I liked the first season of Babylon 5 a lot. Fascinating characters, fascinating set-up. I couldn't see why on earth they replaced Sinclair with Sheridan until later events demonstrated why it was necessary. Sinclair was too efficient. He wouldn't have let things get into the kind of mess that they had to be in for the series to continue for five seasons.
From that POV I could see why it was necessary to have a mediocrity in charge of the station. Realistic enough: I could see the Peter Principle at work here, guaranteeing that some career officer run-of-the-mill general got promoted to commander of a station where he was utterly out of his depth, made bad decision after bad decision, had his instincts in the wrong place, etc etc, and drama unfolded as a result. Except that wasn't JMS' idea. *He* wanted me to believe that Sheridan was wonderful and spesshul and the saviour of mankind, and kept on telling me he was wonderful and spesshul etc., when it was perfectly obvious to me from the things he did that he wasn't even a pimple on Sinclair's butt.
Now, it was bad enough for JMS to insist, adolescently, that *both* commanders have the same initials as himself, which isn't merely graceless, it's confusing. Two featureless whitebread Anglo names are impossible to keep separate: I had to adopt a friend's mnemonic, that Sheridan begins with the same sound as shit-eating grin, to remember which was which. What really got my goat, however, was his treatment of Lennier. Lennier was a moral and virtuous man, deep of faith and just basically *good*. Lennier's moral gravitas made Sheridan look the light-weight he is. Therefore JMS found it necessary to make Lennier indulge in an unforeseen and gratuitous betrayal, motivated by jealousy, just to prove that really good people don't exist after all and Sheridan is still all spesshul and wonderful and The Only One Worthy Of Delenn. (Who is no prize either. JMS just keeps saying she is.)
That little bit of small-souled self-indulgence isn't confined to JMS, IMHO. It's a frequent downside of the American cultural given 'I'm as good as you.' If everyone is as good as anyone else then no one is allowed to be better. Therefore there are no real heroes, and saints are unpleasant people, and decency is just an act, and-- everyone in fact is as small and limited as I am, which is reassuring. The trouble is, it isn't true to reality, and it sure as hell makes for bad drama. I grant you that great souls are rare. But if you've shown someone as great of soul for four seasons, it comes off as mingy to cut him down to size in the fifth, just for the sake of making your hero look good.
Which brings us to Ista in Paladin of Souls. Bujold drags a couple of gods onstage to tell us how wonderful and spesshul Ista is. And I don't agree. It's clear enough she was a small-souled small-minded self-absorbed twit when younger. And dumb, dear god was she dumb. 'The curse can be broken by a man who is willing to die three time for Chalion.' Maybe it's because my parents were lawyers and impressed on me the importance of Every. Bloody. Word. in a legal document, but my reaction to that is-- obviously the minute the guy stops being *willing* to die, having him die won't work. You've failed to meet the basic requirements. And yes, you *are* a murderer.
But that's not how Bujold wants us to see it. Oh yes ista blames herself, sort of, for murdering her husband's lover, but of course her husband should have stopped her because he was older and wiser- which may have half a point- but mostly, see, it was the great lord Whatsisname himself who was responsible for his own death because he wasn't as great as everyone thought him- which Bujold then turns into, as *he* wanted everyone to see him, implying it was an act of vanity from the start. Err sorry, I'm not buying that. Ista's alive, the man's dead, Ista's telling the story in a way that says It wasn't my fault it was someone else's. She has something to gain from insisting Whatsisname was a fraud. 'He made me believe he was wonderful and then he faltered, so hell he was a sham from the start and deserved to die.' Whatsisname can't be allowed to have been as marvellous as his reputation suggests- as he appears reflected in his son, even- because then Ista looks bad.
So no, frankly, I don't like Ista and I don't see why Bujold wants me to believe she's such a wonderful god-chosen person.
I'm also waiting for a writer who can make heterosexual love and passion look anything other than graceless. It's doable: Miss Smilla's Sense of Snow had some lovely yaoi moments in its m/f, and so in its own way did a Japanese novel (name gone now) that was written by a guy from a male perspective and struck me forcibly how utterly lacking in hostility the tone was- which underlined just how hostile men usually sound when writing about love and sex. Women writers usually just sound twee. Bujold is no exception. But maybe the love story would seem more palatable if I liked Ista better; whereas it gives me exactly the same hives as Sheridan and Delenn.
Shall give a pass to volume 3 of this thing and go read China Mieville instead. Or maybe The Woman in White. Having finished vol 1 of Cruel God Reigns as well, I think I'm owed something.