Cool Ships (volume IV)

Back with a fourth installment. As usual, I am indebted to people for making suggestions and offering critiques. Funny thing, these lists seem to be getting longer and more diverse the longer this series goes. But I guess that tells you something about the world of sci-fi. No shortage of material, and kind of like fossil hunting in that the deeper you dig, the more fascinating things get.

Ancients City Ship:
You know the old saying “you can never go home”? Well in this case, the Ancients seemed to think that the best away around that was to take it with you. This one goes out to Nicola Higgins. Thanks for the suggestion, you Stargate fangirl!

Known as a City Ship, this piece of Ancients technology is in centerpiece of the spinoff series Stargate: Atlantis. A self-contained city that is capable of traveling through space, and comes equipped with a hyper drive, this vessel was designed to transplanting colonies of Ancients on distant worlds throughout the Galaxy. It also heavily armed and shielded, making it a veritable mobile fortress.

Beginning several million years ago, the Ancients began what was known as the “Great Migration”, where they left Earth for the Pegasus Galaxy and other destinations in deep space. One such ship which took part in the migration was the Atlantis, which departed from Antarctica and landed on the world known as Lantea, where it was again discovered by humans in the course of the show.

Measuring roughly the same size as Manhattan island, an average city ship comes equipped with extensive living quarters and amenities that make it suitable for large-scale population for extended periods of time. Though capable of space flight and space combat, it’s environment of choice is terrestrial, preferably on water.

Colonial Viper:
This one kind of seems overdue. But I felt the need to push this one back so I could cover the bigger ships from the Battlestar Galactica franchise first. With them done, I can now pay tribute the fighter-craft of choice for the Twelve Colonies, the Viper! Taken from the original series, the Mark II was your basic space superiority fighter, fast, maneuverable, and boasting two laser guns for defense.

In the updated series, the Mark II was considered a relic from the Human-Cylon War, its systems outdated and its controls antiquated (the laser guns were also replaced by two ballistic weapons and a compliment of missiles). However, it was these very antiquated features that would prove to be the saving grace of the Mark II when the Cylons attacked the Colonies at the beginning of the new series.

The updated Mark VII Viper was the pinnacle of Colonial technology at the time. Boasting updating targeting, controls, all of which were networked with the fleet’s central computer system, the Mark VII was far more sophisticated than its predecessor in every measurable way. However, being a networked fighter made it vulnerable when the Cylons unleashed their crippling virus on the Colonies defense mainframe. Several models remained in operation though, thanks in large part to the Pegasus surviving the initial Cylon assault. Once the two fleets combined their resources, the Colonial fleet had several Mark VII’s at their disposal and even began manufacturing new ones to replace their losses.

The Colossus:
Now here’s a franchise I haven’t covered yet! Fans of Freespace and FS II know that when it comes to cool ships, there was no shortage to come out of this video game series. Classically inspired, well-designed and just plain awesome to behold, the Colossus is definitely top of that list. Big, bad, and boasting enough firepower to take down an enemy armada, the Colossus was appropriately named!

Designed by the Terran-Vasudan Alliance in the wake of the Great War, the Colossus was a prototype super-destroyer that was designed to confront all future incursions by a hostile race. Foremost amongst these was the threat of the Shivans, the species that appeared in the first game, destroyed the Vasudan homeworld and nearly destroyed Earth as well.

Measuring 6 km in length, bristling with weapons and boasting a crew of over 30,000, the Colossus took over 20 years to complete and involved dozens of contractors from both races. In terms of defense, it has over 80 weapon turrets, consisting of cannons, missile launchers, and multiple heavy beam emitters. It also houses 60 fighter and bomber wings and requires a crew of over 30,000. In short, the Colossus wields more firepower and fighter wings than an entire Terran or Vasudan armada.

Deimos-class Corvette:
You know the old saying, “it’s not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog”? That’s what comes to mind whenever I see small ships that are solidly built and pack a wicked punch. As you might have guessed, that precisely what the GTCv Deimos-class vessel is all about! Also taken from the Freespace universe, this corvette was designed for fighter support and attack purposes, providing some added firepower and punch to light assaults and defensive screens.

As the newest addition to the Terran fleet in FS II, these corvettes were designed to replace the aging Fenris and Leviathan-class cruisers from the Great War. In addition to their small profiles and heavy firepower, their hulls are strengthened with collapsed-core molybdenum sheathing for better protection against beam fire and their Vasudan-designed reactor core provides more energy per ton than any other allied ship class.

In a way, these ships remind me of the USS Defiant. Much like that little ass-kickers from the DS9 universe, she packs a lot of power and toughness into a small frame, proving that you don’t have to be big to bring a big ass-whooping! As you might be able to tell, this is a bit of a vicarious experience for me ๐Ÿ˜‰ Being only 5’8”, I too had to be known for scrappiness whenever height and reach failed me in a sparring match!

Drakh Raider:
Once more onto B5 friends. God, I worry people are going to get so sick of this universe given all the attention I devote to it. But as long as it keeps providing ’em, I’ll feel obliged to honor ’em! This time, it’s the Drakh Raider which I’ve chosen to represent. Small, sleek, fast and powerful, these ships were the first line of assault and defense for the Drakh fleet, providing attack screens and defensive escort to their larger destroyers and carriers.

As Londo remarked in the course of the show, “They’re a legend. The kind you would use to frighten small children at night... They were ruthless, savage, but extremely bright. A very bad combination.” And these ships certainly embodied that. Making their first appearance in the third season (“Lines of Communication”) when it became revealed that the Drakh were manipulating the Mimbari into a civil war, and later in the Call to Arms TV movie when the Drakh began assaulting Earth.

Being quite small and based around a central beam weapon, these ships were either unmanned or had a very small crew. They were also quite effective, as two were able to destroy a White Star during their initial encounter with Delenn and the Alliance fleet. However, being small and light, they were also relatively easy for more sophisticated ships of the Alliance to shoot down, and even a small fleet of them could not stand up to larger vessels like the Excalibur. Still, these puppies could wreak havoc against shipping and military vessels that belonged to the younger races. Once they began conducting raids on League Worlds, all parties were forced to turn to Sheridan and the White Star fleet for help.

Romulan Warbird:
Also known as the D’deridex-class,ย the Warbird class was one of the largest and most powerful ships in the Romulan Star Empire’s armada and served as the backbone of the Romulan fleet during the latter half of the 24th century. In addition to its impressive array of disruptors and photon torpedo banks, the Warbird also has a cloaking device, the result of military exchanges between the Klingon and Romulan Empires.

After their debut in the first season of TNG (“The Neutral Zone”), the Warbird went on to appear in several engagements with Star Fleet (most notably the Enterprise) and the Dominion. In the spinoff series of D29, they would figure prominently in the Dominion War. Initially, this consisted of providing defense against Jem’Hadar incursions, but eventually went on to take part in most major offensives. These included the battles of Chin’toka and the final assault on Cardassia Prime.

Measuring twice as long as a Galaxy-class starship (such as the Enterprise D) the Warbird is powered by a forced quantum singularity and boasts the latest in Romulan technology. This makes it not only one of the most advanced ships in the Romulan fleet, but the Alpha Quadrant itself!

Rama:
Once again, I find myself looking back and wondering how the hell I forgot this one. You can’t call yourself an Arthur C. Clarke fan and a sci-fi geek without knowing about Rama. Lucky for me, ongoing segments give us chances to correct for our mistakes, which I am doing now.

Taken from Clarke’s famous novel Rendezvous with Rama, this namesake was what can be termed a “generational ship”, meaning a spaceship where successive generations of people are expected to be born and die before it finally reaches its destination. In the course of the story, this massive ship was detected on its way towards Earth. Once scientists and astronomers learned that it was not an asteroid or some other natural phenomena, they became mighty interested mighty fast!

Basically a large cylinder in space, the ship measured 50 km in length, 16 km wide, and rotated in order to provide gravity equal to 0.25 g’s (or a quarter of what we’re used to here on Earth). After boarding it, astronauts from Earth noticed an interior layout that resembled cities, rivers and other common geographical features, but being based on technology and chemical compositions which they could not recognize. The horizontal sections of the ship also housed windows which appeared to be letting in outside light, which in turn was having a thawing effect on the landscape since it was frozen from being in deep space for so long.

In addition, they discovered that their was no crew to speak of, nor any cryogenic tanks that held them in stasis. Evenutally, it was determined that these chemical rivers contained the trace chemicals needed to “manufacture Ramans”, and that as it neared a star, it would take the energy and heat necessary to perform these and other life-restoring functions. In the end, Rama was just passing through, a grave disappointment for Earth people… until they realized that more were on the way!

Pretty damn cool huh? This concept of a cylindrical hull with a self-contained city went on to inspire countless franchises and writers, not the least of which was J.M. Straczynski who modeled the interior of Babylon 5 based on Clarke’s descriptions. Generational ships also appear in many science fiction franchises, not the least of which are Alastair Reynold’s Revelation Space series and Joss Whedon’s Firefly.

USS Saratoga:
Space Above and Beyond is back for another installment, this time with the main ship of the fleet! Designated as a SCVN (Space Carrier Vehicle Nuclear) the USS Saratoga is the futuristic equivalent of a modern-day aircraft carrier and was home to the 58th Squadron (“The Wild Cards”) for the entire series.

In the course of the show, the Saratoga served on the front lines for the entire Chig War. This included the defense of Earth in the pilot episode, the offensive at Ixiom and Deimos, and in Operation Roundhammer – the assault on the Chig homeworld – at the end of the series. For the duration of its service, the Saratoga was commanded by Commodore Glen Ross, a no-bullshit naval officer who enjoyed playing guitar, cared deeply for his people, and was known for his catch-phrase “take that bird out of my sky!”

In addition to its compliment of fighters, the Saratoga boasted some pretty heavy armaments, including laser pulse cannons, phalanx missile launchers, and anti-ship torpedos. The vessel was also powered by a helium 3 fusion engine, measured 525.6 m in length and was capable of FTL travel thanks to a wormhole-generating engine technology.

Tigers Claw:
Yet another franchise I have neglected to include so far, but which deserving since cool ships was kind of their thing… Here we have the TCS Tiger’s Claw, the carrier and command vessel from the video game series Wing Commander. In the first installment in the series, the Tiger’s Claw was as the focal point of the story, a Bengal-class carrier that was deployed to the Vega Sector to fight in ongoing conflict known as the Terran-Kilrathi war.

In the course of its deployment in the Vega Sector, the Tiger’s Claw participated in many successful campaigns. These included the destruction of the Kilrathi base of operations for the entire sector in the campaign known as Custer’s Carnival, and the destruction of the KIS Sivar in what was known as the Goddard Campaign.

Unfortunately, after proving victorious in Vega, the ship was transferred to the Enigma Sector where it was destroyed during an assault on the Kilrathi starbase K’tithrak Mang. Using stealth fighters, the Kilrathi managed to ambush and then obliterate the carrier using torpedoes. These events took place between the first and second installment in the series and formed the basis of the latter’s backstory. Save for the main character of the story – Col. Christopher Blair (aka. you) – all hands aboard her were killed, including her air group commander, General Halcyon.

In addition to its vast compliment of 104 fighters, the Tiger’s Claw also possesses 8 heavy laser turrets, 20 defensive batteries, and powerful shields. Measuring 700 meters in length and weighing over 80,000 tons, her crew numbers in the thousands. Although slow and lumbering compared to smaller craft, she is still capable of a high maximum velocity (468,000 km/hour) and can make FTL jumps.

Voth City Ship:
Here’s another example of something the Star Trek franchise did really right! Appearing in the third season of Star Trek: Voyager (episode 64: “Distant Origin”), the Voth City Ship was something that was both intriguing and heavily-inspired. Based on the concept of a self-contained city in space, she was the command and administrative center of the entire Voth race and home to its ruling matriarch.

As the episode which featured her progressed, we learn that a group of alien scientists have discovered Voyager and have become convinced that she holds the key to proving their “Distant Origins” theory. When they meet these creatures, they learn that their kind evolved from dinosaurs on Earth to become a race of talking, bipedal humanoids who developed an entire civilization before they were forced to flee. After millennia of wandering, they landed in the Gamma Quadrant where they have since become the dominant power.

Unfortunately for said scientists, and the crew of Voyager, the Voth leaders are not too crazy about this idea. In addition to contradicting their beliefs that they emerged in the Gamma Quadrant (known as “Doctrine”) they are insulted to think they are related to mammals, creatures they consider inferior. Once they make contact, they are able to capture Voyager and neutralize her defenses quite easily, beaming the entire ship into one of their massive internal bays and knocking out all of their equipment using a dampening field.

In addition to all this impressive technology, the Voth also appeared to possess cloaking technology, trans-warp capability, and no doubt had some serious mother-loving weapons technology. It was a major blessing that Janeway and her crew didn’t press matters too hard and try to get into a firefight with these aliens, otherwise we would have seen some serious fireworks.

Final Thoughts:
Woo! Okay, that one was pretty good. And some rather new and unique examples made it in this time. Thanks for the suggestions people and my endless thanks as always to the good folks who maintain the Wiki’s and other source info sights for these franchises. Without you, I’d be very limited and would have quite doing these long ago! Also, I seem to have focused on city and generation ships a lot in this posting, which got me thinking…

It was the physicist and mathematician Freeman Dyson who claimed that the pinnacle of technology would be the ability to build a “Dyson’s Sphere”. That is, a sphere so large that it could encompass an entire star system, or at least the star and its primary planets. After all, the amount of materials and engineering capabilities required to build such a thing are just staggering and clearly beyond the means of anything we now know. Now that all may be true, but might I suggest that a more realistic and attainable measure of technological prowess would be the ability to create self-contained environments where several successive generations of humans and animals could survive for long periods of time?

Think about it. A species that can do this would be capable of leaving whatever world they call home behind and transplanting themselves in a distant star system or galaxy, meaning that their fortunes would never be tied to one rock in one star system. Even if our survival didn’t depend on it – which it might given the state of the planet! – it would still be a rather elegant way of planting the seed of humanity elsewhere in the galaxy. Instead of sending people out land on a planet and then do all the hard work of terraforming and building infrastructure, you just send the ship, and people can grow outwards in their own time without having to worry about hostile environments or organisms.

Pretty anthropocentric, I know. And yes, colonization is chock full of potential for evil, especially where indigenous life is concerned. Still, it’s a cool concept and it got me thinking, which is partly why I like to do these things. An excuse for research and to expand my mind!

Until next time, keep those idears coming!

Of Planetkillers!

What is it about doomsday devices that make them simultaneously scary and freakishly cool? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe it’s the fact that they can turn an entire planet into glass, render it completely uninhabitable, or just plain blow it to smithereens? If none of these things do it for you, I suggest you stop reading now, this is what the whole post is about!

Where these ideas come from is a source of debate, but it goes without saying that apocalypticism is part of our collective unconscious. The very concept of the end of the world has worked its way into every world religion and is as intrinsic to our beliefs as creation. And I suppose that it goes without saying that since humanity began to develop weapons that could actually level entire cities, depopulate entire countrysides, or even raze whole continents, that this obsession with the end of days has expanded beyond the spiritual world and has become an everyday preoccupation.

So it’s little wonder then why science fiction writers have taken it upon themselves to come up with concepts of machines that can destroy and sterilize entire worlds. It just seems like the next logical step after anthrax and thermonuclear weapons doesn’t it? And in the course of this, some pretty cool concepts have been thought up. Here are some examples from various popular sci-fi franchises:

The Death Star:
Without a doubt, this planet killer is the best known in the business. Making its first appearance in A New Hope where it destroyed the planet Alderaan, the Death Star was a massive space station that was created to inspire fear and silence all dissent to the Emperor’s rule. At the center of this force of unrivaled terror was a massive, high-powered laser that resembled a huge eye or a massive crater on the station’s surface. A single beam from this weapon was capable of breaking planets apart and obliterating all life on the surface.

Granted, this same station was then destroyed by a ragtag group of Rebel pilots, guys in tiny fighters who knew about a tiny exhaust vent in the side. But its replacement was even more badass! The second Death Star, which appeared in Return of the Jedi boasted a laser that was capable of recharging more quickly between shots and was accurate enough to take out large vessels as well. Before being destroyed by the Rebels at the Battle of Endor, the new Death Star managed to destroy two Mon Calamari cruisers with ease.

But alas, this weapon’s fatal flaw lay in its design. Being so big, small craft were capable of penetrating its defenses and attacking its vulnerable points. In the case of the first incarnation, this involved firing torpedoes into an exhaust port which would then reach the main reactor. In the second version, there were to be no exhaust ports so the station would have no outward vulnerability. But as long as it was still under construction, the station was vulnerable and hence open to attack. And given it’s sheer size and the time it would take to complete just one, that’s a pretty big window! I guess it’s true what they say: the bigger they are…

The Vorlon/Shadow Planet Killers:
In the B5 universe, a few different types of planet killers existed, both of which were the property of the oldest races. Given the amount of energy that would be required to destroy an entire planet, it was reasoned that only ancient races like the Shadows and Vorlons would be capable of constructing such a thing. However, the younger races had their own means of leveling a planet, if not destroying it completely. This involved mass drivers, which the Centauri used in season two to hurl asteroids into the surface of the Narn homeworld, causing massive destruction and forcing the Narn to surrender. But that’s another matter. Here are what the proper examples of planet killers in the B5 universe looked like:

The Vorlon planetkiller was essentially just a massive gun that was built into a ship. The long, flattened spheroid with plenty of tentacle like things would be escorted through space, fly into position around the enemy planet, and then fire a massive energy discharge that would obliterate the entire thing. By comparison, the Shadow’s planetkiller was much more complex, not to mention insidious!

In what appeared to be a massive, black cloud, a Shadows Shroud held a massive buckminsterfullerene-like assembly that would move into position around a planet and then enclose itself around it. The assembly would then unleash a massive swarm of missiles which would bore into the surface and then detonate, releasing a massive thermonuclear payload near the core of the planet which would trigger tectonic activity that would rip the planet apart.

The former planet killer got its fair share of attention in the series proper, where the combined forces of Sheridan and Delenn’s alliance managed to destroy one only by calling in the help of the First Ones. Between all their races, only they possessed the kind of firepower that was needed in order to destroy a ship of that size. Some attention is also given to the Shadow’s Shrouds, but it wasn’t until the TV movie “A Call to Arms” came out that any in-depth explanations of how they worked or how they could be beat ever came up. In this movie, we see for the first time what the internal structure of the Shroud looks like and how the device could be defeated by attacking its nerve center. This alone would not destroy it, but would prematurely trigger it, causing it to unleash all its missiles, which would then impact and destroy the assembly itself.

The Behemoth:
This planet killer comes to us courtesy of the Wing Commander videogame and made its appearance in the third installment in the series. Much like the Vorlon planet killer, the Behemoth was essentially a big gun that was designed to blow up planets by firing a single, concentrated beam directly into its surface. Simple, and effective, were it not for the fact that the weapon suffered from some congenital defects, which included gaps in the shielding array and the fact that it had no defensive mounts anywhere along the hull.

However, given the fact that the Terran Confederation (the good guys in the story) were losing to the Kilrathi Empire (the bad guys), the weapon had to be pressed into service before it was complete. Its intended purpose was to destroy the Kilrathi homeworld, a move which they believed was the only way to win the war outright at that point. Naturally, the vessel was destroyed due to a combination of its weaknesses and high-level treason. However, the good guys still won in the end due to alternate plans and daring-do, so don’t fret!

Unicron:
The Transformers franchise was something I enjoyed for many years as a kid. And were it not for Michael Bay, I might have enjoyed it again as a result! But whatever… In the course of telling the story of machines that could transform to hide their true identities, one robot in particular truly stands out. Mainly because of his size! His name is Unicron, a massive machine that can transform from a robot to a planet-sized sphere, and which preys on smaller planets. A pretty cool concept, really, especially for a children’s cartoon! Unlike other planet killer devices though, Unicron was unique in that he was a sentient being, and not a simple machine that was under the control of others. His first and only appearance was in Transformers: The Movie, where he was also destroyed. He did not appear again in the course of the original series, but was mentioned several times, particularly in the CGI-animated spinoff, Beast Wars.

The Doomsday Machine:
Gene Roddenberry weighed in on the planet killer thing back in the late 60’s with his own version of a doomsday weapon. It was known simply as the Doomsday Machine, a massive, lamprey-like device that was capable of consuming entire planets into its massive maw. In the course of the episode where it makes its appearance (episode 35, of the same name), the crew of the Enterprise learns that the machine is drawn to populated worlds which it then destroys and converts into fuel so that it can keep going. The process is entirely automated, the ship itself having destroyed its masters and sterilized its own region of the universe a long time ago.

Airing in the late 60’s, the Doomsday Machine was clearly a commentary on the Cold War and the creation on doomsday weapons which were intended for use as a “deterrent”. In fact, at one point Captain Kirk theorizes that the machine was never intended for use, merely to serve as a instrument to inspire fear in an enemy. However, once it was activated, it ran amok and destroyed its enemies and those who created it. In the end, the crew manages to destroy it by (ironically) letting it ingest a ship which they rig to go thermonuclear once its inside.

Halo Array:
Gamers are no doubt familiar with this one! In the Halo universe, much of the focus is on alien artifacts which were built by a race known as the Forerunners. The Covenant, the alien antagonists in the game, believe them to be holy, particularly the Halo devices which are central to the plot. These devices, it turns out, are “weapons of last resort” which the Forerunners built to sterilize all worlds of sentient life that are within range. Their reason for this have to do with a hostile organism known as the Flood, a parasitic life form that infects sentient organisms and turns them into zombie-like creatures.

Unfortunately, the Forerunners died off shortly after concluding their war with the Flood, leaving the Halos and several other artifacts behind. In time, these were stumbled upon by the Covenant who began to reverse-engineer the devices and used them to advance significantly. In time, the Convenant came to believe that the artifacts had been left behind by a holy race and built a religion and even a theocracy around this belief.

The Halo is apparently the crowning piece of the Convent faith. They believe that activating them will lead them on the “Great Journey” (aka. entrance into the hereafter). However, the main characters in the story quickly learn that this would actually cause the destruction of Earth and every inhabited planet in the sector. Inspired by Larry Niven’s Ringworld series, the concept of the Halo devices and the thematic elements which drive the story (i.e. blind faith, theocracy, evolution and ancient alien artifacts) are all prime examples of classic science fiction. Nice to see that they make their way into the gaming world once in awhile!

The Necromongers:
The Chronicles of Riddick is yet another example of theocracy, apocalypticism, and doomsday devices. Within the context of the story, we have a faction of hostile force known as Necromongers, a faction of humanity that worships death and believes that better world (known as Underverse) lies at the edge of the known universe. Leading them is a man known as the High Marshall, a person who apparently traveled to Underverse and returned half-man, half… something else. No kidding, this is how he’s described in the movie, verbatim!

In any case, in their drive to reach the edge of the universe, the Necromongers conquer, pillage and convert every planet in their path. The final step in this process, before moving on, is the use of a planet-killing device of their own, one which leaves the planet itself intact, but destroys all remaining life on the surface. In short, after they replenish their ranks and bring in fresh converts from the conquered populace, they commit whats called the “Final Protocol” before dusting off. Basically, it involves a series of ships standing up on end and releasing payloads into the air which then explode, unleashing a massive shock wave that kills everything in its path. This process gives literal meaning to the words: “Convert, or fall forever!”

The Inhibitors:
As I final example, I have included one of my personal favorites: the hostile alien species known as the Inhibitors, which come to us from Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space universe. According to the first novel in the series, the Inhibitors are all that remains of several ancient alien races which went extinct long ago. These machines, which are semi-intelligent and automated, are programmed to seek out and destroy sentient life.

The reason for their existence apparently has to do with a series of terrible events that are collectively known as the Dawn War. This war was apparently fought by all the earliest sentient races in the Milky Way Galaxy which began shortly after they discovered each other, but which lasted for eons. Finally, what was left of the various races decided to merge their consciousness with a series of specialized machines which they then programmed to ensure that no such wars ever happened again. These machines take the form of tiny black boxes which are capable of multiplying, replicating and seem next to impossible to kill.

Ostensibly, these machines were designed to nip the development of sentient life in the bud by sterilizing any planet that supported a potentially star-faring race. In short, they were meant to inhibit the growth of sentient life, hence their name. However, in books II and III, their motivations are explained further. In addition to wanting to prevent another major war from taking place, the Inhibitors were also concerned about the eventual galactic collision which is scheduled to take place between the Andromeda and Milky Way Galaxies several million years from now. When that happens, our two galaxies will merge, but the consequences for any lifeforms living within either of them will be disastrous.

The only way to prevent this, it is said, is to either ensure the development of a single race that has the requisite technological development to resist the destruction brought on by the collision, or to inhibit the growth of any sentient species until after the collision takes place. Once the collision is complete and the galaxy returns to a state of gravitational equilibrium, life can resume, but not before. Sounds crass, but the way they see it, they are doing sentient beings a favor by making sure they don’t get off the ground, rather than letting them die by the billions when the stars all come crashing together!

In the end, these machines destroy planets through various means. In fact, much attention is given to how the Inhibitors employ a great deal of creativity in designing ways to sterilize worlds. Instead of just parking a giant gun in orbit around a planet or covering with a toxic blanket, they will use the system’s natural resources to construct tools and weapons which they will then use to take planet’s or suns apart, bit by bit. The process can take years, even centuries for them. But they plan ahead, and are very patient…

Ultimately, the Inhibitors are not defeated in the Revelation Space universe, but are beaten back, pushed to the fringes of known space where humanity fights an ongoing fight with them that lasts beyond the final novel in the series. They do this by incorporating technology from other extinct races as well as one’s that have developed extremely clever ways to survive. And like with everything else in Reynold’s universe, it all comes down to technology that is both plausible and fascinating to read about!

Well, that’s about all the planet killing I can stand for now. Sure, there are plenty more examples in the realm of sci-fi, but these are the ones that stand out for me. Plus, if I were to take the time to research and list them all, we’d both be stuck on this one post forever. Remember, it takes longer to write than it does to read! So in keeping with the theme of this post, let me leave you with some words of advice:

No matter what you’ve done, its not the end of the world. Unless it is, in which case, it probably didn’t matter anyway ๐Ÿ˜‰

Babylon 5, Farewell…

Babylon 5, Farewell…

We come at last to the final season, the fifth and final year in Babylon 5’s planned lifespan. According to legend, Straczynski had been told repeatedly that he was crazy to think that he could ever pre-plan a series like this, that actors quit, budgets got slashed, and time slots got changed around. And that certainly happened in the course of the show, a couple of times. However, somehow he made it work, though apparently he had to take on a huge burden as a result.

And even after making a season four finale, season five eventually got the go ahead and was made in full. It was a season of epilogues, goodbyes and even a few more threads, previewing events which were portended to take place later in the show’s projected plot. Even with its tight five season storyline, there were still a lot of things that had been previewed for the future, and some explanations needed to be made.

Babylon 5 Season Five:

The last season ended with Earth being liberated, Sheridan being elevated to the status of President of the new Interstellar Alliance, Sheridan and Delenn being married, and Ivanova being saved by Marcus. As the new season opens, Sheridan assumes his presidency, Ivanova leaves the station, and a new captain assumes the role as commander of B5. In an interesting twist, it turns out to be Sheridan’s ex.

Another early development is the establishment of a colony of telepaths aboard the station. There presence becomes an immediate source of trouble, as the psi cops want to bring them in, and Lyta becomes very drawn to them and their leader. Essentially, they are looking to establish a colony for free telepaths, but in time, they learn the truth of their existence from Lyta. In the course of having sex, Lyta’s mind opens and the leader of the telepaths, Byron, comes to learn that the Vorlons were responsible for creating the majority of known telepaths.

When he learns this, he and the others are incensed. All their lives, they’ve operated under the assumption that their gifts were a matter of personal responsibility. Now they see that they were made, and hence were never given a choice as to what they are. They then demand that Sheridan and the Alliance provide them with a home, or else they will begin revealing every member races secrets, which they gathered from having followed the diplomats around for days.

Soon, everything hits the fan, the psi cops and Bester come for them, and Byron sacrifices himself to end the conflict. The telepaths are taken away, but Lyta vows that she will protect them and make sure that Byron is avenged. She begins running stockpiling weapons in preparation for an eventual war with the telepaths, and is soon arrested for her trouble. A showdown with her takes place on the Zocallo, which would have been messy had Sheridan not been there. As the only other person who’s been touched by the Vorlons, he alone is able to withstand her psychic influence.

At the same time, Garibaldi confronts Bester. Once aboard the station, he corners him in his quarters and demands that he confess everything he did to Garibaldi at gunpoint. However, Bester refuses, and when Garibaldi tries to make good on his threat, he can’t pull the trigger. Seems Bester had placed an “Azimov” in his head, preventing Garibaldi from harming him or allowing harm to come to him. Feeling completely helpless, Garibaldi begins drinking again. It’s not long before it interferes with his job, and his wife, Lyse, shows up just in time to ask him to come back to Mars with him.

However, Garibaldi comes up with another plan. He meets Lyta and asks for her help. She agrees, but tells him that in exchange for his help running money and guns to her planned resistance, she will remove the block and let him get even. He agrees, and returns with Lyse to Mars to run Edgar industries (which she inherited since Edgar’s murder), promising to see Lyta again in two years, at which time, everything will be set. The “telepath war” which was hinted at in season four, is thus on its way…

Meanwhile, something is rotten on Centauri Prime. After an assassination attempt on Londo, G’Kar agrees to become his body guard and travels to Centauri Prime. The regent is apparently under the influence of something dark, and preparations are being made for war. Londo narrowly escapes a second attempt, and it seems that whoever is controlling the regent was responsible, and hopes to work with him soon… he returns to B5 with a very bad feeling. And we are made aware that Centauri ships are being used to prey on shipping…

The attacks intensify, and member worlds of the Alliance begin to accuse each other. However, an investigation reveals that Centauri agents are involved, and soon Lennier, now a member of the Rangers, witnesses an attack take place. Centauri Prime is kicked out of the Alliance and put under embargo, a full-scale firefight erupts when they challenge the blockage, and war is declared! Londo returns home, again with G’Kar, to see what is going on. After several weeks of fighting, some frightening facts become clear.

For starters, the Centauri ships that are performing the attacks are using Shadow technology to control them. This is a clear indication that the Drakh, one of the Shadows old friends have infiltrated Centauri Prime, as Morden threatened, and are using the regent to create chaos. This becomes clear to Londo as Alliance forces arrange for an unsanctioned assault on Centauri Prime, and the regent himself performs one last duty… shutting down the planet’s defensive grid. The assault begins, with a combined Narn-Drazi force devestating the Centauri capitol.

The regent and his Drakh masters reveal themselves, and tell Londo that it is his turn to wear the Shadow device that control a person’s actions, otherwise they will blow up the planet. Londo agrees, the regent dies, he assumes the role of emperor (which was also foretold and which he feared for some time), and Centauri Prime surrenders. Now that he’s their unwilling servant, he lies to Sheridan and tells him the Shadow technology was bought on the black market, not acquired from the Drakh. He also declares that Centauri Prime will be an isolationist power and have nothing more to do with the Alliance.

From all this, we are given a detailed preview of what was hinted at in earlier seasons. For one, we now see how Londo became Emperor, how this would lead to his death at the hands of G’Kar years later, how his world would be devastated, and how he would capture Delenn and Sheridan – ostensibly so he could punish them for happened to his world, but would then release them. And as hinted at, we also see how it would be the Drakh who were responsible for Centauri Prime’s devastation, a final legacy of the Shadow War.

Oh, and a couple other side stories take place in the midst of all this. One involves Lennier, who was told by a vision he had of Morden that he would commit an act of betrayal. And he does! During an accident in which Sheridan is sealed in a room with a poisonous gas leak, Lennier is about to help him, but then chooses to leave him there instead. He has second thoughts and returns, only to find that Sheridan freed himself. Shamed by his betrayal, he flees, leaving Delenn only with a message saying how sorry he is.

The other side story involves G’Kar. For some time, he has been garnering popularity among his people since he was the leader of the resistance and the one who liberated their world. Upon returning to B5 from Centauri Prime, he finds that the book he’s been writing since his revelation has been making the rounds. In fact, its even been published and has outsold the book of G’Quon (which is like outselling the Bible!) Despite his resistance, the problem only gets worse, and when a spurned acolyte tries to kill him, he decides its time to leave. Having learned much from his years on the station among other races, he decides he will set out to explore the known universe. He also decides to take Lyta with him, hoping he can help her overcome her pain and hatred as he did his.

Sheridan also discovers that Delenn is pregnant after she collapses and is examined by Franklin. This too matches up with what Sheridan foresaw in the future, that they would have a boy named David. Delenn’s pregnancy begins to take a toll on her health, since her physiology is part-human, part-Mimbari. However, she and Sheridan are committed to making sure she and the baby survive. They also announce that they will be moving the HQ of the Alliance to Mimbar for the next few years, hence they too are leaving B5. A big send-off is held, and Zack Allen remarks how its sad to see everyone go, but that he’ll probably still be there until they “shut the lights off”.

They are met on Mimbar by Londo, who professes his friendship, despite the circumstances of their last meeting. However, it quickly become clear he’s on an errand from the Drakh, delivering a similar device to the one that is controlling him that is meant for their son when he comes of age. After making the delivery, Londo asks them “what now”, to which they reply “now we await the passage of years… we are very patient.” The last hint of whats to come is given!

The final episode takes place roughly twenty years later when Sheridan is about to die. In keeping with Lorien’s prediction that he could only prolong his life by twenty years, Sheridan’s health begins to fail and they arrange a farewell party for him. He says goodbye to Vir, Ivanova, Garibaldi, Franklin and Delenn, and they toast those who couldn’t be amongst them – Londo, G’Kar, Lennier and Marcus. After all this, he has a tearful goodbye with Delenn and flies off to say goodbye to B5. He sees Zack there, who tells him the station is about to be decommissioned. Sheridan then flies off to Coriana 6, the site of their major battle with the Shadows, where he encounters Lorien.

Lorien tells him that he’s not so much dying as taking the next step, that he and the others have not forgot about him and are taking him beyond the rim to where they are now living. Sheridan laments that he can’t ever come back, but is ready. He dies in a blinding flash of light, remarking “the sun’s coming up”. Ivanova then gives the final narration, saying how the Babylon project taught them all how to stand together and look out for each other, calling to mind what was said in the season four finale. The station is then given a big send off and demolished, and the show ends with it being said that Delenn spent every morning thenceforth watching the sun rise and remembering Sheridan.

A poignant and fitting ending! In many ways, season five was an epilogue season, not as exciting or consequential as the previous four. However, I was glad they made it in the end. One finale episode was just not enough of a send-off for this show. What’s more, there were still a lot of plot elements and threads that needed to be expanded on.

Conclusion:

In the spirit of epilogues, let me say some final words about Babylon 5 and what made it such a good show and franchise. Well, to break it down, there was its epic feel, its solid writing, its great and memorable characters, and its tight narrative feel. Unlike many other franchises that start with a sort of open, shoestring plot, B5 was plotted out well in advance, everything that happened in it was part of a single, unfolding story. That meant it didn’t have any of the usual contrivances, plot holes, or third act revelations that other shows are famous for (Star Trek is a perfect example!)

What’s more, the episodes didn’t end with everything going back to a state of balance, with everyone happy. If anything, they ended with a sense of “what’s next?” In every episode they were either in the midst of a conflict or worrying about the next one. That’s where the realism was truly felt. Even in season five, when all things are wrapping up, there was a strong sense of the problems that were to come. Though we got a preview of how things ended happily for the most part, we knew that there would be plenty of speed bumps along the way.

These two elements, a tight plot and realistic tone, are two lessons that have remained with me years later. Whenever I write, I find myself trying to follow Straczynski’s example, both in terms of how he constructing a storyline as well as the tone he struck. In short, when I’m working on a story, I try to write out the plot well in advance so that there’s plenty of hints of what’s to come and as few inconsistencies and plot holes later on. But whereas I am an acolyte, Straczynski was the man who really wrote the book on this for sci-fi serials. I know nothing comparable to his work except for maybe the re-envisioning of Battlestar Galactica… something for another review!

The same is true when it comes to characters, those that are best are the ones who are flawed and complex, ones that have backgrounds and back stories rather than being one-dimensional in nature. And the acting, for the most part, was classical… Shakespearean even. My favorite characters have to be G’Kar and Londo, played by Andreas Katsulas (RIP) and Peter Jurasik. Not only are they great actors, they had some of the best lines between them, especially when paired together in a scene. Jerry Doyle was also great as Michael Garibaldi; in addition to some great lines, he was probably the most realistic character, combining a workaholic’s personality with genuine vulnerability, all the while punctuated by a very irreverent sense of humor!

That, and the fact that the show was really fun to watch! Even now, years later, the CGI and sets are still impressive, which is surprising considering its limited budget. Given all that, its really too bad that the franchise didn’t pan out in terms of spin offs. Crusade and the tv movie Legends of the Rangers were both commercial flops, and weren’t too well received critically either. But that tends to happen with cult hits, they don’t have the deep pockets and mass market appeal of major franchises. On the other hand, the other B5 movies (River of Souls, A Call to Arms, Thirdspace) were well-received, for the most part anyway. I strongly recommend that fans and prospective fans check them out, in addition the full five seasons!

So long B5, you will be remembered…