Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Babylon 5: The War Prayer

I am re-watching the entire Babylon 5 television series. I had not seen a single episode since B5 completed its tumultuous run. Does J. Michael Straczynski still have the touch? Come along and find out.

In Valen's Name: Old friends and relatives dominate this episode, "The War Prayer." Delenn is meeting with an old friend, Shaal Mayan, a famed Minbari poet on her way to Earth for a major artistic tour/performance. She is to give a poetry recital on Babylon 5 later, before she departs for Earth. A Centauri ship arrives with detainees--young-adult Centauri lovers, Kiron and Aria, who are fleeing arranged marriages. They demand to see their cousin, Ambassador (!) Vir Cotto. Finally, Malcolm Biggs, Commander Susan Ivanova's old lover, whom she broke up with years before in order to accept a career-advancing post far away from him, choosing duty over romance.

After Mayan leaves Delenn's quarters, she's attacked by the Home Guard--xenophobic humans (think futuristic KKK)--beaten and branded on the forehead. This sets the station into an uproar, with the alien ambassadors outraged. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of suspects, as hatred of the alien races is high amongst the lower-rung humans aboard station, and some of the more powerfully-influential as well. As for the Centauri lovers, it turns out that Vir exaggerated his position just a little bit. Londo is unsympathetic to their pleas, arguing that love is overrated and that he despises all three of his wives, whom he calls "Pestilence, Disease and Famine." Marriages are for political and financial gain, nothing more. Vir grows a little bit of a backbone and argues with Londo, but to no avail. Londo is to weary and bitter about life to care. Kiron and Aria sneak off to the hydroponic gardens to be alone and feel sorry for themselves, and are attacked by the Home Guard. Kiron's shot with a blaster and Aria is stunned with a taser/club. Ivanova has a romantic dinner with Malcolm, who tells her he plans to set up permanent residence on the station so they can be together. Ivanova's surprised, and her stand-offish facade begins to crumble. They head back to her quarters, but before anything lustful happens, Ivanova's summoned back to duty because G'Kar has whipped the aliens up into a riot. Reviewing security video, Garibaldi finds that Malcolm had met with a prime Home Guard suspect--and recruited the suspect into the Home Guard. Ivanova is stunned. Commander Sinclair asks her to introduce him to Malcolm. Sinclair begins treating the alien ambassadors brusquely, to win over Malcolm's confidence. Sinclair rants that victory in the Earth-Minbari War tasted like ashes because the Minbari let Earth win. Malcolm is downright giddy at the prospect of reeling in Sinclair as an ally, but still wary. Sinclair and Ivanova rendezvous with Malcolm at a secret meeting, and many Home Guard appear, having been disguised by Earth Force "black light camouflage" devices. Malcolm tells Sinclair of a plot to orchestrate a mass assassination of the alien ambassadors on Babylon 5, for which they'll need Sinclair to grant them access to secure areas. As a test of Sinclair's loyalty, they bring forth a terrified alien delegate for the commander to execute. Garibaldi's security forces swoop in, and Ivanova captures Malcolm. Malcolm insults her for siding with "them," but man, Ivanova is stone cold, no regrets. She despises Malcolm something fierce at this point. As for the Centauri lovers, Kiron recovers, and Londo informs them they'll be sent back to Centauri Prime where they will enter into "fosterage" with his powerful, ancient family. Fosterage is a rare practice in modern Centauri society, but still prestigious. The fosterage will last until the lovers come of age, at which point they will be free to decide for themselves who to marry.

What Jayme Says: The main plot is no great shakes. The symbolism of racist vigilantes terrorizing those who are different from them is obvious and heavy-handed. Part of this stems from the fact the Home Guard springs forth fully-formed and active. It is too much all at once. Gradual escalation over several episodes would've served much better, but of course, Babylon 5 is still firmly in the episodic series mode right now. And I repeat myself by saying the introduction of the Home Guard will pay off more in the future, but it's the truth. The best parts of this episode are the glimpses into the alien cultures viewers are afforded. Characters as well. During their argument, Londo tells Vir, "'My shoes are too tight.' Something my father said. He was old, very old at the time. I went into his room, and he was sitting alone in the dark, crying. So I asked him what was wrong, and he said, 'My shoes are too tight, but it doesn't matter, because I have forgotten how to dance.' I never understood what that meant until now. My shoes are too tight, and I have forgotten how to dance." This is incredibly sad and poignant, showing Londo as a thoroughly defeated person, bereft of hope. Londo, of course, is symbolic of the Centauri Republic as a whole--hopeless, in decline and hidebound by ritual and tradition. In contrast, G'Kar's brief appearance casts him as the rabble-rousing agitator, provoking conflict for conflict's sake, likewise reenforcing our perceptions of the Narn species as a whole. The other attention-grabbing moment comes when Sinclair visits the Vorlon Ambassador, Kosh, to warn him about the Home Guard attacks. Kosh is uninterested, and instead studies a screen showing scenes from Earth's pass. When Sinclair presses him, Kosh cuts him off abruptly. Afterward, Sinclair reflects back on the events of "The Gathering". Dr. Kyle and telepath Lyta Alexander--the only two humans to ever see a Vorlon outside of its encounter suit--had both been transferred off Babylon 5 shortly after that incident. But if Vorlons always wore encounter suits, then how could the Minbari assassin from that incident have applied poison directly onto Kosh's hand? Curious indeed. The bread crumbs and back story are starting to build up, but thus far for the viewer they look like so much window dressing, clever little throw-away bits with no greater long-term significance. Amazing how much you pick up on the second run-through.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Babylon 5: Mind War

I am re-watching the entire Babylon 5 television series. I had not seen a single episode since B5 completed its tumultuous run. Does J. Michael Straczynski still have the touch? Come along and find out.

In Valen's Name: Talia Winters' telepath mentor, Jason Ironheart, shows up on Babylon 5, running from the Psi Corps. He had volunteered for Psi Corps research into creating stronger telepaths. It turned out that the experimental treatment was intended to create stable telekinetics, and succeeded in spectacular fashion. Not only could Ironheart manipulate matter and energy with his mind, he could see into the mind of any telepath, no matter how powerful. That's when he discovered his telekinesis was intended to be weaponized, used for covert assassinations and the like, so he killed the program head and fled. Hot on his heels is Alfred Bester, a tough, ruthless Psi Cop intent on taking him down. As Bester rampages through the station (relatively speaking) breaking telepath rules right and left, Talia brings Ironheart to Sinclair. Ironheart explains his discoveries to Sinclair and warns that the Psi Corps is growing too powerful to trust. Ironheart himself is growing more and more powerful, losing control of his abilities as they outstrip his mastery of them. He is becoming a danger to the station. Bester and his team catch up with Ironheart, there's a fight (Bester loses) and Ironheart transforms into a being of pure consciousness or somesuch, infinitely more powerful than before. Then he waves "Bye" and goes off to wherever supremely powerful entities go. Bester intends to bring Sinclair up on charges for harboring a fugitive, but Sinclair threatens to do the same with Bester for all the Psi Corps and telepath laws he violated, so their pissing match ends in a draw.

Meanwhile, Sinclair's lady friend Catherine is about to launch a lucrative scouting mission to the abandoned world of Sigma 957 to search for Quantium 40 deposits, a very valuable material used in the manufacture of jump gates. G'Kar warns her not to go, indicating strange things happen around that system. Catherine ignores him, and once there encounters a massive, mysterious ship that vanishes leaving her without power in a decaying orbit. This is the first appearance of one of the elder races of the B5 universe, outside of the Vorlons, of course. At the last moment, Narn fighters sent by G'Kar arrive and rescue Catherine. It's one of the first time G'Kar is shown making a gesture that isn't wholly self-centered.

What Jayme Says: I remember first seeing this episode, and being surprised to see Walter Koening guest-starring. I also geeked a little when they revealed his name as "Bester," which of course is a reference to Alfred Bester, author of The Demolished Man which has some influence on this episode. I was a little disappointed when they revealed the character's full name as "Alfred Bester," which pushed the homage into elbow-in-the-ribs territory. This episode is our first real introduction to the active menace of the Psi Corps, Ivanova's hatred of them because of her mother being a bit too removed to drive the point home that the Corps is a menace to everyone, not just unwilling telepaths. Bester is bad news, all the way down to his black, fascist uniform. That said, the teeth are pulled from this episode pretty quickly. Despite warnings of dire consequences to come if she helps Ironheart, Talia helps him repeatedly with no real consequences. Yes, she's mind probed, a painful process clearly analogous to rape, but that comes early in the episode to show how ruthless Bester is, and Talia passes anyway. There are no consequences for Sinclair, who openly defied and obstructed Psi Corps business, and there are no consequences for Bester, who disregarded and broke countless regulations and laws in his pursuit of Ironheart. Realistically speaking, this sorry incident should've ruined all three parties rather than preserve the status quo because of the blackmail fodder each party has on the other. It also has one of the most Star Trek endings in all of Babylon 5, in which a character inflicted with god-like powers evolves into a higher form of being and is never seen again, thus resolving the moral choice the regular characters would otherwise have to make. And while I like Andrea Thompson/Talia far more than Lyta Alexander/Patricia Tallman, her acting is undeniably stiff and stilted here. False notes like this, coupled with the abysmal performances in "The Gathering, gave rise to that long-running and (in my opinion) misguided claim that Babylon 5 is rife with bad acting.

Ultimately, "Mind War" isn't among the series' best episodes, but is notable for what it sets up for the future.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The sounds of space

Welcome to my latest obsession: Sounds from space. I know, I know, space is for all practical purposes a vacuum (unless you're designing an interstellar ramjet) so sound as we know it doesn't exist there. And even if it did in the thin stellar media, we'd need fantastically sensitive microphones to pick up any hint of audio.

Well, I thought so, until I stumbled across the "NASA Space Sounds" video below when it was being shared around the interwebz recently. Instruments aboard Voyagers I and II, as well as several other space probes, recorded an array of electromagnetic signals that, when converted to sound (think of it as running it through a space age amplifier) the result is a strange and eerie ambient sound that is utterly engrossing. To my ear, at least, the pieces are evocative of the non-classical music soundtrack from 201: A Space Odyssey. So that's bonus points right there.

The sequences sampled below are taken from a series of 5 CD put out by Laserlight in 1990 titled "Symphonies of the Planets" as well as an additional volume a few years later titled "Celestial Love Songs." Long out of print, they're quite pricey to purchase second hand. Fortunately, they're readily available as MP3 (as well as other format) downloads online, the only drawback being the file labeling isn't consistent and therefore it's challenging to keep track of individual tracks. And since all data, audio and video released by NASA is public domain, fans of these fascinating ambient sounds may download with a clear conscience that no copyright is being violated.

Alas, in my obsessive research, I've learned that things aren't so cut-and-dried. Yes, NASA does take collected electromagnetic data and convert it into audible sound, but the raw, unvarnished audio doesn't sound all that much like what we hear on the CDs. That's because Laserlight (or Brain/Mind Research, which handled the production) didn't just take the NASA audio and burn it to disc. They ran it through an intergalactic version of the nefarious Auto-Tune, processing it heavily and looping, over-dubbing and sweetening with synthesizers to the point where many of the actual "space sounds" are tenuous at best. In fact, some pieces, such as the samples of "Song of Earth" and "Voices of Earth" in the video above simply do away with the source material entirely and re-orchestrate it. I guess that make it an artistic interpretation of the data rather than an objective representation (which opens up the whole objective/subjective reality can of worms, but I digress...).

What's more, it brings copyright into question. It is clearly established law that what is public domain cannot be subsequently copyrighted (publishers may copyright specific presentations of public domain materials, but not the content itself, which is why you can find free 1920s jazz downloads online, as well as the complete works of Charles Dickens, even though publishers put out new editions every few years). However, derivative works of both copyright and public domain can be copyrighted, but only that which is new and derivative is thus protected, ie the original which is incorporated into the derivation remains in the public domain. In this particular case, I would expect the Brain/Mind Research productions to be fully covered by copyright protection. Being out of print is irrelevant. However (and I'm full of caveats today, aren't I?) their persistent and insistent claims (indeed, the entirety of their marketing and mass appeal) that the audio is direct from NASA, with no claims of alteration on their part would, at least superficially, serve to undermine any copyright protection as, has been pointed out previously, all NASA materials are automatically released to public domain. For Brain/Mind Research to assert their copyright on these works, they would effectively have to admit false advertising, which would significantly diminish the value of said works. It's an interesting academic question, albeit one I doubt anybody is going to bother exploring any time soon.

Authentic or not, I find the interpretations of space sounds interesting and appealing. I'll be keeping an eye on Ebay and the like in case a CD shows up for a bargain price...

Monday, July 28, 2014

That was the Armadillocon that was

Ted Chiang, Bradley Denton, Mark Finn, Armadillocon 36
I cannot remember being so exhausted during and after a con as I have with Armadillocon 36 this past weekend. I don't know what was up with that, but despite turning in way early on Friday and Saturday, I operated in zombie mode most of the weekend. Hopefully I was able to cover it up and not infect too many folks I came into contact with. One might think that with such depressed energy levels, Armadillocon would've been a complete bust for me, but surprisingly the exact opposite is true. I had a blast. Despite an asinine, patronizing set of conduct rules distributed to all the programming participants that was relentlessly mocked throughout the duration of the convention (and rightfully so), most folks there seemed in great spirits.

The guests-of-honor list turned out to be a great lineup: GoH Ted Chiang, Special GoH Ian McDonald, Editor GoH Jacob Weisman, Artist GoH Stephanie Pui-Mun Law, Science GoH Sigrid Close, Fan GoH Michael Walsh and Toastmaster Mario Acevedo. Unlike most years, I managed to spend time with, or attend panels featuring every one of the major guests. They proved to be a witty, insightful bunch that brought their A game. Seriously, they all seemed to be running full steam ahead all weekend. I was fortunate enough to sit next to McDonald during the writers workshop panels on Friday, and learned he's that kid from high school who has a funny retort for practically anything anyone says, ever. It was a struggle to not double over laughing and have everyone in the room turn and stare at me. The workshop portion went well, and one participant, Shlomi Harif, brought a short story that I am utterly convinced can be expanded into a complex relationship novel steeped in strangeness. In a good way. That evening's Pirate Panel lurched along like a drunken schooner--mainly because I was moderator and hadn't prepared nearly enough--but my arch-enemy Stina Leicht, Cassandra Clarke, Dave Hardy and Rob Rogers gamely filled in the gaps. Hardy, in particular, proved to have an encyclopedic knowledge of every pirate who ever lived and could've run a two-hour discussion solo without breaking a sweat.

Jacob Weisman, Rick Klaw, Armadillocon 36

Scott Cupp, Jacob Weisman, Armadillocon 36

Saturday I brought Monkey Girl along to wreak her particular brand of havoc. After an unfortunate example of impulse control failure at Worldcon last year, the first thing I did was remove her bank card from her possession prior to her entering the dealers room or art show. To buy or bid on anything she had to come through me. She wasn't happy about it, and I know the vendors weren't happy, but we can't always have a geyser of money spraying out as her bank account is emptied in minutes. There were also discussions amongst myself and several other con-goers regarding her decision to stop participating in my Babylon 5 reviews on this blog, mainly because she complained writing her thoughts "was too much like homework." When Monkey Girl learned people were discussing her opinions shared on my blog, and expressing disappointment she was no longer participating, she expressed shock. "Why? I told you people were commenting on the posts. They liked reading what a fresh set of eyes thought of these episodes." To which she responded, "Yeah, but I didn't actually think you were telling the truth." So, she has expressed interests in rejoining the review thing. Heh.

The GoH interview with Weisman--conducted in tag-team fashion by Rick Klaw and Scott Cupp, with color commentary by Bill Crider--was an interesting capsule history of Tachyon Publications, enhanced by a liberal distribution of Crackerjacks. Afterward, I got to speak with Weisman--quite a thoughtful fellow, if a little more low-key than most of the other lunatics frequenting Armadillocon--and was able to discuss a side project I've taken on. He was intrigued, yet justifiably cautious. I'm to follow up with him this week on it, and he's promised to offer advice and direction if nothing else. Yes, I know that's maddeningly cryptic, but I'm superstitious about some things that way. As soon as I have something concrete to share, I promise I will. It will be a Good Thing if I can pull it off (and no, it's not an anthology pitch, so don't send me your stories).

Peggy Hailey, Scott Zrubek, Joe Lansdale, Armadillocon 36

Howard Waldrop, Lawrence Person, Armadillocon 36

Bradley Denton, Scott Cupp, Armadillocon 36

Scott Zrubek, Joe Lansdale, Bradley Denton, Armadillocon 36

The Neal Barrett, Jr., memorial panel (see the four images above) was a sad affair, but gut-bustingly funny. Howard Waldrop, Lawrence Person, Peggy Hailey, Brad Denton, Scott Cupp, Scott Zrubek and Joe Lansdale kept themselves as well as the audience in stitches with stories of Neal's eccentric brilliance. It turns out that Neal really was the Forrest Gump of science fiction authors, because he was directly connected with almost every significant event and celebrity of the 20th century. And then Lansdale demonstrated Neal's driving technique. It was simply amazing. I miss Neal. If you've never read his work, change that. You'll be hard-pressed to find anything as strange and wonderful as what Neal wrote.

My guest of honor interview with Ted Chiang seemed to go well. At least insofar as Chiang hasn't taken out a restraining order on me. In my devious ways, I put him on the spot by asking the title of his first story submitted for publication--at age 15. He declined to share the title (much to my disappointment) but then proceeded to give a synopsis of the tale, an action-packed space ship adventure of the type one would expect from an enthusiastic 15-year-old. And very much different from the type of fiction Chiang has become known for. That was one of the highlights of the convention for me.

What else? What else? The Fireside Chat could've been a complete crash and burn, but Brad Denton came prepared with a set of moderator questions tailored for the other panelists. He ended up getting me to talk about the Chicken Ranch for 20 minutes or so, which had most everyone there asking to buy the book on the spot. Alas, I'm still waiting for a publisher to show as much enthusiasm for the project. Sunday morning I stumbled into the "Best Cons" (as in confidence games, swindles) in SF, and exhausted my contributions early on by invoking Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat series. Fortunately, Don Webb revealed a previously-unknown grifter streak, and pretty much held court. I learned a pretty nifty (if simple) mind trick from him that I'm going to pull on my kids. But yeah, there's no way I'd ever go against him in a game of chance. I caught most of the "Women in Science" panel, and have to say, it rocked. Mel White, Rachael Acks, Sigrid Close and Paige Roberts kept things moving at a brisk and funny pace, touching on an array of gender issues including (but not limited to) overt and institutionalized sexism. As the father of two daughters, some of the points they brought up were all too familiar. Much progress has been made, but there's still a long way to do. The con wrapped up (for me, any way) with the "Contagion" panel, which I moderated. I was prepared for this one, and Gabrielle Faust, Rhiannon Frater, Stina Leicht and Nancy Jane Moore dove right in when I prodded them for their favorite fictional diseases, after which we followed with a long discussion on actual nasty afflictions that exist today. We then segued into the evolution of diseases, both in the wild and laboratories, before concluding with diseases we'd created ourselves for fiction. Poor Faust admitted to being a hypochondriac, so the panel was probably torture for her, but she handled it well.

By then I was too drained to make any of the remaining panels, so I headed home (which took twice as long as it should have because of a wreck on I-35). I came away from Armadillocon with a renewed enthusiasm for my current Work-In-Progress, which isn't all that unusual. But I also came away with a whole lot of new writers to follow on Twitter and several other potential projects and deals. I saw so many people I didn't get to speak with nearly enough--Rhonda Eudaly, Lillian Stewart Carl, Katharine Kimbriel, Rie Sheridan, Sara Felix, Alexis Glynn Latner, Mark Finn, Claude Lalumière, Tim Miller, C.J. Mills, Jess Nevins, Jessica Reisman, Josh Rountree, Patrice Sarath, Patrick Sullivan, Martha Wells, Sanford Allen, Lou Antonelli, Aaron de Orive--the list just goes on and on. I also got much-needed encouragement from all quarters regarding the Chicken Ranch book, that despite publishers' continued reluctance to green light it, there is a substantial audience for this book just waiting for the chance to buy it. So yeah, good weekend all around. Here's hoping that next year they ditch the silly rules sheet and make the event even better.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Babylon 5: The Parliament of Dreams

I am re-watching the entire Babylon 5 television series. I had not seen a single episode since B5 completed its tumultuous run. Does J. Michael Straczynski still have the touch? Come along and find out.

In Valen's Name: Earth Alliance has imposed a week-long religious festival on Babylon 5, so that all races might share the dominant belief of their civilization and learn something about each other. The human contribution to this festival has been dumped on Commander Sinclair with no guidance, and he's at a loss on how to present "Earth's dominant belief system" to the other races. To complicate matters, his on-again, off-again girl friend Catherine arrives, and tension between them mounts. Meanwhile, Ambassador G'Kar receives a courier from the Narn homeworld bearing a message about an impending assassination attempt on G'Kar's life. G'Kar, who has made many enemies, grows paranoid. He suspects his aid, Na'Toth of being part of the plot. An alien bodyguard he hires is promptly executed by the mysterious assassin. Finally, the Narn courier reveals himself, torturing G'Kar, but Na'Toth rescues G'Kar and they turn the tables on the hit man. The episode ends with Sinclair introducing the alien contingent to a host of humans representing the vast spectrum of Earthly theological belief, ranging from atheism to Catholicism to Buddhism and everything in between. The scene pans along the line of humans religious, and fades to black before the end is reached.

What Jayme Says: This marks the first of what I call the "Poetic titles" of the series. They're evocative and abstract, and generally can be counted on to be a keeper, if not pivotal. "Parliament of Dreams" isn't necessarily pivotal the the overarching narrative, but it is for the first season in general. This feels like the first episode of Babylon 5 where the confidence of the actors, writers and director really manifested itself in the final product. The main plot of G'Kar's assassination is the least important element in the entire episode. Yes, it's fun to see the bombastic G'Kar squirm and squeal, but when you get right down to it it's a very straightforward narrative with no real jeopardy. G'Kar is one of the main characters on the show, and series never kill off main characters. Right? Sinclair's relationship with Catherine doesn't have much substance, either, but it serves as a nice piece of character development for the commander--and works far better than the similar attempt from "The Gathering." No, the best part of the episode is what we only get to see the edges of, the belief sharing amongst the different species. Through deft use of symbolism, the rituals we see reflect the generalized traits of the various species on the show. The Centauri, generally viewed as a foppish empire in decline, has a raucous, drunken celebration of life that dates back to a time when their people were younger, stronger and fighting for their very survival. By contrast, the disciplined, aloof Minbari have a somber ceremony that quotes their great prophet Valen, and introduces the recurring phrase, "And so it begins." But it's the human presentation on religion that leaves the most striking impression. Having all those faiths lined up drives home the diversity of belief we humans engage in. It was deft, nuanced and respectful, all the more impressive since JMS is, of course, an outspoken atheist. Now, there's no reason why an atheist can't write about religion in a thoughtful way. None. But here my own biases and baggage come into play. I know any number of folks with diverse beliefs--Christian, pagan, Jewish, atheist--and by an large they're just swell. Wonderful people (because I try not to associate too closely with jerks). However, on occasion my path crosses that of an outspoken atheists, and more times than not I've encountered visceral contempt from them directed at anyone who might dare believe in anything beyond this mortal coil. Regardless of whether or not they know the particulars of my belief or non-. Add to this the fact that my biggest beef with Star Trek is its pervasive, paternalistic, condescending attitude toward religion and, well, all I can say is that I was primed for more of the same from Babylon 5. JMS turned that on its head. He may not believe in religion, but he understands that it is an integral component of the human condition, something we as a species are not likely to "outgrow" in a few hundred years. He gets that, and what's more, he uses it to create a richer, more powerful story while making meta-statements about our contemporary world. It is not coincidental that the Jew and Moslem are standing next to each other at the head of the line. Would that it only takes a few hundred years for us to reach that level of maturity.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Babylon 5: Infection

Babylon 5 Infection
I am re-watching the entire Babylon 5 television series along with my teenage daughter. I have not seen a single episode since B5 completed its tumultuous run, and Calista was just a few days old when the final episode aired back in 1998. Does J. Michael Straczynski still have the touch? Come along with us and find out.

In Valen's Name: Dr. Vance Hendricks, a former professor of Dr. Stephen Franklin's, shows up on Babylon 5 for what is presumably a pleasant reunion with his formal pupil. Down in the station's docking bays, however, Hendricks' henchman Nelson Drake kills a station worker in order to smuggle an alien artifact through customs, which sets an ominous tone. Hendricks explains to Franklin he's returned from an archaeological expedition to the dead world of Ikarra VII, where he's discovered pristine artifacts buried deep underground. The artifacts, left by the advanced Ikarran civilization, are based on organic technology, and he needs Franklin's xenobiology expertise--not to mention advance Babylon 5 medlab--to analyze the find. Despite his misgivings--likening the corporate-sponsored rush to explore dead worlds to grave-robbing--Franklin agrees to help. Shortly thereafter, as Drake is unpacking the artifacts, one discharges, affecting Drake. Franklin returns to medlab and is shot by the transforming Drake with an energy blast, knocking him out. The next day, having regained consciousness, Franklin explains to Commander Sinclair and Garibaldi how it appears the alien artifacts are grafting themselves onto Drake and transforming him into some sort of alien warrior. Garibaldi casts doubt on the idea that the artifacts actually cleared customs like Hendricks claimed, to which Hendricks says, "Yo, that was my evil henchman's job. If he killed your dockworker to smuggle them in, I had nothing to do with it." Meanwhile, Drake/Warrior is getting more powerful, and his battle mode recharge time is decreasing. Franklin, studying the remaining artifacts, discovers what is going on: Ikarra had been invaded so many times that the civilization developed technology to create unstoppable warriors to defend their world. Unfortunately, zealots programmed them to destroy anything that wasn't "pure Ikarran," an ideological definition. Naturally, once the alien invasion was beaten back the warriors turned on the Ikarran population, finding none of them "pure." The only warrior not deployed was, in fact, the one Hendricks had discovered and smuggled onto Babylon 5. Realizing the warrior's mission is now to destroy everyone on Babylon 5, Sinclair arms himself and attacks the Ikarran, luring it into a docking bay where it can be vented into space. Once there, Sinclair begins arguing with the warrior, insisting it failed in its mission to defend Ikarra VII, and instead destroyed the world it was created to protect. The artifact accesses the memories of Drake, who'd seen the dead world, and in grief the artifact deactivates itself and separates from Drake. Hendricks explains to Franklin that the corporation funding his research is actually a front for a bioweapons developer, and that if he could confirm the artifacts' use as weapons technology, he could claim a much higher finder's fee. He offers to split the money with Franklin, but Franklin declines the bribe and two security guards take him away. Later, two agents from Earthforce Intelligence show up and confiscate the artifacts for "research."

What Calista Says: Nothing. Calista has declined to provide further written opinions regarding Babylon 5 episodes. "It's too much like homework." Such are the fickle natures of teenagers.

What Jayme Says: A run-of-the-mill episode. It's not bad and not great, but relies of many science fiction tropes that we've seen time and again. With a cosmetic rewrite, there's nothing to prevent this script from being used for Star Trek, Farscape, Stargate or Battlestar Galactica. It's that generic, and that's the problem. Thus far in the series, there hasn't been an episode that could only exist within the Babylon 5 universe. Everything is so self-contained within this episode--even the evil henchman Drake survives his transformation and gets to recover off-camera. While the stakes are high, there's no indication the show has any teeth. No partial victories or even serious losses or sacrifice from the protagonists to save the rest of the station. It is standard, episodic television. Also, while this is a Franklin-centric episode, the doctor plays no role in the resolution. Sinclair steps in to save the day. It's not quite deus ex machina, but for Franklin's in-episode character arc, it is awkward. Two small touches that are lost amongst the flash and bang of the episode are nice, however. First is the establishing of the theme that Earth is aggressively scouring the galaxy to acquire the technology of lost civilizations so they won't be at such a military disadvantage against the Minbari or any other alien race ever again. In this episode it seems merely incidental to the plot, but the series will return to it time and again in the future. The second is much more self-aware: Garibaldi takes Sinclair to task for risking his life to lure the Ikarran warrior into the docking bay, pointing out that as commander, Sinclair was needlessly putting his life in jeopardy when Garibaldi or any of the security officers could've accomplished the same thing. Garibaldi points out that many survivors of the Earth-Minbari War have a hero complex and put themselves in danger in an attempt to go out in a blaze of glory. Sinclair acknowledges this and promises to work on it. This neatly addresses the Captain Kirk issue, in which the captain of a starship constantly leads exploration teams into potentially hazardous situations away from the ship, whilst in any rational situation the captain would stay aboard the ship and other officers would lead said mission. The answer to this is, of course, that if the captain is the central focus of the television show, then that actor has to be actively engaged in the plot. Babylon 5 acknowledges the irrationality of the captain's actions here, and posits a reasonable explanation for Sinclair's behavior (and Sheridan's to come).

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Armadillocon 36 schedule

Armadillocon 36 is approaching July 25-27, and seeing as how pretty much every other guest has shared his or her schedule via the interwebz, I figured it was high time I do so myself. Fashionably late to the party and all that.

Most of my Friday will be consumed with being an instructor in the world-famous Armadillcon Writers Workshop. This writers workshop is a stunningly good deal for aspiring and neo-pro authors, as it puts them in close, intensive writerly-oriented contact with an array of insanely talented and accomplished authors and editors. I say this having actually taught in the workshop five or six times in addition to pretending to run it twice (you can verify with Patrice Sarath and Melissa Tyler on that last count). Deadline to register and submit manuscripts is June 15, so there's still time to get in. And if my presence isn't enough to win you over, check out the rest of the instructor lineup: Mario Acevedo, Ted Chiang, Nicky Drayden, Mark Finn, Derek Johnson, Claude Lalumiere, Stina Leicht, Marshall Ryan Maresca, Ian McDonald, Joe McKinney, Alex C. Renwick, Kat Richardson, Dr. Anne-Marie Thomas, Martin Wagner, Jacob Weisman, Martha Wells and Skyler White. Boom. Enough said.

Beyond that, here is the official ArmadilloCon 36 schedule for Jayme Lynn Blaschke (* denotes panel moderator):

Friday
9-10 p.m. Beyond the Plunder: Which genre books, movies, shows correctly portray historical pirates?
Blaschke*, Clarke, Hardy, Leicht, Rogers

Saturday
1-2 p.m Autographing
Blaschke, Wells

8-9 p.m. Interview with Ted Chiang

9-10 p.m. Fireside Chat: The quartet talk about anything and much mirth will be expected.
Denton*, Blaschke, de Orive, Lansdale

Sunday
10-11 a.m. Best Cons from Genre Books: Not many people are good at writing capers. Which books do it right?
Webb*, Blaschke, Maresca

2-3 p.m. Contagion: What diseases/syndromes/parasites could kill the entire population of the world if we didn't have current restrictions set. (Not including malaria.)
Blaschke*, Faust, Frater, Leicht, Moore