Worlds of Babylon 5

B5_shadowsThis would be the fourth installment of my “Worlds Of” series, this time in honor of my favorite sci-fi show of all time. Like the show itself, the worlds that were featured here were richly detailed, multi-layered, and part of an intricate and cohesive universe. Though the show only lasted five seasons and the spin-off attempts failed, J.M. Straczynski was able to give most of the locales for his story a fair amount of treatment.

Centauri Prime:
CentauriPrime01The homeworld of the Centauri race and the seat of power for Republic. In ancient times, it was home to both the Centauri and the Xon, two sentient species that battled for thousands of years for control of the planet. Eventually, the Centauri exterminated the Xon, a victory which is celebrated annually with lavish feasts and celebrations. From these humble yet violent origins, the Centauri emerged to become the dominant power in the quadrant, conquering many races at their zenith, including the Narns.

Many locations of interest are to be found on Centauri Prime. These include the Royal Palace, home of the Royal Court and Centaurem, the Senate Building, the Great Temple, and the Imperial capitol. In the buildup to the Narn-Centauri war, the Royal Palace became the scene of intrigue as forces loyal to the puppet-Emperor Cartagia and Lord Refa began assassinating those who got in their way.

After the war was over, things once again became interesting as the mad Emperor made an Alliance with the Shadows and gave them the island of Cellini, hoping they would pay him back by making him a god. This alliance put the planet in danger, as the Vorlons had begun destroying any and all planets that were being used by the Shadows. In the end, Londo was forced to destroy Celini with tactical nukes to eliminate the Shadow vessels and prevent the Vorlons from destroying the planet.

Almost immediately after the war was over, the Drakh infiltrated Centauri Prime and began using it as their base of operations. After implicating the Centauri in a series of attacks on Alliance shipping, war was declared against the Republic. This war ended with the surrender of Centauri Prime after Narn and Drazi forces slipped into the system and began bombarding the surface with impunity. According to expanded sources, the planet would also be devastated when the Drakh were discovered and detonated a fusion bomb in the capitol to cover their escape.

Earth:
B5_EarthThe homeworld of the human race and administrative center of the Earth Alliance. By 2258-62, when the show takes place, a number of changes have happened to the place we call home. For starters, the capitol of the EA is established in Geneva, the headquarters of which is known as Earthdome. It is from here that the President exercises authority over Earth and all the Earth Alliance’s colonies.

Every nation on the planet has joined as an administrative “consortium”, contributing members and money to the upkeep of government. Earth is also home to the Psi Corps, the institution that monitors and trains telepaths for the Earth Alliance. This place is also the home of the Psi Cops, the authorities who track down and arrest “rogue telepaths” – those who choose not to register or take suppressants.

Just prior to the Shadow War, President Clarke declared martial law, effectively ending democratic government on Earth. The colonies thenceforth were administered by armed force, and Clarke himself forged an Alliance between his office, the Shadows, and the Psi Corps. For years, he ruled with impunity, until a coalition led by Sheridan and the White Star fleet arrived at Earth in 2262. Rather than face overthrow, Clarke shot himself and programmed the planetary defensive network to obliterate the surface. The satellites were narrowly stopped by Sheridan’s fleet, thus saving Earth from being turned into “scorched Earth”.

During the Drakh War, Earth became exposed to a deadly plague. This bio-weapon was of Shadow design and introduced into the atmosphere by Drakh ships after they failed to destroy Earth with a Shadow planet-killer. After five years under quarantine, the Interstellar Alliance ship Excalibur discovered a cure and introduced it to Earth. The planet was saved! However, hints given at the end of season 5 indicate that 500 years after the formation of the Alliance, Earth was devastated in a terrible civil war, returning its inhabitants to a primitive level of development.

One million years after the formation of the Alliance, Earth was abandoned by the decedents of the human race, who had evolved to the point of transcendence. After downloading all historical records, the last of the human race left the system for the last time. The sun went supernova shortly thereafter, destroying everything in the system.

Epsilon 3:
b5-eps3The third planet of the Epsilon Indi system and the world that Babylon 5 sits in orbit of. Coincidentally, it is also home of the Great Machine, a subterranean alien artifact of immense power. Not much is known about the species that built it, as the last known inhabitants, outside of the current custodians, died out as a result of a religious schism or fled into deep space.

Thereafter, the Machine was maintained by Varus, one of the last of their species, with the help of ten assistants named Zathras. As he neared the end of his life, the machine began to break down, causing the planet to become geologically unstable. This in turn alerted some of the surviving Epsilonians who were looking for the planet in hyperspace. When they emerged, a confrontation ensued between the aliens, B5, an Earth Alliance cruiser.

This was resolved when Draal, a Minbari member of the religious caste, assumed control of the machine and used its defenses to destroy the invaders. He warned that anyone else attempting to possess the planet’s secrets would meet with the same fate, but later pledged his allegiance and the resources of the planet to Sheridan and Delenn’s alliance. This went beyond mere weapons, as the Great Machine was also capable of seeing through time and space, which was intrinsic in both finding other First Ones and uncovering proof of Clark’s conspiracy.

Aside from the Great Machine, Epsilon 3 also boasted an extensive underground city filled with many technical wonders. According to Commander Sinclair, these included computers the size of buildings and components that were miles in length. In season four, when B5 needed components to boost the signal of their “Voice of the Resistance” transmissions, they found what they needed on the planet below.

Narn:
Narnhomeworld01According to Narn sources, Narn was once a fertile planet with lush rainforests and vast oceans. This changed when the Centauri arrived and occupied the planet for over 50 years. During this time, the planet was strip mined, ruthlessly exploited, and reduced to the status of a slave colony. Much damage was also done during the Narn war of resistance, as Centauri forces bombarded the surface from the orbit.

After the Narn’s proved victorious, efforts to restore the natural greenery were mounted. However, these apparently took a back seat to the need to equip the Narn regime’s military forces, a policy which demanded that this trend of exploitation continue. As a result, the planet’s climate remains,in the words of Londo: “dry, red, depressing.”

The bombardment of the Narn homeworld during the Narn-Centauri in season two didn’t help matters much either. After many hours of being pulverized from orbit with asteroids, most major cities were devastated, electricity and power grids were knocked out, and virtually all infrastructure was reduced to rubble. This also had the effect of kicking up massive amounts of dust into the atmosphere which caused terrible storms and made the climate colder and more harsh.

With the liberation of the Narn towards the end of the Shadow War, efforts to rebuild the planet once again began in earnest. This time, with the Interstellar Alliance and G’Kar’s influence as their guide, the Kah-Ri ensured that the needs of its citizens were their top priority. Thenceforth, attempts to rehabilitate the climate and rebuild infrastructure were placed ahead of revenge and military spending.

Minbar:
44053-babylon_5_movie_news_2_superThe homeworld of the Minbari Federation and their seat of government. As one of the older races in the quadrant, Minbar boasts some of the oldest cities, temples and buildings in the known universe. Most of these are built from indigenous crystal, contributing to the natural beauty of the surface. Colder than Earth’s climate and with stronger than normal gravity, the Minbari are a hearty race known for their strength and endurance.

It is here that the ancient capitol of the Minbari Federation is located. The towering triple-spired government palace is here, even though the Grey Council conducted its affairs from space. The Anla’Shock Temple of Temple of Varenni  are also to found in the capitol, the former being used by the Rangers and the latter being an ancient site where the castes would come together to select leaders during the time before Valen.

Another city of importance is Tuzanor, the home of Valen, the Anla’Shok training grounds where the Rangers receive their basic training, and home to the Interstellar Alliance once Delenn and Sheridan relocated it to Minbar. Just outside the city is the historic Mount H’Leya, where Valen, accompanied by a pair of Vorlons, delivered his holy “Times to come” speech during the first Shadow War.

During 2261, shortly after the Shadow War, Minbar became embroiled in a brief civil war between the Religious and Warrior Castes. This was due to deep-seated divisions which had been exacerbated by the Earth-Minbar War and the destruction of the Grey Council. It ended when Delenn invited Shakiri to the Temple of Varenni, where they would both enter into the Wheel of Fire to demonstrate their willingness to sacrifice themselves. Shakiri withdrew, but Delenn did not, prompting Neroon to save her and sacrifice himself on behalf of her. Thereafter, Delenn indicated that the Grey Council would be dominated by the Worker Caste to prevent such wars from happening again.

Sigma 957:
Sigma957planetThe ancient homeworld of the Walkers, one of the First Ones who had left the galaxy after the First Shadow War. The name itself was given to them by the Narns, who’s regime was the closest government to border their world. Apparently, they named them as such because they considered the inhabitants to be giants, so great and powerful that it was best to keep out from underfoot!

In 2258, Catherine Sakai did a fly-by of the planet to search for trace elements. During her mission, a massive ship appeared off her bow and her ship was disabled. When she was rescued at the behest of Ambassor G’Kar, he told her simply “There are things in the universe billions of years older than either of our races. They are vast, timeless. And if they are aware of us at all, it is as little more than ants…and we have as much chance of communicating with them as an ant has with us. We know. We’ve tried. And we’ve learned we can either stay out from underfoot, or be stepped on.”

In season 3, during a visit to Epsilon 3 to see Draal, Ivanova was able to see this world and feel the “footprints” of the Walkers with the help of the Great Machine. This was the first indication that their alliance had as to the whereabouts of other First Ones. Shortly thereafter, Ivanova and Marcus traveled there aboard a White Star to make contact with the Walkers. After a strained conversation, Ivanova was able to secure their agreement to join their alliance.

Vorlon Homeworld:
vorlon02Much like the Vorlon race itself, their homeworld is steeped in mystery. Throughout the B5 series, mentions are made of the planet the Vorlons call home, but no details are ever given beyond the limited testimony of Lyta Alexander. As the only human to witness the inner workings of the Vorlon culture, she found herself in a unique position, acting as a sort of bridge and ambassador. However, other than her, no one has ever seen their world and those who have tried have either been destroyed or disappeared without a trace.

As for Lyta Alexander, her voyage to the Vorlon homeworld took place shortly after she made contact with the mind of Ambassador Kosh and broke from the Psi Corps. After weeks of waiting on the edge of Vorlon space, she was eventually admitted after sending out a telepathic signal. When asked what it was like, she said simply “you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

However, some tidbits were given by Lyta as time went on. For one, it is revealed that the Vorlons possessed artifacts of immense power, which humanity and the younger races would only ever be entitled to once a million years had past. This was revealed after the Vorlons had left known space, but had thought to leave their automated border defenses in place and active. In addition, it was also here that Lyta witnessed the Vorlons extensive efforts to modify humans and other sentient’s to produce telepaths. This consisted of large facilities where hundreds of thousands of beings were kept in suspension tanks and either enhanced or modified to exhibit telepathic abilities in the first place.

Zhabar:
Zhabar01The homeworld and seat of power for the Drazi freehold, this planet was first shown in season five of B5 and played a rather important role in the plot. Noted for its hot, arid climate, the Drazi homeworld is also notorious for its crowded cities, narrow streets and small buildings with large vistas.

Much of this information comes from Garibaldi, who traveled here in 2262 on behalf of Alliance Covert Intelligence. According to Garibaldi’s contact on Zhabar, the curious architecture and city planning are throwbacks to earlier eras where the Drazi designed their cities to be impassable to siege engines. In addition, the small roomed architecture also harkens back to previous ages, when the Drazi lived predominantly outside.

After the Shadow War, this world became the focal point of much attention as Centauri agents infiltrated in order to kill Garibaldi’s contact. Though they failed to kill Garibaldi, his contact, and the Drakh-Centauri connection, remained a secret for some time. However, during a subsequent trip by Lyta and Dr. Franklin (at the behest of the Vir Cotto), they discovered that the Drazi were storing captured Shadow devices here. These devices were taken from destroyed Centauri vessels, and the Drazi were apparently hoping to keep them for themselves.

Z’ha’dum:
zhadumMuch like the planet the Vorlons call home, the Shadow’s homeworld is also steeped in mystery. However, several people have walked in its surface or witnessed if from orbit and lived to tell the tale. For instance, the elusive man named Mr. Morden, who came to Z’ha’dum as part of the Icarus crew, enlisted with the Shadows and then became their chief representative to the younger races.

The second person to witness the planet was G’Kar, who travelled to the rim at the end of season 1 to investigate the destruction of the Narn outpost in Quadrant 37. He described the place as a dark world, “where nothing has walked for a thousand years”. His description proved quite apt, as the Shadows and their allies all lived underground in order to hide their presence.

The third and final visit came from John Sheridan, who had been forewarned by Kosh that if he went to Z’ha’dum, he would die. He was right, after a fashion. During his visit to their craggy world, he received a tour of their underground facilities and even a bird’s eye view of the capitol. Right before he blew it all away with two massive thermonuclear bombs and fell to his supposed death. But because he was saved by Lorien, the First One who lived within the planet for eons, his life was restored. As such, he was the only one to visit Z’ha’dum, outside of their willing servants, and live.

Speaking of Lorien, it is noteworthy to mention that for millions of years, Z’ha’dum was the place he called home. During his time with Sheridan, he explained that it was for this reason that the Shadows kept coming back there, out of respect for a First One that was even older than them. This would seem to indicate that Z’ha’dum was not in fact the Shadows homeworld, but merely a world they used as a base of operations whenever they returned to this part of the galaxy. But given their incredible age, this should not come as a surprise. Whether it was the Vorlons, the Shadows or any other First Ones, their true point of origin has probably been lost with time and forgotten by even them.

Rabbletown: Life in these United Christian States of Holy America, by Randy Attwood

Rabbletown: Life in these United Christian States of Holy America, by Randy Attwood

Hello and welcome to the first literary review I have had the honor of doing for a fellow author! On the docket for today, a sci-fi, near future dystopian work known as Rabbletown: Life in these United Christian States of Holy America, by Randy Attwood. Awhile back, this author and his work came to my attention by way of my writers group. Like many of us, Randy has been writing for many years, had an idea and manuscript that was just awaiting completion, and which he recently finished and made available as an ebook and paperback (see links below for info on where to find it).

Author Bio: Randy is a retired journalist, but also worked as the director of university relations for Kentucky University medical center and as the media relations officer for the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. He retired in 2010 and now dedicates himself to his writing. He has several titles to date, and Rabbletown is (far as I can tell) the flagship of his fleet.

Plot Synopsis: The story takes place in a dystopian future, circa 2084, where the US has become a fundamentalist state (as the name clearly implies). The how and why of this are explained in the preamble, where ongoing tension between the US and Middle East eventually turn nuclear and result in the full scale devastation of both. Whereas the United States bombs Iran and environs into oblivion using its ICBM’s, the various nation-states and terrorist organizations strike back using backpack nukes and dirty bombs until most US major cities are ruined.

What emerges is, predictably, a renewed Dark Ages where civil authorities are replaced by religious ones, the Evangelical movement becomes the dominant political force in America, and Jews, Muslims and Catholics are either suppressed or eradicated. The president of the US is known as the Pastor President, and all offices (governor, mayor, etc) are also required to take on the title of pastor before their rank. Each president is named in honor of famous Evangelists; the current president is Jerry Falwell V, his VP is Pat Robertson.

In addition to demonstrating their lineage from these current media figures, this is also a clear and delicious stab at the Christian Right and its political machinations! Other names of note include Cheney – a former member of the regime who is languishing in jail after an attempted coup – thus ensuring that the political right are also included in this indictment. What’s more, the civil authorities are known as Inquisitors, who are naturally the enforcers of religious law, extract confessions through torture and regularly stone those who sin.

Foreign policy is similarly medieval in this day and age. Whereas the US has become a Christian Republic, there is talk of the “Caliphate”, presumably a united Arab world, where Christian and Muslim soldiers fight for control of Jerusalem once again. It is hinted in the story that this “Crusade” is not real, merely a political tool that the Pastor Presidents use from time to time to drum up support. Still, the purpose of having it is clear. Whereas politics in the US are now dominated by religion, so to is their view of the world.

In any case, what follows is a story of how one town – Rabbletown, Kansas (a borough of Topeka) – is working to create the country’s greatest Cathedral in preparation for a visit from the Pastor President. The main characters, the Mason Bob Crowley, his wife Cheryl, Pastor Governor Jerry Johnson IV, Healer Elmer, Father Superior Robert, Friar Francis and Pastor Teacher Harold, give us a inside view of life in this future Kansas town, presenting it from various angles and providing exposition of how society works. Their particular POV’s are also important when a seminal development takes place, the appearance of a boy who has a knack for quoting Bible verses and seems somehow… “touched” by the Lord. This boy is none other than Bobby Crowley, the son of Mason Bob.

(Spoiler Alert!): The story begins to truly come together after a series of holy events takes place involving Bobby and a routine stoning. Everyone, from the President to the boy’s father, becomes swept up in a frenzy after news of it spreads, the authorities condemning it as the work of Satan while others proclaim the boy to be Christ reborn. Repression and division follow, with the so-called holy authorities becoming very much the enemy of those who appear chosen and righteous. Needless to say, the allegory is clear. In time, the division between the authorities and believers reaches (ahem!) Biblical proportions, in a scene that very much resembles that of Jerusalem during the time of Jesus.

Weaknesses: It is this last part which fell short for me. Given the background and nature of the story, one would get the impression that religion is being cast in a negative light, or at least that it is being mocked for its current excesses and abuses. However, the story also seems to be making the point that religion will be the source of salvation. While this would seem like a keen observation about the duality of faith – the line between salvation and condemnation being so fine – it also makes for an unbelievable ending. Whereas the question of Bobby’s holiness would have seemed best if left vague and metaphorical, there is no doubt about it in the story. Bobby is literally divine, his nature and purpose a force of righteous redemption.

There are some other weaknesses, such as the relevant facts being presented in a matter-of-fact way that leaves the reader feeling spoon fed. The dialogue also comes off as expository and forced at times, something you wouldn’t expect to hear from real people no matter how politically conscious they are. And the intro gives us a full dose of the background which leaves the reader feeling less inclined to read and discover for themselves what’s already happened, what has led the characters to their current situation. And the ending, well its a little predictable given all the Biblical allusions. However, these are hardly fatal and don’t really take away from the overall plot. Really, its just the ending that felt like it misfired.

Strengths: Overall, the story has all the elements of good satire: corruption, decay, selfishness and power mongering; with small, shining lights of redemption amidst it all. The bit about people’s daily lives and how they turn to their PPC’s (Personal Pastor Counselor) is also quite ingenious, predicting the emergence of an internet-based personal religious counseling. The mock history, particularly the part about the Catholic Accommodation was also a stroke a fine art (I shan’t describe, read it yourself!).

And above all, the mockery of the Evangelical movement and its political ambitions feels quite apt. For what can be said about people who seem to think that its a good idea to combine religion and politics, and have little to no qualms about condemning their “liberal” adversaries and all the “undesirables” of society? If they got their wish, would it really resemble anything other than Taliban-style medievalism?

Hence, I recommend Rabbtletown for those people looking for a dystopian read with a religious twist. It’s clever, fun, and a short read which will inspire thought. And, given some tweaking and a little expansion, it could even be a bestseller someday! Hey, you gotta have faith (ba pa ra pum pum!).