Monday, 18 December 2017

BABYLON 5 Rewatch: The Novels

When J. Michael Straczynski was planning Babylon 5 in the late 1980s it occurred to him that, should the show get to the screen, it would probably generate spin-off media like books and comics. Straczynski was a huge fan of science fiction literature and comic books – he’d later become one of Marvel’s best-known writers, penning an acclaimed seven-year run on Spider-Man – and didn’t want any B5 tie-ins to be disposable, non-canonical (and thus unimportant, in the eyes of fans) material. He wanted these stories to matter as much as the TV show.

Shortly after the pilot aired, Straczynski was approached by Dell Books. Editor Jeanne Cavelos had taken a liking to the series and was keen to publish a line of books tying into the story. Straczynski was enthusiastic, suggesting they create a prequel to the series, a multi-volume series exploring the characters and what they got up to during the Earth-Minbari War. He likened the structure to the TV series The Winds of War. Dell were intrigued but ultimately rejected the notion, feeling that if readers weren’t picking up the books and getting more stuff like the TV show, they’d be disappointed.

Dell’s initial plan had been for a big line with lots of promoting and marketing, with big-name SFF authors involved. Cavelos had profile in the SFF community, since she’d written some short stories, was a former NASA astrophysicist and was preparing to launch the high-profile Odyssey Writer’s Workshop. As the plans came together, Cavelos cannily asked Kevin J. Anderson to launch the book series. Although his critical reception was “mixed”, Anderson had a high profile thanks to his work on both the Star Wars novel line for Bantam and the X-Files book series and would bring in a lot of other readers. Anderson agreed in principle, but Dell and Warner Brothers got bogged down in legal discussions. Eventually, by the time a deal had been sorted out Dell’s upper management had soured on the project and dramatically reduced the resources available. Anderson found that the money on the table was half of what he’d been originally offered, so decided to abandon the project to focus on his Star Wars work (although given that the Star Wars novel he wrote next – Darksaber – is one of the worst Star Wars novels ever written, this might have been Babylon 5’s lucky escape).

John Vornholt instead picked up the ball and delivered the first novel, Voices, in just twenty-five days.

Later, after the first six books had been published, none of them particularly distinguished (Clark’s Law and Voices are probably the best, but both are still flawed) J. Michael Straczynski put his foot down and decided that the next three books would tie into the story arc in more detail and get more information out than he could in the TV show. Jeanne Cavelos herself, who’d left Dell as an editor and was now available as a freelance novelist, came aboard to write one of the new books, along with Al Sarrantonio and Kathryn Drennan, the latter of whom had also written a TV episode (episode A12, By Any Means Necessary) and was married to Straczynski at the time, meaning she could tap him for more information.

Sarrantonio’s book, Personal Agendas, was also awful but Cavelos’s book, The Shadow Within, and Drennan’s To Dream in the City of Sorrows were both very well-received. Straczynski made them both canonical, dismissing the other seven of the first nine books.

Later, Del Rey took over the Babylon 5 licence and employed two well-known authors – J. Gregory Keyes and Peter David – as well as retaining Cavelos to write three trilogies. These were also very well-received and Straczynski accepted them as canonical as well. We’ll cover those in due time, but here will focus on the two books which tie into the events of Season 3 of the TV series.


For completion’s sake the other books are listed briefly first.

NOV1: Voices by John Vornholt (March 1995)
Bester, Garibaldi and Harriman Gray (A16) team up on Earth after Talia Winters is kidnapped by a group planning to bomb a Psi Corps convention.

NOV2: Accusations by Lois Tilton (May 1995)
Ivanova is implicated in the murder of an acquaintance of hers. Remarkably, it turns out she was framed.

NOV3: Blood Oath by John Vornholt (July 1995)
G’Kar is apparently killed by a rival invoking the Shon’Kar or blood oath (A5). An enraged Na’Toth declares vengeance and journeys to Narn with Garibaldi and Ivanova. It turns out that G’Kar is alive, having faked his death to go undercover and expose his assailant.

NOV4: Clark’s Law by Jim Mortimore (October 1995)
The Tuchanq, a former slave race of the Narns, is negotiating to ally with the Earth Alliance. A mass-murder Tuchanq, D’arc, is detected with the visiting group and is apprehended. A freak accident destroys his personality, but his execution is ordered anyway. Sheridan finds a clever way to get around it.

NOV5: The Touch of Your Shadow, the Whisper of Your Name by Neal Barrett, Jr. (March 1996)
The station is plunged into chaos when a strange ribbon of green light, nine million miles long, appears and heads towards the station on a collision course. Strange dreams and rising angers cause riots to break out across the station. Eventually the ribbon reaches the station and vanishes. No-one, not even Kosh, can explain what happened.

NOV6: Betrayals by S.M. Stirling (June 1996)
Babylon 5 hosts a peace conference to try to end the Narn-Centauri War, but a con woman with her own agenda and twin agents of a Narn slave race arrive to upset negotiations. Ultimately, the conference fails and the war continues.

NOV8: Personal Agendas by Al Sarrantonio (May 1997)
G’Kar is captured by the Centauri, but Londo agrees to free him in return for G’Kar rendering a service for him to cement his power on Centauri Prime. However, a well-meaning band of Narn rebels takes Londo prisoner, unaware of the deal. Vir has to sort out the mess with Ivanova’s help. He does so.

NOV7: The Shadow Within
Publication Date: April 1997
Written by Jeanne Cavelos

Date: November 2256-January 2257.

Plot: In an Interplanetary Expeditions laboratory in Geneva on Earth, Anna Sheridan is examining an alien artefact recovered from deep space, a biomechanical item whose true purpose is unknown. The alien device was recovered from Theta Omega II, a planet near the rim of known space, whose extinct ruling species, the J/Lai, were rendered extinct a millennium ago. However, the alien devices are far beyond the technological capabilities of the J/Lai. Anna finds her mind contacted by the device, which begins saying how much it loves “the machine”. Anna is disconcerted and worried that IPX will take the device off her to have it studied by someone else, but is also unwilling to miss her wedding anniversary celebrations with her husband, John. She calls in a telepath, Terence Hilliard, to see if the device is alive in some way, but the device suddenly explodes. It generates some sort of energy pulse which “burns out” Hilliard and leaves him a vegetable, constantly talking about “the machine”. A Psi Cop named Donne turns up to investigate but can’t reverse Hilliard’s condition.

The EAS Agamemnon is en route to Station Prime. Newly-transferred Captain John Sheridan is annoyed that one-tenth of the crew is performing well below acceptable levels. His attempts to turn around this lack of attention to duty are failing and he has to also submit to an inspection by an Earthforce general at Station Prime, much to his dismay. The crew fail the inspection and Sheridan angrily cancels leave to sort out the problems. Anna, having reached Station Prime, is informed by her superior, Dr. Chang, that an IPX probe has detected extensive alien ruins on a planet called Alpha Omega III located on the rim. The ruins cover one-third of the planetary surface and appear to be made from the same materials as the alien device Anna discovered, which Anna regards as a ludicrous coincidence. Anna is shocked when Chang tells her an IPX expedition is leaving in just ten days on board the Icarus to investigate first-hand: a mission of this magnitude needs months of planning. Wondering if IPX discovered this planet a long time ago and have only decided to investigate now following her mistake, Anna decides to join the expedition anyway.

The Icarus preps for launch and Anna is suspicious when the Psi Cop Donne is added to the crew list. She meets the ship’s archaeo-linguist, Dr. Morden, who has only returned to work after his wife and daughter were killed in the bombing of the Io jump gate earlier that year. The Icarus launches after Dr. Chang reports that the probe to Alpha Omega III has already discovered additional alien artefacts they can investigate upon arrival. As they get closer to the system they are able to remote-pilot the probe around the surface of the planet, but suddenly all contact with the probe is lost.

On the Agamemnon Sheridan discovers the reason for some of the crew’s poor performance. The Agamemnon was one of the first Omega-class destroyers commissioned after the Earth-Minbari War and her first captain, Captain Best, transferred aboard with many crew from his previous command, the Hyperion-class Athena, the largest ship to survive the Battle of the Line, including most of the troublemakers. Sheridan discovers that the Athena survived the Battle of the Line by abandoning its position and trying to open a jump point. An explosion took out its jump engines and left it drifting helplessly in space. The Minbari ignored it and moved on to other targets. The Athena and her crew survived thanks to an act of cowardice. Best allowed the crew to get sloppy and complacent in return for them supporting his claim that ship fell out of position due to damage, not dereliction of duty. Sheridan agrees not to press charges if the crew now shape up into a proper fighting unit.

New Year’s Day 2257 comes and the Icarus proceeds towards Alpha Omega III. Anna Sheridan discovers a message awaiting transmission from Dr. Chang to IPX HQ on Earth and decides to view it. She is shocked to learn that Chang has discovered a secret arrangement between Captain Hidalgo and Donne to smuggle alien artifacts from Alpha Omega III to Psi Corps facilities. She is even more shocked to learn that IPX mounted this expedition after tracking two biotech alien ships from Mars to this planet. IPX believes those ships were on automatic pilot and are now in a dormant state. Anna is worried about the secret agendas on the ship but is also concerned that the supposedly dead civilisation they have to investigate isn’t so dead after all. Anna questions Morden whilst he is feeling upset about his wife and daughter and he admits to knowing about what happened on Mars more than three years earlier (as related in comics DC5-8 and episode C8). He agrees to tell her everything.

On the Agamemnon Sheridan is told that the Homeguard are planning to destroy Babylon 5 with nuclear weapons bought from Narn black marketeers. The Agamemnon has been fitted with stealth technology and is to pursue and destroy the smugglers before they can endanger Babylon 5.

In hyperspace Ambassador Kosh Naranek’s transport is en route to Babylon 5 for the inauguration ceremony but he alters course after Vorlon warning beacons placed in the vicinity of Z’ha’dum alert him to the presence of a human ship. He contacts Ambassador Delenn, who is about to leave Minbar for B5, and orders her to get the ship recalled by any means necessary. Delenn agrees to try. Kosh decides to go to Z’ha’dum himself and make sure the humans do not interfere with the plan. Delenn contacts Sinclair on Babylon 5 and asks for his help, but Sinclair’s request that Earthforce Command recall the ship is ignored. Delenn is unimpressed and the Minbari government sends a clear warning to Earthdome: if any other Earth ships are sent to Alpha Omega III, the Minbari Federation will consider it an act of war.

The Icarus reaches Alpha Omega III - Z’ha’dum - and its crew begin investigating the surface, dividing into two teams. Anna, Morden and another archaeologist explore a cave network and discover a spherical area of blackness blocking a corridor. When Anna touches it, it seems to activate something and she has a vision of a black, insectoid creature with glowing red eyes waking up. She and her colleagues flee from the caves, only to find the planet’s weather systems are changing. The other team is missing and Dr. Chang is dead, apparently shot. Anna decides to return to the Icarus to investigate further. On the ship she discovers evidence that Donne is a pathological serial killer and Morden tells her that the explosion on Earth burned out every telepath in a three-mile radius with Hilliard’s rating - P5 - or below. That’s why Psi Corps is on the mission, because Anna has discovered a bomb that neutralises only telepaths and turns them into gibbering wrecks. She remembers that the J/Lai revered a group amongst them called the Thoughtseers who could make thoughts visible. Perhaps that’s why the aliens smuggled the original device to Theta Omega II, to wipe out all the telepaths on the planet. Anna mounts a new search for the missing crew and she and Morden return to the cave network. The black sphere is gone and now a power source can be detected. Anna ponders the hostility of these aliens and wonders if something happened on Mars that Morden hasn’t told her about. Morden pulls a PPG and Anna knocks him over. The blast causes a small cave-in and Morden is injured. Donne appears behind them and tells Anna that Morden destroyed the probe. She claims that the other team was captured by one of the alien artifacts the probe had detected before they arrived. She agrees to show them what has happened to them and leads them deep into the bowels of the planet. Anna realises that Morden had seen Donne approaching and was trying to protect Anna, not kill her.

The Agamemnon moves to intercept the Homeguard terrorists but its weapons array is sabotaged. During the repairs Sheridan realises that only the ship’s XO, Commander Corchoran, could be responsible and sends security forces after him. The Agamemnon chases the Homeguard ship through hyperspace towards Babylon 5’s jump gate. Thanks to one of the formerly recalcitrant crewmembers, the ship’s weapons are repaired and used to destroy the Homeguard ship.

Donne shows Morden and Anna a large chamber where humanoid aliens are wiring technology into the brains of the crew of the Icarus, virtually all of whom are present in an unconscious state. Anna guesses they are being turned into living biological components for some sort of weapons system. Donne prepares to kill them, now that Anna has served her purpose, but another Icarus crewman appears and stops her. He tells them that the aliens know they are here and it is useless to resist. He also tells them that the aliens are invisible until they choose to appear. The shadows come to life around them and Donne panics, firing off a blast that collapses the ceiling. Morden and Anna, realising that they will be turned into living weapons components themselves unless they do something about it, try to detonate another of the telepath-killing weapons, hoping to die in the blast, but the Shadows stop them by showing Morden images of his wife and daughter still alive, caught in a space-time fissure caused by the destruction of the Io jumpgate. They destroy the fissure and end their torment in return for Morden serving them willingly. Anna refuses to surrender, but at the last realises she has no choice and lets herself be pulled out of the landslide. One of the Shadows touches her and she sees that they are utterly ancient, utterly without mercy and utterly committed to their purpose, in which Anna is a useful piece and nothing more.

Kosh watches as the Icarus moves out of Z’ha’dum’s atmosphere, transmits an automated message claiming its engines are unstable, and then explodes. Kosh heads for Babylon 5. On B5 the inauguration ceremony is held with President Santiago presiding, but outside, on the EAS Agamemnon, Captain Sheridan receives distressing news from Earth.

In deep space black alien ships, alive again for the first time in a thousand years, are moving through the void. At their hearts are living human beings, alive but irrevocably altered, all united in their love for their machines.

The Arc: The first novel to form part of the official story arc, this book explains the exact circumstances under which the Shadows were discovered on Z’ha’dum.

It now appears that the Shadow ships at Mars in 2253 (C8) were under automatic pilot. The IPX probe’s arrival at Z’ha’dum is what triggered the awakening of the Shadows, rather than the actual arrival of the Icarus three years later. The Shadows have definitely only recently emerged from hibernation, but it is still unclear whether they were in hiding on Z’ha’dum or somewhere else (as hinted at in C17). JMS, on the Season 2 DVD, hints that the Shadows were asleep on Z’ha’dum all the time, but use the phrase “returning” to mean waking up (possibly in the context of them returning to their cities).

The Shadows have powerful weapons capable of sending a telepath mad without killing him or non-telepaths. They used this weapon on Theta Omega II a thousand years ago to kill the J/Lai Thoughtseers. This may also be the weapon they used to destroy the Narn mindwalkers. Anna’s experiments with a similar bomb affect every telepath below a P5-level within a three-mile-radius which, in a busy city like Geneva, is probably several dozen at least, if not hundreds. The Shadow hatred of telepaths is a major theme in episode C14.

The Shadows have servants helping them recover. The description is almost identical to that of the Drakh later seen in E18 and TVM4, or the Wurt seen in NOV16-18 (and possibly C14).

It was assumed during the TV series that Morden had been “adjusted” in some way. This book suggests that Morden in fact willingly gave himself to the service of the Shadows as a way of replacing the void left behind by the death of his wife and daughter. Furthermore, it is suggested that Morden’s wife and child had survived the destruction of the jump gate but were caught in a hyperspace eddy containing a temporal loop of never-ending pain and agony. The Shadows were unable to rescue them, but destroyed the eddy and ended their torment. Morden was filled with gratitude to them for this. Anna cautions that the Shadows might be lying. We never know for sure.

The Minbari ban Earth from sending any further ships to Z’ha’dum on pain of war, which explains why Earth never followed up on the expedition.

Background: Z’ha’dum is the third planet of its star, Earth Alliance designation Alpha Omega III. The planet is covered in extensive mountain ranges. The temperature averages at 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The gravity is 1.3G. The mountains are made of igneous rock and the plains are made of sedimentary rock. Violent dust storms cover roughly 25% of the surface at any one time. The planet’s atmosphere is extremely dry and consist of low levels of carbon monoxide. Humans can breathe the air briefly, but would find it turning toxic within an hour or so.

Ruins cover 30% of the planetary surface. Tall pillars, ranging from 100 to 150 yards in height, cover what appears to be the entire planet at uniform intervals of 2.43 miles.

Z’ha’dum was attacked with nuclear weapons at the end of the Great War, one thousand years ago. The radiation has died away to a (relatively) safe background level. Anna suspects that the Shadows had built structures on the surface as a decoy for such an attack, leaving their true subterranean cities untouched.

The Shadow language is unlearnable by humans, due to the many thousands of characters in the alphabet. The language has some similarities with Kandarian and L5, which may be either earlier forms of the Shadow language or devolved from it. The Kandarians and the extinct species that used L5 may have thus been Shadow servant races during the last Great War.

The Shadows are psi-null zones. Telepaths cannot perceive the Shadows directly, just their absence in the surrounding thought-fields. The Shadows are like black holes for psi powers. This is in keeping with Talia Winters’ reaction in B17.

The Io jump gate was destroyed in May 2256 by a terrorist group, probably the Homeguard. The gate was presumably repaired or replaced within a few months.

The J/Lai shared a common ancestry with the Brakiri. The J/Lai were destroyed during the Great War.

The Icarus has a crew of 130 and a scientific team of 10, which gives us the 139 people killed on the ship (as noted in B17), excepting Morden. The Icarus mission is expected to last for six months, with one month in transit each way.

Before he took command of the Agamemnon, Sheridan was the captain of the EAS Galatea, which appears to be another Hyperion-class heavy cruiser.

The EAS Athena was the largest Earthforce warship to survive the Battle of the Line. It was also a Hyperion-class heavy cruiser.

The Battle of the Line lasted 25 minutes between the opening engagement and the Minbari pulling back when they captured Sinclair. Twenty-four hours later they surrendered (as noted in numerous episodes).

The Hyperion itself shows up at one point, defeating the Agamemnon in a simulated wargame to Sheridan’s fury.

The De Soto is an Earth Alliance Explorer-class starship (like the Cortez from episode B4).

The Curie is an Earth Alliance medical ship.

The EAS Agamemnon has a crew of 160. The Galatea had a crew of 102.

Captain Best was “promoted” off the Agamemnon to a desk job after jumping with the Agamemnon’s engine port open, endangering the ship.

Morden was an archao-linguist. An early speciality was the Anfran language. He was born on 25 May 2223 and got his PhD from Michigan State University. Morden went straight from graduation to working for Earthforce’s New Technologies Division. He married his wife in June 2248, who gave birth to their daughter Sarah in May 2250. He twice acted as a liaison between Earthforce and Interplanetary Expeditions. In 2253 he was called in to their dig on Mars after the discovery of a Shadow vessel. In May 2256 his wife and daughter were (apparently) killed in the terrorist bombing of the Io jump gate. In November 2256 he joined the Icarus expedition to Z’ha’dum. Although he planned to kill himself and Anna Sheridan to detonate a bomb to stop themselves being taken prisoner by the Shadow, he agreed to surrender when the Shadows suggested that his wife and daughter still lived in a hyperspace temporal loop, but in unimaginable torment. In return for the Shadows ending their torment, Morden agreed to serve the Shadows entirely, body and soul.

Anna and John Sheridan were married on 3 December 2249. They were introduced to one another by John’s sister, Elizabeth (as related in episode B2).

It is a 3-day jump from Earth to Centauri Prime. The Centauri are closely allied to the Earth Alliance at this point, even allowing Earthforce ships to pass through Centauri space and engage in military transfers and layovers over Centauri Prime itself (this is in line with episode PM, where Londo tells Garibaldi how eager the Centauri are to attach themselves to Earth’s rising star).

Theta Omega II is the formal Earth Alliance designation for the J/Lai homeworld. Anfras is the homeworld of the Anfran people, who are best-known for their love poetry.

The Shadows have “psi-bombs” which can burn out telepaths and turn them into vegetables (possibly ones that are also pre-prepared to be joined to their starships) without harming non-telepaths.

References: The Kandarian language is a reference to the Sam Raimi Evil Dead series of movies.

The T.S. Eliot poem “Burnt Norton”, from his Four Quartets collection, is quoted at the start of the novel.

Unanswered Questions: This book does not help with Justin’s origins; he was not a crewmember on the Icarus. So, who is he?

Why do the Shadows no use more of their “psi-bombs” during the war?

Who nuked Z’ha’dum one thousand years ago?

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: The Agamemnon’s laser cannons are sabotaged but the ship still has two big pulse cannons, an array of turrets and its massive missile batteries, not to mention at least one squadron of Starfuries, so should have had more options for taking out the Homeguard ship. However, it might be that the sabotage to the laser cannon also shut down the other weapon systems in some fashion.

The book features Station Prime orbiting Centauri Prime, but this may be in error; Straczynski has said that Station Prime is actually the Earth Alliance’s main space station and transfer hub orbiting Earth itself. The problem appears to be that “Centauri Prime” is mentioned as the Icarus’s launch point in episode B2, which may have been a script error; B17 said “Station Prime” instead. Although it wouldn’t be unthinkable for the Centauri to allow an Earth staging post in orbit – like how the US has military bases on the territory of allied countries like the UK and Germany – it seems a bit odd that it never comes up again.

It’s odd that the Minbari forbidding the Earth Alliance from sending ships to Z’ha’dum never comes up again.

Behind the Scenes: Jeanne Cavelos was proud to note that she did not get one note or correction on the novel. J. Michael Straczynski was very happy with the book – the first one to get his unanimous seal of approval – and asked her to come back to write a later trilogy, which she did (the Passing of the Technomages trilogy, published as NOV16-18).

Cavelos rewatched episode B17 and was able to secure a copy of the script for episode C22, the latter only after extensive consultations with Straczynski. She also had an hour-long conversation with Straczynski on the telephone. Straczynski had different ideas in mind for the crew – he’d originally seen Morden as a low-ranking technician – but was happy to accept Cavelos’s alternate ideas.

One thing that Straczynski was keen on was not to reveal Morden’s first name, feeling it would humanise him. Cavelos created the convention of the archaeologists only using their surnames to get around this.

Cavelos also consulted a friend of hers at NASA who was very well-versed in lasers to come up with ideas on how to sabotage the Agamemnon’s weapon system.

Cavelos also hit on the idea of giving all of the new ships in the book a female name, since she felt ships with female names were under-represented on the show.

Familiar Faces: Jeanne Cavelos is a former NASA astrophysicist who became a senior editor at Dell Publishing. She later became a writer of scientific textbooks (plus pop science books like The Science of The X-Files). Her four Babylon 5 books remain her only novels, but she has written extensive short fiction. In 1995 she founded the Odyssey Writers’ Workshop.

Review: A very good book, which works well as a stand-alone SF/horror novel as well as a book for established Babylon 5 fans. After a slightly bland start, the book kicks into gear and we get a better sense for the backstory and characters. Anna – the real Anna rather than the shell we meet in the series itself – is a likeable character and Morden is turned from a smarmy used car salesman into a tragic figure, full of pathos and hubris. The book is diluted a little by a couple of unnecessary scenes set on Babylon 5, but otherwise this is a strong book. ****

NOV9: To Dream in the City of Sorrows
Publication Date: July 1997
Written by Kathryn M. Drennan

Date: Late January 2259 to late 2260.

Plot: Ambassador Jeffrey Sinclair has been on Minbar for three weeks and is mystified that that the Minbari seem to be going out of their way to stop him communicating with Babylon 5 or Earth. He eventually gets through to Earthdome and asks why he hasn’t been given the funds or resources to set up a working embassy, but is treated brusquely. Just about the only job Sinclair is able to get done is to check the paperwork of humans visiting the Minbari homeworld. One visiting human, William Cole, gives him a copy of Universe Today, which claims that Sinclair’s mission to Minbar is actually a fact-finding mission rather than actually establishing a full embassy. He also discovers that the official investigation into Earthforce One’s destruction has written it off as an accident despite his and Garibaldi’s discoveries (in episode A22). Angered that both the Minbari and EA governments are lying to him, he resigns and plans to return to Babylon 5 at once. Satai Rathenn of the Grey Council stops him and invites him to meet with Jenimer, the new Minbari leader. He agrees and is surprised to meet Jenimer, Delenn, Kosh, another Vorlon named Ulkesh and an older Minbari named Turval, head of an organisation called the Anla’shok. They agree to fill him in on what is going on.

A thousand years ago, a century or so after the Minbari first reached into space, they encountered a powerful alien civilisation who travelled in black, insect-like vessels. Because they could strike anywhere, without warning, the Minbari called them “Shadows”. The Shadows’ technology was overwhelmingly superior and the Minbari could only barely hold them back. When the Minbari Starbase was destroyed, all seemed lost. However, another alien race, the Vorlons, made contact with the Minbari, donated a powerful new space station to serve as their HQ, and organised an alliance of lesser races to stand against the Shadows. Valen appeared around this time as well, rising to a position of power and authority very quickly. Reorganised and revitalised, the Minbari and their new allies defeated the Shadows and drove them into hiding. The Shadows have now returned and are on the move. The Minbari suspect they have contacts among the Centauri government and know for a fact the recent destruction of the Quadrant 37 Narn base was their work (episode A22). They believe that humanity is the race prophecised by Valen who will have to unite with the Minbari to stop the Shadows (episode B1) and want Sinclair to act as their intermediary. He will take command of the Anla’shok or “Rangers” and bring humans and Minbari together to battle the common foe. After many misgivings, he agrees, mainly because he has seen Shadow vessels on Mars six years ago (C8, DC5-DC8) and remembers the horrible feelings he got from just looking at them. William Cole is among the first humans to join the organisation. Despite the angry objections of Neroon and the warrior caste, Sinclair also makes them accept Minbari of the worker caste into the organisation. However, Sinclair has misgivings about the Vorlons. He trusts Kosh to some extent, but dislikes Ulkesh and thinks the Vorlons are keeping information back about the Shadows, such as what they actually want.

Catherine Sakai is carrying out additional survey missions for Universal Terraform and arrives in the Ymir system to survey a planet a hyperspace probe has detected is rich in Quantium-40. However, something horrendous has happened to Ymir in the intervening time. The entire surface of the planet has been blasted into the atmosphere, exposing the mantle. Sakai is horrified at what she is seeing, possibly the result of a planet-killing weapon.

On Minbar the Ranger HQ is established in the city of Tuzanor and Sinclair gets his job underway. He is told that the Vorlons have provided technology the Minbari are integrating into a proposed new class of ships, the White Stars, but it may be as long as a year before they are ready for battle. The Vorlons refuse to give them any completed ships and they also refuse to allow the Rangers to take short-cuts through Vorlon space, simply saying it is dangerous. Sheridan is horrified to discover how widespread Shadow activity has been in the last two years and wants to know what can be done about it. He is told that the Earth, Narn Regime and Centauri governments have been given warnings about what is happening out on the rim, but they chose to ignore them. The Vorlons and Minbari cannot press the matter for fear of alerting the Shadows that they know what they are doing. Sinclair accepts that begrudgingly, and is able to get a message to Sakai telling her to be careful.

Sakai is returning to her command ship but gets swept up in hyperspace in the middle of twelve black alien ships. She manages to evade them but one of them sends a fighter after her. She destroys it by dumping her Q-40 cargo bay as she exits the jumpgate.

Three months pass and the Rangers’ numbers grow. Sinclair sends a message to Garibaldi on Babylon 5 alerting him that something big is going on (as in episode B9), but the Vorlons refuse to endorse coming out and telling Sheridan what is going on. They are as yet unsure about him but Kosh is watching him carefully to see his worth (episode B13 onwards).

Sakai returns to Babylon 5 after the completion of her six-month mission to find that Sinclair is gone. Sheridan, Ivanova and Delenn are all off-station and she learns that there is a problem involving an alien race known as the Streibs, but can’t get any details (see episode B11). Eventually Garibaldi helps her get passage to Minbar.

On Minbar the Rangers are stunned when Delenn is kicked off the Grey Council and replaced by Neroon (also B11). The Minbari leader, Jenimer, dies of old age and a new ten-cycle period of mourning begins. His last wish is to have Sinclair named Entil’zha and the ceremony is performed.

William Cole arrives on his home colony, Arisia III, and sets up an agreement which lets Quantium-40 be sold from his brother Marcus’ company to the Rangers. However, whilst William is there a Shadow attack is launched on the colony. William is killed but Marcus manages to get to the jump gate. He is found and conveyed to Babylon 5. After recovering, he is enraged that Earthforce dismisses the attack as an accident. He goes to Minbar to join the Rangers and find out what is going on.

Sakai also arrives on Minbar and is reunited with Sinclair. After learning about the threat posed by the Shadows she decides to join the Rangers. They get married a few months later.

Towards the end of 2259 Rathenn calls a meeting with Ulkesh and Sinclair. He tells Sinclair that the allies of the Shadows, acting on their masters’ instructions, are trying to enter the temporal rift left behind by Babylon 4’s disappearance last year (A20) to go back in time and disrupt their plans. Though there are no White Star ships as yet operational, smaller prototype fighter versions are operational. Sinclair, Marcus and Sakai agree to the mission and succeed in destroying the Shadow fighters and the device they are using to widen the rift to the point where they can pass through it, but the rift expands during the engagement and Sakai’s ship is sucked into it. Back on Minbar Sinclair speaks to Kosh and asks if he knows if Sakai survived the trip and, if so, where she may be. Kosh only replies that it is possible she survived. A month later Marcus leaves to oversee the establishment of a new Ranger base on the Drazi colony world of Zagros VII (C1).

Eleven months later Marcus is in Tuzanor, recovering from wounds received from battling Neroon on Babylon 5 (C19). He reflects on Sinclair’s life, his trip back in time to the Great War and his transformation into Valen (C17). Turval hands him a message written on an ancient piece of paper. Mystified, Marcus reads it and realises it is from Sinclair as Valen. He tells him not to worry and sends greetings from “both of us”. He tells him he may see him in the future and Marcus remembers the ancient Minbari prophecy that, one day, Valen will return...

The Arc: The novel essentially fills in the blanks in Sinclair’s life between his departure to Minbar after A22 and his disappearance back in time in C17. There are references to the events of DC1-DC4 and the book partially intersects with the events of episodes B9, B11, C1, C17 and C19. Both Marcus and Sakai are on B5 during the “Streib Incident” seen in B11. We see Sinclair recording the message that Garibaldi sees in B9, but Sinclair was hoping that Garibaldi would pick up on the fact that he was trying to warn him that the Vorlons were dangerous as well. Garibaldi failed to do so. The message Sinclair sent to Delenn in the same episode was just a copy of Garibaldi’s.

Marcus is recovering from his fight with Neroon in C19. The Zagros VII base is destroyed in episode C1.

The Minbari warrior caste respects and even fears Sinclair slightly. He killed 33 Minbari warrior pilots during the war and then defeated the Wind Swords assassin in PM and Neroon in A17 in personal combat, which the Minbari consider to be impossible for a physically inferior human.

The Vorlons first appeared to the Minbari when Babylon 4 reappeared in the past. Until that point the Minbari were fighting essentially by themselves.

Ymir has almost certainly been destroyed by a planet-killing weapon like the ones seen in D5-D6, TVM4 and NOV14.

The Vorlons are unhappy with many of the ways in which Sinclair is operating. Sinclair realises that Kosh’s essentially benevolent portrayal of the Vorlons may not be in keeping with their true nature (as we find out in C18, D1 and D3-D6).

There is a suggestion that Sinclair and Sakai found each other again in the past. This is reinforced by DC14 and then episode D9.

This is chronologically the first appearance of Durhan and Turval. They turn up in the flesh in episode E5. Tuzanor is mentioned for the first time and is subsequently mentioned in the series several times.

The Minbari name for the Rangers, Anla’shok, is mentioned several times in the series itself but first appears here.

The new Minbari leader mentioned in B11 and seen in DC4 is called Jenimer. He dies a few months after being elected. It is suggested that he was deliberately chosen so he would not be leader for very long, as the Grey Council had come to enjoy ruling without the influence of a leader.

Background: Minbar’s day is 20 hours and 47 minutes long. It has two moons. A communications relay is located on the second moon, which is otherwise uninhabited. A notable landmark on this moon is Valerian’s Crater. Its capital city is Yedor (as confirmed by DC2). Tuzanor, the City of Sorrows (in the Na’sen dialect of the religious caste), is not one of the planet’s larger cities, being a place of religious pilgrimage and retreat.

Minbar appears to take 1.4 human years to orbit its star. A Minbari year is called a cycle. 10 cycles equal roughly 14 human years: Dukhat died in August 2245 (C13) and his replacement was chosen circa October 2258 (A20) and in place by January 2259 (DC4).

Minbar is a three-and-a-half day jump from Babylon 5.

Tuzanor was built on the site of the last great battlefield where Minbari killed Minbari, during the Dark Time before Valen. More than a million Minbari died in a single day of blood-letting. The Minbari were so repulsed by this, they founded Tuzanor on the site to remind themselves of the crimes of the past. The Ranger compound is built on a small plateau overlooking the city. There is space in the compound for over 9,000 Rangers.

The F’tach Islands are a location on Minbar. Some of the worker caste comes from them, including Inesval, one of the first worker caste recruits to the Anla’shok.

The Minbari Chosen One (or leader)’s palace is in the foothills of the Tchok’an Mountains near Yedor. The Chosen One can choose to live on the Grey Council flagship, as Dukhat did, or reside in the palace on Minbar instead, as Jenimer has.

The Minbari belief that sleeping in the horizontal tempts death comes from their physiology, presumably a blood flow defect that requires them to be vertical or at an angle. Modern medicine has mostly corrected this problem, but the fear remains in place.

The 9-member Grey Council sets Minbari policy. The 27-member (three times nine) Council of Caste Elders implements policy and deals with the day-to-day running of the Federation.

The worker caste language is simple and unadorned. The warrior caste language is vigorous and straightforward. The religious language is complex and ornate.

The Minbari caste system existed for thousands of years before Valen. He merely reorganised it, lifting the worker caste out of slavery to true parity with the other two castes. Valen wanted to abolish the caste system altogether but was unable to convince the Minbari to do this.

The temshwee is a Minbari bird. Its eggs are edible by humans, as are most Minbari vegetables. The meat from most Minbari animals is too toxic for humans to eat. The religious caste is mostly vegetarian.

A F’hurs is a Minbari civic administrator, similar to a mayor. Anoon is the F’hurs of Yedor.

Turval was born into the 8th Fane of Tredomo, a religious clan, before transferring to the warrior caste and taking command of the Rangers.

Durhan is the F’hursa Sech, master teacher of the denn’bok fighting pike. Nelier is the master teacher of the concept of “delight”.

The ceremony to become Entil’zha requires the candidate to drink of the sha’neyat or “Death Destroyer”. For Minbari this is fine, if unpleasant (Delenn drinks it in C19) but it would kill a human. Sinclair gets around the proscription by only tasting it rather than swallowing it. This is still enough to puts him in a coma for three days. He notes that the experience is like “drinking lava”.

There were only 78 Rangers until Sinclair’s appointment, whereupon the 44 warrior caste members resigned, leaving only 34 members. 20 Minbari and 35 humans joined in the first recruitment drive and hundreds more followed in just the next few months.

Bill Mitchell, Devorah Eisnstadt, Jake Owasaka, Alo Makya and Quinton Orozco (Alpha 7) were pilots of Alpha Squadron at the Battle of the Line. All were killed. Sinclair had 33 kills to his name in the Earth-Minbari War, more than any other human pilot.

Universal Terraform’s headquarters is in Hong Kong on Earth.

Sinclair’s brother Malcolm lives in Australia. His mother, Gemma Gildea Sinclair, was a Professor of North American Literature and a cultural historian. She had an interest in 20th Century comedy television programmes. His father was killed in the Dilgar War.

Sinclair met John Sheridan at the Earthforce Academy. He was a freshman when Sheridan was an upper classman. Sinclair spilled his food on Sheridan on his first day and was relentlessly hazed by him for a year. Years later, they met by chance during the Mars Food Riots when Sheridan was jumped by four rioters in a back alley. Sinclair helped him fend them off. They took cover in a bar for the night and swapped stories.

Sinclair once arranged for his Jesuit teacher’s speedboat to by disassemble and rebuilt around a church spire. Father Raffelli was not amused.

Sinclair got his scar from a piece of shrapnel from a Shadow fighter that penetrated his fighter.

President Clark has an oily and unhelpful aide named Peverell Meugnot. The Industrial Assembly is the Earth Alliance’s main trade body. Senator Balakirov is the opposition leader in the Earth Alliance Senate.

Marcus Cole was drafted to fight in the Earth-Minbari War but never saw action. He instead worked for Earthforce Intelligence Gathering. He hated the job and quit the military as soon as he could. His younger brother William was too young to serve.

Sinclair spent two years working construction on Earth before joining Earthforce.

Catherine Sakai’s mother was Chinese and her father was an American from Alaska. She was raised in Alaska until her parents divorced, when she was taken by her mother to Hong Kong.

Arisia III is a Class 4 planet twice the size of Earth and three times the density. It has 2G gravity, a poisonous and radioactive atmosphere and lots of tectonic and volcanic activity. Its surface is utterly uninhabitable. 150 people lived in the Arisia Mining Colony and Habitation Platform in orbit.

Ymir, designated UTC45-03A, was also a Class 4 planet located on the Rim. It appears to have been destroyed by a Shadow planet-killer. 28% of the planet’s surface has been blasted into space to a depth of 25 miles, exposing the outer mantle to space.

Glasir, designated UTC51-03B, and Mjollnir, designated UTC67-02C, are Class 4 planets rich in Quantium-40.

Skirnir, UTC-59-02B, is a dead rock in space. It is a 10-day jump from the UTC sector back to Babylon 5.

An ancient alien race built the first jump gates around 7,000 years ago. This civilisation flourished until between 2,000 and 3,000 years ago when they abruptly vanished. The oldest operational gates are around 6,000 years old, although their use is discouraged due to the possibility the gate might explode from old age. The gate-builders did not use beacons to navigate from gate to gate. The current beacon network was begun by the older of the modern space-faring races, the Minbari and Centauri, and added to by successive races as they joined the galactic scene.

The Minbari and Centauri (among other races) found abandoned jump gates on the edge of their home systems. They powered them up and reverse-engineered them to develop jump drives.

The jump gate in Quadrant 100-02, coordinates 07-by-48-by-16, is one of the oldest in known space.

According to the Vorlons, the Shadows will not and cannot attack the Great Machine on Epsilon III. They refuse to say why. The Vorlons claim that the rift in Sector 14 is a natural phenomenon which the Great Machine can manipulate in a limited fashion. The Vorlons refuse to confirm or deny their involvement in B4’s disappearance.

This book confirms that Babylon 5 is in actual orbit around Epsilon III (and not at a Lagrange point, as the outdated writer’s bible fans still occasionally bring up says).

References: Sinclair refers to himself as a “stranger in a strange land”, a Biblical reference (also the title of a famous science fiction novel by Robert Heinlein).

Given the SF credentials of both Drennan and Straczynski, and Straczynski’s fandom of the show, the phrase “logic is a systematic method of coming to the wrong conclusion with confidence” is almost certainly a nod to Doctor Who: “Logic, my dear Zoe, merely allows one to be wrong with authority” (from the 1968 serial The Wheel in Space but very widely quoted in the fandom). Both, of course, are derived from Murphy’s Law.

Unanswered Questions: What exactly happened to Catherine Sakai after falling into the time vortex and before Sinclair found her again?

Who were the gate-builders? First Ones? Were they destroyed by the Shadows before even the Great War?

Why did the Shadows destroy Ymir, an uninhabited planet? Just a test-firing of their planet-killing weapon?

The time rift in Sector 14 is a natural phenomenon, did that influence the decision to build the Great Machine on nearby Epsilon III? Did the Vorlons (maybe via the Minbari) influence the decision to build the Babylon stations in the same system?

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: Sinclair several times recalls the 48 hours he can’t remember during the war. This is actually 24 hours.

If Arisia III is three times the density of Earth, logically it should have three times the gravity, not twice (gravity is a product of mass, not size).

Sinclair says he had been on Babylon 5 for “just over two years”. This is contradicted by episode A4, which suggests it should be closer to three (February 2256 to January 2259).

According to Straczynski when episodes C16 and C17 aired, the Vorlons and Minbari had already been cooperating in the Great War. However, according to this book the Vorlons only entered the war with Babylon 4’s arrival a thousand years in the past.

Sinclair notes that his father was killed in the Dilgar War, but in A9 Sinclair speaks as if his father reminisced about the war after it was concluded.

In episode C13 Marcus says that he spent “a year on a Drazi colony”, with the intimation that colony was Zagros VII (where he was stationed in C1). However, this novel indicates he had been there for only four months: September 2259-January 2260. It’s possible he was referring to an incident from earlier in his life.

Behind the Scenes: Kathryn Drennan’s unprecedented access to Straczynski – they lived in the same house! – allowed her to grill him “mercilessly” about the story arc and get lots of answers to detailed questions.

Familiar Faces: Kathryn M. Drennan worked as a scriptwriter in Hollywood in the 1980s and 1990s. She wrote one episode of She-Ra: Princess of Power, one of Defenders of the Earth and three of The Real Ghostbusters, as well as her Babylon 5 episode. She also contributed to various Ghostbusters documentaries over the years. She also worked as an assistant for Carl Sagan on Cosmos and Michael Pillar on Star Trek: The Next Generation. She has written stories and articles for Starlog and Twilight Zone Magazine. She met J. Michael Straczynski at San Diego State University in the late 1970s. They moved to Los Angeles together in 1981, married in 1983, separated in 2002 and divorced in 2008. According to Straczynski in 2014, they remain good friends.

Jenimer is almost certainly the elderly Minbari member of the Grey Council from episode A20. He is elderly, authoritative but is of the religious caste and is a good friend of Delenn’s, like Jenimer. Given his authority and profile, his being promoted and removed from the Council also explains why he doesn’t show up again in the series itself.

Review: This is a highly-accomplished novel, although definitely one more for established Babylon 5 fans. A whole ton of lingering plot threads are rounded off, Catherine Sakai gets a better exit from the story arc and Marcus gets a better introduction. Drennan is a very good writer and it’s a shame she’s never written another novel as on this basis she would do very well. ****

Jenimer: “To dream in the city of sorrows is to dream of a better future.”

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