Book Review #9

Book: 9 - To Dream In The City of Sorrows

Writen By: Kathryn M. Drennan

To Dream In The City of Sorrows, also known rather cunningly as 'Book 9' (a possible nod to the Minbari's fascination with everything in multiples of three or just a bizarre coincidence?), is an interesting mix, combining elements of what is known by viewers of the television series to have occurred and things only hinted at with elements known only to J. Michael Straczynski as backplot and side-story to the series proper. The latter of these elements were plucked from the brain of JMS during the course of numerous discussions with Kathryn M. Drennan - author of the season one episode By Any Means Necessary - and compiled into what is now this novel. To quote Straczynski: 'Kathryn is not just rigorously logical, she is relentlessly logical,' and her dedication to the project of filling in the story of Jeffrey Sinclair, from his ultimately untimely departure from Babylon 5 to the events of War Without End shows through quite well. Her 'relentless logic,' however, does not, and, in many cases, she presents far more questions than she answers.

From a technical standpoint, there seems a strangely disjointed style to the work as a whole: awkward transitions and utterly superfluous chapters concerning Marcus Cole and Catherine Sakai flesh out the first third of the story, segments I personally could have done without in that we, as viewers, already knew much of these details or, short of that, which could have been used as simple character exposition to speed up the tale. As a veteran of the television series, Drennan's work suffers remarkably and horribly from lack of pacing; scenes are often extended beyond their logical conclusion or are so painfully brief that one is required to skip back and re-read how Sinclair could be standing in his bedroom one moment and on a transport the next. Her knowledge of the characters, excluding Sinclair, seems wanting, as Marcus is particularly cursory and wholly unbelievable and Sakai is sorely lacking her stubborn individuality - and given one excruciatingly poor bit of dialogue towards the end which not even the most credible of actors could have pulled off without sighing in despair. Most notably missing, from a writer's vantage, is the descriptive element. Even battle sequences are as deftly handled and as thrilling to read as the instructions on a tin of Bird's Custard Powder, leaving the reader frowning at the unremitting blandness of the prose. And, quite conspicuously, the time-line seems a bit skewed. For example, if Delenn was still in her chrysalis when Sinclair was removed from Babylon 5, how could it have been 'still a shock' to see her transformed when she finally arrives back on Minbar? There are other examples, but I will leave them aside.

One of the most intriguing items from the story is one which seems to have caused a great deal of confusion amongst fans, and that is the introduction of Ulkesh Naranek, Vorlon ambassador to Minbar. The confusion seems, in light of the book, unfounded, as it is quite clear that Kosh and Ulkesh are two completely separate beings, and it is equally clear that Ulkesh becomes, in season 4, Kosh2, the original Kosh's replacement as ambassador on Babylon 5. What isn't clear is a bit of dialogue by Delenn in which she states that Valen brought Vorlons with him into the past: 'Valen arrived with another race of aliens new to us, the Vorlons.' Perhaps I should watch War Without End again, but I do not remember Kosh and Ulkesh being on B4 when Sinclair rode it off into the past, but already there - hovering in ethereal light above their encounter suits - when Sinclair introduces himself to a couple of dumbstruck Minbari as Valen.

Without going on about what I perceive as problems with the storyline, rather leaving the reader to decide on further speculations, I will say in conclusion that To Dream In The City of Sorrows does an admirable job of filling in the blanks where Sinclair is concerned - and succeeds well in rounding out the back- and sideplots to the series proper - but the execution of these elements is in dire need of tightening and better characterisation. I recommend the book on the grounds only that it adequately fills the void for those of us who enjoyed Sinclair and feel he is badly missed, that it increases our understanding of the events which transpired on Minbar - and elsewhere - behind the scenes of seasons two and three, and that it is considered 100% canonical by JMS himself and therefore provides answers for all who enquire, but not on the merits of technical brilliance or epic prose. One can only hope that, in future, The Great Maker himself will commit the story - as a whole - to paper and render all other attempts moot.

Das Ende it wasn't the best thing I've written. What do you expect? Tolstoy? :)

1998 Bob MacAdu.