A Babylon 5 novel, set near the end of the second season.

Publication year: 1996
Format: print
Publisher: Boxtree
Page count: 279

President Clark has rewritten the death penalty for murder into law. The law is applied to both humans and aliens. This is the first time it’s going to happen, and on Babylon 5.

The Tuchanq are an alien race who were conquered and abused by the Narn, after their war with the Centauri because they needed their planet’s resources. However, the Narn ruled very cruelly and when they left, the planet was used up. A delegation of Tuchanq comes B5 to look for help. Several governments, Earth and the Centauri among them, are eager to help and the Tuchanq have to decide which people to turn to. However, soon after they come to the station, they get into a brawl and Ivanova decides to stun everyone involved. This turns out to be horrible mistake because the Tuchanq don’t sleep. For them, unconsciousness is the same as death. When the stunned ones return their consciousness, they’re effectively insane. The other Tuchanq can help them but they don’t get to one member of their delegation in time: she slips away intent on wanting a life for the life she has lost. So, she kills a human. Unfortunately, the human has a PPG gun and makes a big mess, plunging a cargo hold into vacuum. The human dies and the alien is apparently brain damaged. But because she killed a human, President Clark is adamant of punishing her and orders Sheridan to go through with a modern Western style trial. The racial (or species) tension on the station is running very high.

Apparently, this is a book about the cons of death penalty. I’m a pacifist and live in a country without death penalty so he’s preaching to the choir in my case. The only character in this book who supports the death penalty is Garibaldi, because it’s his job to uphold the law. All the others view it as a horrific aberration. Yet, quite a few people, both human and others, are killed and the only death viewed with any significance in the Tuchanq killing the human and then the upcoming execution. This seems a bit strange and limiting, too. The aim of the book is quite ambitious but unfortunately it falls short. Also, the plot would have probably worked better in another universe. This book makes Sheridan and some others somewhat different from their canonical selves. Also, there are some strange and inconsequential differences to canon. For example, Lyta Alexander makes a brief appearance during which we learn that this Lyta has been deaf her whole life, unlike the real B5 Lyta. Also, this G’Kar is married to J’Ntiel who gave him the book of G’Quan which was her family’s heirloom.

The Tuchanq are an interesting species. They’ve gone through a terrible occupation under the Narn but they’ve managed to keep their culture. They’re also physically quite different from humans (and Narns). For example, they’re a lot taller and have spikes which they use to say yes or no. They also have no eyes. In fact, I sort of think that they were wasted in a one-shot tie-in book because there’s no chance they’re seen again.

Unfortunately, the plot has some holes. The people at the station seem divided along the lines of “love the alien” and the Home Guard who hate all aliens on principle. Nobody seems to be interested in if the alien murdered someone or not, which seems more than a bit weird. Of course, humans are known for getting sidetracked in pretty much every issue. Clark is adamant at wanting a guilty verdict and a quick execution, no matter what. Nobody is really concerned with the law, even those who are supposed to uphold it. And like I mentioned, the other killings aren’t even mentioned about much less prosecuted. Also, people seem to know stuff they couldn’t have known. There’s a second plot line with Londo and G’Kar (who are as entertaining as ever) which at first glance seems fine, but when I started to think about it, doesn’t make any sense. The B5 characters are also uncharacteristically unsympathetic to the murdered man’s widow, especially Sheridan who is also a widow and so should have behaved quite differently.

Somewhat entertaining but the problems kept me from fully enjoying the book.