Monday, November 28, 2011

Infidel by Kameron Hurley is the Book O' the Fortnight

You may have noticed some changes here at Solomon Mao’s recently, Readers Mine. I decided it was time to refresh the look of things a little and add some new bells and whistles, among which is the Book O’ the Week, which you see to the upper left. The theory is that every week I’ll choose a book I’ve read and really enjoyed, write a quick review post, and then leave a linked cover shot up until the next week. Of course, in reality, I’ve had Vernor Vinge’s Children of the Sky up for a good two and a half weeks now, so maybe I should call the piece the “Book O’ the Fortnight,” which doesn’t sound all that bad actually.

God's War by Kameron Hurley
Anyway, I’m pleased to put up Kameron Hurley’s Infidel as the new Book O’! Hurley’s a recent discovery on my part, as I picked up her first novel, God’s War, this summer and pretty much was instantly hooked on the worlds she has made and the words she uses to make them. God’s War and Infidel are the first two books in a series set on the planet Umayma (an Arabic name meaning “high mother” or “little mother”), a world originally fundamentally hostile to human life which was roughly terraformed many centuries ago and thus at the time of the novels is merely inhospitable. Not that you can really blame the planet. See, the terraforming was carried out by semi-mythical “magicians” using bugs, bioengineered insects which presumably breathed in whatever mix of atmospheric gases was originally present and belched out a good ol’ nitrogen-oxygen-argon-etc mix, and broke down and fertilized the soil, made the water drinkable, etc, etc, until the planet’s putative population, until this time eaking out an existence on the several moons around Umayma, could come on down, though they may have done so before things were quite ready. Of course, like all human technologies the bugs had – well – bugs, and sometimes the terraforming… got interesting.

Anyway, the settlers were largely of a faith derived from Islam, with a few non-Muslim groups thrown in. At first Umayma had a planetary government and a kind of all powerful, all female planetary special forces/religious police force, the bel dames. As in “sans merci.” Soon enough, people being people, this set up went to hell, several separate nations states emerged from the chaos, and two hundred odd years ago, two of those, Nasheen and Chenja, started a war that’s been going strong ever since, fueled by religious intolerance, nationalism, and chemical and biological weapons that make a genegineered ebola-smallpox hybrid look like dessert topping.

Out of this world and this war steps Nyxnissa so Dasheem, “Nyx” – ex soldier, ex-bel dame, and one of the hardest boiled anti-heroes to come down the pike in a long while. Nyx isn’t just hard, she’s brutal. Not driven, but ruthless. Just to give you some idea, here’s the very first line of God’s War:

“Nyx sold her womb somewhere between Punjai and Faleen, on the edge of the desert.”

Yeah. Like that. Hurley’s prose is tight and hard, sometimes coming so fast and clipped that it reads like the sound of a master chef chopping celery. Nyx is a product of her world, and Hurley somehow makes you want to love and hate her at the same time. Her foil is Rhys, a tall drink of water, half-assed magician, and observant Muslim who is soft where Nyx is hard, and hard where she is, unexpectedly, soft.

I’m not going to go into the story of Infidel here, because it’s the second book in the series, and because the tale it tells is inextricably bound up in the world Hurley has created. This truly is one of the most magnificent examples of world-building I’ve seen in decades, and the characters are a part and parcel of that building. Be advised, this ain’t your granny’s SF/F. Hurley pulls no punches, gives no easy answers, and she shies away from nothing. Race, religion, gender roles, sex, drugs, violence, war, politics, business… all of that is here in all of its rotting glory, but there are also people desperately looking for something to believe in, something to live by and for, even if they have to invent it for themselves. I’ve seen Hurley’s work called “feminist science fiction,” “bug noir,” even “bug punk.” Whatever. I call it fast-paced, well written, meticulously detailed, character-driven, bad-ass writing, and I think you will too.

Buy her stuff. You’ll like it.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The "First Triumvirate," in Review

The last decades of the Roman Republic were dominated by the ambitions and machinations of three figures: Cn. Pompieus Strabo Magnus (Pompey), M. Licinius Crassus, and C. Julius Caesar. Any examination of the period from 70 to 44 BC inevitably hinges on one, two, or all three of these men at any given time, and therefore their biographies become essential to the student of the period. In their attempts to reveal and evaluate the lives of these figures, Robin Seager’s Pompey the Great: A Political Biography, Allen M. Ward’s Marcus Crassus and the Late Roman Republic, and Richard A. Billows’ Julius Caesar: The Colossus of Rome, present the reader with both the best and worst of the art of historical biography.

Cn. Pompeius Strabo Magnus
Robin Seager makes no bones about his intent with his Pompey the Great: A Political Biography, stating in his preface that “the subtitle of the present work is intended to warn the reader to expect no treatment of the detail of Pompeius’ wars and no estimate of him as a commander,” and indeed, the following sixteen chapters give only the briefest treatment of Pompey’s military career. Seager begins with a brief introduction giving an overview of Roman political history from 133 – 79 BC, and begins his biography proper with the career and death of Pompey’s father, Cn. Pompeius Strabo senior. He then proceeds chronologically through Pompey’s life, paralleling political events in Rome with Pompey’s overseas dispositions, paying particular attention in both cases to Pompey’s time in the East from 66 – 62 BC. Seager presents a portrait of Pompey as a man of overweening ambition and political acumen, whose desire for public recognition from the Senate as the traditional ruling body of the Republic was both in opposition to his life-long willingness to stretch the unwritten Roman constitution and traditions, the mos maiorum, to the breaking point, and yet also functioned as a restraint on that same ambition. As Seager concludes, “[Pompey’s] eagerness for honors to be granted him willingly had compelled him to acknowledge the right of the senate and people to deny him if they chose. He had wanted to be the dominant figure in the senate, but in a senate that was still the ruler of Rome… Pompeius then did not want to destroy the republic.” Seager places the blame for that squarely on Caesar’s shoulders, but does not neglect to point out that Pompey’s own actions did little or nothing to preserve the system he so desperately sought command of and approval from.

M. Licinius Crassus
Allen M. Ward presents the reader with another political biography with his Marcus Crassus and the Late Roman Republic. Here again, Crassus’ military career is only briefly described, and his final, fatal campaign against the Parthians almost not at all. Ward too devotes his first chapter to setting the historical scene, and uses chapter appendices to this and chapters VIII and IX to provide the reader with detailed prosopographical data which serves to illuminate his research process and the conclusions reached in the chapters themselves. These appendices strike a nice balance between relying on overly long footnotes and the traditional consignment of the appendices to the back of the book, and serve well in providing the reader with further information without bogging down the primary narrative, which proceeds in chronological order from the scarce sources surrounding Crassus’ birth ca.115 BC to his defeat and death at Carrhae in 53 BC. Ward is particularly painstaking in his analysis of the known political and legislative events in Rome with an eye to discovering the probable prime movers behind various proposed laws, prosecutions, defenses, speeches, and other public performances in Rome during Crassus’ career. Ward presents Crassus as something of a moderate optimate; an inherently conservative politician who was nonetheless generally amenable to compromise when possible, and who “often tended towards the via media,” the middle road.
C. Julius Caesar Dictator
Richard A. Billows’ Julius Caesar: the Colossus of Rome, is part of Routledge’s Roman Imperial Biographies series, and proves to be a readable and concise addition to the many biographies of Caesar. Billows begins with a prologue that also serves as a bibliographic essay with an emphasis on works which challenge the traditional interpretations, and which Billows, while not necessarily in agreement with them, credits as valuable lenses for providing fresh perspectives on his subject. Billows also provides historical background and context in his first chapter, devoting fully a fifth of his text to the history of Rome and Italy in the second century BC, before proceeding chronologically through Caesar’s life, with the exception of chapter VIII: “Caesar’s Place in Roman Literature and Culture,” a thematic interlude placed between the flight northward of the tribunes M. Antonius and Q. Cassius in late 50, and the crossing of the Rubicon in early 49. Billows’ Caesar is a popularis through and through, becoming the central figure in a movement that Billows sees as springing from, and directly connected with the Marian and Cinnan movement of the 80s BC. He also fixes Caesar as the lynchpin in what Ronald Syme has termed the “Roman Revolution,” and his associates and followers as the power behind it both during Caesar’s life, and beyond.

Taken together, these three biographies provide an uneven look at the three men who comprised what historians refer to as the First Triumvirate. Ward is working from the fewest sources, and thus is necessarily the most reliant on prosopographic and legislative analysis. Though he is careful to acknowledge the problems inherent in this approach, his analyses are impressive, and more often than not, convincing. He also provides a valuable counterpoint to the traditional portrayal of Crassus as a paragon of ruthless greed, pointing out that both Pompey and Caesar became far wealthier than Crassus, yet were not condemned for their wealth due to the way in which they acquired it: by conquest. Crassus, who made his money through business deals and speculation which were considered beneath the Roman nobility, “became the subject of a hostile literary tradition that was set by his political enemies, who scorned the methods Crassus adopted…” Nonetheless, due to the paucity of source material, and the fact that Crassus seems to have often preferred to work behind the scenes rather than openly on the public stage, makes Ward’s efforts, even at their best, more speculative than not.

Seager confronts similar problems, and handles them poorly. His political and legislative analysis often seems to be naïve, as when he states that the assignment of the forests and cow-paths of Italy as the provinces of the consuls of 59 was not a move by the optimates in the senate to curtail Caesar’s growing power and ambition by denying him the prospect of a foreign war. According to Seager, “at the time when the allocation [of provinces] was made… Caesar had not yet been elected, and even if the optimates had already felt certain that he was bound to take one place, they would not have wanted to rob their own candidate Bibulus of a proper command.” To suggest that the optimates, no strangers to the realities of Roman politics, could not foresee that Caesar, who had won election to every magistracy on the cursus honorum up to the praetorship in the first year he was eligible, and whose status, wealth, and political power had only increased during his propraetorian command in Spain, was almost certain to secure the consulship, is bordering on the absurd.

Seager’s greatest fault, and one shared with Ward, is his choice to largely omit any examination of Pompey’s military career. The distinction between civil and military power in ancient Rome was nonexistent, and each affected the other profoundly. In the case of Pompey, his entire political career was predicated on his military activities, and largely consisted in repeated attempts to secure special commands, and with them, praise and power in Rome. It is not going too far to say that without his military achievements and ambitions, Pompey would have had no political career, or if he had it would have been a far different, likely much less pivotal one. In a very real way Seager gives the reader half a man, and half the story.

Ward too fails to detail Crassus’s military career, though he does slightly better than Seager with his discussions of Crassus’ service during Sulla’s civil war, though Crassus’ role in the victory of the Battle of the Colline Gate in 82 BC does not receive nearly the attention which it deserves, nor does his successful campaign against Spartacus in 72/1. Most unfortunately, however, Ward chooses not to detail Crassus campaign leading up to Carrhae at all, thus omitting the vital ending to Crassus’ tale. Again the choice to focus on the political at the complete expense of the military, particularly when examining Roman statesmen, proves to be a grave error.

Billows, does not fall into this trap, and combines astute political analysis—though not, perhaps, at the level offered by Ward—with a thorough understanding of the importance of Caesar’s military career to the man and his life as a whole. Billows does an excellent job of covering Caesar’s campaigns in Gaul, and the Civil War against Pompey while also tying these campaigns into the larger picture of Caesar as statesman. Indeed, over all, Billows’ work is of high quality, and made even more impressive for being so complete within the space of some 263 pages. The one place where he stumbles is in the thematic chapter VIII, mentioned above. Though it provides valuable information, it is oddly placed within the narrative, and disrupts the heretofore chronological structure of the historical narrative to no truly good end. This chapter might have been of better service as an appendix, or even woven into the primary narrative as part of Caesar’s life in the 60s BC. Another glaring weak point lies in Billows claim that the young Octavian was to have served as Caesar’s Master of the Horse during the Parthian campaign planned for 44/3, a claim for which Billows presents no source or argument, and which the present reviewer’s research turned up no evidence. These oddities aside, Billows provides the best of the three biographies reviewed here, and certainly one of the best resources for a student of the period, combining his bibliographic prologue with a standard bibliographic list at the end of the text.
Though each of the biographies reviewed here has its strengths, neither separately nor together do they provide a complete picture of the First Triumvirs, or of their time. At best they provide a starting point for further research, and a general overview of the period from which to begin such research. There is still much to learn, and one hopes many more biographies on all three of these men to come.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Filmic Adventures

So during the recent way-too-many-plates-spinning-at-once hiatus from Solomon Mao’s, I did manage to watch a few flicks, so I thought I’d take a moment here and spout off some reviews.

Bridesmaids: F
Sometime in September, Mock’ and I lost count of just exactly how many people had raved about this movie to us, so one night at Family Video we broke down and rented it. Rest assured that if you are one of the people who recommended this move to me, you will pay. So women can do gross-out comedy as well as men. Okay. What else you got? Look! Women in groups are bitchy, fake, manipulative, insecure, and jealous of and among each other! Isn’t that funny? Nope. Not really. What else? Oh, I see, this film is a TWO-trick pony, and both of them are bad. Look, people, this isn’t character-driven humor, it’s characters written around a style of humor, and badly. I think Mock laughed three times in the first forty-five minutes, and I admit to laughing once, but the laughs weren’t all that hearty, and once we’d seen all two of the movies tricks—repeatedly—we turned the thing off and went on to better, and funnier things, like clipping our toenails. I can count on one hand the number of films that were so bad that I just couldn’t finish watching them, and Bridesmaids is one of them.

Hanna: D
Oh look, its The Bourne Identity meets Run Lola Run, only with better actors than the former and much less interesting than the latter! Not to mention plot holes large enough to steer a Maersk container-ship through. For instance, why, exactly, is it necessary to activate a radio-homing beacon and thereby let the evil CIA-Bitch (played by the usually amazing Cate Blanchett, who really disappoints here) know where young Hanna is when Hanna and her “father” have managed to disappear so successfully for at least thirteen or fourteen years? Seriously, if they can’t find your cabin in BF-Finland, they probably won’t be able to catch up to you in, say, London, either. Also, what’s with the awesomely ineffectual Euro-trash, metrosexual assassin whose habit of constantly whistling loudly would seem to provide any target plenty of warning that he’s in the neighborhood. Rather than creepy, that little tick turned out to be clownish. I’m not sure I get the press about Hanna being such a strong female character, either. The entire film revolves around Hanna doing just exactly what her father has trained her to do and the bad guys expect her to do. Hanna is more puppet than empowered female.

Inception: C
The theory here seems to be that if the action and pacing are kept fast, are combined with some truly stunning visual effects, and aided and abetted by the skills of Leonardo DiCaprio and Ken Watanabe, the audience will fail to realize exactly how little sense the premise upon which the entire film hangs makes. In truth I’m a big fan of both DiCaprio and Watanabe, but neither actor is anywhere near the top of his game in this film. I’m going to step aside here and let Trey Parker and Matt Stone finish this review with a clip from South Park’s “Insheeption” which pretty much sums this movie up:

The Bad Sleep Well: A
Ah! Thank God for Akira Kurosawa! (NOT the first time I've said that.) This very dark piece from 1960 is a tale of greed, revenge, and murder. Koichi Nishi (played by the incredible Toshiro Mifune), enacts an elaborate ruse in order to take revenge against the corrupt post-war Japanese corporate system. The film is a surprisingly brutal indictment of a corporate culture in which loyalty to the company is the ultimate measure of a man’s worth, more important than friendship, family, love, or any traditional moral code. Decades before No Country For Old Men, Kurosawa crafts an evil which is equally disturbing, and perhaps even more horrifying than the Coen brothers’ Chigurh for being so ruthlessly mundane. Warning: there’s no happy ending here, just brilliant, scathing filmmaking.   

Puss in Boots (2D): A
To wrap up with the most recent film here, it’s a delight to have enjoyed this animated adventure as much as I did. Puss (voiced by a scenery-chewing Antonio Banderas), turns out to be from a place that resembles Extremadura more than a little, and has all of the legendary traits of the region. He is dashing, daring, proud, foolish, undefeatable, and absolutely sure of himself. He is also unapologetically male in the Don Juan mode. Puss meets his match, however, in the dangerously lovely Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek), as he becomes involved in the twisted and nefarious schemes of Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis). The film has some lovely bits, particularly a flashback sequence in which Dumpty is revealed to have been in the background of every major plot point of the story, the rotundly ovoid puppet-master leading Puss to disgrace and dishonor. The cast obviously had tremendous fun with the film and it shows in every frame. The story was very well done, and I don’t feel as if I missed anything by eschewing a pair of clunky plastic spectacles. 3D had nothing to add except the usual “oh look, it’s kinda like it’s coming near me, sorta,” and I’ll pass on paying three extra bucks for that!

So, anyone else been watching movies lately?  

Monday, November 7, 2011

What's On My TV, Part II

Deadwood: A+.
David Milch’s masterful HBO series is one that I’ve been wanting to revisit for some time now, and lately I’ve been relaxing a couple of times a week with Al Swearengen (Ian McShane), Seth Bullock (Timothy Oliphant), and the rest of the magnificent cast of this one of a kind show. Milch comes at the 1870s American western frontier and boomtown from seemingly every direction at once, and with meticulous attention to every grime-encrusted detail of a mining-camp staggering its way towards becoming a town along streets paved in mud and excrement, both animal and human. The language is foul, yet rises to incredibly delightful heights of poetry echoing, and I believe firmly sliding into, iambic pentameter. Milch brings the dirt, violence, cursing, and fucking of humanity on the edge of the world vividly to life in this genre-defying piece of art. There’s never been anything like Deadwood, before or since, but there is hope, as Milch returns to HBO this December with Luck.

Alphas: B-.
The strangely re-named SyFy network, lately more famous for its C-grade TV movies than shows, came up with in interesting twist on an old trope that has a hell of a lot of promise. Basically, there are certain people who are born with extraordinary abilities, like super-strength, far beyond the usual human norm. However, such genetic gifts are seemingly always accompanied by some sort of disability. The super-strength results in metabolic overload guaranteed to eventually bring on a massive heart attack, for instance. Or the ability to understand any language, or create new ones, and write unbreakable code being accompanied by severe apraxia. As Dr. Lee Rosen, David Strathairn leads a solid cast including the breakout Ryan Cartwright as Gary Bell, an autistic who can pull all types of electronic signals out of the air without any technological aid, and whose on-screen chemistry with Bill Harken (Malik Yoba), the afore-mentioned super-strong guy with a dodgy heart, is simply brilliant. Unfortunately, the show’s primary romantic entanglement between Nina Theroux (Laura Mennell) and Cameron Hicks (Warren Christie) tends to bring the show to a screeching halt with their wooden dialogue and clunky attempts at a complicated relationship. Which is a shame, as both are fine actors, as Christie proved to my satisfaction in his recent big-screen role in Apollo 18. In addition, at the end of the series’ first season, the most interesting of the “bad guys”, the genius apraxic linguist Anna (Liane Balaban), was killed off in favor of a far more conventional (and boring!) Big Bad in the form of the urbane immortal Stanton Parrish (John Pyper-Ferguson).  Alphas has been renewed for a second season next Summer, though, and the show still holds a great deal of promise, so we’ll see.

Grimm: + (only two episodes have aired at time of writing but it looks good!)
The big surprise for me this season has definitely been NBC’s Grimm, from Joss Whedon alums David Greenwalt (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel) and Jim Kouf (Angel). The series is a generic hybrid, mixing urban fantasy/fairy-tales with police drama. Nick Burckhardt (David Giuntoli) is a homicide detective with an uncanny deductive ability. Turns out he’s also a direct descendent of the brothers Grimm, of fairy-tale fame. Only the tales weren’t really fiction, and we are definitely dealing with the original, not-for-kids Grimm’s Tales. The Grimms have been defending humanity from the various critters that hide among them for centuries now, the gift of being able to see the monsters among us passing from one descendent to another as the previous Grimm dies. (Slayer-syndrome, anyone?) The summary sounds like something that could be really bad, but the show pulls it off, largely through meticulous attention to the details of the fairy-tales, including some brilliant Easter-eggs for the viewer, as when the co-ed jogger in the first episode dons her red sorority hoodie to go into the woods and down “Talon Trail,” where she is dismembered and partially eaten by a wolf-ting with a penchant for the color red. Red Riding-hood has left the path again. The acting is good, and I think I can already call the breakaway talent as Silas Weir Mitchell, who plays the wise-cracking, pilates-fanatic, coffee-gourmandizing side-kick to Giuntoli’s befuddled detective, a side-kick who, by the way, is also a blutbad, better known to us kids as a Big Bad Wolf. Mitchell’s comic timing and rapid dialogue are both equally brilliant, and he provides a much needed stream of exasperated, why-can’t-you-just-leave-me-alone-already humor to what could otherwise be a very, very dark show. Honestly, the only reason I haven’t given Grimm an “A” is that I’ve only seen two episodes, so who knows where the show will actually go. Looking good so far though!

Well, that hits the high-spots, readers mine, or at least most of them. How about you? What’re you watching these days?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

What's On My TV, Part I

Technologically speaking I live in a bit of a mixed environment. In my garret student-apartment where I live during the week, I don’t have cable, but I do have a really nice LCD TV with a built in DVD-player and HDMI jack, so between my computer and Netflix, I manage to watch as much TV as I like during a week. The great advantage to this system is that it allows me to watch only shows which I choose, which leads to a pretty solid stream of Quality TV. Since this is an area I am coming more and more to focus on in my writing, I thought I’d start a semi-regular column here and let you know what’s going on in my own personal TV-land. Of course, you’ll see some currently airing shows here as well, because at home Mock’ and I most certainly do have cable, and a DVR, and all the modern TV conveniences. So, Readers Mine, here’s what’s on my TV.

Breaking Bad: So Good It Doesn’t Fit on the Scale, A+.
Seriously, if you haven’t been watching Breaking Bad, which just finished up its fourth season, get your ass to Amazon or iTunes or wherever and buy all four. This is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the best show on TV and for my money may well rank as the current pinnacle of Quality Television as a whole. In brief, the show follows Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) into the world of mass production and distribution of crystal methamphetamine, which Walt and a genius chemist, knows how to make better than anyone. The show brilliantly places the viewer in the most morally ambiguous of relationships with the  main characters, who you like, but know damn well are going places from which they can never, should never be allowed to, return. Alongside a humor so black it often reminds you of the gulf between stars, show creator and showrunner Vince Gilligan and his crew pay exquisite attention to detail, and there are no true minor characters, every one being fleshed out as a unique individual, from the criminal lawyer Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) to the meth-whore Wendy (Julia Minesci), to Goodman’s secretary Francesca (Tina Parker), Gilligan & Co. take the time to make them all real. Watch this show, and watch out for more about it right here.

Justified: A-.
A show recommended to me over a year ago by the great Mary Alice Money, which I finally got around to watching this fall. I’ve been a Timothy Olyphant fan since Deadwood so I was happy to see him getting regular work, and tuned in expecting a pretty standard police procedural. Happily, I was completely wrong. Oh, there are elements of that, but Justified goes much farther. Olyphant plays Deputy U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens, something of an anachronism with a Stetson and a Glock whose sense of justice winds up getting him exiled from the Marshalls office in Miami, to Lexington, Kentucky which is too close to the infamous coal fields of Harlan County, where Raylan grew up, and where his father, a ne’er-do-well lifelong criminal, still lives. The series is based on the character of Givens as created by Elmore Leonard, and sucked me in immediately. As with Breaking Bad local color is a huge part of this show, but instead of the hard, arid spaces of New Mexico, Justified takes the viewer into the almost claustrophobic lushness and humidity of Southern forests and small towns, and lives that are consumed in the black hells of the coal mines. The reality of Eastern Kentucky is a hard land with hard people, and Justified brings them eloquently to the small screen. Again, character realization here is exquisite, particularly in the case of recurring sort-of villain Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins). My one complaint is that the series doesn’t do so well by its women characters, although I have only seen the first season, so things may well improve. Indeed there are strong hints that they will in the burgeoning characters of Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter) and Helen Givens (Linda Gehringer). A tremendously well-acted show with a solid blend of humor throughout. Another that’s at the top of my list.

Babylon 5: A.
The oldest show I’m currently rewatching, and still one of the very best. Babylon 5 is J. Michael Straczynski’s epic, ground-breaking, Hugo award-winning science fiction series detailing five tumultuous years in the lives of a group of humans and aliens who live in “one million, five hundred thousand tons of spinning metal… all alone in the night.” Straczynski plotted out the show as a five season arc before the first episode was ever written. This intricate plotting and extended arcs earned the series the reputation of a “novel for television,” and the five seasons can be read as the five basic parts of a novel: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and dénouement. This was something new in television, and although long story arcs are now part and parcel of the small screen experience, Straczynski started it all. Not to mention using groundbreaking CGI on a weekly basis, and attracting some of the best and brightest in SF to script individual episodes (including D.C. Fontana, Harlan Ellison, Neil Gaiman, and David Gerrold). Again, it's an exquisitely acted show with an incredible ensemble cast including Bruce Boxleitner (John Sheridan) Mira Furlan (Deleen), the late, great Andreas Katsulas (G'kar) and the unforgettable Peter Jurasik (Londo Mollari). 

More than all of that, however, Babylon 5 was the first time I realized how powerful, how wonderful, TV could be. Back in the early 1990s, when the show first aired, I didn’t have cable, and the local station that broadcast B5 did so at 2 am on Sunday morning, so every Saturday, without fail, I stayed up to watch it. It was the first time a TV show ever made me tense up in my chair, made me laugh out loud, tear up, and spring from my seat with a “Holy Shit! Did you see that?!??!” Babylon 5 is where Quality TV begins for me, and now after several years, I’ve finally convinced Mock’ to watch it with me. So far, it holds up beautifully, and watching it with her, seeing her see it for the first time, is absolutely incredible. The entire series is available in whatever format you prefer. Watch it. You’ll never regret it.

Well, this turned out to be longer than I was thinking it would be, so I’m going to dub it “Part I,” and break up my TV post into several. Tune in soon, Readers Mine, and in the meantime, happy TV watching!