I recently failed to complete two works with similar names: Babylon Babies, a book by some French dude, and Babylon 5, a TV series from the 1990s.
I got about a quarter of the way through Babylon Babies (533 pages all told) before giving up. The first chapter was a brutally boring account of one man’s love affair with his AK-47 but I slogged through it. I waded through faux hardboiled lines like:
It was fucking hot.
Romanenko scanned his screen with fucking intensity…
I don’t mind the f-bombs, but this just seems poorly written. Still I slogged on. Here’s the passage that did me in:
She was pretty. Her color was coming back. A mysterious glow played in the blue of her stare.
Toorop felt a kind of bulldozer turn on in a deeply buried excavation.
Something knotted at the base of his stomach.
Now is not the time, a warning light displayed on the dashboard of his consciousness.
Get this shit into program self-destruct right away, another voice screamed.
Imminent threat of sentimentalism, the alarm siren wailed.
He stared at the young woman with a strange smile…
I think the protagonist, Toorop, is falling in love with the other main character, Marie. But I’m not really sure, because I gave up shortly thereafter.
Ah. The author’s name is Maurice Dantec. I have to wonder if something got lost in translation. I gather he’s big in France. This book has been made into a movie called Bablylon A.D. which I will studiously avoid.
Speaking of moving pictures, that brings us to Babylon 5, which I cannot dismiss so easily.
I’d never seen a single episode of Babylon 5, and knew nothing about it. But I was compelled to seek it out after a conversation with some friends.
It went like this: I had just watched the brief and aborted series Firefly, and opined that it was surely the greatest science fiction television series ever made. In truth, I thought this was a safe statement to make because the competition is so thin. But my friends were swift and unequivocal in their reaction: “No. The best science fiction television series ever made? Babylon 5. No question.” I harbored some delusion that Babylon 5 was a Star Trek spin-off, but apparently I had it confused with Deep Space 9.
So Xy and I embarked on a Netflix-fueled odyssey through the first three seasons of Babylon 5. The first episode of the first season was so very bad that we almost bailed then and there. But the reviews I read were in universal agreement: The series gets off to a rocky start but steadily improves, but you have to watch them all or you’ll be lost.
And indeed the reviews were right. The second season was much better than the first, and the third was better than the second. What’s more, it was fascinating to watch every aspect of the production improve: writing, acting, cinematography, set design, makeup, technical quality, CGI, everything.
And yet. Despite the constant improvement, I never felt the series reached the level of what I would call, for lack of a better word, “good.”
Oh, we relished some moments for the sheer camp value, like the occasional snippet of corny dialog, for example. It was a hoot spotting furniture from our living room in the show. The long story arcs were not without some intrigue. And certainly it seems like the most ambitious science fiction series I’ve ever seen.
But that’s not saying much, alas. I realize that while I enjoy reading science fiction, the genre just hasn’t done that well on television in my opinion.
The series did give me food for thought about the genre itself. Sometimes it felt more like Tolkienesque fantasy than science fiction. That brought me back to the old hoary question: What is science fiction anyway? If you take Hamlet but have everyone kill each other with ray guns at the end instead of swords, does that make it science fiction? Surely not. So just because you have a bunch of aliens zipping around in hyperspace, that doesn’t necessarily make it science fiction.
But I don’t have the wherewithal to develop that thesis. I’ll just note that while there was undoubtedly a huge amount of creativity that was poured into this project, I could never get past my objections to the basic premise. I just couldn’t swallow all those aliens running around on that space station.
And of course they had one of my pet peeves: faster-than-light travel through a mysterious hyperspace. One of my favorite over-the-top moments was when Sheridan decided to open a jump point inside a jump gate. This seemed like the product of a classic dorm and bong conversation. “What if we jumped to hyperspace when we were already in hyperspace?”
Can’t deny it was habit-forming. Easy to throw one of these episodes on in the evening while Xy’s doing her homework. We even watching the first half of season four before calling it quits.
I still think Firefly was better.