Just got a batch of lovely zines from Judith, and thought I'd review Star Four since no-one seems to have done this yet?? Note, there are some plot spoilers, hard to review fiction without revealing something...
Star Four is beautiful to look at. I love the brooding Blake on the cover -- it's even better in reality than on the web. It's nice and chunky, although the size is possibly just on the limit of the binding method, I only hope the last pages don't part company with the rest. The quality of the fiction within is almost uniformly very high. I haven't reviewed the humorous stories, as it is well known that I have no sense of humour whatsoever...
Under the Influence (Una McCormack) is an exposition of the relationship between tortured and torturer. Beautifully characterised and very sad, the story made the Earth Domes briefly live for me.
The Quality of Mercy (Natasa Tuscev) starts with a kidnapping on Albian but travels far into the souls of Blake and his kidnapper, a failed Federation officer, against a backdrop of an excellent adventure yarn.
Trap of Glass (Penny Dreadful) is as original as we've come to expect from Penny, and to say any more would spoil it.
Trade (Morrigan) is another kidnapping story, with some nice dialogue as Avon and Jenna bargain for their crew-mates. Vila is nicely portrayed angsting over the relative prices on the heads of the motley crew.
London's Burning (Nickey Barnard) revisits the crew and inmates on the London, as Blake finds out what his fellow passengers think of child abusers. Though the theme is old, the writing and the complex characterisations are excellent, and Nickey gives the scenario several novel twists. I really enjoyed this one.
Other People's Problems (Una McCormack) is a short but sweet tale that examines whether people's actions match up to their reputations.
Small Revenge (Marian de Haan) creates a rebel so annoying that his presence on the Liberator unites the warring crew-members against him. Though well written, this story didn't quite work for me; I felt it tried to meld together too many disparate plot elements (although each was interesting of itself) and I didn't believe that Avon would explain his background quite that readily.
I Know You All is one of my favourites of Dana Shilling's incredibly varied and stylish output. This deliciously written story throws Avon, Blake, Anna and Servalan into an alternative universe after that cellar scene. As someone else has commented, Dana has a gift for one-line character summaries.
Rehabilitation (Gillian Taylor) graphically fills in some of Vila's childhood at the hands of the Federation's prison system. This story deftly tackles a whole range of emotive issues and the differing reactions of the rest of the crew were well thought out.
Four Little Words, by the same author, takes another look at the Orbit scenario. Not one of my favourites.
In A Price to Pay (Julia Stamford), Servalan makes Avon a final offer. As plausible as it is heart-wrenching, this story stands out for me, even in this excellent zine.
I've never been much for the Christmas on the Liberator sub-genre, so I approached Sally Manton's A Christmas Canto with some trepidation. Despite occasional descents into sentimentality, on the whole the story packs a poignant punch and is heartily recommended.
If one thing lets the zine down it is the quality of the repro on the internal art. There are several nice Val Westall illustrations (I especially liked the Avon--Blake heads on p19) as well as some good ones by Andrew Williams (a very shifty-looking Vila on p85), but I fear they've rather lost in the translation to print.
In summary, an excellent zine with a very high standard of fiction overall, and several real gems. Certainly good value for money.
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Last updated on 18th of May 2006.