Happy 20th anniversary, BABYLON 5

This post originally appeared February 24, 2013, on the Contact – Infinite Futures SF blog.

I wouldn’t be writing this now if the pilot for Babylon 5 hadn’t aired February 22, 1993. The show went on for five seasons, spawned six television films and a spin-off series, Crusade, and garnered two Hugo awards, a Saturn award for Best Genre Cable/Syndicated Series, the E Pluribus Unum award for best TV drama series, several primetime Emmy nominations, and one Emmy for makeup.

For those who haven’t seen it or don’t remember, Babylon 5 was science fiction space opera set between the years 2258 and 2262. The title came from the name of the space station that served as a center for trade, diplomacy and conflict for humans and several alien species. B5 was the first TV program to use CGI as the primary method for its visual effects, the first to use virtual sets, and one of the first shows to have a strong Internet presence.

Creator and executive producer J. Michael Straczynski wrote 92 of the 110 episodes of Babylon 5, including all 44 episodes in the epic third and fourth seasons. Other writers who contributed scripts to the show include Neil Gaiman, Peter Allen David, and D.C. Fontana. Fontana also wrote for the original Star Trek series.

JMS promised his viewers “no cute robots, no kids.” He wanted B5 to be mature science fiction television for adults, to transform the genre the way Hill Street Blues changed cop shows and to feature unlikely heroes with compelling character arcs, rather than simplistic good vs evil tropes. (See: The Strange, Secret Evolution of Babylon 5)

I grew up with science fiction, Star Wars, Twilight Zone reruns, Buck Rogers, Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek in the 1970s. I played with spaceships instead of Barbies. But in my teens and adult life, I wrote fantasy. For a job, I wrote non-fiction and, later, designed jewelry. Not exactly someone on her way to becoming a SF author.

In 2008, coworkers told my husband that Babylon 5 was some of the best SF TV ever made, if you can push through season one. So we watched it. A long chain of events led to my writing and publishing Stellarnet Rebel, but B5 was the catalyst.

G’kar was a template for my Duin, the space station Babylon 5 an inspiration for Asteria Colony, and the Lennier/Delenn/Sheridan triangle affected my choices when structuring the love story between Duin, J’ni and Belloc. The Stellarnet Series also features complex characters and storylines intended for mature readers.

Phoenix Comicon will host a B5 anniversary gathering of JMS and several cast members on Memorial Day Weekend.  I wish I could go to see them and other SF stars Jewel Staite (Kaylee in Firefly), Anthony Michael Hall (Weird Science, Edward Scissorhands), and Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura in Star Trek) who will be attending the convention. But it’s just not going to happen. Anyone in Arizona, or nearby, and planning to attend?

What are your favorite SF TV shows? For the other authors out there, which SF movies, TV and books influenced your decision to write futuristic tales?

~ J.L. Hilton

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