This zine was brought back by popular demand, as explained in the Editorial, which also mentions that #6 is in the works (deadline September 15, 1999, if you're considering a submission).
There are =three= novella-length stories in this one, and one has an accompanying sequel that makes it even longer.
"Stripping the Scales" deals seriously and skilfully with some themes that are common in B7 fan fiction but often handled clumsily. This universe postulates a homophobic Federation, but the real struggle takes place inside Blake's head, as he tries to understand his reactions to Avon's overtures and sort out true feelings from false, conditioned ones. I especially like the handling of the A/B/J triangle, and the characterization of Jenna, who is far more unflappable about sexual matters than either of the men-- as is only logical, given her more adventurous life history! Here the bitchy, randy one is Avon-- not my own favorite characterization of him, but presented in a believable and touching way in this story.
"Tool Kit" is a shorter, lighter sequel to "Stripping the Scales," with less angst and even more hot sex. Blake finds some interesting ways to satisfy Avon.
"Blood Ties" by Willa Shakespeare introduces another element dear to fannish hearts, postulating that the bat-bite Blake suffered in "Duel" infected him with what amounts to classic vampirism. There's one major difference, though. In most vampire stories, blood-sucking is a substitute for sex, but here they go together, as Avon finds out the hard way PGP. Eventually, though, there's a happy resolution, in which the entire Scorpio crew participate. Fans of Dayna, Soolin, Tarrant, and/or Vila may want to borrow the zine just to read this story, which has a strong adventure plot involving all the characters, as well as the A/B romance.
The third novella-length story is "The Forgotten One" by Serious Moonlight. I found a it little disappointing relative to the rest of the zine, although it's still basically good. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that the author has been a K/S writer, because some of Avon's dialogue sounds rather Spocklike to me. The plot revolves around a figure from Blake's past, a lover who betrayed him and whose memory greatly complicates his relationship with Avon.
"An Infallible Cure" by Calico is a lighter story, referring to a cure for hiccups. Avon's tongue in the mouth of the sufferer does it very effectively. (Wish I could try that some time!)
"Unspoken Conversation" by Vanessa Mullen deals with another version of the A/B/J triangle theme, but this is one of those sad stories in which none of the characters get what they want. Very nicely written, with effective use of the difficult Avon POV.
Linda Norman is one of my favorite B7 writers, and her two stories in this zine live up to expectations. I have one minor complaint about the editing: I wish that the two stories had not been placed together, as the placement initially gave me the impression that they are part of a sequence in the same universe, like the first two stories in the zine. But no, they are completely separate.
In "The Quick and the Dead," Avon uses a professional male courtesan on a doomed planet to make Blake jealous. He is repaid for his cruelty to the courtesan in a startling way. "Secrets" deals with Blake's discovery of the darker side of Avon's sexual interests, with a seemingly happy resolution that, however, points toward ultimate tragedy. Very B7, very well done.
The art in this issue is especially nice; Val's style is improving all the time. My very favorite is the lovely Avon in the tropical garden, an illustration for "The Quick and the Dead;" it reminds me a bit of the Suzan Lovett Blake/Bodie that was in, I think, an issue of =No Holds Barred=. I also particularly like the pretty young Avon with the sly sidelong glance at the end of "Stripping the Scales"-- just perfect for that story, IMO.
A/B fans will be very happy with this zine, which maintains the high standards set by its predecessors.
Unusually for me, I don't have any pure-erotica picks from this issue, but there's a nude cuddle scene somewhere where the expression of pure love on each of their faces is so, so touching.... Aaaaah!
Anyway, to the stories.
Stripping the Scales (A/B) -- Julia Stamford
I love this pair of stories. Wonderful characterisation, sex, humour--and a happy relationship!
(I'm the one who e-mails Julia S. frequently with the comment: "yes, it sounds like a marvellous story but what's the ending--no blood on the floor, I hope!" Occasionally, as now, she obliges me).
For the purposes of these stories, Blake is straight and Avon is bi--how they manage to get it together despite this little obstacle is the theme of the first story. Imagine if Blake, sublimely unaware, orders Avon to get laid and improve his temper, with "anyone on the ship, if she's willing." From his time as a guest of the Federation, Blake has a double helping of homophobia layered on top of his basic straight orientation, and barely realises consensual homosexuality can exist (what he has seen in prison doesn't help). The social background is unusually good in this story: too often in fanfic there isn't any attempt to imagine what it might be, but since canon gives us a stratified repressive society, why *wouldn't* they stoop to this sort of thing? Avon thinks that Blake needs to be whacked over the head by a clue-by-four, and provides the necessary education. From this outline, it sounds almost like a comedy story, but it's got angst as well. Highly recommended, and not just because it was written for me.
Tool Kit (A/B) -- Julia Stamford
Sequel to the above, but more pure smut now the relationship has been established. Lots of D/S play, without a S/M element. Hot (and watch out for the scene where Blake improvises a toy--much panting and laughter here).
Blood Ties (A/B) -- Willa Shakespeare
Another go at an angsty Blake-as-vampire story--it's been done before, but I quite like Willa's stuff. PGP. Like one of the stories in F&I IV by the same author, this has B raping A (for being an obnoxious little bastard) after which he seduces A very gently and A realises he loves him. She doesn't fill in the characterisation properly (one para in A's POV suggesting he has a desire, which he is ashamed of, to submit to B, doesn't quite work for me), so I think it's just a kink of hers. That said, I quite like the story, although I don't think it's her best work. Watch out for the bit on the last page with Orac--howls of laughter from me. The Tarrant Nunquam (hi, Harriet) will like the bit where T thinks A couldn't be bi because he hasn't come on to T!
The Forgotten One (A/B) -- Serious Moonlight
Hopeless. This reads like a K/S fan's first take on A/B. Avon has blue eyes, which I wouldn't mind if she'd got anything *else* right, but the tone of voice is wrong as well. Like a bad Sentinel or K/S story, a pair of wobbly-lipped men with the emotional depth of thirteen-year-old girls have to be drawn together by a wise unselfish woman character. Vast quantities of badly-described emotions, and dialogue that doesn't convicted me it belongs to the Liberator crew. Avoid.
An Infallible Cure (A/B) -- Calico
A & B hiding in a cupboard. A nice funny fluff, with the unusual distinction of being a PG PWP, really. Avon discovers an infallible cure for Blake's hiccups. I like the ending, which suggests Avon might return B's feelings a bit (unless he's just winding him up, of course).
Unspoken Conversation (A/B, B/J uc) -- Vanessa Mullen
Two-pager of A's POV: he and Jenna share a moment of sorrow. They both love B, but he is married to the Revolution and cannot return enough feelings for a personal relationship. I like this, oddly enough, but am glad it is so short. (remember, my only sad A/B story is a one-page sonnet sequence. Anything longer is happier).
The Quick and the Dead (A/B) -- Linda Norman
Avon, Blake and Vila on a doomed planet, entertained by eunuchs. A tone of loss throughout. Sad but rather beautiful.
Secrets (A/B) -- Linda Norman
A has masochistic tendencies. When he comes back from planetfall covered in whip-marks, B is first disgusted then interested, realising that his disgust was caused by envy. I don't feel the characterisation's entirely "filled in" at one point--they're having an argument and then A asks B in sultry tones to come to his cabin--but this may be the reader being thick, of course, rather than the author not explaining. Very hot s/m sex. Like the above story, it has an elegiac tone in implication, and unlike Serious Moonli8ght, Linda N has enough ability to manage the one-line sad ending perfectly, because the foreshadowing and characterisation suggest things have not changed because they had sex.
Julia Stamford, "Stripping the Scales" (S1; A/B, uc A/J)
Julia Stamford, "Tool Kit" (sequel to "Stripping the Scales;" S1; A/B)
Willa Shakespeare, "Blood Ties" (S5; A/B; vampirism)
Serious Moonlight, "The Forgotten One" (S2; A/B, past B/ocm)
Calico, "An Infallible Cure" (S2; A/B)
Vanessa Mullen, "Unspoken Conversation" (S1, post-Duel; uc B/J, uc A/B)
Linda Norman, "The Quick and the Dead" (S2; V/ocm, uc A/ocm, A/B)
Linda Norman, "Secrets" (S2; A/ocm, A/B)
Art, all by Val Westall:
p. [v] A/B
p. 33 nude A
p. 54 explicit A/B
p. 86 A/B
p. 136 nude A in jungle setting
p. 154 A in collar
His neck hurt. Avon's hand rose to touch it, pushing aside the soft blanket covering him. He opened his eyes, warily, beginning to remember what had happened. He sat up. The room appeared to be someone's living quarters, and he'd been deposited in a large bed. Without, he noticed, his clothes. If Blake thought modesty would keep him prisoner, he'd made a mistake. He started to rise, but large hands were abruptly on his shoulders, forcing him back to the bed. "Damn it, Blake, are you insane? Let me go!" He clung to anger, fighting off the panic caused by those strong hands holding him so easily, almost negligently, as though Avon were a child.
"No. I won't let you go, Avon. You've come to me at last, and you're not leaving. Never again. You tried to kill me. I should punish you for that." There was anger in his voice, but something else as well- an eagerness, a desire, that terrified Avon. He could not understand it, but felt its power, drawing him.
SECRETS by Linda Norman (Blake discovers that Avon has had a sexual encounter with another rebel leader).
Blake wanted to hit him, to wipe that smug look off his face. Avon smiled again, as if amused by Blake's naive outrage.
Blake stared at him, torn between violence and lust, burning with rage and disillusionment, aching with jealousy. He heard a distant tinny chime. The second time he heard it he realised that it was coming from his teleport bracelet. His response was automatic and he was still staring at Avon as the teleport snatched them away from Halja.
THE QUICK AND THE DEAD by Linda Norman (On a doomed planet, Blake and Avon share a brief and haunting encounter.)
"I know. Earth must have been like this once." Blake's eyes squeezed shut for an instant and when they opened they burned brighter than any sun. "Earth is the key to everything; when the Federation falls there it's finally all over. If we sacrifice everything here, lose Liberator and our lives making some grand gesture, it'll be a short term victory at best."
"Very short term in our case," said Avon. "I've no intention of going out in a blaze of glory, neither defending Mu nor trying to free the downtrodden rabble of Earth, one means as little to me as the other."
"You're lying," said Blake. "You can't tell me that you don't dream of returning to Earth."
"Oh, yes, I dream." He stared at the flowers slowly closing into blood-red buds as the shadows lengthened. So Mu was to be sacrificed to the greater glory of the cause, as Gan had been and Nova before him. How much more blood was still to be shed as Blake's conscience hardened into blind fanaticism? Not mine, he vowed, looking past Blake, eyes drinking in the sharp lines and rich textures of this near dead world.
STRIPPING THE SCALES and TOOL KIT bu Julia Stamford (Avon and Blake discover a shared fondness for a certain kind of fun and games.)
"...Vila has a point," Jenna said. "It might make Avon more bearable if he got laid once in a while."
"You're right, Jenna." He turned back to Avon. "You need to get laid. If anyone on board is willing to have you, of course."
Avon walked over to him, stopped that little bit too close. Crowding his personal space, a trick he'd long since learnt to ignore.
"Are you actually ordering me to have sex?" The tone was bland, with just a hint of 'Does this boor realise what a social faux-pas he has just made'. "I'm surprised you don't order one of the others to oblige me."
AN INFALLIBLE CURE by Calico (Blake. Avon. A spy mission and close confinement in a closet...)
THE FORGOTTEN ONE by "Serious Moonlight" (Blake's nightmares force Avon to confront his own feelings...)
"It's about Blake, isn't it?" Cally asked.
"Do you sense anything different about him lately?"
"None of the others have made any comment concerning him," she pointed out.
"And that holds some relevance?" Avon asked.
Cally began to feel more confident and said, "I would have expected Jenna to be the first to have noticed, that's all." She stared into his pale blue eyes and felt a subtle but discernible shift in his emotional balance.
Avon went over and sat on the edge of her bed beside her. "I'm not sure I like that insinuation." His voice dripped with sarcasm and he met her gaze almost as if he were challenging her to a mental duel.
"Strong emotions of any kind are the hardest to conceal, Avon," she commented innocently, ignoring the intensity with which he studied her. "Hate. Love. Lust. The emotional trinity that will not remain hidden. That scream for attention and acknowledgement. I know - let's not pretend that either of us are unaware of my understanding."
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