Having finally watched Babylon 5 for the first time (check out my posts for that series at my Babylon 5 Hub), I decided to dive into the novels. I’ll be reading them largely in publication order and reviewing them individually as we go along. Please do not spoil later books for me. There will be SPOILERS for the book reviewed going forward.
Voices by John Vornholt
I have to admit, I wasn’t sure initially if I would be buying all the Babylon 5 novels or if I’d just try to read the ones that are officially considered “canon.” I figured I may as well get them all, because I loved the series so much. Voices is part of the first batch of Babylon 5 novels that was released, and only a few of these first 9 novels are considered “canon.” Voices is not one of those novels. I’m not one who gets all tied up in insisting upon only canon matters (I enjoyed the hell out of a lot of the now-“Legends” Star Wars novels and reviewed… a lot of them). But I want the in-universe books to make sense and be fun.
Voices did each of those… at times. The core of the plot is that some bomb goes off as Alfred Bester, the awful telepath we know and love to hate from the series, is planning a convention on Mars. Instead, because of this bombing, the convention of telepaths gets moved at the last second to Babylon 5, much to the chagrin of Girabaldi and Ivanova in particular. This is set in the time when Talia Winters was still on station, so she gets caught up in the mess, especially when another bomb goes off–this time on B5.
The first half of the novel is honestly great. It reads just like another episode of Babylon 5 set within that time period. You can truly see the characters on screen doing everything described, and it makes sense. I especially loved Girabaldi being flustered at having the whole Psi Corps convention dumped into his lap for security. It was spot-on for the handling of him as a character.
The second half of the novel is, however, not great. Suddenly, characters go off in ways that are totally different from what you’d expect from their established personas. Talia Winters, in particular, loses much of her mystique and calm characterization. Girabaldi becomes much more whiney and less decisive than it seems he should be. Even the Psi Corps people seem to lose their way, acting strangely complacent towards station security at times, and going absolutely wild at other points. The plot goes a bit off the rails as well, as we get several larger threats introduced and dismissed seemingly with ease.
What I was left with, then, was a feeling of disappointment. The promising beginning of the book didn’t get the expected payoff. I did enjoy spending more time with the characters I’d come to know and love, but then they started to act in unbelievable ways. There’s also a few gaffes, such as saying the surface of Mars is 200-300 degrees when the temperature on Mars rarely even approaches 0 from below. It’s not a huge deal–Babylon 5 is space opera and not hard science fiction–but it was enough of a blip that it distracted me. Thanks to The Babylon File (volume 1), I read that Vornholt said that the novel “could have benefited from a few more days of research” (383). It probably could have also benefited from a bit more editing to jettison several unnecessary threats and focus on the main plot.
Voices is an okay work of tie-in fiction, but it violates one of the cardinal rulse of such fiction: it loses the feel of the on-screen characters readers have come to love. I’d be curious to know what other Babylon 5 fans thought of the book.
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