Reading the Babylon 5 Novels: “In the Beginning” by Peter David

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.

In the Beginning by Peter David

Novelizations of movies aren’t often great. They’re often just cash grabs for the novelty of having a book in hand to tell the story. Peter David, however, is no hack. He’s written a number of Star Trek novels I quite enjoyed, and I was excited to see what his take on this Babylon 5 film would be. In the Beginning is largely a 1-to-1 retelling of the movie, but David adds in a bunch of detail and asides that make it feel very much like a Babylon 5 story is being told. Honestly, I enjoyed it even more than the film.

The story of In the Beginning is that of Mollari as Emperor telling some children what happened in the Earth-Minbari war, which would of course set up numerous later events and lead to many of his own self-inflicted problems. Like the movie, it’s all told from his perspective. Because this is a novel, however, David is able to keep the entire story in the voice of Mollari. Yes, the movie does much of this as well, but David adds more comments from Mollari, along with internal rationalizations of what he’s saying. All of this adds depth of character to the story that already has plenty going for it.

There’s no question that Mollari is among the most interesting characters in a cast of greats on Babylon 5. This book reads just as though you, the reader, are having the whole story being told from his perspective. Again, the film attempts this (and largely succeeds), but the novel turns it up a few notches. I can’t tell you the number of times I chuckled appreciatively at something that was absolutely on point for Mollari as a character. Chapter after chapter revealed additional insights not only into the main characters of the show, but into Mollari himself. I found myself looking forward to seeing what comments David might put into Mollari’s mind or mouth as he continued the story. It’s just a fabulous way to read about Babylon 5. Honestly, I’d love to have more novels written like this–just Mollari (or another character) retelling various events with commentary.

In the Beginning is definitely the best of the Babylon 5 novels I’ve read so far. It not only retells the story of the movie, but it expands upon it and fills in background in numerous delightful ways. Peter David’s novel absolutely captures the feel of Babylon 5 the whole time, and it is worth the read for any fan of the series.

Links

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

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.

Reading the Babylon 5 Novels: “The Shadow Within” by Jeanne Cavelos

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.

The Shadow Within by Jeanne Cavelos

The blurb for this one promises some insight into the series that can’t really be found anywhere else. The novel follows the story of John Sheridan and his wife, Anna, before the TV series begins. Thus, we are to see scenes of John on the Agamemnon and his wife exploring archaeological finds that we know will lead to the shadows. Mr. Morden also looms large, as he’s on the expedition with Anna.

This plot setup is enough to vault the novel into a point of interest, as it allows the author to effectively have free say with the past of characters we care about while possibly explaining some of their motivations and background in ways we’ve not yet seen. Cavelos largely takes advantage of that, providing some believable background into characters we enjoy–or enjoy hating.

John Sheridan’s background, unfortunately, is a bit boring, however. Yes, some things go down on the ship and he even saves a bunch of lives, but it all feels a bit pedestrian while reading it. I found myself wanting to push through the Jon scenes to get to the ones featuring Anna. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but one would think seeing Sheridan as a war hero should be more exciting than it is.

The scenes with Anna largely deliver. Part of that is because we don’t have a great sense of who she was before the show yet, and so Cavelos can play with her character both in development and in what she encounters throughout the novel. I quite enjoyed the portrayal of Anna, and certainly her encounters with Mr. Morden are of interest to any fans of the show. What really sealed it for me was the ending, which basically takes us to where Anna starts in the show. It’s chilling and exciting–something we haven’t really encountered in the other novels to this point. There’s also a look at Ambassador Kosh and, briefly, what he might have been up to as a few major events played out.

The Shadow Within is among the best of the first run of Babylon 5 novels. It provides background for characters of interest on the show and even glimpses of what can explain some later interactions. Unfortunately, a good portion of the book falls flat due to not being engaging. Overall, this one is at least worth the read for fans of the show who’d like to have some additional story about major events that predate the show.

All Links to Amazon are Affiliates

Links

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

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.

Reading the Babylon 5 Novels: “Betrayals” by S.M. Stirling

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.

Betrayals by S.M. Stirling

S.M. Stirling is a well-known name in speculative fiction, largely due to his alternate history Draka novels. I’ve not read those books, as I’ve long been intimidated by finding a random one on a library or bookstore shelf, cracking the cover, and seeing a lengthy list of books I ought to read first. Betrayals shows me Stirling is capable of weaving an intriguing yarn, but it doesn’t really capture the feel of Babylon 5.

The main story centers around two primary points of conflict: the first is a gathering of Centauri and Narn diplomats on Babylon 5; the second is the revelation of a pair of T’ll, apparently long-time enemies of the Narn. The Narn, apparently, are the occupying forces on the planet T’ll, and this leads to a deep and abiding enmity between their peoples. With these stages set for conflict, the novel had a feeling that it should have huge implications, but the plot ultimately plays out at too small a scale for it to fully sell its premise.

One reason I say this is that the T’ll-Narn conflict is, to my knowledge, entirely contained within this novel. I looked up “T’ll” in the Babylon 5 Encyclopedia and came up empty, unless I was looking the wrong places. With that in mind, it makes it difficult to fathom how an apparently generations-spanning hatred and conflict can fit into this novel. That question is made especially difficult when it gets boiled down to such a microcosm of conflict that we’re simultaneously supposed to believe has much wider implications. I like the idea of this as a central conflict. The Narn occupying a planet and on a small scale and being devastated by the Centauri in a broader scale, upscaled conflict that is similar makes for quite the potential for a parable or deeper meaning somewhere. That never seems to happen, and we never really get the payoff that such a premise promises as a possibility.

Centering this planetary conflict in the midst of the wider Centauri-Narn conflict, again, hints at a broader possibility here, but because this is set in the Babylon 5 universe, and not in an abstract, standalone science fiction novel, we have to deal with it not making much sense of how many characters act. There are a few fun moments with Mollari, but G’Kar seems out of sorts the whole time, seeming out of character nearly every time he appears on the page.

All of this is unfortunate, because there are other cool scenes set within this novel, such as the smuggling of the T’llin twins in as statues. It doesn’t make a ton of sense and requires a little more science = magic than we’re used to in Babylon 5, but it’s a great idea nonetheless. Garibaldi has some okay character moments, but they are few and far between. Much of the rest of the main cast seems shadows in the background. Again, this would be a fine decision if the rest of the story managed to maintain a sense of well, making sense in Babylon 5’s established operating grounds.

Betrayals hints at great ideas and broader conflicts than it manages to deliver. It ends up reading more like a Babylon 5-themed plot in a kind of alternate universe. As a standalone novel, it has some good ideas, but it feels displaced in the universe in which it’s set. It’s an okay read, but ultimately frustrating in its delivery.

Links

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

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.

Reading the Babylon 5 Novels: “The Touch of Your Shadow, the Whisper of Your Name” by Neal Barrett, Jr.

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.

The Touch of Your Shadow, the Whisper of Your Name by Neal Barrett, Jr.

The premise of this (so far best-named) Babylon 5 novel is that there’s a big magical space snake thing that causes bad dreams and the people on Babylon 5 have to deal with and/or fix that.

The problem with this book is that so much of it is dreams. I’m sure I’m exaggerating here, but it felt as though a third of this book was just sitting in people’s dreams. I guess that wouldn’t hugely matter, if the dreams had relevance for Babylon 5 more broadly. Technically there’s some character development in these dreams, like a comedic/serious scene with Lennier, but it doesn’t go very far.

A huge amount of this book is focused around those dreams as well. Basically that’s the whole story here:

Everyone on Babylon 5: There’s dreams, let’s deal with them by rioting.

Garibaldi: No, don’t do that.

Everyone: Oh, okay.

Alright, I oversimplified, but that summarizes most of the plot that isn’t dreams. Yeah, they have to deal with the space alien thing, too, but at some point I just stopped caring. The good points here are the title and the occasional flash of seeing a favorite character acting in a just-right way. There’s so little by way of main plot here that it becomes difficult to even want to get into it. The dreams have no real investment on the part of the reader. We know they’re dreams, and that they’re not even building character in most cases. They’re just fluff that serve little purpose other than to pad the length of the novel.

The Touch of Your Shadow, the Whisper of Your Name is another mediocre Babylon 5 novel. Honestly, I think reading it and just skipping over all the dreams in the book may give it the chance to be more enjoyable, but as I think about doing that, I realize how little plot there is apart from them. It’s just an okay read.

Links

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

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.

Reading the Babylon 5 Novels: “Clark’s Law” by Jim Mortimore

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.

Clark’s Law by Jim Mortimore

I haven’t written a tie-in novel, but I’m going to guess that one of the biggest pitfalls of doing so is that you have an idea for a story on one hand, and that you’ve also got the universe in which you’re writing on the other. Sometimes, those two meet nicely, and sometimes, they don’t. Sometimes, you write and it’s like you’re forcing an idea into the universe in which it doesn’t quite fit. At that point, what do you do? I suspect you keep going because there’s a deadline and you don’t want to miss it. Clark’s Law by Jim Mortimore reads like this is exactly what happened. Mortimore had an idea (what if there were some controversy over the death penalty in a sci-fi setting) and a setting (Babylon 5) and then pushed them together. This novel is the result.

It doesn’t work, which is unfortunate because the central ideas are there and the prose is stronger than you might think (see below). You’ve got Clark, an ambitious, ruthless man who wants to make defining decisions for humanity as a nefarious bad guy. It fits well with the rest of the TV show at this point. There’s also an alien race, the Tuchanq, with a twist that makes them more interesting than generic aliens–their Song of Being is tied up in their sense of self, such that interrupting it requires ceremonial resurrection, in a sense. It’s kind of a cool thread. These collide as one of the Tuchanq, D’arc, thinks she’s mad and so kills a human on Babylon 5 to attempt to regain a Song of Being. Clark wants to execute this alien, having one eponymous law for all beings that includes the death penalty in the case of murder. There’s questions about the death penalty, innocence, fascinating discussion of aliens, and more here.

One thing that makes it not work is that none of the characters or even the setting feels very much like Babylon 5 as established in the show. Setting aside the simple factual errors, such as names being wrong between the book and show or Jeffrey Sinclair turning into Geoffrey Sinclair, the characters don’t all act in ways that seem genuine to them. Now, maybe I’m overselling this feeling. I know I’ve mentioned it before in my reviews of the novels. Perhaps I’m the one whose feel for the show is off. I’ve only seen it all the way through once so far, after all. That may be true, but I see on various reviews basically every other fan of B5 is saying the same thing. Something just seems off for just about every major character. Sheridan’s not as forceful or decisive as he should be, though he ultimately finds a creative way out G’Kar and Mollari are at it again, but it reads much more artificially than it should. Garibaldi is, well, he’s there but doesn’t do as much as he probably should be in a novel like this. The payoff of a tie-in novel just isn’t there. It doesn’t read like a Babylon 5 book.

Clark’s Law is almost relentlessly dark. I tend to read tie-in novels hoping for some escapism–a brush with favorite characters that reminds me of whatever medium they came from originally. Here, Mortimore assaults readers with ambiguity and darkness everywhere. From the beginning, a series of lies is told, and at the end a few truths are told. It’s a great framing mechanism and shows a surprising command of prose for a novel that apparently had a deadline of just several weeks to be written and submitted (according to The Babylon File Volume I by Andy Lane). There’s depth here that goes far beyond the pages. That’s a good thing, but it also makes the novel strangely harder to get into because if you’ve seen the show, you know the repercussions that should ripple out from the main thrust of the story just don’t really happen. Yes, Clark is bad, but something like this should have had much wider consequences. It creates a weird sense of both feeling in Babylon 5 while also making it obvious the events can’t really have taken place because they’d have been of much more note than they are.

Clark’s Law is a good enough science fiction novel with a surprising command of structure and prose. However, as a Babylon 5 novel it has to be rated as merely okay–it grasps at things larger than it manages to deliver, while also failing to get into the feel of the show. Recommended if you’re wanting a vaguely Babylon 5-esque sci-fi novel that will make you think.

(All Links to Amazon are Affiliates.)

Links

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

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.

Watching Babylon 5 for the First Time: Crusade, Episodes 9-10

You’ve got some dirt on your nose. Right… there.

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! 

9: Racing the Night

JMS sure likes the phrase “The Last, Best Hope,” doesn’t he? I appreciated this dream/flashback sequences that lets us get filled in on the extreme importance of Excalibur’s mission. Also I gotta say as cheesy as it is, I was delighted by the CG scene of Gideon flying through this abandoned city. It’s campy and insanely fun. But oh no! Not much time to think about that as some dude gets cut to pieces by a laser!?

And now we get space archaeology, too? As I said in the first-ish episode, this is one of my all-time favorite sci-fi tropes. I just love the sense of the vastness of space and time that happens when we get space archaeology. Someone having their internal organs pulled out seems like a bad sign on a planet that has no signs of living things despite clear evidence of massive civilization.

I loved our resident technomage’s one liner: “I thought you don’t hold a grudge…” “I don’t. I have no surviving enemies.”

This episode is full of cheesy stuff that somehow works because it’s hilarious and tongue in cheek. It’s also got some ominous parts, which it somehow manages to sell despite the silliness of some aspects of the episode. The big reveal here, that these aliens are dissecting everyone who shows up to try to find a cure, wasn’t terribly surprising, but it absolutely matches the theme of the whole thing. I loved it, to be honest.

10: The Memory of War

News from Earth is universally bad. Riots, food shortages, quarantines everywhere–it’s a disaster that just continues forever, apparently. Meanwhile, on Excalibur, they’ve found a planet that appears to have been ravaged by the Drakh plague or something similar. The crew thinks that it might show a way to fight the plague, but Galen warns them against touching down.

On the surface of the planet, they encounter no one, but some startling possibilities about degradation of materials that they dropped down to the surface are immediately encountered in the form of their probes surviving but crumbling to pieces. Dureena uses her parkour abilities to nab a data crystal, and Eilerson decodes it to see a message from the former inhabitants of the planet apparently saying something about a death that comes at night. Then, the crap starts to hit the fan as a few of the security detail die mysteriously.

Then, the revelation: it was a techno-mage who created the “obscene” (using Galen’s word) thing that is causing so much destruction on the planet’s surface. Galen races to the planet to beat Nightfall and work against the techno-mage’s powers on the surface. Galen encounters a kind of AI techno-mage fragment from one who went against the order because he had a “price.” He developed the virus for one side in a war, which ultimately destroyed all of the people on the planet by having them all kill each other. The AI confronts Galen saying that he, too, has a price. Galen manages to find its power core and destroy it with his staff, but it looks as though the staff is lost in the aftermath.

On Excalibur, Galen reveals the importance of the staff to him and his deep disappointment with its loss. Dureena, however, went on one last shuttle trip and managed to miraculously get through millions of tons of dirt and stone and recover his staff. Because she’s awesome. Meanwhile, Dr. Chambers takes the inert nanovirus and reprograms it to be used to essentially become immune to the virus for limited time periods without contamination. I’m hoping this or something else will give us some resolution for the main plot of the show, but I don’t have huge hope to hold out for that. There’s only a few episodes left and we need to wrap up a lot of threads, and since it was cancelled I don’t think we’ll get it. But still, I think in my head I can just think they adapted this tech to eventually provide a cure.

This was an okay episode, but the core plot was a bit too thin to carry the entire episode. Without any real B-plot, it meant that the action scenes had to make up for the time gaps, and so it dragged occasionally. Overall, though, it gave us some more respect for Dureena and a little bit of flair from Dr. Chambers.

(All Links to Amazon are Affiliates Links.)

Links

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

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.

Watching Babylon 5 for the First Time, Crusade: Episodes 7-8

Now hold on a second…

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! 

7: The Rules of the Game

We get to see Babylon 5! And it doesn’t bring much happiness for Gideon, as he demands passage to Lorka VII from their ambassador. But they deny passage, despite being part of the treaty that should give them such passage. Lochley, however, finds a workaround to get Gideon a different avenue of approach.

Meanwhile, Max’s ex-wife is being threatened by nefarious forces due to her debts. He offers to pay some amount of the debt, but no more, and she is… a bit upset with him for that. “Make sure that’s engraved on my tombstone!” she yells after him. Yep, but my immediate thought is that Max Eilerson has something else up his sleeve. He’s going to give them whatever amount he wants and then use some corporate bigshot thing or some weird alien technology he found to bludgeon the loan sharks into acquiescence! There’s my prediction at this point in the episode. …That didn’t take long. He meets with Rolf Muller, the loan shark and then, when asked if he’s threatening him, he says “I never threaten…” “take the 50 and go home.” Muller responds by asking for a line back home because he’s apparently going to do, well, something. That something is apparently stealing her cat? I mean, pets are family but I did not expect that to be the counter-move. And then Max just leaves? What!?

Gideon and Lochley continue to try to get permission to get to Lorka VII, which does not seem to be going well. Meanwhile, the relationship between Gideon and Lochley is weird. They each hint at interest in the other. Then they fight about who is more “in a bubble” about not knowing things and people. Gideon convinces Lochley to go out in plainclothes to see if she actually knows what’s happening on the station. The Lorkans, looking on, have their own plans for Lochley, which don’t seem to be good.

Lochley totally schools Gideon on his condescending attempt at, well, explaining to Lochley what her job was. It’s a great moment quickly overshadowed by the Lorkans following them. As they sit to discuss things on and off station, they’re attacked by the Lorkans. Meanwhile, Cynthia–Max’s ex–and Dr. Chambers meet up and talk about Max. It’s unclear why Max sent in the doctor, but seems somewhat clear that’s what’s going on. Their discussion is interrupted by Muller, who pulls a gun to make further threats before Dr. Chambers beats him into fleeing.

Max has the Drazi apprehend Muller as Lochley and Gideon ambush the Lorkans. Also, I was right! Max does use some alien technology that he uses to enforce a rather permanent restraining order on Muller. He also orders Muller to bathe and groom the cat before returning it. It’s a funny moment and a somewhat plausible solution if you don’t think too hard about it. Back with Lochley and Gideon, they go to take a hot shower together after their life threatening situation. Max ends up re-confessing his love to Cynthia (and the cat, and his job!). It’s a character piece I didn’t really expect from him as he reveals additional layers.

The Lorkans reveal that Lorka VII is, instead, a place where the two Lorkan emissaries had been using resources to make huge profits. A third Lorkan is most displeased with them and they say Gideon can come to the planet as a kind of moral temptation for their people and a test of faith.

Honestly, this was just a fun episode all around. Truly, it felt like the best Babylon 5 can have to offer, and it makes me sad the series won’t be continuing for much longer. But, we can enjoy what we do have, and this is just a great episode. It may have just a few too many acts in it, but it’s enjoyable all the way through.

8: Appearances and Other Deceits

A creepy alien is watching the Excalibur, which itself has some people on board to help change its image. Gideon is… not impressed with them. The ship quickly finds some derelict ship full of aliens that apparently killed each other, but they find a tube with a single live alien left. They bring it on board and, somewhat predictably, things go wrong. It looks like the alien dies, but only after it grabs “Janey…” who appears to have been taken over by the alien. She then starts to take over other members of the crew, which does not bode well.

It doesn’t take long before the crew starts to completely get taken over, and it appears as though Eilerson and the alien are in a race to figure out what’s happening. It quickly gets violent, right as Eilerson manages to translate some of the alien languages.

It’s interesting that they seem to bring back the drone-type camera in this episode. I remember it being a thing in the pilot movie for Babylon 5 before basically falling off the map. The special effects budget for this one appears to be much higher than some of the other episodes. The character development continues to ramp up some, as Eilerson realizes a security member sacrificed their life for his. The tension ramps up as the aliens demand a planet to take over in exchange for the crew. Gideon is displeased, to say the least. Once they resolve the crisis, he launches the alien out the airlock and blows it away.

The final scene showing Gideon having to read off a bunch of condolensces even as GIdeon and Chambers talk about the burdens he faces is pretty excellent. It makes me sad that the show only goes on for 5 more episodes after this.

(All Links to Amazon are Affiliates Links.)

Links

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

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.

Reading the Babylon 5 Novels: “Blood Oath” by John Vornholt

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.

Blood Oath by John Vornholt

Blood Oath is a novel that would have made a stellar short story. It fits the series better than the first two novels, and it doesn’t suffer from the out of character moments those novels had, either. The whole novel is a kind of addendum to the episode from the first season, “The Parliament of Dreams.” This ties it in to the series in a fun way, but it also makes it seem overlong since its plot really is just an extension of that episode.

What happens here is that the daughter of Du’Rog, whose name was allegedly besmirched by G’Kar, takes out a Shon’Kar against G’Kar, swearing to kill him. G’Kar sees the threat as imminent and fakes his death in order to escape. He then makes his way to the Narn Homeworld, independently pursued by Na’Toth, Garibaldi, and Ivanova.

We saw the backstory for this novel, again, in “The Parliament of Dreams.” Vornholt ties this novel quite well into that episode, though some of the timeline is ambiguous. The action moves along well, though the book does ultimately run into some serious pacing issues in the middle section. That section basically has G’Kar running into people (or not) who recognize him (or don’t) while Ivanova and Garibaldi haplessly look for him across the homeworld. There are only so many close misses and chase scenes one can take before it starts to feel like padding, and this novel is definitely padded for length. Some judicious editing would have made it a fantastic short story though, especially with its strong ties to the plot of the show.

The conclusion is great, and we witness a wonderfully fun moment between G’Kar and Mollari right at the end which left me with a sweet taste after the occasional slog.

Fun fact from The Babylon File: The Definitive Unauthorised Guide to J Michael Straczynski’s Babylon 5 by Andy Lane about Vornholt’s research for the book–which he was given only 2 months to write! Lane quotes Vornholt: “I asked [JMS] for information on the Narn homeworld for Blood Oath, but he told me to make it up. I thought this was very cavalier of him, until I realised he was going to destroy the planet in a war” (388).

Another fun fact, though I’m not sure if it’s intentional: the name “Mi’Ra” for G’Kar’s rival, is quite similar to “Mira,” the first name of Mira Furlan, who plays Delenn in the series. Again, I don’t have a source saying if it was intentional, but it seemed a fun Easter egg at the time I noticed.

Blood Oath is the best of the first 3 Babylon 5 novels, though it still has its issues with pacing. It ties in well to the series, and Vornholt captures the characters believably. Vornholt gives readers more fun character scenes than expected, and so I give it a reserved recommendation for fans of the series.

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Links

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

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.

Babylon 5 Related Work: “Becoming Superman” by J. Michael Straczynski

There is no question that J. Michael Straczynski is the one who made Babylon 5 happen. He wrote it, he came up with the concept, he helped steer the story even in all the related works. Becoming Superman is his autobiography, telling the awful story of his childhood, his dreams, and his accomplishments, all of which intertwine in a compelling tale. I am going to post SPOILERS from the book in this review.

Straczynski is ever the storyteller, and it’s clear even reading his autobiography that he intentionally frames it in a way that engages the reader more than a simple A-B-C progression. Throughout most of the book, Straczynski teases readers with revelations about his family background. His family was stuck behind German lines in Russia until the end of World War II. His father and grandmother, though, apparently were much more collaborators than they liked to portray. Though Straczynski only confirmed this much later in his life, it is clear that his father’s obsession with Nazi ideology and awful abuse of all around him deeply influenced Straczynski’s writing career.

In Becoming Superman, we see how Straczynski discovered Superman and used the facade of the Man of Steel to get past the trauma in his own life. The toughness of this adopted persona impacts how Straczynski writes about trauma, as well. His comments about being a “victim” are particularly strong:

To be a victim is to be forever frozen in amber by that person’s actions at that moment. Victimization only looks backward, never forward, which is why my family was incapable of moving on or redefining themselves. If I allowed myself to be defined by what my father did to me, it would put him at the center of my identity. (110)

These comments about victimhood are intensely personal to Straczynski, but as a reader I wondered if this is his commentary on victimization in general, given the generalized way he comments that it “looks backward, never forward…” If so, I disagree fairly strongly with this assessment. One aspect of declaring oneself a victim is acknowledgement that wrong has occurred which demands justice and rehabilitation. To be a victim does not necessitate redefining oneself in those terms, but it does define the actions of the other–the aggressor–towards oneself. I am not an expert in the psychology of this topic, so I don’t feel comfortable making stronger comments, but I do think we should read Straczynski’s words here as a personal comment that helped him through a particularly difficult time, rather than normative for all who have been abused. 

The fascinating story of Straczynski’s time in the television, comic, and film industry is detailed over most of the book, and it is an incredible journey. I haven’t read much from writers in this field, but this seems one of the more honest and perceptive looks at the industry. Intermingled with this are such details as Angela Lansbury’s appreciation for his writing on Murder, She Wrote. That’s one of my all-time favorite shows, and I was shocked to see the maker of Babylon 5 was involved on one of its best seasons, as well. Sporadic details about Babylon 5, background story about how Star Trek: Deep Space 9 may have stolen from its concept, and more are found throughout this chapter of his life. Having only recently discovered Babylon 5 (see my journey through the series here), it was wonderful having these details from the show reported. 

Becoming Superman is a great read, as one would expect from a writer as talented as Straczynski. For readers interested in learning more about the brain behind Babylon 5, it’s a must-read. It’s clear that so many elements of Straczynski’s life appear in the show. 

Links

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

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.

The Wheel of Time Season 1 Episode 6 “The Flame of Tar Valon” Review

The Wheel of Time is one of the biggest fantasy blockbusters of all time, and I have read and loved the fantasy novels for decades. I was beyond thrilled to see that an adaptation was coming to Prime TV, and now that it’s here, it’s time to offer weekly reviews! Be sure to also check out my theology site for my look at the show and books from a Christian perspective.

The Flame of Tar Valon

I have a lot to think about after watching this episode.

First, Siuan Sanche’s background origin story was beautifully done. Having Berden get humanized so early on was a wonderful way to do it, and I admit as he sent Siuan off I had tears welling in my eyes. I also appreciate having representation of people with disabilities that aren’t automatically evil, which happens far too often in pop culture (see, for example, the countless examples of motivations for “evil scientist” type villains being driven by trying to “fix” disabilities). Overall, this scene was one of the strongest in the show so far.

I also was a huge fan of how they handled the Siuan/Moiraine perceived rivalry and then turning it into being love. The two are hinted at as pillow friends, if I recall correctly, in the books, and this just makes it much more explicit.

Moiraine and Loial’s brief interactions were also highlights of the episode. I loved how Moiraine approached Loial and sort of skipped ahead of all of his objections in their conversations. Truly, the casting in the show across the board is excellent, and there are several highlights of dialogue throughout already.

The continued hints at layers upon layers of intrigue in the Tower are necessary and certainly well done, especially in light of what readers of the books know is going on. I also think that the many set pieces we’ve seen are beautiful. I loved the Amyrlin Seat, and on reflection I enjoyed how they showed the shawl of the Amyrlin as well. It’s much more subtle than I expected, but from what I understand, it’s a nod to the many fan depictions that have shown it with similar themes.

One downside is that the series continues to clip along at a frenetic pace, which is the main thing that has taken me out of the show so far. The Wheel of Time books are very clearly not oriented towards being quick reads or fast-paced action-fests. Due to the format of the show–only 8 episodes this season!–the creators are cramming each episode so full of events that it starts to feel like whiplash at times. Even when characters do try to slow things down, we move so quickly past the events that it seems we don’t get to reflect on the events. For example, Moiraine’s exile goes from her discussion with Siuan ahead of time to a meeting of the Aes Sedai to Siuan saying she’s banished and then immediately pulling out the Oath Rod (!!!) to make Moraine swear to abide by the ruling and then leaving. I was surprised to see there was no pause anywhere in this chain of events.

Full Book SPOILERS section and theorizing

Speaking of the Oath Rod–I was taken aback to see them decide to use it that way. The problem with a major piece like the Oath Rod is that if you use it too frequently, it becomes a prop more than an epic artifact. Indeed, one of the insidious things about the Broken Tower in the books is when the White Tower tries to use the Oath Rod to force people to swear fealty to the Amyrlin Seat. Weirdly, the scene in this episode skirts right along that border to the point that it felt kind of “yucky” as a fan of the books.

On the flip side, I can see the decision-making process for the showrunners, because featuring the Oath Rod prominently early on allows them to make a big deal about other revelations related to it later, such as the Black Ajah and others. Thus, I’m kind of torn on that scene.

I appreciated how they depicted the drawing of the darkness from the dagger out of Mat. While we viewers could see the weaves, Rand makes it clear all he could see was a bit of the darkness, which gives viewers the hint that others can’t see the weaving other than its effects.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I was a fan of this episode, apart from the caveats I mentioned. The series continues to offer a strong epic fantasy look at the Wheel of Time world, and the flavors it has from the book series make it feel much more unique than some of the other epic fantasy series out there. I am eagerly anticipating the rest of the season.

Links

Fantasy Hub– I have a post collecting all of my fantasy-related posts into one place!

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.