“Inspirations and Influences” is a series of articles in which we invite authors to write guest posts talking about their Inspirations and Influences. In this feature, we invite writers to talk about their new books, older titles, and their writing overall.
Our guest today is Michael R. Underwood, one of the creators behind Born to the Blade – the new series coming from Serial Box. Described as Avatar: The Last Airbender meets The West Wing, Born to the Blade debuts tomorrow and we have an essay below talking about Babylon 5 and how it inspired the series. Please give it up for Michael R. Underwood!
I watched Babylon 5 at just the right time for it to leave an indelible mark on my mind. I heard about the show when it was first on, but at the time I avoided it due to my affection for Star Trek, instead watching Deep Space 9.
I don’t think I would have been able to appreciate B5 as much if I watched it in ’94. I was only eleven then, still deep into the aesthetics of works like The Dragonlance Chronicles, Earthworm Jim, and The Secret of Mana.
But when I did get around to it, watching episodes between classes on world history, mythology and language in college, Babylon 5 was a revelation. It’s the kind of show where just about all of it gets better the more of the rest of it you watch (like any show, it has its duds and mis-steps, even when you don’t include the forced structural shuffle of having to finish with the fourth season and then getting renewed for another season). It’s a landmark work in audiovisual serial storytelling, where characters unfold and evolve over time – changing massively but making sense every step of the way.
And most importantly for Born to the Blade, Babylon 5 showed me a long-form narrative that focused on politics. It showed me a way that the large-scale drama of powers and warfare could be told in a way that was always intensely personal, even (or especially) when the representatives were at odds with their government’s agenda. Commander Sheridan wrestles with the conflict between his personal beliefs and policy coming down from the EarthGov leadership. Vir frets and resists in small ways as he watches Londo’s rise and Centauri’s return to imperialism. Delenn pushes against strict traditionalism and applies a more expansive interpretation of her people’s default worldview. Ivanova struggles to reconcile her hatred of PsyCorps with her affection for Talia.
In Born to the Blade, we’ve created characters with the intent of taking them on long, human journeys where they’ll grow and change as they learn things about themselves and the world as they change it and are changed by it.
The characters and plotting of Babylon 5 gave me guiding lights and touchstones to apply with the Born to the Blade team in creating characters that could live at the intersection of the personal and the political, who could be pressured by large events and push against them, who could change and grow through friendship and betrayal, conflict and collaboration.
Born to the Blade wasn’t my first project informed by Bablyon 5 and I don’t think it’ll be the last. Some stories stick with you, change the way you see storytelling and the world. Babylon 5 is high on that list for me – in some ways I will always be walking those halls, following Delenn and Sinclair, G’Kar and Londo, puzzling at Kosh’s cryptic statements and wearing my B5 merch in the Zócalo. But like any crossroads, Babylon 5 is a place of beginnings and endings, comings and goings, so I will leave and return time and time again, bringing lessons with me each time I depart to forge my own path as a storyteller.
Michael R. Underwood is the author of over a dozen books, including the Ree Reyes Geekomancy series and the Genrenauts series of novellas (a finalist for a r/Fantasy “Stabby” Award). By day, he’s the North American Sales & Marketing Manager for Angry Robot Books.
Mike lives in Baltimore with his wife, their dog, and an ever-growing library. In his rapidly-vanishing free time, he enjoys gaming and makes pizzas from scratch. He is a co-host on the Hugo Award Finalist podcast The Skiffy and Fanty Show as well as Speculate! The Podcast for Writers, Readers, and Fans. You can find him at michaelrunderwood.com and @MikeRUnderwood on Twitter.