The Braxiatel Collection has lost one of its own, someone
who once made a mistake and has never been forgiven for it.
Clarissa Jones has been head of administration for many years,
enough time to really know her way around the place - its
security, its secrets, its weaknesses - knowledge that would
be of great value to neighbouring powers. So it's bad news
for everyone when she disappears. Brax is quick to dispatch
his troops to find Ms Jones and bring her home. Bernice heads
for Atwalla 3, where women are rarely seen, let alone heard...
Serpent's Tooth, the first story in this anthology of
three novellas, is written by Rebecca Levene, the former editor
of Virgin's New Adventures range, from whence the character
of Bernice Summerfield originally sprang. Under Levene's leadership,
the Virgin series gave us novels that ranged in style from
the whimsical (Paul Cornell's Oh No It Isn't!), via
the mystical (Jim Mortimore's The Sword of Forever)
to the grim (Where Angels Fear, which she co-wrote
with Simon Winstone).
It is appropriate, therefore, that this novella spans the
same gamut of tones. It begins with a gloomy description of
an oppressive regime, in which women are kept out of sight
and treated as inferior beings, then heads into Shakespearean/pantomime
gender-swapping territory as Bernice disguises herself as
a man. There follows a bit of fairy tale/knightly romance
involving a heroic quest, before Benny discovers a biological
mystery... and so on.
These constant changes of direction keep the reader guessing
right until the end of the tale. In spite of this, Levene's
unpretentious writing style makes The Serpent's Tooth the
easiest of the three stories to read.
Picking up Ms Jones' trail, Bev Tarrant and Adrian Wall
end up uncovering their own darkest secrets...
By contrast, Stewart Sheargold's Hiding Places is more
challenging. In fact, I would go so far as to say it is hard
work. There are allusions to Virginia Woolf in the stream-of-consciousness-style
mental ordeals that Bev and Adrian endure, as well as, on
a more tangible level, the presence of a very significant
lighthouse and a wolf that Adrian believes he sees with this
son Peter. (Remarkably, the author avoids making puns on Peter
and the Wolf.) Sadly, I never particularly liked Woolf's
writing, so I didn't really enjoy reading this homage to it
also unfortunate that the Bernice Summerfield range
has already visited two similarly mind-bending (though admittedly
more light-hearted) realms quite recently, in the audio adventures
The Masquerade of Death
However, there are some interesting and vivid depictions of
the inner conflict between certain characters' baser animal
instincts and the trappings of intellect and civilisation.
One of the richest examples can be found on page 91: "[Henry]
was pressed and polished in his best black jacket, white shirt
and two-tone brogues. He had loosened his bowtie a little,
and this gesture had, oddly, unravelled his sensible appearance
into some dishevelment. [...] [Adrian] must admit that he
had felt... challenged by Henry, as though one of two alpha
males competing for a desired female."
Sheargold also reconciles the darker aspects of Adrian's people,
the Killorans, who once committed atrocities such as those
witnessed on the planet Világ (as described in the Doctor
Who audio drama Arrangements
Jason Kane gets caught up in wild - and frankly ridiculous
- antics with pirates and girl bands. It's all true, he swears...
Back in the days when Bernice's exploits were depicted in
Virgin's post-Who New Adventures novels, the focus
of entire books occasionally fell on protagonists other than
Benny herself, such as Jason Kane (in Gary Russell's Deadfall)
or Chris Cwej (in Lawrence Miles' Dead Romance). Such
diversification isn't really possible these days, because
Big Finish's range names the Professor in the series title.
However, anthologies such as this and A
Life in Pieces at least allow other characters
to take centre stage for novellas within such books.
As with A Life in Pieces, the focus of the middle story
is on Bev and Adrian, whereas the third and final novella
in this collection turns the spotlight on Jason.
Stone's Jason and the Bandits, or, O, Jason, Where Art
Thou? (which is also, rather confusingly, referred to
as Jason and the Pirates on the contents page, jacket
blurb and on Big Finish's website) comprises the author's
usual blend of verbose word play (why use the term "bad" when
"egregious" is so much fancier and might get readers reaching
for their dictionaries?), footnotes*, and Douglas Adams imitations
(there's even mention of a giant mutant star goat). "The woman
was not exactly in the first flush of youth," the author writes,
during one of his Adams-esque moments, "in the same way that
the planet Jupiter is not exactly small."
this is one of Stone's more accessible and amusing works,
despite (or perhaps because of) its reuse of characters and
organisations from his Zardox Break story in A Life
in Pieces. These characters include Loni, Shawna, Jinx,
Poodles and Biz, who together are the girl band the Glitta
author also extracts the Michael from some of Star Trek's
clichés, such as the vital functions fulfilled by PECs (Pointlessly
Exploding Consoles) and the rather less vital maintenance
panels, which seem to exist solely to keep bored crewmembers
occupied. The story certainly kept this reader occupied.
Simon Guerrier provides this volume's linking material, which,
like the collection itself, is entitled Parallel Lives.
It ultimately brings the book to a rather abrupt ending and
leads into the next one, the short-story anthology Something
I'm not sure what the relevance of the title Parallel Lives
is, apart from providing one last application of the term
"life", which has been traditional for titles in this series
(until, of course, that changed with Something Changed).
I had been hoping for a set of parallel universe stories,
but what we get is, on balance, enjoyable enough.
that sentence was as long and clause-riddled as one of Dave