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Betrayals, by S. M. Stirling

Another of the early Dell novels that... Oh, to hell with it. This was umitigated crap from start to finish. A slim, 270-odd page book that took me more than a month to finish because it was so godawful boring. If this weren't specifically a part of my Babylon 5 run, there is no way I wouldn't have abandoned this abysmal excuse for a novel by about Chapter Four. At the latest.

Still, on the plus side... I finally get to write a genuinely negative review in association with a show that generally doesn't lend itself to truly negative reviews. So with no further ado, let the rending begin!


Which one? There are so many, and none of them really seem to have much to do with each other...

I think the central plot is meant to be the T'llin. Who in blazes are the T'llin, you ask? Well, it turns out the T'llin are a really primitive race of Palestinia... uh, non-space faring aliens who are being occupied by the Narn, and who have resorted to terrorism to try to drive the Narn off their home world. They have three fingers, their leaders are called "Primes," and... there is absolutely nothing else remotely distinctive about them.

During preparations for a peace conference between the Narn and Centauri, to be held on Babylon 5, Na'Toth spots a T'llin on the station. This leads to separate investigations by Garibaldi and Na'Toth, ultimately ending in the death of a T'llin leader at Na'Toth's hands. This pushes the remaining T'llin to desperate action during the peace conference. If by "desperate action," you mean, "shut a room full of diplomats in a room and whack them on the head to make them talk to each other." There might have been the potential for a pretty good Monty Python sketch somewhere in this situation. Unfortunately, this book is completely earnest about its scenario.

Meanwhile, in an absolutely unrelated development that never ties into anything else in the book in any way whatsoever, Ivanova comes down hard on a new C & C technician named Ilias Larkin, who is startlingly bad at his job for someone with such a long string of recommendations. Soon after, Ivanova begins to receive data crystals on plates outside her door, each data crystal containing some new bit of material that appears to be setting up her dead brother as a saboteur. Ivanova has practically assembled a full set of breakfast china by the time she figures out that the guilty party really is the most obvious suspect.

Meanwhile, a pretty con artist named Semana MacBride smuggles a shape-shifting creature onto the station. The creature is widely hinted to be very, very dangerous. Then all mention of the creature entirely vanishes around the halfway mark, as it turns out that MacBride is actually just trying to sell a bogus item to both G'Kar and Londo for a ridiculous sum of money. Fortunately for her, G'Kar and Londo have the combined I. Q. of a chihuaha in heat in this novel. As for the shapeshifting creature? Erm... the writer changed his mind about doing anything with that, and didn't want to bother revising the first half of the book to remove all the set-up?

Meanwhile, Sheridan is forced to accomodate President Clark's niece, who is an aspiring reporter and who wants to personally interview the diplomats during the peace conference. She also has time to develop a crush on Lennier... though once that situation is set up, it is just as promptly forgotten about.

Meanwhile, a Centauri militia prepares to ambush the Narn delegation on its way to the peace conference. Don't get excited; nothing happens regarding this situation. At all.

Meanwhile, a security officer who might as well be in a red shirt decides to invite Delenn to a tea party to express her gratitude to the Minbari for an honorable action during the war. No, it has nothing to do with anything else in this "novel," but it is a nice scene... which at least distinguishes those three pages from most of the rest of this bilge.


Anyone wondering what a Babylon 5 short story anthology might be like need look no further. As the (admittedly somewhat snide) "plot" section of this review notes, there are many different stories going on in this novel, so many that I would say this is a short story anthology in all but name. The T'llin and Semana MacBride plots probably get about 75 - 85 pages of the book each; the Larkin plot maybe gets 45 or so pages; the other plot threads get 5 to 15 pages a piece (er... except for the Centauri militia plot, which maybe gets 2 or 3 pages).

If the different stories were extricated from each other and just published as short stories, some of them would have some merit. The Ilias Larkin story features some nice interplay between Ivanova and Garibaldi, and the twitchy, paranoid Larkin has the dubious distinction of being the only halfway interesting guest character in this volume. The brief episode with the security officer inviting Delenn and Lennier to tea has approximately nothing to do with anything, but is in itself a lovely scene that might also have been more effective presented in isolation.

Betrayals also has the distinction of being the first early Dell Babylon 5 book that gets the human characters mostly right. Garibaldi is suitably suspicious; Ivanova is neither an emotionless cypher nor a wisecrack machine; and Sheridan takes his duties seriously, but also demonstrates a sense of humor and humanity. All three of these core characters actually feel like the characters I've been watching in the episodes. In the earlier Dell books, only Garibaldi ever seemed to be captured correctly (with the difficult-to-capture Sheridan mostly ushered offstage by writers who weren't quite comfortable with him).

OK. That's enough "good," I think.


Though a few of the subplots had potential, had they been separated into into individual stories, trying to mix all these disparate ingredients together in a single bowl results not in a feast, but in an inedible gloop. It's difficult to maintain much interest in even the better-written subplots when, every five pages or so, the book switches to something completely different. Just as I find myself hooked by Larkin's fractured psyche, G'Kar and Na'Toth are stewing about the T'llin Primes. Just as something seems to be happening with the T'llin, Semana MacBride begins manipulating Londo and G'Kar in her confidence game. Just as the MacBride plot threatens to become amusing, Sheridan is receiving his orders about the President's niece. And so on... This isn't a novel, and - unfortunately - it isn't even a proper short story anthology. It's caught somewhere between the two, and the result is largely just a mess.

It doesn't help matters that the more-or-less central plot-line - the T'llin situation - is the book's single dullest feature. The T'llin are not portrayed distinctively in the slightest. Prime Phina and Prime Olorasin are flat, 2-dimensional constructs. Phina represents the radical voice, believing violence is the only possible answer to their people's situation; Olorasin represents the optimistic voice, believing that they should try to use diplomacy to enlist the aid of other races. These aren't characters, they're treatises. Worse, they aren't even consistent on that basis.

The T'llin as a race do nothing to engage the reader's interest. They are not portrayed in any dimension other than as victims. Victims who are only characterized by the state of being victimized are inherently dull, and don't garner sympathy in a work of fiction for long. Then, when they become violent near the end, the situation lacks immediacy. We know that no characters we care about will be hurt, and we don't have any sympathy (or interest) invested in the T'llin themselves. They go from being one-dimensional victims to being one-dimensional terrorists. Neither state is particularly interesting.

Finally, the hostage situation (which the book's blurb makes out to be the plot of the novel, though it only really occupies about 20 pages) is resolved in a hackneyed manner, involving much speechifying and an inevitable act of heroic self-sacrifice by a character who has had vultures circling over her head from the moment of her introduction in the book. The situation itself is largely devoid of suspense, as the T'llin's demands seem to revolve around the Centauri and the Narn making peace with each other. Meanwhile, the exact nature of the Narn occupation of T'llin is never really explored. We don't have any idea why the Narn are there to begin with, probably because that would require the writer to think of some original backstory and an original culture for his hackneyed guest race.

The actual, bare-bones writing is reasonably competent. Pound for pound, it's a better-written novel either of John Vornholt's entries. However, Vornholt's two books, while unapologetic hack work, were also fast reads with engaging stories that revolved around characters we cared about. Betrayals is a slow trudge, with a tenuous story that revolves around uninteresting guest characters.

I would at least console myself with the knowledge that, having made it through this volume, the remaining books are almost certainly better than this. Unfortunately, to make such a statement would be to immediately jinx myself (partcularly since two of those - Personal Agendas and The Touch of My Shadow, the Whisper of Your Name - have even worse reputations than this one).

My Final Rating: 2/10. On the plus side, I get to return to the television series for the next few reviews.

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