Earhart’s: “The Geometry of Shadows” Spoiler Space

If you sought your fortune from a Technomage, how do you think you’d fare? Why was Elric so tetchy? Do you have any other thoughts about the Technomages, Lord Refa, green and purple? Spoilers go here, y’all…

20 thoughts on “Earhart’s: “The Geometry of Shadows” Spoiler Space”

  1. I’ve never quite gotten the love that everyone seems to feel for Technomages as an idea.

    I do think Michael Ansara is great as the Technomage in this episode. And as for Peter Woodward in Crusade, he stalks the world, half-god, half-angel.

    But the actual idea of someone who uses technology to simulate the effects of magic: isn’t that basically a special-effects technician? The key word there is “simulate” – it doesn’t make it *actual* magic.

    Obviously, it’s a riff on Clarke’s Law. But I don’t think that’s a defense.

    Arthur C. Clarke was a brilliant person who did things in his life that deserve a great deal of admiration . Formulating “Clarke’s Law” is not among them.

    It’s that unfortunate habit of mid-century SF fans of dressing up
    things as pseudo-scientific “Laws” crossed with the unfortunate trope of the (usually white) hero who uses his superior knowledge of technology to fool the (usually not white) “primitive” people into thinking that the hero has magic powers.

    So what am I missing about Technomages that makes them such a wonderful concept?

    1. Quick addendum: I’m not saying that any of that problematic stuff about the technology=magic trope attaches to how it’s used in Technomages in particular. I’m just saying that riffing on Clarke’s Law isn’t something that’s particularly worth doing in the first place, seeing as Clarke’s Law is not something to which one should attach much value.

    2. Well, for one, the word “technomage” is just one of the coolest sf words I’ve ever heard. 🙂

      Second, I don’t doubt that a large part of the coolness is in how Ansara sells his lines. “It is within that ambiguity that my brothers and I exist. We are dreamers, shapers, singers and makers. We study the mysteries of laser and circuit crystal and scanner, holographic demons and invocations of equations. These are the tools we employ.”

      If this means anything, I think it means they’re doing their “special effects work” as a search for meaning. Not to fool people but to confront them with mystery and ambiguity, and to provoke a response, to occasion a horizon-expanding “teachable moment.”

      Maybe in the same way that Jesus told parables to break open people’s understanding of life, or that Zen masters assign koans for contemplation, the Technomages present “miracles” to which people must respond? Like the monster illusion reveals that Vir isn’t easily scared, or how the orange blossom shows that Sheridan is still open to wonder and goodness in the world….? Maybe?

    3. A lot of it is what I think Mike Poteet said. personally I also love the technomages, but then I always play amage in DnD or fantasy based video RPGs. And where they aren’t available, I find the closest equivalent, like the Biotics in Mass Effect. magic for me = cool. Even simulated magic. the books also flesh them out quite a bit.

      It’s funny though because I actually get your reaction. It’s waht i call “Boba Fett” syndrom, which is to say that for some reason some of the fans latched onto them and ran with it for no really good reason. Myself I don’t ge tthe Boba Fett thing. I have freinds that tell me “you need to read the books, he’s such a BAMF in the books.” but I then ask, “But why was he interesting enough to write books about in the first place?” You seem to have the same feeling about Technomages, and that’s fair (but seriously, you should read the books).

      1. Thanks for the recommendation: I do intend to get round to the books in the next few months, and maybe they will clarify the appeal of the concept for me a little.

        But I’ll read the Centauri trilogy first, because while I am an enormous Galen fan, I am a supercolossal Londo fan…

  2. I always loved this Ep, at least for me I always loved the Technomages and I wish we had seen more of them in the series.

  3. I’m not sure if I understand your point rightly, but I’ll give answer a shot. The magic or technology thing SHOULD allow JMS to explore perception through character. Recurring themes, Shadows and Vorlons: Gods or Mortals? Telepaths: scientifically impossible or explanations as yet un-encountered ? Lorien, alchemist or… shark as motorbike ramp? Oh, I’m out of my depth here! Sing in if you know the words.

    At the least, they’re foreshadowing: of the great, powerful old ones leaving. At best, a pretty thoughtful pun.

  4. Oh, and Valen/Sinclair. “God was there first and he didn’t need solar batteries and a fusion reactor to do it” “Perhaps, perhaps not”

    I love how Elric looks at Londo when they’re in Sheridan’s office. It’s that look that knows Londo is already complicit with genocide. It certainly feels that way again when they part. Elric tells him this straight, and adds, “So I do the only thing I can. I go.” This shid’s personal.

    The actor playing Green delivering “the solution”, does, so earnestly, as if Ivanova considers mad murder viable. He’s pleased with his brains, and such enthusiasm! “You win, everybody win!”

    I remember hearing “Coming of Shadows” won loads of awards and bought this VHS thinking it was the same, loving it immensely.

    Ok, off to listen to the podcast now. And maybe some Narn opera.

    1. My point’s not very profound or anything. Basically, I find Technomages to be a goofy idea that doesn’t actually make sense, but a goofy idea that the show seems to regard with absolute leaden seriousness. (Obviously, what Elric does to Londo is funny, and is meant to be, but Elric himself isn’t funny or sent up in any way.)

      But I like the points about thematic resonance that you make. And Ansara really does do a great job with the “great hand reaching out of the stars” speech.

      1. Sorry, I am 11 month too late, to add my two cents. The Technomages are strange beasts — when I first watched this episode as a teenager, the Mages were the best thing ever. Now … not so much 😉
        But Michael Ansara is really great.

  5. Now that I’ve listened to the podcast:-

    Like Andy, I was really struck when Erica made the analogy between Ivanova’s actions and real-world cultural insensitivity, and this is actually a reply to that. But I’m commenting here, not in the other thread, because spoilers. Also politics, although I’ve tried to keep it neutral and descriptive.

    I think this is one of those “then and now” things, at least to some extent, where B5 would probably be different if it were being made today. The ’90s were the high point of liberal-interventionist sentiment, with a lot of debate along the lines of “Why isn’t the international community using force to intervene?” in places like the former Yugoslavia.

    [Insert discussion of the immediate post-Cold-War context, the perceived success of the first Gulf War, Fukuyama’s end of history, and so on here.]

    JMS returns to this particular well, very explicitly so, in Crusade (Visitors from Down the Street). Also, although it’s not exactly the same, his unfortunate but apparently sincere defense of naming a ship after Cortez (see the Lurker’s Guide for A Distant Star) does not suggest that at this point he would be particularly troubled the cultural insensitivity of Ivanova’s actions in The Geometry of Shadows.

    Obviously, the experience of the 2000’s proved different to the 1990’s, and liberal interventionism no longer has the same appeal for many people.

    1. There’s a lot to think about.

      Our government is, as ever, sewn up up by two parties that formerly affiliated themselves with paramilitaries on both sides. As the peace movement grew and became a reality, they’ve of course distanced themselves from these, but old bigotries remain. In the run-up to the elections I’m more and more reminded of Sheridan’s S4 speech, ‘What if we choose neither?What if we refuse to choose from the choices they allow us? ‘ That’s the A-game and for me, where B5 resonates at it’s strongest: giving a right old kick in the dinosaur paradigm balls.

  6. One thing that seemed to be missing in the discussion was that one of the technomage trilogy novels (I think the second one) actually shows a hidden side of this episode. That novel shows a lot more going on during this episode. I am not sure all of what is shown in that novel could reliably be hidden in this episode, but it is still quite interesting to rethink this episode in the light of that novel.

      1. Not quite as high (Peter David is a fantastic writer), but still very good. As was the Psi-Corps trilogy.

    1. The one part that always stood out to me as contradictory to the episode is that the ship everyone thinks the technomages are on (because they are using subterfuge and most are actually on another ship) is sabotaged and explodes. But that is not how the episode progresses. So far as I remember in the novels they never tell Sheridan about their ruse, so it seems a contradiction.

  7. The podcasts hosts have, on several different occasions, defined Babylon 5 as being predominantly a “hard” Science Fiction series, but if you actually look at the full scope of the series and the specifics of its narrative, it’s actually better and more accurately defined as being “Space High Fantasy”, or, even more accurately, “The Lord of the Rings in Space”, with the Technomages being one of the most blatant – and completely series-exclusive – examples of this, since they’re very clearly meant to be the “Elves” of the B5 universe, placing portions of this episode’s narrative firmly in the position of being a direct allegory of/parallel to the part of The Fellowship of the Ring where Frodo interacts with Galadriel (with those roles in this case being played, respectively, by Londo and Elric).

    The introduction of the Technomages isn’t the series’ first direct parallel with/allusion to The Lord of the Rings, but it’s certainly the first that doesn’t exist anywhere else outside the confines of the series’ own internal universe.

  8. I see that everybody wants to discuss technomages here but I want to mention something about the Drazi. They are acting out the personalities of the Shadows and the Vorlons. Shadows in that they fight to the death for very little apparent reason. Vorlons in that the “war” is very rigid/inflexible.This speaks to a certain geometry….

  9. Something interesting (to me at least) is that G’Kar was someone ‘to be rooted against’ in season 1, with Sinclair more inclined to help Londo. I believe this sets up G’Kar to be more accessible, or able to, join ‘the team’ later on.
    Both the Narn and the Centauri are thought of differently, but this puts Sheridan in a more wary position of/with Londo. It helps him, I think, want to aid the Narn in the coming war.
    Not that this is the only reason, but certainly lends credibility to the, Londo specifically, but Centauri in general, as unscrupulous, and perhaps more likely to be Nefarious Shadow Friend Wannabes (NSFW).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *