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Book Review: Blakes 7 Anthology

Blakes 7 - Anthology by GF Taylor, RA Henderson and MG Harris

Review by Jackie Emery

In the spring of 2012, Big Finish announced a very special Blake's 7 book which would comprise three original novellas chosen from an open submissions opportunity. Both published and unpublished writers were invited to submit their ideas, and the winners were announced in September 2012. Three writers were selected out of the 150 who sent in submissions, two of whom were professional writers (GF Taylor and MG Harris), and one previously unpublished fan writer (RA Henderson).

The book was released in October 2013, a month ahead of its original scheduled date. Like the other books in this series, it's a good quality hardback. The cover is glossy rather than matt, but the design and great artwork by Anthony Lamb fit in nicely with the rest of the range.

As per the original brief, the stories are all set during the first season of Blakes 7. There is some discrepency between the order of the three stories as announced on the Big Finish website (Beserker, Trigger Point, Cold Revolution), the story order as listed on the book's back cover (Cold Revolution, Beserker, Trigger Point) and the actual order of the stories inside the book (Trigger Point, Beserker, Cold Revolution). This last is the order that actually works best, as each story is set at progressive points during Season A, and perhaps the reason behind the reshuffle.

1. Trigger Point by Gillian F. Taylor
Infiltration and explosions are one way the Liberator crew can help the resistance on the corrupt planet Belzanko, but can a subtler approach work too?

The opening of this story places it between The Web and Seek-Locate-Destroy. Blake wants to help bring down the corrupt President of Belzanko and the plan is for him, Vila and Gan to sabotage a plant that makes Federation pursuit ships, while Avon and Cally get into the computers to steal data. As befits a story set near the beginning of the series, there are descriptions of the ship, the layout of the flightdeck and what teleporting feels like. There are even descriptions of the clothes, with special mentions of the two-tone hooded jackets and the acquiring by Cally of her spotted fur coat.

It's a good ensemble adventure, during which each crew member gets a chance to show off their individual skills. There is plenty of action, both on the planet, where there is an encounter with a security robot that could be straight out of Seek-Locate Destroy and on the Liberator, where Jenna's piloting abilities and smugglers' tricks are put to the test during a chase and battle with pursuit ships. In tone and style, this story could be an episode from early Season A, with a couple of neat twists in the tail that demonstrate again that it's not just the action but the questionable motives of the characters that made Blakes 7 such compelling viewing.

2. Berserker by RA Henderson
When the weapons research facility on space station Amber was shut down, something got left behind. Blake is determined to find out what...

This tale of space stations and super-weapons is set later in the series. Featuring Travis and Servalan, it's apparent that Travis has been pursuing Blake for some time. Of the three stories in the Anthology, this one contains the most sci-fi elements. Instead of using the teleport, Blake, Vila and Gan space-walk between the Liberator and the space station, while Travis and his mutoids follow using jet-packs. It's also the only story to use slightly punny chapter titles, similar to those in Peter Anghelides' novelisation of Warship. The style is lively, the dialogue breezy, Servalan and Travis are well portrayed and it's all a bit of a romp.

My main criticism is that Cally and Jenna have little involvement in this story. The men get all the action; first Blake, Vila and Gan on the space station and later Blake and Vila on a nearby planet. Cally has a stint on teleport duty, and after a brief acknowledgement of Jenna's piloting skills she has nothing to do but bandy words with Avon as he does clever computery things on the flightdeck. Of course it's not always possible for a story to feature each character equally, but I did feel that the girls had been somewhat short-changed in this one. However, it's a fun read that doesn't seem to take itself too seriously. This is RA Henderson's first professionally published Blake's 7 story, and as such shows great promise.

3. Cold Revolution by MG Harris
Kartvel claims to have escaped Federation control – without bloodshed. But is all as it seems on this mysterious planet?

The planet Kartvel has ceded from the Federation, and is now holding democratic elections. Blake and the crew are invited to be monitors at these elections, to make sure everything goes smoothly. But of course nothing in Blakes 7 goes smoothly...

I'm in two minds about this story. On the one hand, I really admired the quality of the writing. Although Jenna barely gets a mention and Vila's dialogue doesn't seem quite in character, this is compensated for by excellent portrayals of Blake, Avon and Cally. This writer also dares to go deeper than the other two, venturing close to fan fic territory by depicting a growing attraction between Avon and Cally, which I rather liked.

However, the story itself and the location... oh boy. MG Harris was not just inspired by post-Soviet Georgia, she uses the place and people for the setting, with no attempt at disguise. The planet Kartvel is Georgia (Sakartvelo is Georgian for Georgia), the rival protagonists standing for election are Edu(ard) Shevard(nadze) and Zviad (Gamas)khurdia. The story might as well be called Rose Revolution, and have done. The Blakes 7 characters are dropped into what feels like a present-day Earth situation, where they interact with real-world people. This works with Doctor Who, but here feels decidedly odd and anachronistic.

Avon and Cally visit Eastern Orthodox churches, they travel by car and tram, they stay in a ski lodge. Avon cooks omlettes, sausages and toast for breakfast. Seriously? Wouldn't he be looking for a replicator or the second-calendar equivalent of a microwave? But he and Cally seem perfectly comfortable in this 20th century milieu, to the extent that when they consider commandeering a car, their first thought is that it would be a four-hour drive, not how does one operate this thing? Although, as this story is set after Bounty, perhaps Cally took driving lessons from Tyce...

That said, the story was well written, and there were aspects of it that I enjoyed, like the examination of the reality of power struggles where there are no clear cut good or bad guys. This dark, complex tale is probably the most 'grown-up' of the three in the Anthology. But while it's all very well to have a story inspired by real-life events (Terry Nation's Federation harked back to his childhood fear of Nazi Germany), an original setting based on Georgian history should have been spun into the B7 universe, rather than vice versa. Avon and Cally's adventures on the planet were more in the spirit of James Bond than Roj Blake, and it just didn't really feel like a proper B7 story.

In summary, I think that the experimental Anthology has proved to be a success. I liked the three-story format; each novella was a good read that felt just the right length. My one comment is that as well as straightforward adventures, it would be nice to see Big Finish's range of Blakes 7 novels take more risks with the characters and their backgrounds, the way the Liberator Chronicles are doing. I hope that there will be more of these story collections in the future - and that Big Finish will hold more open submissions!

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