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March 20, 2011

Babylon 5: Legacies
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 09:17 AM * 180 comments

The Rule about Movies:
1. It has to have at least two women in it
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something besides a man
The Bechdel Test

Watching Babylon 5, I frequently find myself thinking about that thing that appeared in the internet’s strobe-light consciousness last November: the real lack of overlap between the shows Democrats follow and the ones Republicans do. For me, Bab 5 is an early example of that divide. Its themes and values make it a thoroughly liberal, progressive show, despite its glancing resemblance to more conservative milSF.

We’ve already had an “organized labor is good” episode (By Any Means Necessary) and an “authoritarians are bad” one (Eyes). This one, though less overt than those two, is in the same category for me. It focuses on a marked area of difference between the left and the right: the roles that women play in society, and the value and validity of different, gender-linked, forms of conflict management.

The two subplots are almost entirely detached from one another, so I’ll cover them separately.

On the one hand, there is the “fighting men, appeasing woman1” storyline: Shai Alit Branmer, one of the war leaders of the Star Riders clan has died. His second in command, Alit Neroon, is bringing the body back to Minbar, but has turned the journey into a ceremonial tour. On Babylon 5, he tries to make it a causus belli as well. He goes out of his way to offend and confront Commander Sinclair from the start. And when the body vanishes, he becomes even more aggressive. He threatens to restart the war, suggests that he “have [his] ship assume the job of taking this station apart”, and even breaks into Sinclair’s quarters to search them. And Sinclair, though not provoking Neroon in return, is all too easily baited into shouting back at him. It’s classic to the point of stereotype, and not unlike the previous episode in tone. That bugs me. The entire clash oversimplifies the confrontational mode of disagreement, leaving it no natural outcome but the most violent.

Delenn cuts against this escalating aggression with stereotypically feminine conciliation. She intervenes in the conflict whenever it takes place in her presence, and sides alternately with each of the antagonists as she tries to defuse their clashes. Many of her interventions are the sort of thing that I do as a moderator:

Neroon: These are my requirements, Commander
Sinclair: This is my station. I don’t take orders here.
Neroon: Impetuous. Is this how you reacted on the Line, Commander?
Sinclair: This isn’t the Line.
Neroon: No. We were in control there.
Sinclair: How would you like to…
Delenn: It’s been my experience that discussions of old battles only interest historians. What do you think, Commander?
Sinclair: I think I have a station to run. Now if you’ll excuse us?

But her peacemaking efforts are rather undercut by the fact that she is the one who has stolen the body. And until Sinclair finds out about it and confronts her, she seems willing to trust that Neroon will somehow give up on his search and accept a mystical explanation. That seems unlikely; there’s no groundwork laid for that kind of outcome. Given his behavior in the episode I’d actually expect him to end up pushing war onto the humans first. And I’d expect Delenn to have seen that. The fact that she caused the conflict, and this lack of perception, really undercut the portrayal of the classic “feminine peacemaker” stereotype2.

In the end, Delenn stops appeasing and changes to confrontational mode, ordering Neroon to seek a meeting of minds. And I’d say that just about redeems the subplot, because the resolution that he and Sinclair come to is consistent with their roles as warriors4, as problem-solvers by conflict. One of them has won, the other lost, but they both respect each other for the fight. As a multiculturalist, I approve: the lesson is that there is more than one way to deal with disagreement, and that you have to use the tools native to the problem at hand.5

(Neroon, by the way, becomes a recurring character. He grows and changes substantially over his own story arc. And in the end, his conversation with Delenn about whether Branmer was properly considered a member of the religious or the warrior caste is beautifully ironic.)

The other storyline concerns Alisa Beldon, a young girl from Downbelow whose latent telepathy becomes suddenly and overwhelmingly active. Talia thinks she should join PsiCorps, but Ivanova is reluctant to let her go. While she’s struggling to decide, Na’Toth offers her employment in the Narn Regime, supplying genetic material to allow the Narn to breed telepathy into their species. And in the end, she takes Delenn’s offer that she join Minbari society, where telepathy is less a job than a calling which telepaths are supported in following.

This is conflict resolution by negotiation and empowerment. Ivanova and Talia are contending over Alisa, but they both resist the temptation to use their different forms of authority to do more than force a stalemate. Ivanova insists that Alisa has to stand trial for theft, and thus cannot leave the station, but doesn’t actually put her on trial. Talia demands that Alisa be sent to join PsiCorps as the law requires, but allows her time and emotional space to choose her own path. Both persuade and argue, but do not command or compel.

Interestingly, this subplot doesn’t just pass the Bechdel test; it actually fails the reverse Bechdel. There are only two male characters even peripherally involved in it, and they don’t talk to each other. Dr. Franklin takes care of Alisa’s medical needs, but plays no decisive role in her future. And Ivanova consults Sinclair early on to get his permission to follow her best judgement. Other than that, all of the main players are female: Alisa, Talia, Ivanova, Na’Toth and Delenn. That places the conflict resolution in this subplot firmly on the distaff side of the gender divide.

Alisa is a cipher throughout the episode. She has virtually no personal characteristics apart from a rather gormless desire to be liked6. I’d have expected her to be more marked by the early loss of her mother and her two years supporting herself alone in Downbelow after the death of her father. Her only expressed motivation is a desire to be financially secure, and her only emotional reaction is after she touches Na’Toth’s mind and finds it disturbingly alien. In the end, I saw no reason, no thread in her narrative, for her to take Delenn’s offer.

Although this curious blankness as a character makes her final choice less comprehensible, it does allow her to be a kind of Everygirl as she chooses among her possible futures. And they’re pretty much the same range of choices that we women all wrestle with: Talia wants her to have a career; Ivanova praises marriage and children. Na’Toth’s offer is the other side of marriage and children—the committment to live with someone deeply alien to yourself and have offspring who will partake of that alienness. And Delenn’s proposal is the final choice: a life of service, giving up one’s own direct benefit for the good of others7.

This episode is written by D.C. Fontana, whom I first encountered as an Old Trek writer. Her scripts for that show frequently tackled the theme of difficult choices: both This Side of Paradise and The Enterprise Incident require Spock to pick between love and duty, emotion and logic. And Journey to Babel, also hers, includes a theme of bullheaded masculine conflict mediated by a woman. Although I don’t recall her previous scripts being so overtly about the experience of women, I’m not surprised by these themes appearing here.

One point I did not like in the episode was right at the end. Alisa has already picked the fate of Bremner’s body out of Delenn’s mind and reported it to Sinclair. That’s a breach of the Minbari’s mental privacy, but an unintentional and necessary one. However, when Sinclair asks Alisa what else she saw in Delenn’s mind, and Alisa answers him, they conspire against her mental integrity with no pressing need. The yield: a single mysterious word. Chrysalis.


  1. I am aware that the Minbari have different gender relationships than we do. But this episode doesn’t go into that at all. And the more aggressive, warlike character is played by a distinctly male actor.
  2. Also, while we’re picking at that subplot, how does she cremate the body, and if cremation facilities are available on-station, wouldn’t Garibaldi or Neroon check to see if they’d been used?3
  3. And, while I’m at it, how does that scrap of cloth end up outside the carrion-eaters’ quarters?
  4. Note that Neroon, after giving Sinclair a Minbari fist-across-chest gesture, offers a human handshake. His hand is too high—clearly this is an alien gesture to him. The fact that he does it is as powerful as Sinclair’s offer of a message of respect. These guys have genuinely reconciled; they’re not just making nice.
  5. As a mediator by nature, I do feel shortchanged. But I can understand how the elision seems reasonable to other points of view.
  6. Not helped by the bubbly California teenager persona the actress projects. This is probably the worst acting in the series so far.
  7. Sometimes this is a religious vocation. Sometimes it’s just an ailing relative and a lack of support network.

The next entry will discuss the two-part episode, A Voice in the Wilderness.

Index of Babylon 5 posts

Comments on Babylon 5: Legacies:
#1 ::: Abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2011, 10:04 AM:

Here's an entry for this blog's Spelling Reference: Bechdel.

#2 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2011, 11:12 AM:

There are more polite ways of pointing out spelling errors in the main post. Just sayin'.

#3 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2011, 11:39 AM:

Does it pass the Bechdel Test if a woman is talking to herself?

#4 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2011, 11:45 AM:

2. Who talk to each other

If you're gonna sneer, sneer with substance, or at least read the text presented.

#5 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2011, 12:05 PM:

Its themes and values make it a thoroughly liberal, progressive show, despite its glancing resemblance to more conservative milSF

I'm still 'amused' that Bush had enjoyed the show - a revelation that apparently left Straczynski aghast.

#6 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2011, 12:06 PM:

Abi @ 4... I didn't sneer. It's the other guy over there who made that sneering sound.

#7 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2011, 12:25 PM:

alex:

I think it depends on whether the woman has multiple (female) personalities, who discuss something among themselves other than men.

Off the top of my head, I can't think of that many SF stories involve multiple personalities inside the same head, but perhaps I'm just blanking--it seems like I should be able to think of many of them. (Miles' brother Mark, Pham Nuwen's godshatter, the weird other-dimensional aliens in _The Gods Themselves_, the character with the passenger in his brain chip in _Look to Windward_, Golum/Smeagol, but it seems like this is a trope that has been used a lot more than that....)

#8 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2011, 12:28 PM:

Again with my selective memory! I remember Neroon and his character arc, probably because of what my friends and I called THE VOICE (and also what happened later, hoo boy), but I'd forgotten why he was on the station.

The Alisa plot is far hazier; Alisa herself didn't make a dent, but I remember some of the arguments made to her. It reminded me of medieval debate poems like Le jugement du roy de Behaigne and the Livre des quatre dames. That genre presents several incompatible options, each with their good and bad points; after the poems were read, the listeners were supposed to debate for the rest of the evening.

#9 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2011, 12:35 PM:

I was joking about the first 2 posts, which *looked* [and still look] like Abi was talking to herself... In the circumstances, it seemed apropos.

#10 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2011, 12:46 PM:

alex @ 9:
I think the first comment is from a different "Abi" (note the capitalization, and the link to a different URL). But I agree that it looked like two successive posts from the same person (that was my first thought)...

#11 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2011, 12:52 PM:

Albatross @7

I always thought the Bechdel test wasn't intended as a total assay. It's not that no movie should ever fail it (for instance, I think the only way to make Moon pass would be if the main character was female, in a homosexual relationship, while Dog Soldiers has only one woman because every other character is in the Army and it's leaning on masculine war-movie archetypes in a way that makes an integrated service a poor choice, at least this decade).

It's that movies, overwhelmingly, do fail with no excuse. Some movies always will: those with only one character, for instance, or those with all-male casts for a reason. But there are lots and lots of movies that fail for no particular reason, just because nobody bothered to put women in roles other than love interests.

So I'd say that of your examples, only the passenger chip scenario would pass (Mark doesn't really have multiple personalities, just subsets of his own coping strategies, while Pham's godshatter is considerably weirder) but that's okay.

#12 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2011, 12:53 PM:

Ok...sorry. I apologize, alex.

From where I was sitting, it felt like one snark about my spelling, then another about the Bechdel test, on a post where I was actually trying to say genuine, substantive things.

#13 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2011, 12:55 PM:

I remember watching this episode on DVD (I missed it when it was originally broadcast) and freezing the picture when it showed Alisa's station ID record, which gave her religion as "Obeah". Which I thought was a nice (if virtually unnoticeable) nod to the religious diversity previously alluded to in "Parliament of Dreams".

#14 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2011, 01:05 PM:

albatross, #7: The protagonist in C.S. Friedman's This Alien Shore is a multiple.

#15 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2011, 01:39 PM:

I was ready to go all "Thou Shalt Not Appropriate Others' Nyms", but, following the link, the commenter @ 1 really is named Abi.

#16 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2011, 01:45 PM:

"...the value and validity of different, gender-linked, forms of conflict management."

Yes, this. But even more so: the importance of individuals being able to employ both confrontational or conciliatory approaches as the situation requires. So win for Delenn, but lose for the two men.

#17 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2011, 02:50 PM:

Well, Abi, you've finally done it.
I just went and bought Season One.

#18 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2011, 03:13 PM:

I just discovered that when Netflix says it has season 1 streaming, it means it has all but the last two episodes streaming, while those are, for no apparent reason, available only on disc. Which makes me grumpy. But, hey. I can still get them from Netflix! Just far less conveniently.

Back to the actual episode on hand, my obligatory comment about my memories of watching it the first time: I had completely forgotten the plot about the body, though upon reading the recap, I can sort of dimly recall aspects of it. I do remember the bit about the teen telepath, but for some reason I'd thought it occurred in season 2 or 3. Mostly I recall that the teenager was annoying, and that I sort of felt sorry for Lyta needing to make convincing arguments for an organization that had been presented so far as Evil, With A Side Of Evil, Plus Sincere Dupes And Those Doing The Best They Could While Working For Evil People. Which is a sort of challenging proposition at the best of times.

One of the things I like best, though, about the whole issue of how telepaths should-or-shouldn't be controlled--and to be fair, it's one of my least favorite recurring issues on B5--is that it so much isn't a thinly veiled metaphor for some RL issue. Oh, there are certainly parallels to be drawn to all sorts of other issues, especially involving inborn traits one can try to hide against society's disapproval, but...it's not a modern issue barely reskinned. It really is its own thing in its own world, and part of what makes Babylon 5 really feel like its own reality. (Compare, for example, the sincerely meant but painfully clumsy ST:TNG episode in which Riker and a member of a unigender-yet-all-played-by-women species fall in love...)

Ivanova continues to be one of my favorite characters, and part of that is, to be fair, that she's a major female character on a television series who is never defined by her love interests. (Maybe that's why I disliked Marcus so much? But that's a rant for another time. Like, when he actually arrives on screen.) She interacts with men and with women as people, not as "potential love interest" and "potential rival or sympathetic ear about love interests". While I have nothing against romance in my TV shows, it does say something, I suppose, about the cultural tropes in them that I am deeply relieved when a woman is not entangled in them immediately and as her primary personal plots.

I rather wish Delenn and Ivanova had more interaction in the first season, because they're two female characters who I'd really like to see just...sit down and have a talk about life philosophy, Russian vs. Minbari. Or something. But I suppose that's the sort of thing fanfic is made of.

#19 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2011, 03:14 PM:

Meh.

I'd argue that Delenn is not acting as a female, in as much as she's acting as a member of the religious cast.

There's a political subthread in this episode in that the Shai Alit was religious caste, like his mother, but because of the war, became Warrior caste. Delenn's objections to the ostentatious ceremonial display are in part that he would not have wanted it, and it was not appropriate for one of the religious caste.

The religious caste does seem to function as as judges, and decision makers, politically; note that Neroon follows Delenn's orders, much as the Warrior caste followed the Religious caste's orders to cease fighting.

There's an interesting similarity in Delenn's role in "taking" Alisa to Minbarr. And in the scene where Alisa sees Delenn and the Shai Alit's body--are we to assume Delenn is also telepathic? Or just aware? Or what?

And wrt to spelling snark--I'm relying entirely on adaptive technology today to write; my eyes are swollen so that I can't focus at all with either eye. If you wanna snark, you try using adaptive tech on an iPad when you're dyslexic and legally blind, and see how you fare. I'm more than a little taken aback that someone created an account just to post a spelling correction? That's firmly in the get a life square.

#20 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2011, 03:36 PM:

Lisa @19:

Neroon doesn't follow Delenn's orders because she's religious caste, but because she explicitly says she's speaking on behalf of the Grey Council. He does ask when she gives the order; that implies (to me) that he might not have obeyed it simply because a religious-caste person gave it. How I interpreted it was that the Council are his superiors, their representative gives him a direct order, and he obeys it.

I get the feeling he doesn't really like the religious caste at this stage in his life.

Although Minbari society splits its conflict styles by caste, human society (stereotypically) splits it by gender. This is another one of those double-layered things, where we as humans, watching a human-written TV show full of human actors, see something different than the Minbari themselves would were it real.

But I think the casting choices plus the conflict styles, which between them mean a woman is being conciliatory and a man is being confrontational, are real expressions of human values. And that makes them worth examining. They tell us what the people here and now are thinking, by how they project our shadows on the species-neutral, gender-neutral, culture-neutral cave wall.

#21 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2011, 03:42 PM:

I just saw this episode last night.

Thematically, it seemed to me to focus on reconciliation. Ivanova and Winter agree to sit down and have coffee together. Neroon and Sinclair come to an understanding and shake hands. Alisa reconciles with her talent by choosing to go to Minbarr, where she will be both honored and instructed.

I also thought that this episode greatly foreshadowed the two linked episodes to come, by telling us the story of a contemplative's choice to serve his community by sacrificing his life to the needs of his people. From what Delenn says, for the Shai Alit to become a warrior was actually a great personal sacrifice, and particularly worthy of honor for that reason. Neroon's desire to honor the Shai Alit as a great warrior is therefore exposed as a fundamental misunderstanding of the person being honored. It was a nicely drawn situation, and made for some surprisingly effective drama; I liked it.

#22 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2011, 03:45 PM:

My goodness, I just realized that I wrote up my whole nattering about telepaths while under the assumption it was Lyta doing the talking, not Talia. I blame...name similarity. Or something. (Or the fact that I get depressed when I think about Talia's storyline. Erf.)

#23 ::: Anticorium ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2011, 04:36 PM:

It's not just name similarity. Each of the archetype-fillers has pretty much the same coupons issued to them. (Example from a later season: S's SO, PL in an IEM, CBs from the D... or DS?) This was by necessity, based on the process JMS wanted to use, but still it takes a long time for there to be a Lyta plot that couldn't have been a Talia plot.

#24 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2011, 07:11 PM:

Serge @ 17: That was not Abi, it was abi. Slight differences in how you pronounce: abi, Abi. You are seeing now?

Fade & Anticorium @ 22 & 23: I'm still not sure if Zathras and his nine siblings are an intentional lampshading of this.

#25 ::: Jim Henry ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2011, 07:55 PM:

Anticorium @23: could you try restarting your cryptic point in a more standardly decryptable way, e.g. ROT13? I get (I think) that you're arguing that Lyta does a lot of things that Talia would have done if the actress playing her hadn't left the show, but other than that, I'm missing the specifics.

Fade Manley @18: I agree strongly; the way the telepath situation is developed is one of the strongest aspects of the worldbuilding. I didn't like it at first when I started watching the show -- partly a matter of bad acting on the part of Ms Thompson, partly because I had been led to expect something more hard-sf, less Cambellian psi powers -- but somewhat better acting from Ms Tallman, and great acting from Mr Koenig, and great writing from JMS brought me around. The episode from Bester's POV in the fifth season is one of my favorites.

#26 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2011, 08:13 PM:

Paul Duncsnson @ 24... It's like 'Ah-bi' vs 'Hah-bi', right? No matter what, I'm in awe of abi and owe 'er a lot.

#27 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2011, 08:56 PM:

Paul Duncanson @24 said: That was not Abi, it was abi. Slight differences in how you pronounce: abi, Abi. You are seeing now?

(tsking noise) No one listen to moderator. Moderator tell them, play nice, but do they listen? No ...

#28 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2011, 10:02 PM:

heresiarch #15: Well, I note that Mr. Abinandanan (pic on his older blog) is a first-time commenter, so he ought to get the usual allotment of slack.

But yeah, when replying to a post by a moderator who's already using the same name, it would have politer for him to choose a disambiguated version version of his handle. (Q.v., why I'm never just "Dave" on the net. ;-) )

#29 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2011, 10:04 PM:

Me @#28: Oops, sorry about the superfluous version. :-)

#30 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2011, 11:15 PM:

I suddenly feel stupid.
("Only now?")
I heard that.

#31 ::: kate ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2011, 02:03 AM:

TexAnne @8 -- It always struck me that way. That the character herself wasn't important, per se, but the arguments and the expansion of the main characters' characters was what was really vital, in that episode.

(I'd usually hate this, since it makes the actual focus of the plot into a plot device, and women/girls are made into plot devices to make main characters Learn Things all too often (see: fridging), but the actor was sorta irritating, and I therefore coped just fine this time.)

JMS seems to have done that kind of thing a lot -- that is, tried to have a show that would Make People Talk. This episode, imo, did it better than some others.

(I don't remember the Neroon-plot as well, and now that I'm more interested in conflict resolution myself, I should definitely watch this soon.)

#32 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2011, 03:01 PM:

Devin #11:

Yeah, it's a useful quick metric, but it doesn't give you a strong judgment. The real question you're asking is hard to judge in any content-neutral way--does this story treat women as actual characters, or more like NPCs with a limited supporting role.

The SF I've watched on TV since TNG, at least, has done a pretty consistently good job of having female characters who were actually characters, had their own concerns and desires and interests, etc. DS9, Voyager, Firefly, and B5 all have important female characters who are very clearly their own people.

I want to see the mashup episode where you take a few interesting female characters from each series and bring them to a dinner party. Hosted by Cordelia Vorkosigan.

(By the end, Kyra and Zoe are off with the armsmen sharing war stories, Kaylee and Belana are in a corner talking engineering, Janeway and Ivanova are comparing notes about keeping their crews working smoothly, and Cordelia is fascinatedly following a discussion of detailed sexual techniques and experiences between Ezri Dax and Inara. Lyta and River fell into a telepathic fugue state upon meeting and are still in high-bandwidth wordless communications.)

#33 ::: Bob with a pseudonym ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2011, 03:04 PM:

albatross@7: _Flowers For Algernon_ involves several distinct personalities inside the same head, but only one at a time. The progression is nonetheless distinct from the expected character-development personality change that one might expect across the development of a story.

#34 ::: Jörg Raddatz ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2011, 10:22 PM:

Regarding the Bechdel test: I have wondered for a long time what exactly "talk about something besides a man" entails. For example, I just watched absent-mindedly a crime thriller with two female detectives and a female ~DA, who talked a lot to each other, but IIRC only about the male crime victim and the three (?) male suspects. No conversation about the investigators' private life at all. They were presented as sometimes erring, but overall very competent persons.

I really cannot say - would such a movie fail the test or not?

#35 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2011, 10:44 PM:

Jörg @ 34... It passes the Test, I think, as long as the men are not being discussed as dates and mates. Unless the detectives were into necrophilia.

#36 ::: Torie ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2011, 11:41 PM:

I've only seen the first half-dozen episodes of B5, so I can't comment on this particular one, but the Fontana connection doesn't surprise me. Most of her Star Trek work explored (male) identity and conflict, which may have been a necessity of the format. In addition to the TOS work you mentioned she also wrote "Dax," the DS9 episode that explains Dax's history and the trill canon. Dax is put on trial for a crime her previous host committed, and the point at issue is whether a person that is a part of you is the same as the person you are. She is many lives, but which one is she? The mother? The husband? The murderer? The scientist? The answer is a cop-out and she felt like a cipher, too. I was disappointed.

But having said that, I can't think of any SF television that has accurately and adequately explored the competing roles and obligations of women in a way that didn't, in the end, feel cheap. It doesn't bother me in things like Battlestar Galactica, but for shows like ST and B5 that deliberately tackled those kinds of progressive social issues, it disappoints every time.

#37 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2011, 11:50 PM:

Jorg, #34: IMO that would pass the test with flying colors. Those women were talking about their work; the fact that men were the subjects was incidental. There's an unexpressed connotation of "as romance objects" in the third condition.

#38 ::: Jörg Raddatz ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2011, 11:58 PM:

Lee, Serge -- thank you very much. The "romantic interest" angle makes it much clearer.

#39 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 07:06 AM:

Serge@34, Lee@37, Jorg@34,38

At least under the current tvtropes definition of the test I don't think the situation described in #34 would pass the test.

Quoting from http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheBechdelTest

"The requirements are just what they say they are - it doesn't make any difference if, for instance, the male characters the women talk about are their fathers, sons, platonic friends or mortal enemies rather than romantic partners. Conversely, if a work seems to pass, it doesn't matter if male characters are present when the female characters talk, nor does it matter if the women only talk about stereotypically girly topics like shoe shopping - or even relationships, as long as it's not relationships with men."

#40 ::: Nickp ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 08:33 AM:

albatross @7,

In addition to the other titles that have been mentioned: Walter Jon Williams' Aristoi has multiple characters with multiple personalities, but we only get to hear the internal conversations of one of them.

#41 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 08:49 AM:

Michael @#39: Wow, OK, that makes it a much less useful test--turns it from "Are these women interacting with each other as adults with adult concerns?" to "Boys are icky!" I mean, I wouldn't necessarily say that, for instance, two daughters discussing their father's problems passed; that's still making it All About Teh Menz. But two cops and a DA discussing murder victims? Why does it matter whether the victim was convex or concave?

#42 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 09:23 AM:

Because TV Tropes is a well-known authoritative source, and not in any way a wiki where people get to write what they feel like.

For the record, I always thought that 'about a man' rather obviously meant in an 'object of desire/despair/romantic subjugation' sense.

#43 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 09:50 AM:

For things like the Bechdel Test, TV Tropes is about as authoritative as it's going to get without asking Bechdel herself, I think.

I should point out that I had always assumed that the romantic partner bit was in there, and am dismayed that there's enough of a consensus it isn't that no one's bothered to change the TV Tropes page.

#44 ::: anaea ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 11:29 AM:

The reason you don't want to limit it to romantic entanglements is that women can be hemmed in by men in all sorts of non-romantic ways. The idea is that the women should have lives that do not revolve around the men in close proximity. So even if none of the women in the conversation have any kind of romantic entanglement with their male boss, if all they ever do is talk about him, then they're being defined by their relationship with a man.

That said, the detectives and DAs are talking about a corpse, not a man. That corpse was never anything but a hunk of dead flesh to them so its former male-ness is incidental. I'd give it a pass.

#45 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 11:54 AM:

abi @0: when Sinclair asks Alisa what else she saw in Delenn’s mind, and Alisa answers him, they conspire against her mental integrity with no pressing need. The yield: a single mysterious word.

That would be JMS's trademark inclue-x-four.

Serge @17: JMS should have invested in tech-stock. B5 is the reason I wound up buying both my first VCR and color TV.

Fade Manley @18: I just discovered that when Netflix says it has season 1 streaming, it means it has all but the last two episodes streaming

"The Quality of Mercy" and "Chrysalis" are both available on Netflix's B5 Season 1. However, there are three "making of" items which are, in fact, available only on disk.

#46 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 12:06 PM:

@21-27: Leave it to the Fluorosphere to make so much silliness out of, not even a single differing letter, but differing case of the same letter....

#47 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 12:14 PM:

I've already given my argument about the Bechdel test: short version - "Things that pass the Bechdel test are not necessarily good, and things that fail it are not necessarily bad; but if it fails the test, and there isn't a Good Reason for it, then it's likely that they've succumbed to 'unmarked = male', and that is a bad thing."

On the "about something other than a man", my take on it is between the two extremes. If the women's only purpose is to be "as you know, Betty" about "the man", or if they're the secretary and the cleaner who only talk about how bad working for The Boss is (basically, their purpose is to look good and to be character exposition for the man), I think it counts, even if the secretary doesn't have any intention of sleeping with The Boss.

I'd say that if it happens that the dead guy is a dead guy, and the discussion is work discussion talking about parts, I think we're good. If it was "O.M.G. Do you know who I had to work on today? <man>! You know, he..." "Oh yeah, and when he..." "I know. And there he was, lying on my table! Isn't it aMAZing?" - um, no.

To take it to extremes, I'm guessing anyone would let the two female proctologists at the prostate cancer convention slide, even if they were only seen presenting their new colonoscopic surgery technique.

On B5: This is an episode I "don't remember" - I do now with the plot revisited, but it just blinks away in my memory. All my memory takes from it is "pay attention to the Regulations, because everybody is going to try to get what they want, and then find what regulations can be used to justify their position."

#48 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 12:36 PM:

I think the point of the Bechdel Test isn't that it's a super accurate and reliable test that's carefully designed to cover all contingencies, but that it's an incredibly trivial and somewhat inaccurate test that movies nonetheless utterly fail in staggering numbers.

#49 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 01:00 PM:

I thought the point of the Bechdel Test was to measure the value of a female character as a human being within a story.

#50 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 01:24 PM:

heresiarch @48: Agreed. Also, pair it with something Dwayne McDuffie said (see TNH's Particle), that you can just get away with having two black characters, but if there are (gasp!) three, suddenly it's a "black product".

Serge @ 49: Well, that too. The problem is the strength of the default "important = male", to the extent that movies have two male characters talking to each other, about stuff to do with, say, the plot of the movie, all the time and yet it's quite rare to find in a movie two women who happen to be talking to each other about something other than men (to a large extent, simply because there are generally many less women than men per movie). It's like the experiment where a teacher carefully gave 50% of her attention to the boys and 50% to the girls in class, and when asked afterwards, both boys and girls perceived she had been concentrating on the girls too much: it's all-pervasive.

#51 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 01:28 PM:

dcb @ 50... concentrating on the girls too much

That reminds me of the 20-something fan of ST-TNG who felt that "Voyager" had way too many female characters. After he said that, I mentionned it to a lesbian co-worker and we both wondered if he'd complain about those uppity females wanting the right to vote in Federation elections.

#52 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 03:49 PM:

anaea, #44: So even if none of the women in the conversation have any kind of romantic entanglement with their male boss, if all they ever do is talk about him, then they're being defined by their relationship with a man.

Okay, that makes sense. And I still say that the scene Jorg described passes on that basis.

heresiarch, Serge, dcb: Exactly. See also the survey of college students which showed that if the women in the classes contributed more than 15% of the class discussion, they were seen as "dominating the conversation". And the only way to get away from it is to push back, a little bit at a time, until a different proportion of female participation is seen as "normal".

Related digression: One of the ways in which this is done is in the mass media, and the very existence of the Bechdel test proves both that things are improving, and that we have a long way to go yet; we're largely still in the "first, you notice it's happening" stage on this. But if we agree that seeing more autonomous female characters, or more unmarked gay characters, on TV and in the movies affects the way society perceives women and gays, I don't see how we can then turn around and say that sanitized non-toon* violence in TV and movies doesn't affect the way society perceives real-life violence.


* I specify "non-toon" here because anybody who can't tell the difference between the Roadrunner blowing up Wile E. Coyote (who always gets back up to try again) and real life has way more problems than just watching violent cartoons.

#53 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 04:00 PM:

Abi is pleased at people's enjoyment of the naming similarity. She lives to serve. She will probably die in some useful fashion as well. But at least there will be symmetry.

#54 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 04:04 PM:

abi @ 53... Let's not rush to the Undiscovered Country. No, not the Future. The other Undiscovered Country.

#55 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 04:25 PM:

Serge @54:

Don't worry. I'm just riffing.

#56 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 04:41 PM:

I got around to actually watching the episode again last night, and peculiarly, what bothered me was Na'Toth. Or, more precisely, the Kid Telepath's reaction to her, then Sinclair's response.

While I don't really expect a 13-year-old recently traumatized emergent telepath to have the most graceful phrasing, she described Na'Toth's mind as being "cold" and "alien". Which...okay. Na'Toth is demonstrably alien. One would...sort of expect that? Which, since I didn't remember the episode, I was hoping would turn into a discussion of how different alien minds feel to human telepaths (and vice versa), especially when Delenn came in.

But...no. Delenn's mind is apparently warm and fuzzy and not a source of any discomfort, even when it pulls up the memory of freezing people's minds against their will and stealing something. And Sinclair kindly explains to Kid Telepath that, oh, of course Na'Toth's mind is a scary place! You see, the Centauri did horrible things to the Narn, so the Narn homeworld is a very scarred and ugly place, and the Narn are all vicious now!

This is the sound of a needle scratch as the record stops, going on in my brain.

The phrasing there was just...horrible. I mean. I've seen four seasons of Babylon 5. I know there's going to be a lot of upcoming gray morality and nuance and complexity to the Centauri vs. Narn thing. But just the way it was presented there! "Horrible things happened to these people, and the scars are lasting. Therefore they're horrible people." It gives the (I assume intentional) lesson that if bad things have happened to you, this makes you Bad.

The Minbari, who serenely held military superiority, could have smushed the Earth into a finely ground paste, and nearly managed it? Awesome warm fuzzy minds of happiness! Go live with them after a quick chat and some vague promises! Good people! (You can tell because they're superior.)

The Narn, who lived through slavery and brutalization and had their homeworld torn apart by others? No wonder their minds are cold, alien places. Stay far away. They're dangerous. Of course they are. Horrible things happened to them.

#57 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 05:11 PM:

Fade @ 56... If I remember correctly later episodes, B5 stepped away from this vision of the Narn. Heck, storytellers make things up as they go, but, unlike writers, a TV show can't easily go back and fix things. As for the Minbari vs Narn view, well, Miran Furlan does look better than Andreas Katsulas, with and without makeup. :-)

#58 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 05:34 PM:

abi @ 53, 55

Is it just me, or is your Russian accent a bit stronger today than it usually is?

#59 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 05:48 PM:

Serge @57: It does change later, and honestly, that's probably part of why I found that approach so shocking in this episode. When I was watching it the first time, at this point I was sort of nodding along with "Right, the Narn are eeeeeeeevil, I get it, you hammer on it every time they show up." This time around, knowing just how much the Narn have been kicked around, and why they're so desperate to get any advantage they can, it just feels...icky.

Especially when put in an episode highlighting issues from the Minbari/Earth war. Two people who fought each other bloodily a few years back can reconcile their differences and respect each other, but a people who was conquered until recently, well, of course they're all bastards.

But, as you say, television can't really get an after-the-fact edit. And for all I know, there was a more nuanced approach that was cut for time; it's coming up as a side comment on the B-plot, after all.

#60 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 05:49 PM:

abi @53: So would that make the Nielsen Haydens the Old Ones? Timeless, powerful, irate when rudely awakened--hmm...

#61 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 05:54 PM:

heresiarch @60:
So would that make the Nielsen Haydens the Old Ones? Timeless, powerful, irate when rudely awakened--hmm...

Abi has seen Patrick before his morning coffee. She knows better than to discuss our host in terms such as that. She especially knows not to discuss him in terms such as that if they are accurate.

#62 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 05:54 PM:

praisegod barebones @ 58...

"Now this is a drink for a man."
"Scotch?"
"Aye."
"It was invented by a little old lady from Leningrad."

#63 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 06:41 PM:

Fade Manley (56/59): I just had an odd thought about the Narn thing: What if it's only Na'Toth whose mind is "cold" and "alien"? At this point, the humans haven't seen a softer side to the Narn, so Sinclair just assumes that they're all like that.

I'm not sure I'm convinced by this--it smacks of retconning or special pleading--but it could work.

#64 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 07:02 PM:

abi @53: Abi is pleased at people's enjoyment of the naming similarity.

But wait, is that abi or Abi? Being at the beginning of a sentence, it might be abi, capitalized. Or it might be Abi, uncapitalized.

::sob:: I'M SO CONFUSED.

#65 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 07:23 PM:

Mary Aileen @63: I think I could buy that if it were a Narn who later turned exceptionally villainous (or at least unusually ruthless), but Na'Toth, at least, doesn't seem particularly unusual as a Narn. Pragmatic, loyal, looking for revenge for old hurts...

Though that could also be my fondness for the character shining through. I cracked up at her comments about checking teeth, despite being peripherally aware of the potential Unfortunate Implications there. (Which I assume were intentional.)

#66 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 08:05 PM:

"The Narn are cold and alien."

I'm not sure we're meant to trust the perceptions of a newly awakened teenage telepath. I'm damn sure that I wouldn't.

#67 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 09:00 PM:

Fade Manley (65): That is a flaw in my theory, yes. Drat.

Lizzy L (66): Good point.

#68 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 09:44 PM:

Lizzy L @66: I'd probably go with the "First alien mind, no wonder she's freaked!" interpretation if it weren't for Sinclair's "Oh yeah they are totally bad people" comment later. That said, you're quite right; it's being spoken by a deeply unreliable narrator, and one person's delicious avocado ice cream is another person's WHAT IS THIS COLD NASTINESS IN MY MOUTH.

#69 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2011, 10:30 PM:

Jacque @ 64... I'M SO CONFUSED

...probably because Abi-Wan Kenabi used the Force on you, as Mary Dell shows.

#70 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2011, 07:06 AM:

56: I don't think I actually have a problem with that; in season 1 at any rate the Narn are pretty unsympathetic. Yes, they had horrible things done to them a century ago, but they've reacted by turning themselves into a militaristic, paranoid, aggressive state. They're ruthless and expansionist, and they sell arms to anyone who has the money.
I think the point is that "We must never let this happen to us again" is a belief that can lead you into very dark places, as Ivanova would tell you.

Don't forget how the first episode of the series started - with an unprovoked Narn attack on a Centauri agricultural outpost, and a video of a forced confession by a Centauri prisoner. Not nice people.

Let's not rush to the Undiscovered Country. No, not the Future. The other Undiscovered Country.

That would be the one "from whose bourne no traveller returns", right?

Yep, no traveller can get past that bourne. It's impassable. It's far stronger than any other bourne. It's got bourne supremacy.

#71 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2011, 07:37 AM:

ajay @ 70... no traveller can get past that bourne

"I've been dead before."
- Spock

#72 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2011, 07:46 AM:

Serge @71:

What can't we do if we get in it?
We'll work it through within a minute
We have to try. We'll pay the price.
It's do or die.

Buffy: Hey, I've died twice.

#73 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2011, 07:50 AM:

More generally, I wondered what Alisa would have thought about a Centauri mind.

I ask this because the Narn are reptilian and don't funer fbhyf jvgu uhznaf. Either of these two factors could conceivably cause them to come off as so alien that some telepaths might well react badly.

The Centauri are not reptilian, but they don't have the latter trait. So it would be an interesting comparison.

#74 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2011, 08:21 AM:

@70-72: "Do this or you're a dead man? Death: Been there, Done that."

#75 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2011, 08:23 AM:

I ask this because the Narn are reptilian

Are they? I thought they were marsupials*. They keep referring to children as "pouchlings".

*Or, in the case of male Narn, parsupials.

#76 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2011, 08:29 AM:

Maybe. They're not mammals, anyway, nor mammal-equivalents. I'm not sure they're warm-blooded.

My point is that if they're physiologically sufficiently different from us, their minds might "feel" different to some telepaths, depending on sensitivity. And some of those telepaths might react adversely to those differences.

#77 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2011, 10:07 AM:

As for why Sinclair might feel more generous toward the Minbari, remember the Big Revelation in an episode of a later Season?

#78 ::: anaea ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2011, 10:51 AM:

I could see how, to a burgeoning telepath, the Narn would be more alien than the Minbari - they have no telepathic ability at all whatsoever. It's possible that whatever was done to the Narn to make sure they don't accidentally breed a telepath left the psychic space in their heads scarred in a fashion disturbing to somebody capable of perceiving it. Sinclair then piles on with a bit of bigotry picked up through working with the Narn while they're in their reactionary bad guy phase.

I've never connected the S1 Narn desperation to develop telepaths with the revelations from later on in my head before. There's a depth there I missed.

#79 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2011, 11:01 AM:

Fade Manley @56: I have to say, I think I'm becoming a fan. A Fade Fan?

#80 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2011, 11:07 AM:

78: IIRC what happened to them was that all their telepaths were killed off in the first Shadow War. No telepath genes left in the Narn gene pool, so no more Narn telepaths born. There's no reason why the survivors should have been scarred any more than a non-telepathic human is scarred.

#81 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2011, 11:14 AM:

Fade Manley @56: The Narn, who lived through slavery and brutalization and had their homeworld torn apart by others? No wonder their minds are cold, alien places. Stay far away. They're dangerous. Of course they are. Horrible things happened to them.

More seriously, I was just reading in National Geographic about the post-Aparteid South Africa. Sadly, the above seems less tropic to me now. (Dispite clear and obvious improvements, SA is aparently still dealing with ridiculously high rates of murder and violent crime, for example.) The heritability of abuse seems to occur at the cultural level, as well as the familial and individual levels.

#82 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2011, 11:44 AM:

One thing that really irritates me about B5 is that, not all that long ago, several of the major human-contacted civilisations in the galaxy were involved in a very serious war against a terrifyingly superior enemy which they won - very narrowly. It was only a thousand years ago; it should be in every history book. It should be common knowledge. And yet the human race seems completely ignorant of this.

So presumably either

a) no human has ever expressed any curiosity at all in Narn or Minbari history

or b) both races - and all the other races who fought in the Shadow War - have agreed (for some unknown reason) to keep this massively important historical fact a secret.

#83 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2011, 11:55 AM:

ajay (82): Perhaps they were so massively traumatized that they just want to forget?

Vorlon mind-whammy?

#84 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2011, 11:57 AM:

ajay @ 82... This reminds me that nobody was around to hear Charles Foster Kane say "Rosebud".

#85 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2011, 01:13 PM:

Among the Narn, that history is written in religious books, and it's rather vague on the details. A human student of Narn history might very well ignore that stuff, and only concentrate on the stuff that's been recorded properly and seems meaningful.

I doubt anyone can get much information out of the Vorlon.

But it seems like somewhere along the way, there should be human and Centauri and Narn and Drazi and other historians who study Minbari history. And while some of that will be wrapped up in religion and apparent myth, the Minbari were a youngish spacefaring race when the last war happened, so there must be a lot of recorded history available.

It's a lot more likely that it's known by scholars that some big war took place a thousand years ago involving the Minbari being very junior partners to the Vorlon, along with a bunch of other races who may not even be around anymore, but since the Minbari/Vorlon side won the war, presumably the threat is gone. And they might very well discount Valen's prophesies about a future return of the same enemy, figuring that religion and myth and prophesy are unreliable.

As some support for this, remember the Earther that came looking for clues to the picture of the Shadow vessel in season 2? Look at how skeptical he was of G'Kar and Londo's answers, even though they turned out to be spot on. And to be fair, I'd be massively skeptical of this kind of answer, too, especially Londo's.

#86 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2011, 01:22 PM:

ajay @82: The other races may have been around in space for a while, but their individual lifespans are not that long. Look at "The Deconstruction of Falling Stars" (just 100 years). To most people the last Shadow War has passed into myth, legend, lies told to children to make them be good - as is indicated in bits and pieces, later. The Membari Religious Caste may have better records, but they seem to keep stuff secret and I doubt the other races have very much.

#87 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2011, 01:40 PM:

dcb (86): Very minor nitpick, but it's been bugging me: it's spelled 'Minbari'. :)

#88 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2011, 02:00 PM:

ajay, #82: Well, how much about things that happened circa AD 1000 is "common knowledge" to us now? Despite the fact that this is well within the range of human history, and there are actual contemporary records available? And how much do you think anyone on Earth will know or care about WWII in another 900 years?

That the Shadow War has devolved to the category of myth and legend surprises me not at all.

#89 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2011, 03:05 PM:

The trouble I would have is that, if the race is advance enough to be space-faring, it certainly seems likely that they would have recording technology and, like, news. I would find it implausible that records would be comprehensively wiped, failing an active supression effort.

For comparison, the First Crusade was just under a thousand years ago and, even with only iron age tech, we still have names and dates and detailed accounts.

#90 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2011, 06:57 PM:

Serge @ 84: Though he's not actually on screen in the opening death scene, Raymond the butler confirms later in the film that he was present at Kane's death and he heard what he said.

#91 ::: Marc Mielke ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2011, 07:26 PM:

Another strange thing about the Narn being "particularly alien" is that they are the one race shown to be sexually compatible with Humans. Repeatedly.

It's mentioned several times that G'kar has this somewhat peculiar taste.

#92 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2011, 07:39 PM:

Marc #91:

G'Kar also apparently doesn't mind Centauri women, ng yrnfg vs gurl'er bar bs Ybaqb'f jvirf.

#93 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2011, 07:50 PM:

Serge @84
I've always figured that when the movie says Kane died alone, it meant with no loved ones or friends there. Nurses and servants are paid to be with the dying.

#94 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2011, 08:02 PM:

Magenta, #93: Yes. There's a Hercule Poirot story in which he points out that the question, "Who is staying in the house?" has very different answers when asked socially vs. medically. Kane died alone socially -- no one who mattered was there to hear his dying utterance.

#95 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2011, 08:14 PM:

Magenta... Lee... If I remember correctly, Kane is literally alone when he says "Rosebud" then he dies, letting go of the snow globe. Upon its hitting the floor, that's when the nurse comes in. I first realized that the plot's driving event had had no witnes when I read Charlton Heston's autobiography: he was with Welles (who courted the mother of my sis-in-law's hubby, but I digress) when a fan of the latter asked him. Welles froze, looked at him and strongly suggested that he not bring this up to anybody.

#96 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2011, 08:46 PM:

abi @73 & 76: Oo. Those are good points. Especially the spoiler-ed one. There's certainly some important degrees-of-alienness going on there. (I am suddenly pondering the example of, say, a human telepath looking at a dolphin's mind, and then a bonobo's.)

Jacque @79 & 81: Why, thank you!

And, really, that's also a good point. An uncomfortably realistic one, even. I sort of wish Sinclair had gotten the time to make some of the uncomfortableness/complexity of it a little more explicit, but...maybe that wouldn't have fit the character? And it almost certainly didn't fit the time available for an episode that was not exactly leisurely and full of filler.

I suppose ultimately my concern is going to be addressed anyway: there's sure as hell going to be a lot of time spent on the Narn, and how they handle oppression, later on in the series. No one in the setting of Babylon 5 is the Army Of Faceless Evil Mooks, or even (entirely) from a Planet Of Hats where their hat is Treachery. Not even the Shadows, by the end. It's probably the knowledge of the greater complexity of later seasons that has me wincing when things are given simple, short answers right now.

#97 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2011, 04:21 AM:

Mary Aileen @ 87: Oops - apologies for the annoying typos - sorry, I was in a hurry and thinking of other things. (And I do know how it's spelt, really: Minbari, Minbari, Minbari)

#98 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2011, 06:27 AM:

Well, how much about things that happened circa AD 1000 is "common knowledge" to us now? Despite the fact that this is well within the range of human history, and there are actual contemporary records available?

Well, a lot, actually. There's a lot of common knowledge about things that happened in Arabia circa AD 622, for example, or in Palestine circa AD 30. Yes, those events are recorded in our religious traditions, but they're also the subject of vast numbers of serious history books.
AD 1066 is famously one of the Two Memorable Dates in British history. We make blockbuster films like "Spartacus" about things that happened twice as long ago as AD 1000.

And it doesn't have to be known by everyone; it just has to be in the history books. I just can't believe that a technically advanced civilisation gets occupied by near-godlike aliens, fights them off at terrible cost, and then just... forgets about it except for a few myths in a religious book that no one really takes seriously.


#99 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2011, 06:41 AM:

Fade Manley @56: "But...no. Delenn's mind is apparently warm and fuzzy and not a source of any discomfort, even when it pulls up the memory of freezing people's minds against their will and stealing something."

Well, at least that is explicable; remember that at the start of season 2 it is explained that the Zvaonev unir pbzr gb oryvrir gung uhznaf naq Zvaonev funer gur fnzr fbhyf. Na boivbhf pbafrdhrapr bs guvf fubhyq or gung uhzna naq Zvaonev zvaqf ner zber pbzcngvoyr jvgu rnpu bgure guna bgure enprf ner.

Abi @0: "However, when Sinclair asks Alisa what else she saw in Delenn’s mind, and Alisa answers him, they conspire against her mental integrity with no pressing need. The yield: a single mysterious word. Chrysalis."

No pressing need, and also no plot consequences from the fact that they know, so this becomes quite simply a rather clumsy attempt at building suspense. Which, I think, it fails to do, because nobody has the first clue what that means...

On an unrelated note: Legacies is the first episode I saw. While it didn't immediately hook me (I didn't watch again until about half way through season 2), it certainly didn't cause any negative associations.

#100 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2011, 06:51 AM:

ajay @98: the question becomes which civilisations were advanced at the time. We know that the Minbari and Vorlons both were, but both are secretive enough that they wouldn't tell the others. We also know that the Narn were aware of the Shadows, but the strong implication elsewhere is that they weren't a technological society until they were invaded by the Centauri, much later. As far as we know, their civilisation may well have been in somewhat less developed state than ours. We know they could write (as G'Quan lived at the time and wrote a book that described them), but beyond that we know little about them.

Further than this, I don't recall any suggestion any of the other races encountered the Shadows. So it does seem plausible that they aren't general knowledge.

#101 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2011, 07:39 AM:

Yes, the galaxy-spanning war that's only a thousand years ago which has passed into myth and legend is ridiculous. JMS should have used 10,000 years.

It's not as bad as Star Wars, mind you, where the Jedi and the Force have apparently vanished into legend in just 20 years.

#102 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2011, 10:22 AM:

The Minbari are mentioned several times as one of the older races. If the rest of the current races weren't yet spacefaring a thousand years ago, they may not have been direct participants in the last Shadow War. So they could have legends, but no actual history. And the Minbari are quite secretive; do they share their history with outsiders? It could even be that Valen told them to keep the Shadows quiet, until the time was right.

#103 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2011, 10:41 AM:

We also know that the Narn were aware of the Shadows, but the strong implication elsewhere is that they weren't a technological society until they were invaded by the Centauri, much later. As far as we know, their civilisation may well have been in somewhat less developed state than ours. We know they could write (as G'Quan lived at the time and wrote a book that described them), but beyond that we know little about them.

We also know that Narn was partly occupied by the Shadows during the war, and that all the Narn telepaths were killed off during the struggle (led by G'Quan) to kick the Shadows out. So they weren't spacefaring, but they were sure as heck directly involved in the war. It was the foundational event of their culture, a tremendously destructive war, the cause of the mass slaughter of an entire section of their population, and the starting point of one of their major religions.
We're talking about something with the combined historical resonance of World War 2 and the Hejira. And, yet, the humans seem completely ignorant of even the very basic details of this event.

#104 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2011, 10:45 AM:

It also suggests, incidentally, that Narn telepaths must have been absolutely bloody terrifying. They were part of a pre-technological, largely agrarian society and they managed to completely defeat a Shadow contingent. Even the best human telepaths can only just about manage to chuck a coin across a room.

#105 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2011, 10:51 AM:

Two alternative hypotheses/retrocons:

a. We know that an enthusiastic interest in things alien would cast suspicion on any important person in Earthgov or the Earth Alliance Forces, thanks to the post-Minbari-war xenophobia. So it's quite possible that at least Earth doesn't have any serious experts on alien history/culture that have any power or can get anyone to listen to them.

b. We know that [spoilers for seasons 2-4] Cfvpbecf naq Pynex'f nyyvrf va Rnegutbi raq hc pbafcvevat jvgu gur Funqbjf, naq nyfb nqncgvat gurve grpuabybtl. Vg'f dhvgr cynhfvoyr gung gurl ner nyfb npgviryl fhccerffvat nal qvfphffvba be vasbezngvba nobhg gur Funqbjf, gur Funqbj Jne, rgp.

#106 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2011, 11:05 AM:

Option a) is rather dumb, though - hated enemies are the one kind of people you really need to know a lot about, even if only your intelligence community is allowed to do the finding out.

Not that recent history does not afford us many examples of dumb intelligence communities...

#107 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2011, 11:29 AM:

ajay:

I had the impression that the Shadows were defeated, but that the Narn had little to do with it. And that the Narn were missing their telepaths because the Shadows abducted them all to turn them into ship controllers, not because they were so successful at fighting the Shadows. (How would a pre-spacefaring society kick the Shadows off their home world, anyway? [Season 4 spoiler]Gur Pragnhev, creuncf gur guveq zbfg cbjreshy nyvra pvivyvmngvba xabja orsber gur Funqbjf fubjrq hc (oruvaq gur Ibeybaf naq Zvaonev), bayl znantrq vg ol fhogreshtr naq tbbq yhpx.)

#108 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2011, 12:00 PM:

ajay @ 104:

If I knew Babylon 5 canon well enough to feel comfortable doing so, I would totally be outlining a fanfic epic (complete with bittersweet ending) on that premise right now.

#109 ::: Braxis ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2011, 12:29 PM:

The Minbari don't seem technologically advanced enough to have a 2000 year (usefully space faring race at the time of the Shadow War plus the 1000 subsequent years) head start on human civilisation.

Perhaps there was a 'Canticle for Leibowitz' style dark age caused by the war? The religious caste retreat to monasteries and temples, saving what information they can, in whatever format best ensures it's survival.

#110 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2011, 12:37 PM:

107: Bit of looking around online and a) the Narn didn't do it alone; they had Vorlon "military advisers"; but b) yes, that is why all their telepaths were wiped out - they were killed in the fighting.

109: not 2000 years; if you imagine that at the time of the first Shadow War in 1250 they were about where the humans are in 2250, that still makes them 'usefully spacefaring'. But I like the Foundation idea, and it would explain why the religious caste have so much power; it's a historical hangover from when they were at the heart of preserving and rebuilding civilisation.

#111 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2011, 12:40 PM:

108: oh, definitely. It would also explain why the Narn are all so tough - they have to be, because they used to have a society in which 1% or so of the population could kill you with their brains. Evolution in action.

#112 ::: Braxis ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2011, 01:23 PM:

ajay @110 D'oh! Thanks for the correction. There was a small flag raised in my brain when I wrote it, but I couldn't quite see the error.

#113 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2011, 01:40 PM:

Niall McAuley @ 101... the Jedi and the Force have apparently vanished into legend in just 20 years

...and Obi-Wan Kenobi aged fast during that time. I guess the Tatooine climate didn't agree with him.

#114 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2011, 01:44 PM:

Fade Manley @96: I am suddenly pondering the example of, say, a human telepath looking at a dolphin's mind, and then a bonobo's.

Or (wandering off on a tangent) ants. Would one look in the the mind of an ant or an ant colony.

Jules @99: Chrysalis ... no plot consequences from the fact that they know, so this becomes quite simply a rather clumsy attempt at building suspense.

Well, no, because we also see Delenn working on the beginnings of her sculpture in her quarters. So: no immediate plot consequences.

No argument on the clumsy part, though. My sense is that JMS just sort of jammed it into the end of the script because Fontana didn't include enough about it to suit him. (ISTR hearing that the JMS/Fontana chemistry was less than optimal, which is one reason why she didn't do any other scripts.)

Fade Manley @108: If I knew Babylon 5 canon well enough to feel comfortable doing so, I would totally be outlining a fanfic epic (complete with bittersweet ending) on that premise right now.

Bugger canon: write it anyway, and then file the serial numbers off and sell it as your own. I'd buy it. We already know I like your writing. :-)

#115 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2011, 02:32 PM:

Jacque @114: See, I was thinking dolphin vs. bonobo as Narn vs. Minbari, since they're the two animal examples that come to mind as "very intelligent" but with drastically different evolutionary closeness to humans. Trying to read an ant colony would be...

...would be like trying to read the Shadows.

Huh.

Now there's an idea.

And, you know, I will let that plot idea about the Narn bubble away a bit in the back of my head, and see if it wants to be written, or just wants to be a Nifty Idea. (I've got plenty of other stuff that wants to be written right now, but I have learned to generally write what I find most exciting to right, and bugger marketability; if it's not actually something I can sell--which to be fair, nothing yet has been, in the novel/short story sense--it's still good practice.)

#116 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2011, 04:10 PM:

Fade: And if it's exciting to write, it's far more likely to be marketable anyway, at least in the long term.

Okay. I'll sit back and wait patiently. Whaddya think? Friday next?

#117 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2011, 05:37 PM:

Lee @ 88: "And how much do you think anyone on Earth will know or care about WWII in another 900 years?"

*Everything*, if the History Channel has anything to say about it. Which reinforces what Jacque said @ 89: any spacefaring race probably has cheap and pervasive digital recording; records between now and a thousand years in the future will be far, far more comprehensive than what we have now from the Crusades. If human society is any guide, Minbari records of the Shadow War should have been comprehensive enough to keep the Minbari History Channel supplied with "Greatest Generation" material for oh, about a thousand years. Only a Canticle-like event really explains the lack.

ajay @ 103: "It was the foundational event of their culture, a tremendously destructive war, the cause of the mass slaughter of an entire section of their population, and the starting point of one of their major religions."

On the other hand, that might explain exactly why Narn records of the first Shadow War were so thin: a historical event of that importance to Narn identity is exactly the sort of thing that the Centauri would have been eager to erase. I can easily imagine Centauri historians carefully combing through Narn records to torch every account of the war that they could get their hands on: only the semi-mythical and widely-dispersed account in the book of G'Quan survived.

#118 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2011, 05:48 PM:

Jacque: ...Friday, huh?

Well, it would be a way to work around my current waffling between two projects, neither of them particularly useful. (Unfinished NaNoWriMo piece with weird structure versus another sequel to a not completely edited novel: fight!)

#119 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2011, 06:18 PM:

heresiarch #117: *Everything*, if the History Channel has anything to say about it. Which reinforces what Jacque said @ 89: any spacefaring race probably has cheap and pervasive digital recording;

And if we were attacked by a race that plastered the planet with EMP's, say goodbye to the History Channel, along with much of our recent historical record. If the attackers also made a habit of torching cities, or if the attack was after the fabled point where everything's digital and paper is obsolete... well we might not remember our own Crusades, or much else!

#120 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2011, 07:26 PM:

Minbari records of the Shadow War should have been comprehensive enough to keep the Minbari History Channel supplied with "Greatest Generation" material for oh, about a thousand years.

Minbari cable TV obviously only has three channels. History Channel for the warrior caste ("Secret Weapons of the Shadow War"), the Valen Broadcasting Network for the religious caste, and the shopping channel for the worker caste.

The Rangers just get the BBC. They live for Wildlife On One, they die for Wildlife On One.

#121 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2011, 05:39 AM:

heresiarch @117: On the other hand, that might explain exactly why Narn records of the first Shadow War were so thin: a historical event of that importance to Narn identity is exactly the sort of thing that the Centauri would have been eager to erase. I can easily imagine Centauri historians carefully combing through Narn records to torch every account of the war that they could get their hands on: only the semi-mythical and widely-dispersed account in the book of G'Quan survived.

<blink> <blink>

Shades of Tibet, anyone? ::shiver::

#122 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2011, 05:41 AM:

Fade @118: Cat-vacuuming that's actually even writing! How can you go wrong?

#123 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2011, 05:45 AM:

David Harmon @119: plastered the planet with EMP's, say goodbye to the History Channel, along with much of our recent historical record. If the attackers also made a habit of torching cities, or if the attack was after the fabled point where everything's digital and paper is obsolete... well we might not remember our own Crusades, or much else!

Can you say "Library at Alexandria?" I knew you could....

This is the one thing that really scares me about this shiny new Future we're having so much fun in.

At the moment, our best defense is duplication. "Back up...EVERYTHING."

#124 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2011, 05:46 AM:

ajay @120: ::Jacque falls over laughing::

#125 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2011, 07:02 AM:

124: Centauri cable has a vast number of channels, they're all subscription-only, but actually most of them are just showing old repeats.
Pak'ma'ra cable is the only service which has a "questionable content" lock on the Food Channel.
There are two Drazi cable services, but you're only allowed to receive one of them. What's the difference? They're very different! It's obvious!
Narns don't have cable. It distracts them from their duty.

#126 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2011, 07:13 AM:

Nobody gets "MythBusters", except for Ivanova, who likes the 'boom' scenes.

#127 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2011, 07:52 AM:

I've always believed that the Narn would really appreciate Klingon opera. And that of all the regular B5 crew, only Garibaldi would really get along with the Tymbrimi, if they showed up.

#128 ::: Jörg Raddatz ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2011, 09:04 AM:

David Harmon @119: Since I fail completely in making the rather obvious joke about remembering the Crusade in a B5 context, i can just say this:

I have always assumed that the interest of many Star Trek-like characters in the 20th century and its trivia meant one thing: From ~2000 on, everything important had been stored mostly in digital form and that all went away in one great crash. So the stuff they recreate on the holodeck is actually the most recent stuff they have good records of.

#129 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2011, 10:57 AM:

Jörg Raddatz #128: That's one interpretation... here's another: There wasn't a crash, and it all just piled up into a mega-archive, the exploration of which becomes an occasional hobby. It's because of the limits of the medium (and the writers) that we don't see characters delving into late-21st-century multiroute immersives, or growing copies of famous 22nd-century nanohive companions, or....

#130 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2011, 11:41 AM:

I have always assumed that the interest of many Star Trek-like characters in the 20th century and its trivia meant one thing: From ~2000 on, everything important had been stored mostly in digital form and that all went away in one great crash

This is actually part of the Star Trek backstory, isn't it? There was a great war, or series of wars, in the early 21st century that pretty much knocked out civilisation, and it was only by good luck that the few surviving humans managed to build a warp drive, attract alien attention and subsequently rebuild Earth?

In which case the attraction of late 20th century Earth is that it's the Golden Age; the last flowering of independent human civilisation before the great crash. Anything since then is either depressing Mad Maxery or modern, post-contact Federation history, which is too recent and similar to the present day to be worth re-enacting.

#131 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2011, 11:59 AM:

albatross #127:

I'd love to meet the Tymbrimi if they ever showed up.

#132 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2011, 07:47 PM:

myself @100, & responses to this: I've been watching ahead and just got to "The Long Dark", in which one of the non-aligned world ambassadors (struggling to remember which makeup goes with which species: scaly, flat nose -- does that make him Markab?) is also aware of the ancient war.

Knowledge of the war does seem to exist -- it just seems most people don't treat it as important.

#133 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2011, 09:38 PM:

ajay, I thought that Zefrem Cochrane was a Centaurian and not from Earth at all. (Which leaves open the question of how humans got that far, since all they apparently had were 'generation' ships.)

#134 ::: Kaleberg ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2011, 09:39 PM:

Fade Manley: Arguing that good people should have pleasing minds while bad people should have unpleasant minds sounds like the pathetic fallacy or, more appropriately, the telepathetic fallacy.

ajay re:120: I think that nails the internal division of Minbari society very nicely. I got the impression that each caste went its own way, save when they were all threatened, unlike Earth with its myth of the farmer, statesman, warrior, et al.

I always had the impression that Minbari culture was very closed. They didn't have a big outreach department, and didn't encourage outside visitors. After all those years, they were still centered on one home world. How would a researcher from Earth get access to the planet, let alone to its archives? The Narn may have been involved in the conflict, but they had a very limited view of it, It's not clear they had any detail of off world developments. It's also not clear that the Centauri were around then or involved in the conflict at all.

#135 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2011, 10:59 PM:

Kaleberg #134: the telepathetic fallacy.

LOL! That is a coinage that deserves to take root.

#136 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2011, 03:10 AM:

Kaleberg @134: Hee. Though it does seem to be the argument that the show is presenting, doesn't it? "This mind is unpleasant" = "This person is cruel", "This mind is pleasant" = "This person means well." At least in this early stage. I suppose it always takes a while to lay the broad black and white strokes before working in the grays.

#137 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2011, 10:18 AM:

One might suggest that if telepathy cannot cut through the surface veneer to determine the 'deep truth' of someone's character, then it is pretty crappy telepathy. Of course, racialising [species-ising?] that is Not So Good, but in principle, nice people ought to have nice head-insides, no?

One might turn the question around, and ask what form of internal sprezzatura would be needed to keep one's motives a secret in a telepathic universe - but then one would find all [well-tuned] minds to be as pleasant on the inside-outside as a Renaissance court was on the outside-outside...

#138 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2011, 11:20 AM:

alex #137: Dude, that "deep truth" shibbolethcomes up in every discussion of telepathy!

Why should someone's passing thoughts define their character more fundamentally than their actions toward other people? That's like claiming that an automobile is automatically a fire hazard because a running car has (gasp) burning gasoline inside it!

I certainly have an abundance of noxious fantasies, but the thing is, I recognize them as such and have no interest in actually enacting them. For telepathy to be functionally useful, it had better be able to recognize and discount that sort of thing.

#139 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2011, 01:08 PM:

alex @137: I actually find that premise rather horrifying. Can one only be a Good Person if one naturally and easily never has any wicked thoughts? I have all sorts of horrible, selfish, wicked thoughts all the time, many of them quite vicious. I consider myself (more or less) good because I have decided not to act on them, or to act contrary to them, not because I've never had them in the first place.

I think it'd be an interesting scifi premise (or fantasy one, given the fuzziness of telepathy's "science") where there's a world loaded with telepaths, and people who are born with pleasant, amiable dispositions and a disinclination to think wickedly were automatically considered to be better people than those with nastier thoughts, regardless of subsequent action. It'd rapidly become a self-fulfilling prophecy as many of those who were broadly known as Wicked would decide they might as well act that way, too, since they'd catch the same scorn either way. It'd probably be a very Calvinist place, in a sense; you're a Chosen Good Person or not, and there's not really anything you can do about it. Except maybe fret a lot over whether or not you were keeping your thoughts sufficiently pure and pleasant to continue being Good.

#140 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2011, 01:30 PM:

If you can see the wicked thoughts, then why wouldn't one be able to see the part that chooses not to act on them? Wouldn't that part be more obvious, given that it's dominant?

#141 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2011, 03:40 PM:

#133 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2011, 09:38 PM:

ajay, I thought that Zefrem Cochrane was a Centaurian and not from Earth at all. (Which leaves open the question of how humans got that far, since all they apparently had were 'generation' ships.)

Canon changed between the end of TNG and the movie with Cochrane in it.

According to my (non-canon, but based on the writing guides of the time) Paramount-produced sourcebooks/manuals/Guides, First Contact happened thusly:

Earth laboriously got together a just-slower-than-light ship and sent it off to Alpha Centauri, where they found the Centaurians, who were ahead of us somewhat, looked just like humans, and hadn't just gotten squashed by world war. Cross-pollination between our scientists and theirs led their genius physicist, Zefrem Cochrane, to come up with the principles underlying a practical warp drive. A joint Centauri/Terran crew took it out for a jaunt, and at some point in the test trips, their drive emanations attracted the attention of a passing Vulcan survey ship, who politely initiated contact in an oh-so-we-would-never-want-to-meddle-in-the-affairs-of-lesser-races way -- because they had warp drive, they could talk to them, effectively. Eventually, the Terrans, the Vulcans, and the pig-faced people whose name escapes me (Tellurians?) formed the nucleus of a movement to found what eventually became The Federation.

The movie rewrote things so that Cochran was human and the Centaurians are no now longer anywhere perceivable.

#142 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2011, 03:47 PM:

141
I haven't seen that movie. It may or may not be good, but I haven't had to re-write my internal universe on that.

#143 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2011, 05:28 PM:

Elliott Mason @ 141... The movie rewrote things so that Cochran was human

With all the time-travelling that went on even before the 2009 movie, I'm not sure there is an original timeline anymore.

#144 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2011, 05:59 PM:

Fade Manley #139: And then there's the question of children....

#145 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2011, 11:38 PM:

alex @137: One might turn the question around, and ask what form of internal sprezzatura

Oh my! What a lovely, shiny new word! Thank you!!

David Harmon @138: Dude, that "deep truth" shibboleth comes up in every discussion of telepathy!

::SCOWL::

It does? I've been around a fair number of discussions of telepathy, and it doesn't seem to be a dead horse, IME.

And your phrasing above reminds me powerfully—and painfully—of my brother's "Jacque, your ignorance is showing," when I once asked him to explain something to me.

Zathras not respond well.

I think you have interesting and useful points. But.

Fade Manley @139: I'll be looking for this story in my inbox a week from next Tuesday.

You're sickening, my dear. You splatter fascinating story ideas the way a horse sprays snot when he sneezes. And you encapsulate them so tantalizingly. Idea-boogers, they are. They stick to my mind, and no amount of blowing will dislodge them.

#146 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2011, 11:43 PM:

Fade: You have a website, don't you? URL, please? <taps foot>

#147 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2011, 01:19 AM:

Jacque #145: I'm sorry, I was being cranky (for offline reasons), and dismissive, which was uncalled for. I apologize.

However, I *have* eventually encountered it in a fair number of long discussions of telepathy, and it is closely related to Kaleberg's "telepathetic fallacy". Indeed, like the TPF, it's rooted directly in the "origin fantasy" of (this version of) telepathy: being able to "infallibly" know someone else's thoughts and character.

Accordingly, when it shows up in fiction, it tends to show up as a wish-fulfillment character or species, which I find more and more grating over the years.... Examples would include McCaffrey's dragons (Pern), Lackey's empaths (Valdemar) , and some of Zenna Henderson's telepaths (The People).

#148 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2011, 01:40 AM:

Annnd, not making this up, I JUST read a on-topic cartoon in the latest Funny Times: Betsy Streeter offered a balloon from someones head: "WARNING: This part of your brain contains thoughts that are not suitable for all viewers. Do you want to continue?"

#149 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2011, 02:02 AM:

David Harmon @147: I apologize.

Thank you. :-)

being able to "infallibly" know someone else's thoughts and character. ... Accordingly, when it shows up in fiction, it tends to show up as a wish-fulfillment character or species

::squirms:: (It's a good thing I've decided that the purpose of my Mary Sue universe is, well, Mary Sue-ing.) (I really wish Teresa would publish comprehensive edition of her "Don't Do This" list, if only so I could simply go down the list and check things off as I get to them. If you're gonna do it, Do It Rite, ya know?)

Can you think of any fiction you've read that addresses this complaint adequately?

Maybe we should commission something. Oh, Fade....

@148: I believe you. That's been happening to me continuously over the last week.

#150 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2011, 02:12 AM:

Jacque: ...I have a livejournal! (fadethecat, there.) Which is mostly my nattering about schoolwork and events of the day, and is probably next going to be filled with a long gushing review of The Sims Medieval, but I often lock rough drafts of my writing to my friends list, for commentary. I had a website, but I took it down out of frustration over web design issues...

Oh, and I'd happily send you a story or two to read if you wanted to have a look. I just...can't promise much. Ideas are always so much easier than elegant execution, and plot's the hardest thing of all.

obB5: I find it interesting that telepaths get such different things when taking a look. Crystal clear exact memories in replay (though the clarity of those I excuse as being an easy way to film and convey them), emotional sensations that are strong at the moment, a general sense for a person... And really, in any given setting, there's nothing wrong with saying "A telepath can cast Detect Alignment by reading someone who's unprepared." I just think it's a lot more interesting if people's minds are at least as complicated and confusing and ambiguous to them as they tend to be to the people who have them. (I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who finds my own mind a rather startling and confusing place at times.)

#151 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2011, 03:01 AM:

Jacque #149: Can you think of any fiction you've read that addresses this complaint adequately?

Well, the problem is, that many of the ways to avoid it fall into other literary or conceptual traps: Having the "readings" be purely verbal -- well, how many people think purely in words? (I'm sure there are some, just because of human variety.) Bringing the fantasies into the novel text is liable to be really distracting, as is anything that requires too much explication.

Possibly the best way I've seen (but I can't come up with the example at this hour) is simply to make telepathy unreliable or limited. Say, if someone happens to be thinking about something relevant, fine, if they're focused on what they'd like to do to That Effing Boss, or looping on their anxieties... tough. Or consider the classic "mind-meld" of ST:TOS -- Spock's telepathy not only requires physical contact, but effort, difficult interpretation, and no small risk to himself. (ISTR an implication of "observer influence", too.)

Another way to handle it is to resort to the "intercom" style of telepathy (most of Julian May's Mileu, IIRC McCaffrey's "telepath dynasty" series) -- but then that doesn't address the same root fantasy, which may well be what the author is trying to tap. E.g., with Valdemar, the world-root is "what if the gods were not only present, but helpful?"... but that extends to their providing ur-angelic counselors to humanity, and those clearly must "know us deeper than ourselves".

Hmm, there's a bunch of authors that I read long enough ago that I've forgotten the details of how the author handled this: Chalker's Quintara Marathon, Telzey Amberdon, and I'm pretty sure Andre Norton dealt with the topic a few times. I might have to do some research when I'm not white-nighting.

#152 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2011, 07:42 AM:

@151 - indeed, and as I was saying earlier, that's pretty crappy telepathy. The Good Stuff would open up your hopes, fears, dreams; your best and worst thoughts, and the divide between your intentions and your actions; it would be like someone going through your head with a chainsaw. Fortunate, really, that it doesn't exist!

P.s. Those of you who liked sprezzatura may enjoy volto sciolto e pensieri stretti...

#153 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2011, 02:37 PM:

Fade Manley @150: Just friended you. And left a comment on your most recent post.

Oh, and I'd happily send you a story or two to read if you wanted to have a look.

Yes, please!

I just...can't promise much.

I would be skeptical if you thought you could.

Ideas are always so much easier than elegant execution, and plot's the hardest thing of all.

Ain't that the truth. My favorite hack for that is to articulate the idea, and then flesh it out just enough to make sense to the reader. (Can't say how effective it is.)

Exposition by Impliction. That's the trick my favorite authors use. As to Plot; can't help you there. (There's a reason I have one (1) finished story to my name.) (Well, more than one. But that's the big one.)

Detect Alignment, Gracie? (I don't speak Gaming, except the little bits I've innevitably absorbed through osmosis. And the jargon has changed over the last few years, so I'm really behind.

I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who finds my own mind a rather startling and confusing place at times.

This is becoming somewhat less so as I grow older and whack my way through the bush of Baggage. I also find that the absence of that startlement and confusion is a heavy clue that I've forgotten my SSRIs for a couple of days.

It's also my favorite toy.

David Harmon @151: Your're using "fantasy" in a technical sense I'm not quite parsing. (As in: "that doesn't address the same root fantasy.") Could you expand on that a little, please?

Valdemar also is a reference I'm not catching immediately. Most likely candidate Google produces seems to be Mercedes Lackey...? I'm particularly intrigued because this ur-angelic counselors to humanity, [who] clearly must "know us deeper than ourselves" is an interesting premise, of which I'd like to read more.

alex @152: it would be like someone going through your head with a chainsaw. ... Fortunate, really, that it doesn't exist!

I'm not so sure. I think what you're describing is Deep Rapport. The kind of rapport you get from knowing someone intimately over decades. The good form can manifest when a loving couple is married for twenty or thirty years, and can basically communicate with their eyes. The bad form is when a family member knows how to emotionally eviscerate you with just the right word.

The primary difference from "telepathy" as we're discussing it is that, presumably, the telepath could do this instantly.

I'm curious if anyone in this discussion has read Spider Robinson's Very Bad Deaths, and its sequel, and how his rendering of telepathy measures up in these respects?

"volto sciolto e pensieri stretti" Heh. Dark and cynical, but heh.

#154 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2011, 03:05 PM:

Jacque (153): Valdemar is Mercedes Lackey, yes.

#155 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2011, 03:06 PM:

Jacque @153: Alignment as used in this case is an old-skool D&D reference. They used a two-axis system: Good-Neutral-Evil and Law-Neutral-Chaos. So a Chaotic Good character would be someone like Robin Hood, who didn't give a flying **** about the letter of the law, but was very interested in doing good for people. Lawful Evil would be like Vader or the Emperor -- very hierarchical, and also sadistic/power-hungry/murderous. True Neutral (neutral/neutral) had two interpretations, the "I don't care" interpretation, whose characters basically did random amoral flailing, and the "I must make the world balance" interpretation, whose characters generally had a very OCDish choosing-each-time to make certain neither law nor chaos, neither good nor evil, had a net advantage locally.

Then you've got my husband's half-giant Athosian character, once upon a time; he had the minimum intelligence possible, so the DM ruled he was too stupid to actually have a stable alignment. They called it Neutral Stupid: Every morning, he woke up with the alignment of the person who'd impressed him the most the previous day.

Like all gaming systems, it has its limits, but it's also got enough flexibility in it to allow a wide range of interpretations.

#156 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2011, 03:11 PM:

And in re Valdemar, I must say I adore the world, but once you've read more than four or five of them, it becomes impossible to ignore the fact that the author needs to go to a thrift store and shell out for a new plot or two: they tend to have very predictable patterns to the way things happen.

I read them anyway, because she can write emotional through-lines like nobody else -- when I really want to cry, there are several Valdemar books that are my go-tos.

I also adore what some other authors have done with the setting when allowed to play in it.

I don't know if this is a spoiler, but one of the more annoying thematic things about all Lackey books of my acquaintance is that, jura (nf va znal LN obbxf) gur cebgntbavfg vf pbaivaprq gung gurl ner Fcrfuhy naq gur ehyrq vf PERJRY naq UNGRM GURZ, va zbfg obbxf gurl trg fznpxrq hcfvqr gur urnq naq tebj bhg bs gurve nqbyrfprag natfg ... ohg va n Ynpxrl abiry, gurl ner evtug, naq gur ragver jbeyq erneenatrf vgfrys enqvpnyyl gb nppbzbqngr gurz.

It's kind of like Sheri S. Tepper's enormous shiny axe that she grinds exceeding fine (and exactly the same) in every single book of hers. If the presence of the Repeated Annoyance doesn't ruin the book for you, then you'll enjoy it just fine; but it does for some people.

#157 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2011, 03:15 PM:

The interesting thing about "volto sciolto e pensieri stretti" is that it isn't cynical, at least not in origin. It emerged as a concept during the era of European absolutism, where any person of distinction - i.e. either rich or clever enough to get 'noticed' - HAD to know how to control their every glance and gesture, because the social environment around them was composed of courtiers - which is to say, barracuda in human form. Any sign of weakness, and zap, you're missing a chunk of flesh... There was an entire academic genre of books and manuscripts on the virtues of appropriate dissimulation - though, again, to be caught reading one, or even appearing to know what they advised, would be like walking around with a 'kick me now' sign on your ass... Tough times, tough people.

#158 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2011, 04:53 PM:

Jacque @ 145... You splatter fascinating story ideas the way a horse sprays snot when he sneezes.

Book blurbs just aren't what they used to be.

#159 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2011, 05:20 PM:

Elliott Mason @ 156: Re Mercedes Lackey: But I'd rather my tweenage* or teenage relatives/children of friends got hooked on Mercedes Lackey and her recurrent theme of "Do Something That Makes A Positive Difference In The World, Even Though You Personally May Have To Pay For It" over the selfish notions that permeate the average sex-n-shopping novel.

*10-12.

#160 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 02:13 PM:

Elliott Mason @156: Valdemar

Do you have one or two you'd recommend starting with?

#161 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 02:24 PM:

Jacque (160): I'm fond of the Storm trilogy (Storm Warning, Storm Rising, Storm Breaking), but that's fairly far down the main sequence. It would probably make most sense to start either with the Vanyel sequence (Magic's Pawn, Magic's Promise, Magic's Price), which is where I started, or the first-written, Talia sequence (Arrows of the Queen, Arrow's Flight, Arrow's Fall). Note that the Talia books were her first published novels, so the writing is a little rougher than in her later works.

#162 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 08:56 PM:

Jacque @160: I'd second Mary Aileen's recommendation. To choose between them, Talia is a young teen from a fairly oppressive, conservative family background (who gets to Go To The Capital and Be Special, etc etc etc, plus geopolitics); Vanyel is an older homosexual teen, from an oppressive, homophobic background, who gets to Go To The Capital, discover he's a Powerful Mage, Be Special, and engage in geopolitics.

Either works equally well as an introduction to the world; neither spoils the other (though Vanyel lives significantly earlier in Valdemar's history than Talia does).

If you decide you like them, I'd suggest reading them either in rough internal-chronological order or in as-published order, your choice; there are a few side-sets that can be skipped.

If you pick up a copy of one of the relatively recent ones (since 2000), there will be a printed timeline in the back/front with titles of books against events in Valdemaran history that you can use as a guide. Obviously, no book newer than the one you're holding will be listed.

#163 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 08:58 PM:

Expanding my 162: a handy-dandy side-by-side list of both internal-chronology and as-published orders.

#164 ::: shadowsong ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2011, 10:26 PM:

re: valdemar
if you like your main characters a little more pragmatic and a little less dewy-eyed, "by the sword" is one of the few valdemar books that remains on my shelf (along with vanyel's trilogy and the vows and honor books). it starts off with a kidnapping at a wedding that kills or incapacitates all the men; fed up with all the wailing and handwringing, our heroine decides she's just going to have to fix it herself. occurs after talia's story and mostly in a different country.

#165 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 12:25 AM:

David, #138: Poul Anderson took on that notion in his short story "Journeys End" (no, there's not supposed to be an apostrophe) and pretty much tore it to shreds. IMO, the "deep truth" of someone's character is defined primarily by how they behave when they think no one else is looking.

And @147: The later Valdemar books actually do get into some exploration of the ways in which telepaths can and do "lie to each other mentally" -- essentially, they find ways to shield some of their deepest thoughts and motivations even from their nearest and dearest. Companions, of course, have always had this ability, as well as the ability to cloud humans' memories for "good reasons" -- that shows up even in the first trilogy, with Gwena & Elspeth.

And @151: In Diane Duane's Dark Mirror, it is explicitly stated that one way to defeat a telepath trying to read you is to have a really pervasive earworm. That's all they'll get, and it'll drive them nuts (too).

#166 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 02:05 AM:

Sorry I've been AFK a lot the last few days, and I need to get to sleep, but:

Jacque #153: Actually, I'm not using "fantasy" as a term of art -- I'm asserting that many of the common tropes in fantasy (and some science fiction) come from, well, fantasies. There are certain fantasies that inevitably pop up among children, adolescents, adults... humans in general, according to their situation. Some of those underlie various myths as well, but the efflorescence of fantasy literature has given them a much bigger playground.

#167 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 02:34 AM:

Lee @ 165: "In Diane Duane's Dark Mirror, it is explicitly stated that one way to defeat a telepath trying to read you is to have a really pervasive earworm. That's all they'll get, and it'll drive them nuts (too)."

Tension, apprehension,
And dissension have begun.

#168 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 08:44 AM:

Elliott Mason #156: Your Rot13 complaint is certainly something that can get grating, but it is pretty implicit in the setup for that world -- some people really do have special talents, including some that would be world-breakers without the Companions and such to keep them in line. Indeed, two such persons did break the world, marking the beginning of "recorded history" for all but their surviving servants. (The "Gryphon" trilogy.) Then too, the Companions would be expected to spot the ones who "really are special" -- that's explicitly part of their job from the beginning. And sometimes, "special" includes "specially doomed"....

But yes, that sort of character-indulgence is much of what makes the series a "guilty and private pleasure" within fandom. (My scare quotes.) On the flipside, I note that the trope is much less common in the "official fanfic" by other writers, which Lackey encourages and occasionally edits volumes of. Also, trainee Heralds do get some "smacks upside the head" during training....

ibid. #162: The Vanyel trilogy goes into serious downer territory for much of its length, to the point where Lackey has to put a couple of scenes in "Heaven" to assure the reader that really, It Was Worth It In the End. And yeah, in Arrows of the Queen, you can totally see the seams in the narrative. (Tip: don't start a fantasy story with a character's own fantasy reverie!) The next two books are noticeably better, and by Vows & Honor, Lackey has properly Found Her Voice.

Lee #165: the "deep truth" of someone's character is defined primarily by how they behave when they think no one else is looking.

Word. For your other point: In Valdemar, it's not really the "telepaths" ("Farspeakers") who embody the trope✍, as they're mostly in "intercom mode". The Empaths are the humans who stand out in this regard. The Companions do play Jiminy Cricket a lot, but again, that's their job! And note again that the "original" Empath Talia is Valdemar's Very First Character, and Lackey "Do[es] Get Better".

✍ I don't dare go to check if "my" trope is already listed at TVTropes; I got sucked in for hours yesterday, and I need to get to work!

#169 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 09:25 AM:

PS: Also, about recommendations, The Mage Storms trilogy represents an apocalyptic peak to the "modern" timeline. Many of the world's most powerful nonhumans go out in a literal Blaze of Glory, and magic in general gets "nerfed". The following "Darian's Tale" (aka "the Owl trilogy"), takes place at a much more human level, and also at the very edge of Valdemar (that is, far away from most of the backstory).

#170 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 10:50 AM:

Lee #165:

They never say so, but there's a B5 episode where rogue telepaths are doing something like this, presumably to survive a surface scan without being caught.

ISTM how useful telepathy is in discovering someone's true self depends on the rules you make up for it--can I only detect your unspoken, hidden thoughts? ("Ah, he's lying about something.") Or can I go in and extract old memories? Or even ask questions and force you to give me an answer? I think in B5, this corresponds to the sort of surface-level scan a commercial telepath can do easily, and a deeper scan, which someone like Talia could do with difficulty. And then at some point, you get the sort of scan a psicop can do, where you extract the information destructively, but dig through their memories to get it, somehow.

ISTM that a telepath would be subject to being fooled by someone who believed what he was saying, perhaps because of his own faulty mental processes. And that some kinds of patterns of thought inside your head might be more effective at convincing telepaths of what you wanted them to believe than anything you might have said.

#171 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 12:35 PM:

David, #169: My personal preference-ranking of Lackey's Valdemar books is, roughly:

Mage Storms (lots of info about Valdemar's neighbors, which is cool)
Mage Winds (I like Elspeth and the gryphons)
Vows/By The Sword (Tarma & Kethry are my personal favorite characters in this universe)
Anthologies (nice of her to let other people play)
Vanyel (although I don't re-read Magic's Pawn often because it is SUCH a downer)
Arrows (note: contains fairly graphic descriptions of torture)
Exile (a complete guilty pleasure -- these two books are unabashed self-insertion Mary Sues, but they're fun)

I bought the first of the Gryphons books, but didn't find it interesting enough to get the other two. The ones devoted to Lavan Firestarter and Skif are sort of meh IMO (and I normally adore back-story fic, so that says something). And I read most of the first Owl book at someone else's house, and came away with NO desire to finish it or get the others -- I found the protagonist to be a complete jerk.

My forays into Lackey's non-Valdemar work have been generally unsuccessful. Apparently I like the Valdemar universe as a whole, and her storytelling in it, enough to put up with the flaws in the writing, but that doesn't carry over to her other stuff.

#172 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 01:06 PM:

Mary Aileen @161 & Elliott Mason @162: Thanks! Added to my book queue. (Hm. I'm not finding these in audio format.)

#173 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 01:23 PM:

I find Lackey to be good with setup and characterization* but not so good with follow-through. So if the beginning of a book/sequence isn't grabbing you, it doesn't get any better.

*If reading about lonely/misunderstood/neglected/unappreciated/abused youngsters is your cup of tea--boy, is Lackey the writer for you!

#174 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 02:43 PM:

Lee @171: I really like her recent 'Elemental Masters' series, which is less a 'series' proper with continuing characters and plots and more a constellation of loosely-related stories about all different people through several historical periods of the same world. They're historical fiction with magic in, and each is a classic fairytale with some of the serial numbers rubbed off.

The magic system is genuinely original, and playing spot-the-trope is amusing, but they also have a lot more emotional truth to them than some of her other recent work, and her historical-fiction aspects are right on. I especially recommend, for starting, "The Serpent's Shadow" (half-Hindu daughter of a British soldier, set in Victorianish London) and "Phoenix and Ashes" (Cinderella, set during WWII in rural England). They each stand alone, though some plotlines/antagonists/general themes link the books. I'd say you could read them in pretty much any order successfully (and skip the ones that fail to interest you).

#175 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 04:25 PM:

Elliott Mason (174): I second the rec for the Elemental Masters series, and those two specific books, but note that Phoenix and Ashes is set during World War I, not II. :)

#176 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 04:38 PM:

Elliott, #174: That was one of the series I was thinking of when I said my forays into her other work have not been successful. I read one (and don't ask me which one it was) and disliked it enough to cull it immediately.

Hmmm... I should make an exception to the above for the Diana Tregarde books, which I did like. But apparently she's not going any further with that series, because it brought some really scary stalker-types out of the bushes.

#177 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 04:48 PM:

Lee (176): There's a Diana Tregarde story in her recent book of short stories/novellas, Trio of Sorcery.

#178 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 05:35 PM:

I had avoided Lackey to date because the opinion in the zeitgeist seemed to that it was maudlin and shmaltzy Mary Sue. The book covers I'd seen seemed to bear that out.

Also, the person who was pushing them the hardest at me was a drooling fangirl, which also served to disrecommend them to me.

I enjoyed the short Lackey had in Janis Ian's anthology Stars, and I've heard enough hints here to suggest the question might bear new exploration.

#179 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 06:28 PM:

Lee #171: I read most of the first Owl book at someone else's house, [...] I found the protagonist to be a complete jerk.

IMHO, he does get better. (Remember, his initial setup is as a communally-abused ~12-year old.) There's still a lot of wish-fulfillment going on in the series, but less than for most of the Heralds books. That said, after the first book, Darian is pretty short on real dangers to his welfare -- it's all about "can they¹ save these endangered innocents who they just happened to run across while looking for Darian's parents?"

I agree that Skif's book isn't all that good -- piling the "Thief With A Heart Of Gold" on top of her usual stack yields outright trope overload. As for Burning Brightly, I found it quite depressing -- unlike Vanyel, Lavan doesn't even get those attaboys from the gods, and he's basically a machina ex deus himself!²

I never did read the Elemental Masters books, (they didn't start until after my own reading drought) but I should probably check them out.

Diana Tregarde, meh. I think by then I'd seen too many supernatural busibodies in too short a time. I like Faith Hunter's work better, especially the Bloodring³ trilogy.

¹ He picks up a Healer co-protagonist/girlfriend.
² I suspect that just then, Ms. Lackey herself was feeling rather overworked and exploited....
³ It's a Crapsack World, but an interesting one -- Armaggeddon happened, but not the way humans expected. The angelsseraphs got a few surprises too, with more in the plot. The protagonist is a refugee trying to master her powers without attracting attention from On High. (Well, one out of two ain't bad....) And she has a more-than-usually realistic response to the Magic Lust Interest who barges in. (Basically "WTF... oh, shit.")

#180 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2011, 07:12 PM:

"History is made at night! Character is what you are in the dark!"

Lee @ 88: "And how much do you think anyone on Earth will know or care about WWII in another 900 years?" Probably far more than we'll know about the US-Iraqi war of 1990-2011++ (the no-fly zone imposed on Iraq after the heavy shooting ended in 1991 meant that there was still a war going on even before heavy shooting resumed in 2003, for instance, and a huge amount of Not Documenting Things occurred in the later decade.) People may or may not end up caring a lot about it, depending on how the whole Clash of Civilizations thing shakes down.

Meanwhile, with the year 1000, there's a huge amount that people think they know about it, and some of what they think they know is even true.

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