Zine Review - Oblaque 1V: to be taken intravenously

Review by CB

Issue number four in the Oblaque Series. 1990

Plain card cover comb bound 184 pages. No illustrations. The print is exceptionally clear, layout is excellent and typos rare.

This is unquestionably one of the finest zines I've read, but as Judith has already pointed out the Oblaque series may not suit everyone. Having now read three of them I can see what she means. The stories are unequivocally adult in the fullest sense of the word, not just sexually explicit but set in a society whose harsh reality is convincingly reflected in their language, characterisation, psychology and imagery.

Undercurrents of power, domination both social and sexual, abuse and violence permeate the eroticism of many of these stories, and the tone is generally dark, not so much hurt/comfort as anguish, desperation and a little bit of comfort if you're very lucky. Suffering, whether emotional or physical, really means suffering. Most of the stories in 1V carry a tremendous emotional and erotic charge through the conviction and skill with which they are written, and you might well find the overall effect disturbing.

According to Dumas "All generalisations are dangerous, including this one". Amidst the anguish humour often lurks, much of it tongue in cheek, though that's probably a dangerous phrase to use in this context. There is even the occasional happy ending. Don't let us forget this is pure (sic) fantasy and nobody is getting hurt. As the editorial page points out the stories "are not meant to infringe upon reality in any way shape or form".

Avon, Vila and Blake dominate the zine, so if you're exclusively interested in other characters, buy something else. Oblaque writers also have a splendid disregard for series chronology, altering episodes and re-interpreting characters from story to story as it suits them. When the results are this good don't quibble, just read and enjoy. If you take it for granted that there is lots and lots of sex, it will save me from having to repeat it throughout.

Oblaque 1V is divided into sections, the first of which is "Suffer" and contains four stories.

"Bittersweet" is a forty-five page story revolving around Avon, Blake and Vila and set late in series two. It is intense, very erotic, the relationships tortuous and tortured. Events from the series are dovetailed neatly into the overall story, the dialogue is excellent and the characterisation totally convincing. Avon and Blake relate as per usual but more so, Vila opens another bottle of Chateau Despair. Poignant, venomous, tender, painful etc etc etc. You get the idea.

If "Bittersweet is splendid, "Fade to Gray" is stunning, an absolute must-read for A/V fans. Set in series four, Avon takes Vila with him to negotiate an agreement with a class-ridden society where the Grays are de facto slaves, roughly equivalent to Deltas. Avon and Vila have been lovers but not for some time. Avon is at his most forbidding and Vila, disillusioned and drinking too much, gets himself into trouble and incurs his ex's wrath in a big way. I 'm not going to say what happens next but their estrangement is ultimately resolved. The writing is exquisite, and if this one doesn't get you where it hurts, nothing will.

In "Witness" a lonely Vila hides away to watch Blake and Avon making love, and remembers what happened after Avon rescued him from would be rapists on the London. The flashback scenes are especially well done, with both characters eminently recognisable. The writer uses stock phrases of the "shut up, Vila" variety to great effect rather than as easy options.

The last story in this section is short and gripping. "The Farmers Wife" is as grim as you're likely to get, too much so for me, but it was preceded by a warning for the squeamish. It could well put you off leather too.

The next section is "The Slings and Arrows"; things that get under your skin".

The tantalising "Other Side of the Coin" begins with Vila in hot pursuit of Avon, who is initially unwilling to acknowledge his sexuality. Things do not go quite as Vila had hoped but nevertheless there is what passes in Oblaque for a happy ending after seventeen utterly delicious pages. M.Fae Glsagow writes terrific Vila. I particularly liked the wicked humour in this one, and whether or not you see these two as lovers, the comradeship within their relationship has seldom been better described (look at pages 78 and 83 if you don't believe me). Hurrah for the love of a good Delta.

"Sweet the Sin" is also A/V. A young Avon explores the Delta areas and is forced to have sex with his captor. However things may not be quite as they seem to the reader and there are significant twists before the sombre ending.

It's Christmas and PWP time in "The Fifth Day". Vila gets to find out at length what Avon hides under his shirt, to name but one item of clothing.

Section 111 is "...Of Outrageous Fortune".

In "The Blink of an Eye" Blake and Avon have an explosive near-rape encounter with the usual themes - who's manipulating whom, who's the boss, why is Avon so bloody difficult, is Blake a hero or a devious bastard? What is unusual is the skill with which these familiar themes are handled.

It's back to A/V in "The Field of Human Conflict", at least to begin with. Avon is on the psychological rack when Blake tries blackmail to force him to help destroy Star One. Avon fears that if Blake revealed his secret he would lose Vila; yes folks, this time it's love on both their sides. However the plot thickens considerably and this is ultimately a very bleak story where none of the protagonists can escape their earlier experiences and conditioning. An anguished and powerful portrayal of all three men, heavily laced with dramatic irony.

Section 1V is "In a lighter vein".

Did you say "and about time?" Two PWPs; "A spanking good time" is self-explanatory, and is part 11 of a series. Vila inadvertently embarrasses Avon on the flight deck but then takes the advantage in "On the tip of his tongue".

Section V "Addicted to Love" is back to the angst with a vengeance.

In "Mist" Avon is taking drugs and using Vila for sex and nothing more. Vila loves him and uses his addiction to try and get some affection as well. The drug and Blake get in the way. Alas, poor Vila! Heartrending stuff.

"Come as you are" (Don't you just love all these ambivalent titles?) is another vitriolic Blake and Avon story.

Section V1; and so it goes: the Dome Cycle.

This is part three of an ongoing series, "Promises, Promises". I've read part one but am awaiting the arrival of part two, avidly. Part one centred on Vila and Avon's escape into the Delta levels where he and Vila became a publicly acknowledged couple, initially because it was necessary for their survival though naturally there's more to it than that. By this episode they have re-encountered Blake, Avon is embroiled with him and Vila in the middle of a revolution. The brutality and deprivation of life in the Domes is vividly and very convincingly brought to life. Lots of turmoil, guilt, remorse, longing, hurt, betrayal and so on. How the reader feels for them both.

This is vivid, fast-moving stuff. The only minor quibble I have is with the Delta dialect, which occasionally brings to mind Dick Van Dyke's version of cockney in Mary Poppins, but this is a VERY minor quibble. Dialect is incredibly difficult to bring off, especially when you are writing for fans on different continents, and here it is an integral part of the plot. So you thought Avon couldn't act Delta? Read on, and I hope on - there is another episode isn't there?

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