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.

Convictions
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.

Links

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!

SDG.

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?

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!

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!

SDG.

Ken Scholes’s “Psalms of Isaak” – A Haunting Science Fantasy

Inevitably, when you read a lot of sci-fi fantasy, you discover works that you find to be absolutely marvelous but that go by relatively unnoticed by many other readers. Books that you feel deserve awards and widespread sales disappear from publication and booksellers’ shelves. There are several series or standalone books that fall into that space for me. Ken Scholes’s genre-defying “Psalms of Isaak,” a five book series filled with horror, wonder, and hope ranks very highly among them. There will be light SPOILERS for the series in what follows.

My Journey to Reading the Series

I bought Lamentation, the first book in the series, when it first came out in paperback. It languished on my shelf, showing off its beautiful cover art (are those… cowboys in front of a ruin? or warriors riding around?). I lost it in a move but couldn’t shake the image of the cover from my mind. I grabbed it in paperback again, but it was purged when I was getting ready for another move–after all, why keep just the first book in a series I wasn’t sure I’d even like? Finally, as I browsed for audiobooks available through the library, I saw that alluring cover once again. Knowing I like listening to books, and that this one in particular seemed to be haunting me, I dove in.

I was in for an absolute treat. Lamentation has nearly everything I could want in a science fantasy. It has an awesome sense of vastness of the world, both in space and time. There are ruins and mysteries lost to the past. There are subtle hints of technology that may be recovered. There are mysterious steampunk vibes mixed with those of fantasy. Truly wicked villains populate the whole series, while interesting main characters manage to keep hope alive in the darkest of times. The book was brilliant! I immediately grabbed the next one on audio and went through them all. I rarely read series back-to-back, enjoying a break in between with other books, but I couldn’t stop with the Psalms of Isaak and continued all the way through.

What Genre is it?

One of the many things that makes this series so excellent is its ability to defy genres. At its core, it’s a kind of epic fantasy, with some feeling of the hero’s journey happening throughout. But it also has clear elements of science fantasy, with some fantastical elements scattered throughout seemingly explainable with scientific means and in-world rules. Additionally, there is a helping of steampunk swirled in. Ancient artifacts are scattered throughout, as well–one of my favorite sci-fi/fantasy tropes. Each time I started a new book in the series I struggled with which genre to file it under, and I ultimately just piled on the labels so that I could find the books if friends asked for recommendations.

On top of all of that, though, there is an evocative sense of religious crisis. I read some autobiographical stuff from Scholes as I read through the series and it appears he has had his own crisis of doubt–I’m unsure where he came out of it. That sense is mixed throughout this series as religion plays a major pot in many of the plot threads. It adds yet another layer of both hope and dread.

Read It!

I hope I’ve sold you on the Psalms of Isaak, because it is a series that is well-worth your time. I’m nabbing the audiobooks on Audible as I get credits. It’s a wonderful journey through a fantastic world, filled with so many vibes and ideas that you might think it’s overwhelming. But it’s not. Scholes does a great job grounding readers in this haunting place, and his storytelling will make you want to stay there forever.

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.

My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1967

I’ve almost completed my read-through of the top science fiction books of all time and was casting about for something else to do. I decided that reading through the list of Hugo award winners and nominees wasn’t a bad way to spend my time. Here are the nominees and the winner of the 1967 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 included a brief overview discussion of the year’s nominees at the beginning.

1967- I think this year’s nominees were one of the best so far. Whether we’re talking about the absolutely heart-rending Flowers for Algernon or the familiar-yet-otherworldly Day of the Minotaur, this was a great year. Even The Witches of Karres at least has value as understanding where later ideas developed from. Babel-17 made me realize I should go back and re-read some Delany novels, perhaps finding more enjoyment the second go-round. I liked Babel so much that I’m convinced I may have missed something. Somehow Heinlein gets another year of eligibility for The Moon… and wins? I don’t understand. It’s a fine novel, but I don’t think it needed to be brought in to compete with the others this year, and certainly some of the competition was better. Which did you like?

Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany- Grade: A
Babel-17 is through-and-through a concept novel. I don’t know if that’s a real term, but its how I refer to books that have an idea that they’re about more than characters or a main plot. To be fair, Delany makes some interesting characters in this book, but they’re not what it’s about. What it’s about is language and how it may shape the way we think and act. Indeed, if we have no word for something like a computer or any of its components, how could we even begin to understand it? More abstractly, what if something like “nationalism” was an unknown term or concept? How would we relate to others and the space in which we live? These are some of the types of questions Delany asks in this fascinating piece of science fiction. I liked it enough I may actually go back for another try at his alleged magnum opus, Dhalgren, which I initially abandoned fairly early on. This is first rate idea-driven sci-fi.

Day of the Minotaur by Thomas Burnett Swann- Grade: B
Impressive for its prose, especially for its time, this novel is one of the earliest attempts (I read a few places it might be the earliest) to re-tell Greek myth for the modern audience. The downside to the novel is found in the times when a few anachronisms from the time in which it was written sneak in–yes, there are a few clear “flower child” type scenes, as well as a few cringe-worthy comments about women. On the flip side, it seems Thomas Burnett Swann was trying to subvert some of the latter through the narrative, which has women acting independently and with authority at times. Day of the Minotaur is also nearly lyrical in its prose, something that was not often attempted, to my knowledge, at the time. It’s a quick read that’s worth looking into for readers interested in mythical re-tellings.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (My Winner)- Grade: A
Heart-rending and poignant, Keyes has created an enduring masterpiece. Yes, some aspects of it haven’t aged well (such as outdated psychological theories), but it’s the kind of science fiction that could be set in the past as something that has happened, so that doesn’t matter. It’s got one of the best aspects of science fiction storytelling, namely that it asks us to look at ourselves as humans and see what we are more fully. I readily admit I did not think I’d enjoy this one going in. It had all the makings of one of those books that is more literary than it is plot, but it is not that at all. I wept bitterly at more than one point in this haunting work. It’s a beautiful book.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein (Winner)- Grade: B-
I wanted to enjoy this book more than I did. It was enjoyable, but the style dragged it down somewhat. It felt very matter-of-fact about even the most intense moments of the book. It’s not as beautiful as Stranger in a Strange Land nor as challenging as Starship Troopers. It’s still enjoyable, but the whole plot felt predictable. It lacked the excitement that comes with many other science fiction books. Not bad, certainly, but neither is it spectacular. Also, apparently it was eligible both in 1966 and in 1967?

The Witches of Karres by James M. Schmitz- Grade: C
How do you fairly evaluate a novel that seems like a possible precursor for many other ideas? The Witches of Karres has many of the elements later space operas would absorb, and the breadth of some of it is surprising. But it’s also… not very good. The ideas are there, but the execution is not. It reads about like what you would expect from an antiquated sci-fi adventure trying to grow beyond the bonds of the usual simplistic narrative. It’s admirable that the concept was developed here, but reading it for reasons other than history is not highly recommended.

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!

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!

SDG.

“The Night Sessions” by Ken MacLeod – Reading the British Science Fiction Association Awards – 2008

I continue to search for ways to expand my sci-fi/fantasy reading, and decided that alongside my Hugo Award list I’d start reading the winners of the British Science Fiction Association Award. I’m not reading them in any particular order, just as whatever strikes my fancy.

The Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod

I cannot adequately describe how much I adored this book. It basically has everything that I love mashed into one fantastic plot. There are robots/AI, there is a murder mystery in a sci-fi setting, there are deep explorations of faith and religion, alongside questions of church/state relations. MacLeod demonstrates surprising insight and understanding of creationist movements as well, such that I, with my background as a young earth creationist (now a theistic evolutionist/evolutionary creationist, depending on which terminology you prefer), was totally engrossed from the get-go. MacLeod wrote a book with some insanely niche interest focus to it, but that niche happens to be basically me, and 100% me. And I could not put this down.

The plot is fantastic. It is engrossing. It starts off with a murder of a priest, and this is a problem because Earth has had some massive religious wars (The Faith Wars, of which it seems 9/11 was just the beginning) that has led to some radically different ways of dealing with religion generally in different countries. Where we are in this book, Edinburgh, Scotland, the way it is dealt with is by keeping intense separation of church and state, such that people’s religious backgrounds aren’t really even allowed to be referenced in official government inquiries (which leads to some awkward discussions about people’s titles and what they mean as our detective hero and AI bot pal go about their investigation).

We follow Detective Inspector Adam Ferguson as he investigates these murders. He’s a deep character, with antipathy towards religion–especially fundamentalism–while also carrying his own shame from how he helped brutally suppress religion during the Faith Wars. It is this latter aspect that truly adds to the complexity of character as well as the complexity of the plot. Some may see the premise of this book and dismiss it as an anti-religious propaganda piece. Others might actually see the premise and go the other way. But what MacLeod does here is balances these two extremes of anti- and pro-religion and shows how it is ideology, the type of ideology that matters. When religion is bent to extremism that leads to violence, that is a terrible thing. But the violence of the Nation State is itself a damaging, harmful thing. The complexity is woven throughout the fabric of a plot that is never compromised for the sake of an agenda.

There is so much happening in this book, and MacLeod shows immense talent for both breadth and depth of intensely important topics. The book ultimately plays out as a condemnation of fundamentalism of any sort–whether religious or not–and does so in ways that are intensely, deeply human despite sometimes playing out through AI controlled robots. Throughout the work there are questions related to creationism, church-state relations, and the deep psychological harm that can be done by violent acts–even ones that one believes were justified. The Night Sessions is a superb work that stands as one of my all-time favorites. I very highly recommend it.

SDG.

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!

My Read-Through of the Hugos– Read along as I read every Hugo Award winner and nominee! Sci-fi/fantasy is the name of the game.

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.

2020 Hugo Award for Best Novel: My Reviews

I read as much sci-fi/fantasy as I can get my hands on, and have been working through the backlog of all the Hugo winners and nominees for best novel for some time. The 2020 Nominations were announced recently, and I wanted to read them all so I could review them and talk about/debate them with fellow fans. Without further adieu, here are my reviews!

[Edit: The Hugo Award for Best Novel went to “A memory Called Empire,” which is a truly deserving novel that I also loved. 2020 was a great mix of works showing a wide variety of speculative fiction. Let me know what you thought of this year’s nominees!]

The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders- Grade: C
There are some cool ideas here, and a strong inspiration from classics like 1984 (the government determining times, for example). However, I felt the whole thing was hampered by a lack of enthusiasm from the main characters which led to me not caring very much about the stakes. Moreover, the strangeness of motivation behind some of their acts throttled my suspension of disbelief. Perhaps there are some metaphors or analogies happening here that simply went over my head. I’d love for someone to explain if I did miss some things of import here. Anyway, the whole thing ended up feeling kind of surreal in an off-putting rather than enthralling way. 

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine (Winner)- Grade: A-
I attempted to read this book four times. I say attempted because each time I got sidetracked by something else. It’s dense, and my life circumstances were such that I couldn’t concentrate on it as deeply as I’d have liked to. Finally, it went on a great sale and I grabbed the audiobook along with the ebook. Listening to the book was a great experience, and let me concentrate on it better than reading it on paper. The bottom line for A Memory Called Empire is this: How well do you like complexity in your sci-fi?
A) The more Machiavellian, the better! I want names that I have to write down to keep track of! I want political intrigue I need to chart to follow! 
B) I enjoy complexity quite a bit, but don’t want to inflict pain on myself for trying to follow a story.
C) Complexity is fine, as long as it is spoon-fed to me.
D) I admire the handiwork, but I don’t like it.
Whichever option you chose is basically what I anticipate your grade for this book being. There are names that are nothing like you’d expect. There’s mystery throughout. There are political maneuvers, thrusts, and counter-thrusts. It’s all there. This book is like a combination of the Ancillary series by Ann Leckie with some Iain M. Banks in it. The book has a phenomenal payoff for the investment of energy, as well. The last 40% or so of the book has all the political machinations that you could desire to go along with the central mystery. I love it, but I also had to work to love it. I can’t wait to see what the next in the series does to me.

Gideon the Ninth by Tasmyn Muir- Grade: D+
I don’t know that I’ve experienced as much hype surrounding a book as this one before I’ve read it. I also try to avoid being one of “those people.” You know who I’m talking about: the type of people who talk all loud and proud about how “I read that super hyped thing everyone loves and found it was just mediocre at best.” So instead, I’ll try to focus on real, substantive critique rather than posturing. First, I do not like pop culture references in my sci-fi/fantasy. Veiled references? Sure. If they make sense for the story? Absolutely. But straight up pop-culture references in a novel that doesn’t have a very good explanation for how they come into play for the main character? Hard no. Second, the novel ends up reading exactly like it sounds in the blurb: it’s a sci-fi space necromancer with a sword and cool tattoos and a lesbian who kills stuff and cusses and doesn’t care but maybe she does care more than you know and there’s magic and space castles and everything that’s awesome like skeletons and badassery and it’s there! Whew. There’s no such thing as too much cool stuff thrown together. I firmly believe that. But it has to actually work together, and here we somehow have all of that cool stuff in it without ever having a main character or interesting enough main plot for me to care whatsoever. Moreover, since the cool stuff is being hurled at the reader at a breakneck pace, one cna never really sit back and just absorb how awesome it should be before you’re getting confronted by the next thing. There’s a gothic space palace! What more do you want!? I know: I want to actually have that described to me. I want to envision how gothic it is. I want to feel its movement through space–or the mechanization that keep it in place. I want to read about all of these awesome ideas, not just have them pitched to me as one-liners and then thrown onto an increasing heap of ideas that are never fully realized. And this is what I think made the book so terribly disappointing to me. It had so many cool ideas–it oozed with them–but it never really cashed them in. 

The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley- Grade: C
I am so torn about this book. I love so many of the ideas in it. There’s a foreboding sense that aspects of Hurley’s vision of the future are not far off from the reality we may experience if we let greed continue unfettered indefinitely. The trauma of war, the pervasiveness of changing reality through the way that news can shape people’s minds, and the like are all explored here through what is, ultimately, a character piece about a soldier, Dietz. But Dietz is not, to me, particularly likable as a protagonist, and there’s a kind of paper-thin quality to not only Dietz but every other character in the book that made me start losing interest. There are so many cool concepts here, but I don’t know that we ever get to enjoy them as well as we should. It’s a thrill-ride, but one that may not have enough meat on the bones to sustain the interest of all readers. For me, it was a middling read, though I may go back to revisit it sometime. 

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire (My Winner)- Grade: A+
Seanan McGuire is one of my favorite authors, and she did not let me down with this sprawling epic about the twins Roger and Dodger and the strange, weird, magical world they–and we–inhabit. McGuire is a master of peeling away layers of reality so that it seems like you, the reader, haven’t actually thought about everything yet. Maybe there is magic just around the corner. Perhaps there’s a strange, disturbing creature lurking just under that rock. Witches may have a coven over in that moor. These things seem so possible in McGuire’s deft hands, and Middlegame is one of her best efforts yet. The central plot and characters are riveting, to the point that I basically didn’t put this book down until I’d finished it. McGuire writes with a tone that is somehow both light and dark, conspiratorial and friendly. You want to love the characters from the outset, and by the time the action really gets intense, your heart is racing along with theirs. I don’t know if McGuire will explore the world she created in this standalone (so far) novel, but I’d go back in a heartbeat. 

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow- Grade: C+
I loved so much about this book. It’s one of those books that is a book about books for people who read books, and those tend to be right up my alley. Harrow created January, a fantastic main character whom I love and for whom I rooted the entire time, but then didn’t really… seem to do anything with her. Throughout the whole book there were echoes about how there are these ten thousand doors and so many possibilities and so much more to reality than we expect, but then that infinite set of possibilities never seemed to get realized for me as a reader. I felt let down by the payoff, which didn’t really even begin until about 60-70% into the book. By the end, I found myself reminiscing about the earlier portions of the book, when I had a character I adored and the anticipation that something big would happen. The prose is lyrical and endearing. Ultimately, I felt the book was merely okay, due to the main plot stumbling along, but it shows immense promise. I will absolutely seek out the next thing Harrow writes, because she has the gift.

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!

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!

SDG.

Watching Babylon 5 for the First Time- Season 2: Episodes 1-11

It’s new guy!

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. I wrote already about Season 1, but I wanted to break season 2 into a couple posts, because there’s so much to talk about! Here, we’ll discuss season 2, episodes 1-11. Please don’t spoil anything from later seasons or episodes for me! 

Season 2, part 1

Points of Departure: I honestly did not at all expect that we’d be getting an actual replacement for Sinclair. Sure, they said he was getting moved, but I figured something would happen that would bring him back. At first, I assumed Sheridan would be a placeholder for an episode or, at most, three episodes. But as this first episode went along, it was clear how much development they were squeezing into Sheridan’s character already, complete with a stirring introductory speech and several other moments with the established characters. It became clear he wouldn’t be a temporary member of the cast. It would be really annoying to have such a pivotal character replaced, normally, but the writing for this episode sold Sheridan for me right away. He seems great, and I look forward to seeing the depth they give him. 

Revelations: There’s some scary ships out in unknown space, which I suspect are the darkness that all of the hints in the first season have been hinting about. G’Kar is somehow turning out to not be the worst–he seemed very one-dimensional/bad guy for basically all of the first season but is becoming much more sympathetic now as Londo Mollari is turning out to be much worse than suggested by his initial blustering personality. Londo is probably still my favorite character, though. More plot development for Sheridan, with his sister showing up and talking about his late wife.

The Geometry of Shadows: Okay this was a very silly episode but had some moments. Loved the green/purple thing throughout. Is it silly? Yes, but I especially liked the reaction of the leader when Ivanova tries to calm them down (you’re just doing it for a flag?) “You do same thing for flag for honor!” (something like that). Definitely hinted at the way many people today hold an almost worshipful stance towards the flag. Not trying to get too off track here but it really bothers me that people are more upset by perceived mistreatment of the flag than they are by the fact that people are starving to death or dying because they can’t afford healthcare in our country. The technomages are actually way cooler than I thought they’d be, and the shenanigans with Mollari trying to get in touch with them was fun. What an ominous note, towards the end: Technomage Elric: “The sound of billions of people calling your name” Mollari: “My followers?” Elric: “Your victims.” 

A Distant Star: The most memorable part of this episode for me was Sheridan’s rant where he talks about how opposable thumbs are overrated because if our primate ancestors would have known about politicians, they would have stayed up in the trees. Funny moment for Sheridan there, though I can’t tell if they were trying to play it off as serious. Otherwise the episode dragged a bit for me. The Minbari are worried about Delenn’s change to being a human, but I don’t know why this is a surprise: if some human turned into a cocoon and came out an alien I’d be pretty concerned. Is this a normal thing for Minbari? They don’t really say. 

The Long Dark: Some creepy creature is released on Babylon 5 which turns out to be a reality even though initially it seemed like the ravings of a madman. A few nods to the problems of PTSD and our lack of care for those who go through such situations were appreciated, but this episode is one that felt more like setup than anything else.

A Spider in the Web: Loved this one. I guess I’d kind of thought the Mars thing was just throwing some worldbuilding out there into the void, but it turns out it may have a much bigger impact. Mind control, murder, cover ups, plots, wider intra-human conflict! Everything about this episode hinted at bigger things to come. 

Soul Mates: Mollari tries to figure out which wife he is going to keep, and some hilarity ensues. I definitely called the standoffish one right at the beginning, though. I loved the conclusion from Mollari: “I’ll always know where I stand with you.” I was touched. Delenn’s interactions with Ivanova were kind of fun, too.

A Race Through Dark Places: Babylon 5 as a hub for getting rogue/unknown psychics away from Psi Corps was a cool idea. I’d be sure of all kinds of black market type stuff happening at such a station, and it was fun to see one aspect of this. I also loved the way they thwarted Bester from Psi Corps with the mass deception featuring Talia. Talia’s decision to side with the rogues was great, especially after they made it seem for just a second that she’d gone with Psi Corps. 

The Coming of Shadows: The Cenauri Republic’s Emperor comes to Babylon 5 over G’Kar’s protests. Sheridan pointed out that it wasn’t this Emperor that did all the wrongs to G’Kar’s people, but G’Kar cannot relent. He plans to assassinate the Emperor, only to be thwarted when the Emperor has a heart attack or something similar as he’s at an official event. Then, G’Kar is told the Emperor’s last words to himself about how he wanted to say he was sorry in order to try to stop future conflict. G’Kar is touched by it to the point that he seeks out Mollari for a drink. Unbeknownst to him, Mollari has partnered with the mysterious people who have enabled some serious attacks on the Narn before, and even as G’Kar tries to celebrate a new friendship with Mollari, news comes that the Narn have lost millions of lives in an apparent attack from the Centauri Republic, itself now coalescing around hawklike leadership. G’Kar has to be restrained from physically assaulting Mollari and finally collapses, weeping for his people. The Centauri Republic experiences a kind of coup as well. Fantastic episode.  

GROPOS: Babylon 5 becomes a staging area for Earth Alliance soldiers on their way for a secret attack on rebels. Garibaldi falls for one of the soldiers and after some convolutions, it is clear it is very mutual. Meanwhile, the commander of the forces is Stephen’s (the doctor’s) father, and they have some serious issues to work out. I was not ready for the incredible emotional weight of the scenes between Stephen and his father, including the part about how the thing Stephen always needed to say was that he loved his father. It ripped my guts out and tears were streaming down my face. It was a real emotional hit. The end of the episode was also tough, as we see the side characters we grew to like through the episode–the Ground Pounders (GROPOS), end up dead in the battle. Ouch.

All Alone in the Night: I thought this was by far the slowest moving episode of the season so far. Delenn struggles to find her path among her people, now as an outcast, while Sheridan is abducted and forced to fight. It’s a fine enough episode, with some possible steps setting things up for later, but it just doesn’t move along very much. It was fine, but nothing super special. 

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.

Vintage Sci-Fi: “The Haunted Stars” by Edmond Hamilton

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 Haunted Stars by Edmond Hamilton

I have never read Edmond Hamilton before, but he was a well-known pulp author in his own time. He wrote for DC comics, started Captain Future, and scattered his pulpy sci-fi across fandom. He was also married to Leigh Brackett, whose work I have enjoyed (as you probably have, since she co-wrote the screenplay for The Empire Strikes Back). Anyway, I saw someone recommend The Haunted Stars during Vintage Sci-Fi Month, saying that fans of Star Trek would probably like it. I’m a fan of Star Trek, and the cover’s simplicity had a weird innate appeal to me, so I grabbed it.

The Haunted Stars initially seems somewhat like a red scare novel, but its main character, Robert Fairlie, is a linguist, which was not an established trope at this point. The United States has apparently discovered an ancient military base on the moon, and has called a team of scientists in to decode what they found there. One character pushes for an expedition after they figure out how to make an Ion drive and also discover that the people who made this base are, in fact, the ancestors of all of humanity. They go to Ryn, the planet of the Vanryn, those ancestors of humanity. When they arrive, they meet a cool reception from most because they announce they want to find additional weapons/technology. The Vanryn, apparently, live in millennia-old fear of the Llorn, who defeated the Vanryn and scourged them from the galaxy 30,000 years ago.

All of that plot occupies about 85% of the book, and at this point it is a pretty excellent sci-fi adventure novel with some hard sci-fi mixed in. Really, it has most of my favorite sci-fi features: ancient ruins found by humans, some linguistics mixed in, some real (pseudo-) science peppering the plot. It had its flaws at this point–like women being at best tertiary characters, but it stood up as a solid novel. But it didn’t feel like Star Trek in any way whatsoever, and I wondered why it was recommended to fans of that franchise. Then the ending happened.

That last 15% or so of the book is the real deal. The Llorn show up, which wasn’t a surprise given how heavily foreshadowed the idea was, but they have news. It turns out that the Llorn were not the aggressor in the war with the Vanryn, but rather they fought only to prevent the Vanryn from wiping out all life throughout the galaxy. The Vanryn were simply seeding all planets and taking them for themselves, wiping out indigenous populations or stages of life that had yet to evolve intelligence. The Llorn, by contrast, work to simply allow life to exist in its many-faceted wonder, hoping to improve the universe through the uplift of many different intelligent species bringing their own cultures and assumptions to the galactic table. The Llorn tell the humans they will not interfere again, should they (the humans who are Vanryn) decide to spread across the universe again, but they show them a premonition of the endless war and destruction that will follow that course of action. Fairlie and the other scientists are left to bring the message back to Earth, unsure of how humanity will take it.

I adored that ending. It reminded me quite a bit of a kind of inverse of The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu (one of my all-time favorite science fiction novels). Will humanity heed the warning? Will the Red Scare doom them all to bitterness and war? Will ambition, pride, and hate overcome a possibility to thrive throughout time? We don’t know! Hamilton doesn’t tell us. It’s a somewhat shocking offering in what seemed to be a simple pulp sci-fi classic that makes you as a reader think and reflect on what it means to be human. I love it so much.

The Haunted Staris well-worth your time as a lover of science fiction. It has some flaws, but overall it is excellent reading. It’s pulp sci-fi with much more thoughtfulness than one might expect, and an ending that is just spot-on. I recommend it especially if you also like those tropes I mentioned- space archaeology, linguistics, and hard sci-fi mixed in.

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!

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!

SDG.

Vintage Sci-Fi: “Shards of Honor” by Lois McMaster Bujold

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.

Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

The Vorkosigan Saga is a series that had been on my radar for a while. A few years ago I found a nearby library that had the whole series and binged the heck out of the whole series front to back. I couldn’t stop. Now, I decided to embark on a re-read of the series, and my wife has joined me for her own first read-through of the series as well. It was a lot of fun to introduce her to the world Bujold created, as it is one I enjoy immensely. We’re going to read it in chronological order–something I normally don’t do, preferring publication order, but the first time I read through it was chronological and it made sense.

Shards of Honor is an unexpected book. If I told you that there was a military science fiction novel with some romance thrown into the mix, I doubt you’d come up with a book anywhere near the plot Bujold made. For one thing, the characters are old. No, not actually old, but it’s a far cry from series in which every main character is 18-20 years old and everyone is finding love in their late teens, early twenties. Here, our main characters are in their 30s, as I recall, which makes it feel a little more real in some of their actions, their status as commanders, and the way they fall in love. This could almost be classed as a romance novel, to an extent, though there is little explicit in the book. But romance is a driving force in the novel, and its refreshing to read a science fiction novel that does this and does it quite well.

Additionally, the way Cordelia and Aral discover more about the culture of the other is delightful. There are many scenes where as a reader you get to see how naturally the two characters intermesh. I recall one scene, and I’ll probably mangle it, but Cordelia is trying to describe Aral to her parents (I think?) and they’re like “He’s a murderer!” and she responds “No–I mean, he’s killed several people, but it made sense! Or something.” It’s humorous, yes, but it is also absolutely believable that people would respond to each other in that way.

The plot of Shards is absolutely character-driven, but you can already tell there are portents of a wider world and more possible conflicts happening. Bujold manages to intermesh subtlety of setting with a “Just the action, please” narrative style. Many people say the series just gets better after this book, but frankly Shards of Honor is one of the more unique science fiction novels out there in terms of narrative style and characterization. I’d recommend it very highly, and then to go read the rest of the series immediately.

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!

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!

SDG.

Babylon 5: Season 1- Signs and Portents

Don’t mind us, just making an incredibly addicting space opera TV show.

Babylon 5 has been recommended to me a number of times by other science fiction fans. It came out when I was young enough that it probably would have been well beyond me. So, it’s taken a while for me to get into it since I didn’t grow up on it and, let’s be honest, the special effects haven’t aged well at all. It makes the show seem very cheesy at times, and it’s also clear at points that it is over-acted. The CG is extremely out of date. So I wasn’t sure if I could get into it. But, when a flash sale happened on Amazon and I had some Christmas money, I grabbed the whole series at a bargain price and decided to finally check it out. I need to talk about season one, now. There will be spoilers for this season only. Please DO NOT SPOIL any later seasons!

Signs and Portents

I did not expect, at all, the total mixture of feelings that this show has made me feel. I laughed, I cried… I got involved. It’s fantastic television of the absolute highest order. I just finished season 1 and let me tell you, I have feelings about it. The characters are fascinating (though I gotta say, I’m still not 100% sold on the casting of Garibaldi–the guy just doesn’t look the part they try to have him play as a relentlessly tough guy). I absolutely love Ambassador Mollari, for example. He’s a walking trope, but what a way to play it! They flesh him out so that you don’t mind him, and his humor is just spot on.  The music is just phenomenal, by the way.

Also, can we talk about how this is basically just a space opera novel series as a TV show? I mean seriously how is this show not even more revered than it is?

I want to talk about some of the episodes, too. First, “Believers.” What the hell, Babylon 5? Why you gotta do me like that? Just thinking about that episode pains me. It seems like a not-so-subtle look at Jehovah’s Witness beliefs about blood transfusions and refusing care based on that, but they somehow make it almost sympathetic by having the doctor be so damned uncaring about other people’s beliefs. Then, they gotta turn around and plunge the knife in and twist it. I was not ready for that! Not at all!

“Deathwalker” was another great episode. “You are not ready for immortality” – Ambassador Kosh, laying down the law on humans. Or should I saw the Law? I don’t know. It was awesome.

“Born to the Purple” was fantastic character development for Ambassador Mollari, but holy crap was I not ready, again, for the feels I’d have when Garibaldi finally tracked down what was going on with Ivanova. It made Ivanova much more interesting–she had initially seemed very one dimensional to me, but now she’s a hardass with heart and I love it.

“Soul Hunter” was awesome for its turnabout on the villain narrative. Just a fantastic bit of storytelling there.

Also what the hell is going on here?

And all throughout this season, there are, yes, “Signs and Portents” that show something bigger is happening. The finale is just fantastic. Now it’s time for me to go watch more of this fantastic 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.