This genzine reprints a novella and story by Gillian Marsden, "The Chameleons," from 1986, and "Deadly Night Shades," from 1983. I searched literally for years for these zines and never did find originals; I'd been making do with blurry multi-generation photocopies, so I'm thrilled with the neat, legible new edition. Many thanks to author Gillian Marsden for giving permission for the new edition, and to editor Ann Bown for doing such a good job of producing it. The zine is A4 size, with comb binding, and has a full-color cover with a very nice composite photo of Avon and Tarrant against a background of a colorful planet (which rather reminded me of Wendy Duffield's encaustic paintings).
According to the editor's introduction, the author was anxious that the stories, written so long ago, might now seem dated. She need not have worried. If anything, "The Chameleons" in particular is even more enjoyable now, since we can imagine it being enacted by the actors as they are today.
The story is set nine years after GP (but it could just as well have been 15 to 20 years, and that was how I imagined it myself as I read). I very much like the original science-fictional details, reminiscent of the work of such writers as Judith Seaman and Lillian Shepherd. The story maintains interest by cutting back and forth between scenes with various different characters, including some very believable original ones, much as the show itself did. The author has a good ear for dialogue, too; Avon gets some snappy lines that I can just hear him saying.
It is hard to describe this story without spoilers as there are so many plot twists throughout-- the reader is surprised every few pages. I'll try to give some idea of it without giving too much away.
Just around the time of GP, we gradually learn, the Federation encountered a humanoid alien civilization of comparable size and power, the Nine Dynasties of Rhak. Following years of war, the two were united in the Federated Rhakian Alliance. As the story opens, we meet the elderly Rhakian who is currently President of the Alliance, and the seductive Federation Commissioner who has enthralled him; but she is not who you might think, although this does not become clear until later. The two of them meet a surprising fate which puts a serious crimp in certain Federation plans.
We then meet Federation Squadron Commander Lash of the famed 98th Squadron, and he is not exactly what he seems either. Avon, however, is immediately recognizable. He escaped the Federation when a prison ship crashed on a distant planet, and he is now engaging in massive computer thefts with the help of his beautiful alien lover. This happy life is brought to an end when he is captured by the 98th and recognizes the tall, thin, scarred Squadron Commander as someone he used to know.
Avon and Tarrant become enmeshed in Federation plots against the Rhak and Servalan's plot to regain power within the Federation. As the two of them try to work out what to do, Tarrant must struggle against deeply ingrained conditioning and serious medical problems, and Avon must cope with Servalan's lingering passion for him. The ending is a tragic one, but it is highly satisfying, at least to this wallow addict.
My one complaint: I disliked the inaccurate use of the term "galaxies" for the respective territories of the Federation and the Rhak; I'd prefer "galactic sectors" or some such thing. I mentally changed it as I read, and it didn't actually bother me all that much.
"Deadly Night Shades," the second story in the zine, is set in an alternate fourth series that actually manages to be even bleaker than the original. It opens with the death of Tarrant's lover (not Zeeona but an original character), leading to his separation from the rest of the Scorpio crew as Soolin and Avon head back to Xenon without him. On the way, Soolin is badly injured in an accident, and Avon must leave her in a hospital. Meanwhile, Dayna is back on Xenon guarding a Federation prisoner, and Vila is stranded with local rebels on a planet where the Federation is running a nasty little scam involving the drug known as Deadly Night Shades. Avon, temporarily alone, confronts Servalan over the drugs; but their perverse attraction to each other takes its steamy course during an eventful night, and once again they pass up opportunities to kill each other. By the end of the story the remaining Scorpio crew are reunited, but two of them are now dead and it doesn't look good for the others; Avon, especially, is clearly in bad shape psychologically. The aura of doom and gloom is very much in keeping with the fourth season as it was aired, even though the specific events are a bit different.
In the case of this story, I found it a little hard to follow the plot because it was so complex and so obliquely written, with clues dropped only very subtly. I think the author was trying hard not to be too obvious and spell everything out in a boring way, and she overdid it just a bit. In the slightly later "Chameleons," however, she gets the balance of suspense and plot exposition exactly right, in my opinion. I enjoyed both stories very much indeed and recommend them highly.
The zine is 104 pp. and about 52,000 words.
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Last updated on 21st of December 2007.