Stadler Link is the name of the first zine edited by Neil Faulkner, and I picked up a copy at Deliverance both because I'm quite a fan of Neil's writing and because I was curious to see how his selection of submissions would differ (if at all) from those of, shall we say, more traditional zine editors.
The zine is A4, photocopied. stapled and 66 pages long. It could probably have done with a stiffer cover, as the corners get creased fairly easily, but I'm not personally too worried about such matters. The internal layout is basic, clean and functional - easy to read except perhaps for some of the smallest fonts used for footnotes and the like.
Susan Bennett kicks off with a poetic lament at the ridiculously restrictive guidelines that Neil laid down for Stadler Link (no erotica, no clich‚s, being faithful to established character, preferably harder edged, perhaps more hard science than the usual etc.). As Neil says in his introduction, in the end he didn't turn down anything as one measure of a good story is that it gives you something you didn't know you wanted in the first place.
The first story proper is Neil's 'A Casting of Swords', starring a very different Olag Gan before the start of the series and before his limiter implant. This is as close to Gibsonesque cyberpunk as B7 gets. The ruined Earth outside the domes, half brutalised/half ignored by its wealthy Federation overlords comes over as a place that makes Gauda Prime look like a holiday camp, though Neil does get a bit adjective happy when he's describing the terrain. Aside from Gan there is only one other character of any significance, and the bulk of the 6 pages is taken up with the interaction between Doctor Do-Right and Gan. The Doctor is a much modified human a Jamaican accented data bandit in true cyberpunk style. He has something that Gan wants, and the dialogue between the two is extremely clever, often amusing and almost completely unlike anything we saw in the series. For me this wasn't a problem. I'm happy to read a pastiche of Gibson's style any day if it's as good as this, but I can see that it won't appeal to everyone. Well worth persevering with though, just for the new slant it gives on the generally slighted Gan.
Next is 'Blake's Seven: The Way Forward?' by Chris Blenkarn. This is a comedy story told by means of excerpts from the diaries of the various 1st season crew, as well as fragments from other documents. Essentially it is a parody of modern management consultancy and their style of training courses. Blake is swept up by enthusiasm for a course in honing his management skills, and tries to put them into practice despite the lack of enthusiasm from the rest. It's funnier than anything in the issue of Bizarro I bought, and I can't say fairer than that.
'Mary Sue Meets the Language Barrier', by Marian Mendez, is a short (3 pages) humour piece on the problems faced by an American Mary Sue on the English-speaking Liberator. There's a glossary at the end to explain any of the meanings that might have escaped the culturally-insular among us, and overall the comedy works pretty well. Just the right length to avoid flogging a dead horse (which is just the sort of phrase likely to cause confusion in the story.)
'Give the People What They Want' is another light hearted story, this time by Neil again. I was getting a bit worried that the entire zine was going to turn out to be comedy - not my favourite fanfic genre by any means - but in fact it's just unfortunate that the three humour stories are all together. I asked Neil, and he said he'd printed the stories in chronological order. I can understand that, but still would have preferred a different ordering. 'Give the People...' details what happens when a pushy, attractive and completely unscrupulous journalist is allowed on board the Liberator to help publicise the cause. Needless to say, the final article is not quite what Blake expected, and there are a few good laughs in the three pages.
The next story is the standout piece, and will, I think, already be familiar to most of the readers of Space City. It's Alison Page's 'The Young Ladies Home Companion'. It's a tale of how an abused young girl finds a way to escape her grim situation and find comfort in an artificial world based around an elderly SF series. It's about familiar characters discovering they are fictional creations and how they deal with it. It's bloody well written and it brought a lump to my throat more than once while I was reading it. Magnificent stuff that defies categorisation. If any of the authors can be said to have taken Neil's instructions to try something new to heart it has to be Alison.
'Terminal II' by Susan Riaz and DC Morris is a short and funny alternate look at some of the implausibilitys in the eponymous episode, as well as some in- jokes and post-modern metatextualisation of the source material in a way that both shatters and yet somehow reinforces the notion that... hang on. Sorry, slipped into Neil's style for a moment. Er... it's short and funny. Nuff said.
'Cycles', by Brad Black, is one of the few stories I've read that uses time travel in B7 in a convincing way. The story is set around Blake's base before the final events of the series, and his investigation of strange happenings that have Klyn and Deva very disturbed. There's a wonderful moment when everything suddenly becomes clear, and you want to hold your head in your hands and scream 'No!' Very clever and quite moving.
Nicky Barnard's 'Dreamshadow' is my second favourite story. In nine densely written pages she manages to encapsulate the complete progress of the fourth season from the POV of Avon's continued interactions with the artificial construct of Blake from Terminal. The characterisations are spot on, the concept of the 'unreal' Blake acting as Avon's secret confidant as everything starts to fall to pieces is brilliantly realised, and Soolin also gets to strut her emotional stuff in some compelling scenes with Avon. For me it ended too soon. I would have been quite happy for this story to have been expanded to twice the size.
Brad Black's 'Transmogrification' is plain weird. I get the feeling it's a crossover story with a series that I know nothing about, but I can't say much more without giving away the plotline. It deals with a sub-genre that's not one of my favourites, and all I can say is that it's well written, but didn't strike any chord with me. It's set PGP and deals with Avon's continued survival. That's about all I can say without spoiling it for prospective readers.
The final story is Neil's 'The Last Waltz'. It also deals with Avon's continued survival PGP, but in a bleaker way. Servalan has taken a moment from her busy schedule to visit him in hospital, where he lies on the brink of death. Their conversation covers politics, history, unseen events in 'Rumours...' and certain possibilities. Chilling in its d‚nouement, and quite satisfying despite its downbeat nature.
So what's my final opinion? Buy it. It's worth ś3.90 for 'The Young Ladies' Home Companion' and for 'Dreamshadow' alone. My only personal reservation is the proportion devoted to humorous stories. I like 'em, but only in small quantities and four in one zine was a bit too much for me. YMMV.
Neil Faulkner, "A Casting of Swords" (S0; G)
Chris Blenkarn (with the assistance of Alison Glover),
"Blake's Seven: The Way Forward?" (alt-S1; humor)
Marian Mendez, "Mary Sue Meets the Language Barrier" (S5; humor; ocf)
Neil Faulkner, "Give the People What They Want" (S1; humor)
Alison Page, "The Young Ladies' Home Companion" (S1, Spacefall, and meta-universe)
Susan Riaz and D. C. Morris, "Terminal II" (alt-S3, alt-Terminal; humor)
Brad Black, "Cycles" (S3-4; B)
Nicky Barnard, "Dreamshadow" (S4; A-B, A/So)
Brad Black, "Transmogrification" (S5; A-J-Del Grant; vampires)
Neil Faulkner, "The Last Waltz" (S5; A-Se)
Susan Bennett, "Submission Blues" (humor)
Neil Faulkner, "Blue Submissions" (reply to "Submission Blues;" humor)
Neil Faulkner, "Editorial"
Neil Faulkner front c. Liberator front-on
Val Westall p. 48 A-B; illo for "Dreamshadow" p. 58 A; illo for "Last Waltz" back c. A
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Last updated on 29th of October 2000.