SHORT STORY REVIEW: “Space, Time, and the Incurable Romantic” by J. Michael Straczynski

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A decade ago, there were a bunch of Babylon 5 tie-in novels and short stories published. The novels are still fairly easy to find on the internet, the short stories are real tough to dig up, though: They were published only in various magazines, never reprinted, never collected, and they’re unlikely to be. I can’t reprint the stories, but I *can* at least review ‘em and let you know what you’re missing. Which I’m doing here:

PLAY BY PLAY

Ranger Marcus Cole wakes up to wonder why he’s waking up at all. Shouldn’t he be dead? Didn’t he sacrifice his life to save Ivonova? As it turns out he did. Susan ordered his body frozen, just in case they came up with a way to reverse his situation. Eventually they did, and here he is.

Marcus is overjoyed to know that he did actually save her life, but very underjoyed to realize he’s now living in the twenty-sixth century, and she, along with everyone else he ever knew, is dead. He wanders around the Ranger headquarters city of Tuzanor, dejected and rich: Turns out the Alliance started a trust fund for him, you know, just in case he came back from the dead. One day he goes to the graveyard, and looks at the Entil Zha Ivonova memorial. While talking to a Minbari, he discovers that by the time she died - around seventy years after him - they had a way to essentially make a recording of a person’s entire consciousness, everything they knew, and the way in which they thought. These things aren’t *alive,* and they’re not capable of thought, per se, but they can answer any question you put to them in the manner the original living person would have. They’re kind of like the hall of heads from Land of the Lost.

Marcus hatches a crazy plan which is probably supposed to be mysterious, but is immediately obvious to anyone who’s evolved beyond a simple notochord: He’ll steal the hard drive backup copy of Susan’s brain, clone her body, and download the hard drive into her new organic brain. This he then does, more or less without incident, thanks to his scads of cash.

The only tenuous complication is that they can’t instantly force-grow clones. If he wants a 32-year-old Claudia Christian (And who doesn’t?) then he’s darn well going to have to wait thirty two years. He gives a sample of her DNA to an illegal doctor, and then goes to Mars to have himself put into suspended animation while she’s cooking.

Thirty two years later, the little thermometer button thing says the turkey is done, and so Marcus has himself thawed, then goes and picks her up. She once said (Never on the show) that her idea of a happy ending would be to spend her autumn years with nothing pressing to do, wiling away the time on a tropical beach. (Really? That doesn’t sound like her…) Marcus knows of such a planet way outside of civilized space, Hawaii-like planet with no sapient life, in a section of space so remote it’ll probably never be commercially developed.

He lands, strews crap around, then sends his ship off into space on autopilot so they’re stranded there. Then he wakes up Susan. Evidently they didn’t download *all* her memories, because she doesn’t really remember anything beyond the attack on the Shadow Omegas. He tells her they were on their way back from the battle when Sheridan phoned to say the war was over, and we don’t really need you guys anymore. Then, he says, they crashed on this planet.

She believes him.

They live happily ever after, presumably having lots of sex.

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

Wow. That was bad. That was really really bad. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s briskly written, it’s not an utter turd like “Genius Loci” was, the characterization of Marcus feels spot on, but it’s still really, really bad. When I gave this synopsis to R2, he said “How sad that Joe has been reduced to writing his own shipper fanfic.” I think that about sums it up: This is fanfic written by a real author in his own universe. Not even particularly good fanfic.

It suffers from the shortcoming common to all of Straczynski’s B5 short fiction: The resolution is obvious almost from the outset, and there’s no satisfying complication. Ivonova has a problem with The Titans, so she goes to B5 hoping they can fix it, which they do without incident. Lyta and G’Kar want to find the legendary planet of the telepaths, and so they do without incident. Lyta and G’kar get involved in the mystery of the planet of the telepaths, and Lyta resolves it pretty much just by staring cross-eyed at it. Marcus wants to bring Ivonova back from the dead, and so he does. The End.

Yawn.

Granted, Marcus’ personality feels spot on. This *is* exactly the kind of thing he’d try, and he’d do it with lots of flourish and aplomb just like this. Just the same, resurrecting two beloved-yet-tragic characters simply for the sake of giving them a happy ending seems false and wrong to me, like when The Man From Atlantis took it upon itself to go *into* an alternate universe where Romeo and Juliet was real, and change the ending ( http://www.republibot.com/content/retrospeculative-tv-man-atlantis-%E2%8... ) It trivializes their sacrifices.

Now, I’m not opposed to giving people happy endings, even dead people. I once wrote a story expressly to give Elvis a happy ending, which is probably something I should be ashamed of, but I’m not. (And if you’re interested to read it, you can buy a copy of my book here: http://www.amazon.com/Ice-Cream-Venom-ebook/dp/B004XNLU8Q/ref=sr_1_1?ie=...
) If the resurrections of Marcus and Susan was a background to a larger conflict: if there was a problem that only they could solve, a peril that called specifically for them, that requires getting the band back together again, I’d go for it. I’m all for trucking the camera back with them silhouetted and kissing against the Technicolor sunset while we roll credits. That’s cool. But bringing them back simply for the sake of *making* them smooch?

Sad. Sad waste of time and talent, and reader’s good will.

On top of that, Sleeping in Light was always the hard finale of the B5 universe, conceptually. We’ve seen glimpses beyond it, but for all intents and purposes the story ends there. Violating that for a pointless bored-chick-typing-on-a-Sunday-afternoon story like this is like saying your last goodbyes to a dying friend, leaving, and then coming back in to see if the guy wants to go get a snow cone.

It’s sorta’ creepy, too, you know? Marcus building a sex slave that thinks it’s a real girl, stripping her two thirds of a lifetime of memories, and stranding her on an island with him for ever after. Am I the only one who has a problem with that? I mean, they guy is basically stalking a dead chick! That’s just icky on so many levels. And uncharacteristically selfish of Marcus.

They did mention that Marcus’ body was frozen in the “Rising Star” episode of B5. This was around the time that Claudia Christian abruptly left the show, and he was toying with the notion of bringing Marcus back to life. He decided against it, however, so it was a dangling thread. One he decided to pull on here, unraveling oh so many things…

The genetic material they used to clone Susan came from a hair that happened to be on Marcus’ uniform when he was frozen. This is a frequent, and irritating plot device - they used it in AI, they used it in Superman IV, they’ve used it in TNG (“Unnatural Selection”), it’s been used in a lot of places. Thing is: Hair has no genetic material in it, it’s just protein. It won’t work. I’ll forgive bad science in SF when it’s original, but come on, do we have to keep making the same mistakes over and over again across three decades?

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS STORY?

To be honest, I don't know. I'm gonna' say 'no' on moral grounds, there's just too much 'ick' here, much as we all love Marcus and lust for/fear Ivonova, it just doesn't work. Made worse by the obvious fact that it's *supposed* to be charming.

And so it comes down to this: This is, chronologically speaking, the final story in the B5 universe, the end of everything. The entire saga *should* have ended with “Sleeping in Light,” but instead it fades away here, certainly not going out with a bang.

So, goodbye, Babylon 5, goodby forever. I loved you, and you meant a lot to me, and I will miss you. Goodbye.

Oh, hey, by the way, you wanna’ go get a snow cone? ‘Cuz, you know, I’ve still got more stories to review, and I’m still doing the “Retrospeculative TV” thing, so…

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