Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur

Volume 15 Has Landed

And speaking of long-awaited -- the most awaited item of all, the one I've been looking for for over a decade now, showed up in the mail this week.

You have to understand: msmemory and I are collectors, although of a peculiar sort. It's perhaps more correct to say that we are "completists". It's far from universal, and *usually* doesn't get out of hand, but we're a bit binary about interests: when we get into one, we tend to accumulate everything fun and interesting about that interest. Sometimes that gets channelled in ways that are downright useful -- for instance, our formidable collections of books, both period and modern, on the subjects of period games and cooking. Sometimes it does become a bit of an issue, leading to divestment problems like my current monumental project of inventorying all 20,000+ comic books and getting rid of most of them. Usually, it's somewhere in between, and the focus of the passion changes over the years.

For a window of about five years, the central guiding passion was Babylon 5. I won't claim that it was the best-written TV series ever, but it was certainly one of the best SF shows and generally still stands as my *favorite* series ever. For all its flaws, and it certainly had some, it was pioneering and crucial, especially in demonstrating that, if you were flexible enough, it was possible to tell a true long-form epic -- a long but cohesive story with a beginning, middle and end -- in television. I still don't think it's been bettered in that respect (although BSG might yet give it a run for its money, if they somehow manage to make it all make sense in the end). It showed that science fiction could be about basic human concepts like politics and religion, even on television, speaking to the human condition in its most common state. And at its best, it was simply a damned good ride.

The completist mania subsided not long after the series ended -- we still picked up the novels and stuff, but stopped buying every action figure just because it had Londo's face on it. What will probably be the last hurrah started a few years ago, in the form of The Scripts. All of the scripts for the series, published in a series of 14 plain fat black books, describing the show as it was meant to be seen. Modest differences from the episodes as seen, and loads of notes from JMS (the author), but not a lot that was really New and Different.

And now they're done -- and with that ending came Volume 15. This was the come-on, the extra hook for the script books, given free to anyone who bought all 14 volumes and never to be sold or reprinted, and I have to admit that it pushed us over the edge when it came to buying them. Volume 15 is all the stuff that *is* New and Different -- the things JMS had hinted at over the years, but never showed folks, and in some cases had claimed he would never show. But for Volume 15, which is arguably the final statement on B5, he finally let it all hang out, with all the hidden stuff revealed.

It's a fascinating mixed bag. One or two things are merely rare, like the little-seen original Writer's Bible, or the labor-of-love catalog of every single way in which the show as aired differed from the scripts. Some is just for fun: a couple of alternate scripts that JMS disliked so much that he threw them out and started over, or the gag script of Londo/G'Kar slashfic, or the original treatment for the show that JMS shopped around for five years before finding someone who would take him up on it. (Bits of the latter are fascinating in how much they changed. In particular, the Vorlons as described in the treatment are little like the way they eventually came out.)

And then there's the real gem, the Rosetta Stone of B5: the Series Brief. Early on in the series' history, he decided that he needed a concise description of what the story was and where it was all going. It was just for his own reference -- the only other person who ever saw it was Michael O'Hare, who played Commander Sinclair. He's referred to the Brief over the years, and claimed that he'd never publish it, but for this book he relented.

It's eight pages long, and a bit surprising both in how much was true to the original vision and how much was different. He goes into lavish detail about a few scenes, several years down the road, that played out almost precisely as described. The first four pages are largely correct as filmed. OTOH, it shows just how much the path diverged: despite his constant claims (even in the introduction to the brief) that the show fundamentally played out as intended, some of it (especially at the end) came out *wildly* different from the original description. The last three pages bear increasingly little resemblance to the actual conclusion of the story.

One thing I find fascinating, although not entirely surprising, is that the idea of a sequel was there from the very beginning -- it was always supposed to be two stories, not one. This goes a fair ways towards explaining the relatively weak resolution at the end. Indeed, the series was *originally* supposed to end on practically a cliffhanger, to be followed immediately by Babylon Prime -- the mammoth starship originally known as Babylon 4. Many of the hints about that sequel were dropped in the various flash-forwards in the actual series; nearly all of those clearly were intended to be scenes from Babylon Prime.

But it does drive home one of his statements from the very start: this was always supposed to be the story of Jeffery Sinclair. The fact that they dropped John Sheridan in his place midway through changes surprisingly little. Most of what the brief describes as the story of Sinclair was transferred over to Sheridan with nary a blip. And the brief is almost *entirely* about Sinclair, his relationship to the station, and to the powers around him. The ambassadors factor in a fair amount; the rest of the humans are barely even footnotes. (The entire PsiCorps situation is relegated to a sentence.) Somehow, it's not surprising that that generally matches which parts of the series were most compelling to most people, and which were thinnest.

And I suspect that writes finis for Babylon 5. Much though I would *dearly* love to see what was supposed to happen next in Crusade (little of which is evident from the Brief), JMS seems to have moved on, and television as well. The themes he wanted to talk about have been expressed elsewhere. (In particular, I strongly suspect that Jeremiah was a very loose thematic rewrite of Crusade.) Fortunately, there are new stories out there to grab our attention and passion...
Tags: babylon 5, diary

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