Monday, January 5, 2015

Guest Post: How B5 & JMS Changed My Life, by Declan Finn

I have sentiments similar to those expressed by Declan below -- although in my case, JMS's major impact was less on my writing style and more on my reading and viewing preferences. I am a bit older than Declan (apparently), but I was still an adolescent when B5 aired for the first time and consequently imprinted quite strongly on that particular style of science fiction. To this day, I still look for epic narratives in which the main characters seek to serve some cause above themselves. 

After talking once about Babylon 5, I feel this strong urge to discuss about the creator, J. Michael Straczynski, influenced me an my own work.  Odd, since he has always been an avowed atheist, and I have always been a Catholic.  JMS has also, in recent years, come out as a bit of a liberal, yet Babylon 5 helped shape my politics and my writing. He wrote military sci-fi in which people stood up to an Orwellian despot and were willing to die for what they believed.

When B5 first went on the air, I was 10. By the time it was over, I was 16 and reading everything JMS had posted on writing.  Then I started using JMS on writing to create B5 fan fiction. There were aspects of this rich, vivid world I wanted to explore, and the only place I could explore them was on paper. I pondered what religious orders there might have been, and I created the Holy Order of St. Patrick, a missionary order created by Father Patrick Itzak Patel … The members of the HOP were called “hoppies” by the public or “a real PIP” by members within the order.

I had come up with how the order had been founded, but that was generally background material. The HOP had been founded by a priest who had once been sent to the People's Republic of China and was captured, tortured, and escaped. He planned to come back and convert the people who had enslaved him, just like St. Patrick had when he had been kidnapped by the Celts.

The real work of the novels was my character Sean Patrick Ryan (He had originally been John Ryan, but I realized that the name belong to a Tom Clancy character). He was two meters tall and one wide, with an Irish cop gene, a high telepath rating, and a decided attitude problem.

And so many storylines grew out of small, offhand lines.  The enemy from the B5 pilot became a “Minbari mafia” and a whole book unto itself. Sean Ryan was introduced taking down a local B5 mobster named N'Grath – basically an evil preying mantis that was 7-feet tall. And we don't even discuss the terrorist takeover of Disneyplanet (written before the takeover of EuroDisney in Tom Clancy's novel Rainbow 6. How's that for timing?).

It turned into a four thousand page novel that I'm still trying to disentangle from Babylon 5.

After that, I was hooked on writing. Characters wouldn't leave me alone. I suddenly had voices in my head (being a writer: legal schizoprenia.)  And now the books that have been rewritten OUT of the Babylon 5 universe are even longer, with short episodes in the books now becoming books of their own.

That's not the odd part. The fallout is the odd part.

In my novel Codename: Winterborn, my coauthor and I have a strange dystopia variant in the city of San Francisco.  Basically, WW3 was a short affair, and missile shields in conservative states kept the Eastern half of the country alive, while some were killed by general fallout. San Francisco survived, but the general population of the planet thinks it's dead.

However, governments know that San Francisco is still there.  I thought, “Gee, wouldn't that include the Vatican? And wouldn't they send SOMEBODY over to San Francisco?”

And suddenly, I had priest who was an ex-cop with a missionary order, trained to act in hostile territory, covertly preaching with hostage negotiation skills, nonlethal hand-to-hand combat skills, and “how to covert the newly disarmed” skills.

It was the Holy Order of St. Patrick, and their leader was Father Patrick Itzak Patel – just called him “Fr. Jack.”

So, yeah, that happened.

When I first created It Was Only on Stun! (a murder mystery at a science fiction convention) I had to have a civilian on security.  I needed someone who was bat guano insane and didn't mind putting himself in harm's way.  I couldn't start the book until I named him. It didn't come together until he became Sean Aloysius Patricus Ryan.  And he became 5'6” tall and became his own person.

Even my magnum opus, the Pius Trilogy, a thriller series meant to dismantle Dan Brown and “Hitler's Pope” supporters, was influenced by JMS and B5.  How?  Well, it started with a dead academic researching Pope Pius XII. His assassin was then blown up, and landed on the car of the head of papal security – Giovanni Figlia. Giovanni had been escorting a Secret Service agent who was auditing Vatican security (written before Pope Francis declared his war on the Swiss Guard), and was coordinating with a visiting dignitary who was to set up the Pope's security in his country.

The three of them fall into the case, but something was missing.  My Pope Pius XIII was a man who had enemies, and wanted security to protect the people around him (Suicide Bomb + St. Peter's square = dead tourists).  That's why the Secret Service was there.

As the Secret Service agent is being shown around, Giovanni shows her another security consultant. Sean AP Ryan.

I would then apply almost everything JMS and B5 ever taught me into action.  I would kill off major characters. I had no problems making them suffer if it served the story – let's just say that when I torture one major player, it owed a lot to the B5 episodes Comes the Inquisitor, A Sky Full of Stars, and Intersections in Real time.  Even the ending was much like Babylon 5 – it ended in fire.

Not to mention a lot of my speeches sound like they were written by John Sheridan.

At the end of the day, almost my entire writing career has been echoes of the first spark lit by JMS.  I've written 15 books by now (maybe 20), but they all come back, in some way, to Babylon 5.  The themes of the show constantly run through my own writing: standing up against tyranny in any form, being willing to die for what you believe, being willing to put your main characters through Hell and back, and be sure to include consequences for every action.

Joe Straczynski gave me the gift of writing. It's a gift I can't repay.


  1. Ok, so I like the way this sounds and I want to try reading your work. Can you (or Stephanie or some other reader) recommend a good place to start? I'm kind of short stuff on my Nook right now, so it would be a good time. There's a lot here though, so it's hard to just pick one based on the little blurbs you gave. (Un) Fortunately, everything sounds good so it's hard to make a decision.

    1. I would try the Pius Trilogy first since that story is now complete.

    2. Yes, the Pius trilogy is now complete. Codename: Winterborn is on book one. Thankfully, it's self-contained. And scifi, if I"m to keep with the theme of this blog. :)

  2. Interesting story.Based on this, I just picked up A Pius Man. I've provide feedback.