers has also been mind wiped, and now Malcolm–one of the men who committed the vigilante act against Edward–is mind wiped and himself one of the Trappists. And Theo turns Sheridan’s words back on him. Knowing Sheridan is enraged by this vigilante killing, Brother Theo says that Sheridan himself just made a comment about forgiveness being a hard thing. Sheridan pauses in his rage and shock, and finally shakes the new Brother Malcolm’s hand. 
Wow. I loved everything about this, and I didn’t even mention bringing back the rogue Psi person. This is a fantastic piece of television storytelling, one that will be bouncing around in my head for quite a while. I liked it so much that I even wrote an extended review and look at the themes in the episode.


Babylon 5 Hub– Find all my Babylon 5-related posts and content here.

“Passing Through Gethsemane”- Babylon 5 and the Fragility of Humanity– I discuss the episode in much more detail. Needless to say, I loved it. 

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!


My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1968

I’m a huge science fiction fan, and, having read a list of what are alleged to be the top 200 science fiction novels, I decided to next tackle a read-through of all the Hugo Award winners and nominees for best novel. Let me know your thoughts and favorites. Here are the nominees and the winner of the 1968 Hugo Awards. I’ve marked the winner as well as my own choice for which novel would win, had I the choice among the nominees. I put a brief overview of the year’s nominees at the beginning.

1968- Certainly an interesting year for the nominees. The Butterfly Kid is absolutely a product of its time, and not one that I enjoyed in any way. Straight up hippy culture with the thinnest veneer of sci-fi over it. Delany’s offering this year did not live up to its potential, which is a shame, because it is a very cool idea. Chthon reads a bit like an author’s first attempt at fantasy names with a number of made up words and concepts. I know this one is sci-fi, but I’m thinking of those novels where the author has elvish names with 6 accent marks on them. Then, we have two novels that are about as different as they can be, yet each is a stunning triumph. Lord of Light is one that I’ve read three times now, and each time I enjoy it immensely. It’s lyrical, beautiful, and strange. I love it so much. Thorns by Silverberg is, according to the author, his first major attempt at a more thoughtful sci-fi novel, and he absolutely nailed it. I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s uncomfortable; it’s gaudy; and it’s endlessly strange. It’s fantastic.

Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny (Winner, My Winner)- Grade: A+
Astonishing. It’s part retelling of Hindu Scripture, part origin story of Buddhism from Hinduism, part interplay between psuedo-imperialist Christianity and other faiths, and all beautiful. I’ve never read Zelazny before but I eagerly look forward to reading more. This book was made of myth and legend in the best possible sense. It’s immersive, exciting, and exotic in a way few science fiction books are. Zelazny’s writing in this novel is like that of an epic poem. The prose is absolutely spot-on for the idea, and the lyrical nature of the reading made it just that much more fun to read. It’s an absolute tragedy that there’s not an audio edition of this novel, because I’d love to listen to it. Superb. (I used the cover art I read the book in because it will forever be linked with the novel in my mind.)

The Einstein Intersection by Samuel R. Delany- Grade: C
I like the concept of this book: aliens trying to adapt to life in the ruins of humanity while also developing and wondering about myth. It’s a cool, high concept that begs for a lengthy space opera-level epic. But The Einstein Intersection is not that epic. Delany’s prose is good, but it seems ill-suited to the concept at the center of the novel. It doesn’t get to the heights that it ought, but it’s never bad, either. It is thoroughly average, which makes it a disappointment, given the great idea at its core.

Chthon by Piers Anthony- Grade: C+
Chthon was a smorgasbord of impossible-to-pronounce words and sci-fi concepts that seemed to serve little purpose. It’s written almost like a Gene Wolfe novel with the language seeming to be literary–almost lyrical–rather than being a kind of space adventure. But the plot itself is almost a standard space adventure fare that struggles to mesh well with the concepts at its core. I’ll be honest, though, I didn’t notice the structural puzzle Anthony built into the book, which makes me appreciate it a bit more than I did before. I should give it a re-read sometime to see if it improves on a second take. I just didn’t get it. I wonder what other people think of it, to be honest.

The Butterfly Kid by Chester Anderson- Grade: D+
Want to read about hippy culture with a bare-bones plot? Get this book. It was very difficult to track down–only just recently coming out on Kindle–but I’m sad to say I don’t think it was worth the effort I put in to finding it. The humor falls flat now, it is incredibly dated, and it doesn’t seem to offer anything today except, apparently, a nostalgia trip for those who lived through the era.

Thorns by Robert Silverberg (My Co-Winner)- Grade: A+
Silverberg is a challenging author whose corpus I’m only beginning to work my way through. Thorns is another book that encourages me to continue as soon as possible. The core premise is simple, if weird: there’s a media mogul who is basically a psychic vampire who subsists on other’s psychological pain and he puts two people–a young woman whose eggs were harvested and lab-fertilized/grown into 100 babies she is not allowed to have contact with and a ‘star man’ whose body was rearranged/disfigured by aliens on a distant planet before he was sent back to humanity–together to wallow in misery and feed him. Wow, that actually took more words than I expected. The protagonists are alluring even as they’re somewhat off-putting. One might raise the question of whether the star man’s disfigurement is a kind of ableism found in the novel–but Silverberg writes the character in such a way that it is impossible to see him as anything other than a fully human person whose body just happens to be rearranged. In fact, I see the star man as a kind of critique, however basic, of ableism and the insistence that certain bodies are inherently better than others. Some of the content here might not be as shocking as it may have been in 1968 (harvesting eggs is presented as some far-future thing, when it is done fairly frequently today), but that doesn’t take away from what Thorns is, at its core: a tale of deep, intense humanity. It haunted me as I read it, and it will continue to do so for years, I’m sure.


My Read-Through of the Hugos– Read more posts in this series and follow me on the journey! Let me know your own thoughts on the books.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!


Vintage Sci-Fi: “The Book of Skulls” by Robert Silverberg

Vintage Sci-Fi Month is over (it’s in January), but that doesn’t mean it’s time to stop reading vintage sci-fi. After great response to my posts during January, I’ve decided to make it an ongoing feature to read and review individual vintage sci-fi books. As I recall, the rule for calling something “Vintage” is that it was written before you were born, but feel free to adjust that as you like.

The Book of Skulls by Robert Silverberg

I can’t stop thinking about The Book of Skulls. It haunts me at the strangest times, but especially when I’m driving (more on that later). Silverberg is at his best in this novel, but is he also at his worst? I don’t know. 

At its core, The Book of Skulls is a kind of coming-of-age story of four young men who found a manuscript that they believe–maybe–will unlock immortality to them. All they have to do is travel across the country and join a murderous gang of cultists and have two of their number die–one through sacrifice and the other through murder. No big deal, right? It’s a strange setup for what seems almost like some B-list spring break movie where the plot is simply a vehicle for getting titillating scenes on the screen. And make no mistake, the book has lots of sex. I can’t help but think about the strange, disturbing sexualization that Silverberg put forward in the driving scenes; the way the car interacted with the road, and the language Silverberg used to describe it. But it’s not just the car assaulting the road as a (very strange) metaphor. There are liaisons with prostitutes, sex cultists, there sexual encounters of all kinds all along the road trip. That B-list titillation is all over the place. 

But The Book of Skulls is a lot more than that. It’s a haunting tale of humanity gone wrong in so many ways. Its main cast doesn’t really feature a single likable character, but that somehow works, because you don’t want to care about these young men, but you do! And you find yourself caring what happens and wondering what’s going to happen and whether the ‘real’ Book of Skulls in the characters’ minds is going to give them immortality. Is this a fantasy novel? Is it sci-fi? Is it just a strange thriller where the main characters go off and kill each other after a series of orgies? 

Why is it so compelling?

Silverberg is an immensely talented author. And it shows here in this almost annoyingly spellbinding book. I feel as though I ought to hate it. I can’t tell if Silverberg’s put his own views into the minds of his characters or not. If so, there’s a lot to call out as awful here. Self-hating characters–one that is Jewish and one that is homosexual–each could be called out for promoting hatred of the same in some ways. His comments about disabled persons are detestable, but again occur in the mind of a character whose viewpoint we can’t trust. Racism, sexism–it’s there. But is it what Silverberg is promoting, or is it simply more characterization of these four messed up, generally terrible men? Silverberg has mastered the art of an unreliable narrator, and we have four in this book. 

Like the characters in the novel, I can’t stop thinking about The Book of Skulls. I bet you would think about it if you read it, too. Would you hate it? Would you love it? Or would you feel as I do–stuck wondering exactly what it means and why it is so gripping?


J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Vintage Sci-Fi– Click the link and scroll down to read more vintage sci-fi posts! I love hearing about your own responses and favorites!

My Read-Through of the Hugos– Check out all my posts on reading through the Hugo Award winners and nominees. Tons of sci-fi fantasy discussion throughout.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!


Star Wars Expanded Universe Read-Through: “Slave Ship” by K.W. Jeter

I have embarked on a quest to read through the Star Wars Expanded Universe once more. Be sure to check the linked text there to see other posts in this series. There will be SPOILERS in what follows for the novel discussed as well as (possibly) earlier books in the same series.

Slave Ship by K.W. Jeter

Maybe middle book syndrome is a real thing. That’s what I think any time I run into it. It’s probably selection effect. Slave Ship suffers monumentally from pacing issues. I found myself skimming at multiple points because it felt like nothing was happening. On top of that, the interesting characters seemed to fall into the background as more new characters and conflicts were introduced. 

On the plus side, I adored Kuat of Kuat in this novel. I don’t think that when I first read these books as a kid I understood how entertaining he was. The world building surrounded Kuat Drive Yards was also some of the best writing in the book.The interplay between Prince Xizor making a power play and Vader trying to play Xizor was good, too. But again, these are characters that should have been on the side of what was, before, a story of Boba Fett and Dengar with Bossk as a villain.

I did not enjoy the bounty hunter scenes all that much here. Bossk seems very one dimensional, though the bomb on a ship stunt Boba Fett pulled on him was great. On the flip side, I guess my perception of Fett as having some kind of Mandalorian honor may have been overblown because he just turns traitor, seemingly, on his team. I didn’t like that choice for his character. It didn’t have the right feel. I wonder how it will play out in the third book.

Slave Ship is a merely okay read. It’s a desert of boredom punctuated by enough oases of excitement to keep me reading. That was a silly sentence, but there it is. I hope the third book redeems it, because the first was fine.

[Edit: I accidentally published a partially finished/edited version of this the day it was published. My apologies. I’ve made corrections and edits now!]

I read this before I saw any episodes of “The Mandalorian.” In fact, I’ve since finished the trilogy and only then saw the first two episodes of the show. I was already surprised by a few things that seem to have been potentially lifted from these pages.

The Good

+Awesome cover
+Prince Xizor / Vader rivalry
+A few good moments for certain characters
+Kuat of Kuat

The Bad

-Pacing problems abound
-Weak characterization
-Very little seems to be important or happen overall

Grade: C- “Not particularly impressive, but not awful either. It’s a bland read which suffers from the alleged middle book syndrome.”


J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Reading through Star Wars: Expanded Universe– Here you can read other posts in this series (reviews of other EU books) and make suggestions about what I should include in my reviews.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

There are other posts on science fiction books to be found! Read them here.