(standalone; S. Lewis; A/B; Legends universe)
Publisher: tHorny Press
Randym cover B & A
facing p. 12 B & A on GP
" p. 63 B/A
" p. 83 A sleeping
" p. 124 B & Ta
" p. 147 B
" p. 182 B holding A
If you like Careless Whispers, if reading it makes you warm and fuzzy, then you might not want to read this review. Stop now, in fact. Because this is not a reasoned critique. This is not an analytical review designed to help potential readers. This is 'Why I Hate 'Careless Whispers', In Three Thousand Five Hundred Unnecessarily Angry Words'. This is vitriolic, unfair, opinionated catharsis.
Just to get this out of the way, someone will doubtless respond with 'if you don't like it, you don't have to read it'. I know. But I found CW in the days when fanfic was a new and shiny thing to me and I wanted to read it all. Now, older and wiser, I would probably read the first page, snigger, and hit the back button. Back then, I didn't know better. Initially I hoped it would get better, and later came the horrible, irresistible compulsion to see if could get worse. And I read it again -- or parts of it -- to review it. Anyway, if you think you might be the person who reminds me that reading is voluntary, then don't forget that you don't have to read this review either.
I do not like CW. How much do I not like CW? Well, to give you an idea: generally, I think people should write what they like. Generally, I'm against book burning. But for CW I'll make an exception. In fact, if I were the Supreme Commander of Fandom, I would gather every copy, pile them up, light the match myself, scatter the ashes and sow the ground where they fell with salt so that nothing might grow there ever again. That's how much I don't like CW.
Of course, I wouldn't really do the burning thing. Because *intellectually* I still hold by the write what you like, read what you like, all is diverse and good and happy mantra. *Emotionally*, though, mere mention of CW will reduce me to frothing homicidal incoherence.
Why? I mean, I realise that I could throw a rock a ff.net and hit a dozen far worse writers. I have nothing against fluff in principle, as anyone who has read my fiction will know. I prefer happy endings, and I enjoy a bit of angst along the way there. I like PGPs where everyone survives. I love slash.
Yet CW manages to be everything I hate in fanfiction in one far-too-long package.
Firstly, despite the reasonable spelling and grammar, the writing style causes me acute pain. It's like the genetically-engineered mutant offspring of Barbara Cartland and the Brontes' idiot sister. The language is mildly Americanised nineteenth-century romance novelesque. The sentences are convoluted and often flat-out ugly. The dialogue is contrived and incredibly stilted. I keep waiting for Avon to perch pertinaciously on Blake's knee.
I would quote from the text for illustration, but I won't, because there is no need to comb it through for the Bad Stuff. Pick any random page and there it is.
I'm not a big characterisation junkie, but the character abuse in CW makes a world record breaking long-jump far across my very broad line. Even Avon's *clothes* are out of character -- really, now, how hard is it to dress Avon in character? I know now that once I saw his first outfit I should've put the fic down and walked away. With the floating white sleeves and flowing black cloak lined in red silk he wouldn't look out of place in a Hammer vampire film, lounging around on a virgin's balcony, waiting for her to invite him in so that he can gaze in to her eyes and eradicate her freewill in much the same way that CW sucks the personality out its hapless characters.
If you like any of the main B7 characters except Blake and Avon, then CW is not the story for you. There are a few impostors using the names of the other Blakes 7 characters. They pop up at irregular intervals throughout the story to remind us that Blake and Avon aren't the only ones who have been abducted and replaced by Pod People. This is how bad it is: *Tarrant* dispenses sage relationship advice. Cally manages to be out of character even though she's *dead*. None of them seem to have lives or relationships, but who wants to read about that bunch of losers anyway? It's all about the B/A. The crew have no function in CW other than to act as chorus to the Great Love unfolding before them.
Mind you, if you *do* like Blake and Avon to the exclusion of all else, you are in for a whole different world of pain. There is a lot more of them, so a lot more opportunity to appreciate the wrenching mischaracterisation. After a few chapters, I could hear faint echoes in my head of the canonical Blake and Avon begging for death -- theirs or the writer's, they stopped caring eventually. About every ten pages someone says something which actually sounds in character and the shock is noticeable.
And then there is the plot. Oh, yes. The plot.
It starts a few years after Gauda Prime. Blake is the elected president of the galaxy. Avon is his unelected chief advisor. The other crew hang around doing various things, but we don't know exactly what because they aren't Blake or Avon. While some people dislike President Blake stories, this is one of the few things about the fic that doesn't bother me much. I don't find it instantly off-putting anyway, and here it's the way the world needs to be for the Beckett story.
We'll get back to that Beckett thing later.
The actual political structure is a bit sketchy but, like the one dimensional crew characterisation, it's not really relevant to the Big Romance, so we're not supposed to care. Blake is presidenting, Avon is advising and, just in case you hadn't guessed yet, they desperately want to shag like rabid weasels, and have since about a hundredth of a second after they saw each other on the London. However, for some unfathomable, unexplained, illogical (okay, the word I'm looking for here is 'stupid') non-reason, neither of them has ever seen fit to mention this to the other.
For ten years.
Point to authors: it looks bad to have two characters who are sexually obsessed with each other to the exclusion of all other thought, and then say that they didn't do anything about it for ten years. If this is the premise of your story, which sometimes I suppose it might have to be, then for God's sake don't go out of your way to point it out to the reader at incredible length. Just gloss over it and hope that not too many people notice. Or come up with a plausible reason why they shouldn't say anything until now.
Of course, the reason they haven't said anything in CW is that these aren't the real Blake and Avon; they are romance novel escapee impostors. I think I caught Avon's bosom heaving once or twice, but that might've been a fevered hallucination.
Avon suffers. Blake suffers. Avon nearly runs away, then changes his mind because He Don't Wanna Live Without His Love. They angst about Gauda Prime. Avon is on the receiving end of a man-to-man chat from Tarrant. The reader screams, "JUST FUCK ALREADY!" at the screen. Blake feels hollow and unfulfilled. Vila makes a few cryptic comments. Avon watches Blake through binoculars from his balcony, then broods some more. The angst piles up in thick drifts of sub-Bronte purple prose, and the reader thanks God that it only *feels* like the story is dragging them though every second of that ten year wait.
The first time I read CW I was literally reading from behind my fingers and whimpering in pain by the time that, after eight chapters of spine-curling overemotional angsting, Blake gets drunk, tells Avon he loves him and they *finally* get it together.
Maybe there was no alcohol handy for the last decade. Whatever.
There is something of a stylistic wrench at this point, possibly because Charlotte Bronte didn't write a lot of explicit male-male sex, or at least any which has survived for posterity. I admit I do get a certain evil amusement from CW's wild lurches from bad romantic melodrama to bad explicit porn and back again.
I will give it half a point for not overidealising the characters' physiques. Much. Blake's description is unflatteringly realistic and that's nice. Avon, unsurprisingly, seems to come off (heh -- sorry) a lot better than his beloved 'battered rebel'. He gets a nice flat stomach, without benefit of corset, even. Maybe it's all the suffering and pining he's been doing. Apparently, brooding on balconies is good for the abs.
So, they fuck. The horrible writing is still there, but now it's over-florid dialogue and thoughts, occasionally interspersed with jarring and unerotically flat 'Blake fucked Avon hard' description. There is an awful lot of shrieking of 'oh gods!' and 'Roj!' and 'Kerr!' and 'yesyesyes!' and so on. Mouths are plundered. Cocks throb. Cum is shot down throats.
(See, CW doesn't just annoy on the big points. It manages to irritate me in all the little details too. Gods? Cum? *Why*?)
There is more sex. Lots more. They fuck on the stairs. They fuck in the bedroom. Blake fucks Avon and its so wonderful that Avon cries tears of joy. But Avon doesn't fuck Blake, because we're riding the Romantic Novel Railroad, and penetration is the last stop on the RNR line. They Love Each Other Very Much, you see, except that Avon won't say it, so no fucking for him, and by the way does anyone want to guess the end of the story now and save themselves much pain? Feel free to skip ahead and I'll see you there.
Between sex scenes the writing heaves itself back to its usual melodrama and shifts from angst to saccharined angst and soppiness and manages to get progressively worse until I want to claw my eyes out and eat them. Blakes tells the Pod People Crew the good news, and they rejoice that they can go from obsessing about Avon and Blake not being together to obsessing about them staying together. Pod Dayna assures Blake that Cally knew he and Avon were always destined to be together and she would be Very Happy.
Chapter twelve crawls up towards the long-promised retelling of the Thomas a' Beckett story. And I think the sad abuse of the Beckett theme is what stops me just dismissing CW as a particularly sugary incidence of the kind of mush I don't like.
See, CW comes prefaced by a suggestion that the Henry/Beckett dynamic will be important in the story. And it's a cruel trick, yes it is, my precious.
I'm sure there is a good PGP to be written using the Beckett themes. It would make an excellent template for a PGP setup: Blake, now president, appoints his loyal friend Avon to a position in the new government -- something to do with Central Control would be highly suitable -- and Avon starts taking it all far too seriously. Finally, despite his personal loyalty to Blake, he ends up opposing him. Avon is, for once, doing what he thinks is *right*, and Blake can't take it because he sees Avon's devotion as being due to *him*. It could work and work well. Henry and Beckett had the kind of explosive, emotional but deep relationship that would lend itself beautifully to a careful, thoughtful adaptation to B/A dynamics.
(And, yes, I know that CW is not entirely responsible for my expectations that the story would be one good thing when it is in fact another, bad thing. However, I will most definitely hold it responsible for all the other stuff which pushes my fic-loathing buttons.)
Avon has indeed been opposing Blake in council meetings. However, as he hastens to reassure his dear battered rebel, he was only doing it because he didn't want people to think that President Blake was his lapdog. And not, say, because he has a life and personality and opinions and principles of his own that aren't entirely subsumed in fucking Blake's brains out (or even in spending ten years masturbating alone while angsting about *not* fucking Blake's brains out).
So how, you ask, does CW relate to the Henry and Beckett story?
You've guessed, I'm sure, but I'll tell you anyway: the 'who will rid me of this turbulent priest' line. It's not a tricky guess, because it's right there at the top of the story, just to eliminate any possibility of surprise. This up-front obviousness was actually what lead me to hope that maybe it was something *more* than that. But no.
Blake makes a casual aside to Tarrant in a meeting that his life would be easier if someone would kill 'that son of a bitch'. Except that it's so blinding obvious that Blake doesn't mean it, and anyway isn't the kind of person who would have his political enemies topped, that even CW can't pretend otherwise. Dear Gods and little fishes, Blake and Avon are *living* together, eyeing each other up in public, and screwing all over the Presidential Palace like hormone-crazed teenagers.
Other stuff happens which we don't much care about. Avon is slightly conflicted because he doesn't want to hurt Blake politically. At some point a minion objects to Blake moving Avon into the Presidential palace and suggests that Blake is in thrall to Avon. He also points out that Avon isn't an entirely suitable First Lady, what with him being an embezzler and having shot Blake and killed Servalan in cold blood. Blake tells the minion that it's none of his business. And, well, Blake is more or less right, so the minion wanders off, grumbling, and does nothing. It's as dramatically tense as blancmange coated with a thick layer of Angel Delight, and about as sickly.
Suffice it to say that Blake makes his public comment. After another eight long, long chapters of sugary sap and angsting and shagging, Avon goes off on a mission for Blake, coincidentally accompanied by a Crazed Fanatic who overheard the turbulent priest line -- because it is *so* obvious that Blakes doesn't want Avon dead, CW has to cop out by using an obviously unhinged character to misunderstand the whole thing. The CF shoots Avon, incompetently (Avon and I were both hoping for something more final). Avon has one microsecond where he wonders if Blake really wanted him dead but fortunately this isn't dragged out unbearably. This I will give another half point for, because the alternative would've been so utterly unbelievable.
Wounded, Avon staggers away over the suspiciously quarry-like planet (at least the scenery is in character -- it's the only thing that is) and finds a cave where he can have interminable hallucinations and flashbacks about his whole life. Second by second, from the moment of conception, or that's how it felt to me as I read it.
Actually, I have a confession here. I haven't read all the cave part. It's possible there are gems of brilliance hidden in there that I missed. But I couldn't bear it. There are pages and pages and *pages* of the stuff, and as far as I could tell by skimming, all of it is completely irrelevant to the story in hand. Ice Ages pass. Civilizations rise and fall. Primordial creatures from the hallucination-inducing stagnant pool beside Avon evolve legs and walk out in disgust and he is *still* in the cave. This section of the story is best read by rapidly hitting 'page down' while muttering, "Still in a cave...still in a cave...still in a fucking cave...sweet Jesus God in Heaven, he's *still in the cave*..."
However, I should mention that the one really shining bright moment of CW is hidden in the cave scene. Bright, that is, if you're seen Monty Python's Holy Grail. Avon scratches a Castle Arrrgggggh style note on the cave wall. "Kerr Avon. Roj Blake, President Refederation. Tell him I..." Arrrgggggh. Oh, how I laughed.
And, you know, I bet that's exactly how Blake would choose to name his new government of freedom for the common man. He'd name it after the aggressively expansionist military dictatorship that oppressed millions and mindraped him and murdered his friends. The Refederation. Of course he would. (See, it's the little, little details.)
Back on Earth, Blake learns that Avon's shuttle didn't get to its destination. Blake cries in the shower, because it's all his fault. The Pod People Crew are all just *distraught*, doing the full crazed, unshaven, no-appetite routine even when all that's happened is that the shuttle has disappeared. Soolin experiences one of those sudden plausible-characterisation moments (which she manages to get through by biting her lower lip fetchingly) and wonders whether, well, maybe Avon has just pissed off somewhere. Everyone rounds on her and she quickly retracts the explanation because, yes, we do all know that Blake and Avon Love Each Other Very Much. She explains she only suggested it because it's better than thinking he might be *dead*.
There is mind-boggling moment of general agreement among the Pod People that, no, it's better to believe that Avon is dead than that he would leave Blake. To which I say, feh.
Luckily for the plot, Orac is inexplicably and entirely absent from CW, so he can't be used to find Avon and no one has to come up with an excuse as to why not. However, ships are dispatched to search, without much hope on the part of Blake, Tarrant, or the reader.
While he waits for news, Blake wanders around the palace, pale, distracted and probably wasting with grief, chewing his fingers and reminiscing about all the places he and his Black Knight have fucked. Avon lies in the cave and does the same, only with less finger-chewing and more blood poisoning. Page down, page down, still in a bleedin' cave...
Just as the reader is about to run mad too, Crazed Fanatic Guy (a character I like enough not to embarrass in public by dragging up his actual name) returns and tells Blake what happened to Avon. Now Blake *knows* it's all his fault, whatever kind, understanding, sympathetic Vila and Tarrant say. Blake and the Podlings grab a ship and dash off, with Blake alternating between having wet dreams and vowing that if Avon is dead, he'll kill himself too. There is more Tarrant and Vila sage-relationship stuff that makes my brain hurt. Blake searches the planet, where Avon is...still in the cave. Avon manages to croak out Blake's name and, big surprise, there is a touching reunion on the stinking cave floor.
Once back in the Presidential palace, Avon slowly recovers. The Pod People are terribly, terribly happy to have him back. Blake and Avon feel each other up in the hospital bed a lot. There is the implication that the reader's -- sorry, that *Avon's* suffering the cave has balanced out the Karmic debt from Gauda Prime. Because, yes, absolutely, an off-hand comment that only a fuckwit would interpret as an execution request is *just* like shooting an unarmed man three times in the chest at point-blank range. Right. CW misses nothing that annoys me about PGPs.
Finally, -- *finally* -- there is the obligatory Soul Bonding Through Anal Sex scene at the end, where Avon gets to do the fucking because he's learned his lesson. And then, to compound the bad writing, outrageous character rape, and assault-and-battery on the Henry-Beckett archetype, it finishes with a reference to a George Michael song.
CW is like taking 'Romeo and Juliet', but instead of making 'West Side Story', you have two teenagers from bitter rival families who fall in love and -- after a scene where Romeo thinks Juliet has committed suicide but luckily she wakes up in the nick of time -- they live happily ever after. Except that you also replace all the Montagues and Capulets with valium-dosed Pod People who scatter rose petals under the happy couple's feet at the big set-piece wedding.
What is the fucking *point*? Why hold this illusion of an interesting story out to the reader then snatch it away? The tragedy of Henry and Beckett is two strong-willed, intelligent men who, although they have a deep mutual love, are turned into implacable enemies by politics, religion and principles and, you know, this would *work*, damnit, and...
Fuck it. The whole wasted setup just depresses me, the writing hurts, the characterisation is horrible, the mush makes me sick and the sex is bad and that is all.
And now I should say that I'm sorry if I've spoilt the story in even a tiny way for the people who like it. Most of the people I know who like it seem to look on it as a guilty pleasure, and that's cool. Everyone should have guilty pleasures. God knows, I do -- this review was written to a continuous loop of selected songs from *Nsync's 'Celebrity' album.
But, unlike the author of CW, at least I warned you right at the beginning that this was a Work of Evil.
(I would like to thank JJ for almost suggesting that I wrote this therapeutic piece, and also my husband for providing the alcohol, and Justin, Chris, JC, Joey and Lance for helping to take the pain away. Game Over.)
The paper zine includes illos by Randym. They are really not my thing, but other people seem to like them.
WARNING: if you're thinking of buying a copy of the paper zine, bear in mind that it uses a large font, double-spaced lines, and very large margins, and manages to spread some 58 000 words over 200 letter size pages. As a comparison, I have several A4 format zines of 60-70 000 words which run to less than half that page count. You will be paying postage on double the weight that might be expected for this length of story. As an example, you'd be paying around an extra pound to post it within the UK (2002 prices).
It's currently available on the Web. I prefer cellulose to CRT as a reading format, but I personally wouldn't buy a paper copy of this zine where I had to pay postage, and even "in person" I wouldn't pay more than I would normally expect to pay for a zine of that length in word count, rather than in page count. My opinion may of course change when I get old enough to want Large Print format books...
Back to Fanzines
Back to Blake's 7 Index
Last updated on 21st of May 2003.