Book Reviews:

The Babylon Files

by Andy Lane

(Orbit, 428pgs, £5.99 p/b)

Andy Lane's superb exploration of the Babylon 5 world is a paperback version of those popular coffee-table books that usually offer guides to genre TV shows. Unlike most of those guides, here there is no colour, no gloss and not even any photographs, just words. We're told a picture can paint a thousand words but a thousand words of Lane's insightful and informed study will bring to the fore amazing details you'd otherwise have missed. Indeed, in an introductory essay, series creator J. Michael Straczynski displays a bewildering level of attention to detail that not even the most hardened B5 fan would be concerned with.

It's basically an episode by episode guide and appraisal with a few extras thrown in. Sure you get a handful of nerd-level snippets of information that the SF genre can always well do without, but I guess one man's interesting detail is another's anorak hell. With nothing to illustrate his points (excluding two very nerdy charts comparing the show's military ranks alongside those of today's US army - yawn) the success of the book lies purely with Lane's knowledge of the show and his ability to write well, and it is a great testament to both of these that the book is just so good. Amongst its most intriguing details are those of the cuts made by Channel 4 for the UK screenings.

At complete odds with its policy never to cut films, C4 clearly has no qualms about regularly cutting violence and swearing from the show. I lost count how many times C4 had edited the word 'bastard' out and was angered and disappointed in equal measure to discover just how many episodes had been edited for violence. (Jesus, after the BBC doing it for years to genre shows and getting nothing but complaints from fans, you'd think the supposedly viewer-friendly and art-conscious Channel 4 would improve on the BBC's dismal record but apparently not.) Anyone with (even just a passing) interest in Babylon 5 should buy this book and will be glad they did so. A terrific and completely engrossing read.

Rob Dyer