I confess to having some fear about writing this review. One of the most revealing shocks I have experienced since first watching Blake's 7 - aside from Terry Nation's desire to kill off Vila in the second season - was the almost universal rejection by fans of Tony Attwood's Afterlife. I had liked the novel when I originally read it in the late 1980s. But who was I to say anything - just some American yokel so on the fringe of Blake's 7 fandom that for many years the only books about the series on my shelf were the 2 penned by -- guess who? Tony Attwood. Was I a victim of deprivation, just grateful for crumbs that I could not see this book as a failure instead of a masterpiece? So I decided to re-read the novel just to test this. I also at this time discovered Tony Attwood's own site, which included his own background on the writing of the book. Also, in my research, I had contacted Judith about why there was no review of Afterlife on the site. So here we are.
Blake is dead. So is Avon, Vila and everyone else who served on Liberator/Scorpio - with the possible exception of Jenna. At least that is how I tend to see the potential for future adventures by our heroes in the so called "Post Gauda Prime" universe. If I ever do write my own continuation story, Jenna will be the only regular appearing. That is just for the record, because in spite of those sentiments, I liked Afterlife very much. Of course I did have some problems with it, but I have yet to read a continuation novel which captures the essentials of the series so well. This may seem strange or even idiotic concerning a novel that features worm holes, alternate dimensions, unrealistic plotting by Servalan, hammy 4th season Avon, stupid Ultraworldlike Vila, and a Tarrant cameo that seems made for Tarrant bashers.
I liked Afterlife for many of the reasons that I liked Blake's 7. There was an appropiate mix of continuity and change and the book had an episodic feel that reminded me of the series. The novel focuses on three characters: Avon, Vila, and Attwood's own creation, Korell. They travel, in a space freighter and another vehicle which was quite a hoot, to about half a dozen worlds. Each visit and escape reminded me of an episode. Avon's secretive plotting dominates their course and there is the usual banter and exchanges. It reminded me of how I wanted the last few episodes of the 3rd season to work, like a more involved Terminal written over several episodes, only with no Blake at the end. Afterlife really focuses on Avon as a conspirator, problem solver, and field technician, this time without the aid of Orac for the most part. The book also shows Avon as a builder of his own computers. His dialogue is a bit strange at times and over the top, "I will not be defeated again.", but after having viewed the 4th series, this did not seem too out of place. Campy portrayals I could forgive because this was by and large the Avon I liked, secretive, determined, not some emotional cripple who could not face his feelings, but a man with an agenda. This Avon could dump Vila out of an airlock, or keep him around. It would simply depend on how useful Vila was at the moment.
Speaking of Vila, as mentioned above he seems quite the moron in the book, and I cannot imagine Vila fans, to say nothing of Michael Keating, being too happy with the portrayal. I always preferred the kleptomaniac from The Way Back, but this Vila babbles, asks stupid questions, only to be put down by Avon, drinks to excess and even gets a computer to help him. He also is too easily swayed by a pretty face, especially Korell's. This Vila reminded me of the character from Ultraworld or Powerplay. Afterlife Vila seems to serve mainly a expositional function. He asks the stupid questions of Avon and Korell that we might ask. Its a crew of three so it was down to Vila. To give him his due, this Vila does have his shining moments. My favorite is his retort to Tarrant, that it really does not matter who he follows, Avon, Tarrant, or anyone else, because he will always be bullied by someone. Attwood may have not done service to Vila's character in dialogue, but he did show Vila's plight as the seemingly indespensible, yet despised, lockpick.
Korell, the new character, completes the trio. At first she seemed like a too obvious foil for Avon, intelligent, secretive, with good looks and quick wit.
She also works for the Federation. We know this from the start and so does Avon. This does create a nice tension. Korell is Federation but for most of the novel she works with Avon and Vila. Her agenda is a mystery til the end. On the other hand, her characterization I found at times too perfect and a bit too much like Carnell for my tastes. She is afterall a therapist of sorts, a technician who works with people, like Avon works with computers. When we learn her backstory in the end, however, it makes sense. I rather liked Korell. Aside from Servalan and Travis we never really get to know well other people who work for the Federation, and frankly Servalan and Travis are insane. So it was nice to meet someone from the Administration with a more nuanced and subtle agenda with regards to the rebellion in general and Avon in particular.
Attwood's handling of the Federation is a major strength of the novel. The rivalry and antagonism between Space Command and the Administration has been expressed before, espcially in Servalan's coup in Star One. Afterlife takes it to new levels, and what Korell and her Administration may have had to do with Blake and his little setup on Gauda Prime, not to mention other rebel groups on other worlds was nothing short of brilliant. It reminded me of the plot from Shadow. Servalan, however, does not come off so well. Her plot appears unrealistic and her later move to capture Earth and regain power seem incosequential to the overall plot. I guessed from Attwood's own remark, "I felt like Servalan was getting to be impossible - it was difficult to see quite how she could survive much longer without someone bumping her off?" that he did not relish including her in the book, and it shows. Personally I thought she could have been handled better. She and Korell are really two sides of the coin as it were.
The concept of MIND and the sudden appearence of Avon's sister, Tor, at the end, also did not work well. MIND is hinted at and discussed by Avon and Korell througout the book, but we never really know what it is. It seems too vague to be of much concern given the rest of the plot and seems to nothing more than irritate Avon. After meeting Tor, we do get some brief clue, but then the book ends and we are left hanging. It all seemed so unecessary to the main plot, namely - Avon's attempt to carry through the revolution on his own terms and Korell's attempt to use Avon for the Administration's advantage. It should be noted, however, that the author was planning a sequel, State of Mind, which was to explore the concept of MIND and no doubt Avon's relationship with Tor. This is really the biggest problem with the book. It was not supposed to stand on its own, but as part of a series and so certain elements appear out of place without the sequel.
Overall this is a good book and I do recommend it to any fan of Blake's 7. I'll admit to cringing a few times, especially when Avon and co. travel through a white hole; I kept getting flashbacks from Dawn of the Gods. On the whole, Attwood handles things very well. Afterlife is a fun novel.
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