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 Babylon 5


Section Index

  1. Epic Stories
  2. Creating a Universe
  3. Relevance
  4. Form
  5. Reception
  6. A Life of its Own
  1. A Living Universe
  2. Epic Fiction
  3. Space Fiction
  4. Science Fiction
  5. Comparisons
  6. New and Old Stories

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2: Myths and Fiction
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caveat: As can be inferred from the date of publication, this article may no longer represent my current views and style. It remains here for archival purposes to provide a sense of documentation and should be treated as such.

1: Epic Stories

The object of this essay will be loosely linked to the television show Babylon 5; but as always on this web site, the show itself will merely serve as an example; as a means to get into the discourse. Such a discourse, when being opened, can best be unfolded when this is done in an understandable and also entertaining way. Why entertaining? Well, who would read it if it weren't somehow, on whatever remote level, a bit entertaining? The entertainment factor I personally derive from the specific show or book or whatever cultural item; the discourse opened by this will then provide me with new facets and aspects.

Discussing them, to me is again entertaining in a way; although such discussion necessarily would, in the specific case of this web site of mine, be most of all based upon text, upon written text, to be concrete. The entertainment, or put better, the visualization of a certain topic or discourse, thus has to flow on a more abstract, less obvious level; by this making it more work and less fun to consume it. And there is yet another point: I certainly would not write fiction here; here I write essays and other forms of a more direct kind of deliberation. Essays then could be said to be the least entertaining form of all such visualizations; just plain thought. So it remains much more the domain of language to fill some of the empty spaces. I'll do my best.

But, as I also put it on The Truman Show Discussed, Interlude, why write fiction when non-fiction would do also? This then refers to the topic discussed in the heading and place of this essay, not to the previous paragraphs - for this is no fiction I write; or to make it clearer: This is not intended to be fiction, to be fiction-fiction (id est fiction labeled as fiction, and not fiction labeled as reality; see Approaching the Unexplained, Part 12): But the object of this essay is fiction-fiction in general, and Babylon 5 especially.

The object of fiction usually is to tell a story; simply put. Then there would be some questions circling that objective: Questions like why or how this should be done. Often also the genre defines a certain approach; or does the certain approach define the genre? Maybe this is another discourse. But can science fiction truly be called a genre (see Approaching the Unexplained, Part 2)? Isn't it much more a description of what is used as a background for a story which would then have to deal about the characters themselves? For Babylon 5 might be called sci-fi, but why? Because it is set in the future? Because it is set in outer space? These are not the original criteria applied to the term science fiction; they are conventions leading to the loose association of such elements with science fiction. But what kind of show is Babylon 5?

Why would shows be compared because they share a similar setting? There has always been the very correct notion that Star Trek is to a great extent a Western, or, as it was called by Roddenberry himself, a "Wagon Train to the Stars" - which is also what the very title of the show implies. Also, the mentioning of the frontier in the introductory text, "space, the final frontier", is an allusion which could not be any more concrete. Does Babylon 5 share these elements? Rather not. But Deep Space Nine also doesn't, at least not necessarily. Both last mentioned shows have a lot in common as they tell stories in greater epic length. This can also be found within Star Trek: The Next Generation or The X-Files, but within those the story arc would not affect all other episodes in such a drastic way. B5 and DS9, to prefer abbrevations from now on, have their focus directed mainly onto telling epic stories; they are history shows, also containing elements of soap operas if you wish. Such approach makes comparisons to our 'real' history inevitably obvious; thus opening a discourse relevant to us.

February 24th 1999

2: Creating a Universe

Each fiction, each story creates a universe of its own; varying in size and dimensions and depth and detail, depending on the needs of the story and the genre and also of the audience. The latter should not be underestimated: The audience is the target for any story; it gives feedback the way it can, thus influencing the story in a specific way. The primary influence of course would be money: The level of entertainment can directly be calculated by the money made by it. Financial succes might not mean a success in quality; but who is to judge the quality anyway?

External influences can be the money dedicated to a project as well as other resources and materials, and, of course, the people who are involved in the production. And then, all those people live within a certain culture with certain influences and interdependencies - making the product then a result, a child of the respective culture. With any piece of culture, a mirror image of an aspect of the whole discourse of culture is produced, linking this product to others in an endless chain of interrelations, belonging to an infinite stream of consciousness.

The universe created by fiction then mirrors the universe which created it; the part represents the whole and the whole represents the part. Representations are being created within certain aspects, within certain comparable parts - not at all implying conclusion nor completeness. Out of the discourse another sub-discourse is materializing; discourses but are infinite and open; sub-discourses not smaller than the discourses they are being derived from (see Intertwined, Part 3). This can be done in basically two ways; the obvious and the less obvious one. The first would be something like a documentation, it would be plain and direct, straight and narrow (an approach used foremost in Picket Fences, but also within Star Trek in its moralizing moments). The second would use a more metaphorical, allegoric way. But apart from the intended second approach, it also would have a not-so intended level: The less-obvious cultural interconnection to the time and type of production; a specific look if you want. Maybe this would be a third way even.

The universe created by a big-budget, long-running sci-fi show would of course be much larger than that of any other show; resulting also from the possibilities science fiction offers: Unlimited imagination. You just have more options than within a normal soap opera or crime show. Apart from that, the obvious, the written and unwritten laws and conventions of story-telling still apply: For science fiction does not deal with things but, as any other fiction also, with persons - relying as well as any other show on the cast. Thus, the science fiction or fantasy or horror universe adds additional options to conventional stories and doesn't replace them. Without the characters, the sci-fi element would be in vain. Science fiction is also mostly at its best when its most revealing characteristics, the sci-fi elements, stay in the background or sometimes even disappear and yield to the character elements. Resulting are brilliant episodes like B5 2.21 'Comes the Inquisitor', 3.9 'Point of No Return' and 3.10 'Severed Dreams'; also TNG 4.21 'The Drumhead' and 6.21 'Frame of Mind' - just to deliver a very small selection. That's also the reason why I like Alien³ better than Aliens.

When a science fiction universe is being created, especially the science part is interesting - for that really demands for attention. On one hand, you have to make it believable to a certain extent and also link it to the contemporary understanding of science. It is always said that the technobabble found in Star Trek would be annoying, but they really try to cling to the scientific terminology and if you're willing to follow, it has its very own but relatively consequent logic. On the other hand, you also have to depart from traditional science to invent something new which could justify the term of science fiction. I still do not understand why the notion of extraterrestrials should belong to science fiction, but that's another point. - A science fiction universe will thus both resemble our concept of reality and depart from it; that's also why so many aliens in Star Trek or B5 just have bumps on their heads. It ain't just a budget issue; those aliens often represent human characters (see Star Trek Races). Creating a universe is something every kind of fiction and also every kind of depiction does; whereas the options provided by science fiction make this process a very rewarding one, both for the creator and the spectator.

February 26th 1999

3: Relevance

To what end is fiction? Well, to what end is anything? Or, to form the question more concrete: Is it fitting and right to ask for a purpose? I think it is, I believe it is. Without a purpose, what would existence be for? But that purpose needn't be obvious, it needn't even be visible to us. But the lack of perception, does that also necessarily include a lack of existence? That then leads to an even more disturbing question: How absolute is existence, how absolute is reality, what is behind our individual perception and behind our limited understanding? So far, all I have written on this site somehow relies on the individuality of perception. Does that also imply an individuality of existence?

The question leads to the following: If we are perceiving a personal reality, how real is reality then? How much of it can be shared with others? And if it can, and if the world outside is more than just an illusion of our brain, that, in my understanding, would imply a connection between all things which is even stronger than might have been suspected or guessed. And such a connection, isn't it that which all of our religions tell us in their own specific ways? There has to be a reason for all such laws and commandments and pleas and appeals for charity and peace, for cooperation instead of hostility. Such a connection would be present at an absolute level, or on a shared relativity: A common field of reality, dissolved into myriads of individual sub-realities.

What is such thinking up to? The term needed here would be essence; essence would help to justify the existence of a purpose and even if that purpose just would be existence. Why look for a purpose? Why for something like relevance? Isn't fiction supposed to tell us something? Isn't it supposed to have a message somehow? And if not; or if that message is not being seen, mightn't the message also lie within the form? Within the linguistic beauty of a poem, within the shades and colors of a painting? Within the sounds of music? Within the images and language of film and photography? Maybe I'm pushing it, maybe I'm pushing for a meaning where there might not be one. But why then create something when there weren't a purpose, an intention, an agenda? The result, the effect determines the cause, that's true (see The Fabric of Reality, Part 9). But is it really that easy - for that would fit the shape of the product. The motivation to create would then be something different; the motivation doesn't really need a concrete object, it is mostly just that, a somehow indifferent feeling that something should be done for a certain reason.

Why make a film or television show? Why paint a picture? Why compose music? Why write a book, or an essay? Why maintain a web site? Answers could include the obvious ones, ranging from making money (which I am not earning with this site right now) to just seizing the opportunity; but those are quite weak arguments. They do exist; and the results coming from them might not necessarily be that bad; but those aren't the only motivations - they're just the obvious ones. Somebody might make a film because of money; but he or she would have to choose the type of media, the theme, the story. The result then would be a work of art; seeing art mainly as something artificial, not applying any dumb quality standards here. That's something I recently discovered while looking at modern art. Somehow there's the saying that a lot of today's art is not that extraordinary concerning the technical side (leading to notions like "I could do that"); but the critical questions would be, why was it made, and how did the artist get the idea.

I haven't answered my question yet; I have more or less navigated around it. I do not like, well, I strongly dislike questions like "what did the author want to tell us with this work"; such childish babble would lead nowhere. But ... but does this deny that a work of art would hold a certain relevance for the beholder? From a strict structuralist standpoint (which I don't share any longer, but that stance could be helpful in some occasions), the author is dead, is unimportant for the finished work - why should we care who did it (only concerning copyright), why should we care about his intentions, his biography, his background. Art and language, to a large degree, speak for themselves and need no mediator; for any mediator would again distort the picture. But that lays an enormous responsibility into the hands of the artist or philosopher or whoever: To make the work explicit; to clarify. The part has to resemble the whole and the whole has to resemble the part; that's also the principle to be found within most religious writing like the Bible. Every book, every chapter basically tells the same story; the truth, the essence of it is contained in any however small fraction of it. Why ask for such an essence, why ask for relevance to the perceptor? Simply put: Why should I watch or read or listen to it if I couldn't make something out of it? I cannot give an answer other than that; for who could determine the relevance of a certain piece of art, of anything, better than the individual perceptor? Personal perception - personal judgement?

February 27th 1999

4: Form

We usually enjoy fiction in general; although we might differ in our preferences regarding the form of such fiction. Might this form just be the differentiation between several types of media, like books, film, television or art; might it also be a closer differentiation of the concrete writing style e.g. to be found in one book, compared to another - each time such a decision would be a very subjective one; sometimes this subjectivity might also be shared by a group of people. But almost never, taste equals taste.

How much importance does the form have then if no form could really be considered perfect, if any such form might find as well fans as harshest critics? The answer cannot lie in some definition of what would be an absolutely perfect style; it cannot lie in orthodox and traditional thinking, it cannot lie in restricting the artist's possibilities to present a personal perception of reality. Restrictions of creativity are often disguised as protecting traditions or society; thereby using empty and hollow constructions - for empty and hollow purposes. There might be applied restrictions as to from what age on a certain movie is to be watched by kids; such restrictions but serving a purpose and thereby not being that empty.

Is there a separation between the contents and the form? Can there be one? What is the contents then? Where is the message of a certain text contained in? Is it the mere meaning of the words fit together? Is it so that such words would have but one meaning assigned to them? Isn't it so that the general impression, the arranging of the text sections, the arrangement of the words, the use of stylistic elements also is a means to express a certain meaning? Isn't it so that also, after the mere words, the interpretation meets the perception of the reader?

A single text can have most various meanings with most various readers. That, as already mentioned, is due to the individual perception of the reader. The text, apart from working on a conscious and logical and merely linguistic and semantic level, has much greater an impact on the emotional battlefield: Both meanings interconnect; "objective" and "subjective" reality meet and are not to be divided again. Also, and this concerning the so-called "objective" part, i.e. the mere words framing the contents, this is individually differently understood also on a semantical level! The construction of absolute text and absolute meaning thus is falling apart, just because every person has another background, other modes of understanding. We might utter the same words; but do we have the same meaning in mind? I do not mean loosely the same, but identical the same? I doubt that very strongly.

Form appeals to the emotional side of us; form appeals to our sense of beauty and aesthetics. One example could be mathematics. The best way to solve a problem is usually also the most elegant way. Same with language, for language is the mathematics of utterance, and mathematics the language of natural sciences: The form is not irrelevant; it might also be that it contains a meaning inside. In language, form can work on various levels; like in the mere letters, the grammar, and the sound of the words and syllables. Form does matter, in every single unit as well as in the grander scheme of each story, of each reality.

March 7th 1999

5: Reception

The reception of a story is much more important than usually thought. The traditional concept would be that a story is told by an individual author, created by them, in order for it to exist, to be perceived by the perceptor. The first stories told, however, were not fixed in letters and books, they were told orally. Those stories were living entities, exchanging their place and narrator vividly; being slightly altered each time when they were told.

With the arrival of writing, a story could be fixed into a certain material; with the arrival of writing, fixed literary and cultural (arti-)facts were born.

Reading isn't just perception; reading always also is interpretation. Writing isn't just creating, writing is also exploration and perception. Some things I am just taking closer notice of when writing them; thus this process is never a closed but always an open one - I'm never finishing a text, simply opening a discourse, or rather entering it; and you, dear reader (or dear imaginary future historian), never closing but always expanding it. What direction could reception be taking? Well, for example, without fandom, there would be no Star Trek, no Babylon 5; but reception is more than feedback. I believe that at a certain level, our thoughts are connected, or rather, that we are just interfaces linked to something Emerson described as the Over-Soul; something which could also be described as a stream of consciousness or a river of souls. The direction this discussion is leading to surely looks very religious; or, if you would prefer a slightly more convenient term, metaphysical. Thus, don't expect conclusive answers nor conclusive questions.

March 10th 1999 / September 8th, 2003

6: A Life of its Own

Fiction is no dead entity; it's almost a living being; living and breathing, being influenced by us human beings and also influencing us in turn. An exchange, an ongoing interaction, a connection between what we perceive as reality and as fiction; a crossing of borders, a destruction of borders that might or might not exist. Borders - what are borders at all? They do not exist, they are being defined - de-fined by us differenciating between two seemingly contrasting things. Borders are being drawn, they are being constructed artificially; they represent more our perception of reality than reality itself.

Is fiction being created? I mean, originally created[1]? Or isn't it more like being re-created; shaped out of the discourse of reality-fiction surrounding us? As every story contains some real or already-narrated elements, how could it be that a story would really be 'new'? Fiction is being re-cycled from other themes and fictions; out of the infinite diversity infinite combinations are created (or re-created); thus shaping something somehow new out of something really old. But what is fiction, what is reality? How do these come into action?

We name these things because our perception tells us the difference, we might think. It seems pretty clear to us that Babylon 5 is a fictious story, but that in turn the American Civil War is reality. I do not want to deny any of those assertions. But how do we differenciate between fiction and reality? One piece is labeled this way, the other that way, and we are being taught which is what. We do not develop that kind of differentiation on our own. But who could prove or disprove one specific element? To me, as to every other person I think, both of those examples are nothing more than stories; one said to have happened, the other said to be fictious. Reality and fiction are being mixed; just in order to present an account of reality. In order to tell about the Civil War, we have to use words which carry the danger of making our utterance an artificial one, a piece of fiction, although understood as being real.

Is Babylon 5 less real? Sure, no people actually died in the making of it, the story portrays imaginary characters. But are we therefore not able to feel pity about them? Or any other kind of emotions? Don't we long to hear the stories of those people, although they never existed in what we construct as reality? But when those stories enter our mind, don't they become reality? How can we truly in our mind tell the difference between fiction-fiction and reality-fiction? Is the keyboard I'm typing on real just because I can touch it? Are the nitrogen and oxygen molecules flying all around me not real because I can't touch them? Have you ever seen such a molecule? But still you believe it is there. Have you ever participated in the Civil War? But still you believe it happened. Have you never felt any suspense or other emotions during watching Babylon 5? But still you believe it isn't real.

Fiction is no dead matter; fiction is having its own rules, like the rules of the universe. Fiction develops itself with a more or less predictable pace within a more or less predictable frame; but it can also leave predictability and leave chaos behind and within. But what is fiction (see also: Intertwined, Part 8)? Are we fiction, too? How do we define ourselves? Don't we define ourselves with words? Don't we define things in general by concepts, by words, by naming them (see also: Intertwined, Part 5)? Are names absolute values? Aren't they artificial? The concepts we have in mind, the holographic images we see in our mind, are they really concepts - or aren't they also an image of what we understand of reality, a perception again? A very personal kind of perception? How can we be sure we really exist? How can we be sure we aren't anything more than just a holographic character in some kind of holographic novel? How much substance has our reality? Isn't what we call knowledge just a form of belief (see also: The Fabric of Reality Revisited, Parts 1+2)? A trusting in our perception, and in the perception of others? Can we believe what we see? Perhaps there is more out there than we actually perceive, perhaps there is even less. And as this is a discourse with no kind of closure to be expected; this file remains open.

March 12th 1999


Myths are surrounding us every time; flowing around us, inspiring us, helping us, annoying us. Their power comes from their abilities: Of their availability and occurrence, of their prevailing in our discourse of reality; and of our occupation with them.

Myths can be stories, can be complex pieces of fiction - they can also be just a mere idea, a concept, a preoccupation with a certain idea; a thought. Such a starting, or also startling, thought or story can serve as a catalyst, influencing the speed of development of a process or enabling this process to come into existence at all; thus opening a discourse or infusing it with sort of fresh blood.

Myths can create fiction, making it possible and influencing it; but what is fiction (see also Intertwined, part 8)? Haven't I tried to define it already - and haven't I also arrived at the conclusion that we mightn't be able to get this answer? That fiction and reality are much more connected than we'd usually be thinking, much more similar, much more also even the same? Fiction it is which is defining us, by fiction also it is us defining the reality surrounding us. But why do we still underestimate this not so silent messenger?

Fiction is being consumed by us all the time, fiction lying in the words - do those words also lie to us? Don't they pretend to be more than they are, more than the mere patterns of sound and writing? Don't they pretend to have a serious content? Don't we construct them to have it? Words are being associated with the meaning we want them to carry; but they themselves are empty shadows; their meaning fully unfolding only beyond the limits and limitations of the written or spoken word; and so is the vision of reality brought to us by the means of fiction which we also call description. We are not describing the world, we are describing what we understand of the world, of what we understand of being the world.

Thus, fiction can tell us more about us ourselves than about reality as such; but isn't our reality also strongly influenced by that fiction, isn't there thus a connection forming between? The myths we carry within us, within the discourse of reality-fiction we have access to, they can tell us what we are and what we would want to be; and what we consequently might become. This is also being supported by the grand fictions at the turn of the millennium; fictions to which shows like Star Trek, The X-Files, Millennium and, last but not least, Babylon 5 surely belong to.

March 22nd, 1999

7: A Living Universe

There is a certain degree of pantheism within Babylon 5 philosophy, especially in the way the universe is spoken of. Especially the Narn philosophy of G'Kwan and G'Kar and the Minbari religion tend to go into such a direction: The universe as an entity of its own, the universe as a character in the game of life, not merely the battlefield, but much more: The universe as a living being. This living universe but consists of parts; those parts being nothing else than us ourselves - thus also forming a connection of the parts which form the whole: everything, everybody is connected - there is no separateness, no real loneliness, no real individuality. Well, there is, but it serves a greater whole - putting individuality into the right perspective, defining also its use.

Defining also, and giving it its meaning - within a living universe, with us being the body parts, no one being superfluous, no one being unnecessary. This means that not just the universe is regarded with a greater dignity, but also life, all life, not just human life. Life also being re-defined, not anymore being reduced to what we perceive as the obvious. The essence of the universe, its living breath, is contained and preserved in every little cell and molecule and atom and quark and spark of energy: The field of life, the field of reality, everything, belonging to a living universe, is living matter. There is no emptiness, no void. Creation is life.

There is open discussion on the issue of souls on Babylon 5, an issue most often being circumvented these days in non-religious surroundings. But within Babylon 5 philosophy, souls are a crucial element - and what is a soul if not the essence of what we are, the part of us which is not the physical body, which is not following physical laws, which is not subjected to the restrictions of physical reality, which, by all we know and believe, is contradicting physical reality: and which is thus immortal, the essence of life eternal. The recognition mainly thus being accompanied by the acceptance of the existence of a soul is that there is life beyond our reality, life beyond physical being; life after death and beyond death and beyond space and time.

So is Babylon 5 a religious show? Partly, yes; and partly meaning: to a great part. A lot of religious elements can be found in the show: The monks being introduced in I believe season three, the monks working together with the Rangers, as shown in 4.22 'The Deconstruction of Falling Stars'; the Rangers resp. Anglashok themselves forming something like a religious order; the religious nature of Minbari culture, the Narn religion as told by G'Kwan with G'Kar contributing to it. The nature of Good and Evil is explored through the Shadow wars, and it is dealt with in a quite religious manner, regarding to the prophecies and similar things. Also, staff members of Babylon 5 are openly said to belong or to have belonged to Christian or Jewish religion, something which would never happen in Star Trek as far as I know it (Star Trek only mentions religion in reference to alien cultures, like the Bajorans, but reduces it mostly to general spirituality). And, most of all, we have John Sheridan's death and resurrection.

B5 clearly is a show with a lot of talk and symbolism regarding philosophy and religion. The notion of a living universe is nothing entirely new; new about it is but the place it takes in a television show. There are almost no taboos in Star Trek regarding to topics of society, but with Babylon 5, there are also no taboos regarding to religion in TV fiction. The pantheism of Babylon 5 is something which is explicitely being shared by Buddhist and Native American religion, and more implicitly also by Christianity - when you think about trinity more closely, you might come to similar conclusions. God Father represents the process of creation and its beginning and end, he is the the basis of it all. God Son represents creation, represents life, represents us. God Holy Spirit is the messenger, the connection, the field of interaction and communication between both. All three but are not separate entities, the separation is just a model; they are indeed one, everything is connected. The Buddhist terms of Dharmakaya (Body of Thruth), Nirmanakaya (Body of Emanation) and Sambhokaya (Body of Joy) could be explained in a similar way (cf. The Good Heart., Appendix).

April 1st 1999

8: Epic Fiction

How to categorize a show like Babylon 5? How to categorize any kind of fiction? And, most importantly, and thereby also leading to an answer: Why should we do anything like categorizing; and why are we doing it? We categorize mainly in order to be able to understand a certain phenomenon; we categorize something by comparing it with certain role models. But sometimes, and rather often, we forget that the information derived from that process is just that: something that is not an absolute, but a very relative kind of knowledge.

Babylon 5 is usually said to be a science fiction show. But that is not true, not entirely at least. While I will be dealing with the sci-fi aspect of it later, I'll first mention some other points I consider worth a consideration. A show, a piece of fiction, like Babylon 5 is not that easily to define, not that easily to be forced into a certain category. The definitions Babylon 5 would fit are of such a variety as the stories told in the show; this is true also for other shows and other forms of fiction.

When I think of a fitting description for Babylon 5, I at first think of something like "epic fiction" - a kind of fiction that deals with larger-than-life ideas, making statements about the nature of humanity, telling tales of great depth and tragedy and passion, but also including humor. Babylon 5 has all that, and it has a very consistent storyline. It also has a vast amount of players, thereby somehow sharing elements of soap operas also. But there is no show at the time showing events of such magnitude as Babylon 5 does, it is, in my humble opinion, in that respect greater than The X-Files, even greater than Star Trek, and by far greater than Star Wars. The show has a very unique perspective of reality, of the universe; a perspective very different from that of other shows. It spans an interval of time and evolution not yet paralleled in television or movies.

Each great epic story takes the time to introduce cast and setting, and to say good-bye. This is the logics of arrivals and departures. On Babylon 5, this is done with great sincerity. The pilot, having aired and being set one year before the actual series, and great lengths of Seasons One and Two are dedicated to these arrivals; the arrivals and introduction of the station and of the main characters, the introduction in Season One of Commander Sinclair and, in Season Two, of Captain Sheridan. But the arrivals are also the arrivals of the story. "Signs and Portents" is the title of Season One, being just that: premonitions. Season Two, "The Coming of Shadows", raising the stakes. By Season Three, the climax is reached and continued into Season Four; Season Five being the conclusion. The main story arc was hastily completed in Season Four, due to the fact that for quite some time the possibility of the existence of a a fifth Season, as originally planned, wasn't so sure at all. That also explains some weaknesses in the first half of Season Five. But B5 always has been stronger later in the season and weaker in the beginning.

We also have such a kind of structure within Deep Space Nine, although this develops more out of accident I think, and also mirrors some elements of B5, either intentionally or unintentionally. But DS9 has, as B5, one aspect demanding for such a development: Both are about space stations, and stories like to stick around one place. Story arcs come naturally with a stationary location, and it is increasingly difficult to establish one with an always moving vehicle (as with Star Trek in general, especially with Voyager, where not just the vessel but also the surroundings are constantly subject to change). So any similarities might result from a similar local restriction. And to make sure I won't be misunderstood about that: I do love both shows. And they are very different and very similar at the same time, both following their path.

April 7th 1999

9: Space Fiction

Babylon 5 is set in space. So does that make it science fiction? That would be far too simple. So why not call it space fiction? Thereby the genre of science fiction would be approached from a much more honest point of view, and also the fiction seen or not seen as science fiction. What is it that makes me hesitate to apply the term of "science fiction" too frequently?

Science fiction contains the notion of science. While I will be dealing with that in the next part, this can be of no importance right now, right here. What I in fact intend to do is to re-evaluate the term of SF, and to shed light on some of its aspects. Sometimes, such a classification is just a name, just something whose meaning is only very loosely attached to its contents. But what does space fiction mean? Simple as that: It is set in space, and therefore almost necessarily in the future, at least this is necessary at our point of development. We have Western shows and movies, we have road movies, naval movies - why not space fiction?

The defining element of something like space fiction would be space, the possibilities of space and the restrictions of space; and I'm talking of the cosmos here, not of office space. One of the defining elements of space now is size, mere size - thereby thrusting special story devices making it possible to travel large distances. It is not science fiction which demands space fiction, but space fiction demands for elements of science fiction! Unless, of course, two centuries of now there will be a television show or movie or holographic novel depicting then-present-time events taking place in space, using then-present technology. Such a show might be a daily soap, definitely not science fiction - for the scientific element would not be fictive but real. But it, if set in space, would still be space fiction. So am I planning a bit ahead?

Space has its very own fascination, we have our very own fascination with it. Setting fiction into space, and enlarging the populated sphere by adding other populated planets, other species, other dimensions of being (if you think of races like Star Trek's Q and Organians, or B5's Vorlons and Shadows). Space fiction enhances the storytelling possibilities of epic fiction, also creating allegories and analogies. This would necessarily be the case, and it would mostly lead to kind of reflections on ourselves (see Star Trek Races). In the B5 universe, this is more difficult. But as I see it, the Centauri are the Romans, and the Minbari look like some Buddhist people or a version of Star Trek's Vulcans. The Pacmara, however, are extraordinary.

Fiction set in space - that would perhaps be the most accurate description of what kind of show Babylon 5 and Deep Space Nine are. For the determining and most obvious factor would not be that both would think a lot about scientifical possibilities, about fictional science. They tell stories, epic stories, with the dimensions of those stories being that big that they need to be told in space. The setting, space, is here more important than the technological background portrayed. A Western is a Western, may it be set into an era of horses or of cars. I for myself have never heard of a term like "Western with horses, but also with some primitive cars". As another example: Star Wars is very much space fiction, and also epic fiction. But it doesn't care at all about science; even B5 cares about that much more. Another example would be Space: Above and Beyond. Science Fiction is a very problematic term, and if judged by its meaning, far too often mis-applied. But what is science fiction then? That will be dealt with in the next part.

April 13th 1999

10: Science Fiction

"Science fiction like Star Trek is not only good fun but it also serves a serious purpose, that of expanding the human imagination. We may not yet be able to go where no man (or woman) has gone before, but at least we can do it in the mind. We can explore how the human spirit might respond to future developments in science and we can speculate on what those developments might be. There is a two-way trade between science fiction and science. Science fiction suggests ideas that scientists incorporate into their theories, but sometimes science turns up notions that are stranger than any science fiction. [...] The physics that underlies Star Trek is surely worth investigating. To confine our attention to terrestrial matters would be to limit the human spirit."

(Stephen Hawking. "Foreword". Lawrence M. Krauss. The Physics of Star Trek. N.Y.: BasicBooks 1995. xi-xiii)

The term "science fiction" perhaps counts among the most difficult ones in literary and cultural theory; although most of the time this difficulty is not so obvious; instead: it is being ignored. The result of such ignorance most often would lead to mis-nomers, to an intermixing of various categories and terms and to the formation of a now empty, no, emptied term. "Science fiction" is such a term. You might now, judging by my excursions into the realm of post-structuralism (see General Discussion) argue that every word would be an artificial and therefore at a final point an empty construction. I certainly could live with such a notion; everybody perhaps could. But we wouldn't be able to talk to each other any more: Constructions might be artificial; but they are also conventions - without conventions, no conversation.

So what is science fiction? First of all, a mere word; actually, two words. Let's start with fiction, for that's what is the most important part of it: Science fiction is a kind of fiction. I believe we all have a certain understanding of what fiction is, and we all know what science is. So science fiction would be a kind of fiction having to do with science; being determined by science or scientific elements. This normally leads also to this term having the notional of fictional science; which but is a mis-understanding. Also, the original term "scienti-fiction", doesn't contain that element either, at least from a linguistic point of view. Let's compare two definitions:

"science fiction, n. A literary or cinematic genre in which the plot is typically based on speculative scientific discoveries, environmental changes, space travel, or life on other planets."

(The American Heritage Dictionary. Boston: Houghton Mifflin 1997, 3rd ed.)

"science fiction, n. a form of fiction that draws imaginatively on scientific knowledge and speculation. [1925-30]"

(Random House Webster's College Dictionary. NY: Random House 1996)

There's a very basic and drastic difference in both the approach and ultimately the result of both definitions: The first is based on how the term is actually being applied; mis-appliances included. It is very specific and not really useful concerning the understanding of the term as such. The second is a much more theoretical approach, approaching the term from the linguistic side and also allowing for development. The first is an observation, a more empirical approach, the second allowing analytic and deductive appliance. Both have a very different story to tell: The first reflects the actual use of language (and also reflecting the alterations a certain term might have encountered within time), the second tells us what the meaning is supposed to be. While both definitions are indeed true, and both have their justifications, I prefer the second one. Why?

Let me continue now a paragraph more with this linguistic overkill. Why do I think the second definition would be better than the first? Easy: The second is a description of the cause, the first is describing merely the effect, the result. Both might be linked in a way; but let me get a bit more concrete. "A form of fiction" means just what I tried to express two paragraphs ago. Of course SF forms a genre; and there we have the problem: A genre is a way too fuzzy-edged construction; and when a certain piece of fiction is declared to belong to a certain genre, the character of the whole genre might change. But what are the conditions for including something into a certain genre? Also, the arguments in definition one are not weighed against each other. It basically says that if one of the conditions is met, it's SF. But what if the SF-element is just for mere background, for mere effect? Can the piece of fiction still belong to SF? For example: Is 'Alien' science fiction, or isn't it rather horror? What is the determining element? Does 'Alien' first of all draw on scientific speculation, on scienti-fiction, or isn't its intention much more to frighten the audience? But it is set in space, it is about ET life. But I still would hesitate calling it science fiction.

Back to Babylon 5. Is this show a sci-fi show? Yes - and no. It's clearly a space show, space fiction, but it doesn't have the scientific agenda or claim Star Trek has. It contains elements of science fiction, yes, but great sci-fi episodes are just rare (for instance B5 TV-movie 2, 'Thirdspace', episodes like 1.21 'Quality of Mercy' or 3.16f 'War Without End', parts I and II). Within all these episodes, however, the scientific element is virtually background, no attempts are made to actually 'explain' the physics behind. Star Trek, on the other hand, uses a very different approach. So is the amount of 'techno-babble' within fiction an indicator for science fiction? Perhaps SF is a term which is gradable: Something can be more science fiction than something else. But the most definite answer would probably be that there is none such answer: Anyway, it's just words. And I seemed to have needed a lot of them to come to that (anti-)conclusion.

April 14th 1999

11: Comparisons

Often fiction is being defined or explained by defining or explaining it against a certain background; by making comparisons. I won't state that comparisons wouldn't be a good thing, on the contrary, they are what enables us to actually define a thing, to grasp a thing. We usually learn by comparisons - we know that a fork is a fork and a knife is a knife; and we know that because both are different - once, early in our lifetime, we compared both shapes and came to the conclusion that there was a certain difference in form.

But comparison is not the only way of learning - at a certain point, you have to leave the comparative level behind and try to understand something really new, really abstract. You cannot really compare a sound with a smell or taste. You can perhaps compare the idea of a sound and the idea of a smell or taste; but you cannot compare loud with salty. You cannot compare principles of quantum physics with chocolate easter bunnies.

For a comparison, certain similar elements or premises are needed which would justify a comparison. For instance, you could compare one TV set with another. But comparing doesn't mean equalizing - you note the similarities and differences and come to a certain conclusion. So, why am I not telling you something you don't know, you're asking? I guess I don't know what it is you don't know. No, that's not the answer to the question. The answer is the following: There are constantly people trying to compare fiction written in books and fiction written for television or movies. Mostly the however explicit or implicit notions and connotations I sense are that written fiction, usually being construed and constructed as forming literature, would be superior. Almost everybody I know can't understand why it is so important for me to watch television and movies instead of reading more books. So what is the point? There is none. Each of the cited media has their pros and cons, and it is a matter of personal preferences and anticipations. And also of socially and historically enforced paradigms and customs.

Another kind of comparisons are those comparing fiction of one kind versus fiction of the same kind. Actually, I am referring to the quite silly lines of arguments trying to "compare" Star Trek with Babylon 5 or Star Trek with Star Wars. But those efforts usually are not directed at really comparing something: The result of such actions is mostly pre-written, with hidden or not so hidden agendas applied (see Intertwined, pt. 8, Masks and Judgement, pt. 11) - the real intention thereby not being really a comparison but something else, to discredit something one doesn't like. Talks about which show would be better are leading nowhere. I'm sick of this stuff; especially when it is not made clear that it's just personal opinions being expressed; some people not even seem to notice that.

Yet it is another comparison I want to talk about in this sort of inhomogenous part. Fiction mostly delivers us allegories for real life; trying to describe reality by means of fiction. Sometimes, the result is more obvious, sometimes it is more or less difficult to see right through. With science fiction, the second variant is the more frequent one. SF stories usually don't go the straight line to tell us something, but they speak in images, in metaphors; thereby also saying something which they couldn't possibly be saying in a more direct way. Star Trek did and still does that about issues of society, while Babylon 5, Millennium and The X-Files do it mostly about religion and politics, but also not ignoring society. Still, Star Trek uses a more obvious approach - a kind of positivist attitude, while the other shows mentioned largely seem to have left the bright side of life. But all those shows have something in common: While their methods might be different, they all aim at describing our reality and making us realize what we've done wrong and what we might do better.

April 16th 1999

12: New and Old Stories

Storytelling is central to each kind of fiction. Babylon 5 has done quite a job concerning that, with its spin-off Crusade taking off into the same old, new territories. Like it happened with Star Trek, this might very well lead to the creation of a new, long-lasting mythology. This moment, the launch of a sequel show, is crucial. It means trying to capture the spirit of the now old show and applying it to a new one; infusing it thereby with new blood. For the somewhat stagnating and dying Star Trek it worked with TNG. And although B5 could still come to a great ending, it had had some problems in the beginning of its fifth season.

TNG finished at the peak, B5 held out a bit longer; hopefully not too long. Old stories have to become old stories, they aren't old stories from the beginning. But every idea gets old within time, every theme gets lame and boring, every storyline is stagnating after some time. The restrictions of the commercial production of art are very well reflecting the mechanisms of evolution. The official and obvious reason for a successful television show to end is that the actors get too expensive - but the financial aspect is doing a piece of good work here. Bringing TNG's TV existence to a halt in 1994 was the best that could happen. And it won't vanish from TV, there'll still be reruns, and there are the movies. But the creative potential of a certain cast and setting are diminishing with time; something painstakingly having come true with shows like Married With Children, MacGyver and, also, Babylon 5 in the end.

But storytelling is an adaptive thing. This is most of all true because besides story, equally important are setting, characters and the general impression and atmosphere of a piece of fiction. That's the reason why there can always be new Star Trek adaptations without losing pace. But the creation of something new means that something old must needs to be overcome. The ongoing existence of TNG while DS9 was still on the air meant quite a negative impact for DS9 in its first two seasons, the old show still strong and always telling the newcomer that it was still a kid. With Voyager and DS9 it's the same. The continuing existence of the old while the new is already making its waves is something always causing conflicts and trouble. But what is old, what is new? To be honest, TNG made quite some changes in its sixth and seventh season; it increased its pace. So did DS9, so does Voyager. If that is still the case, if the old dog is still able to learn new tricks, then it's still alive. And not yet dying.

Also, do not get me wrong here. I'm talking about evolution within fiction. Evolution is a very critical term and it must not be misunderstood or misinterpreted, or even applied to society. Strength is a very relative thing, and it is also not always obvious. "The weak will perish" - like species 8472 told Voyager in 3.26 'Scorpion'. But who is weak - and who is strong? We think us humans being strong. But at the end, when human life will have vanished from this planet; or just in areas where humans are not able to exist, there will always be some microbes, some bacteria or amino acids left. Who is the strong one now? The most successful animal family on Earth are still the ants (see also Extraterrestrial Life, pt. 11).

Myths are something old - and they are also something new. Myths mean the essence of fiction, the essence of stories. With the old conflict already long gone, with the once so proud heroes and storytellers long dead, epic tales like Homer's Iliad, like old folk tales or even historical events still have something to say to us. They have become more than fiction, they have become a myth. Achilles, Ajax, Odysseus, Hercules; Alexander, Wellington, Washington, Grant; Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Uncle Tom, Moby Dick - these names have entered the discourse of reality and are representing great stories. The Twentieth Century has given diversity a new definition, and it has increasingly become harder to determine what will be remembered of us in the centuries and millennia (hopefully) to come. But I'm quite sure that amongst the names-become-myths will be names like Superman, James T. Kirk, Jean-Luc Picard, Fox Mulder, Frank Black and John Sheridhan. And perhaps also Jose Chung.

April 17th 1999

(The entire essay was minimally reworked by September 8th 2003, concerning spelling and minor corrections, while the substance of it was left intact.)


[1] Let me clarify that this constructivist standpoint of mine only extends to fiction and the rules of fiction, it does not include material facts, nor the structuralism of Roland Barthes' "Death of the Author". Any related ambiguities in this text, however, may be due to a previous stance of mine that still wasn't clear on that subject.

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