Building Future Worlds…

inspirationIn the course of becoming an indie writer, there is one aspect of the creative process which keeps coming back to me. To put it simply, it is the challenges and delights of world building – i.e. creating the background, context, and location in which a story takes place. For years, I have been reading other people’s thoughts on the subject, be they authors themselves or just big fans of literary fiction.

But my own experience with the process has taught me much that I simply couldn’t appreciate before I picked up my pen and pad (or in this case, opened a word doc and began typing). Ad lately, the thoughts have been percolating in my mind and I felt the need to write them out. Having done that, I thought I might share them in full.

alien-worldFor starters, being a science fiction writer presents a person with particular opportunities for creative expression. But at the same time, it presents its share of particular challenges. While one is certainly freer to play around with space, place, and invent more freely than with most other genres, they are still required to take into account realism, consistency and continuity in all that they do.

Sooner or later, the world a writer builds will be explored, mapped, and assessed, and any and all inconsistencies are sure to stick out like a sore thumb! So in addition to making sure back-stories, timelines and other details accord with the main plot, authors also need to be mindful of things like technology, physical laws, and the nature of space and time.

self-aware-colonyBut above all, the author in question has to ask themselves what kind of universe they want to build. If it is set in the future, they need to ask themselves certain fundamental questions about where human beings will be down the road. Not only that, they also need to decide what parallels (and they always come up!) they want to draw with the world of today.

Through all of this, they will be basically deciding what kind of message they want to be sending with their book. Because of course, anything they manage to dream up about the future will tell their readers lots about the world the author inhabits, both in the real sense and within their own head. And from what I have seen, it all comes down to five basic questions they must ask themselves…

1. Near-Future/Far Future:
future-city3When it comes to science-fiction stories, the setting is almost always the future. At times, it will be set in an alternate universe, or an alternate timeline; but more often than not, the story takes place down the road. The only question is, how far down the road? Some authors prefer to go with the world of tomorrow, setting their stories a few decades or somewhere in the vicinity of next century.

By doing this, the author in question is generally trying to show how the world of today will determine the world of tomorrow, commenting on current trends and how they are helping/hurting us. During the latter half of the 20th century, this was a very popular option for writers, as the consensus seemed to be that the 21st century would be a time when some truly amazing things would be possible; be it in terms of science, technology, or space travel.

1984_John_HurtOther, less technologically-inclined authors, liked to use the not-so-distant future as a setting for dystopian, post-apocalytpic scenarios, showing how current trends (atomic diplomacy, arms races, high tech, environmental destruction) would have disastrous consequences for humanity in the near-future. Examples of this include Brave New World, 1984, The Iron Heel, The Chrysalids, and a slew of others.

In all cases, the totalitarian regimes or severe technological and social regression that characterized their worlds were the result of something happening in the very near-future, be it nuclear or biological war, a catastrophic accident, or environmental collapse. Basically, humanity’s current behavior was the basis for a cautionary tale, where an exaggerated example is used to illustrate the logical outcome of all this behavior.

arrakis-duneAt the other end of the spectrum, many authors have taken the long view with their sci-fi world building. Basically, they set their stories several centuries or even millennia from now. In so doing, they are able to break with linear timelines and the duty of having to explain how humanity got from here to there, and instead could focus on more abstract questions of existence and broader allegories.

Examples of this include Frank Herbert’s Dune and Asimov’s Foundation series, both of which were set tens of thousands of years in the future. In both of these universes, humanity’s origins and how they got to where they were took a backseat to the historical allegories that were being played upon. While some mention is given to the origins of humanity and where they came from, little attempt is made to draw a line from the present into the future.

foundation_coversInstead, the focus is overwhelmingly on the wider nature of human beings and what drives us to do the things we do. Asimov drew from Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire to make a point about the timeless nature of history, while Herbert drew on the modern age, medieval and ancient history, religion, philosophy, and evolutionary biology and ecology to investigate the timeless nature of humanity and what factors shape it.

For non-purists, Star Wars and Star Trek can also serve as examples of both tendencies in action. For decades, Star Trek used a not-too-distant future setting to endlessly expound on the human race and the issues it faces today. And always, this examination was done in the form of interstellar travel, the crew of the Enterprise going form world to world and seeing themselves in the problems, norms and social structure of other races.

coruscantStar Wars, on the other hand, was an entirely different animal. For the people living in this universe, no mention is ever made of Earth, and pre-Republic history is considered a distant and inaccessible thing. And while certain existential and social issues are explored (i.e. racism, freedom and oppression), the connections with Earth’s past are more subtle, relying on indirect clues rather than overt comparisons.

The Republic and the Empire, for example, is clearly inspired by Rome’s own example. The Jedi Code is very much the picture of the Bushido code, its practitioners a sort of futuristic samurai, and the smugglers of Tatooine are every bit the swashbuckling, gun toting pirates and cowboys of popular fiction. But always, the focus seemed to more on classically-inspired tales of destiny, and of epic battles of good versus evil.

And of course, whether we are talking near future or far future has a big influence on the physical setting of the story as well. Which brings me to item two…

2. Stellar or Interstellar:100,000starsHere is another important question that every science fiction author has faced, and one which seriously influences the nature  of the story. When it comes to the world of tomorrow, will it be within the confines of planet Earth, the Solar System, or on many different world throughout our galaxy? Or, to go really big, will it encompass the entire Milky Way, or maybe even beyond?

Important questions for a world-builder, and examples certainly abound. In the former case, you have your dystopian, post-apocalyptic, and near future seenarios, where humanity is stuck living on a hellish Earth that has seen better days. Given that humanity would not be significantly more adavanced than the time of writing, or may have even regressed due to the downfall of civilization, Earth would be the only place people can live.

Gaia_galaxyBut that need not always be the case. Consider Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick. In his dystopian, post-apocalyptic tale, Earth was devestated by nuclear war, forcing the wealthiest and healthiest to live in the Offworld Colonies while everyone who was too poor or too ravaged by their exposure to radiation was confined to Earth. Clearly, dystopia does not rule out space travel, though it might limit it.

And in the latter case, where human beings have left the cradle and begun walking amongst our System’s other planets and even the stars, the nature of the story tends to be a bit more ambiguous. Those who choose such a setting tend to be of the opinion that mankind either needs to reach out in order to survive, or that doing so will allow us to shed some of our problems.

chasm_city_2Examples abound here again, but Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space universe seems like the ideal one here. In this series, humanity has access to near-light speed travel, nanotechnology, brain-computer interfacing, neural uploading, AI, smart materials, and has colonized dozens of new worlds. However, the state of humanity has not changed, and on many worlds, civil war and sectarian violence are common.

In either case, the setting also bears a direct relation to the state of technology in the story. For humans still living on Earth (and nowhere else) in the future, chances are, they are about as advanced or even behind the times in which the story was written. For those living amongst the stars, technology would have to advanced sufficiently to make it happen. Which brings me to the next point…

3. High-Tech or Low-Tech:
Star_Trek_SpacedockWhat would a work of science fiction be without plenty of room for gadgets, gizmos, and speculation about the future state of technology? And once more, I can discern of two broad categories that an author can choose from, both of which have their share of potential positives and negatives. And depending on what kind of story you want to write, the choice of what that state is often predetermined.

In the former case, there is the belief that technology will continue to advance in the future, leading to things like space travel, FTL, advanced cyborgs, clones, tricorders, replicators, artificial intelligence, laser guns, lightsabers, phasers, photon torpedoes, synthetic humans, and any number of other fun, interesting and potentially dangerous things.

BAMA_3With stories like these, the purpose of high-tech usually serves as a framing device, providing visual evidence that the story is indeed taking place in the future. In other words, it serves a creative and fun purpose, without much thought being given towards exploring the deeper issues of technological progress and determinism.  But this not be the case, and oftentimes with science fiction, high-tech serves a different purpose altogether.

In many other cases, the advance of technology is directly tied to the plot and the nature of the story. Consider cyberpunk novels like Neuromancer and the other novels of William Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy. In these and other cyberpunk novels, the state of technology – i.e. cyberpsace decks, robotic prosthetics, biotech devices – served to illustrate the gap between rich and poor and highlighting the nature of light in a dark, gritty future.

65By contrast, such post-cyberpunk novels as Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age took a different approach. While high-tech and its effects on society were explored in great detail, he and other authors of this sub genre chose to break with their predecessors on one key issue. Namely, they did not suppose that the emergence of high-tech would lead to dystopia, but rather an ambiguous future where both good and harm resulted.

And at the other end of the spectrum, where technology is in a low state, the purpose and intent of this is generally the same. On the one hand, it may serve as a plot framing device, illustrating how the world is in a primitive state due to the collapse of civilization as we know it, or because our unsustainable habits caught up with us and resulted in the world stepping backwards in time.

a_boy_and_his_dogAt the same time, the very fact that people live in a primitive state in any of these stories serves the purpose of  commentary. Simply by showing how our lives were unsustainable, or the actions of the story’s progenitor’s so foolish, the author is making a statement and asking the reader to acknowledge and ponder the deeper issue, whether they realize it or not.

At this end of things, A Boy and His Dog and Mad Max serve as good examples. In the former case, the story takes place in a post-apocalyptic landscape where a lone boy and his genetically-engineered talking dog rove the landscape in search of food and (in the boy’s case) sexual gratification. Here, the state of technology helps to illustrate the timeless nature of the human condition, namely how we are essentially the products of our environment.

pursuit_specialIn Mad Max as well, the way roving gangs are constantly looking for gasoline, using improvised weapons, and riding around in vehicles cobbled together from various parts gives us a clear picture of what life is like in this post-collapse environment. In addition, the obvious desperation created by said collapse serves to characterize the cultural landscape, which is made up of gangs, tinpot despots, and quasi-cults seeking deliverance.

But on the other hand, the fact that the world exists in this state due to collapse after the planet’s supply of oil ran dry also provides some social commentary. By saying that the world became a dangerous, anarchistic and brutal place simply because humanity was dependent on a resource that suddenly went dry, the creators of Mad Max’s world were clearly trying to tell us something. Namely, conserve!

4. Aliens or Only Humans:
warofworldsaliensAnother very important question for setting the scene in a science fiction story is whether or not extra-terrestrials are involved. Is humanity still alone in the universe, or have they broken that invisible barrier that lies between them and the discovery of other sentient life forms? Once again, the answer to this question has a profound effect on the nature of the story, and it can take many forms.

For starters, if the picture is devoid of aliens, then the focus of the story will certainly be inward, looking at human nature, issues of identity, and how our environment serves to shape us. But if there are aliens, either a single species or several dozen, then the chances are, humanity is a united species and the aliens serve as the “others”, either as a window into our own nature, or as an exploration into the awe and wonder of First Contact.

Alien OrganismsAs case studies for the former category, let us consider the Dune, Foundation, and Firefly universes. In each of these, humanity has become an interstellar species, but has yet to find other sentiences like itself. And in each of these, human nature and weaknesses appear to be very much a constant, with war, petty rivalries and division a costant. Basically, in the absence of an “other”, humanity is focused on itself and the things that divide it.

In Dune, for example, a galaxy-spanning human race has settled millions of worlds, and each world has given rise to its own identity – with some appearing very much alien to another. Their are the “navigators”, beings that have mutated their minds and bodies through constant exposure to spice. Then there are the Tleilaxu, a race of genetic manipulators  who breed humans from dead tissue and produce eunuch “Face Dancers” that can assume any identity.

2007-8-18_DuneAxlotlTank

Basically, in the absence of aliens, human beings have become amorphous in terms of their sense of self, with some altering themselves to the point that they are no longer even considered human to their bretherin. And all the while, humanity’s biggest fight is with itself, with rival houses vying for power, the Emperor gaurding his dominance, and the Guild and various orders looking to ensure that the resource upon which all civilization depends continues to flow.

In the Foundation universe, things are slightly less complicated; but again, the focus is entirely inward. Faced with the imminent decline and collapse of this civilization, Hari Seldon invents the tool known as “Psychohistory”. This science is dedicated to anticipating the behavior of large groups of people, and becomes a roadmap to recovery for a small group of Foundationists who seek to preserve the light of civilization once the empire is gone.

foundation

The series then chronicles their adventures, first in establishing their world and becoming a major power in the periphery – where Imperial power declines first – and then rebuilding the Empire once it finally and fully collapses. Along the way, some unforeseen challenges arise, but Seldon’s Plan prevails and the Empire is restored. In short, it’s all about humans trying to understand the nature of human civilization, so they can control it a little better.

Last, but not least, their is the Firefly universe which – despite the show’s short run – showed itself to be in-depth and interestingly detailed. Basically, the many worlds that make up “The Verse” are divided along quasi-national lines. The core worlds constitute the Alliance, the most advanced and well-off worlds in the system that are constantly trying to expand to bring the entire system under its rule.

verse_whitesunThe Independents, we learn early in the story, were a coalition of worlds immediately outside the core worlds that fought these attempts, and lost. The Border Worlds, meanwhile, are those planets farthest from the core where life is backwards and “uncivilized” by comparison. All of this serves to illustrate the power space and place have over human identity, and how hierarchy, power struggles and  divisiveness are still very much a part of us.

But in universes where aliens are common, then things are a little bit different. In these science fiction universes, where human beings are merely one of many intelligent species finding their way in the cosmos, extra-terrestrials serve to make us look outward and inward at the same time. In this vein, the cases of Babylon 5, and 2001: A Space Odyssey provide the perfect range of examples.

B5_season2In  B5 – much as with Stark Trek, Star Gate, or a slew of other franchises – aliens serve as a mirror for the human condition. By presenting humanity with alien cultures, all of whom have their own particular quarks and flaws, we are given a meter stick with which to measure ourselves. And in B5‘s case, this was done rather brilliantly – with younger races learning from older ones, seeking wisdom from species so evolved that often they are not even physical entities.

However, in time the younger race discover that the oldest (i.e. the Shadows, Vorlons, and First Ones) are not above being flawed themselves. They too are subject to fear, arrogance, and going to war over ideology. The only difference is, when they do it the consequences are far graver! In addition, these races themselves come to see that the ongoing war between them and their proxies has become a senseless, self-perpetuating mistake. Echoes of human frailty there!

2001spaceodyssey128.jpgIn 2001: A Space Odyssey, much the same is true of the Firstborn, a race of aliens so ancient that they too are no longer physical beings, but uploaded intelligences that travel through the cosmos using sleek, seamless, impenetrable slabs (the monoliths). As we learn in the course of the story, this race has existed for eons, and has been seeking out life with the intention of helping it to achieve sentience.

This mission brought them to Earth when humanity was still in its primordial, high-order primate phase. After tinkering with our evolution, these aliens stood back and watched us evolve, until the day that we began to reach out into the cosmos ourselves and began to discover some of the tools they left behind. These include the Tycho Monolith Anomaly-1 (TMA-1) on the Moon, and the even larger one in orbit around Jupiter’s moon of Europa.

2001-monolith-alignmentAfter making contact with this monolith twice, first with the American vessel Discovery and then the joint Russian-American Alexei Leonov, the people of Earth realize that the Firstborn are still at work, looking to turn Jupiter into a sun so that life on Europa (confined to the warm oceans beneath its icy shell) will finally be able to flourish. Humanity is both astounded and humbled to learn that it is not alone in the universe, and wary of its new neighbors.

This story, rather than using aliens as a mirror for humanity’s own nature, uses a far more evolved species to provide a contrast to our own. This has the same effect, in that it forces us to take a look at ourselves and assess our flaws. But instead of showing those flaws in another, it showcases the kind of potential we have. Surely, if the Firstborn could achieve such lengths of evolutionary and technological development, surely we can too!

5. Utopian/Dystopian/Ambiguous:
Inner_city_by_aksuFinally, there is the big question of the qualitative state of humanity and life in this future universe. Will life be good, bad, ugly, or somewhere in between? And will humanity in this narrative be better, worse, or the same as it now? It is the questions of outlook, whether it is pessimistic, optimistic, realistic, or something else entirely which must concern a science fiction writer sooner or later.

Given that the genre evolved as a way of commenting on contemporary trends and offering insight into their effect on us, this should come as no surprise. When looking at where we are going and how things are going to change, one cannot help but delve into what it is that defines this thing we know as “humanity”. And when it comes right down to it, there are a few schools of thought that thousands of years of scholarship and philosophy have provided us with.

transhuman3Consider the dystopian school, which essentially posits that mankind is a selfish, brutish, and essentially evil creature that only ever seeks to do right by himself, rather than other creatures. Out of this school of thought has come many masterful works of science fiction, which show humanity to be oppressive to its own, anthropocentric to aliens and other life forms, and indifferent to the destruction and waste it leaves in its wake.

And of course, there’s the even older Utopia school, which presents us with a future where mankind’s inherent flaws and bad behavior have been overcome through a combination of technological progress, political reform, social evolution, and good old fashioned reason. In these worlds, the angels of humanity’s nature have won the day, having proven superior to humanity’s devils.

IngsocIn the literally realm, 1984 is again a perfect example of dytopian sci=fi, where the totalitarian rule of the few is based entirely on selfishness and the desire for dominance over others. According to O’Brien, the Party’s mouthpiece in the story, their philosophy in quite simple:

The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.  If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.

Hard to argue with something so brutal and unapologetic, isn’t it? In Orwell’s case, the future would be shaped by ongoing war, deprivation, propaganda, fear, torture, humiliation, and brutality. In short, man’s endless capacity to inflict pain and suffering on others.

invitro2Aldous Huxley took a different approach in his seminal dystopian work, Brave New World, in which he posited that civilization would come to be ruled based on man’s endless appetite for pleasure, indifference and distraction. Personal freedom and individuality would be eliminated, yes, but apparently for man’s own good rather than the twisted designs of a few true-believers:

Universal happiness keeps the wheels steadily turning; truth and beauty can’t. And, of course, whenever the masses seized political power, then it was happiness rather than truth and beauty that mattered… People were ready to have even their appetites controlled then. Anything for a quiet life. We’ve gone on controlling ever since. It hasn’t been very good for truth, of course. But it’s been very good for happiness. One can’t have something for nothing. Happiness has got to be paid for.

But even though the means are entirely different, the basic aim is the same. Deprive humanity of his basic freedom and the potential to do wrong in order to ensure stability and long-term rule. In the end, a darker, more cynical view of humanity and the path that we are on characterized these classic examples of dystopia and all those that would come to be inspired them.

Imminent Utopia by Kuksi
Imminent Utopia by Kuksi

As for Utopian fiction, H.G. Wells’ Men Like Gods is a very appropriate example. In this novel, a contemporary journalist finds himself hurled through time into 3000 years into the future where humanity lives in a global state named Utopia, and where the “Five Principles of Liberty” – privacy, free movement, unlimited knowledge, truthfulness, and free discussion and criticism – are the only law.

After staying with them for a month, the protogonist returns home with renewed vigor and is now committed to the “Great Revolution that is afoot on Earth; that marches and will never desist nor rest again until old Earth is one city and Utopia set up therein.” In short, like most Positivists of his day, Wells believed that the march of progress would lead to a future golden age where humanity would shed it’s primitive habits and finally live up to its full potential.

Larry Niven_2004_Ringworld's Children_0This view would prove to have a profound influence on futurist writers like Asimov and Clarke. In the latter case, he would come to express similar sentiments in both the Space Odyssey series and his novel Childhood’s End. In both cases, humanity found itself confronted with alien beings of superior technology and sophistication, and eventually was able to better itself by opening itself up to their influence.

In both series, humanity is shown the way to betterment (often against their will) by cosmic intelligences far more advanced than their own. But despite the obvious questions about conquest, loss of freedom, individuality, and identity, Clarke presents this as a good thing. Humanity, he believed, had great potential, and would embrace it, even if it had to be carried kicking and screaming.

And just like H.G Wells, Clarke, Asimov, and a great many of his futurist contemporaries believes that the ongoing and expanding applications of science and technology would be what led to humanity’s betterment. A commitment to this, they believed, would eschew humanity’s dependence on religion, superstition, passion and petty emotion; basically, all the things that made us go to war and behave badly in the first place.

Summary:
These are by no means the only considerations one must make before penning a science fiction story, but I think they provide a pretty good picture of the big-ticket items. At least the ones that keep me preoccupied when I’m writing! In the end, knowing where you stand on the questions of location, content, tone and feel, and what your basic conception of the future, is all part of the creation process.

In other words, you need to figure out what you’re trying to say and how you want to say it before you can go to town. In the meantime, I say to all aspiring and established science fiction writers alike: keep pondering, keep dreaming, and keep reaching for them stars!

Absolution Gap

Good afternoon all – or morning or evening, as the case may be – and welcome to the final installment in my Revelation Space review. Today, I shall be covering the third and final installment in the trilogy, otherwise known as Absolution Gap. As the conclusion to the series, it brought together the apocalyptic trends established by the first two and wrapped them up pretty nicely, while also introducing some ideas and threads of its own.

These included the threat of the Inhibitors, the attempts by Neville Clavain and his rogue group of Conjoiners, Hyperpigs and refugees to stop them, and the growing awareness of those within the universe at large of their approaching doom. And, true to form, Reynold’s also tells the story through multiple threads which seem unrelated at the beginning, but ultimately come together to reveal a single plot arc that brings everyone and everything together.

And last, but not least, this book also brought the series full circle in terms of the quasi-religious motifs that play an important role in the story. As I mentioned in a previous post, concerning sci-fi and religion, Alastair Reynolds was not one to shy away from the subject of spirituality and religion. One look at the titles in this series (Revelation Space, Redemption Ark, Absolution Gap) are proof enough of that. However, Reynolds went a step beyond, weaving a narrative which begins with knowledge, proceeds to contrition, and then culminates in a sort of forgiveness for all humanity. In the end, the acts of the few who would risk all to save others provides the whole with a sort of reprieve, a second chance for them to contemplate their ambiguous future.

I also should mention that, much like in Redemption Ark, Reynolds chose to include characters and/or elements from his short stories and prequels into this book. In Redemption‘s case, this involved bringing Sky Haussmann back in the form of H, the man who helped Clavain and his friends find their way to Resurgam in time to witness the Inhibitors at work and help save the population. Here, we see hints of how the Revelation Space universe will end, which comes to us from the short story “Galactic North” which is to be found in the collection of the same name. But more on that later! In the meantime, let’s get into this book from the beginning…

Plot Synopsis:
The story opens in 2615, with aboard a lighthugger known as the Gnostic Ascension, a freelance treasure-hunter which is run by a sado-masochist named Jasmina. After waking her crewman Quaiche from reefersleep, she informs him that his attempts to lead them to valuable artifacts have failed for the last time. In order to ensure his success during their next stop, a planet in orbit of 107 Piscium, she places his lover Morwenna (an Ultra and fellow crewmember) in a scrimshaw suit on the outside of his exploratory ship until he returns with some goods.

While surveying a moon in orbit of the gas giant Haldora, he discovers what appears to be an alien bridge in a chasm, but is then attacked by automated defense systems. He then crashes on the planet and sends out a distress signal, knowing that since his ship is on the other side of Haldora, it will not be notified in time to save him. He begins to succumb to an indoctrination virus which he has been carrying for some time, and then notices a miracle has occurred. His shuttle has arrived in time to save him, tough the acceleration has killed Morwenna. During recovery, he realizes it was because Haldora disappeared for a fraction of a second, allowing his radio signal to reach his ship directly…

In the second thread, events take place on Ararat in 2675, twenty three since the crew of the Nostalgia for Infinity landed on the planet. After receiving a capsule from space, Scorpio seeks out Clavain, who has withdrawn from society and left him in charge. This was apparently due to the death of his daughter Felka, who wandered into the sea to contact the Pattern Jugglers and never returned. They discover that the capsule is from Ana Khouri, whom they have not seen since events around Resurgam took place.

Ana informs them that they are fighting the Inhibitors using advanced tech that they have retrieved with the help of Ana’s daughter, Aura. Having come into contact with the Hades Matrix, the alien moon which was an actual data storage device, she now has visions and is able to convey alien technology to their forces which they have begun to incorporate. Unfortunately, Skade has returned from where they had left her last time and kidnapped Auna from Ana’s womb, and is now holding her hostage. After being attacked by Inhibitors, her ship crashed on Ararat.

Making their way to the ship, Skade demands that they kill Clavain in exchange for Auna. Clavain agrees and asks Scorpio to do it for him, since he trusts him as a comrade as arms. He also asks that his body be thrown into the ocean so it might join with Felka and Galiana, his daughter and wife. After killing Clavain and rescuing Auna, the ship is attacked by Inhibitors, but they are saved by the Conjoiner Remontoire who defends them from orbit.

Back at the colony, the leaders decide that its time to load up the Nostalgia and leave the planet and confer with Captain Brannigan (now part of his ship) who reveals that he has been preparing to do so for some time. Apparently, he has been aware of what’s been going on in space, the mounting fight between Inhibitors and their allies, and knew the day would come when he had to lift them off Ararat. Bringing what colonists they can with them, they break for orbit and are met by Remontoire who helps outfit them with their new weapons.

After debating their ultimate destination, they decide to go to Yellowstone to help evacuate the people there before the Inhibitors lay it to waste. Aura tells them to go to a moon called Hela, though they don’t understand why and choose to ignore her advice. When they arrive at Yellowstone, they find the planet overrun and few, if any, ship attempting to depart the system are uninfested by Inhibitor machinery. As a result, Scorpio’s leadership is challenged and a new council is formed, which elects to go to Hela as Aura suggested.

In the third and final thread, the place is Hela and the year is 2727. On this world, a young 17 year old named Rahsmika Els runs away from home to find her long lost brother Harbin, who joined the “Cathedrals” long ago. This is basically a mobile city made up of religious institutions that travel the planet, keeping its eyes on the sky so they may witness what their leader – Quaiche – witnessed many years ago. The disappearance of Haldora, which is the basis of their faith, is something they are waiting on, and all initiates are injected with Quaichist blood to receive the same virus that converted him.

When Quaiche becomes aware of her, he becomes very interested. Els apparently has the ability to discern lies from truth. What’s more, her principle interest lies in xenoarchaelogy, and her theories on the extinct insectoids which were indigenous to the planet (the Scuttlers) are quite fascinating. Apparently, this race was also wiped out by the Inhibitors, and their whereabouts are another subject of fascination for the cult that has grown up around Quaiche. Because of all this, he lures her to his Cathedral and takes her on as an apprentice, never revealing that her brother is in fact dead.

Meanwhile, Els becomes plagued by nightmares about a race known as the “Shadows”, a people that live in a brane (dimension or universe) parallel to our own. In the course of speaking to them through her dreams, she learns that their universe was consumed by a rogue terraforming agent and they are trying to pass through into our own. Eons back, they had showed the Scuttlers how to build a machine that could bring them across, which was apparently hidden inside Haldora. Hence, the gas giant is not a natural planet, but a giant cloaking field which sometimes malfunctions. Hence its disappearance from time to time.

Shortly thereafter, the Nostalgia shows up and begins entering into negotiations with Quaiche to protect the planet. While this is happening, he attempts to seize the ship, but Scorpio and his people defeat them. He then takes Khouri and Els hostage, who we now learn is actually Aura (now 17 years old). Her identity was a cover to infiltrate the planet and learn all she could about their society, and her gifts the result of her enhanced mind. Quaiche then reveals that he wants the Nostalgia to anchor itself to Hela and stop it from rotating, so that he may watch Haldora permanently. Brannigan agrees and lands the ship, but also deploys a Cache Weapon which fires on Haldora, destroying its cloaking field and revealing the machine within.

A fight ensues, in which Quaiche is killed and Nostalgia/Brannigan is destroyed. Aura and Khouri are rescued and reunited with the crew. However, the question remains of what to do about the Shadows. When a digital envoy enters into a scrimshaw suit and begins to speak to them, it claims the offer to destroy the Inhibitors is still open. However, Scorpio claims that their is a better way. He claims that materials found on Ararat match ones found on Hela, which they originally took to be massive seashell deposits, but which turned out to be advanced building materials.

He now knows that these were left behind by a race known as the Nestbuilders, an ancient species which move unseen throughout our galaxy to elude the Inhibitors. He suggests appealing to them for help against the Inhibitors, rather than trusting in these Shadows. He advised Remontoire to tell Aura and Khouri of this, and they escape the Cathedrals before it is destroyed. Scorpio, injured and having gone through cryogenics too many times, dies out on the planet surface…

In the epilogue, the year is 3125 and the place is a Pattern Juggler planet. This brings the story full circle, back to the beginning where this same woman was standing on the world right before it was to be evacuated. She reflect on everything that has happened and realizes Scorpio was right. After finding the Nestbuilders, which had been hiding between stars, they used their weaponry and eventually pushed the Inhibitor menace back. The war is still not over, but victory seems assured. However, in doing so, they created a greater problem: the so called “Greenfly” machines. These are a self-replicating race of terraformers that programmed to destroy every object in a solar system and reorganize them into trillions of vegetation-filled habitats.

Apparently, the Inhibitors had kept them in check, but without the Inhibitors, the Greenfly are now out of control. This is very similar to what the Shadows described as having destroyed their own universe, which leads Aura to conclude that they were not from a parallel brane, but from the future. As such, humanity is evacuating towards the Pleiades, but before they leave, Aura decides that she will swim with the Pattern Jugglers one last time. In so doing, she hopes to warn and warn the people they have assimilated about what is coming, and enters the water just as the story ends…

Summary:
I should start this last section by stating that this was my least favorite book of the three. This does not mean I didn’t enjoy it, but as usual, there were the elements I had come to know and expect from Reynolds which detracted from the overall story. These include his use of convoluted plots, multiple twists, and some rather weird and out there concepts.

For starters, Clavain and Skade are both killed off pretty quickly in the beginning in a way that suggests that they were simply being done away with. In reality, Skade’s involvement in the story pretty much ended in book II when her ship blew up. Bringing her back and having her take Clavain with her just seemed like a way to write Clavain out, which I really didn’t see the need for (aside from making him a Jesus-like figure). Also, the concept of Ana’s daughter, which is the source of their ideas for fighting the Inhibitors, also seemed a bit weird. I mean a psychic, talking baby?

The Hades Matrix being a source of valuable information I could see, but why not just have it that they went back there to get as much information as they could in the intervening 23 years? And if they were going for a messiah-type figure in her daughter, why not let her grow up before she becomes this impressive psychic figure. It would go a long way to furthering the Judea-Christian elements that are prevalent in the story.

Which brings me to the next issue, that of the many plot twists. For starters, why was it necessary to blank out Aura’s mind so she could pretend to be a 17 year old native to Hela? Why not just send her in as is, posing as a religious convert who had come from off world? All kinds of people came to Hela everyday for this exact reason, so why not simply slip her in with them? Or, why didn’t they simply contact Quaiche directly when they got there instead of going through all this cloak and dagger? Things really didn’t materialize until they did anyway, so why go through all that? Granted, it tied the threads together quite succinctly, but by the time it is revealed, I began to feel that the story was trying to do too much.

And finally, there is the matter of the twist ending. At the time of reading, I felt like it came out of nowhere. Who were these Nestbuilders? Why hadn’t we heard of them until now? And why the last minute introduction of them? Naturally, I would later learn that the Nestbuilders did not so much come out of nowhere, but were instead an adaptation of something from an earlier work. Essentially, they are a species who make an appearance in “Galactic North” and who are related to the “Slugs” from Chasm City – i.e. the species that had taken to hiding between star systems to avoid the Inhibitors. This made sense and wrapped things up nicely by tying it back to his previous work. But much like with the character of H in the Redemption, I felt that things had not been explained fully.

What’s more, this does not explain how Scorpio was able to discern their existence and learn all he needed to know – like the fact that they could trust them or they would be able to help them beat the Inhibitors – from one tiny shard of shell they left behind. Perhaps if he revealed that Felka told them as much after meeting with the Pattern Jugglers one last time, or that Galiana had conveyed some hints in one of her visions before dying. But as I recall, no explanations were made and we’re simply handed this solution shortly before the book ends. Again, not well explained, and kind of comes off as a third act twist that feels contrived.

And now for the things I liked! As usual, Reynold’s characteristic knack for combining cool technology, hard science, a gritty take on the universe, and some interesting conceptualizations of alien civilizations proved very interesting. On top of all that, there was a rather intriguing commentary on organized religion and apocalypticism which ran through the entire story, which achieved a truly artistic climax in the way he envisioned the “Cathedrals”. I am forced to wonder if he adapted that from somewhere, or it was a Reynold’s original. Either way, very cool!

And in hindsight, I actually appreciate the way he managed to weave elements from Chasm City and Galactic North into this story. The way it ended on a note of uncertainty, due to the fact that their universe was beginning to resemble the very one the Shadows had told them about, really brought the story home and gave the impression of a tightly knit universe. Lastly, the way Reynolds took this opportunity (again) to get into some hard scientific concepts, most notably membrane theory (aka. M-theory), was quite welcome. Much like how he incorporating Galactic Collisions in volume two, it was not only educational but enjoyable to see real scientific theories being adapted into fiction.

All in all, I consider the Revelation Space trilogy to be one of the most influential and poignant series I have ever read. While it might not rank up there with Dune or LOTR, it remains a source of inspiration and ideas for me. Hell, Reynolds practically taught me all I know about nanotechnology, not to mention time dilation and relativistic space travel. Without his hard scientific  influence, I would still be believing in a universe where FTL had to happen in order for good sci-fi to occur!

Note: Alas, I have yet to read the Prefect, the fifth and final novel in the Revelation Space universe. And in point of fact, several short stories make up the universe as well, some of which I believe I have yet to read. So really, I cannot say in all honesty that I’ve read the entire series or have commented on it fully. However, the novels of Revelation Space, Redemption Ark, and Absolution Gap are the only ones in the series that have a common plot and characters, hence why I refer to them as a “trilogy” and treat them as a contained set. And in that respect, I have finished with the Revelation Space Universe and my review thereof. Anything else at this point would just be gravy… 😉

The Alien Graph

The Alien Graph

Behold! After a few days of contemplating what I said in the Ancient Aliens post – you know, about how alien’s technology and moral capacity are often interrelated in sci-fi – I realized I needed to put it into graphic form. And as I said in that post, if we are to consider technological advancement as one axis and level of benevolence as another, then the outcome would look something like this:

click to enlarge

The design is based on the Zombie graph that’s been floating around the internet for some time. There, the designer placed different Zombie movies based on two criteria: intelligence and speed. In much the same way, I’ve designed a graph for aliens that is based on two similar criteria: technological advancement and level of friendliness.

I selected aliens that I thought best represented the range of development and behavior in the sci-fi genre. I also included as many franchises as I could think of, just off the top of my head. I certainly wasn’t scientific about it, just relative and to the best of my abilities. And when I was done, I noticed an interesting pattern…

Hostile/Advanced Aliens Rule!:
For example, notice how the vast majority of races from your well-known franchises (Star Trek, B5, Stargate, Star Craft, AvP, Halo, etc) fall into the upper left quadrant. This is the area where malevolence and technological sophistication combine in varying degrees. By contrast, the second largest concentration of races occurs in the advanced/benevolent quadrant, again to varying degrees. Almost no races fall into the nascent (i.e. primitive) quadrants, be they hostile or gentle.

On the one hand, the Xenomorph from Alien and the Arachnids from Starship Troopers both fell into the technologically backward category (technically), and were both classified as malevolent because of their innate hostility to foreign organisms. The Na’vi, from Avatar, were the only alien race that fit the bill for technologically nascent and benevolent. I’m sure there are plenty of examples that could stack this analysis in a different way, but like I said, this was off the top of my head.

The Zerg, I have to admit, were a bit of a conundrum for me. While they are technically a race that does not employ technology per se, they are highly advanced in terms of their biological evolution, to the point where they rely on specialized creatures in the same way that humans rely on machinery. But then again, that’s all for the sake of ensuring that the different factions in the video game are evenly matched. It’s not meant to be a realistic assessment. Much the same is true of the Xenomorphs. While they do not employ tools, fly around in spaceships, or use guns, they are nevertheless an extremely evolved organism that is capable of besting humanity in any contest.

And just to be clear, the middle point of the graph (0,0, where the axes meet) is where humanity stands now in terms of moral behavior and technological development. Sure, some say we’d fall into the evil quadrant, but I tend to believe that humanity is morally ambiguous, neither too good or too evil. Where aliens fall into the spectrum in most sci-fi franchises is meant to reflect this. Much the same is true of technological prowess, where aliens are classified as “advanced” or “primitive” solely in comparison to ourselves.

This all might sound anthropocentric, but that’s the point, isn’t it? These are stories written by human beings for other human beings. All the references, symbols and measuring sticks come from inside us. So in the end, aliens themselves, as represented in our best science fiction, also come from inside ourselves. Their values, their tools, and even their appearances are all constructs of what is familiar and accessible to us. In short, they are merely tools with which we measure ourselves, both morally and technically.

Conclusions:
Well, right off the cuff I’d say the reason we prefer our aliens hostile and advanced is because it makes them seem more threatening and scary that way. Clearly, this makes for a more interesting story. While an alien race that is kind, innocent and backwards can make for an effective tale about the evils of colonialism and imperialism and how one can easily find themselves on the side of evil, these seem to be fewer and farther between. I’d say this is most likely because moral allegories are less intriguing than action dramas. Or maybe just prefer to think of ourselves as the good guys. Let someone else serve as the allegory for evil, selfish and runaway imperialistic behavior!

In addition, there’s the very real possibility that humanity will be making contact with an intelligent life form at some point in the future. And when we do, it’s likely to be the most awe-inspiring and frightening of experiences. When it comes to the unknown, ignorance begets fear and we prefer to err on the side of caution. So it would make sense that whenever we think of aliens, even if its just for the sake of fiction, we would naturally prefer to think of them as both learned and potentially hostile. If indeed aliens serve as a sort of projection for humanity’s own thoughts on itself, than pitching them as potentially hostile beings with advanced technology represents our own fear of the unknown.

In any case, if there is life out there, all these questions will be resolved in the distant future. Hell, maybe even the near-future. If some theorists are to be believed, aliens have already made contact with us and might even be walking among us right now. Granted, most of these people are hanging around the 7/11 with tin foil hats on, but they can’t all be crazy, right?

Of Galactic Empires

Galaxy1Hello again, fellow sci-fi fans! Today, I thought I’d write about something conceptual, something that is intrinsic to so much science fiction and keeps popping up in various forms. It’s something that has appeared in countless serials, novels, tv shows, movies, and RPG’s. I am referring, of course, to the concept of the Galactic Empire, a science fiction trope that has seen many incarnations, but revolves around a singular theme of a political entity that spans the known universe.

Whether it’s a loose federation of humans and aliens spanning many different star systems, or a despotism made up of millions of worlds, all populated by human beings, or something somewhere in the middle, this trope has proven to be one of the most enduring ideas of classic science fiction.

But where exactly did this idea come from? Who was the first to come up with a futuristic, galaxy-spanning polity where millions of star systems and quadrillions of sentient beings all found themselves living underneath one roof?

Asimov’s Foundation Series:

An artists rendering of Trantor

Isaac Asimov is arguably the first science fiction author to use the concept of a galaxy-spanning empire in his literature. Known simply as the Galactic Empire, this organization was the centerpiece of his Foundation series. As fans of the books know, the entire series was built around the idea of the imminent collapse of said empire and how a small band of scientists (led by Hari Seldon) were dedicated to ensuring that the collective knowledge of the universe would be preserved in its absence. The books were based heavily on Gibbon’s History of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, a compendium which explored the various reasons for the collapse of Rome and the resulting Dark Ages.

The universe of the Galactic Empire centered on a planet named Trantor. Based on his descriptions, the planet was covered by a massive urban landscape, every habitable area having been built over in order to accommodate the planet’s huge population. In addition to being the capitol of the Empire, it was also its administrative head, cultural hub, and economic epicenter. Much like Rome of antiquity, it depended heavily on the surrounding territories for food and raw materials in order to sustain itself, and was terribly hit when the Empire began to decline.

However, beyond some passing descriptions of its size, centrality and the problems facing its encapsulated population, not much is said about Trantor or many other worlds of the Galactic Empire. In fact, not much is said about the Empire itself, other than the fact that it has endured for millennia and is on the verge of collapsing. Mainly, the focus in Asimov’s Foundation is on the events that precipitated its fall and the work of the Foundation once that was complete; how they went about the process of restoring civilization in the absence of a central authority. However, the subsequent Foundation novels, which included some prequels, helped to flesh out the Empire further, providing details on member worlds and the events which preceded the development of Hari Seldon’s “psychohistory”.

Frank Herbert’s Dune:

Arrakis (aka. Dune), the main setting of the story

One of the greatest examples of a galactic empire in my opinion. In the first installment of the Dune series, we are made immediately aware that humanity now inhabits the entire galaxy and are ruled from a world called Kaitan by a sovereign known as the Padishah Emperor. However, it is also made clear that while the emperor is the supreme leader, power is shared in a quasi-feudal arrangement between the noble houses (the Landstraad), a corporate entity that controls all economic affairs (CHOAM), and the various guilds (of which the Spacing Guild is arguably the most powerful). In this universe, much attention is given to the breakdown of power, the history of how it came to be, and the various member worlds and houses.

For starters, there is House Corrino, the ruling dynasty of the empire that is centered on Kaitan. Their house once ruled from a planet known as Selusa Secundus, but which has since been reduced to ashes from a nuclear attack and now serves as the emperor’s prison planet (where his elite armies are trained). More important, and central to the story, is House Atreides, the family which rules from an ocean planet named Caladan, but come to inherit the desert planet Arrakis (aka. Dune). Passing attention is also given to Geidi Prime, the industrial world run by House Harkonnen, the nominal villains of the story.

Dune_MapBut by far, the most detailed and developed descriptions are that of the planet Arrakis, where most of the story takes place. Throughout the first novel, the planet’s ecology, native species, and inhabitants (the Fremen) are richly detailed. Given that it is the only world where the spice (an awareness drug the entire universe depends on) is mined, the world is understandably the focal point of the Dune universe. Clearly analogous to oil, the spice is a metaphor for human dependence on a single resource, and the consequences thereof. By taking control of the planet at story’s end and threatening to destroy the spice, Paul Atreides effectively becomes the universe’s new ruler. For as the sayings go: “He who controls the spice, controls the universe”, and “He who can destroy a thing controls that thing.”

Frank Herbert cited a number of influences for his galactic empire. Like Asimov, he relied a great deal on history, particularly that of the Middle East, the Crusades, and a number of feudal societies. At the same time, Herbert became fascinated with ecology, a result of his living in Florence, Oregon where the US Department of Agriculture was using poverty grasses to stabilize the expanding Oregon dunes. The article which he wrote about them, entitled “They Stopped the Moving Sands”  was never completed and only appeared decades later in The Road to Dune. Nevertheless, it was from this combination of real history and ecology, how the living environment affects its inhabitants and shapes history, that the universe of Dune emerged.

Star Wars:

Coruscant, capitol of the Old Republic and Empire

Perhaps the best known example of a galactic empire, which in turn emerged from what Lucas called the Old Republic. When asked about his inspirations, George Lucas claimed that he wanted to create an empire that was as aesthetically and thematically similar to Nazi Germany as possible. This is made abundantly clear when one looks into the back story of how the Empire emerged, how its malevolent dictator (Palpatine, a Sith Lord) rose to power and began launching campaigns to eliminate anyone who stood in his way. In addition, the use of Storm Troopers, the uniforms of the imperial officers, and the appearance of Darth Vader also add visual representation to this.

However, a great deal of antiquity works its way into the Star Wars universe as well. Much like Herbert and Asimov, there is a parallel between the past and the future. The incorporation of royalty, swordfights between Bushido-like warriors, gun-toting smugglers, cantinas, dangerous towns in the middle of the desert, and all the allusions to the “Republic” and “Galactic Senate”, fair and noble institutions which ruled the galaxy before the dark times – all of these are themes taken from ancient Greece, Rome, feudal Japan, medieval Europe, and the Wild West.

Urban sprawl on Coruscant
Urban sprawl on Coruscant

In any case, at the center of Lucas’ galactic empire lies Coruscant, a planet that was clearly inspired by Trantor. Whereas in the original series, the planet was not shown or even mentioned, it receives a great deal of attention in the Star Wars novelizations, comics, and prequel movies. Much like Trantor, it is a planet that is completely dominated by urban sprawl, literally every corner of it is covered by massive sky-scrapers and multi-leveled buildings.

According to the Star Wars Wiki (Wookiepedia), roughly a trillion humans and aliens live on its surface, which is another detail that is noteworthy about Lucas’ universe. Unlike Foundation or Dune, in Star Wars, the galactic empire includes countless sentient races, though humans do appear to be the dominant species. This racial aspect is something else that is akin to World War II and Nazi Germany.

Whereas the Rebellion is made up of humans and aliens who are struggling for freedom and tolerance, the Empire is composed entirely of humans who believe in their own racial superiority. However, in a tribute to Lucas’ more creative days, not much is said about this divide, the audience is instead left to infer it from the outward appearances and behavior of the characters on screen. However, the idea receives much development in the novelizations, particularly Timothy Zhan’s Thrawn Trilogy.

Star Trek:

Star Fleet Command, in orbit above Earth

Yet another take on the concept of a galactic polity: Gene Roddenberry’s United Federation of Planets. Much like the Empire of Lucas’ own universe, the Federation is made up of hundreds of member worlds and any number of races. But unlike its peers in the Foundation, Dune or Star Wars universes, the Federation only encompasses a small portion of the galaxy – between ten and fifteen percent, depending on where you look in the storyline.

Beyond their range of influence lie several competing or cooperative empires – the Klingons, the Romulans, the Cardasians, the Dominion, and the Borg. Each of these empires represent a threat to the Federation at one time or another in the story, largely because their ideologies are in direct conflict with the Federations policy of peace, multiculturalism and understanding.

This may sound a tad tongue-in-cheek, but it is the main vehicle for the story. In Star Trek, like many other sci-fi franchises, Gene Roddenberry uses alien races as mirrors for the human condition. Whereas in his vision of the future humanity has evolved to overcome the scourges of war, poverty, disease, intolerance and oppression, other races are either less advanced or openly embrace these things.

Negh'varThe Klingons, for example, were the enemies of the Federation because of their commitment to warrior politics. The Romulans are locked  in an ongoing cold war with them because of their belief in their own racial superiority. The Dominion seeks dominance over all “solid” life forms because, as shape shifters, they fear being controlled themselves. And the Borg are an extremely advanced cybernetic race that seeks to “perfect” organic life by merging it – by force, if necessary – with the synthetic. The metaphors are so thick, you could cut them with a knife!

Yes, subtlety was never Roddenberry’s greatest attribute, but the franchise was an open and inclusive one, borrowing freely from other franchises and sci-fi concepts, and incorporating a great deal of fan writing into the actual show itself. And whereas other franchises had firm back-stories and ongoing plots, Star Trek has always been an evolving, ad hoc thing by comparison.

Roddenberry and the producers and writers that took over after his death never did seem to plan that far ahead, and the back story was never hammered out with that much precision. This has allowed for a degree of flexibility, but also comes with the painstaking task of explaining how and why humanity became a utopian society in the first place. But for the most part, the franchise leaves that one vague, arguing that space travel, technology and contact with other sentient races allowed for all of this to happen over time.

Babylon 5:b5-eps3One of my favorite franchises of all time! And possibly one of the most detailed examples of a galactic empire, due largely to the fact that it took shape in the course of the show, instead of just being there in the background from the beginning. Here too, we see a trade off between other franchises, the most similar being Star Trek. In this universe, there is no single galactic empire, but rather a series races that exist is a web of alliances, rivalries and a loose framework of relations.

But as time goes on, many of them come together to form an alliance that is reminiscent of the Federation, though arguably more detailed and pluralistic in its composition. When the show opens, we see that humanity is merely one of many races in the cosmic arena, most of whom are more advanced and older than we are.

The Earth Alliance, as its called, controls only a few colonies, but commands a fair degree of influence thanks to the construction of an important space station in neutral territory. This station (namesake of the show) is known as Babylon 5, aptly named because it is a place of trade, commerce, and the intermixing of peoples and cultures. And much like its namesake, it can be a dangerous and chaotic place, but is nevertheless the focal point of the known universe.

B5_destroyerAccording to the back story, which is explored in depth in the prequel movie “In the Beginning”, the station began as a way of preventing wars based on cultural misunderstandings. Such a war took place between the human race and the Mimbari, a race that is central to the story, ten years prior to the show. After four abortive attempts, the station finally went online and was given the designation of five because it was the fifth incarnation of the project.

Once completed, all major races in the area sent representatives there in order to make sure their interests and concerns were being represented. Chief amongst them was Earth, the Mimbari, the Narns, the Centauri and the Vorlons, who together made up the stations executive council. Beyond them was the “League of Non-Aligned Worlds”, a group made up of fifteen sentient races who were all smaller powers, but together exercise a fair degree of influence over policy.

The Centauri, who were based on the late-period Roman Empire, are a declining power, the once proud rulers of most of the quadrant who have since regressed and are looking to reverse their fortunes. The Narns are their chief rival, a younger race that was previously occupied and brutalized by the Centauri, but who have emerged to become one of the most powerful forces in the quadrant.

B5_season2Based heavily on various revisionists powers of history, they are essentially a race that is familiar with suffering and freely conquers and subjugates others now to ensure that such a thing never happens to them again. The Mimbari, an older and somewhat reclusive race, is nominally committed to peace. But as the war demonstrated, they can easily become a force to be reckoned with given the right provocation. And then there are the Vorlons, a very old and very reclusive race that no one seems to know anything about, but who nevertheless are always there in the background, just watching and waiting…

As the show progresses, we come to see that B5 will actually serve a purpose that is far greater than anyone could have foreseen. It seems that an ancient race, known only as the Shadows, are returning to the known universe. Before they can to invade, however, they must recruit from the younger races and encourage them to make war on their rivals and neighbors. This will sow the seeds of chaos and ensure that their eventual advance will be met with less resistance.

The Vorlons and the Mimbari ambassadors (Kosh and Delenn) are aware of this threat, since their people have faced it before, and begin recruiting the station’s two human commanders (Jeffrey Sinclair and John Sheridan) to help. This proves difficult, as the Shadows appear to have contacts on Earth as well and are backing the power play of Vice President Clarke, an ambitious man who wants to be a dictator. They are also ensuring that the Centauri and Narn go to war with each other as a way of keeping all the other member races preoccupied.

B5_shadow_warHowever, using the station as a rallying point, Sheridan, Sinclair, Delenn and Kosh eventually manage to organize the younger races into a cohesive fighting force to turn back the Shadows. Things become more complicated when they realize that the Vorlons are also the enemy, being involved in a power struggle with the Shadows that goes back eons. However, with the help of other First Ones (very old races) and a commitment to stand on their own, they manage to force both sides to leave the known universe.

In the wake of the war, a new spirit of cooperation and cohesion is formed amongst the younger races, which eventually gives rise to the Interstellar Alliance. This organization is essentially an expanded version of the League, but where members are fully aligned economically and politically and committed to defending each other. This comes in handy when the allies of the Shadows, younger races who are armed with all their old mentors’ gear, come out of hiding and begin to make trouble!

Naturally, the full story is much more complex and I’m not doing it justice, but this is the bare bones of it. Relying on historic examples and countless classic science fiction themes, J. Michael Straczynski establishes a detailed universe where multiple races and political entities eventually come together to form a government that rules the known universe and stands the test of time.

Battletech:

mechwarrior_1Here we have a franchise that had multiple inspirations, according to the creators. The focal point of the franchise is on massive war machines, known as battlemechs, which were apparently inspired by Macross and other anime. However, the creators also came to incorporate a back story that was very European in its outlook, which revolved around the concept of an ongoing war between feudal states.

One could make the case that the Shogunate period of Japan, a time of ongoing civil war, was also a source of inspiration for this story. However, upon familiarizing myself with the background of the series, I couldn’t help but feel that the whole thing had a predominantly Russian feel to it. In addition to the heroic characters being named Alexandr and Nicholas Kerensky, something about the constant feudal warfare and the morally ambiguous nature of humanity in the story seemed analogous to much of Russia’s troubled history.

To break it down succinctly, the story takes place in the 31st century, a time marked by incessant warfare between different clans and worlds, all of which are populated by humans.Terra (as Earth is now called) was once the center of a grand empire known as the Star League. After centuries of conflict, in what is known as the “Succession Wars”, Earth and many its immediate neighbors were rendered damaged or completely uninhabitable.

inner_sphere_wars_battletech_01As a result, the focal point of the universe resides within the Inner Sphere, a region that is 500 light years away from Earth and dominated by five Great Houses. The leader of each house claims to be the rightful successor of the Star League, and hence the houses are all known as the Successor States. Outside the Inner Sphere lies the Periphery, a large ring of independent star systems that predate the League and the Successor States, but are inferior to them in terms of technology. Though nominally independent, none of these regions have the ability to stand against the houses of the Inner Sphere, and thus avoid conflict with them whenever possible.

A key feature of the Battletech universe is the absence of sentient species outside of the human race. This serves to make the ongoing warfare more realistic, as well as establishing how the current state of war is a direct extension of earlier rivalries (some dating all the way back to the 20th century). Another interesting feature about this franchise is the fact that humanity has not evolved very far beyond its current state, in spite of the lengthy passage of time.

Again, the constant state of warfare has much to do with this, which has had a slowing and even reversing effect on the technological development of many worlds. In short, the franchise is gritty, realistic, and has a pretty dim view of humanity. In addition, there is a palatable sense that humanity’s best years are behind it, and that barring the appearance of some external threat, humanity will war itself into extinction.

Key Features:
A couple of things stand out about each of these examples of a galactic empire. And for anyone interesting in creating their own, they are considerations which have to be taken into account. All of the previous creators, from Isaac Asimov to Weisman and Babcock, either took a singular approach on these issues, or adopted a combined one. Here they are, as I see them:

Humans and Aliens: This is arguably the most important consideration when developing a sci-fi franchise, especially one where a galactic empire is concerned. The creator must decide, is this going to be a universe where humans and aliens coexist with one another, or is it going to be strictly human? Both options open up a range of possibilities; for example, are humans and aliens living together in harmony in this story, is one subjugated to another, or something else entirely? What’s more, what role will the aliens play? Are they to be the benign, enlightened aliens who teach us “flawed humans” how to be better, or will we be the the species that’s got things figured out and they be allegorical representations of our past, flawed selves? Inevitably, aliens serve as a sort of mirror for the human condition or as examples of past human societies, in any story. There’s simply no way around it, not if we want them to be familiar and relateable.

Utopian/Dystopian: Another very important decision to make when creating a universe is the hue its going to have. In short, is it going to be a bright place or a dark place? Would humanity advance as a result of technology and space exploration, or regress because improved weapons and tools merely meant we could do more harm? Both visions serve their purpose, the one eliciting hope for the future and offering potential solutions to contemporary problems, the other making the point that the human condition is permanent and certain behaviors will never be overcome. However, in my opinion, the most respectable approach is to take the middle road on this. Sci-fi franchises, like those of Straczynski and Alastair Reynolds (creator of the Revelation Space universe) did their best to present humanity as being morally ambiguous. We were neither perfect nor unsalvageable. We simply did our best and tried to make a difference, but would always have our share of flaws.

Space Travel: Almost all galactic empires are agreed on this one front. When it comes to creating a extra-solar empire, one that encompasses hundreds or even thousands of star systems, one needs to be able to travel faster than the speed of light. It might mean contravening the laws of physics (causing Einstein to roll over in his grave!) but you can’t really do it otherwise. Whether it’s by the Alcubierre drive, hyperspace, warp, jump gates, or folding space, all of the aforementioned franchises incorporated some kind of FTL. Without it, humanity would require thousands or even millions of years in order to expand to encompass the known universe, at which point, we’d probably have evolved to the point where we were no longer even human! In addition, the problems of subjective time and perspective would wreak havoc with story lines, continuity, and the like. Better and easier to just say “Here (zoom!) Now there!”

Technology: Following on the heels of FTL is the issue of how technology in general is treated within the universe in question. Will it be the source of man’s betterment and salvation, of their downfall, or something in between? Star Trek is a perfect example of the former approach, set in a future where all hunger, disease, poverty and inequality have been eliminated through the application of technology. Despite the obvious utopianism of this view, the franchise really isn’t that far off if you think about it. If we did have matter replicators, machines that could manufacture food, materials and consumer goods out of simple trace elements, then money, precious metals and other artificial means of measuring wealth would become obsolete. In addition, there’d be no more food shortages or distribution problems to speak of, not as long as everyone had access to this technology. And if fusion power and warp technology were available, then energy would be cheap and abundant and commerce would be rapid and efficient.

However, Roddenberry would often show the downside of this equation by portraying societies in which technology had been allowed to run amok. A good example is an episode in Star Trek TNG where the Enterprise comes upon a planet that is run by an advanced machine named Custodian. The people of the planet have grown entirely dependent on the machine and have long since forgotten how to run and maintain. As a result, they have become sterile due to radiation poisoning and are slowly dying off. Another perfect example is the Borg, a race of cybernetic beings that are constantly expanding and assimilating anything in their path. In terms of aesthetics, they are dark, ugly and sterile, traveling around in ships that look like giant cubes that were slapped together out of toxin-spewing industrial junk. Is there a more perfect metaphor for the seemingly unstoppable march of technological progress, in all its darker aspects?

Asimov’s Foundation series also had a pretty benign view of technology. In his universe, the people of Terminus and other Foundation worlds distinguished themselves from their neighbors through their possession of superior technology and even used it to their advantage wherever possible. In the first novel, for instance, the Foundation’s scientists began to travel to neighboring worlds, places that had the use of nuclear power and began teaching them how to rebuild it. Over time, they became a sort of priestly caste who commanded reverential respect from the locals thanks to all the improvements their inventions brought to their daily lives. When in the first book a warlord from the neighboring planet of Anacreon tries to conquer them, they then respond by cutting off all power to the planet and their forces, and use their status as religious leaders to foment rebellion against him.

However, other franchises have a different take on technology and where it will take us. For example, Battletech tends to look at technology in a darker perspective. In this future, the focus of technological development is overwhelmingly on battlemechs and weapons of war. In addition, the ongoing war in the series has had a negative effect on the development of other forms of technology, particularly the kinds that are beneficial to society as a whole. In short, technology has not corrected for mankind’s flaws because it has failed to remove the greatest cause of war and suffering – i.e. ambition!

Frank Herbert, on the other hand, took what could be construed as a mixed view. Whereas in his universe, instantaneous space travel is possible, energy shields, laser guns and nuclear power are all in existence, the overall effect on humanity has not been progressive. In the first Dune novel, we learn that humanity fought a holy war against thinking machines and automation over ten thousands years prior to the main story (the Butlerian Jihad). The target of the jihad was apparently a machine mentality as much as the machines themselves, and the result was a sort of compact whereby future generations promised never to develop a machine that could take the place of a human being. That, in addition to the invention of energy shields, led to the development of a feudal society where nobles and merchant princes were once again responsible for controlling planetary resources, and where armies went to war using swords and daggers in addition to lasers, slug throwers and missiles.

In subsequent novels, this was developed even further to present a sort of twofold perspective on technology. On the one hand, it is shown as being potentially harmful, where a machine mentality and a society built on unrestricted production of material goods can lead to social chaos and anarchy. Not necessarily because it can be harmful in and of itself, but because it can lead to a situation where humans feel so alienated from themselves and each other that they are willing to regress to something simpler and less free. On the other hand, advanced technology is also shown to have a potentially retrogressive effect as well, forcing people to look backwards for solutions instead of forwards. One can see genuine parallels with history, like how industrial civilization, in spite of all its benefits, led to the rise of fascism and communism because of its atomizing and alienating effects on society. Or how the Japanese of the post-Shogunate period deliberately regressed by destroying their stores of muskets and cannons because they feared that the “coward weapons” were detrimental to the Bushido.

Personally, I thought Herbert’s perspective on things was by far the most brilliant and speculative, packed full of social commentary and irony. It was therefore a source of great disappointment that his successors (Brian Herbert and KJA) chose to present things in a far more myopic light. In the prequels to Dune, particularly the Legends of Dune series, the jihad is shown to be a struggle between advanced machines that have enslaved the human race and the few free human worlds that are locked in a life and death struggle to defeat them. However, in twist that is more contradiction than irony, they find the solution to their problem by using nukes to level every machine planet. The fact that the “free worlds” relied on slave labor to compensate for the loss of automation was somewhat interesting, but would have been far more effective if the enemy machines were not portrayed as purely evil and the protagonists as selfless heroes.

Final Thoughts:
The concept of a galactic empire is something that has a long history and many, many incarnations. But as always, the purpose of it seems to be to expand the focus of the commentary so that as many possible aspects of the human condition can be explored. By placing human beings on hundreds or thousands of planets, authors generally seek to show how different places can give rise to different cultures. This is as true of different parts on the globe as it is for different planets in the universe. In addition, the incorporation of aliens also gives us a chance to explore some of the deeper sociological questions, things that arise out of how we interact with different cultures around the world today. For in the end, all science fiction is really about history and the period in which it is conceived, regardless of it being set in the future. Like all other genres, the real aim is to serve as a vehicle for speculation and investigation, answering questions about who we are and what makes us us.

Whew! I think I got a little tongue and cheek there myself! In any case, I enjoy delving into this conceptual stuff, so I think I’m going to do it more often here. Next time, something a bit lighter and more specific. I was thinking about something along the lines of PLANETKILLERS! Stay tuned!

B5, Season 3 Best Episodes (cont’d)

Season three was loaded with significant episodes, many of which were clustered towards the end of the season. My second installment is therefore dedicated to the final six episodes of season three. Together, they developed or wrapped up some pretty big plot threads from this and other seasons and included (but were not limited to) the temporal plot involving B4 and the Great Machine, the prophecies of Valen, the Shadow War, Londo’s rivalry with Refa, what happened to Sheridan’s wife, and his fabled trip to Z’ha’dum.

7. War Without End (Parts I and II):
The episode opens on Mimbar, where Sinclair, now head of the Rangers, receives a letter from the past. It is addressed to him specifically, and was penned by Valen some 900 years ago! He immediately leaves for B5, where Delenn has received a similar letter. This coincides with strange behavior coming from Epsilon 3, where the Great Machine has become active and has begun opening a temporal disturbance in a nearby sector. When she begins examining the disturbance, Ivanova sees a transmission from the future, where B5 is being destroyed and she is calling for help.

Sheridan meets with Delenn and Sinclair. She shows him footage from the last Shadow War. Apparently, at that time the Mimbari and First Ones were preparing for an assault on the Shadows when the station that served as their rallying point was destroyed. All seemed lost, until a new station appeared out of nowhere and was offered to them by Valen himself. Sheridan sees the footage of it and is shocked. It was Babylon 4! Sinclair is similarly shocked, having been aboard the station years back when he was commander of B5 and it first appeared in their sector of space. He had been told then by Zathras that it was being taken to serve in a war, but did not imagine it was being taken into the past.

They also see that the Shadows tried to destroy it shortly after it was completed, but a ship arrived to protect it. That ship was none other than the White Star. Sheridan now understands what they must do: the Great Machine has opened a time portal so they can travel into the past, save B4, and then bring it into the past so it will help the Mimbari and First Ones win the last Shadow War. They set out, Delenn, Sheridan, Sinclair, Ivanova, Marcus and Zathras to the portal and enter it. Zathras equips them with devices that are meant to keep them “stuck in time” (i.e. immune to the effects of time travel).

On the other side, they dispatch the Shadow vessels which are attacking and board the station. However, Sheridan’s temporal device is damaged and he becomes “unstuck in time”. While the others prepare B4, Sheridan gets a glimpse of the future. He is on Centauri Prime, which has been devastated in the war, and where Londo is preparing to execute him and Delenn. However, Londo frees him at the last minute, showing him that he’s been the victim of a Shadow device that controls him, and then asks a one-eyed G’Kar to kill him. However, the device awakens and Londo and G’Kar end up strangling each other. Vir enters shortly thereafter and dons the Emperor’s necklace. He is now Emperor, all of which was foretold.

Sheridan becomes unstuck again, but not before Delenn implores him not to go to Z’ha’dum. He travels back into the past, where he sees Sinclair from years before, and Zathras gives him his time device. He then jumps back to the present and begins working with the others again to prep the station for travel. They carefully avoid running into Sinclair and Garibaldi from the past, retrieve Zathras, and prepare to leave. Sinclair volunteers to stay behind and guide the station back, but Marcus knows he’s not planning on coming back. Sinclair reveals that it has been his destiny to do this, and once they leave him and the station jumps, Delenn explains…

She recounts how beginning a thousand years ago, Mimbari souls began to be born in human bodies, how Valen prophesied that their two races were bound, and how if the station had arrived in the past with a human on board, the Mimbari never would have accepted it. Marcus puts it all together, quoting the ancient saying of how Valen was “a Mimbari not born of Mimbari.” We then cut to B4 where SInclair uses the same Chrysalis Delenn did to undergo a transformation that will make him half-Mimbari, half-human. He then turns up in the distant past and offers the station to the Mimbari, identifying himself as Valen.

Significance:
This episode not only capped off the whole mystery of what happened to B4 and the whole temporal plot thing, it also explained, quite mind-blowingly, why the Mimbari and humans were connected, what happened at the Battle of the Line, and the whole mystique and prophecy that surrounded Sinclair and the Shadow War. In short, Sinclair was destined to take B4 back in time, ensure that the younger races and First Ones won the last Shadow War, so that this time around, they would have a fighting chance.

We also see why he was thought to have a Mimbari soul when he was captured by the Mimbari. The device that the Mimbari used to examine him, a relic given to them by Valen, was a device tuned to his DNA. Hence why it glowed in his presence, it was identifying it’s owner! Delenn’s transformation, which she did at the end of season one, was sort of a karmic pay-back then. She became half-human/half-Mimbari in order to complete the exchance of DNA/souls that was begun in the distant past by Sinclair. With the prophecy and temporal plot now complete, their alliance is now set to fight and win THIS Shadow War.

Memorable Lines:
Part I:
Marcus: Captain, if I were you, I’d quit while I was ahead. Back on Minbar, there was a saying among the other Rangers: “The only way to get a straight answer out of Ranger One was to look at every reply in a mirror while hanging upside down from the ceiling.”
Sheridan: Did it work?
Marcus: Oddly enough, yes. Or after a while you passed out and had a vision. Either way, the result was pretty much the same.

Sinclair: I’ve come along way to be here for this. I’d hate to just turn around and go back again. besides, I think we’d work well together. Like Butch and Sundance, Lewis and Clarke, Lucy and Ethel.
Sheridan:… Well, when I joined Earth Force, the sign said “greatest adventure of all”. If they only knew! Okay, let’s do it. (to Sinclair) Lucy and Ethel?

Sinclair: Zathras, this is very important. When you meet me again, it will be me, but it won’t be me now. So you’re not to say anything to me that might change the past. Do you understand?
Zathras: Zathras understand. No. Zathras not understand. But Zathras do! Zathras good at doings, not understandings. Zathras honored to meet you… for many reasons. Zathras also honored to meet you (to Sheridan) for other reasons.
Sheridan: Such as?
Zathras: Oh no. Draal give Zathras list of things not to say. This was one. No, not good. Not supposed to mention one, or “The One”. Oh! Uh… you never heard that.
Sheridan: What else is on this list of things you’re not supposed to mention?
Zathras: Zathras… does not remember. But if Zathras remember later, Zathras tells you.

Sinclair: I need Lennier to stay on the ship. Can you get the equipment up here by yourself?
Zathras: Yes, yes! Zathras is used to being beast of burden to other people’s needs. Very sad life! Probably have very sad death, but at least there is symmetry!

Sheridan: Londo? What am I doing here?
Londo: Welcome back from the abyss, Sheridan. You’re timing, as always, is quite exceptional… just in time to die!

Sinclair: All my life, I’ve had doubts about who I am, where I belonged. Now, I’m like the arrow that springs from the bow. No hesitation, no doubts. The path is clear.

Londo: What am I doing is something someone should have done a long time ago. Putting you out of my misery! A fitting punishment for your crimes.
Sheridan: What crimes? I –
Londo: The crime of neglect! The crime of convenience! During your little war you drove away the Shadows, oh yes! But you didn’t think to clean up your mess. If a few of their minions, their dark servants, came to Centauri Prime… well, where is the harm in that, yes? Hmm? You want to see the harm? Do you?! (shows him to the window. Centauri Prime has been devastated) There is the legacy of your war!

Sinclair:
ready?
Delenn: Why do your people always ask if someone is ready right before you are going to do something massively unwise?
Sinclair: Tradition!

Part II:

Sheridan: But this couldn’t happen, not in this amount of time! What year is this?
Londo: This is the last year, and the last day, and the last hour, of your life! Seventeen years since you began your great crusade, seventeen – (coughs) I am tired. Take him back to his cell. Sheridan… make your peace with whatever gods you worship. You will be meet next time I send for you. I cannot recall my world from what it has become, but I can thank you properly for your role in it.

Ivanova: You said move, how’d you know they were coming?
Marcus: Didn’t. But right now would be the worst time to be discovered, so it was logical it would happen now. Like I said, I don’t believe in luck. (Accidentally opens the panel they’ve been looking for) On the other hand…

Delenn: The war is never completely won. There are always new battles to be fought against the darkness. Only the names change. But we… we achieved everything we set out to achieve. We created something that will endure for a thousand years. But the price, John… the terrible, terrible price! I didn’t think I’d see you before the end…

Londo: We all have our keepers, you see? I gave a very good performance… yes. It was satisfied. Doesn’t care why I do what I do, as long as I do it… as long as you are dead. (shows the Shadow implant) It cannot hold its liquor, you see? I have learned that if I drink enough, I can put it to sleep for just a few minutes. A few minutes where… I am myself again. But the few minutes are growing shorter and shorter. So… we do not have much time. My life is almost over. My world, all I hope for, gone. You two are my last chance… for this place, for my people, for my own redemption… In exchange for your lives, all I ask is that you and your allies help to free my people. I can do nothing more for them. Go now, quickly. You do not have much time…

Sheridan: I’m being pulled back!
Delenn: Then take these words back with you to the past. Treasure the moments you have, savor them for as long as you can, for they will never come back again. John, listen to me. Do not go to Z’ha’dum, do you understand? Do not go to Z’ha’dum!

Ivanova: We’re running out of time.
Zathras: Cannot run out of time. There is infinite time. You are finite, Zathras is finite. This is wrong tool. No, not good. Never use this.

Marcus: You always said half a truth was worse than a life. You’ve kept us going so fast we haven’t had time to think. This system isn’t fully automatic is it? Someone has to ride this thing into the distant past, and it’s a one way ticket. Whoever goes isn’t coming back…
Sheridan: Is this true? (Sinclair nods)
Marcus: Fine, I’ll take her out.
Sinclair: Marcus, I’ll take it back because I’ve always taken it, and I always will. It’s already happened.
Ivanova: You don’t know that!
Sinclair: Yes I do. You asked what brought me here. Before I left Mimbar, I was given a letter from nine hundred years ago. (gives Sheridan the letter)
Sheridan: Who’s handwriting is this?
Sinclair: Mine. I wrote this from the past. From nine hundred years ago, it’s as simple as that… My whole life has been leading to this.

Zathras: All Mimbari belief is around three… All is three! As you are three… as you are One. As you are The One. You are The One who was. You are The One who is. And you are The One who will be. You are the beginning of the story, and the middle of the story, and the end of the story, that creates the next great story! In your hearts, you know what Zathras says is true. Go now! Zathras’ place is with the One who was. We have… a destiny!

Delenn: That door is closed forever, but it is not the only one. Lennier told you that a thousand years ago, Mimbari and human souls began to merge. Mimbari souls were being born in human bodes. Something happened that opened that door between us. My change was in part to even the scales and restore balance between our races using the device my people discovered a thousand years ago. You see… if my people had found Babylon 4 with a human aboard, they would have never accepted it.
Marcus: Dear God! A Mimbari not born of Mimbari!

Sinclair/Valen: I welcome you and present this place to you as a gift. I am called Valen, and we have much work ahead of us…

8. Walkabout:
Doctor Franklin continues his walkabout, and explains how he’s “looking for his other half” which he lost awhile back. A replacement Vorlon arrives on the station, identifying himself as Kosh (“we are all Kosh,” he explains). He is incensed over Kosh’s death and blamed Lyta, and demands to know if any part of him survived. She hears Kosh’s voice when talking to Sheridan and believes that he might be carrying a part of him after all.

G’Kar gets a visit from the Captain of the G’Tok, the Narn warship that Sheridan gave sanctuary to in season two’s Fall of Night. He tells G’Kar that several Narn ships survived the war due to the Centauri’s haste to get to their homeworld. They are marshalling now and waiting for an opportunity to strike back. G’Kar tells them they need to focus on keeping the station safe for the time being, and that B5 is of great significance.

Sheridan and his war council plan to field-test telepaths against a Shadow vessel, which they learned in a previous episode are vulnerable to telepathic jamming.The G’Tok is initially planned to provide escort, but G’Kar is told by its Captain that they must preserve their ships until the time comes to liberate the Narn homeworld. He agrees, but is confronted by Garibaldi who reminds him that the entire point of their alliance is that they are supposed to be looking out for each other, not themselves.

Sheridan takes Lyta and a White Star and heads into a zone of engagement where they come face to face with a ship. Lyta is initially overwhelmed, but when Sheridan touches her, she gets a vision of how Kosh died. Enraged, she managed to jam the Shadow vessel and they destroy it. However, they are forced to drain their jump engines to get enough power to kill it with their guns. More ships arrive, and Lyta is too drained to fight them. Things look dire, but G’Kar arrives with the G’Tok and several other League ships and force the Shadows to run. For the first time ever, the Shadows have been forced to retreat!

They return to the station victorious, and Lyta confides in the new Kosh that “someone” might have a piece of Kosh in them. The Vorlon is understandably intrigued…

Significance:
Sheridan and his alliance see for the first time that Shadow vessels can be beaten using telepaths. This will prove of great value to them in the coming war. This episode is also the first time that we see that a part of Kosh is living inside Sheridan, which may very well save his life when the time comes. The reintroduction of the G’Tok and the revelation that Narn ships survived the war will also prove important to the fledgling alliance, as is G’Kar decision to commit them to the Shadow War rather than focusing on striking back against the Centauri. It also introduces the new Vorlon, who we are shown is not at all like the original Kosh. In addition to his appearance, his demeanor seems much harsher and more strict, traits which will become clear as time goes on.

Memorable Lines:
Londo: A Narn heavy cruiser? This is intolerable! By treaty, all Narn warships are to be turned over to Centauri forces!
Garibaldi: Yeah, well we didn’t sign that treaty. You got a problem, call Earth. If they didn’t forced us to break away, we wouldn’t need a mutual protection agreement. That means we take every ship we can get!
Londo: And what guarantee will you give me that the cruiser will not open fire on a Centauri vessel as it approaches Babylon 5, hmm?
Garibaldi: It’s the same guarantee I gave when I promised that none of the other Narns would break into your quarters in the middle of the night, and slit your throat.
Londo: Mr. Garibaldi, you have never given me that promise.
Garibaldi: You’re right… sleep tight!

Na’Kal: Breen! You’ve managed to import breen from Homeworld! How?
G’Kar: It, uh…isn’t actually breen.
Na’Kal: But… the smell, the taste—!
G’Kar: It’s an Earth food. They are called Swedish meatballs. It’s a strange thing, but every sentient race has its own version of these Swedish meatballs! I suspect it’s one of those great universal mysteries which will either never be explained, or which would drive you mad if you ever learned the truth.

Sheridan: Uh, before you go. Your government neglected to tell me your name. How should I refer to you when we’re alone?
Vorlon: Kosh.
Sheridan: Ah, yes, I understand that’s how we’re to refer to you publicly but… privately?
Vorlon: Kosh.
Ivanova: Ambassador Kosh is dead.
Vorlon: We are all Kosh.
Sheridan: He’s a Vorlon alright.
Ivanova: Yep!

Garibaldi: What the hell are you doing?
Franklin: Well, it’s a long story.
Garibaldi: Why is everything’s around here a long story? Why isn’t anything ever a short story, a paragraph? Look, just give me the short version, okay?
Franklin: Alright… Walkabout.
Garibaldi: That’s it?
Franklin: Well it’s either that or the long version so you take your pick.

Garibaldi: Stephen… you don’t really believe there are two of you, do you?
Franklin: No, it’s a metaphor! All right, there isn’t literally another me walking around the station. But the principle is real! I realized I didn’t have any idea who I was when I wasn’t being a doctor, and I think I was using the stims to avoid facing that. Now I gotta fix it.
Garibaldi: How?
Franklin: By going walkabout. You just leave everything, and you start walking. I mean, the Foundation adopted the idea from the Aborigines back on Earth. The theory is, if you’re separated from yourself, you start walking and you keep walking until you meet yourself. Then you sit down, and you have a long talk. Talk about everything that you’ve learned, everything that you’ve felt, and you talk until you’ve run out of words. Now, that’s vital, because the real important things can’t be said. And then, if you’re lucky, you look up, and there’s just you. Then you can go home.
Garibaldi: You know how crazy this sounds? You’re a doctor… a scientist?
Franklin: And?
Garibaldi: And what?
Franklin: Exactly!

Sheridan: As you know, Mr. Garibaldi recently uncovered information which seems to indicate the Shadows have a weakness. Now there ships are based on organic technology that may be vulnerable to telepathic interference. In theory, a telepath might be able to jam their central operating system leaving them vulnerable to attack.
G’Kar: I noticed a number of conditional phrases in that. “Seems to indicate a weakness”, “maybe”, “in theory”…

9. And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place:
Lord Refa and a high-ranking minister of the Centauri royal court arrive on the station with the intention of ending the rivalry between him and Londo. However, it quickly becomes clear that they both intend to dispose of the other. Londo tells Vir of his plan, to lure G’Kar to a trap on the Narn homeworld by getting Vir to tell him that his former aide – N’Toth – is being held there. He will then capture him and present him to the Emperor as a gift, and thus win favor over Refa. Vir doesn’t want to but is forced when Londo threatens his family. Vir complies and delivers the message to G’Kar.

Vir is kidnapped and telepathically scanned, and Refa plans to intercept G’Kar for himself. G’Kar appears to take the bait and travels to Narn where he sees the devastation from the war. When Refa’s forces arrive to kidnap him, he is shocked to see that G’Kar and Refa are actually working together. G’Kar activates a hologram recording where Londo tells him everything. It turns out the plan he told Vir was a ruse to lure Refa to Narn where G’Kar’s Narns would then kill him in revenge for all he did to them. Londo in turn gets his revenge against Refa for his suspected role in poisoning Adira. Before they beat him to death, G’Kar puts a data crystal on Refa’s person that implicates him in helping the Narn resistance, as a way of “playing both sides” so that he could maneuver his way to the throne.

Sheridan is going over the Shadow’s war plan, hoping to divine their strategy. The attacks seem random, but their tactics in the field appear very logical. It doesn’t make sense, until Sheridan looks at the overall pattern and sees that their true aim is to drive refugees to one sector of space, where they can then attack and eliminate them all. They now know where the Shadows will attack next, and plan to make a stand there.

B5 gets a new flock of visitors, a group of religious leaders who are personal friends and colleagues to Brother Theo, the Catholic monk who came aboard the station awhile back. They begin holding services to counter all the fear and uncertainty that has been pervasive since Clark took over back home. After days of being stuck reviewing the Shadow’s battle plans, Delenn drags Sheridan to a service, thinking it will do him some good. They take part in a rousing version of “And the rock cried out, no hiding place” as Refa is beaten to a bloody pulp by G’Kar’s Narns!

Significance:
Sheridan is able to crack the Shadow’s strategy, thus putting him and their alliance in the perfect position to mount a counter-attack. We know then that a major battle is about to take place, and soon! Londo finally rids himself of Refa, and does so by cooperating with G’Kar. G’Kar, in turn, gets his first glimpse of the Narn homeworld after its devastation in the war. He will return later, and his many actions will lead him to be viewed as a religious icon by his people.

Memorable Lines:
Reverend William Dexter: Are you starting in already, Theo? I tell you, in fifty years of living and forty years of serving the Lord, I have never met a sorrier soul than Brother Theo here!
Susan Ivanova: Well, I wouldn’t say…
Brother Theo: Thank you! But I’d prefer to leave judgments as to the state of my soul to someone better qualified, and perhaps a bit less loud!
Rev. Dexter: But it says in the Bible to make a joyful noise unto the Lord!
Brother Theo: [grinning] I’ve heard you sing, Will. And take my word for it, that is not what the Good Lord had in mind when He said, “a joyful noise”!

Delenn: Ivanova sent me to find you. She said you haven’t been sleeping, you have hardly been eating; she said that you have been, in her words, “carrying on cranky.” I looked up the word “cranky.” It said “grouchy.” I looked up “grouchy,” it said “crotchety.” No wonder you have such an eccentric culture: none of your words have their own meaning! You have to look up one word to understand another. It never ends.
Sheridan: [not paying attention] Something here doesn’t make sense.
Delenn: That is what I thought when I came across “crotchety.” This cannot be a real word, I said.
Sheridan: The Shadows keep attacking random targets! Very illogical! On the other hand, once engaged, their tactics are very successful! Very logical! It’s–it’s a contradiction!
Delenn: Unless the random attacks are logical in some way we haven’t yet determined.
Sheridan: Exactly.
Delenn: So you have been sitting here trying to think illogically about logical possibilities, or logically about illogical possibilities.
Sheridan: Hm? Yes, yes.
Delenn: Well, no wonder you are cranky! [he looks at her in confusion, oblivious to everything she’s just said] Grouchy? Never mind. Your face just broke the language barrier.

Rev. Dexter: Every day, here and at home, we are warned about the enemy. But who is the enemy? Is it the alien? Well, we are all alien to one another. Is it the one who believes differently than we do? No, oh no, my friends. The enemy is fear. The enemy is ignorance. The enemy is the one who tells you that you must hate that which is different. Because, in the end, that hate will turn on you. And that same hate will destroy you.

10. Shadow Dancing:
Having discovered where the Shadows will attack next, Sheridan and Delenn begin rallying the League worlds to send as many ships as they can to Sector 83 to participate in a counter-attack. They are reluctant, since it will mean lessening their defenses around their own worlds; but in time, they agree to send what they can. Ivanova and Marcus are sent ahead to scout out the area, and while they are gone, Marcus begins to show clear signs that he loves her.

A Shadow scout ship arrives shortly thereafter and spots them. They engage it an are damaged, but manage to keep it from sending a distress signal. The main fleet jumps in as schedules, and Sheridan commits his forces. The fight is difficult, but once again, the Shadows are stopped and forced to retreat. Though their losses are roughly 2 to 1, this is the first time a full-scale attack has been beaten back, and they know the Shadows will not be too happy about it.

Speaking back in Sheridan’s office, he, Ivanova and Delenn begin to understand what the dream Sheridan experienced when he was aboard the Strieb ship means. In essence, he learns that he saw of several things to come, like Ivanova being a latent telepath, that they would be working with Bester, and lastly, that his “equal but opposite” would be looking for him. This last bit he doesn’t understand, but he knows that the Shadows are likely to try and hit B5 next. So far, they’ve left it alone for various reasons, but now that they’ve hurt them, it’s only a matter of time before they come knocking…

Franklin is still on walkabout, and gets stabbed when he tries to intervene in an assault. While bleeding out on the floor, he finds his “other self” that tells him his problem is that he keeps running away from his problems. After realizing he wants his old life back, his other self tells him to get up and fight for it. He narrowly makes it back to the station’s main area where people find him and take him to medlab. He wakes up and talks to Garibaldi, telling him he found what he needed, which was a “short, sharp kick to the head.” He is there when the wounded begin to arrive and takes over medlab, telling Sheridan he wants to come back.

Having been beaten, the Shadows send a ship to B5 with a single passenger. They board the station, pass through security and head for John’s quarters without incident. Back in his quarters, Delenn and Sheridan spend the night together. She watches him sleep, which is apparently a Mimbari custom, and leaves the bedroom just in time to see Anna Sheridan – John’s wife, who he they all thought was dead – as she walks in the door.

Significance:
The alliance has come together for the first time to repulse the Shadows, which is a major victory for them. However, they know that this has made them vulnerable aboard B5, since the Shadows know that it has become a rallying point for the younger races. Their reaction, apparently, was to send in Anna Sheridan, who was long thought to have perished at Z’ha’dum. Instead, it seems that she is alive and working with them, much like Morden.

In addition, we get to see what Sheridan’s dream aboard the Strieb ship really meant. The “man in between”, his “equal but opposite” (i.e. his wife) who has been looking for him, has apparently found him! Also, the scene where Anna Sheridan walks in and Delenn drops a snow globe onto the floor was foreshadowed in War Without End. After experiencing it, Delenn says she just felt like someone “walked over her grave”. She now understands what it meant.

Memorable Lines:
Delenn: We have before us an opportunity to strike at our mutual enemy, the Shadows. If our information is correct, this could be the biggest engagement of the war to date. We do not know how many of their ships will be there, so our only chance is to have as many as possible on our side. We need all of you to cooperate.
Drazi Ambassador: If you wish cooperation, why don’t you tell us what the mission is?
Lennier: If we discuss this openly, there is every chance the enemy will learn of our plans. You must trust us.
Brakiri Ambassador: How can we trust you if you will not trust us?
Delenn: Because so far, we have kept every promise we have made. We told you that telepaths could slow the advance of the Shadows. We supplied you with telepaths if you did not have your own. We have saved the lives of many of your people. If we have not earned your trust by now, then please go. Nothing more will be required of you…

Susan Ivanova: That’s a lot of ships.
Marcus Cole: That’s a bloody awful lot of ships.
Ivanova: Jump engines back on line yet?
Marcus: No. If I signal the fleet, this lot might pick it up. If they do and we can’t get away…
Ivanova: Well…who wants to live forever?
Marcus: I do, actually! But what the hell…

Ivanova: Captain… you okay?
Sheridan: I’m not sure… Ever since Kosh died, I’ve been remembering a dream. Last year, when I was hurt, he got inside my head. He spoke to me, sent me this images. One of them was you saying “do you know who I am?” A week later, you tell me you’re a latent telepath, said sometimes you don’t know who you are… At one point, I was wearing the uniform of a Psi Cop.
Ivanova: Well, we’re working with Bester now and that was unexpected… so that tracks. Anything else?
Sheridan: He sent me the image of Garibaldi saying (“the man in between in searching for you”)
Ivanova: “The man in between”… he might have meant Sinclair.
Sheridan: Maybe, but I don’t think so. Somehow it doesn’t feel right. The last thing was you dressed all in black, as if for a funeral… you said (“you are the hand”)
Ivanova: “You are the hand”? What the hell is that supposed to mean? Why would I say anything as dopey sounding as that?
Sheridan: I don’t know, but if Kosh sent it, it must have meant something.
Delenn: Odd that he would use that image though…
Sheridan: Why?
Delenn: Well, you have two hands do, you not? Each equal and opposite?
Ivanova: So you’re saying that the man in between is your equal and opposite?
Sheridan: (remembers seeing an image of himself in the dream) Maybe.
Ivanova: Well, if that’s what it is then the man in between knows who you are and now that we’ve kicked him hard and where it hurts…
Sheridan: Assuming it means anything. Signs, portents, dreams… next thing we’ll be reading tea leaves and chicken entrails. All we do know is that we are vulnerable now… We should expect something to be coming our way sooner or later. The way our luck works, probably be sooner!

Franklin: I can’t go back, but I can appreciate what I have right now, and I can define myself by what I am, instead of what I’m not.
Sheridan: And what are you?
Franklin: Alive. Everything else is negotiable.

Anna Sheridan: Hello. You must be Delenn. I’m Anna Sheridan. John’s wife.

11. Z’ha’dum:
Sheridan’s wife, Anna, has come to the station to meet with him. She explains that her ship which was working for IPX had been sent to Z’ha’dum to investigate the remains of a lost civilization. She confirms what the knew about a Shadow vessel being discovered on Mars, which once activated, flew off to the rim of known space. However, IPX had placed a probe aboard and learned the signal stopped there. Though the mission was deemed one of exploration, their real purpose was to track the ship back to its base.

When they got there, they found the Shadows (though that name is apparently a misnomer) and began to learn from them. After an accident, the crew became stranded and remained behind of their own accord to keep learning. She tells Sheridan that they have so much to offer the human race, if they would just be welcomed. All they want if for Sheridan to come to Z’ha’dum to hear their side of the story…

At about the same time, G’Kar shows Ivanova a series of tactical nukes that they have obtained from the Gaim. They plan to use these in their next encounter with the Shadows, using them to mine an area and then detonating them when they approach. The fact that they are difficult to detect is one of their advantages.

Naturally, Sheridan is both confused and enraged by all that is happening. He tells Delenn that he was only able to begin rebuilding a life with her because she and Kosh gave him every reason to believe that Anna was dead. Delenn confesses that there was always some chance she’d be alive, that she’s choose to serve rather than die, but she held it back for fear John would run off to try and save her. Meanwhile, Franklin puts Anna through a battery of tests to confirm that she is truly Sheridan’s wife and not a clone or duplicate of some kind.

Though all the tests prove that she is indeed Sheridan’s wife, Franklin finds one anomaly with her. Months back, when they retrieved a shipment of telepaths bound for Z’ha’dum, they noticed that they all carried implants in their brains and corresponding devices on the outside of their heads. Marks on the back of Anna’s head are consistent with these. John agrees to go with Anna to Z’ha’dum and sees an image of Kosh before he leaves, repeating his warning that if Sheridan goes there, he will die.

Vir finds Londo drinking on the Zocola. He says he’s recieved some “bad news” from back home, that he is to be the Emperor’s adviser for maters of planetary security. He suspects this promotion is just so they can keep an eye on him. They are interrupted by a “friend” of Morden’s who tells Londo that he must leave the station… immediately. Delenn meanwhile finds a time-delayed recording left by Sheridan explaining to her that he’s going to Z’ha’dum even though he knows its a trap. His reasons have more to do with what he saw of the future when they on B4 than anything else. He saw that they had won, that the price had been immense, and that Delenn told him not to go to Z’ha’dum. He thinks perhaps the devastation he saw was the result of him not going. He believes he can accomplish something by going, and that he must put that above his own desires.

When Anna and Sheridan arrive at Z’ha’dum, they are met by Morden and a new man who says his name is Justin. He tells Sheridan that a million years back, the First Ones walked amongst the galaxy. In time, most went away or died out, but two stayed behind as shepherds to the younger races. One are the Shadows, the other the Vorlons. Initially, they worked together, but at a certain point, they’re differences in ideology led them into conflict. The Vorlons believe that development comes through order, whereas the Shadows believe in promoting through chaos. This is why they periodically return to the known universe and promote conflict. Those that are weaker are destroyed, but those that survive are made stronger. Sheridan is told that humanity has been selected as one such race because the Shadows “see potential” in them.

The only obstacle to their plans right now is Sheridan’s alliance. Sheridan asks why they simply haven’t killed him then, to which they reply that if they did, he’d be martyred and someone would replace him. Instead, they want him to join their side, since he can’t hope to keep the younger races together anyhow. Sheridan interrupts them to reveal that he knows what they’ve done to his wife, how they altered her by putting a Shadow implant in her mind and effectively killed the woman he knew. Realizing the jig is up and that he won’t cooperate, they threaten him and a Shadow enters to take him away. Sheridan retrieves his hidden PPG and begins shooting his way out.

Back at B5, Shadow vessels surround the station and threaten to destroy it. They begin deploying fighters and Ivanova inquires as to the status of their nukes. G’Kar reports that two are missing. Sheridan is then cornered on a balcony overlookign Z’ha’dum after escaping from Justin and Morden. Anna confronts him and tells him there’s no escape and that though she is not his wife, she can still make him happy. Sheridan decides to program the White Star to crash into the city and detonate its payload. Before it crashes through the city’s dome, he hears Kosh’s voice telling him to jump into the chasm below. He does, the nukes go off, and the Shadows leave B5.

Everyone suspects they have left because they don’t think B5 is a threat anymore, which can only Sheridan has died. In addition, they notice that one of their Star Furies, which was being piloted by Garibaldi, did not return. Delenn and Ivanova are devastated, and the season ends with G’Kar narrating a section from the book of G’Quan that talks about suffering, transition and change.

Significance:
In this season finale, Sheridan finally fulfills his promise and goes to Z’ha’dum to confront the Shadows. As Kosh predicted, he apparently dies there as well. However, he also learns a great deal from the encounter, things the Vorlons have been holding back. Up until now, he and the others have been under the impression that Vorlons and other First Ones have always stood against the Shadows. Now we come to understand that they used to be allies who followed rules of engagement, but who have since become enemies competing over who’s influence is dominant. The entire nature of the war will change because of this.

With the introduction of the tactical nukes, we also get to see what their plan is for the next big battle, which will take place during the next season. Sheridan’s use of them on Z’ha’dum will also alter the Shadows own tactics, forcing them to move much of their forces off the planet. It will also change the Vorlons tactics too. All of this will be of extreme importance as the war continues in season four…

Memorable Lines:
Delenn: Humans have a phrase: “What is past, is prologue.” Minbari also have a phrase: “What is past, is also sometimes the future.”

Ivanova: So the next time we find out where the Shadows plan to strike, we can mine the area. And as soon as they come out of hyperspace—
G’Kar: Then, as you so concisely say, “Boom!”

Sheridan: So… why not just kill me?
Justin: Doesn’t work, somebody’d just come around and replace you. That’s always been the trouble with creating martyrs. We brought you here, hoping you would understand us… work with us, not against us. You’re important. You’re what they call a nexus. You turn one way, and the whole world has a tendency to turn the same way. Let go of those other races. You can’t hold them together.

Justin: Work with us or…
Sheridan: Or you’ll do to me what you did to Anna! …Oh the memories are there, the voice is there, the DNA is there. But the personality… I look in her eyes and the woman I love, the woman I married… She would never go along with this!

G’Kar: It was the end of the Earth year 2260, and the war had paused, suddenly and unexpectedly. All around us, it was as if the universe were holding its breath… waiting. All of life can be broken down into moments of transition, or moments…of revelation. This had the feeling of both… G’Quan wrote, “There is a greater darkness than the one we fight. It is the darkness of the soul that has lost its way. The war we fight is not against powers and principalities, it is against chaos and despair. Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope. The death of dreams. Against this peril we can never surrender.” The future is all around us, waiting in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation. No one knows the shape of that future, or where it will take us. We know only that it is always born…in pain.

B5, Season 3 Best Episodes

Season Three was named “Point of No Return” for good reason. It was the season where everything hit the fan and there was no going back.  The Shadow War began, B5 broke away from the Earth Alliance, the temporal plot and purpose of the Great Machine was fulfilled, and Sheridan finally went to Z’ha’dum. So of course, there were plenty of big, great and significant episodes. Here are the one’s I liked best and why.

1. Matter of Honor:
A representative from Earth Force Special Intelligence (David Endawi) comes to B5 to investigate the matter of the Shadow vessel. After talking with all the ambassadors, he learns a few disturbing facts. G’Kar relates what he has learned from the book of G’Quan and his own investigations out on the rim. Londo relates a nightmare he has where he can see countless Shadow vessels passing overhead while he is standing on Centauri Prime. And Delenn claims she knows nothing about it. Naturally, she is lying…

Londo meets with Morden and tells him he wants to end their relationship. Morden reluctantly agrees, but first, they must divvy up the assets. He agrees to let the Centauri hold a quarter of the Galaxy, in return, they will get the rest and the two sides will go their separate ways. As an addendum, he asks that Londo let them take one world in between, a world which he has already asked Lord Refa to blockade for them. Londo is startled to know that Morden is in contact with someone else in the royal court.

At about the same time, another visitor comes to B5, a Ranger named Marcus Cole. After escaping from a world on the border of Centauri space, he comes to B5 to ask for their help in liberating the colony. For years, the Rangers have been using it as a training base and now it seems that the Centauri are moving in and blockading it. Sheridan is shown the White Star, a prototype Mimbari-Vorlon creation that will be the mainstay of the alliance in the coming war. They fly to the planet, just as a Shadow vessel appears and engages them. They narrowly defeat it by luring it into a jump gate and opening a seperate jump point inside it, which creates a massive explosion that kills the pursuing ship.

Endawi returns home and tells Earth Force Intelligence that he was unable to learn anything of value. We then see the head of Intelligence meeting with Morden and a representative of the Psi Corps. Morden is pleased that nothing was turned up, but is told by the Psi Corps representative that fears of nebulous alien threat that this sighting has caused could prove useful to their agenda…

Significance:
This episode introduces Marcus Cole and the Rangers, who’s existence has been mentioned before but will now be of extreme importance. Started by Sinclair on Mimbar and made up of largely human volunteers, these are to be the foot soldiers in the coming Shadow War. The White Star, which is also introduced in this episode, is to be the mainstay of their fleet.

After growing uneasy about his alliance with Morden and his “associates”, Londo has finally broken it off, only to learn that Lord Refa is attempting to forge one of his own. In time, this will pit Londo and Refa against each other, and give Londo a chance to redeem his mistakes. Finally, we learn that Morden and the Shadows have made friends back at Earth, and may have had a hand in assassinating Santiago and installing Clark. Already we have learned that the point of their alliances is to sow chaos and discord before they attack. Clearly, backing Clark’s conspiracy is part of that plan.

Memorable Lines:
Sheridan: You’ve been back and forth to your homeworld so many times since you got here, how do I know you’re the same Vorlon? Inside that Encounter Suit you could be anyone.
Kosh: I have always been here.
Sheridan: Oh yeah? You said that about me too.
Kosh: Yes.
Sheridan: I really hate it when you do that.
Kosh: Good.

Londo: My people have a manifest destiny. They can achieve it just as well without the help of your associates, perhaps better.
Morden: So we’re no longer necessary?
Londo: That’s right.
Morden: And now that we’ve done everything you’ve asked, you’d like us to just.. disappear.
Londo: I do believe you have got it surrounded, Mr. Morden!
Morden: Aren’t you being premature? After all, you’re people are moving on several other worlds. You might still need us.
Londo: No, I don’t think so. We have danced our last little dance Mr. Morden. Now it is time for you… to go away.

Sheridan: (looking at the footage of a Shadow vessel) A few months ago, you told me about an ancient race, the Shadows. This is one of theirs, isn’t it?
Delenn: These ships, once they target you they never stop, never slow down, never give up until they’ve destroyed you… and nearly invincible.
Sheridan: I don’t believe that. Every ship has a weakness.
Delenn: Believe what you will, til experience changes your mind. Take a good look, John, and remember it well. That is the face of our enemy.

Garibaldi: I’m not authorized for that kind of information.
Endawi: But… you’re the head of Security.
Garibaldi: And what kind of head of Security would I be if I let people like me know things that I’m not supposed to know? I mean, I know what I know because I have to know it, and if I don’t have to know it, I don’t tell me, and I don’t let anyone else tell me, either. Now look, we’ve tried most of the other ambassadors. Why don’t you speak to G’Kar? Maybe he knows something about this ship.
Endawi: Under the terms of our recent treaty, I am not authorized to have any official conversation with the Narn without Centauri approval.
Garibaldi: So you’ll ask unofficially. And I can give you reasonable assurances that the head of Security will not report you for doing so.
Endawi: Because you won’t tell yourself about it.
Garibaldi: I try never to get involved in my own life. Too much trouble.

Delenn: We must find help. We cannot hope to destroy a ship like that alone.
Sheridan: With all due respect, Ambassador, I’ve heard that before.

Ivanova: Captain, the day something happens around here and I don’t know about it, worry
Sheridan: Tell me, Commander…have you ever wondered what would happen if you opened a jump point while inside a jump gate?
Ivanova: No! And neither should you! EarthForce experimented with the idea during the Minbari War. They called it the Bonehead Maneuver. (to Lennier) No offense.
Lennier: None taken.

Morden: Your government can dismiss this as an isolated incident.
Psi Cop: I don’t know. There’s something about this idea of a threat to planetary security I find very appealing. As long as we keep the real truth to ourselves, there’s no reason we can’t use this situation to speed up the program here at home.

2. Voices of Authority:
B5 is assigned a political officer from the Ministry of Peace, a woman named Musante who’s purpose is to expand the power of the Nightwatch. In addition to following Sheridan around (and trying to seduce him), she openly tells Zack and the other members of Nightwatch that their mandate has expanded to stamp out all indications of treason and ideological impurity. Sheridan has to stay on his toes in order to keep the “conspiracy of light” a secret in her presence.

Otherwise occupied with her, he sends Ivanova to meet with Draal on Epsilon 3 so they can begin using the Great Machine to locate the First Ones. She finds the home of The Walkers, the ancient race that’s been spotted around Sigma 957, but also alerts the Shadows to her presence. She narrowly escapes before they are able to take her over. Then, she is given a vision of Earth Force One as it exploded, and sees a private communique between Morden and Clark where they discuss Santiago’s assassination. After months of quietly waiting, they have the proof they need to expose him!

Ivanova and Marcus travel to Sigma 957 and meet with a Walker ship. After some deliberation, Ivanova is able to get them to agree to join their war effort against the Shadows. When they return, the information she uncovered with Draal’s help has been released, Mustante is recalled to Earth so that MiniPax can investigate the allegations and “punish” whoever’s responsible.

Significance:
This episode picks up where season two left off where Draal tells Sheridan that he wants to join their alliance and will place the Great Machine at their disposal. In using it, Ivanova is able to find one of the elusive First Ones, first shown in season one, and uncover evidence of the conspiracy back home. In so doing, she also demonstrated that she has latent telepathic abilities, for as Draal says, no ordinary human could do what she did. Marcus and Ivanova also secure the cooperation of The Walkers, and learn that they are not on good terms with the Vorlons.

This episode also establishes that the Ministry of Peace, after slowly expanding its mandate on B5, is now mounting an all out offensive against dissenters and those who oppose Clark’s government. Now that evidence has been released that implicates them in Santiago’s death, things are likely to escalate.

Memorable Lines:
Draal: Good afternoon, everyone! Captain, Delenn tells me that you’re going to try contacting the First Ones. It is a magnificent idea—a daring and splendid idea! In doing so, you will see things no human has ever seen before! It will be…fun! Assuming you’re not vaporized, dissected, or otherwise killed in an assortment of supremely horrible and painful ways! Exciting, isn’t it?

Draal: I asked for Captain Sheridan!
Ivanova: Um… He’s busy.
Draal: I don’t like surprises!
Ivanova: Really? Love ’em, myself. To me, everything’s a surprise! You’re a surprise. This place is a surprise. You see this? [She holds up a finger.] Paper cut. Hurts like hell! Anybody else would be upset, but to me, it’s just one more wonderful surprise! I mean, I even surprise myself sometimes! So I guess there’s nothing wrong with me surprising you. Right?
Draal: (laughs) I like you! You’re trouble!
Ivanova: Well, thank you! That’s the nicest thing anybody’s said about me in days!

Sheridan: And, uh when exactly did all this happen?
Musante: When we rewrote the dictionary.

Ivanova: Good luck, Captain. I think you’re about to go where…everyone has gone before

Marcus: I think you just hit a nerve. The Vorlons must owe them money or something.
Ivanova: At least it tells us that they understand our language. They’re just not willing to speakto us in it.
Marcus: Who knew they were French? Sorry.

Walkers: ZOG!
Ivanova: “Zog”? What do you mean, zog? Zog what? Zog yes, zog no?
Marcus: It’s leaving. My guess is “zog” means “no”.
Ivanova: Like hell. I am not letting them leave here without saying yes.
Marcus: Really? And how do you propose stopping them? Perhaps a big red and white sign with the word “stop” on it? I’ll put a bucket on my head and pretend to be the ancient Vorlon god Boogee.
Ivanova: That’s it!
Marcus: Fine. I’ll get a bucket.

3. Messages from Earth:
Marcus escorts a former member of IPX, a woman named Dr. Mary Kirkish, to meet with the command staff of B5. She has some terrible news for them: it seems that Earth has known about the Shadows for quite some time, and has even been experimenting on their ships. The last time was on Mars after they uncovered one that was buried there, which  witnessed personally. Now they are planning on doing it again, this time on Ganymede with another buried ship. This time, they plan to merge a human pilot with it and control it. Garibaldi claims he surveyed the site years back and found a Psi Corps badge that was left there. Sheridan agrees to take the White Star and head to Ganymede to destroy it.

In his absence, the Nightwatch grows wary of his whereabouts. They have been ordered by their new head to be on the lookout for suspicious activity.Meanwhile, Garibaldi visits G’Kar in his cell, where he’s serving his sentence for assaulting Londo, and finds he’s writing a book about his experiences. On their way to Earth, Delenn and Sheridan spend an evening together and share precious memories. When they arrive at Earth, they find that the Shadow vessel has already been activated and begins destroying the facility.

Unable to match the vessels firepower, they manage to destroy it by luring it into Jupiter’s atmosphere then pulling a hasty escape maneuver. The Shadow vessel is unable to follow them out and is crushed by Jupiter’s intense gravity well. However, before they can exit the atmosphere, Sheridan’s old ship, the Agamemnon, shows up and attempts to board them. Sheridan and crew manage to narrowly escape by opening a jump point in the upper atmosphere, which ignites the hydrogen and covers their escape. Back at home, ISN says that Earth gov claims the facility was attacked by an unknown ship and uses this as a pretext to declare martial law.

Significance:
The link between the Psi Corps and the Shadows is revealed, as are Earth’s experiments with Shadow technology. The Nightwatch, having grown suspicious of Sheridan’s activities, are now planning to move on him. G’Kar’s book, which he has begun writing in this episode, will prove of great significance in later episodes. Clark’s government, which has been planning on using the “alien threat” to justify its repression, has decided to use Sheridan’s intervention as a pretext to declare martial law. Delenn and Sheridan’s relationship is also developing and becoming romantic.

Memorable Lines:
Garibaldi: But where in my contract does it say that I have to eat the same food for breakfast every day for three years?
Sheridan: Paragraph 47, Subsection 19, Clause 9A. You can find it in the index under S.U.A.E.I.
Garibaldi: S.U.A.E.I.?
Sheridan/Ivanova: Shut Up And Eat It.

Marcus Cole: And they have much to be concerned about. There’s always the threat of an attack by, say, a giant space dragon – the kind that eats the sun every 30 days? It’s a nuisance, but what can you expect from reptiles? Did I mention that my nose is on fire, and that I have 15 wild badgers living in my trousers?… I’m sorry. Would you prefer ferrets?

Sheridan: Full power! Give me everything you’ve got!
Lennier: If I were holding anything back, I would tell you.

4. Point of No Return:
The declaration of martial law has caused a great stir aboard B5. At home, Clark has apparently dissolved the Senate and ordered that all commanders who do not comply with the order are to be arrested. Sheridan contacts General Hague, but is told by one of his officers that he has gone to ground and that the Army is attacking the Senate building. Londo recieves a guest aboard the station, lady Lady Morella, a psychic who was also the wife of the late Emperor Turhan. He has asked her to visit so that she might give him a vision, in the hopes that he can avert the future he has foreseen for himself. Naturally, the declaration of martial law is a major inconvenience!

Shortly thereafter, Hague’s ship gets into a firefight with ships loyal to Clark and narrowly escapes. Sheridan is forced to issue the declaration of martial law and a riot ensues. He is told by Franklin to hang on, that things will get better, but Clark’s loyalists begin bombing Mars and Proxima shortly thereafter. G’Kar is released from prison early due to a shortage of staff, and he tells Garibaldi he might be in a position to help him and the command staff. Nightwatch is ordered to take over security and Garibaldi openly declares his resistance to it. Sheridan contacts General Smits to get advice on how to deal with the situation, and Smits tells him in a covert and roundabout way how to beat it.

Shortly thereafter, Zacks helps them by telling the Nightwatch that Sheridan is conspiring against them and lures them into an airlock where they are sealed in. Sheridan tells them their orders are not legal and places them under arrest. They are shipped out shortly thereafter and replaced by Narns loyal to G’Kar. They have managed to avert this crisis and buy some time, but also know that very soon, Clark’s forces will be coming for them.

Significance:
Sheridan and his staff have taken a stand against Clark and the Nightwatch, which at this point puts them directly in the path of fire. They know now that they might openly rebel if their “conspiracy of light” against the Shadows is to survive. Londo is told definitively that he will be Emperor someday, which he fears because he’s foreseen how it will lead to his death.  He is also told that he has one final chance to break from the path that he is on, and gives several clues as to what will be coming in later episodes. “The eye that does not see” is G’Kar, who he is told he must not kill. “The one that is already dead” is Sheridan, whom he must save along with Delen. And how he must “surrender to (his) greatest fear” alludes to letting G’Kar kill him, as he has foreseen numerous times and allow Vir to take his place.

Memorable Lines:
Vir: I thought the purpose of filing these reports was to provide accurate intelligence!
Londo: Vir, intelligence has nothing to do with politics!

General Smits: Captain. I’m sure you’ve been following the news.
Sheridan: Yes, sir. If I may ask, what’s your opinion?
General Smits: My opinion has nothing to do with this, Captain, and neither does yours! Our job is to follow orders from the Commander in Chief and respect the chain of command! If you have different opinions, I suggest you file them in a deep dark place where nobody’ll ever find them! Am I clear?

G’Kar: You must understand, Ta’Lon. I have had a revelation!
Ta’Lon: What kind of revelation?
G’Kar: A most profound and substantial one, Ta’Lon. The kind of revelation that transforms your mind, your soul, your heart—even your flesh—so that you are a new creature, reborn in the instant of understanding
Ta’Lon: That was a stirring reply, Citizen G’Kar. Unfortunately, while all answers are replies, not all replies are answers. You did not answer the question that I asked. What do you understand now that you did not understand before?

Sheridan:If I were you, I wouldn’t use my weapons on the airlocks. They’re a solid beryllium alloy. The ricochet is a killer.

Morella: You have a chance few others will ever have, Mollari. You still have three opportunities to avoid the fire that waits for you at the end of your journey. You have already wasted two others. You must save the eye that does not see. You must not kill the one who is already dead. And at the last, you must surrender yourself to your greatest fear, knowing that it will destroy you. Now if you have failed all the others, that is your final chance for redemption.
Londo: I…don’t understand!
Morella: The future reveals itself only reluctantly, Ambassador. Take the sign for what it is. Look for it when it appears!
Londo: I will. Thank you!
Morella: One more thing. You will be Emperor. That part of your destiny cannot be avoided.
Londo: I see.
Morella: (to Vir) You will also be Emperor.
(Vir laughs)
Morella: Why are you laughing?
Vir: I… I thought you were joking!
Morella: We do not joke in the face of prophecy, Vir.
Londo: Lady Morella, please! We cannot both be Emperor!
Morella: Correct. One of you will become Emperor after the other is dead. That is all we see and all we wish to see.

5. Severed Dreams:
Hague’s ship, the Alexander, makes to B5 after escaping from Earth and fighting against many of its own fleet. Major Ryan is in charge ever since Hague died in their last firefight. Sheridan orders that communications be cut off so no one will learn that they are harboring rebels, and Ryan tells Sheridan that Clark has begun bombing Mars after it declared its opposition to martial law. Another ship arrives soon after, the Churchill under Captain Hiroshi, that is also on the run. Together, they decide to make a stand against Clark and his forces once they arrive. Sheridan declares to the station that B5 is breaking away from the Earth Alliance and will not submit to President Clark’s forces.

A Ranger comes to the station to see Delenn. After being wounded, he is recovering in medbay and tells her that many other League worlds have begun fighting amongst themselves at the behest of the Shadows, and that the Grey Council intends to do nothing about it. Incensed, Delenn travels to Mimbar to confront the Council, and despite their attempts to block her, is able to come before them. She breaks the Council, as was foretold by one of Valen’s prophecies, and ask the Religious and Worker Castes to join her. They agree and mobilize to follow her.

Back at the station, Clark’s forces arrive and demand Sheridan’s surrender. He refuses, and the firefight begins. B5 and the Alexander are damaged, Hiroshi scuttles her own ship and rams one of the enemy’s Destroyers, and raiding party is beaten by Garibaldi’s security forces and G’Kars Narns. They believe they’ve won by a razor’s edge, only to be confronted by another force of Earth ships. All seems lost, but Delenn and several Mimbari warships jump in and she tells the Earth ships to back off. They do, and Sheridan and his staff are hailed by the station’s people as heroes. The episode ends with a close-up of a Nightwatch wall poster that has been ripped in half.

Significance:
In addition to containing one of the best battle scenes of the series, this episode was pivotal in terms of the overall plot. Sheridan and B5 have officially broken away from Earth and now are free to pursue their war against the Shadows freely. Their conspiracy of light has finally come full circle and become a full-fledged war effort. Delenn has broken the Grey Council in order to mobilize what Mimbari she can to join the war effort and cut out the obstructive Warrior Caste who never believed in the prophecy of the coming Shadows. This is beneficial in the short run, but will have consequences down the road.

Memorable Lines:
Acolyte: I told you, Delenn, they will not speak to you.
Delenn: Then they will listen to me! I served the Council for sixteen cycles. I was the chosen of Dukhat to replace him! I held him when he died! His blood is on my hands, his spirit in my eyes, his word on my lips! You will step aside in his name and mine, or–in Valen’s name—I will tear this ship apart with my bare hands until I find them! Move aside!

Delenn: Three years. For three years, I warned you this day was coming. But you would not listen. “Pride,” you said! “Presumption!” And now the Shadows are on the move. The Centauri and the younger worlds are at war, the Narns have fallen… even the humans are fighting one another. The pride was yours! The presumption was yours! For a thousand years, we have been awaiting the fulfillment of prophecy. And when it finally happens, you scorn it – you reject it – because you no longer believe it yourselves!… “The problems of others are not our concern.” I do not blame you for standing silent in your shame. You, who knew what was coming, but refused to take up the burden of this war! If the Warrior Caste will not fight, then the rest of us will! If the Council has lost its way, if it will not lead… if we have abandoned our covenant with Valen… (Grabs the leader’s staff and breaks it) Then the Council should be broken… as was prophesied! We must stand with the others – now, before it’s too late!

David Sheridan: Son… I follow the news. Well, I did until ISN went black! I see what’s going on. Your mother doesn’t like to think about it. You know how she is. John, I can’t imagine the kind of decisions that are going through your mind right now. I’m sure they’re not easy. The important ones never are. But when push comes to shove, you’ve always done the right thing. What was the first lesson I ever taught you?
John Sheridan: Never start a fight, but always finish it.

Sheridan: May I have your attention, please? In the last few hours, we have learned that warships are coming this way from Earth, their orders are to seize command of Babylon 5 by force. As commanding officer and military governor of Babylon 5, I cannot allow this to happen. President Clark has violated the Earth Alliance Constitution by dissolving the Senate, declaring martial law, and personally ordering the bombing of civilian targets on the Mars colony. He is personally responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent people. Following these attacks Orion 7 and Proxima 3 have broken away from the Earth Alliance, and declared independence. Babylon 5 now joins with them. As of this moment, Babylon 5 is seceding from the Earth Alliance. We will remain an independent state until President Clark is removed from office. At the end of this current crisis, anyone who wishes to leave for Earth is free to do so. Meanwhile, for your own safety, I urge everyone to stay in their quarters until this is over. That is all.

Delenn: This is Ambassador Delenn of the Mimbari. Babylon 5 is under our protection. Withdraw… or be destroyed!
Captain Drake: Negative. We have authority here. Do not force us to engage your ship.
Delenn: Why not? Only one human captain has ever survived battle with a Mimbari fleet. He is behind me. You are in front of me. If you value your lives, BE SOMEWHERE ELSE!

6. Interludes and Examinations:
The Shadows have begun openly attacking known space, beginning with the Brakiri. Sheridan tries to mobilize help, but find no other races are willing to get involved. He is told that if he can demonstrate that he has equal power, they will consider joining, otherwise they will keep their heads down and hope the Shadows will pass them over. He meets with Delenn to share his misgivings, and says that if he could give the other races a victory, they might join. She tells him that is what he will need to do, and he will find a way. He reflects that she is beginning to sound like Kosh, and that’s when it hits him!

Londo is expecting Lady Adira, the woman he loves to arrive on the station soon. However, Morden shows up beforehand and confronts him about his intervention in his relationship with Lord Refa. He tells Londo that his race must continue making war on its neighbors. He accuses Morden’s associates of using his people as a distraction so they might carry out their own agenda unnoticed. Morden threatens him, but Londo refuses to back down, telling him there’s nothing he can do to him “that hasn’t already been done.” Rather than kill him, Morden poisons Adira, knowing that Londo will think Refa was responsible. Intent on revenge, he decides to work with Morden again in exchange for his help.

Meanwhile, Franklin’s problems with stims are reaching a tipping point and beginning to effect his work. Garibaldi confronts him about it but is told to mind his own business. He then goes around him to his second and asks for access to Franklin’s medical records to prove he’s addicted. He is about to access the records but then stops, and sees Franklin watching him. He is asked why he didn’t go through with it, and tells Franklin that it doesn’t seem worth it if he can’t convince him as a friend. Franklin tells him he already checked, and that his tests prove he’s addicted. He resigns his post immediately and begins going on walkabout to deal with his issues.

Meanwhile, Sheridan asks Kosh for help but is rebuffed. Kosh tells him its not time for his people to get involved. Desperate and out of patience, Sheridan berates him for the way his race has been on the sidelines and how he’s been manipulating them. Kosh becomes angry and attacks Sheridan using a strange energy wave, but Sheridan refuses to back off. He says he will comply, but that he will not be there when Sheridan goes to Z’ha’dum. Vorlon ships attack and destroy the Shadows, a move which rallies the younger races, but Morden and some of his “associates” come to Kosh’s quarters and kill him. Too late, Sheridan understands what Kosh meant. His ship, with his remains, flies into the sun to die.

Significance:
In this episode, the Shadow war finally begins. After having insurmountable difficulties getting the other races to work together, Sheridan is able to establish a fragile alliance by getting the Vorlons to intervene. Kosh is killed in retaliation, but before he dies, he reaches out to Sheridan in a dream again and tells him he’s sorry he waited so long to get involved. A part of his consciousness breaks off and attaches itself to Sheridan, which will prove significant in later episodes. After waiting for years to see her again, Londo loses Adira and turns to Morden for help. His revenge will lead him into cooperation with G’Kar, who will in turn assist him in saving his world from the Shadows.

Memorable Lines:
Sheridan: Will you (get involved)?
Gaim Ambassador: No… We are not attacked yet… may not be attacked. If we join Brakiri, we are noticed. We invite attack.
Sheridan: They are going to come for you, sooner or later.
Ambassador: You do not know that. What do they do not see, they may not attack. The enemy is powerful. Show us you have equal power, and we will consider. If not, then we will stay quiet. Do you have equal power?

Morden: I thought we had a deal… we carved up the galaxy you and I.
Londo: Yes, we did. And what you do in your half is your business. And what I do in mine is mine.
Morden: We need your government to continue its campaign.
Londo: Yes? And why is that, hmm? I don’t think you have any interest in restoring the glory of the Centauri Republic. No, I think you are using us as… shall we say, agents as chaos? Convenient distraction, making it easier for your associates to do whatever they wish to do, yes?
Morden: My associates need a voice and an ear in the Centauri royal court. If you violate the terms of our agreement, my associates may turn their eye towards your homeworld.
Londo: Then we will pluck it out.
Morden: If you put yourself between us and our objectives, you may come to regret it.
Londo: There is nothing you can do to me, Mr. Morden, that hasn’t already been done… Good day.
Morden: (to Shadow) No… we need him alive for now. There are other ways.

Sheridan: The only way we’re going to survive this war is to organize the League, the Narns and as many other races as possible into a cohesive, offensive force… It’s never been done before, and I can see why. I mean, it’s like stacking marbles in a corner. They are hip deep in their own agendas and their own rivalries. I mean, half of them won’t even talk to the other half! But what’s worse…
Delenn: What?
I feel like I’m lying to them. You’ve seen the reports from the front lines. Yes, I have ideas, some possibilities. But at this moment, the stone cold fact is that none of us can stand up to those ships! If we could just score one victory against the Shadows, it’d be enough to make some of the others come around.
Delenn: Then perhaps we should give them a victory.
Sheridan: Oh, just like that?
Delenn: Just like that.
Sheridan: And how do you suggest we do that?
Delenn: I’m sure you’ll think of something.
Sheridan: Everyday, people around here start talking more and more like Kosh…

Morden: Anything I can do to help?
Vir: Um… Short of dying? No, can’t think of a thing.

Sheridan: For three years now you’ve been pulling everyone’s strings, getting us to do all the work, and you haven’t done a damn thing but stand there and look cryptic! Well, it’s about time you start pulling your own weight around here. […] I hear you’ve got a saying: “Understanding is a three-edged sword”? Well, we’ve got a saying, too: “Put your money where your mouth is”!
Kosh: Impudent.
Sheridan: Yeah? Well, maybe that’s the only way to get through to you. You said you wanted to teach me to fight legends. Well, you’re a legend too, and I am not going away until you agree!
Kosh: Incorrect. Leave. Now.
Sheridan: No.
Kosh: Disobedient!
Sheridan: Up yours! (Kosh hits him with some kind of energy) So, the real Kosh shows his colors at last, huh? You angry now? Angry enough to kill me? Because that’s the only way I’m leaving. Unless your people get off their encounter-suited butts and do something, I’ve got nothing to lose! God, my own government wants to kill me, and if we lose this war, I’m just as dead! Our only chance is to get the other races on board for this fight and right now you’re the key to doing that.
Kosh: It is not yet time.
Sheridan: And who decides that time? You? You put me in this position. You asked me to fight this damn war! Well, it’s about time you let me fight it my way! How many people have already died fighting this war of yours, huh? How many more will die before you come down off that mountain and get involved? Ships, colonies, whole worlds are being destroyed out there, and you do nothing! How many more? How many more, Kosh? How many more dead before you’re satisfied? Huh?
Kosh: I will do as you ask. But there is a price to pay. I will not be there to help you when you go to Z’ha’dum.
Sheridan: All right. If that’s the trade-off. If you want to withhold your help when the time comes, that’s fine. I’ll go it alone.
Kosh: You do not understand. But you will.

B5, Best Episodes, Season Two

Back with more best episodes! Season one had some big hits, but I honestly think season two was the best in terms of overall poignancy, mystery and sheer entertainment value. Here are some selections of what I really liked from this one!

1. Points of Departure:
In the season two opener, we catch up with Ivanova who is now running the station in Sinclair’s absence. Things are kind of going to hell around the station, a situation made worse when they hear that a rogue Mimbari Cruiser is in the sector. We then meet up with John Sheridan, the Captain of the Earth Destroyer Agamemnon and the man slated to replace Sinclair. He is told to report to B5, where his first duty will be to deal with this situation.

The crew of the Mimbari vessel, the Trigati, are apparently warrior caste members who rejected the Grey Council’s decision to surrender and end the war. After years of drifting around the stars, they are intent on engaging the Earth Forces and die in combat, a move which they hope will trigger a new war and give them the honorable death they seek. However, Sheridan realizes their intent and does not open fire on them.

Instead, he puts out a call to another Mimbari cruiser that has been waiting in hyperspace who quickly arrive and destroy the Trigati. The situation is resolved, but Sheridan is warned that his name will live on in infamy. Already, Sheridan is unpopular with the Mimbari given the fact that he destroyed the Black Star during the war, the Mimbari flagship, by luring it into a trap.

In the course of this, Lennier explains a few things to Sheridan and Ivanova. Specifically, he tells them exactly why the Mimbari surrendered at the Battle of the Line, how it was discovered that Sinclair had a Mimbari soul, as well as many humans besides. Sinclair’s importance to the Mimbari is now made clear, as is the reason for why their surrender was not accepted by all sides.

Significance:
In addition to introducing Sheridan, this episode was also important because it revealed for the first time exactly why the Mimbari surrendered and why Sinclair was so important to them. In essence, the Line showed them that their two races are intertwined and that they would have to come together to face the coming darkness. It also established Sheridan’s dubious reputation amongst the Mimbari, which will come up later.

Memorable Quotes:
Delenn: They fight bravely. They cannot harm our ships, but they continue to try…
Hedronn: Whether they fight or not, they know they will die anyway. So really, is this bravely or simple desperation?
Delenn: Perhaps they are the same thing.

Delenn: We should bring one of them aboard for questioning. If our next step is the final assault on their world, we must know their defenses.
Hedronn: Very well, Delenn. But choose… we are fast running out of candidates.
Delenn: (sees Sinclair’s ship) That one!

Lennier: It is our belief that every generation of Mimbari is reborn in each following generation. Remove those souls, and the whole suffers. We are… diminished. In the last two thousand years, there have been fewer Mimbari born into each generation. And those that are born… do not seem equal to those who came before. It is almost as if our greater souls have been disappearing. At the Battle of the Line, we discovered where our souls were going. They were going to you… Mimbari souls are being reborn, in part or in full, in human bodies.

Lennier: (talking to Delenn in the chrysalis) I told them Delenn, as I was ordered. I only wish I could have told them the rest. About the great enemy that is returning, and the prophecy that the two sides of our spirit must unite against the darkness or be destroyed. They say it will take both of our races to stop the darkness. I’m told that the Earthers will discover all this soon enough on their own. I hope they are right, because if we are wrong, no one will survive our mistake. Goodnight, Delenn.

Sheridan: (delivering his “good luck speech” to an empty C&C) It was an early Earth president, Abraham Lincoln, who best described our situation. “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise to the occasion. We cannot escape history. We will be remembered in spite of ourselves. The fiery trial though which we pass will light us down in honor or dishonor to the last generation. We shall nobly save or meanly lose our last, best hope of Earth.” (checks the clock) Five minutes to spare.

2. Revelations:
After taking the helm at B5, Sheridan finds himself thrown into the thick of things. In addition to Delenn being in a chrysalis and Garibaldi still in a coma, there is the added mystery of G’Kars absence. We catch up to him on the rim of known space, where he is fleeing from attacking ships and barely makes it away. When he returns to the station, he has dark news. Convinced that the attack on the Narn base in Quadrant 37 was perpetrated by an ancient race, he believes that this same race is the one written about in a Narn religious text from a thousand years ago.

Meanwhile, Londo meets with Morden again and asks him about continuing their working relationship. Morden is willing, and tells Londo that all he need do is select a target if he wants help from his “associates”. All he asks in return is any info Londo may learn concerning the outer rim. When G’Kar comes to the Council and tells them of what he found, and how he’s asked his world to send a ship to investigate, Londo quickly relays the info to Morden, who seems concerned. The Narn ship is destroyed by a Shadow vessel as it enters the system before it is able to begin surveying. The investigation is dropped and G’Kar is left thinking he’s too late.

Garibaldi wakes from his coma after Doctor Franklin uses the alien healing machine he came into possession with in season one. Delenn wakes from her time in the cocoon and reveals herself to the Council, now half-human and half-Mimbari. Sheridan looks at her and is immediately enamored. And after getting a visit from his sister, Sheridan learns more about the circumstances of his wife death and is able to let go of the guilt he’s been harboring. She died on a survey mission in deep space with IPX, and up until now, Sheridan blamed himself, thinking he sent her away because he cancelled a rendezvous. Having learned that she was intended on going anyway, he feels much better.

Significance:
This episode introduces Z’Hadum for the first time, the fabled homeworld of the Shadows. Given that G’Kar has failed to reveal them, they are now free to roam the universe and institute their agenda. In addition, the relationship between them and Londo and the Centauri, which will be intrinsic to their plans, is shown to be proceeding apace. Delenn’s transformation, which apparently has much to do with an ancient prophecy and the reason for why the Mimbari surrendered during the war, has also taken place. This episode is also the first time that Sheridan’s ex-wife is mentioned, and the circumstances of her death will prove to have much to do with the Shadows and the darkness that G’Kar says is coming…

Memorable Quotes:
Londo: There, you see! One deserts his post without any explanation, the other one picks the most breathtakingly inconvenient moment possible to explore new career options, like becoming a butterfly!

Londo: But what happens if I ask for another of these… little demonstrations?
Morden: Then we’ll provide it. Simply choose your target, a colony, an outpost…
Londo: (laughs) Why don’t you eliminate the entire Narn homeworld while you’re at it?
Morden: One thing at a time, Ambassador. One thing at a time.

G’Kar: Weep for the future, Na’Toth. Weep for us all.
N’Toth: Are you alright?
G’Kar: I have looked into the darkness, Na’Toth. You cannot do that and ever be quite the same again.

G’Kar: When you told me about the destruction of our base in quadrant thirty-seven, I knew that only a major power could attempt an assault of that magnitude, but none of the governments here could have done it, which left only one of two possibilities: A new race… or an old race… A VERY old race… G’Quan spoke of a great war long ago against an enemy so terrible it nearly overwhelmed the stars themselves. G’Quan said that before that enemy was thrown down, it dwelled in a system at the edge of known space. I searched for days, going from one system to another. Then, on dark, deserted worlds where there should be no life, where no living thing has walked in over a thousands years, something is moving, gathering its forces, quietly, quietly, hoping to go unnoticed. We must warn the others Na’Toth. After a thousand years the darkness has come again.

G’Kar: I have convinced (my government) to send a ship to the heart of the enemy’s old domain, located at the rim of known space. A dark and terrible place known as Z’ha’dum. It has been dead for a thousand years. No one goes there, no one!
Sheridan: And if someone IS living there?
G’Kar: Than all our races stand on the edge of extinction.

G’Kar: But that couldn’t happen unless they knew the ship was coming and were waiting for it. But no one knew except… (looks at Londo).
Sheridan: What are you implying, Ambassador?
G’Kar: Nothing… I am too late. Everything is too late.

3. The Geometry of Shadows:
Ambassador Londo gets a visit from Lord Refa, a member of the Centauri royal court. Impressed with his handling of the Quadrant 37 border dispute, he indicates to Londo that there are plenty of people back home who are not happy with the path their Empire is on and would like to see that change. Londo agrees to join them, seeing an opportunity for personal advancement and a chance to restore his people to glory.

Ivanova is promoted to Commander, a rank which comes with additional responsibilties, the first of which is to resolve a dispute between two factions of Drazi. Apparently, the two sides are divided based on the color of their sashes; one side is green, the other purple. Ivanova learns that this is a leadership struggle that their race goes through periodically, the people divided into two camps who must then fight it out until one side wins and assumes leadership until the next struggle. After much negotiating, cajoling and a broken leg, Ivanova ends the conflict by accidentally becoming green leader and ordering them all to dye their sashes purple.

Meanwhile, the station is visited by a group of Techno Mages, people who use technology to simulate magic, who are on their way to the rim. Their leader, a man named Elric, tells him that a great darkness is coming, and that they are passing into the outer rim so that they might be able to preserve the knowledge and secrets that they are in possession of until it passes. Sheridan is intrigued by them, being a fan of mystery and magic.

So is Londo, who is determined to get an endorsement from them which he feels will help him extend his influence back home. However, his efforts are rebuffed when it becomes clear he is only interested in advancing his reputation, and the Mages place a “curse” on him, which amounts to a virus that begins playing havoc with his personal files and credit lines. Eventually, the Mage takes the curse off, but also leaves Londo with a vision of things to come. Apparently, Londo will do great and terrible things, and billions of people will suffer as a result…

Significance:
This episode introduces the conspiracy between Londo and Refa, and is the first time Londo is given a real glimpse of where the path he’s on will take him. Already he has had a vision that he will become Emperor one day, and die with G’Kar’s hands wrapped around his throat. Now, he is made to understand that his relationship with Morden and Refa will have terrible consequences. Sheridan and the others are also given further warnings of the war that is to come, which is described as a “terrible darkness”, similar to what G’Kar described.

Memorable Quotes:
Londo: What you are asking could be considered treason.
Lord Refa: Or the first step in restoring our people to their rightful place in the galaxy. Depending on who writes the history books. I think it will be us.

Elric: You don’t frighten easily.
Vir: I work for Ambassador Mollari. After a while, nothing bothers you.

Ivanova: You’re saying just because I’m holding this right now, I’m Green leader? But I’m human!
Drazi: Rules of combat older than contact with other races. Did not mention aliens. Rules change caught up in committee. Not come through yet.

Elric: As I look at you, Ambassador Mollari, I see a great hand reaching out of the stars. The hand is your hand. And I hear sounds–the sounds of billions of people calling your name.
Londo: My followers?
Elric: Your victims.

4. Soul Mates:
Londo recieves some rather good news from home. In honor of his recent service to the Centauri Republic, the Emperor has decided to grant him a wish in honor of the 30th anniversary of his ascension. And Londo, having endured three arranged marriages to women he can’t stand, can think of only one thing he would want: a divorce! However, he must choose one wife to remain by his side for the sake of appearances and matters of state. After inviting his three wives, Timov, Daggair and Mariel to the station and giving them the news, he begins the selection process. In the end, he decides to stick with Timov, the one who seems to hate him the most. Apparently, her honesty is what sets her apart, and that’s something he feels he can count on.

At the same time, Talia Winters get a visit from an old flame, a telepath named Matt Stoner. Ostensibly, he is aboard the station to sell some wares, but in reality, he’s come to take Winters away. Seems the Psi Corps has been experimenting on him as well, with the consequence that he has become an empath who can override other people’s wills. Winters is tempted to leave just so she can get away from the Corps, but refuses him. Thanks to Garibaldi’s untrusting nature, he is narrowly able to prevent him from using his powers to take her from the station by force.

Significance:
This episode further showed viewers how deep the Psi Corps agenda goes and how much Talia wants to leave it. It also gives us a glimpse of Garibaldi and Talia’s budding relationship, which has progressed from outright hostility on her part thanks to Garibaldi obvious concern and dedication to her. Other than that, this episode really wasn’t significant. It was just damn funny!

Memorable Quotes:
Timov: The secret of our marriage’s success, Londo, is our lack of communication. You have jeopardized that success and I would know why!
Londo: Very well, I wanted to save the surprise, but clearly you have forgotten that tomorrow is the thirtieth anniversary of my ascension day. The emperor has not forgotten. I personally received a congratulatory note from the royal court. My star is rising, in case you were unaware… Now the emperor is a busy man, no time to shop, unlike my wives! Always finding ways to run up my credit accounts! In any event, he wished to give me a gift in honor of my service to our people and the gift he gave me was any one wish within his power to give.
Daggair: And was what was your wish, my sweet?
Londo: A DIVORCE! An easement from the arranged marriages to my three wives! However, the emperor requested that I keep one of you to be my side for future state affairs, so… by tomorrow, I will choose one of you to remain by my side. The other two… will be gone! Gone! …A small repayment for the many years of joy you have given me!

Franklin: Are you okay? Londo, do you know where you are?
Londo: Either in Medlab, or in Hell. Either way, the decor needs work.
Daggair: Oh, Doctor Franklin! Thank you for saving our husband! You’ve done the Centauri a great service!
Mariel: I agree. It’s so good to see you with us again, Londo!
Londo: Well, that settles it, Doctor! I am in hell!

G’Kar: I warn you, Mariel, do not be overconfident. If I were married to Londo Mollari I’d be concerned.
Mariel: G’kar, if you were married to Londo Mollari, we’d all be concerned.

Delenn: Taking on human characteristics has been something of an education for both of us!
Ivanova: Well, if you have any other problems, any other questions at all, just ask!
Delenn: Well…now that you mention it…do you have any idea why I suddenly started getting these… odd cramps?

5. The Coming of Shadows:
Despite health problems, the Centauri Emperor has decided to travel to B5 to deliver a message. G’Kar is outraged at Sheridan is allowing this given his family’s history of outrages towards the Narn, and decides he is going to make an assassination attempt. Meanwhile, Londo and Refa hope to confront him publicly about his role in their Empire’s decline. However, both sides are unaware of what his true purpose is, which is to deliver an apology to the Narn regime for his family and his race’s crimes against them. At the end of his life, he finally wants to do something he knows to be right, rather than be swayed by duty or obligation.

Ultimately, all their plans are frustrated when the Emperor suffers a heart attack on his way to make his grand announcement. Franklin is left to tend to the Emperor, and is told to deliver a message to G’Kar. When Franklin tells G’Kar, he is buffaloed and immediately seeks out Londo. He buys Londo a drink and toasts the Emperor’s health, thinking that a new era of understanding is ahead of them. However, these sentiments prove to be too late in coming…

Faced with an imminent power struggle back home, Refa tells Londo that they must do something that will dwarf the opposition so they can put their own successor on the throne. Londo remembers what Morden told him, that he need only pick a target. He decides to let Morden’s “associates” attack another Narn outpost, and then orders their own ships to move in. When the Narns arrive and find their outpost destroyed and Centauri ships around, they immediately assume it was they who attacked it, and fighting ensues. Back on Centauri Prime, Refa’s agents also kill the Emperor’s Prime Minister, and their own successor, Cartagia, is positioned to take the throne.

Meeting with the Emperor on his deathbed, Londo is given a message. He tells everyone that the Emperor’s last words were in support of their war, but privately he tells Refa that the Emperor told him they are both damned. Refa is unconcerned, but Londo seems shaken by his words. When G’Kar receives word of the attack, he goes ballistic! However, Sheridan is able to stop him by telling him that he must choose between doing what’s right for his people and personal revenge. After calming down, G’Kar comes to a Council session and issues a declaration on behalf of his people: they are now at war with the Centauri! In order to avoid any pesky “investigations” into how the Centauri managed to destroy the outpost so rapidly – a move which clearly reveal that they had help – Londo agrees to release all the surviving colonists from the area as a gesture of “goodwill”.

Significance:
The Great War, the focal point of season two, opens in this episode. After much plotting by Londo and Refa, the Centauri Republic is now effectively under the control of the revisionists, people who want to see the Empire restored to its former glory and are willing to see a great many people die in order to make it happen. Whatever hopes there were for a reconciliation between the two sides is now thwarted. The war is also bad news for B5, since it is the first outbreak of war since the Earth-Mimbari war and the very thing the station was created to prevent. In addition, the outbreak of war means that the Shadows are clearly on the move and working their influence effectively.

Memorable Quotes:
Sheridan: If you love, love without reservation. If you fight, fight without fear.
Emperor Turhan: No regrets then?
Sheridan: A few. But just a few. You?
Turhan: Oh, enough to fill a lifetime. So much has been lost, so much forgotten. So much pain, so much blood. And for what? I wonder…The past tempts us, the present confuses us, and the future frightens us. And our lives slip away, moment by moment, lost in that vast terrible in-between. But there is still time to seize that one last, fragile moment. To choose something better, to make a difference, as you say. And I intend to do just that.

Turhan: How will this end?
Kosh: In fire.

Londo: He said, ‘Continue. Take my people back…to the stars.
Refa: Mollari. What did he say, really?
Londo: He said .. that we are both damned.
Refa: Well. It’s a small enough price to pay for immortality.

6. All Alone in the Night:
The Captain is captured by a marauding alien vessel while investigating a disturbance in a nearby sector. They are known as the Streib (apparently in honor of author/abductee Whitley Strieber), a race of hostile aliens that are known for to periodically adbuct members of different species in order to evaluate them. While aboard, Sheridan is examined, tortured, and forced to fight other captured crew members, all of whom have devices on their heads that seem to be controlling them. The first is a Drazi that he manages to kill, while the second is a Narn that he is able to wound and disarm. After removing the device on his head, he and the Narn captive begin to plot their escape.

Back on Mimbar, Delenn has been once again summoned before the Grey Council, this time to answer for her decision to undergo her transformation. Apparently, the Council feels that she is no longer Mimbari, and hence is to be removed as a Satai and replaced. When she sees her replacement is Neroon, a member of the warrior caste, she is dismayed since it means that the warriors will now have more power than the other castes. However, her protests are ignored and she is told to go back to B5 where she will remain as an ambassador and nothing else.

Meanwhile, Sheridan’d old ship, The Agamemnon has come to B5. Aboard is General Hague, the Chairman of the EarthForce Joint Chiefs of Staff and an old friend of Captain Sheridan who has come to meet with him. When word of his capture reaches the station, Hague and Invanova decide to mount a rescue operation with the help of Delenn, who knows where the Streib homeworld is located.

Also, while on board the ship, Sheridan has a strange dream. In it, he sees Garibaldi and Ivanova who give him cryptic messages, like “you are the hand” and “the man in between is looking for you”. He then sees Kosh and asks him why he too there, to which Kosh says “We were never away. For the first time, your mind is quiet enough to hear me.”
When Sheridan asks what he is doing there, Kosh replies simply “you have always been here”.

Finally, the Agamemnon catches up with them just outside the Streib homeworld. When they are told to stand down and release their captives, the ship spaces them all instead and Ivanova orders their destruction. However, they soon detect a life pod which made it off, with Sheridan and the Narn inside. In the course of the confusion, they managed to make it on board and escape.

Back on the station, Sheridan is confronted by Kosh once he has recovered who once again tells him, “you have always been here.” Sheridan then meets with General Hague who gives him the message he came to share. Hague tells him that there is a conspiracy back home involving Clark, the Night Watch and the Psi Corps. They assassinated Santiago, he says, but he needs help and time to expose it. Sheridan agrees to help, and decides to bring his senior officers into it at last. They agree, and together begin discussing how they plan to someday liberate Earth.

Significance:
This episode was important for a number of reasons. For starters, the subplot about the conspiracy back at Earth is revealed in full. Already it has been hinted at that Clark was behind Santiago’s murder and that the Psi Corps is up to something; now we see that is is true. Sheridan and the other main characters also decide to enlist, effectively making them co-conspirators in the plot to liberate Earth. We are also given numerous hints of what’s to come, “signs and portents” if you will, of whats to come in season three and Sheridan’s importance in it all. It is also the first time that Kosh reaches out and touches Sheridan’s mind, something which will prove of increasing significance as the Shadow War approaches and Kosh is killed.

Memorable Quotes:
Sheridan: Why are you here?
Kosh: We were never away. For the first time, your mind is quiet enough to hear me.
Sheridan: Why am I here?
Kosh: You have always been here.

Delenn: The warrior caste cannot be allowed to set policy!
Neroon: Have you done any better? When I was inducted into this circle, I was finally told the reason we surrendered. I didn’t know whether to laugh or weep! If we were told the truth then we never would have surrendered!

Neroon: I understand that before is a creature I do not recognize. One foot in two worlds. You are an affront to the purity of our race. And you’re belief that you are satisfying prophecy is presumption of the highest order! And yet… it is true that you are the perfect laison between us and the Earthers. You have no home with either of us. So please, act out your fantasy, return to Babylon 5… and stay there!

Sheridan: First obligation of a prisoner is to escape… right? RIGHT? Listen, before… why did you ask me to kill you?
Narn: There is no escape. Better to die… to die…

Sheridan: Ever since the death of president Santiago, something unpleasant’s been going on back home. You know it, and I know it. We’ve stood by too long. That’s going to change. Quietly, discreetly, an inch at a time and for now, strictly within the rules, but we have to do something, or risk losing everything we hold dear. Now, we’ll get some help from inside Earth Dome, but the bottom line, if anything goes wrong, we’re on our own. Anybody wants to leave now before you hear anything you’ll have to report, do so.

And as this is going long, I will have to divide it up and continue later. Like I said, this season was arguably the best and it seems I wasn’t lying! Doing justice to all its best episodes is sure to take some serious page time!