The Mortification of the Flesh

In Desolation Road, which is seriously one of the most overlooked and undervalued should-be classics of science fiction, there are a few chapters late in the book dealing with this religious cult that, much like certain medieval Christian monks and mystics, pursues the mortification of the flesh–they believe the body is sinful and evil, while the spirit is pure, and so seek to punish the body as a way of expressing the purity of the spirit. For medieval mystics, this meant stuff like living in deliberate filth, whipping themselves, starvation, and so on, while in the novel, they do it by destroying their sinful flesh and replacing it with pure, holy machinery. They are, of course, a parody of a certain kind of science fiction fan, the sort who talks about “the singularity” a lot–the end-goal of the cult is the Ultimate Mortification, a human mind in a completely robotic body.

It’s gotten me thinking a bit of how I think about my own rotting sack of vomit, and in particular how I tend to view it as not a part of me, but rather as an antagonist that holds me hostage. I am occasionally insomniac, yes, but far more often the reason I don’t sleep is stubbornness: I deliberately stay up, doing things that make it hard to sleep, because I’m sick of my body demanding I waste a third of every day doing nothing. Sleeping isn’t taking care of myself, in this mindset; it’s letting my body win.

Or there’s the time in college I kept refusing to go to the doctor while I got sicker and sicker, either though campus health services was literally across the lobby from the student newspaper offices where I spent the overwhelming majority of my time. The only reason I ever made it there was because I passed out in the office and other members of the staff carried me there. …And then a few years later more or less the same thing happened, where I had an infected cut on my face, and despite it being both painful and incredibly disgusting, I walked around with it for weeks until my fever got bad enough to make me delirious, and Viga (again, literally) dragged me to the doctor.

Or these last few weeks, where my feet have been getting steadily more painful, until last night I finally broke down and bought some arch support inserts for my shoes. And I really do experience it as breaking down, as a failure of will and a defeat. Once again, my body has defeated me and gotten its way, forcing me to alter my behavior to cater to its whims.

To an extent it runs in my family–my brother and nephew are very much the same way about sleeping. (“Runs in the family” is not, of course, the same thing as genetic–it’s quite plausible that my nephew and I picked it up from my brother as small children, imitating the attitude and behavior of a familiar adult.) But I’m rather a lot more stubborn that the rest of the family–my brother will stay up until 2 a.m. on occasion, while I’ll pull all-nighters when I’m feeling stubborn enough, and they usually don’t apply it to obvious medical issues the way I do–and I think that has to do with chronic illness.

My teen years were pretty shitty. I was already severely depressed going into them thanks to a combination of parental neglect, peer abuse, and AvPD, and then my dad died when I was 13, and put on top of that the usual problems of a shy, nerdy adolescent, and my emotional state throughout high school was basically suicidal, but too depressed to be able to put together an attempt. Also I threw up a lot.

Which, you know, when you’re fat at the beginning of freshman year, and by late sophomore year you’re pathologically skinny and publically throwing up in the middle of the cafeteria almost every day, there’s kind of an assumption people make about what’s going on. Thankfully, my parents at least believed me when I told them I wasn’t making myself throw up, it was happening on its own, and took me to a doctor instead of a therapist, because it wasn’t an eating disorder at all. It was purely neuromuscular, and curable, as long as I was willing to trade it for a near-certainty of chronic acid reflux disease. Death by starvation or chronic pain; that’s not actually a hard choice once you’ve experienced true hunger. I’ve experienced a lot of pain in my life, and nothing has been worse than the combination of agony, discomfort, and mind-numbing lethargy that was two straight weeks without anything making it into my stomach.

Add onto that what I increasingly suspect to be the case, that I’m sexually anhedonic, and the net result is that my body is basically entirely worthless to me. It is a hindrance, a hateful, demanding thing that gives nothing in return. I would love to be a brain in a jar, to be able to spend all my time on intellectual pursuits and communicating with people through text. (I mean, food is nice, but basically all food-related pleasures result in pain later, whether because of the reflux or the lactose intolerance or what I suspect is stress fractures caused by being too damn fat for my feet to support in these cheapass shoes.)

So basically, for all that I mock the singularitarians, I’m sympathetic. I can understand in wanting to believe you could be liberated from the flesh, could finally defeat it once and for all. It’s just that I’m skeptical it’s possible, hyper-skeptical it’s easy enough to happen in the fairly short timespan our civilization has left to survive, and aware that most people actually like being made of meat and would strongly prefer it not occur, which is a fairly significant factor where major social changes are concerned.

The Babylon 5 that (thankfully) never was: Babylon Prime and afterthoughts

Continuing my series attempting to reconstruct how Babylon 5 was originally (for certain values of “original”) “supposed to” go. More detailed explanation and Season 1 are here. However, since that original post I have acquired the actual treatment by JMS and am therefore working from that, rather than summaries. Thanks again to Glenn for giving it to me!

Babylon Prime

Although Babylon 5 was originally planned to end with defeat and destruction of the station, JMS’ plan was immediately to move into a sequel series, essentially additional seasons under a new title, Babylon Prime. 

Known: This series would open with Sinclair, Delenn, and their child in hiding, together with Garibaldi and a Narn (“a friend or relative of G’Kar”). They meet with the Grey Council-in-exile, who refuse to do anything to help Because Prophecy, and express the need for a base of operations. They go back in time and steal Babylon 4, but there are time distortions that cause problems. (Interestingly, even in this early stage B4 goes into the future relative to the date it’s being sent to, then settles down in the correct date.)

This time travel would cause Sinclair, Delenn, and the baby to age very quickly, so the baby would actually be an adult for most of the series. Meanwhile, Londo would become Emperor and be implanted with a creature that spies on him and reports his activities to the Shadows. Londo captures Sinclair and Delenn, but then rebels against his not-actually-called-a-Keeper at unspecified “terrible personal cost” and frees them. Meanwhile, their son becomes “something greater than human.”

Earth wins the second Earth-Minbari War and Sinclair’s name is cleared. Babylon 4 takes part in a great battle that ends with the final conquest of the Shadows, and the victors form an interstellar alliance led by Sinclair and Delenn’s son. Delenn leaves Sinclair to resume her position on the Grey Council and help her world heal. The series ends with Sinclair retiring to an uninhabited world and going fishing.

Speculation: The most likely place for Delenn and Sinclair to hide out is Epsilon III, where Draal can protect them. Likely additional candidates for their allies include Ivanova (if she survived the destruction of Babylon 5), Kosh (if he survived the end of the Shadow War), Draal, G’Kar and the Narn resistance, Talia/Lyta, and possibly Vir (though he is unmentioned in the treatment).

Some version of Talia/Lyta becoming a living telepathic doomsday weapon would likely have still occurred in this series, given that both Lyta’s closeness with the Vorlons and Talia’s telekinesis are set up in the pilot and Season 1, respectively.

In all likelihood, the “terrible personal cost” for Londo freeing Sinclair and Delenn is the same as in the broadcast series: his death at the hands of G’Kar.

Two things stand out as intriguing: Babylon 4 still swings into the future as a result of the time distortion, meaning that wasn’t actually an obvious patch between a “Babylon Squared” that assumed it was being stolen to fight a war in the future and a “War Without End” that had it stolen to fight a war in the past. Also, Sinclair and Delenn’s son being “greater than human” recalls Ironheart–it suggests perhaps that his role as spiritual leader who has odd powers and ultimately ends up leading a new alliance was ultimately divided between Sheridan and Lorien.

Afterthoughts

Frankly, while better than what we got of Crusade, this entire treatment is basically crap. With the sole exception of the Catherine Sakai as mole thing (which itself, recall, was speculation) none of this sounds likely to be as good as the series we got. It’s much more straightforwardly about good against evil and the Shadow War, G’Kar’s arc is jettisoned almost entirely, the Earth Civil War (which in my opinion was a better storyline than the Shadow War) is entirely gone, the ancient cycles of violence and “get the hell out of our galaxy” are gone, the massively powerful elder races whose technology is millions of years more advanced than the younger races are defeated in a war, Ewok-style, rather than persuaded to go away on moral grounds… this is simply not very good.

The timeline surrounding the theft of Babylon 4 is clearer and more sensible in this version, true. In “Babylon Squared,” it’s pretty heavily implied that the station is being pulled into the future. The retcon in “War Without End” requires that Draal first pull the station into its future so that passengers can be offloaded, then throw it into the past, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. On the other hand, the treatment suggests an accidental trip into the future, so maybe that’s what was going on in “Babylon Squared.” On the other hand, the price of that sense is losing Sinclair-as-Valen and the reveal that all that Minbari prophecy is just him remembering the future. Which makes Sinclair Merlin, bringing in all the references to the Arthurian legend, of which there is no trace in the treatment. Plus, I love a good ontological “paradox.” (As I have noted a few times on this site, it’s only a paradox if you believe that information cannot be created ex nihilo. As someone who creates information of one kind for a living and of a couple of other kinds as my primary hobbies, I take rather a large amount of exception to such claims.)

It’s notable, too, that this belies a number of claims by JMS regarding how closely he stuck to his original plans. For example, he has claimed that he knew what the last shot of the last episode of the series would be before Season 1 began. However, if he meant the end of the planned Babylon 5 series, then the shot of the station being destroyed while a single shuttle leaves occurs a few minutes before the end of the aired finale and in a very different context than originally planned (the actual final shot of the series, if credits are not included, is the sun rising over Minbar as Delenn reaches out for it; if the credits are included, it’s a split screen of a young Londo as he appeared in the first season and the aging Emperor Londo seen in the flashforward in “War Without End.”) If he meant the end of Babylon Prime, then there is no equivalent scene at all to Sinclair fishing.

There’s also his claims in response to fan comments on the apparent contradiction between JMS’ statement that after Babylon 5 finished he planned to stop writing for television and the announcement of the Crusade spinoff. JMS claimed that he had “always” said there was one possible spinoff idea he might explore given the chance, but that otherwise the end of Babylon 5 would be the end of the series, and indeed early on he did make claims that the series would consist of a planned five-year arc, possibly followed by a spinoff. Given this treatment, however, it seems clear that the spinoff he referred to in those early comments was Babylon Prime, and as such his citation of those comments in defense of Crusade is at the very least equivocation, if not outright prevarication.

None of this should be taken as a criticism of Babylon 5, nor is my point to suggest that JMS is a bad person or anything of the sort. Babylon 5 is truly great work, and JMS has done some other really great work in TV and comics (such as The Real Ghostbusters or the fantastic Rising Stars comic series). His scriptwriting textbook is excellent, as well. I am merely observing that some of JMS’ statements regarding the series seem very likely to be deceptive statements with the aim of making it look more planned than it really was; as such, it calls into question his reliability as a source on the genesis and development of Babylon 5.

What we have here, ultimately, is a classic example of why at least the soft form of Death of the Author is necessary.

The Babylon 5 that (thankfully) never was: Season 5

Continuing my series attempting to reconstruct how Babylon 5 was originally (for certain values of original) “supposed to” go. More detailed explanation and Season 1 are here, although note that since writing that original post I have gotten access to JMS’ “original” treatment and am no longer working from summaries.

Known: Season 5 opens with the return of G’Kar with evidence of Londo’s alliance with the Shadows and their meddling in the Centauri-Narn conflict. The Minbari military caste stage a coup and take over, resuming the war with Earth. The Centauri lay claim to the neutral sector that includes B5, which Earth contests, leading Londo to break off diplomatic relations. Shortly thereafter a massive Vorlon ship carrying most of their civilian population is destroyed by the Shadows, although Earth is framed. Londo helps in the attack, though without the knowledge that it will result in hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths.

The series ends (yes, ends) with the Minbari attacking and destroying Babylon 5. Sinclair, Delenn, and their baby escape on a shuttle and flee into hiding, with every remaining power in the galaxy considering them enemies: the Minbari because of Delenn’s ties to the deposed Grey Council and the Warrior Caste’s belief that the prophecy is one of destruction, Vorlons because they believe Sinclair helped Earth destroy their ship, Shadows and Londo because they believe Sinclair and Delenn suspect who really did it, and Earth because they’ve been fed false intel that Sinclair betrayed them.

Speculation: Given how much happens in this season, and how little happens in Season 4, it seems likely that some of this would have been moved earlier. Any of a Centauri attack on Babylon 5 as part of them seizing the sector, the fall of the Grey Council, or the destruction of the Vorlons would have made good season finale material (though the last might be too soon for the war to end in this version of the story).

Given his human-Minbari hybrid wife and the renewal of Earth-Minbari hostilities, it seems likely that Earthgov’s false intel makes Sinclair out to have betrayed them to the Minbari. Likely sources for the intel are the Minbari, Centauri, and Shadows, all of which have good reason to want to isolate Sinclair and Delenn and thereby cut them off from Earth support.

It’s up for grabs whether the warrior caste are being manipulated by the Shadows in this version of the story. They almost certainly weren’t in the actual series, but by this point the treatment and the show have nothing in common except Delenn’s pregnancy.

And yes, this colossal downer really is how the series ends in the treatment. But it’s not how the treatment ends–that still has another page and a half, almost a quarter of its length, to go. We’ll cover that in the next and final installment of this series.

Concluded next week!

The Babylon 5 that (thankfully) never was: Season 4

Continuing my series attempting to reconstruct how Babylon 5 was originally (for certain values of original) “supposed to” go. More detailed explanation and Season 1 are here, although note that since writing that original post I have gotten access to JMS’ “original” treatment and am no longer working from summaries.

Known: Delenn gets pregnant with Sinclair’s child. Garibaldi quits his job as Chief of Security as a result of his drinking, and begins operating as a mercenary out of B5. There is no mention of a Psycorps connection, Lise, Edgars Industries, or Zack Allen.

The Shadows would first be shown onscreen at this point, and the description of them, while vague, is consistent with how they appear in the series. They would initially present themselves as fighting to free the other races from the Vorlons, but in truth they desire to rule.

Speculation: Between the lack of a rebellion against Earth and the general slower pace of the treatment as opposed to the series, very little seems to happen this season. Perhaps G’Kar and the Narn resistance would have gotten focus episodes, or some variant on the Centauri Cartagia/rise of Londo plot might have occurred. Another possibility, given events in the treatment’s version of Season 5, is that the Minbari Civil War might have started, but not been resolved, during this season.

At this point it should be clear that the series as aired had gone completely off the original rails in Seasons 3 and 4. The Shadow War was resolved in early Season 4 in the series, yet is still a proxy war at the END of Season 4 in the treatment. Babylon 5 is still part of the Earth Alliance, Garibaldi never leaves the station, the entire Mars plot and associated cast is nowhere to be found, and Clark is still in charge with no resistance from Sinclair and company, despite manipulating his way into power via assassination just as in the series.

The Shadows as rebels against Vorlon manipulation is an interesting concept. It leaves open the question of whether the Shadows are one of the younger races manipulated by the Vorlons who have advanced far enough to turn against them, another race of equivalent age and power who just never bothered to get involved before, or, perhaps most interestingly, renegade Vorlons. This would cast an interesting light on the “angelic” presentation of the Vorlons, making the Shadows “fallen angels.” It also seems likely that something similar to the “meeting” scene from “Z’ha’dum” would have happened in this version of the show, where someone would explain to Sinclair the Shadows’ rationale for their actions. Perhaps Catherine/Caroline would have had that duty. Regardless, it seems that both the treatment and show versions give the Shadows a reasonable-sounding rationale, but belie that rationale through the destructive and manipulative behavior the Shadows have exhibited to this point. In the original plan, it seems likely that there would be a good deal of dramatic irony regarding this point, as the implication in the treatment is that the audience knows how the Shadows are manipulating Londo more or less from the start, but the human characters don’t find out until the season 4/season 5 bridge.

Continued in two weeks…

The Babylon 5 that (thankfully) never was: Season 3

Continuing my series attempting to reconstruct how Babylon 5 was originally (for certain values of original) “supposed to” go. More detailed explanation and Season 1 are here, although note that since that post I have acquired a copy of the treatment itself from an exceedingly gracious reader.

Known: The existence of a mole on the station is revealed. This is a point of divergence between the treatment (which takes into account the cast changes between pilot and series, but not any changes in the series itself) and JMS’ comments on what would have happened if there were no cast changes.

If there were no cast changes, Laurel Takashima would have been revealed as “Control,” the sleeper agent that Talia was revealed to be in Season 2. She would have departed much like Talia, and been replaced by Ivanova as second-in-command of the station. The treatment, however, is ambiguous about the identity of the mole, just that they are discovered. It also indicates that Catherine Sakai would have been “mind-raped” and lose all memory of Sinclair, devastating him and ending their relationship. This is stated to occur during the “third/fourth season bridge,” along with Delenn and Sinclair starting to date.

Psy-Corps emerges as an increasingly powerful and shadowy organization, but there is still no mention of Psy-Cops.

The Shadows would attack the Narn homeworld during this season, appearing out of nowhere en masse to wipe out its defenses and then vanish, opening up an opportunity for the Centauri to come in behind them and take over. After some time trying to rally support on the station, G’Kar would go home to join the Narn Resistance, and be demoted from main cast to recurring character for the remainder of the third season and part of the fourth.

Finally, it would be revealed that the Vorlons have been manipulating the younger races throughout their history, but the Shadows’ motivations are not yet addressed.

Speculation: Given the similarity of the “mind rape” to both the Talia and Anna Sheridan plotlines, it seems likely that Catherine Sakai would have turned out to be Control (like Talia) and the commander’s loved one stolen and twisted into someone else by the Shadows and their allies (like Anna). However, had there been no cast changes, Laurel would have been the mole, while perhaps Carolyn Sykes would have disappeared on an expedition like Anna, only to return as a minion of the Shadows. Catherine as the mole is actually one of the few places where the ideas in the treatment seem likely to be better than what we got in the show.

The loss of G’Kar, on the other hand, seems like a clear case where the treatment depicts a notably worse show. There is no trace of his religious epiphany or slow turning away from his initial presentation as a pure warrior, no sign of his character’s growth throughout the show, and that is a very sad loss.

Another loss: there is no sign of Earth’s growing corruption or fascist turn, no Nightwatch, and no declaration of Babylon 5’s independence; Psy-Corps is more of a shadowy puppeteer than a participant in what amounts to a fascist coup, and so there is no trace at this stage of the human characters have to weigh their loyalties against their principles. There is also no trace of “War Without End”–there was no past conflict with the Shadows and Sinclair is not the “reincarnation” of Valen, so no theft of B4 into the past. (“Babylon Squared” is not even mentioned until a lengthy parenthetical after the discussion of the end of season 3 and beginning of season 4–it’s described as a season 1 episode, but not mentioned in the treatment of season 1.)

The willingness of the Shadows to openly attack the Narn in force is interesting. Admittedly, by Season 3 the Shadows were capable of fielding such fleets and had emerged into the open, but that was well after the fall of Narn. Their willingness to do it sooner suggests that they have greater resources and are less afraid of being exposed, which makes sense if the cycle of past wars never happened and the Shadows are therefore a long-standing and active enemy of the Vorlons, rather than just coming out of a long hibernation.

Continued in two weeks…

The Babylon 5 that (thankfully) never was: Season 2

Although there was a new episode of Sailor Moon Crystal this past weekend, I was at a convention, so the liveblog is not until this coming weekend. Thus, have the second installment of my series attempting to reconstruct how Babylon 5 was originally (for certain values of original) “supposed to” go. More detailed explanation and Season 1 are here.

So, in response to the first part of this series, one of my readers, Glenn, sent me photos of his copy of the treatment I discussed. This means I have now read that treatment, not just summaries of it, and need to rewrite this whole series in that light. I am extremely grateful for this! I always prefer to use primary sources when I can.

Some overall thoughts on the document:
  • I did not know it included an introduction that explained its genesis. According to JMS, the document came about because  he had an outline of the series in “milestone” form–a series of notecards that laid out plot beats–but not narrative form. He says the only person he remembers showing it to is Michael O’Hare, Sinclair’s actor, who was having trouble with the character’s motivations.
  • JMS claims there were 110 notecards. The obvious implication is that there was one per episode, which is another case of him blatantly BSing–he knows full well that that’s the implication, but nobody can read this treatment without realizing that very few of those episodes could have actually happened as he planned, especially in the latter half of the series. 
  • The document is FAR less organized than online summaries would suggest. It meanders, blends together seasons, jumps forward and back in the timeline–the most egregious example is the two-paragraph paranthetical in the middle of season three/four (they’re rather blended together) that lays out the plot of season one’s “Babylon Squared.” 
  • My speculation about Psy-Corps appears both partially confirmed and partially denied. The document mentions Psy-Corps as slowly emerging as sinister and manipulative, and alludes to Clark gaining power in the wake of Santiago’s assassination, but does not connect the two. There appears to be no hint of a relationship between Psy-Corps and the Shadows. 
Anyway, onward to Season 2!

Known: The biggest difference, of course, is that Sinclair was never supposed to leave. The treatment indicates, however, that the reason for the surrender at the Battle of the Line revealed this season would have been notably different. It would have been revealed partway through the season that Minbari fertility rates were declining and their species headed for extinction; a Minbari prophecy predicts a savior who would somehow solve this problem. At the Battle of the Line, the Minbari discovered that Sinclair is the (equally prophesied) father of that savior; Delenn’s transformation is so that she can mate with him and produce a son. (Note that there is nothing here about reincarnation or souls passing from Minbari to humans, nor is there any prophecy of the Shadows returning.) This, of course, is impossible because of his existing relationship. In addition, the Warrior Caste interpret the prophecy differently, and believe that Sinclair and his son will instead bring about their final extinction. This is very different from their motivation in the show, which is mistrust of humans due to the war and of the Religious Caste due to their role in ending the war.

A number of things which occurred this season either do not happen or happen later in the treatment, most notably the Narn/Centauri war. In the treatment, the Shadows and Londo continue to attack the Narn throughout the season, but there is no indication of a full Narn/Centauri war breaking out and, by the end of the season, Narn has suffered heavy losses but still remains an independent nation. In addition, by the end of the season the identity of the mole has not yet been revealed. On the other hand, Kosh would still have revealed himself to save Sinclair’s life at the end of the season. G’kar still leaves the station to investigate who is destroying the Narn, but spends MUCH longer than in the aired series–he seems to spend the bulk of seasons two and three investigating, and it’s not at all clear whether the show follows him on this journey.

Speculation: Season 2 of the show notably accelerates as it goes on, and thereafter the show’s main arc is much faster-paced than the relatively sedate unspooling of Season 1. It seems likely that this was a deliberate choice to deviate from the treatment’s plan, in which major aspects of (show) Season 2 do not happen until (treatment) Season 3. G’kar’s time off the station was likewise notably shortened, possibly to allow more interaction between him and Londo, which by the end of Season 1 was clearly emerging as a highlight of the show.

Most notably, there is no reference to First Ones or a cycle of past Vorlon/Shadow conflicts. It would appear that, while the Shadows and Vorlons are significantly more advanced (and presumably therefore older) than the other races, the building conflict between them and their allies among the younger races is the first time they have fought.

Lennier’s speech explaining what happened to Sinclair at the Line and why, in the Season 2 premiere, appears to be the sole relic of a transitional stage between the Sinclair-as-Joseph and Sinclair-as-Valen stages of the plan; note that in his speech there is still the concept of the Minbari being in decline, but we have the added element of a human with a Minbari soul, foreshadowing “War Without End.” By Delenn’s speech in “In the Shadow of Z’ha’dum” the concept of the cyclical war seems to be pretty well cemented. JMS’ claim that he got the idea of the conflict being cyclical from the same Babylonian mythological sources as the general “order vs. chaos” theme seems quite reasonable–Marduk’s defeat of Tiamat was ritualistically reenacted annually–but it’s notable that he never said he took those two ideas at the same time. The conflict of chaos and order seems to be the main Babylonian element built into the series from the start (that and the “Babel” pun of a giant tower in space with many squabbling cultures living in it), but the cyclical nature of that conflict seems to have emerged in the course of writing Season 2, as opposed to being present from the start.

Continued in three weeks…

ETA: Updated link to the first post, which was broken. Thanks for pointing that out, RexMax!