Another of the Dell series of books, while not quite the worst of them, it certainly isn't good. Nor does its story really fit with the series at this point.
The site of the "angel's" appearance continues to draw ever stranger groups of pilgrims to the station. Most notable among these are the Fermi's Angels (who show their worship through the use of motorcycles), the Life in Transition group (who believe that all life is an accident, and that we therefore have no right to exist), and the followers of the Reverend Galaxy, who preaches to the impoverished lurkers in Down Below that God created man in his image, and that all aliens are therefore automatically unholy. With all these different groups coming into constant conflict both with each other and with the station residents, Garibaldi returns from a vacation to find his staff stretched so thin that they can hardly contain the problem.
The situation is further complicated by a manifestation of a "Worm." A twisting band of green light more than 9 million miles long, the "Worm" creates near-panic as its arrival is also heralded by vivid nightmares among every living being on the station - nightmares in which the station's residents picture themselves in violent conflict with members of other races. Plagued by sleeplessness, Sheridan and his command staff find themselves fighting to function as much as to puzzle out the mystery of the "Worm," which resists all attempts to scan it.
Finally, with the "Worm" on a collision course with the station, there is nothing for Sheridan to do save to brace himself for whatever might occur on impact.
There's actually quite a lot of potential in this story, and I suspect the above synopsis makes this book sound a great deal more interesting than it actually is. The idea of an external force dredging up the deeply-buried racism and xenophobia that lurks within everybody is one worth exploring. In a setting that by its very nature forces people of different races and cultures together, in the hands of a really skilled writer, this could have been a fascinating and gripping novel.
Unfortunately, this book is hack work of the lowest order, and the execution only skims the barest surface of the concept's potential. Still, credit for the ideas at least being there - which alone is enough to place this above the plotless Betrayals in my book.
Some of the groups featured in the novel are quite entertaining. I enjoyed the scenes with the Hermi's Angels, a group of fundamentalists who are gifted physicists as well as motorcycle nuts. I loved seeing the group bond with fellow motorcycle enthusiast Garibaldi, and was disappointed when that relationship failed to figure into the climax. It felt very much like a gun was put on the wall in Act One, only to be forgotten about completely in Act Three. Ah, well...
The Live Eaters were also memorable. The scene in which the group lives up to its name in front of a horrified Ivanova was one of the few genuinely vivid scenes in the novel. At the same time grisly and haunting, it is the one moment where this story actually did evoke some of the lyricism of the series. Sadly, the Live Eaters' subplot ends about halfway through the novel, and is never so much as mentioned again.
I also liked seeing the Babylon 5 command staff forced to deal with a puzzle that couldn't be solved by either force or reason. The characters spend most of the novel trying to probe the "Worm" in attempts to figure out what it is, and the "Worm" eludes measurement at every turn. In the end, even Ambassador Kosh is unsettled by its presence and is uncertain exactly what it is. As G'Kar said way back in Mind War, "it is both disquieting and reassuring" to know that there are still mysteries out there.
Finally, I did quite like the novel's final chapter, which eludes pat answers - or any answers at all. The Babylon 5 staff, even the Vorlons, have no real choice after the "Worm's" passing save to dust themselves off and go about their business. "We'll do our best, and keep moving ahead, like we always do," Garibaldi notes. Because that's all they can do. The exact nature of the experience is something they will never know.
Yes, it must be acknowledged that The Touch of Your Shadow, The Whisper of Your Name has some fascinating ideas, ones that could have been wonderfully explored by a very fine writer.
Sadly, this novel - which is credited to Neil Barrett, Jr., author of the Judge Dredd movie novelization, but which was actually written in a tremendous hurry by Al Sarrantonio (author of the later, and equally derided Babylon 5 novel Personal Agendas) - offers very little in the way of truly fine writing.
To be blunt, the writing is pure hack work. Ideas are raised but not explored. Descriptions are left vague and barely functional. There is little difference in writing style between the descriptive passages and the dialogue, leaving most of the characters speaking in an oddly stilted manner. Try picturing Bruce Boxleitner's Sheridan delivering the following:
"From what Dr. Franklin and the scientific staff tell me, this phenomenon is not emanating from within Babylon 5."
That's the form taken by most of the book's dialogue: clunky exposition, force-fed into the mouths of characters who simply don't talk that way.
The book is severely underwritten. Many paragraphs are as short as two sentences; some are as short as a single sentence. Internal continuity is weak. One guest character, written as a clear stand-in for Talia Winters, is a Psi Corps member struggling against a buried memory of an officially sanctioned attempted rape by a Narn criminal. She gets a huge amount of attention for the first half of the novel, leading readers to believe that her buried memory and the feelings of xenophobia it has left her with will prove to be the key to solving the mystery of the "Worm." Then she all but vanishes from the novel's last 100 pages, making her entire role a minor aside at best, an irrelevancy at worst.
The build-up of the "Worm's" arrival occupies most of the book. I do like that we are never really told what the "Worm" is. I do not like that, when the "Worm" finally arrives, it vanishes almost instantly. Talk about an anti-climax! The entire novel becomes a protracted shaggy dog story, and one with no punch line at that.
It also doesn't fit very well with the continuity of the series. We are told that the Narn and Centauri are killing each other in the halls of B5. Given the terms of the Narn surrender, particularly the penalty inflicted on the Narn for the killing of any Centauri, anywhere, this seems... unlikely. It seems even more unlikely that Sheridan would tolerate it. He has agreed to provide sanctuary for the Narn refugees on the station. But I'm fairly certain that sanctuary would disappear in an instant if the Narn population ever began engaging en masse in acts of violence against others on station.
Characterizations are also off. Ivanova appears to be entirely helpless in every scene where she comes into conflict with someone, which is entirely at odds with her screen counterpart. Sheridan and Franklin are unable to come up with anything that resembles even the most basic strategy. And the writer, following in the footsteps of many Dell writers, decides to spend the novel worshipping at the altar of the Dell God of the Mary Sues: Michael Garibaldi.
Yet again in a Dell novel, Garibaldi is the hero. While every other regular stands around helplessly, it is Garibaldi who comes up with every solution to every problem on-hand. Not through any innate cleverness, mind you, but simply because in this book, every character other than Garibaldi is a complete nincompoop! To offer an example: right after returning from his vacation and being apprised of the continual disruptions by the Life in Transition followers, Garibaldi orders them confined to quarters, with a guard on their door. So what's the problem there, you may ask. It's a sensible solution, after all. But it's such a sensible solution, and such an obvious one, that the idea that nobody on the station can come up with such a brainstorm until Garibaldi and his Magic Common Sense Powers return makes a fool of the entire rest of the cast! Seriously - even Zack Allen at his simplest would have been able to come up with that!
Meanwhile, Londo and G'Kar's entire development over the course of Season Two is utterly ignored. Londo is back to being a drunken buffoon, easily cowed by a few harsh words by Garibaldi and/or Sheridan (despite the fact that the screen Londo was ordering Sheridan about and threatening him in Sheridan's own office by the end of Season Two), and G'Kar is eager to slaughter Centauri at any cost. Never mind that the episode set right before this book showed that G'Kar wouldn't harm a hair on Londo's head, instead contenting himself with watching Londo suffer and die through G'Kar's (unpunishable, by the terms of the surrender) refusal to act. The Londo and G'Kar in the book simply are not the same characters we've been watching in the show. In fact, I think even in the earliest episodes of Season One, Londo and G'Kar had more depth than they do here.
Finally, I ground my teeth in annoyance every time the writer has Sheridan refer to Babylon 5 as a "ship." Was this manuscript perhaps originally written as a Star Trek novel, taking place on the U. S. S. Enterprise? I wouldn't be too surprised if it had been.
Oh, and one last note: the book is 248 pages, but its font size is almost twice as large as the font size of other books in the series - meaning it would give a more accurate reflection of its length if you were to mentally subtract about 100 pages from its page count. Still, given the quality of the book, I can't help but suspect this is more a good thing than a bad one.