Star Four

Review by Murray Smith

This collection of thirteen stories and a logic puzzle is the fourth and best looking in the series, with a lovely blue cover featuring Blake by Andy Hopkinson, and a very amusing Shakespearian frontispiece by Andrew Williams. I naturally wondered if the stories were of the same standard, and was quickly satisfied that they were, ranging from good to excellent.

The first story, 'Under the Influence' by Una McCormack, deals with Blake before The Way Back, recounting his interrogation and torture, and his refusal - though to no avail - to sign a confession. While the story showed that Blake's interrogator was as much a prisoner of the system as he, I particularly liked the hard questions raised by the former. If Blake cared, he asked, so much about the right of people to think and speak freely, why did he kill so many? Blake's response: 'They were legitimate targets. This is a war.'

The interrogator also questions Blake's responsibility 'to sacrifice your [Blake's] own people, your friends, on the grounds that you've had some revelation that the rest of us don't understand?' The latter's confession duly contains admissions that he had planned to hurt and kill innocent civilians. He also spoke of the death of people he had persuaded that his beliefs were right and apologised to the families of the soldiers he murdered.

'The Quality of Mercy' by Natasha Tuscev is set on Albian after Countdown. A Council member, and secret Federation officer, approaches Blake, claiming to have news of the latter's sister. The story deals with that officer's capture of Blake and the subsequent chase by the Liberator's crew.

The things I found especially good in this story were: the strategy the officer used to capture Blake; the latter's suspicion of the former, which still didn't stop him getting caught; the ability of Blake to find the officer's inner weakness and exploit it to his advantage; and the dividing up of the story into the well-conveyed viewpoints of Jenna, Vila, the officer, Avon, and Blake himself.

'Trap of Glass' by Penny Dreadful, set between Orac and Weapon, is a very interesting explanation as to the differences between Travis 1 and Travis 2. I will not discuss it here, as I would give too much away, and will only say that it is worth reading.

'Trade' by Morrigan concerns the capture of Blake and Cally by a bounty hunter who, instead of handing them over to the Federation, offers to ransom them for a large sum of money. Enjoyable passages in the story include Vila wondering 'exactly how the Federation assigned specific values to each of them,' grumbling as to why his price was not higher than Blake's or Avon's; and the intensity of the negotiations, with Avon haggling over every detail, particularly the amount of money. The best of all, however, was Blake's annoyed comment after he learnt about the haggling, that 'Our lives were on the line and you argued about money? It's not even your money, Avon.'

'London's Burning' by Nickey Barnard is my favourite story in this collection. The title is a pun on a BBC drama series of the same name about London fire fighters, in which Gareth Thomas played Assistant Chief Officer Bulstrode. (Michael Keating also made an appearance in the series.)

The story deals with events aboard the London, where there is a plot by Raiker to dump all the prisoners. Commander Leylan, well drawn as disillusioned, but honest and dedicated to his job, finds out about this plot, which - I was astonished ot learn - is the result of Raiker's moral indignation at Blake having committed 'one of the worst crimes that exists.'

Raiker's attitude is also shared by many of Blake's fellow prisoners, who attack him a few times. Ms. Barnard is exceptionally good in showing - one of the few to do so - the likely consequences of Blake being convicted of child abuse, something already seen in 'Haunted', published in the zine _Pressure Point_.

What the reader might find a little disorientating is that the pattern of events does not fit in with that seen in Space Fall. The best way, then, to read the story, is to see it as an alternate version of the start of that episode, albeit one that unconvincingly returns back to 'normal' quite quickly.

'Other People's Problems' by Una McCormack is set after Redemption. While short, being a page in length, it shows Travis in an unexpectedly favourable light.

'How to be Topp on the Liberator' by Neil Faulkner is my very close second favourite story in this zine, and one of my favourite humourous Blake's 7 stories. It is written in the style of four books by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle - including How to be Topp - that appeared in the 1950s. A schoolboy called Nigel Molesworth writes these books, which cast a satirical look at Britain in that decade, in a semi-literate style. This story was presumably inspired by Molesworth's treatment of the science fiction of the time, which includes a passage describing when he, after landing in a spaceship on Uranus, is arrested by the PUKON and his TREENS. The PUKON them orders the latter:

'Put him in the reactor, o clot-faced doodlebugs'.

'The reactor is full, O PUKON. You always put the earth men there and they always escape it is very depressing. It is the same with the furnaces and the steel doors. Always get out at the last moment'.

'Try the moon-crater full of monsters'.

'Full too, O PUKON'.

The story is told from the point of view of an Avon who appears to be a reincarnation of Nigel Molesworth. All those who enjoy B7 humour will love Avon's description of the typical dangerous mission, when Blake 'have this grate idea to steal sipa machine/sekrit weapon ect from Evil Fererashun'; and they will also love his explanation as to why Travis is 'so meen'!

'Small Revenge' by Marian de Hann is set between Trial and Killer. Blake goes to a planet to recruit a replacement for Gan. Not only does he want someone who he can completely trust; he wants to end the vulnerability and isolation felt by him due to the decision of Avon and Cally to bond. (Ms. de Hann feels (a feeling shared by myself) that such a relationship would change the crew dynamics.)

Blake decides to make the recruitment a fait accompli, to avoid all the arguments that would otherwise result. The problem is that the new person claims that Avon worked for Central Security and interrogated him after his arrest. His denouncing of Avon as a traitor leaves Blake with a big problem on his hands, and Avon explaining his criminal past. A paragraph on the eating habits of the crew is both concise and amusing, as well as nice background.

'I Know You All' by Dana Shilling is a very interesting version of what could have happened had Anna Grant's coup succeeded. Blake becomes President and finds that the job entails a hugh amount of paperwork. The story also tells the reader something he has longed to know: Servalan's first two names.

'Rehabilitation' by Gillian Taylor starts predictably enough, with Vila staring down Dayna's cleavage, thinking the same thoughts as those of many male readers: 'He knew that it was not good manners to stare, but if she didn't want men to look, she shouldn't wear things like that blue and gold jump-suit she had on today.' Dayna, due to her very sheltered life, is not used to such behaviour; and she overreacts to a movement by Vila, causing an injury to his head.

Sadly, this injury brings back all the memories of the drup treatment he underwent at the Eurodome Criminal Rehabilitation Centre. The memories and their consequences show well what lay behind his remark that 'I've had my head adjusted by some of the best in the business.' A must - if a nasty one - for those who want a glimpse into Vila's past.

'Four Little Words' by the same author looks at what might have happened had Avon thrown Vila out of the shuttle in Orbit. The reactions of Dayna, Soolin, and Tarrant are well drawn; and there is a black joke at the end, which I will refrain from revealing.

'A Price To Pay' by Julia Stamford is a PGP story with a difference, making it one of the best I have read. Servalan visits Avon, who has survived, and offers him Blake's legend in return for his co-operation. If he agrees, they will secretly cremate Blake's body and he will be put back on the Federation's wanted list. The Servalan we see is surprising but in character, admitting to respect for Blake's ideals, saying that he did the right thing in fighting the aliens in Star One. While believing that the Federation will go the way of all empires, she doesn't believe that it will happen in her lifetime, so will leave Blake's legend alone.

The final story, 'A Christmas Canto' by Sally Manton, is set before Warlord, and based on Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol. Non-humourous Christmas treatments of B7 can be difficult, in that they can get drowned in sentiment, something fatal for a B7 story. This one succeeds, in that it splashes around in sentiment, but not for too long. The concluding 'Logic Puzzle' by Susan Beth I will say nothing about, leaving readers to think of a solution.

As the reader has seen, the stories are a mixed bag, in terms of setting and character. They range from before to after the series, although with a bias towards the second season. In terms of the characters, fans of Avon, Travis, Blake, Vila, and Servalan will be happy; but a third to half of the stories appear, in my opinion, to deal with crew interactions as a whole, all of them doing and saying something, stories which display the writers' considerable talents well. As a result, even those B7 fans with particular allegiances will find this collection well worth reading.

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Last updated on 18th of May 2006.