It's a tie between "Night Discord," "Exit Interview," and "Outcast of Auron" as to which is my favorite in this zine. "Night Discord," by Paula, had plenty of good sex, excellent character interaction and a satisfying plot as Tarrant and Avon try to work out their relationship after Blake and Jenna return.
"Exit Interview," by Lexa Reiss, is a short, beautifully written story that deals with Tarrant's decision to desert from Space Command, as he stops for a last visit with an old friend. This story is bleak without being depressing and captures the feel of the B7 universe very well. I especially liked the way the story highlighted how difficult it will be for Tarrant to find people he can trust and who will trust him in his new life.
I enjoyed "Outcast of Auron" very much, even though the only characters who got any sex were Avon, Cally and Cally's evil twin. (drat!) Although the story focuses on Avon and Cally, all of the characters are very well-written and have significant roles in the story. One thing I did find very unusual about this story was that it was a beat-up-and-rape where the rapist was a female (other than Servalan) and it was an entirely het story. The only other three stories I've read that had anything similar that I can think of right now are "Blood and Shadows" (where Tarrant is raped and tortured by Servalan) which is mostly slash, "Xoanon" in Straight Blakes 3, where Servalan uses the last survivor of the Scorpio crew as a sex toy, and "Asphodel" where Servalan captures and rapes Jenna. "Outcast of Auron" is a must-read for BUARA fans. Sharat is convincingly nasty and powerful, and she is quite creative in working over Avon.
I thought "Under the Influence," by Riley Cannon, was very sweet without being soppy, as it depicted the developing relationship between Tarrant and Avon, in three scenes set after Sarcophagus, Death-Watch and two years PGP.
Willa Shakespeare has several short humor pieces in this zine; all of them are great, but I like "Beggars Can't Be Choosers" the best. It's actually a sequel to "An Embarrassment of Riches" in Diverse doings 2. Cally's cabin is right next to Avon's and his and Tarrant's nocturnal activities are having a distubing effect on the Auron. Dayna is also unhappy with the situation. Both women prefer men, so they decide to try to seduce Vila. Unfortunately, as with so much in the B7 universe, things do not go exactly as planned. I'm hoping for a sequel to this story.
"Memories," by Jenner, is a beautifully written, tragic A/B.
"Circle," by Vanessa Mullen, is another good A/B, with a particularly well-done characterization of Jenna. All too often, she is reduced to a jealous bitch in A/B stories, but that isn't the case here.
Vila gets his share of nookie with Avon in three good A/V stories. I liked the science fiction setup on the planet in "That Word Beginning with 'C'," by Ada L. It has a truly nasty natural phenomenon, particularly for a guy like Vila. There were also two reprints by Catocala. I'm glad these stories are being reprinted, since many older zines can be hard to find.
Vila also gets a chance to do Tarrant in "Night Class," by T.Z. Trouper. Misunderstandings lead to interesting results.
Susan Cutter has three short, funny stories in this issue. I liked them all, but "Zipper" appealed to me the most. Jenna gets herself into a tight fix and has to get Vila to help her escape.
Val's illos for "Outcast of Auron" were very hot, as was Leah's cover. I was very impressed with the quality of this zine overall. There wasn't a story that I didn't like, even the ones that are not about my favorite pairings. The print was clear and easy to read, and the layout was very nice.
The centerpiece of this issue, IMO, is "Night Discord," the new story in Paula's much-admired A/Ta series. The conflict that the title refers to is the arrival of Blake and Jenna to rejoin the Liberator. How will the developing relationship between Avon and Tarrant be affected by the presence of Blake? The combined crew then meet with a character named Dorian, and adventures ensue. This one has everything: plot, character interaction, hot sex, satisfying length-- it's over 30 pp., a novella by the STIFFie standards. A must for all A/Ta fans!
There are two more excellent A/Ta stories, too. Riley Cannon's "Under the Influence" traces the development of the relationship in a series of three touching vignettes: post-Sarcophagus, post- Deathwatch, and PGP. Andrea's "Transmission" has Tarrant showing Avon just what Servalan did to him on Virn-- while the lady herself eavesdrops via a device planted on Tarrant. The author does a good job of sexualizing the complex friendship/rivalry of Avon and Tarrant, with very hot results.
Admirers of "The Nothing That Is" by Lexa Reiss, which appeared in SC #8.5 and which I personally consider one of the finest B7 stories ever written, gen or slash, will be thrilled to see that there is a sequel here. Like the first story, it deals with Tarrant's life pre-series and features one of the most memorable of all fan-created characters, Tarrant's FSA roommate Jarn, a puppeteer in training. Now on the verge of deserting from Space Command, Tarrant yearns for one last experience with someone he can really trust and visits his old friend.
Vila gets his turn with Tarrant in T. Z. Trouper's "Night Class," teaching the somewhat inexperienced younger man the finer points of m/m sex. This sweet, well-written story reminded me strongly of the prize-winning story by Mireille, "All Work and No Play" in =Liberator Fantasies=. I could even imagine this story as the prequel to that one, showing how the established Ta/V relationship we see in "All Work" got started in the first place.
In Willa Shakespeare's humorous "Beggars Can't Be Choosers," Cally and Dayna feel frustrated by the fact that Avon and Tarrant are involved with each other. Since both of them prefer men to women, they discard the idea of trying it with each other and instead decide on a collective seduction of Vila. But alas, a series of accidents foil their plan.
The same author recycles two classic dirty jokes in B7 form, in "It's Snow Wonder" and "Delta Math," and builds short stories around a play-on-words punchline (not quite a feghoot, but almost) in "Don't Get Me Wrong" and "Forget-me-not." A slightly- - but only slightly-- more serious story is "The Ultimate Unauthorized Hellhound," in which not only the entire series but also the Hellhound sequel turns out to have been a fever dream on Avon's part. The real truth about his relationship with Blake is more than a little strange. The prolific Willa has also contributed a funny parody poem and a straight-- so to speak-- rendition of a quotation from Oscar Wilde describing a rather Avon-like character.
Jenner's "Memories" is a classic, tragically romantic A/B. It begins as a flashback on Avon's part during a later affair with Tarrant, but then continues relentlessly on to GP. I found the handling of timing slightly confusing, but the writing style and the eloquent evocation of the tragedy of the A/B relationship are wonderful.
Emotional intensity between Avon, Blake, and Jenna is the core of Vanessa Mullen's "Circle." Jenna wants Blake, who's gay; Blake wants Avon, who's straight and has his eye on Jenna. The three resolve their mutual problems in a temporarily satisfying way, but the suggestion of future tragedy hovers in the background.
The A/B relationship gets lighter treatment in Susan Cutter's pair of amusing short stories, "Nor the Race to the Swift" and "But That's the Way to Bet." Blake gives his laryngitis to Avon, who takes appropriate revenge. Her "Zipper" is a tasty little het number in which Vila must use his skills to extract Jenna from a bit of antique-style lingerie she has rashly tried on and now can't get off.
The A/V relationship is represented by Ada L.'s little gem, "That Word Beginning with 'C'." I love it for its SF-ishness and its canonical plausibility. Fourth-season Avon and Vila, searching for a scientist they hope to recruit, find themselves trapped by a frightening natural phenomenon. When Vila's panicked reaction threatens both their lives, Avon must find a way to distract him and calm him down quickly. The A/V quota is rounded out by two reprinted stories by Catocala, one serious and one funny.
The second-longest story in the zine, "Outcast of Auron," is an entirely het story, but one with a difference: it's very dark in tone, more like a =Dark Fantasies=-type slash story. It is, in fact, classic BUARA, except that the Avon-abuser is female, Cally's evil twin in the most literal sense. This one has lovely lurid illustrations by Val Westall, that IMO make it inadvisable to read the zine in public-- but then, the color A/B/V cover by Leah already does that anyway!
The zine has the clear, attractive layout and high printing quality that we've all come to expect from Ashton Press. And not a bad story in it! Whatever your preferences in smut run to, you almost certainly want this zine. (Well, unless you insist on either Travis or Gan, in which case you want #11.5, which has good stories with both of them.)
Riley Cannon, "Under the Influence" (S3-S5; A/Ta)
Willa Shakespeare, "Beggars Can't Be Choosers" (sequel to "An Embarrassment of Riches" in DIVERSE DOINGS #2 [mm; US, 1998.5]; S3; implied A/Ta, uc C/D/V)
Paula, "Night Discord" (sequel to "Nightsongs" in #9.5; alt-S3; A/Ta, B/J)
Willa Shakespeare, "It's Snow Wonder" (S4, Rescue; A-O, implied C/Ta; humor)
Vanessa Mullen, "Circle" (S1?; A/B/J)
Andrea, "Transmission" (S4, post-Sand; A/Ta)
Jenner, "Memories" (S3- S2, post-Trial- S5; A/Ta, A/B)
Lexa Reiss, "Exit Interview" (sequel to "The Nothing That Is" in #8.5; S0; Ta/ocm)
Susan Cutter, "Nor the Race to the Swift" (S1; A/B)
Susan Cutter, "But That's the Way to Bet" (sequel to "Nor the Race to the Swift;" S1; implied A/various)
Willa Shakespeare, "Don't Get Me Wrong" (S3; A/Ta; humor)
Catocala, "Fool's Interlude" (universe of "Fool's Paradise," gen story in RAISING HELL #4; S5; A/V; reprinted from REBEL DESIRES #1 (1995)
T. Z. Trouper, "Night Class" (S3, post-City; Ta/V)
Ada L., "That Word Beginning with 'C'" (S4; A/V)
Pat Jacquerie, Lexa Reiss, and Erika Bloom, "Outcast of Auron" (S3; A/ocf, uc C/Ta, A/C)
Willa Shakespeare, "The House of Judgement" (adapted from Oscar Wilde, Poems in Prose; A) Susan Cutter, "Zipper" (S2; J/V)
Willa Shakespeare, "The Ultimate Unauthorized Hellhound" (S5; A/B) Catocala, "Hitting Bottom" (S4; Ta/V, A/V; humor; reprinted from AVON CALLING II [US, 1991])
Willa Shakespeare, "Delta Math" (S1?; A/V, A/B, implied B/J; humor)
Willa Shakespeare, "Forget-me-not" (S5; A/B; humor)
Willa Shakespeare, "My Alpha" (based on John Kendrick Bangs, "My Dog;" A/B)
Leah Rosenthal cover A/B/V, color
p. 124 A/V cartoon
Val Westall p. 85 A; illo for "Outcast"
p. 93 nude A; illo for "Outcast"
p. 99 nude A; illo for "Outcast"
p. 108 A/C; illo for "Outcast"
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