Babylon 5: The River of Souls

Whatever happened to
Babylon 5: The River of Souls?

The River of Souls On an ancient, nameless world, latter-day tomb raiders have unearthed the ultimate trophy: the key to the mystery of death-- and the promise of immortality. But the desecration has not gone unnoticed, nor will it go unchallenged as a terrifying conflict between ordinary mortals, a mysterious superrace, and a force beyond life itself erupts on the Babylon 5 space station. Dr. Richard Bryson arrives on Babylon 5 with the extraordinary artifact that sent his comrades to a horrifying death. Pursuing him is an envoy of the Soul Hunters: enigmatic beings who harvest and preserve the essence of the dying. Caught in the middle are the residents of Babylon 5, including Captain Elizabeth Lochley, Michael Garibaldi, and Zack Allan. None of them knows the shocking truth about the ancient Vessel of Souls. But when an armed armada of Soul Hunters arrives to reclaim their wondrous prize, the stage is set for an apocalyptic day of reckoning for all...

Babylon 5 is and ©1998 by Warner Bros. All rights reserved.

It would have been beautiful, wouldn't it? I thought so. But unless some sort of minor miracle occurs, it's never going to happen.

In the simplest of terms, the deal fell apart. I took a neutral step back and diplomatically told the people who asked about it that there had been a "change" in the contract terms, and we had thus far been unable to resolve it. And that's where I left it, until I was sent an email about a posting in the newsgroups that went like this:

QUESTION: What's happened to the novelization of "River of Souls"?

ANSWER (from J. Michael Straczynski): We pulled the book. For a variety of reasons, it wasn't where we wanted it to be, and the quality we needed it to be, so it was dropped. We hope we can try and do something else with the novelist at some point in the future.

This was so far off course that I was furious, but my agent asked me to let it go and not respond. I was going to anyway, but I dragged my feet and never did it. Then the same statement appeared in Issue #174-A of THE ZOCALO, which was emailed to nearly eight thousand people. I felt I couldn't not reply to this, and my response was printed in issue #174-B. That it was the final issue was just a coincidence of timing, nothing else. This was my response which the moderators of various B5 newsgroups conveniently refused to either acknowledge or post:

"In response to the numerous emails I've received about the JMS posting in the newsgroups and the statement in The Zocalo, please note that the novel version of River of Souls was not "pulled" or "dropped" until after I walked away from the deal last summer. The editor (who never read the samples of my work he was initially sent and who also told me the manuscript I submitted to him was "great") came back later and told me that the book had been rejected because my style was too different from the other B5 books. At that point he changed his opinion and heavily criticized the manuscript. I was asked to rewrite it, and I agreed. Then the editor decided that I should do so based on a detailed outline and history that he would obtain now, -- after-- I'd already written the novel. I still agreed. Then I was told that the reference editor at Babylonian had declared that if she was to provide the facts upon which to base the rewritten book, she also insisted on having her name on it in a "written with" capacity. I felt this was grossly inappropriate and at that point, I walked away from the deal. In any event, I knew and loved the subject matter, and I enjoyed working on the novelization. I do not believe, now or ever, that there was a "quality" problem with the book, or with my writing, and I think my existing work shows that."

Because I dared to publicly disagree with J. Michael Straczynski, I've received emails like the ones I describe below from Babylon 5 fans. JMS and Fiona Avery, the reference editor, have, I'm told, responded by posting elsewhere on the net, but I can't find the postings so I can't accurately reply to them-- I don't know what they say other than what a few friends have told me second-hand.

So listen up, because this is the last you'll hear of it from me:

There were no personal attacks in my ZOCALO response, just a simple statement of exactly what transpired regarding this book contract. My response was read by my agent, who also knows the facts, to assure that I maintained an unemotional tone. Again, I don't know firsthand the context of the replies by JMS or Fiona Avery elsewhere on the internet other than mentions in emails sent to me by friends, so for the most part, I cannot accurately answer them.

This is the bottom line: I had no reason to nor did I lie or exaggerate. As far as I knew, Fiona Avery did not request a "credit" or an "acknowledgment". In fact, the manuscript I turned in quite enthusiastically thanked her, Joe, and several other people for the help they provided. As a side note, both the editor and Babylonian conveniently forgot that they approved the outline I submitted. In the end, however, Joe did not like my writing style. That is, of course, his prerogative. Although I was disappointed, I agreed to rewrite it. Then as I stated, the editor informed me that for the book, after rewriting, to be published, Fiona's name must be on it in a "written with" capacity-- as co-author of a book she did not write. If Fiona believes this was a miscommunication, then she should by all means discuss this with the editor who relayed this to me. It would certainly be a shame for this book to never see publication because of incorrect information.

I've been writing for a long time and I am well-acquainted with the writing profession. I am not looking to make a "case" or to win an argument. I am not arguing, just telling the facts of what happened to me. There is no right or wrong here, just the way it happened and the way it ultimately turned out. Fans and viewers do not know the demands handed to me-- all of which I agreed to except for the final one that killed the deal. At the end of it all, I was asked to reconsider but never given another option (such as using "additional material provided by" instead of "written with"); it was a take it or leave it term unexpectedly added to a contract which had been signed by the parties months earlier.

There are people who believe I should just sit quietly and allow the posting to go unchallenged. Before declaring this to be the best course of action, consider the damage done to the career of a midlist novelist when someone with J. Michael Straczynski's power states publicly that the quality of her work -- which is always a matter of personal opinion -- was not acceptable. Babylon 5 fans have also overlooked an important fact: I, too, was a long-time Babylon 5 fan. Does anyone in their right mind truly believe a Babylon 5 lover would walk away from a B5 book because she had to say "thank you" to someone? Be serious. This didn't simply fall out of the sky-- my agent and I sought a Babylon 5 project for well over a year. When it came through, I worked extremely hard on it and was willing to continue to do so within their constraints. And despite JMS's initial post, Babylonian has made no offers to work with me in the future, and my agent and I were well aware when I walked from the deal that none would ever be forthcoming.

So now you know. I love what I do-- write-- and most of the time, 99% of it, I love hearing from the people who read my stuff, whether they like it or not. But this wasn't a good experience. I'm human, and it left me angry and hurt. Then the posting by JMS reopened a wound that hadn't had time to close, much less heal. Now I'm tired of agonizing over it. I spent months working on it, researching and writing, including throwing away a dream vacation that'd been in the works for eight months, just so I could do it. I spent more months being twisted around by the people involved in the project who had more power than I. At the end of it all, what I received in return was basically a hard way to go. What you read on this page is it as far as what I will have to do with Babylon 5: The River of Souls. I don't need any more nasty emails from people who don't really know what went on and who fire off missives calling me "petty and childish," "unprofessional and ungrateful." If you weren't on the telephone with me, my editor, my agent, and Babylonian Productions, then face the fact that you have no idea what really went on. Don't send me emails about it; I won't answer them-- I won't even read them.

So that, folks, is it. I believe it's been well said by a thousand comedians:

"Talk amongst yourselves."

Summer, 1998

While things didn't work out, Yvonne still had a marvelous time in the "midst" of it. We don't want to forget those, so here's a look at some of the good B5 times from July 1998.

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