Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Tuesdays with Mollari

Hello again, Readers Mine, and welcome to another "Tuesdays with Mollari," where I regale you with my adventures while writing Dreams Given Form: The Unofficial Companion to the Universe of Babylon 5 (forthcoming in fall 2016 from ECW Press). My co-author, K. Dale Koontz, and I have both had some unexpected things on our plates this fall, so we're not as far along as we'd like to be, but I feel confident that our deadline will be met! Rather than regale you with yet another post gushing about Babylon 5, I thought I would dedicate this week's post to some of the nuts and bolts of writing the book.

The main alien cast of Babylon 5. From left to right: Vir Cotto (Stephen Furst), Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik), Kosh (Ardwight Chamberlin [voice]), Delenn (Mira Furlan), Lennier (Bill Mumy), and G'Kar (Andreas Katsulas).
So tomorrow I will finish my "annotating rewatch" of season 1, which means that Thursday will begin the actual writing process for that season. Fortunately, this isn't our first time at the rodeo. We learned a lot about writing a companion guide with our first book: Wanna Cook? The Complete Unofficial Companion to Breaking Bad (which, by the way, makes the absolutely perfect gift for the Breaking Bad fan in your family or set of friends - and for under twenty bucks!).

Dreams Given Form will include episode guides for each season of Babylon 5 (and for Crusade, Legend of the Rangers, and the other B5 films) which will look at each and every episode individually. There are some tricks here, though. First, we need to stay spoiler-free for those who might be coming to the series for the first time, so while we can point out things that a new viewer might want to look for in the future, we have to do it in a very careful fashion. Second, we can't write an episode summary, because that's illegal when you are doing it for financial gain (which we hopefully are!) So the write up is more of a critical look at what's going on in a given episode, an analysis of the action rather than a retelling.

Then comes the nitty-gritty stuff: a humorous quote or two, a section pointing out some things that the casual viewer might not have immediately noticed, any continuity or plot errors, elements of the episode that fit in with the master story arc, interesting facts about the production of the episode, and an explication of the episode's title if necessary. Occasionally, we will also include a paragraph or two focusing on a certain element of the episode or series that might benefit from some further investigation, like the Earth Alliance rank structure. The goal is to create a write-up that offers something to the existing fan and the new viewer alike.

Here's the trick, though: we have a maximum word count. In other words, our publisher doesn't want us to exceed a certain number of words, total, so the book won't become huge and pricey. That means that we have to do all of the above in a manner that is informative, entertaining, thorough, and brief. Look, if you are reading this blog you are likely already a fan of B5, so you know how easy it is to go on and on about all of the amazing things in and around this show and JMS and the actors, the technology, etc, etc. The realities of the publishing business, however, force us to winnow things down to the essential information (and the stuff that is just entirely too cool to leave out). Remember that we're covering B5, Crusade, The Legend of the Rangers, all of the TV movies, The Lost Tales, the canonical comics, books and short stories - and we hope to include at least a few interviews with cast- and crew-members to boot! That's a lot of stuff, which means that there is simply no possible way that we can fit everything about everything in the book. And that's the hard part for fans like Dale and I, and it's also why we have a really good, really gentle, and completely ruthless editor to help us hack and slash all of the unnecessary stuff out, no matter how cool. So the writing process is always an adventure, always a fight keep things tight while also keeping the soul of the series intact.

It's a lot of work, and it's often frustrating as hell, and twice as annoying. I can't wait to get started! Because no matter what else it may be, this is the opportunity I've been waiting for since 1993 - I get to write about Babylon 5!!! Really, it just doesn't get any better than that! So, until next time -

Hold the Line!


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Tuesdays with Mollari

Hello Readers Mine, and welcome to another installment of "Tuesdays with Mollari" here at Solomon Mao's. I suppose I should begin with an apology and an explanation for having been off the air for so long a stretch. I am truly sorry, but things have been a bit hairy at the Guffey household these past few weeks. There has been sickness of both the hacking-and-coughing variety and sickness of the much more terrifying cells-growing-out-of-control variety. Once we reach the end of things I think that all will be well (we caught those nasty cells very early) but getting there is more than a bit stressful. (Talk about really wishing we could call Dr. Franklin and some 23rd century medicine!) I'll also make a note that beginning with this post "Tuesdays with Mollari" will be going bi-weekly (the every other week biweekly, not the twice a week kind). There's just too much going on right now to try and keep to a weekly schedule. Nonetheless, after a hiatus of a few weeks, the rewatch of Babylon 5 for our forthcoming book Dreams Given Form: the Unofficial Companion to the Universe of Babylon 5, continues!

The great John Vickery as Neroon in "Legacies" (1.17)
So today I watched "Legacies" which features the first appearance of Neroon, played by John Vickery (whom you might also recognize as Mr. Wells from the clip I posted a few weeks ago). Neroon is one of my favorite recurring characters in all of Babylon 5, and Vickery pulls of an incredible performance every time he's on screen, embodying the Minbari loyal opposition to perfection. Neroon is also a wonderful example of Straczynski's attention to detail when it comes to character. From his first appearance here in the last few episodes of season 1 to his powerful final appearance in season 4, Neroon has one hell of an arc. He appears a grand total of five times during the series, and each time he has obviously changed and grown off-screen. The combination of Straczynski's meticulous concern with character and Vickery's acting chops give the viewer a three dimensional character every time, and one that never feels like he has just been placed in suspended animation while he's been absent.

This is great storytelling. Sure, it can seem a bit obvious, but it is astonishing how often writers and showrunners don't bother to create a narrative universe that demonstrates the effects of everything happening off-screen, that convinces the audience that we're only seeing a small part of the universe, and that in huge swaths of the parts we're not seeing, people are living, loving, fighting, dying, growing, and shrinking all of the time. That's what happens in the real world, after all. We have all had the experience of meeting someone again after a long absence: old friends, friends of friends, former co-workers, former lovers, etc. and being surprised and taken aback at how they have changed in the interval, how the image of them we have fixed in our memory has become outdated thanks to the simple fact that their lives have continued even when we weren't around. We generally get over our surprise pretty quickly, because of course their lives have gone on! So have ours. That's just the way things work. To see this done so well in a work of fiction is something else again, and brings an entirely new  level of verisimilitude to Babylon 5. In part, it is all of the little licks like Neroon's character that drew Dale and I to write about the series, and the comics, and the books, and movies. The Babylon 5 universe is so intricate, and so beautifully, wonderfully realized across the media. Things happen there, even when we're not looking!

Well, that's it for this week, Readers Mine. Tune in two weeks from today for the next installment of "Tuesdays with Mollari," and tune in every week over on Unfettered Brilliance for my co-author's "Third Age Thursday" posts, because she is a blogging machine! Between posts here, you can find me throughout the interwebs by clicking on the various social media buttons in the upper right of this page and following/friending/stalking me as appropriate. That way you'll get all of the cool B5 and StudioJMS news that comes across my screen, and you'll likely see some other good stuff as well. You can also find Dale and I over on Biff Bam Pop! every other week for our regular "The Ten Percent" column, so check us out here, there, and everywhere. Until next time, then -

Hold the Line!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tuesdays with Mollari

Hello, Readers Mine, and welcome to another installment of "Tuesdays with Mollari." I've taken a couple of weeks off from working on Dreams Given Form: The Unofficial Companion to the Universe of Babylon 5 in order to keep some other plates spinning properly, but now I'm back. Work on Dreams Given Form continues to be more fun than anything else, and season 1 of Babylon 5 continues to reward a close and critical rewatch. Today I took notes on "Grail" (1.15), which features David Warner as Aldous Gajic, a human who has dedicated his life to the search for the Holy Grail.

David Warner as Aldous Gajic, complete with Big Stick.
Gajic (named by writer Christy Marx for Mira "Delenn" Furlan's husband Goran Gajic) is regarded by the Minbari as a True Seeker, leading to one of my favorite Delenn lines:
"It does not matter that his Grail may or may not exist. What matters is that he strives for the perfection of his soul and the salvation of his race, and that he has never wavered, or lost faith."
Later in the episode, Aldous himself will note that "Sometimes it's the search that counts, not the finding." This is one of several themes that JMS returns to again and again throughout Babylon 5, as pretty much every character on the show continues to search for - to paraphrase Delenn - "a reason for everything."

In fact, a lot of what we humans do comes down to the act of creating meaning - for ourselves, for our communities, for our posterity. We are creatures who crave significance and the security of there being a reason for everything. This sometimes doesn't work out for us, of course. The universe, as Babylon 5 never fails to remind us, is both more wonderful and more chaotic than most of us are really comfortable with. Yet, as "Grail" suggests, and as JMS will reiterate again and again, the true significance of our lives is the act of seeking, the attempt to create meaning in things great or small. We make houses into homes, lovers into family, strangers into communities, duty into honor. The end result isn't the point. It's all about making a house a home, all the lived experiences that go into that process. It's the journey, not the destination. In the end, we all go "beyond the rim," so all we have is the seeking.

It is also worth remembering that twenty-some years ago, it's likely that JMS was telling himself something along these lines regularly. Babylon 5 can seem kind of inevitable, a brilliant story well and completely told, but in 1994, no one knew if the show would get a second season, much less a fifth. Everyone had hopes, but that's all they were. In television production as in life, an appreciation for the value in the process itself can be the one thing that keep you sane!

In the end "Grail" is a self-contained, "monster-of-the-week" episode, with nothing much to do with the great arc of the series. Yet it fits, because the macro is in the micro. Sinclair's journey, and Sheridan's, and Delenn's. and Londo's, and G'kar's are all just beginning, and even with the final episode of the final season, they have not ended. We know all along how Londo and G'Kar will go out, but what's relevant is everything that happens before that final, deadly embrace. Ends are just punctuation. The meaning is in the sentence before.

That's it for this week. I'll see you next time around, and in the meanwhile, be sure to check out my co-author's brilliant "Third Age Thursdays" over on her blog, Unfettered Brilliance, and be sure and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or even Google+, for all of the latest B5 news that comes across our screens. Until next time -

Hold the Line!


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tuesdays with Mollari

Hello, Readers Mine, and welcome to another "Tuesdays with Mollari!" Unfortunately, I have come down with a head cold so viscous that either Warmaster Jha'Dur cooked it up in one of her laboratories, or some kind of Pak'ma'ra virus has jumped the species barrier, so this will likely be a short check in as I have largely forgotten how to brain.

One of the things that science fiction does best is to ask the hard and the really big questions. Babylon 5 is a prime example of this. Besides "Who are you?" and "What do you want?" one of the most interesting and longest running questions asked by the series might be phrased as "Who is the Other?" A narrative universe that contains sentient non-terrestrial life can automatically open up some really interesting avenues for discussions about race, creed, gender, or any combination of "otherness." After all, when dealing with the Cantauri or the Narn or the Dilgar or whoever, humanity is dealing, for the first time in our history, with different races, different species, than our own.

Like human societies throughout history, the humans of the late 2250s and early 2260s, have a real tendency to put aside their differences when something comes along that we can all hate together. From the earliest episodes of Babylon 5, we hear reports of so-called "Earth First" organizations, which want to limit or end human contact and trade with aliens of all types. As the series progresses, we see both Sinclair and Sheridan derided in the Terran press as "alien lovers" a phrase that should immediately resonate in a nation which not too long ago hurled "Indian-lover" and "Nigger-lover" at citizens who began to look beyond what a person looked like in order to find out who they actually were.

In Babylon 5 this racism is brilliantly, and unfortunately, quite realistically mixed in with the goals of a security state under President Clark. Fear of the other is developed by official organizations like the Night Watch into fear of dissent and fear of disloyalty to the human race, and EarthGov. Disloyalty is framed as coming from people who have been confused or unknowingly subverted by vague and unspecified "alien influences." Such people are misguided, and need "reeducation." It kind of makes me sad that this theme is one of the things that gives Babylon 5 longevity beyond its original broadcast in the late 1990s. Oh, there are the good things about us homo saps in there too, but how prescient does JMS seem when rewatching the series after 9/11/01? The tensions between security and freedom, between our willingness to exercise our rights and our equal willingness to curtail them when the world makes us afraid, or when we are made to be afraid of the world and each other by people who have a vested interest in making us afraid are all there in Clark's government, the Night Watch, and the hatchet jobs performed on the crew of Babylon 5 by ISN.

Fear of the other rode to the stars with us in Babylon 5, and continued to manifest in some very, very ugly ways. Here as elsewhere in this tremendous series, JMS' fiction - isn't. It is said that great fiction is universal, by which people mean that it deals with eternal human truths - William Faulkner's "human heart in conflict with itself." Babylon 5, is just such a great fiction, and Straczynski, bless his writerly heart, always managed to remember that while we may carry the better angles of our nature into the future, we can be counted on to bring along our demons. We always struggle with Shadows.

John Vickery as Mr. Welles (hummm.... sounds familiar!) in 2.22: "The Fall of Night."

Until next time - Hold the Line!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Tuesdays with Mollari

Hello again Readers Mine, and welcome to "Tuesdays with Mollari," where I'll be yammering on about writing Dreams Given Form: The Unofficial Companion to the Universe of Babylon 5. My co-author, K. Dale Koontz, and I have signed a contract with ECW Press (who also published our first book Wanna Cook? The Complete, Unofficial Companion to Breaking Bad), and Dreams Given Form should be hitting bookstores in the fall of 2016. That may seem to be a ways off, but when you're planning to cover 110 episodes of Babylon 5, plus 5 B5 TV movies, the 13 aired and 6 scripted episodes of Crusade, the 9 canonical novels based on J. Michael Straczynski's  (JMS) outlines, 12 canonical comics, 1 mini-comic, 6 short stories, Babylon 5: The Legend of the Rangers, and Babylon 5: The Lost Tales... well, you begin to see the work-load we have before us. Dreams Given Form is an ambitious project, and getting all of the above into a single volume is not only going to be tricky, but also will require us to be ruthless when it comes to the length of each piece within the book. Still, B5 itself remains one of the most ambitious shows ever to air on broadcast television, so how better to honor it?

Michael O'Hare as Commander Jeffery Sinclair

So we have begun at the beginning, with a rewatch of Babylon 5, season 1. This isn't a matter of just sitting down and watching the show (again), but of pulling out the trusty lap-desk, legal-pad, and pen and watching it actively, critically, taking notes all the while. At this point I have to confess that I have never been a fan of the season 1 commander of B5, Jeffery Sinclair (played by Michael O'Hare). I have always much preferred Bruce Boxleitner's John Sheridan, who comes on in season 2 and remains the lead for the rest of the series. Yet in carefully rewatching season 1 this time, I have become more and more impressed with Michael O'Hare's chops as an actor, and find myself liking Sinclair far more than I ever have. He exercises a quiet power, with a soft voice that can suddenly take on a frozen razor's edge when it needs too. O'Hare does a tremendous job of creating a man who is easily underestimated, but is utterly in command of himself and of any situation he finds himself in. I think Sinclair is in many ways a more subtle character than Sheridan, and O'Hare realizes that brilliantly.

Yet even I have to admit that, like many many shows, B5 definitely had a case of the First Season Blues, where everything isn't quite running smoothly, and people aren't quite fully settled into their characters. Again this isn't uncommon, particularly in television SF (remember Star Trek: The Next Generation, season 1? "Encounter at Farpoint"? Yeah, First Season Blues.) Despite the often story-halting awkwardness of the Sinclair-Sakai relationship however, Babylon 5 comes through better than most, and JMS is already planting the seeds for the grand arc of the series. Things begin to sprout in the last episode I watched, "Signs and Portents" (1.13), where Ed Wasser (last seen as random C-in-C technician in the pilot movie Babylon 5: The Gathering) returns to the series as the darkly charming,and oh so very dangerous Mr. Morden, asking one of what I term the Two Great Questions of Babylon 5: "What do you want?"

Seems like a simple enough query, albeit it a bit vague, but only one person is able to answer it to Mr. Morden's satisfaction: Ambassador Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik), The resulting scene is a classic, and Jurasik's phenomenal embodiment of  Londo's frustration, disappointment, and passion makes things suddenly very real, and very interesting:


This, however, is just the beginning. As the Lady Ladira remarks in this episode: "The Shadows have come for us all." Until next time -

Hold the Line!


Monday, September 29, 2014

Meth Monday: Cookin' in the UK!

Hello, Readers Mine! Well, just as soon as I put "Meth Monday" on hiatus, some cool stuff popped up that I figured I probably needed to share with you. First up, to all of our friends in the UK and Republic of Ireland (which are two separate entities, btw!), keep in mind that we have a great UK publisher in the form of Myrmidon Books, which means that Wanna Cook? The Complete, Unofficial Companion to Breaking Bad, is readily available throughout England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland!

In fact, a good friend and fellow Whedonian, Dr. Matthew Pateman, recently sent us this pic of our book on the shelves at Waterstone's Scarborough:

Wanna Cook? on the shalves at Waterstone's Scarborough! Thanks to @ProfPateman for the pic!
You can also pick up a copy of Wanna Cook? and while away a few hours in a lovely bookshop at O'Mahonys Booksellers in Limerick, as well as fine booksellers throughout the Isles. So get ready to stream all five seasons, pick up your copy of Wanna Cook? and go deep!

In other news, Bryan Cranston continues to prove he's not only an incredible actor, but one hell of a human being too, taking time out of his schedule to allow a very sick fan right here in our home state of North Carolina to cross something off of his "life list":



You can read the whole article and see some of Brad's conversation with Cranston right here.

Seriously, how can you not love a show that inspires so many feels?!!!?

Keep Cookin'!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Tuesdays with Mollari

Hello Readers Mine, and welcome to the first of a new regular column here at Solomon Mao's! "Tuesdays with Mollari" will function similarly to "Meth Monday" as a space where I'll document my and Dale's adventures as we take on our latest project, a companion guide to the incredible TV series Babylon 5! Our working title is Dreams Given Form: The Unofficial Companion to the Universe of Babylon 5 (the subtitle will likely get tweaked, but the main title is firm). As we did with Wanna Cook?, Dale and I will be using social media to spread the word and (hopefully) build up some excitement, so look for the hashtags #DreamsGivenForm and #DGF on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and yes, even LinkedIn, for all the latest on the book and Babylon 5 as it comes across our screens.

Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik) and G'Kar (the late Andreas Katsulas)
who are a huge part of what makes Babylon 5 Quality TV.
Babylon 5 aired from 1993 - 1998, roughly twenty years ago, so some may be wondering why we've decided to concentrate our efforts in the past when we're right smack dab in the middle of a Golden Age of television here in the 2010s. It's simple, really: Babylon 5 is one of the places where the Golden Age began. Created by J. Michael Straczynski (who also wrote an astonishing 92 of the series' 110 episodes), Babylon 5 gave American television an array of firsts: B5 was the first show to introduce the long arc to television, with a pre-plotted storyline that stretched across all five seasons. It was also the first show to use the nascent internet to connect directly with fans as Straczynski reached out through newsgroups and BBS on USENET, GEnie, and CompuServe. This proved so effective that it spurred Warner Brothers to create one of the first official websites for a TV show - ever. To round up this truncated list, B5 was also broke new ground with its use of state-of-the-art (for the time) CGI, which, while it occasionally looks clunky today, nonetheless often remains breathtaking in scope and scale.

And then there are the fans - like me. I watched Babylon 5 as it aired, and where I lived at the time, the one station airing the show did so at 1 am on Sunday mornings as part of their "Sci-Fi Saturday Night" programming block, and I would stay up for it every Saturday, without fail, just to see what happened next. Babylon 5 was the first show that made me realize that TV fiction could be something greater than it usually was, that it could be as rich, complex, and rewarding as a great novel, as powerful, moving, and thought provoking as great cinema. For me Babylon 5  was the first show to combine the best of these other media with the serial nature of an ongoing TV show to create something new, and entirely wonderful. Nor was I the only one.

Babylon 5  has never been in syndication (though this has recently begun to change), but its fan-base has been tenaciously loyal, keeping the show alive via a host of internet forums that carried over into a myriad of groups and pages on every social media platform. With the advent of the series on DVD, we have acted relentlessly to bring new viewers to the series, who have in turn done the same. With the twentieth anniversary, Straczynski (who has remained an active creator in comic books, film, and television) and the cast and crew have reunited at various cons, bringing a new level of visibility to the show, and making the time ripe, we think, to revisit it with Dreams Given Form.

Most of all, perhaps, this is an opportunity to write about the first time I fell in love with a TV show, the first time I experienced the sensation of being in a deep relationship with a show that lasted for years. Not the torrid affair of a binge-watch, or the light friendship of the ongoing sitcom, but a real relationship  to which I was deeply committed and devoted,and which broke my heart when it ended, and even more so because it ended so damn well. If that's not something worth writing about, then I don't know what the hell is.

So keep an eye out here every Tuesday for "Tuesdays with Mollari," and together we'll see what it's like not only to write about Straczynski's dream given form, but also my own. I'm looking forward to the trip <*>!

Until next week,

Hold the Line!