Late 2607: Bernice Summerfield is... well, she looks nearly
40, but it's difficult to tell with all the time travel. She's
on her way to a funeral, and to meet up with people she's
not seen since her 20s. She's run through all of time and
space to avoid this reunion, but the best-selling author of
Down Among the Dead Men must finally uncover her own
presented as a collection of three novellas, in fact this
volume reads more like a single novel. The first and last
stories, Jonathan Clements's Cheating the Reaper and
Pete Kempshall's The Soul's Prism, take place in the
same location and point in time (between the events of the
audio dramas Summer
of Love and The
Oracle of Delphi),
with Marc Platt's flashback tale The Ship of Painted Shadows
stuck somewhat arbitrarily in the middle. The two "bookends"
cannot be read in isolation. Cheating the Reaper sets
up situations that are not resolved until The Soul's Prism.
As such, it doesn't reach a proper climax or conclusion of
However, Clements does give us plenty of effective character
moments. These range from the sorrowful to the humorous. Benny
is not merely sad because she is grieving for a fallen comrade
but experiences guilt because she doesn't feel that she got
to know the deceased well enough and so, paradoxically, becomes
angry with herself for being heartless. In common with The
Soul's Prism, the first novella contains plenty of lighter
moments revolving around Benny and Jason bickering and the
latter flirting with members of the opposite sex.
the Reaper is well written, but it's definitely more of
a scene-setter than a novella in its own right.
Late 2562: Bernice Summerfield is 22 and en route to the ruin
of Earth, where she hopes to get back in touch with her roots.
She's young, she's single, and she's just got an MA in archaeology.
There's a life of adventure in front of her. And then she
meets the half-human, half-lemur spaceliner waiter Ivo, whose
life she'll completely knock sideways...
you noticed how Big Finish keep selecting authors from the
Sylvester McCoy era of Doctor Who to write about the
younger Benny's adventures? Genius
Loci was written by Ben Aaronovitch, while
The Ship of Painted Shadows (a rather Babylon 5
title if I may say so) is penned by Marc Platt, a fellow
writer of Seventh Doctor stories both on television and in
prose. The next "young Benny" volume, the short-story anthology
Missing Adventures, will be edited by Rebecca Levene,
who used to edit the New Adventures novels. Perhaps
the idea is to emphasise a pre-Love and War (the New
Adventure in which Bernice made her debut) artistic flavour.
common with Aaronovitch, Platt plays with the notion that
much everyday knowledge from the 21st century has been lost
by the 26th (as a result of the Dalek
invasion of Earth in the 22nd century ). For instance,
one St Indiana is revered by Benny as the patron saint of
archaeologists, while an all-female choir sings amusingly
incorrect lyrics to the "Hokey-Cokey".
writer also expands upon the origins of the part-human, part-primate
demi-lemurs introduced in Cheating the Reaper. Their
ascent from a simpler Earth species to the status of sentient
humanoids might seem to be inspired by the Forest of Cheem
in the Who episode The End of the World, but
in fact the notion fits very well into the world of Bernice
Summerfield. Both this and the derelict status of Earth echo
Jim Mortimore's Bernice New Adventure, The Sword
of Forever, which featured a group of biologically enhanced
Evoking the style of Japanese Kabuki theatre, The Ship
of Painted Shadows is a rather weird affair, but an undeniably
Benny's ex-husband/current beau Jason is keen to accompany
her to the funeral. She never talks about that period of her
life: what she did to keep out of the war, where she travelled,
how she survived, or who it was that broke her heart. But
Jason's flirtations with other women and several unpleasant
blasts from the past do nothing to improve Benny's mood...
Kempshall's The Soul's Prism (a very Babylon 5
title) picks up where Cheating the Reaper left off.
I said earlier, this volume reads more like a single novel
than as separate novellas. A more effective structure might,
therefore, have been to intersperse the chapters of The
Ship of Painted Shadows with those of Cheating the
Reaper and the first few chapters of The Soul's Prism.
Kempshall's narrative hints at the potential of this approach
by including a post-Ship flashback in his own fourth
chapter and a pre-Ship flashback during his sixth one.
Benny suffers a real guilt trip in this story, as she comes
to realise just how much her past actions have had a tragic
impact on the lives of Ivo and those around him, and how she
has misjudged certain individuals.
Cheating the Reaper, this final novella benefits from
having a proper ending. A very exciting ending it is too,
albeit one that is clearly inspired by the Terminator
movies. One of the more dramatic moments was slightly marred
for me by the fact that I already know which characters survive
to appear in The Oracle of Delphi, but otherwise Kempshall
provides an effective conclusion to both his own story and
the entire volume.
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