This is an unusual issue. Tales 5, produced to "celebrate" the 20th anniversary of Last Episode, had centred on the events of Gauda Prime, and so naturally had a fairly high angst quotient even for this fandom. The HEX tendency could not be expected to ignore this, and Willa Shakespeare duly produced HEX sequels for many of the Tales 5 stories. That doesn't mean there was no angst along the way, but each ended positively. These stories form the content of Tales 6, and it follows that any review of Tales 6 is in some measure a spoiler for Tales 5. So if you haven't read that yet, you may not want to read this first.... Also both 5 and 6 are massive spoilers for the final canon episode "Blake", and 6 especially is slashy - end of warnings, you know now....
HEXing is not entirely uncontroversial. Some people feel a sad story may in some way be devalued by being HEXed, in that it was complete in itself and meant to end as it did. Others, in true AU style, feel they can separate the two in their minds and keep the original in two dimensions at once, one where it ends the way it did and one where it can go on. And sometimes readers have different reactions to HEXing different stories.
"Can You Hear a Pin Drop?" is a sequel to Zenia's "Silence", in which Avon had tried for reconciliation but been repulsed by Blake and decided to leave. (It might be expedient to point out here that in the final canon episode Avon shoots Blake and either kills him or has a damn good try at it.) Actually Zenia herself had written a sequel in Tales 5, "Shattered Silence", which is a HEX in that next morning Blake forgives him and they stay together, though they aren't exactly ecstatic about it. So this one is an alternative scenario. In it Avon does leave; he goes to Sarkoff as an adviser and meets Blake again in that capacity a year later. In the meantime both have been very unhappy, and there's a shrewd moment when Blake, expounding his latest plan to the troops, realises what he's missing:
"Everyone else agreed that Blake's plan was wonderful. Blake listened for the voice that would point out the flaws, that would harass and nag till Blake perfected it"
Avon has come back riven with guilt and with a plan to expiate it. Obviously you know it works, but in these stories the hook is "how", so I won't spoil it. I will say that for me this works better than the original sequel because it's harder; it takes them longer to work through their feelings so the final resolution is more convincing.
"Reception" is the HEX of Belatrix Carter's "'Til Death". Now the original is, arguably, the only possible canonical happy ending (possible, that is, if you believe in any kind of afterlife), in which the reconciled ghosts of Avon and Blake whirl happily off into the ether together. It's a tight, beautiful little story with not a word wasted, which ends the only way it can. The sequel works, for me, by being in a totally different register. In the original Avon, realising Blake's true feelings from the inscribed ring he's wearing, puts it on his own finger before pulling a trigger on himself. Willa proceeds from there. Blake is wearing a protective shield; Avon's gun is empty, nobody's dead, Dave, though several, including Avon, are the worse for wear. And Blake, seeing what Avon did with the ring, has also figured out how matters stand emotionally. What happens next might be deduced from the title and is nowhere near as soppy as it might have been, partly because of the humour - Blake and Avon still manage some low-grade sniping and the idea of Soolin and Dayna with flower baskets is irresistible.
"Cleaning Up" is the sequel to Jenner's "Swept and Garnished", a stunning piece which echoes Kipling's short story of that name and in which an unhinged Avon is obsessively trying to clean away the traces of his crime that no-one but him can see. In the sequel Avon, still narrating, is taken away by someone he thinks is Blake, though it is fairly soon obvious to the reader that things can't be quite as Avon assumes. Before you jump to conclusions, 'tisn't the clone but someone far more original. I don't want to spoil the story but would like to say that it points up a rather interesting parallel between the Blake we met on GP and this person. By the end, Avon has done a fair amount of atoning and it has become obvious that on GP he was not entirely under his own control. Things end in the normal way (those who know Willa's work will know that she sees A/B as a couple, so if you can't see that, you may have some imaginative leaps to make for this zine). I like this story, but it's one occasion when I see the HEX as a story on its own, not as a sequel to "Swept and Garnished", which really is too damn perfect to end any other way. (If that story doesn't win awards, there is no justice.)
"Living Beyond Your Means" is a sequel to Susannah Shepherd's "A New Life", which focuses on post-GP Vila and gives him a new life with a nice woman and their two children. The only drawback is she has to work as a prostitute, which he doesn't like, but he can't make enough to release her from it. One day she tells him about a punter she's picked up who sounds awfully like Avon, and Vila, who has long forgiven him, goes looking but can't find him. She gets pregnant again and though Vila has no way if knowing whose the baby is, he names it Kerr, "just in case". His luck changes too and he gets a job as a security consultant, so all's well. So what's to HEX? Well, Avon might still be wandering sadly out there, and a prime principle of HEX is that all must have happy endings... In the sequel Vila realises that Avon is still out there, knows about him and has been watching his children. Vila can be brave enough at need, and he goes to Avon's flat ready to kill if he has to. But what, or rather who, is there with Avon changes everything. Like its parent story, this focuses on domestic happiness and the care of children as the greatest possible good; it's the one that feels most like a sequel. And I love the references to Orac.
"Consequences" is a sequel to Jenner's "Decision", in which Blake, the narrator, can't forgive Avon not just for trying to kill him but for having a thing with Tarrant, and orders them both off the base by the next day. The end of that story, "It is tomorrow. What am I going to do?", more or less invites a sequel and this is it: what happens next and how they sort it. If I have a problem with this, it's the same one I had with the original, namely that I don't really believe in Avon/Tarrant. But the way Blake and Avon come to understand each other, with Orac for once being some use, is ingenious and convincing.
The last story, "Sorry Doesn't Cut It", is the HEX of Nova's "Love Means Never Having To Say You're Sorry". This was another stunner, in which Avon killed himself in the place where he had killed Blake and Vila buried his body and left to go about his life elsewhere. It was told from Vila's viewpoint; this is not. It is third person and one of its great strengths, IMO, is that it doesn't deny that both Avon and Blake are dead and buried. So how can it convincingly resurrect both and give us a happy ending? Well, that's a truly inventive HEXer at work for you.
For most of these, you wouldn't need to have read Tales 5, though it would give you another dimension ("Living Beyond your Means" is an exception; I think you do need to know "A New Life" to get the best out of that). Otherwise, angst fans should not be put off by the happy endings thing; they'll get plenty along the way. You would have to be slash-friendly, though. If you like Willa's inventive, intelligent, often humorous writing, which I do, this is all good reading.
Posted on 02nd of June 2004
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