The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Hub

I’m beyond thrilled to be part of the first-ever Self-Published Science Fiction Contest, in 2021. Here, I’ve collected all my posts having to do with this ongoing contest. There are 300 self-published science fiction novels in the running, and my team is assigned the task of narrowing our 31 books down to 3!

Round 1

First Impressions Posts

SPSFC Round 1, Part 1– I test out three books featuring a battle school (The Combat Codes), some hard sci-fi mixed with first contact (Wherever Seeds May Fall), and one that didn’t strike me at all (Turnabout). The hard sci-fi novel was great!

SPSFC Round 1, Part 2– A dark science fantasy, a space dragon romance, and a curiously intriguing conspiracy-driven novel are sampled this go-round.

SPSFC Round 1, Part 3– science fantasy with some horror elements (Things They Buried) goes up against hard sci-fi (Zenith) and a near-future climate thriller (The Jagged Edge) this part of round 1.

SPSFC Round 1, Part 4– I get totally drawn in to a dystopia (Above the Sky) and then take a look at a fun romp (Banneker Bones) and confused by a very unique feeling novel (World of Difference) with my look at these three novels.

SPSFC Round 1, Part 5– post-apocalyptic with some loss of technology (maybe?) (Detonation) goes head-to-head with futuristic mystery (The Trellis) and… weirdness (The Golden Crunk of Cringle).

SPSFC Round 1, Part 6– AIs are the name of the game in two of the entries here (Extinction Reversed and The Shepherd Protocol) while Memories of the Khassos has so much going on that I want to know more.

SPSFC Round 1, Part 7– a dystopic classist nightmare (Age of Order), a thoughtful bit of military sci-fi (Dog Country), and a cool cover (The Revolution Will be Tokenized) make for an intriguing batch of samples.

SPSFC Round 1, Part 8– a Mad Max-style post-apocalyptic novel (Eye of the Storm) meets a hard sci-fi apocalypse (Skybound) and military sci-fi with superpowers (The Lore of Prometheus) in this go-round.

SPSFC Round 1, Part 9– this batch has a time travel exploit (Infinite), hard sci-fi with dragons (Of Cinder & Bone), and an action-packed prison planet (Petra). Which books come out on top?

SPSFC Round 1, Part 10– an action-filled sci-fi thriller (Quinn of Cygnus: Lift Off) squares off against a thoughtful, centuries-spanning epic (Refraction), a time-bouncing, question-everything novel (The Echo Effect), and a dystopia, but with aliens (The Coldsuit) in my final round of samples.

Battle Royale Posts (These posts determined my personal top 10)

SPSFC Round 1, Battle Royale Part 1 cli-fi thriller The Jagged Edge faces off against the dark Edge of the Breach and the time bouncing The Echo Effect to see which book comes out on top!

Full Book Reviews

SPSFC Book Review: “Wherever Seeds May Fall” by Peter Cawdron– I started this book as a sample and then couldn’t stop as I got totally sucked into the story. This was my first full book review for the SPSFC.

Presidential Biographies: Calvin Coolidge #30

My quest to read (at least) one biography per President continues with Calvin Coolidge, the thirtieth President of the United States. My selection process for finding a biography (reading reviews online and utilizing and this website- My Journey Through the Best Presidential Biographies) was served up Coolidge by Amity Shlaes. 

Here, I’ll offer my thoughts on that biography, and proceed to present my official ranking for the DEFINITIVE RANKING OF PRESIDENTS OF THE UNITED STATES!!!!!! The full list of the rankings with all the Presidents as well as comments on their careers, updated as I read through this list, may be found here.

Coolidge by Amity Shlaes

There are several different ways to write a Presidential biography, I’m discovering. One of the popular ways is to write a biography attempting to reform the image of the subject or highlight positives about the subject that others have purportedly understated. Shlaes’s biography of Coolidge is definitely in this category and style of Presidential bio. But she goes well beyond simply trying to show Coolidge was a better President than he is consistently ranked (in the lowest third). She also tries to argue overall for the superiority of his economic policy and continually praises it, with strong hints throughout that it would be the best policy to this day. 

Shlaes’s portrait is, moreover, quite personable. She presents us an image of Coolidge, who has come down in history as a kind of standoffish, almost prudish figure. But Shlaes notes his convictions as remaining steady and guiding principles throughout his life. These principles were ingrained in him from childhood. His family was notoriously thrifty, and his father was careful with every penny he spent. This led them to a pride in their own work ethic and the way it spurred on the family’s livelihood. This work ethic was clearly absorbed by Coolidge as the way to live and succeed in life. That would play out going forward at every level of government in which Coolidge participated.

Perhaps the most notable political action of Coolidge’s life was his participation in smashing the efforts by police in Boston to organize a union and strike while he was Governor of Massachusetts. Initially, he tried to apply his conservative principle of letting local leaders deal with the crisis. However, as the mayor of Boston called up National Guard and fired the Police Comissioner, Coolidge stepped in. He reinstated the Police Commissioner and supported the firing of all the striking police immediately. When he received a telegram saying that the Police Commissioner essentially helped cause disorder by refusing to grant rights to the officers who were striking, Coolidge issued a public statement that was received with joy by conservatives across the country. He wrote that “there is no right to strike against the public safety by anyone, anywhere, any time…” and decisively condemned any action by the striking police. This was during the First Red Scare as Russia and other countries were experiencing revolutionary movements by workers. Because of widespread fear of the communist revolution, any action against laborers of virtually any kind was celebrated by many, and Coolidge’s action propelled him into the national conversation on conservativism. Coolidge’s deliberate action here can be seen as emblematic of his career. While favoring local rule, he ultimately saw his own decision-making as taking precedent in nearly every instance. He would speak to and favor policies that made smaller government in many ways, but when smaller government or local decisions went against what he preferred, he’d take nearly every action at his disposal to overturn those decisions and take things into hand for policies and decisions he favored. 

As President, a position he inherited after Warren Harding’s sudden death, Coolidge continued this kind of conservativism. After settling some of the lingering scandals from Harding’s Presidency, he proceeded to cut taxes–including lowering marginal taxes on the wealthiest income brackets by more than 10%. Shlaes celebrates this policy in particular, crediting it with helping to forestall depression of the economy and helping balance out the government budget. Of course, after Coolidge’s Presidency the economy faltered and plummeted. Economic change often takes years to see the long term impact, and while it would be unfair to charge Coolidge’s tax (and other) economic policy with the Great Depression. But to lionize his policy, as Shlaes seems to, as ushering in some brief moment of economic equality and wealth for all is itself a fantasy. 

Indeed, the taxation plan of Coolidge celebrated by Shlaes as helping pay down the national debt led to a massive increase in state and local government spending to make up for the lack of federal support. Shlaes pointing out that the federal government collected far more taxes on Coolidges policy of lowering taxes on all does little to highlight the country’s prosperity during that time–apparently Shlaes’s goal. Instead, it shows that the wealthiest people in the United States–those who were paying the most taxes–ended up becoming far, far wealthier during this time. Thus, the wealthiest tiers were able to make up and exceed all those making under $100,000 a year (in the 1920s!) due to the massive increase of their own wealth. Economics is notorious for relying on correlation, and I’m not an expert (I only took a few undergraduate classes in economics), but it seems to this reader that Shlaes selectively presented only the data which portrayed Coolidge’s policies in the best light. It’s one thing to say that the federal government brought in more money despite cutting taxes. That data point on its own could lead to any number of assumptions, and based on the framing in this book, the assumption one could be forgiven for making would be that it was made up due to overall flourishing of the economy. It’s another to note that that increase was made up entirely by the wealthiest in the country. Together, these points do not equal equity, but rather increasing economic inequality, something that would loom large in the coming decade. 

Shlaes also seems to suggest Coolidge’s policies somehow could have prevented or put off the Depression, when it seems that his laissez-faire approach as the crisis ramped up actually contributed to ushering the Depression in. No single factor could be pinned down as a single cause of the Depression. However, Coolidge’s policy of letting the market run rampant helped increase a financial bubble that would burst, and Hoover, his successor, would largely be blamed. 

If it seems I’ve focused quite a bit on economics, that’s because it is clear Coolidge himself was highly focused on questions of business in the United States. Whether it was his work on tax reform, his fight over farm subsidies (which he opposed, arguing farms should modernize to increase profitability), or his work on flood relief (aka, not doing much), Coolidge was interested in those things which interested him. The spendthrift days of his childhood made him a spendthrift President. Though he gave lip service to civil rights, he did little to back it up. He did call for making lynching a federal crime–something Congress didn’t pass. He also signed the Indian Citizenship Act, though citizenship had already been granted to a large percentage of Native Americans. On foreign policy, even outside of Shlaes’s biography, I found little on Coolidge’s interactions internationally. 

Coolidge is as much an apology as it is a biography of a President. It deftly defends its subject, but it reads as an overstatement. Time and again, looking more deeply into the topics raised economically, Coolidge didn’t quite succeed to the extent that he is praised for in the biography. Intentionally or not, it seems Shlaes fails to fully delve into the economic issues at hand during the Coolidge adminstration–or the longer-term impacts they may have had. Under Coolidge, the wealthy got wealthier, and the status queue was the priority. 

Calvin Coolidge’s Original Ranking in THE DEFINITIVE RANKING OF PRESIDENTS OF THE UNITED STATES (Full and Updated List Here)

Calvin Coolidge (30th President – Original Ranking #26)- Coolidge was faced with financial crises and labor crises as a leader, and responded in basically conservative fashion. He would favor local legislation and rule, and if he felt that it took deeper intervention, would essentially try to restore the status queue at any cost. Of course, when push came to shove, he favored his own intervention in any issue with which he found disagreement on lower authorities. Ultimately, his everyman kind of approach to government can be seen as overshadowed by his actions showing he truly preferred a kind of elitism in which his own decisions took precedent over any local leadership. Moreover, Coolidge as President was so hyper-focused on the economy that it is hard to evaluate him outside of that. His cut taxes policy made the wealthy wealthier, as the evidence suggests. But the long term impacts of his economic policy may have contributed to the Great Depression. He gave lip service to civil rights but brought about little change, and his foreign policy contributions were negligible. He wasn’t an awful President, but whatever impact he has was negated swiftly after his Presidency as the Depression wiped out the economy. 

Links

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!

SDG.

SPSFC Round 1, Part 9: Self-Published Science Fiction Contest reading

I’m beyond thrilled to be part of the first-ever Self-Published Science Fiction Contest! What is that? Check out the write up over at Red Star Reviews for an explanation. The first round of the contest for we judges is to whittle down the pile of books we’ve been given from the 30 (31 for our group!) to 10 that we’re going to read in their entirety. How do we do that? Well, we read 10-20% of all 30 of the books and then vote on whether we’d like to continue them. I’m going to blog about these as I go, and I want to know what you think! How do you like the covers? Have you read the book? Did my write-up make you want to read it? Let me know!

Infinite by Jeremy Robinson

Wake up, die, repeat? Infinite has an intriguing premise that combines a number of sci-fi subgenres. Will, our protagonist, wakes up after a botched cold sleep to find himself killed but immortal? Is it a time loop? Is it something else? I don’t know yet, at 15% in. I liked the concept, but didn’t find myself sinking into the main character because it read a bit too much like fantasy fulfillment to me. I truly found the main character off-putting, which made me feel standoffish from the beginning of the book. It’s a no from me.

Of Cinder and Bone by Kyoko M.

There are all kind of vibes from this novel that I enjoyed from the get-go. It has a very light hard sci-fi touch (I don’t know if the science-y portions get more science-y later, but for now it’s basically just a line or two about concepts) with a sprinkling of Jurassic Park and the great character interactions of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer. I was immediately drawn into the characters and their interactions with each other. They each showed more depth than I thought they may have at the beginning, and the main plot is off to a strong start. There’s a little bit of made up archaeology, a bit of science fantasy, and a bunch of fun so far. I’m looking forward to reading more of this one, and it’s going on my “yes” stack.

Petra: The Prison World Revolt, Book One by Matthew S. Rotundo

I’m not really sure what I expected here. The subtitle is enough to reveal the basics. I guess I was expecting a kind of campy 50s-60s style sci-fi adventure. What the first 20% showed me is that was not an accurate assumption. The story takes itself far more seriously than that, and I’m not convinced that’s a good thing. What is a plus is that Rotundo amps up the action fairly quickly, making it easier to get into the flow of the plot. As it stands, this one feels like a “not for me” story, but I’m not saying it’s not a good book. If you like action-packed adventures in space, it’s probably worth a look.

Round 1 Status

I’ve now dipped my toes into 27 out of 31 books. I’m now at 9 yes [revised because after reading further in a different book, it’s going to be a “no” instead of a “yes”], 10 no, and 8 maybes. With 4 books left, it’s clear I’ll need to do some re-shuffling. Some of those maybes are calling to me. Once I’ve finished my initial rankings, I’ll start reading a few books completely from both the yes and maybe piles. That will tighten up which ones are true “yes” books for me. For now, off to start those last 4.

I’d love to hear from you what you think if you’ve read any of these books or want to see them on my longer reviews! Want to know what other books are on the list? Check out Red Star Reviews’ post on my team’s list to see the covers!

All links to Amazon are affiliates.

Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

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!

SDG.

SPSFC Round 1, Part 8: Self-Published Science Fiction Contest reading

I’m beyond thrilled to be part of the first-ever Self-Published Science Fiction Contest! What is that? Check out the write up over at Red Star Reviews for an explanation. The first round of the contest for we judges is to whittle down the pile of books we’ve been given from the 30 (31 for our group!) to 10 that we’re going to read in their entirety. How do we do that? Well, we read 10-20% of all 30 of the books and then vote on whether we’d like to continue them. I’m going to blog about these as I go, and I want to know what you think! How do you like the covers? Have you read the book? Did my write-up make you want to read it? Let me know!

The Eye of the Storm by R. K. King

Mad Max crossed with some kind of “Titan A.E.” or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine vibes is what I’d call this one. The I only read 10% of this one because I basically immediately knew it was going to be on the yes pile for me. It feels lazy to just throw a bunch of comparisons around to describe a book, so here’s the elevator pitch: in the [our?] future, humans are surviving in different clans as they race across a scorched landscape trying to gather resources in the middle of a huge storm. The story slows down after the action-packed intro scene, with a younger generation trying to navigate the divided loyalties of clan and humanity. I’m excited to dive more deeply, and if my group doesn’t make this one of our books to read the whole thing, I will still be reading it all myself.

Skybound by Lou Iovino

What would happen if Earth stopped spinning? That’s the single-sentence description for the premise of Skybound, which features one of my favorite simplistic covers for our group’s books. At 12% in, it seems a hard sci-fi read, and I’ve confessed my love for hard sci-fi before. On the flip side, I’m not sure the catastrophic impact of the Earth stopping its rotation or movement is as disastrous as it ought to be. However, a couple strong character pieces got me into the story of this one, such that I think it’s worth delving more deeply into. It’s on the “Yes” stack.

The Lore of Prometheus by Graham Austin-King

Another fabulous cover here, in my opinion. This seems to be a kind of urban fantasy, possibly with hints of superpowers? It’s not clear if it’s going to shape up as a superhero novel or stick to straight urban fantasy. In the latter case, it doesn’t quite meet the criteria for the contest. In the former, I wish it were more clear. It reads like a little bit of mafia-type background, as well. I am intrigued, so this one is going to the ever-growing “maybe” stack.

Round 1 Status

I’ve now dipped my toes into 24 out of 31 books. I’m now at 9 yes, 7 no, and 8 maybes. It’s becoming more and more clear my “yes” list is going to be too bloated, and some of those maybes are calling to me, too. I’m going to have to be doing some extra-curricular reading on the side. I have 7 books left to sample, with only 1 for sure yes spot left. I do know at least one “yes” that I am going to flip to a “no” based on some later reading, so these numbers will change. For now, I’m enjoying the ride. I’d love to hear from you what you think if you’ve read any of these books or want to see them on my longer reviews! Want to know what other books are on the list? Check out Red Star Reviews’ post on my team’s list to see the covers!

All links to Amazon are affiliates.

Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

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!

SDG.

My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1975

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. I’ve marked the winner as well as my own choice for which novel would win, had I the choice among the nominees. I’ve also dropped a short reflection on the year’s Hugo list at the end.

The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin (Winner, My Winner)- Grade: A+
Ursula K. Le Guin sketches out a remarkably detailed anarchist society, while pitting its pseudo-utopian problems alongside problems with capitalism and socialism. It’s really well done and incredibly deep. At no point does it seem like the society is merely a foil, except perhaps at times when questions of sexual relations is concerned. Even there, though, Le Guin has in-universe reasons for what is happening and ties it all into her detailed world-building. She also explores the question of how much our upbringing can cloud our thoughts regarding being self-critical and analyzing our own views. Why not the highest possible score? Because other than the main character, an intriguing scientist with a good amount of depth, every other character is exactly what you might expect. They’re created purely for the sake of the plot, but the plot is so intriguing that you don’t end up minding it as much as you probably should. So even the somewhat uneven characterization doesn’t take away from the glory of this novel. It certainly must stand as among the best science fiction novels ever written.

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick- Grade: C-
Can there please, please be one Philip K. Dick novel where the answer to everything is not “drugs did it”? [Yes, I know there is more than one. But come on.] I saw the “twists” in this novel coming from miles away. I saw the main reveal coming from the beginning of the book. Dick was capable of creating mind-bending plot threads, and this one was no different. Waking up going from famous to a nobody isn’t the most original idea, but Dick’s writing is capable at even the worst, and he had me hooked fairly early on. However, delving deeper and deeper into the book made me think, “Wow, I hope this doesn’t end up as another ‘The answer is drugs’ when the big reveal hits.” Well, sure enough, it is. And that basically sucked all of my enjoyment from the novel. It’s fine. I guess.

The Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle Grade: A-
The authors created a unique first-contact story that I enjoyed immensely. Plenty of twists and strangeness mixed in. It conveys a sense of the strangeness of the alien that isn’t always found in first contact books. They truly do feel ‘other’ in a way that authors don’t always manage to capture with aliens. That’s probably the greatest strength of this novel, and the one that kept me coming back. The aliens are just so much fun to figure out, and the way the humans slowly find out more about them is written such that it is rewarding to keep peeling back the layers. The central conflict surrounding how to deal with the different alien types and the revelations that come with that are intriguing. Quite well done.

Inverted World by Christopher Priest Grade: A
When I write book reviews, I try to avoid words that I think get overutilized in book blurbs or endorsements. One of those words is “engrossing.” But I have to say, Inverted World could best be described as “engrossing.” From start to finish, it is a spellbinding tale that adds complexity nearly every time you turn a page. I thought at multiple points I had figured out the twist for the novel, only to have another puzzle thrown at me that I could not explain. Ultimately, Inverted World is about how we perceive–or refuse to perceive–the world around us. Will we be like Helward, refusing to see reality even as it is shown to us? Or will we be open-minded enough to allow our perceptions to be mistaken? Or do our perceptions confine us to reality in ways we might not anticipate? Priest made me think of all these possibilities while captivating me with his world-building. If there is a flaw in the novel, it’s that almost no one besides Helward is of any interest. Even Eliabeth, introduced late in the novel, has little to offer by way of development. But this is a book that forces you to think about the world after reading it, and I tend to think those are the best kind of novel to read.

Fire Time by Poul Anderson Grade: C-
My overall impression of Poul Anderson is that he comes up with great ideas but doesn’t flesh them out or execute them as well as I’d like. Fire Time is a prime example of that. The premise has a hard sci-fi bend: a planet’s interaction with its three stars cause a “Fire Time,” which is an incredibly hot time every thousand years as the planet approaches one star in particular. Of course, tons of mythos has sprung up around this time, and adding humans into the mix of aliens causes additional avenues for conflict. The conflict itself could be an analogue for a real world conflict, as well. Somehow this promising premise gets reduced to a few vignettes of characters who aren’t terribly interesting. After the first 10% or so, it quickly becomes a tedious read that rides its premise along for the latter portions without any other reason to continue. At no point did any of the characters grab me and bring me along. I just kept hoping for more.

1975- As a follow up to a somewhat disappointing 1974, this year was fantastic. The winner, The Dispossessed, is unquestionably one of the greatest works of science fiction ever written. It stands up under multiple re-reads and continues to find depths to explore each time. The obligatory PKD and Anderson books are there, and if you’re fan of their styles, you probably will like them more than I did. PKD, in particular, is very hit or miss for me. Rounding out the year are two other fantastic reads that are radically different. Inverted World is an absolute mind-bender of a novel from the magnificent Christopher Priest, while The Mote… is a fabulous first contact novel. It’s just a great year for the Hugos with a superb collection of works.

Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

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!

SDG.

SPSFC Round 1, Part 7: Self-Published Science Fiction Contest reading

I’m beyond thrilled to be part of the first-ever Self-Published Science Fiction Contest! What is that? Check out the write up over at Red Star Reviews for an explanation. The first round of the contest for we judges is to whittle down the pile of books we’ve been given from the 30 (31 for our group!) to 10 that we’re going to read in their entirety. How do we do that? Well, we read 10-20% of all 30 of the books and then vote on whether we’d like to continue them. I’m going to blog about these as I go, and I want to know what you think! How do you like the covers? Have you read the book? Did my write-up make you want to read it? Let me know!

Age of Order by Julian North

A dystopian story of classism gone to the extreme, I enjoyed the beginnings of Age of Order by Julian North. The characterization is there, and the plot grabbed me fairly early on. There’s a reason dystopian fiction is so popular–it engages with problems in the here and now in sometimes overt, sometimes subtle ways. This one seems like more of an overt look, but I’m not sure of the exact direction North is going to take it. There is classism taken to the extreme, and that has me interested. I want to know what’s going on enough to place this one on my “yes” stack.

Dog Country by Malcom F. Cross

This was my pick for the best cover on our team’s books. As for the content, we have a bunch of genetically engineered dogs put into battle in a kind of Forever War-esque setting. It takes some time to get going–at 10% I wasn’t sure I’d want to continue–but once it does, it is a much more thoughtful sci-fi story than I was expecting. I am only at 14% now, but I can already get the sense that this is going to be a powerful read. It’s on the yes stack.

The Revolution Will Be Tokenized by Christoph Brueck

The Revolution Will Be Tokenized is a kind of cyberpunk/dystopian mashup that thrusts readers into a refugee camp in Africa, where almost everything is a commodity or able to be stolen. I had a few problems with this one from the beginning, one of which is how casually rape is mentioned to one of the protagonists, who then shrugs it off. It just didn’t sit right with me. There are also a decent amount of grammatical errors or strange uses of terminology that put me off. I read 10% and I was forcing myself to continue. I put this one down as a “no.” Its Amazon ratings are pretty high, so maybe I’m an outlier here.

Round 1 Status

I’ve now dipped my toes into 21 out of 31 books. I’m now at 7 yes, 7 no, and 7 maybes. That “maybe” list is looming large compared to the number I’ll be able to allow on it. Let’s see how these last 10 books go. I’d love to hear from you what you think if you’ve read any of these books or want to see them on my longer reviews! Want to know what other books are on the list? Check out Red Star Reviews’ post on my team’s list to see the covers!

Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

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!

SDG.

Watching Babylon 5 for the First Time, “Crusade”: Episodes 3-4

You are in pain.

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. Now I’ve finished the series, but am working my way through the movies, related works, comics, and books. Please don’t spoil anything from other works here! 

3: The Well of Forever

The crystal with coordinates built into it was an awesome idea. Galen shows it off, an artifact that can lead the Excalibur to the Well of Forever. Meanwhile, a telepath is coming aboard to do a deep scan of Lieutenant Matheson–himself a telepath–to check out his security clearance or… something.

The deep scan itself reveals to the telepath that the ship is on the way to the Well of Forever, and he reacts somewhat poorly to the news. As the Excalibur gets closer to the Well of Forever, it encounters some gigantic jellyfish looking creatures which Galen assures them are “barely sentient.” As they try to drift through, one of the creatures grabs the ship and begins, well, mating with it. It’s a moment of some levity during a rather tense situation.

Galen also has apparently taken control of the ship, and he’s unwilling to allow Gideon to turn around once they discover there’s nothing in the space where the Well should be. Ultimately, they do find it and it turns out to be a huge amount of valuable materials. But the Well is apparently a kind of Mausoleum for Technomages and others. And Galen’s insistence on going there was to say goodbye to his love.

Gideon then sets up the adversarial telepath to illegally probe Dureena. He then blackmails the telepath into not blocking Matheson’s promotion. It’s a pretty hardcore moment for Gideon.

The whole episode feels a bit strange to me. Apparently Galen was willing to hijack the Excalibur to say goodbye to his love, and Gideon’s conversation with Galen at the end is surprising. Gideon chooses not to put the offense on the record because he values Galen’s skills. But does that mean the whole trip is off the record? That’s a lot of data to expunge or cover up for a big crew.

4: The Path of Sorrows

Gideon and others find a kind of stasis sphere in some ancient archaeological site. After it appears to interact with Gideon, the Captain insists on bringing it aboard the Excalibur. I had a strong sense of foreboding about this, which was certainly reinforced by the music and lighting surrounding the object in the opening scenes.

This episode has quite a bit of character development, which is great. So far, they’d pretty much all seemed fairly thin characters. We especially got more about Gideon’s background, as we see that he witnessed the destruction of his ship. Then, as he floated in EVA, he watched the ships belonging to the technomages fly past and ignore his distress call… until one came back for him. That one was, of course, Galen.

Later, Gideon wins an “Apocalypse Box” while gambling. It’s a rather ominous scene, as the man he won it from immediately “frees” himself by stepping in front of an air car.

Matheson also gets some flashbacks, letting us see into the heart of the telepath’s compound as he is assigned to help control a rogue telepath, but in the process, he gets used as a dupe to destroy the Psi Corps base. Only this alien in the stasis capsule is able to tell him, and then mysteriously tell Matheson “I FORGIVE YOU.” Right as Matheson leaves, Galen approaches and ominously tells the creature that “I know you.”

Galen reveals that he has done research and believes the creature feeds of the emotions of others because it has none of its own. But the creatre responds to Galen’s accusation arguing that it exists on forgiveness, and then launches Galen into a flashback of his own. His flashback is of his love dying, and as hecomes out of it he says “Damn you” to the alien, then asks “You want me to forgive God?” He doesn’t believe whatsoever in a beyond or an afterlife. His rage leads him to almost kill the alien, but he’s interrupted by Matheson and Gideon.

The incident, however, convinces Gideon to send it back to where it was housed. A haunting shot of Galen riding alone through the Excalibur as Gideon’s voice over says “No way out… no way to go” is one of the best moments so far in the series. After they drop the alien back on its planet, another approaches, being told “YOU ARE IN PAIN” as the alien said to all the others. We’re left with a closing as Galen gets a message that seems to reflect his lover’s words that there is a beyond, and that she’ll send him a message to let him know she was right. But Galen throws the message to the floor before walking away.

This episode has me fired up. So far, I have to admit, I wasn’t fully sold on the series. But with this episode, we have the characterization and wonder that I’ve loved about Babylon 5. There’s depth here far beyond the previous 3 episodes, which were each fine. This episode, however, is something special.

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SDG.