Saturday, July 18, 2009

Understanding is a Three-Edge Sword: My edge on B5

No story is perfect and no form of storytelling is without its limitations. Both novels and television series are unique in that they can give the time, attention, and detail into long, sweeping plots with full bodied characterization.

Case in point: Babylon 5. Each of the five seasons are of novel-length proportions, and the series overall is a quintalogical epic. To be sure, it was not perfect, but overall I think it ranks high in the television pantheon, and was one of the best shows of the roaring 90's.

However, if anyone viewed Season 1, or parts thereof, and stopped there--I can completely understand. The series had the veneer of a Deep Space Nine reject. Like Star Trek, many of the episodes were insular, self-contained units. The pacing was poor. Most of the season could've been compressed down--by about three quarters. There was even some bad acting by one-off characters.

With the death of the EarthGov President at the end of Season 1--everything changed. From here on out the shows nature underwent a metamorphosis.

Season 2 saw the sudden reassignment of Captain Sinclair, replaced by one John Sheraton. In many other shows, this might not have worked. What if Jean Luc Picard hadn't been the captain of the Enterprise after Season 1? But Babylon 5 was able to roll with this change and become an even stronger show.

Tensions built during Season 2. Mr. Morden--and the sly maneuvering of the main antagonists, the Shadows. Nightwatch and the slow descent of EarthGov into dictatorship. The intrigues of Bester on his Corp.

Season 3 was definitely the strongest season and the most fully realized. The destiny of Sinclair, the slow, budding relationship between Sheraton and Delen, the growing menace of the Shadows, the breakaway from EarthGov--everything culminates into a twist that leads to a quite literal cliffhanger.

Season 4, however, did not live up to the same potential. The major plot arc was resolved much too soon, and by a deus ex machina at that. The galaxy is caught between two opposing superhuman forces who then limp away like insecure Kindergarteners. Of course, I believe the reason for this unnatural feel is external. Perhaps, the uncertainty of not knowing whether the show would continue another season bent the plot in unnatural directions.

Season 5 did not seem to have any overall goal, accept to tie up loose ends, and establish Sheraton and Delen's legacy. Yet, it was much an improvement over Season 4, and very much a pleasant way to make an final bow. Many mysteries were left, which is "how it should be." Season 5 saw the rise and fall several major characters. Garibaldi's relapse with alcoholism was especially well done.

At the core, however, it was the cast of unforgettable characters made the show. It is impossible to highlight them all, so I've settled on four:

Londo Mollari: Londa was very charismatic, and yet, at his best he was a rascal, and at the worst, his actions caused untold suffering and death. By no means was he "the good guy"--but he was likeable nonetheless. By Season 5, he is much chastened and repentant, but by then, it was too late. His actions came with inevitable consequences. The plot arc of Londa Mollari is one of tragedy.

Marcus Cole: Many times, Marcus is comic relief. And yet, the ending of his story is a sad one, but not truly tragic, since he upholds his ideals to the end.

Lennier: Unlike Londo, Lennier was the standard bearer of good through five seasons. His character idealizes the man of faith in all of its positive aspects. And yet, for those like him, the fall begins invisibly, long before the outward manifestation shows itself. And for those like him, one lapse is all it takes to destroy years of good works. The plot arc of Lennier is also one of tragedy.

G'Kar: The Narn are decidedly less human in appearance than the Centauri and the Minbari. G'Kar and his people seem frightening at first, perhaps more lizardlike. But as the story progresses, and more and more atrocities are committed against the Narn, the more sympathetic their plight becomes. But tragedy does not destory G'Kar, it transforms him into something better, just as the oyster takes the sand that irritates it, and produces pearls.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Q109 Writers of The Future: The Envelope Please...

Joni called today . . .

Alas, I wasn't home, but she talked with my wife. My Q109 story for WOTF placed in the semifinals--the top 18. I look forward to the critique from Kathy Wentworth. Hopefully, I'll be able to shape the story into a masterpiece primed for professional publication . . .

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Who Say's There's Nothing Good On TV Anymore?

To be sure, the majority of television is brain rot. The reality shows, in particular, are mind numbing. Yet, in the past few years, there have been three shows that have been examples of outstanding speculative fiction--which doesn't often translate well in this medium.


Mystery. Suspense. Originality. Tight, interconnected plotting. Cliffhangers. Twists within twists. Complex characters with colorful pasts. Long sweeping arcs that span episodes and seasons.

On a show like, say, Star Trek, several problems occur at the beginning of an episode. Usually, there are minor problems and there are major problems, sometimes in the form of: a personal issue, a frivolous issue, a ship issue, an intergalactic issue. In the last five minutes, somebody presses a button, and all the problems go away (except for a token issue, in the form of a character quirk). The very next episode, all is forgotten. Most episodes could be done in any order. It's the equivalent of a short story.

Lost is speculative fiction as it should be. It makes full use of being a series. Sure, there is a structure to each episode: The main story on the island and a loosely related flashback, but each episode is a chapter (each section is a section), part of an ongoing whole.

The speculative elements are weaved in so seamlessly that the unsuspecting viewer probably doesn't know they're watching SF&F. The speculative elements are a constant source of unpredictable mystery, and evoke a sense of wonder, as well as giving a sandbox for the characters to play in.

[2] Terminator: The Sara Conner Chronicles

I was prepared to shrug off this show and allocate the time for better uses. However, this show has sunk in its hooks into my stomach and won't let go. The speculative fiction isn't original--it's based on prior works. Yet, there's much to explore in the relationship between Sara Conner and her son John, the future savior of mankind. And of course, there's John himself, who struggles to prepare for the End, to develop into the man he must become, as well as survive Skynet's attempts on his life, all while attempting to live a normal teen life.

For all characters, there is much conflict, both internal and external, both with friends and enemies. The plotting is intricate--and unpredictable. Like Lost, I've absolutely no idea of what's coming next.


Unfortunately, in part due to the writer's strike, this show did not last a season. [The writer's strike is also the reason Season 4 of Lost is compressed and some of the plot developments seemingly arbitrary].

However, for such a fly by the night show, it really had a way of gripping my heart. Superficially, it did resemble Quantum Leap. A time traveler who goes back to correct some wrong. Yet, unlike Quantum Leap, the protagonist gets to go home. But since he can't control his mysterious ability, he can disappear at any time, and this leads to tensions between his wife, his brother, his boss, and nearly everyone else. The speculative element, therefore, is not mere wish fulfillment, rather it adds to the conflict.

While episodic, each episode wasn't insular. While he had a basic mission each time, it was chapter in an ongoing story. What happened in one episode, added to the subsequent arc.

Alas, we'll never get to know what caused his time traveling, or where the story would end up.


For me, storytelling is storytelling. It doesn't matter if the fiction is written or in a visual or audio medium, as long as it's good. These three shows reveal that the venue is capable of hosting complex storylines with sophistication and character depth.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

WOTF Volume 24

Thanks to a tip from Sarah L. Edwards's blog, WOTF24 is up on Audible. Check out the link "Download the accompanying PDF to see the illustrations." Even better, purchase and download.

Friday, July 18, 2008

WOTF 24: The Cover

On Amazon, the cover to Volume 24 has been revealed:

It's exciting. It's almost as if I had a story inside the anthology. Wait a minute--I almost did! Last year, I landed in the Top 8 and the Top 20. Of course, it's also exciting because I look forward to reading the stories inside. Over the past few years I've had a blast reading Volumes 21, 22, and 23(especially Volume 22). Whereas many of the pro SF&F publications often print esoteric works that don't grab me(often by pros resting on their established name), I find that these stories appeal to me more.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Nearfest 08 -> Sunday : Banco del Mutuo Soccorso

This is what it's all about! Symphonic prog at its best. The British might have invented Prog, but the Italians perfected it. Banco's Io Sono Nato Libero is one of the best compositions of all the ages. Even without Francesco Di Giacomo's operatic voice, Di Terra proved to be a strong album as well.

Unlike many other groups the same age, Banco is just as good today as they were thirty years ago. Francesco's vocals are still as powerful as they ever were. As is Vittorio Nocenzi's skills at the keys. The biggest surprise was wind player Alessandro Papotto perfectly quoting Rhapsody in Blue and then utterly slaying his instrument--musically speaking.

There were chops galore. And heart lifting melodies. By the end, I wanted to go down and give Francesco a bear hug.

Nearfest 08 -> Sunday : echolyn

echolyn's Suffocating The Bloom is one of my favorite albums of all times, one of the best albums of nineties Prog. Brett Kull's unique guitar tones--Chris Buzby's colorful keys--Paul Ramsey's jawdropping drumming--Tom Hyatt's fantastic bass--all exemplified Americanized Prog at its best. Counterpoint galore! And let's not leave out Ray Weston's dynamic vocal range, and how well it harmonizes with Brett's voice.

Their commercial follow up, As The World, pales in comparison, but it does have its moments of glory. Unfortunately, after their breakup and reunion, I was never able to get into their later music. Perhaps a little too close to 'modern/alt' rock for my taste.
At Nearfest, I don't think they were able to measure up to their studio sound. However, it could've been where I sat--up in the balcony again, in the last row. Sometimes the vocals were muddled below the mix and Ray and Brett did not seem to harmonize.
Still, Entry 11.19.03 was pretty good. The line " The mail was late again today" always gets to me.