The purpose of this blog is to have a little fun. It is NOT to start arguments. I don't profess to be an expert on Sci-fi, nor do I aspire to become an expert. You are welcome to comment on any and all content you find here. If my opinion differs from yours, as far as I am concerned, it's all okay. I will never say that you are wrong because you disagree with me, and I expect the same from those that comment here. Also, my audience on the blog will include some young people. Please govern your language when posting comments.

Posts will hopefully be regular based on the movies I see, the television shows I watch, and the books I read as well as what ever strikes me as noteworthy.

Spoilers will appear here and are welcome.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

I Am Legend - A Comparative Study Of The Book And Three Films Based On Richard Matheson's Work

Not long ago, I posted on Facebook that Chrissy and I had watched the film, I Am Legend starring Will Smith.  I asked Chrissy what she thought of the movie and she said she liked it.  As happens from time to time, I get responses from my fellow Sci-Fi fans.  One friend that I have a great deal of respect for, Rick (host of two of my favorite podcasts, Starbase 66 and Ray Guns and Go Go Boots) chimed in and said that I should have her read the original novel I Am Legend by Richard Matheson and then see what she thinks. Well, I took this as a challenge to me and decided that it was about time I read the novel.  I have heard from many people that the Will Smith film was nowhere near as good as the book and had missed the point entirely.

As I was reading online about the film and the novel, I discovered that there were two other films that were also based on Matheson's novel.  So on to Amazon I went and ordered the novel and the other two movies; The Last Man On Earth and The Omega Man.

Since then, I have read the novel and watched all three movies and would like to share my thoughts on my experience.

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (1954)

Robert Neville seems to be the only living person in Los Angeles.  Owing to dust storms and mosquitoes that carry a disease (the result of a war that included the use of biological weapons), everyone else has either died or have been turned into “vampires” that attack anything living, or even each other.  The vampires only come out at night, are repelled by mirrors, wreaths of garlic, and crosses, and Neville takes it upon himself to rid the world of them, or at least his part of the world so he can live in peace.

By day, Neville goes about the business of gathering things he needs to continue living and the grim task of killing and disposing of the bodies of the infected by driving wooden stakes into the hearts of those that would kill him.  By night, he barely holds on to his sanity by listening to loud music, drinking, and trying to ignore the taunts of the monsters that would kill him and make him like them.

By teaching himself science, he learns to separate the myth from the facts that cause the insanity of the vampires and he attempts to discover a cure, but nothing seems to work.

As Neville goes about his business, he finds a woman wandering around in the daylight and becomes very excited that he has found someone else who was immune to the bacteria as he is.  He sees, after three years of surviving alone, an opportunity for some companionship. Unfortunately, this is not to be because Ruth turns out to be a spy for a group of vampires that were not dead when they were infected.  They are not insane like the resurrected stalkers that taunt Neville in the night, and they have come up with a medicine that will allow them to start a new society.

For a moment, Neville feels that there is hope that he might be able to be a part of this new society, but thanks to his daily activity, he has not only dispatched the “dead” vampires, he has also killed many of the “living” vampires, including Ruth’s husband.  So the new society sees Neville as the monster. He has become the superstition, the legend that needs to be removed before the new society can continue.

I really enjoyed this book.  Almost as soon as I started reading it, I thought “this sounds like an episode of the Twilight Zone,” and why wouldn’t I, since Richard Matheson wrote sixteen episodes for that series, two of those were teleplays based on his short stories.  But that isn’t the only reason I enjoyed it, I loved the style of Matheson’s writing here.  I could see the pictures that he was describing in my mind as I read the story.  The descriptions of the things he put on paper were quite vivid, but not overly wordy.  Many times, descriptions of scenes in books tend to be too long and overly detailed, but in I Am Legend, there is more left to the imagination of the reader, and the action moves ahead at a comfortable pace.

While Matheson uses the term “vampires” to refer to his characters, as one reads we learn that he is not talking about vampires in the Dracula sense of the word.  Matheson’s vampires are more zombies than anything because they are not motivated by taking the blood of others as much as trying to get at him to kill him to perhaps assimilate him into their ranks.  Some of the vampires in this story are resurrected dead being reanimated by the bacteria that keep them moving while dead.  The vampires that eventually take over are the ones that are still alive, and have developed a medicine that keeps the bacteria from killing them while they appear to evolve into a new kind of human.  The living vampires are able to think, procreate, have meaningful relationships, and tolerate sunlight for short periods of time.

Very little time is devoted to the reasons for what has happened.  I found myself wondering about the war that brought this situation about.  Who was fighting with whom? Why did the war start?  Who developed the biological agent that was so virulent that it could be transmitted by wind and infect so many people.  As I read the story, these details were not important to the story.  Perhaps other authors would have found it necessary to fill in those blanks, but this was not about a war as much as it was a character study of a survivor.

In the end, it seems that the message of the story is what is important.  While we have a great deal of sympathy for the protagonist because of how he lost his family and his way of life, and he is so desperate for companionship, and is bent on survival that I found myself rooting for him at every page turn, but then there is the plot twist.  While the bacteria swept humanity away, room was being made for another type of humanity.  Neville went from being our hero to being seen as the monster, a legendary figure that went about killing people in their sleep.  When one mentions the word vampire, people do not think about the bats that prey on unsuspecting animals and people in Central and South America, rather we call up images of Count Dracula, a sinister, blood craving monster who attacks young women in their sleep to enslave them.  But, with Neville finally in the minority roaming through Los Angeles killing with purpose and impunity, becomes the monster, the Legend.

Since the publication of the novel, there have been three feature films that are based on Matheson’s story.  One of the three is very close to what Matheson’s intentions were, and two which are very loosely based on I Am Legend.

The Last Man On Earth (1964)

This film, an Italian production starring Vincent Price as Dr. Robert Morgan, opens with several scenes of a devastated city devoid of any signs of life.  Morgan goes about life moving through the city section by section killing as many vampires as he can and locking himself away in his home at night.  He uses mirrors and wreaths of garlic to help protect himself from a friend who appears to lead a number of vampires that try to break into his house and kill him all night.

Not long into the film, there is an extensive history depicting how he lost his family and friend to the plague. He stops by on his way to work to pick up his friend, Cortman to go into the lab where he and other scientists are looking for a cure to the plague. Cortman has become paranoid and refuses to leave his house and when Morgan arrives at the lab, he and the director are the only two there.  After leaving instructions that his wife not call a doctor to treat their infected daughter, Morgan arrives him to find a truck leaving the neighborhood and he learns that she has been taken away to be burned in a huge pit.  When his wife eventually succumbs to the plague, he takes her out and buries her in a shallow grave only to have her return as one of the vampires.

Morgan, desperate for companionship sees a dog and tries to befriend it.  While chasing the animal, he finds that there are many vampires that have been staked to the ground with metal spears.  He begins to wonder if he is actually alone. When the dog returns to his house, he is able to take it in and treats it’s wounds only to find that it is also infected.  He takes the dog out to be buried.  As he places the final spades of soil on the poor animal, he spots a woman wandering aimlessly.  When he calls to her, she bolts and he gives chase, finally catching her and convincing her that he means her no harm.

Morgan soon learns that she is infected and decides to treat her with a blood transfusion, which seems to work, but she has actually been sent to spy on him and deliver information to others of her group of living vampires that are using a drug that keeps the plague in check and allows them to remain human.  Learning that Morgan isn’t the monster they thought he was, she warns him that her fellow people of the “new society” are coming after him and will kill him.  She advises Morgan to escape while he can, but he refuses telling her that they can use his, and her blood to cure others.

But the others are not interested because the legend of Morgan has caused them so much fright, they chase him into a church where he is killed.

Of the films that were made, this is the one that comes closest to the Matheson novel.  I also learned that Matheson himself had written the screenplay, but with some of the changes that were made to the script, he insisted that he not be credited as the film’s writer except under the pen name Logan Swanson.  I think that this might be due, at least in part to the somewhat long section of the plot that is devoted to the flashbacks to the loss of his family. The back story was not as extensive in the book.  It seems that the filmmaker was making an attempt to create sympathy beyond what was intended, giving Morgan (Neville) a motivation beyond that of simple survival and trying to find a cure for the vampires.

The film itself does stand up as what I would consider a good ‘B’ movie, entertaining to watch and engaging in the plot. For the most part, Vincent Price turns in a good performance.  I especially liked that it was shot in Black and White which added much to the mood of the piece.  I would recommend this as a fun popcorn movie to watch later in the evening. For me, the most disturbing scene was when Morgan’s wife appeared at their home following her resurrection.

The Omega Man - 1971

Robert Neville is once again under siege in this second film starring Charlton Heston.  Only this time, Neville is a U.S. Army Colonel that is also a medical doctor.  Thanks to a war between China and Russia, a plague is released that infects people on a global basis.  Neville gains an immunity thanks to a serum that was developed in his lab. Apparently, he was the only one that achieved an immunity and he goes about the business of killing members of a cult of albinos that call themselves the Family.  The members of the Family have a low tolerance to light and have lost the pigment in their skin. Neville has few worries while he lives in an apartment building that he has fortified.  He has all of the luxuries that he could want, except for companionship.

One day, while in a department store looking for clothing, he sees a woman.  He tries to pursue her, but she disappears and Neville dismisses the incident as a hallucination.  Later, he is captured by the Family and put on trial.  The leader of the Family, Matthias, sentences him to death for heresy.  It appears that the Family is opposed to technology and anything else that the old world has to offer.  Just before he is burned at the stake in a stadium, the woman he saw, Lisa and a former medical student named Dutch Intervenes and helps him escape.

Lisa and Dutch are part of a small group of people who are being spared from becoming mutants, but will eventually succumb.  Neville learns that Lisa's brother is infected and he helps to try cure him.

One evening, due to being distracted by events in curing Lisa's brother, and because of Lisa herself, the generator that supplies Neville's apartment with electricity runs out of fuel and the lights go out.  The Family takes advantage of this situation and sends a member with a spear up to kill Neville. While Neville tries to restart the Generator, the cult member draws bead on Lisa, but Neville arrives back in his apartment in time to shoot and kill the intruder.

Soon, Lisa's brother, Richie as cured and recovering proving that Neville was successful at recreating the serum that made him immune to the plague.  Richie takes it on himself to approach Mattias to explain that there is a cure for everyone, but Matthias refuses to believe that Neville would be willing to help the cult and kills Richie.  When Neville finds Ritchie, he goes on a rampage against the Family.

Meanwhile, Lisa changes into a mutant and betrays Neville giving the Family access to his apartment.  When Neville arrives home, he watches from the street as Matthias orders Neville's apartment burned.  Neville raises a weapon to shoot Matthias, but it jams, and Neville is hit in the chest with a spear thrown by another member of the Family.  Neville falls, mortally wounded into a fountain, but before he dies, he hands a flask full of the serum to Dutch, who gathers the rest of his group and flees to the mountains.

When I watched this last week, it was the first time I had seen it.  It is most definitely a product of its time in the 1970's and as a science fiction/horror movie, is virtually unwatchable by today's standards.  This film, while it has a few similarities to the novel by Matheson, there aren't enough to come even close to the spirit of the book.  Of the three films, this one is the farthest from what was intended by the author, who had nothing to do with it.

Heston's performance is overdone, as it usually is, and instead of winding up as the legendary monster who is to be eliminated by the new society, he comes off as a more Christ-like figure, as he is also wont to do in many other films he stars in (such as Planet of the Apes and Soylent Green).

This film misses the mark by so much that I can only wonder if the filmmakers even bothered to read Matheson's I Am Legend; I certainly do have my doubts.

I Am Legend - 2007

Will Smith stars in this film that is set in New York as opposed to Los Angeles.  He is Robert Neville, a virologist in the Army. The virus in this film was intended to be a cure for cancer that accidentally began killing people or turning them into Darkseekers.  The Darkseekers hide inside buildings by day to avoid exposure to ultraviolet light, which kills them. The foe in this film is very aggressive and have greatly enhanced abilities such as strength and speed.

Neville lives in a virtual fortress that looks like a normal apartment by day, but when he prepares for the night, all exposure to the outside world is locked off.  The Darkseekers do not know his location.  In his basement, he has set up an elaborate lab where he tests possible cures on rats and Darkseekers.

In a brief flashback scene, Manhattan is being evacuated. Neville sends his wife and daughter away on a helicopter, which crashes.  Neville elected to stay behind to work on a cure for the plague.

As Neville moves around the city during the day, he is accompanied by his companion, a German shepherd named Sam.  He also makes daily broadcasts seeking any other survivors on a shortwave radio.

While working in his lab, Neville discovers a promising treatment that is derived from his own blood, so he sets about capturing a Darkseeker to test it.  He secures a female specimen, but unfortunately, his treatment doesn't work.  The next day, Neville is accidentally snared in a trap set by the Darkseekers.  He manages to free himself from the trap, but it is after dark and he and Sam are attacked by Darkseeker dogs and people.  Both escape, but Sam is bitten and becomes infected.  Neville is forced to kill Sam.

The next night, Neville is incensed by the loss of his only companion and in a fit of suicidal rage, ventures out and attacks a large group of Darkseekers.  Neville is nearly killed, but is rescued by a pair of immune survivors who heard his calls on his shortwave set.  They take him back to his apartment where he is treated.  The survivors tell him about a camp in Vermont where other survivors are located. Unknown to Neville and the woman, Darkseekers have followed them back to Neville's home and now know his location.

As Neville administers another treatment to the Darkseeker he has been using as a test subject, his home is attacked and defenses breached by the Darkseekers.  Neville and the survivors retreat into the basement lab where they seal themselves in with the test subject where Neville learns that his treatment is successful.  He takes a vial of blood from the subject, gives it to the survivors and sends them out the coal chute.  When a Darkseeker breaks into the part of the lab where Neville is, he detonates a grenade killing himself and his attackers.

The survivors drive to Vermont and in the final scene of the movie, they enter the survivor camp with the blood sample.

I will mention that there is also an alternative ending in which Neville also survives to reach the Vermont camp.

Once again, the entire point of the Matheson story is completely missed with this version, and I think that it was a bit presumptuous of the filmmakers to use the title of the book as the title for the film.  It is misleading and would tend to make one think that this would be a more accurate accounting of the original story.  I think that this one item angered a lot of people who went to the theater or rented the movie expecting to finally see Matheson's story played out on the screen.

But I am not saying that it was a bad movie, quite the contrary.  I loved this film when I first saw it in the theater and still do (please keep in mind that I went into the theater with no expectations and hadn't read Matheson's I Am Legend until just a couple of weeks ago).

Will Smith turns in one of the best performances of his career as far as I am concerned and showed his depth as a great, but underrated actor.  He is very convincing and shows many facets of all of what a great actor is capable of.  There are a few brief moments of humor, some moments of a man who is going over the edge for the lack of human companionship, a very poignant moment of deep loss when Sam becomes infected, and some "edge of your seat" moments of horror when the Darkseekers attack.  The visual effects are well done and I especially loved the scene at the beginning of the film when Neville and Sam are hunting a deer, the streets are overgrown with weeds and an escaped lion gets the deer he is stalking.

When I decided to do this comparative study, I thought I would also ask anyone interested to comment on Facebook. I received responses from three people who had some interesting things to say.

My son, Benjamin said:

“The only movie I can say anything about is the I Am Legend one. Haven't seen any of the rest of them. Not really true to the book.

“As far as Matheson's point? What I took away from it is no matter how certain we are that we are right, we may be the monster. In every war, someone has to be the bad guy, right? It's always the other guy. A person could never realize, in any situation, that their cause is not righteous until it's too late.

“Even knowing it's 'based on,' I still love the movie. It's too bad it's always "the book was better," or "it wasn't like the book." Kind of unfair comparing the two mediums. When I want to think and use my brain, I read a book. When I want a story to move me emotionally with images, and music, I look for a movie. Not to say that these are mutually exclusive in any way. But that's just how I operate.”

Dayton Ward, a great author in his own right said:

“I absolutely love the novel. It's one of my all time favorite books.

“I think the first movie is the most faithful adaptation so far as the basic premise, etc. Smith's version is actually pretty decent in the early going, before the whole thing starts to come off the rails.

“And Heston's version is just...well, it was the 70s.”

Joseph Fuller, Facebook friend and fellow sci-fi fan submitted this:

1. "Faithful to the idea, yes.

2. "Matheson’s main/ ultimate point, in my opinion at least, nature can’t be controlled by man no matter how hard they try.

3. "First off, when I saw the trailer and the first thing that popped in my head was they have remade “I AM LEGEND”. Either it is a “good” film is truly up to the person viewing it. Did I think it was a good movie, no and here is my reasoning? It depended heavy on its visuals. They seemed to me to want to shock the viewer with the sheer scale of the emptiness.

"This now my opinion of the three movies are as follows:

"THE LAST MAN ON EARTH : it’s screenplay was written by the author under another name.
The overall premise I think was closer the book.( I Haven’t read the book.) there are parts I wondered if anyone was actually thinking of what they were filming."

Thanks to those of you that responded.

My conclusions are as follows:

None of the three films are faithful to Matheson’s idea, however The Last Man On Earth does come the closest to being an accurate screen depiction of the book.  Where that one deviates is in the realization by Morgan (Neville) that he has become the legend that he has fought against for so long.  He fails to see that while he believes he is right in what he is doing, killing the “vampires,” he has become the monster that he feared for so long.  Morgan’s final words as he falls at the end of the film are “you are all freaks.”  As to the other two films, they are very very loosely based on the book, as is the case in many films that are based on written stories.  I am okay with that for the most part, but the title I Am Legend is the representation of what the Neville character realizes as he faces his death, and it should be the central point of a film that is made to accurately represent the story.

The Omega Man would seem to be more of a film that is showcasing Heston than anything else.  Maybe an attempt to cash in on his success in Planet of the Apes.  It is more of a campy version that sets up Neville as a savior figure than anything else.  He makes the ultimate sacrifice, giving his life to save humanity as we know it while opposing the cult that rejects everything that is considered normal.  Once again, the main character never realizes what he has become in the eyes of those that oppose him.

The 2007 film starring Will Smith would appear to be a mashup of the previous two films.  While I think it is a good movie, I also think that, since the filmmakers missed the point, they should have perhaps given the film a different title, or just called it a remake of the first film.

Well, there it is…


Sunday, March 29, 2015

More Babylon 5 Essential Reading - Legions Of Fire Trilogy by Peter David - It Fills The Hole In Your Mind

At the end of the fifth season of Babylon 5, there were many questions that had been answered through the course of the series, but there were many questions left unanswered too.

When the series began, Londo was but a foppish buffoon that was put in a position of Ambassador on Babylon 5, a position that was, at first, not considered important by his own government.  When the Centauri sent Londo an aide, it turned out to be another seemingly buffoon named Vir Cotto. Londo debauched and drank through life on the station, not taking his job, or himself very seriously.  Then one day, a mysterious stranger named Morden approached Londo and asked what would normally be an innocent question.

Morden asked several of the ambassadors on the station the same question and got a variety of answers.  “What do you want?” seems such a small question, but when Morden asked Londo that question, and after trying to dismiss Morden out of hand, Londo actually gave an answer that started him down a path lined with the deaths of millions of beings.  Londo, in essence stated that he wanted to see his people restored to their former prominence in the galaxy.  Mr. Morden apparently had the resources to help Londo achieve that goal, but the cost was high.

Little did Londo know, but he had made a deal with the Devil, as sure as the legendary Faust did.

At any rate, at the end of the series, Londo had become Emperor of the devastated Centauri Republic faced with the task of rebuilding in the aftermath of what the Shadows had left behind.  Londo makes the supreme sacrifice to save what is left of his Republic by allowing agents of the Shadows, the Drakh, to place a Keeper on his shoulder that would monitor his every move and every thought.  When we last see Londo, he seems appears as a lonely and despondent ruler who is at the mercy of those that will rebuild the Centauri republic in their own image.

So what happened to Londo after that last scene in the television series?  What happened to Vir and how does he rise to become Emperor of the Centauri Republic?  And what of that vision that we saw during the series with Londo and G’Kar choking the life out of each other?  Those answers are explored in this three book series penned by Peter David.

The Long Night Of Centauri Prime: Book I Of The Legions Of Fire Series By Peter David (1998)

At the end of the series, Londo has become Emperor of Centauri Prime, but he also comes under the influence of the Drakh, agents of the Shadows who are determined to continue the agenda of their former masters.  The Drakh have planted nuclear explosives all over Centauri Prime and threaten to destroy the planet unless Londo submits to taking on a creature known as a Keeper.  This Keeper will watch every move that Londo makes as well as monitor every thought he has.  After Londo makes a speech to the Centauri people in the form of a giant hologram, telling his people that they will once again become the great society that they once were, he decides to take a walk around the city.

As Londo walks, he contemplates suicide, when he is suddenly struck in the head by a rock.  It is soon discovered that the person who threw the projectile was Senna, the daughter of Lord Refa, who has taken up residence with a family of refugees.  Londo offers her a place in his palace. When she refuses to accept his offer, Londo returns to his palace and learns that if he drinks enough, he can dull the senses of his Keeper and have time to himself.  He decides to take an opportunity to carry out his suicide plan.  Before he is able to complete his plan, his Captain of the Guard, Durla, escorts Senna into the room.  Circumstances have caused Senna to change her mind and take Londo up on his offer. This causes Londo to also have a change of heart; he believes that if he can save just one person on Centauri Prime, perhaps he will be able to make the difference that his people need.

The Drakh who is manipulating Londo, Shiv’kala, orders Londo to promote Durla to Minister of Internal Security.  At first Londo refuses, but Shiv’kala threatens to eliminate Senna if he doesn’t comply.  Durla is promoted and begins to advance his own agenda, transforming Centauri Prime into a police state that uses ruthless methods to keep order.

Meanwhile, on Babylon 5, the Drakh continue their plot to smash the Alliance with an attempt on the life of President Sheridan.  Thanks to Vir, this plot fails.  Vir then travels to Centauri Prime to investigate what is going on and is approached by Techno-Mages.

Vir knows that there is something going on that threatens to destroy his home world, The Techno-Mages have their own plan to set things right that involves Vir.  But thanks to Durla, Vir is being watched by Mariel, Londo’s former wife and it seems hopeless that things will be set right.

Armies Of Light And Dark: Book II Of The Legions Of Fire Series by Peter David (2000)

Picking up in from where the last book leaves off, Vir and the Techno-Mages head to a planet where there has been an excavation taking place for some time.  It not commonly known that many Centauri workers have been sent there and have been disappearing.

Vir and the Mages find a gate there that builds the cloud vessels that were responsible for the destruction of the Narn Homeworld. It is also learned that this planet killer is intended to be used against Earth.  Vir manages to destroy the planet and after returning through the gate, it falls to ruin and stops the plans the Drakh have of a swift victory for them.

Vir has become quite enamoured with Mariel, who is spying for Durla.  When Vir learns that he is being badly used by Mariel, he becomes angry and asks a mage to cast a spell on her to make her hopelessly in love with him.  But this is all part of a greater plan to turn Durla’s spy against him as Vir sends Mariel to Durla.

Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the attempted assassination attempt, Sheridan sends Garibaldi to Centauri Prime to find out what is happening there.  G’kar will accompany him as well as Lou Welch, who is charged with watching Garibaldi’s back.  After arriving, Garibaldi tells Londo that they are there to investigate a plant that is suspected of making munitions that can be used to start a war with the Alliance, Lou feigns and illness and stays behind as Garibaldi is  off to inspect the suspected munitions plant.

Lou, under the cover of a cloak that hides him from sight, follows a member of the Prime Candidates, an organization of youth that has been put together by Durla to support his activities and infiltrate high levels of government and spy for him. Lou follows Throk into their headquarters and is seen by Shiv’Kala, who is able to see through the cloak, and uncovers Lou.  Throk kills Lou.  Garibaldi is incensed at this and vows to get to the bottom of the situation, but Vir tells him that it is an internal affair of the Centauri Republic and that it will be handled internally.

Vir begins to gather and inform followers that will effect real change on Centauri Prime while Durla becomes Prime Minister and begins a purge of those that would oppose him. Londo makes a decree that off-worlders are no longer welcome on Centauri Prime.  This is generally taken as an attempt of Londo to show his power, but he writes in his journal that it is actually to keep others from suffering the same fate as Lou Welch.

Out Of The Darkness: Book III Of The Legions Of Fire Series By Peter David (2000)

In this third and final book of the series, Durla has assembled a huge fleet of warships and sends them out to destroy some of the smaller alliance worlds.  While Sheridan tells the Alliance that they should use the White Star fleet to stop the Centauri, they are unwilling to do so. At about the same time, G’kar is disguised as a Centauri and saves Durla from an assassination attempt, but is caught and is to be killed until Londo intervenes and makes him a guest, but will not allow him to leave Centauri Prime.

In the television episode, Objects at Rest, Londo had delivered a gift to be given to Sheridan and Delenn’s child on his sixteenth birthday.  The gift was an urn, but the Drakh put a Keeper in the base of the urn.  On the night of his sixteenth birthday, the Keeper in the urn frees itself and attaches itself to David Sheridan, who immediately steals a ship and heads for Centauri Prime where he is delivered into the hands of Durla.  When Londo learns of this, he confronts Durla and they struggle, but Londo’s keeper stops the struggle.  When Sheridan and Delenn arrive, they are arrested and are to be put to death.

Garibaldi informs Vir about all of this,  Vir heads to Centauri Prime to help with David’s rescue, but he also learns about the Drakh influence that has been there for a number of years.

Durla readies his fleet to begin attacking the major worlds of the Alliance and publicly announces the attack, but his plans are thwarted by Vir and his Legions of Fire when they detonate a bomb underneath the Tower of Power, the headquarters of the Drakh.  With the Drakh exposed, the people begin to realize what has  been happening.  Durla refuses to believe the evidence of the Drakh influence and attempts to launch the fleets, but is again stopped, but this time by Mariel.

Shiv’kala tells Londo to tell the Centauri people that the Drakh are friends that have been with them to help them rebuild and insists that Londo continue with Durla’s plans. When londo refuses, Shiv’kala detonates a third of the bombs that were planted on Centauri Prime, Londo finally agrees to what he is being ordered to do.  In the meantime, With the help of the Techno-Mages, Vir is able to locate all of the bombs and have them neutralized.

Londo calls G’kar to the throne room and asks G’kar to kill him to stop the Drakh influence. G’kar refuses at first , but is finally convinced that it is the right thing to do, but while he had Londo by the throat, the Keeper awakens and Londo begins to also choke G’kar.  Both die in the struggle.  When Vir arrives to help Londo, he finds what has happened and is immediately approached by Shiv’kala who attempts to kill him, but Vir manages to escape to centauri Prime.

Meanwhile, leaving Shiv’kala alone on Centauri Prime, the other Drakh abandon the planet, Vir makes a claim for the throne and returns to Centauri Prime, and with the help of Garibaldi, kills Shiv’kala.

According to what I have learned about this book series, it was written by Peter David from outlines that were given to him by J. Michael Straczynski.  That would make these books, without a question Babylon 5 canon.  And in my opinion, JMS could not have chosen a better writer for the job.

Peter David shows that he did do his homework as far as the characters are concerned.  As one reads the series, it is not hard to hear the voices of the characters, especially in Londo’s little quips.  The other characters that are familiar to B5 fans are also equally accurately recreated.  But one of my favorite parts of these stories was to see the growth that took place on the series carried on through these stories.

One of the most developed characters on the series was that of Vir Cotto.  When Vir first arrived on Babylon 5, he was such a buffoon.  He stuttered and more or less tripped over himself with almost every step.  This character grew to be very popular with me, as well as the fans.  As time went on, while still seeming to provide comic relief on the television series, he began to show backbone, standing up to Londo on occasion and asserting himself when needed.  But in this series of books, we see that Vir has become a force to be reckoned with and not anywhere the buffoon that he was first presented to be.

A major scene from the trilogy that stands out in my mind is when Garibaldi intended to go to Centauri Prime and handle things his way.  Vir backed him down and stood his ground with an attitude that even took Garibaldi by surprise.  In that one scene, Vir became a viable candidate to be a leader, and the emperor of the Centauri Prime.

As an avid fan of Peter David’s work, especially in the Star Trek, I really enjoyed these three stories and the way that they were written.  It is obvious that the author has a great deal of respect for the B5 universe and it clearly comes through in this instance.  As was the last B5 book I reviewed (To Dream In The City Of Sorrows), I consider this must reading for B5 fans who what to know what happens to Londo and the Centauri Republic after the close of the television series.

If there is anything that I didn't care for in these books was the term "Tower of Power" for the place where the Drakh were holed up.  Every time I saw this term I thought about that R&B group that appeared in the late 1960's that also went by that name.

As I read this, it got me thinking that perhaps the entire series was actually intended to actually be the rise and fall of Londo Mollari.  So much of the series centers on Londo, his triumphs and his failures, his mistakes, and the few things he did get right.  I have also heard this before from others, thought I might have heard it from JMS, and was told the same by my partner on the Babylon Project Podcast, Raul Ybarra.

One thing that is worth noting here is that the first two books in the Legions of Fire series are pretty easy to find, but the third book seems to be rare.  All three are out of print, so you might consider checking out your local library, inter-library loan, or if you have a friend who has the books or knows where to get them.

Well, there it is...


Sunday, March 15, 2015

To Dream In The City Of Sorrows By Kathryn Drennan - Essential Reading For Babylon 5 Fans

To Dream In The City Of Sorrows by Kathryn Drennan (1997)

Babylon 5 is one of my favorite television shows, so it would seem that I would have gotten into the books much sooner than now, but it just never happened.  I guess I had too much else to do.  I learned about this book when I became involved with The Babylon Project Podcast.  As my co-host and I discussed several of the first season episodes, Raul would mention To Dream In The City Of Sorrows and he kept telling me that it was an essential story that I should read to answer some of the questions that were raised in the first season. Some of the questions I had were…

  • How did Sinclair become Ambassador to Minbar and how did he become Eltil’zha?
  • How did Sinclair appear as his older self on Babylon 4 at the same time he was commander of Babylon 5?
  • Sinclair proposed Marriage to Catherine Sakai, did they ever get married?

All of these questions and more are answered in this story.

[With the beginning of the second season of Babylon 5, command of the station is taken over by John Sheridan. Ivanova tells explains that Commander Sinclair has been permanently reassigned to another post, there is no more to that story until later in the series.  So, City of Sorrows picks up where the first season leaves off.

Not only has Sinclair been reassigned to earth, he is made Ambassador to Minbar.  As he goes about his duties there, he finds that he is being sequestered for some unknown reason.  He is unable to contact anyone to get advice and orders. Mainly his duties are to meet and greet visitors to Minbar from Earth.  When he decides that he is not able to function effectively as ambassador, he decides to resign and leave, but before he can get away, he is informed by a member of the Grey Council that he is to become the head of a highly trained group of people known as the Rangers.

Meanwhile, Catherine Sakai is busy running her business doing planetary surveys looking for the mineral known as Q-40 that is essential in the construction of jump gates.  She has no idea what is happening to SInclair.

This book also covers the back story of Marcus Cole, who isn’t introduced as a character in the television series until the third season as an important Ranger.  Marcus runs the family business of processing the Q-40 for use.  When his facilities are attacked and destroyed by the Shadows, who at this point are only making attacks on smaller targets, Marcus not only sees his family fortune go up in flames, but he sees his brother killed.  With nothing to lose, and as his dying brother directs with his last words, Marcus proceeds to Minbar to enter Ranger training.

With difficulty, Catherine manages to avoid being killed by the shadows who pursue her through hyperspace, and is eventually, with the help of Garibaldi, reunited with Sinclair on Minbar, where she enters Ranger training.

When a rift in Sector 14 is discovered that might allow Shadow ships to get through, the action of the story escalates to an even higher level as the trio set about finding a solution to the problem.

As far as I am concerned, This is essential reading for fans of Babylon 5.  It is a great story and one of the strongest points is that it is completely accurate as far as the portrayal of the characters and in their voice.  As one reads, one can hear the voices of every character that appears in the series. That action is fast paced and I would love to think that it would have made an awesome television film.

This should come as no surprise when one considers that the author, Kathryn Drennan was married to the creator of Babylon 5, J. Michael Straczynski (JMS). According to JMS, Drennan is the only person who knows as much about the B5 universe as he does, and this story came out of the authors affection for the Sinclair character as well as her affection for Michael O’Hare, the actor who portrayed him.

If there is any question about whether this book is canon or not, it can be put to rest.  In the introduction to the book, JMS writes that the book is indeed canon and should be read with that in mind.  This is confirmed in an interview in which JMS states, “this one is 100%'s also the most exhaustive attempt to tie in all the storylines done to date. Anybody wants to know what happened to Sinclair, it's in the book. That's a genuine chapter of the story arc.”

Along with penning the B5 first season episode, By Any Means Necessary, Drennan has a few other impressive credits including working with Carl Sagan on Cosmos, and for working with Michael Piller on Star Trek: TNG.  I find it very unfortunate that she has not written more extensively on other projects, whether they are B5 related or not.  This lady has some great writing chops.

Raul (Babylon Project Podcast co-host) and I discussed this book briefly and we are at odds (however friendly) as to when this book should be read.  I think that one should read right after the end of the first season, but Raul thinks that one should read just prior to the third season because of the introduction of the Marcus character.  Either way, even the casual B5 fan will really enjoy this story and it comes with my highest recommendations.

One day, I hope in the not too distant future, Raul and I will cover this book on our podcast.  Please stay tuned.

Well, there it is…


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Extraterrestrial First Contact by Stan Schatt - Concise, Thought Provoking, And Potentially Distrubing

Extraterrestrial First Contact: Past, Present, and Future (2015) by Dr. Stan Schatt

How do we, as science fiction fans see aliens?  How close to reality might our vision be?

Ever since I started watching and reading science fiction, I have thought of aliens as being much the same as we are; roughly humanoid in appearance with variations.  Their behavior varies from benevolent to hostile with belief systems that are the much same as ours.  All of that is to be expected in fiction because, after all, if we cannot relate to the characters we see in popular culture in a way that is familiar to us, it is hard to understand a story.

Take for instance, one my favorite sci-fi series, Star Trek. The aliens are mostly much like us in appearance.  The Klingons are a hostile warrior race; the Romulans are sneaky and secretive; the Andorians are allies to humanity, but cannot always be trusted because they have their own agendas that aren’t always in line with the Federation’s ideals.  Thanks to the Universal Translator, we all speak earth standard English and manage to more or less coexist.

The first episode of Star Trek I remember seeing a non-humanoid alien in was TOS’s Devil in the Dark.  In that episode, the crew of a planet being mined for some rare material makes first contact with an alien called a Horta.  The miners are unknowingly destroying the Horta’s offspring and the creature fights back in the only way it can.  Along comes Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise to investigate how and why the miners are dying.  Kirk and Spock discover the Horta and Spock is able to communicate with the creature and all is set right.

So, have we been visited by aliens in the past? Are there aliens among us now? What must we consider if aliens make first contact with us in the future?  These are the questions that Dr. Schatt addresses in his essay, Extraterrestrial First Contact.

As I read it, this essay was more to raise questions, or at least to make the reader more aware of what the realities of first contact might be as opposed to answering any questions.

The author first looks at evidence that perhaps we have been and are being visited by aliens.  He cites evidence that perhaps this is the case, or perhaps many of what has been called evidence from the past is actually myth.  The discussion then turns to activities that we are engaged in such as SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) and METI ( Messaging to  Extraterrestrial Intelligence).  The author suggests, as many scientists do, that it is one thing to listen for possible signals from extraterrestrial intelligences as SETI does, but it is quite another idea that we send signals as METI is.  We just have no idea who may be listening.

Schatt then takes a look at our own (human) first contact experiences and cites several examples in which that was often not a good experience, especially for the weaker or less advanced of the two parties.  So what might we expect from visitors then?  Will they want to exchange ideas, or is conquest on their minds?

Other areas explored include speculation on who would represent our planet to an alien race, how it might be if an alien race presented themselves through artificial intelligence, and our tendencies toward anthropomorphizing so as to better relate.  In other words, what if the aliens that first contact us are not friendly Vulcans that step off the ship and say “live long and prosper,” as in Star Trek; First Contact, but rather a race that looked very different from us, say more like cockroaches as opposed to being humanoid.

Schatt also raises questions on the impacts upon our basic institutions such as religion, politics, science, and economics. His essay concludes with a look at how it might be if we were visited by a hostile race of beings.  The work concludes with an extensive list of books, articles and websites that relate to the subject.

While this is not a long overly detailed work, only about 92 pages in the print version, it is packed with ideas that made me think a little differently on the subject of first contact.  I have often thought about this subject but found that there were many aspects that I had never considered.  Schatt’s work pulls together just about everything one can think about and leaves it up to the reader to make their own conclusions. As one would expect, it is well written and in clear concise language that anyone can understand and absorb.  If you decide to give this work of speculative non-fiction a look, be prepared to have your eyes opened to new possibilities, and not all of them are comforting while others may be downright disturbing to think about.  I recommend this book for anyone who may be wondering about who is “out there” and whether we are prepared for that first close encounter.

Dr. Stan Schatt spent many years as a futurist, responsible for forecasting future technology products and markets for Fortune 500 companies. He served as a Fulbright Professor to Japan where he taught at Tokyo University. He also taught at the University of Southern California and served as Chair of the Telecommunications Management Department at DeVry Institute of Technology. Schatt is the author of over 30 books on a wide range of subjects. He holds a Ph.D from the University of Southern California and advanced degrees from Arizona State University and the American Graduate School of International Management. (Bio borrowed from - follow the link for how to get the book from them.)

Well, there it is…