- Some thoughts on the zine (this isn't really a review, more thoughts and reflections after reading the zine. It contains spoilers, but is very interesting - Judith)
1.'A Word from the Heart'
In Pat Fenech's story, 'No Good Thing Ever Dies', Ravella recalls that it was Blake who christened the Freedom Party. 'So like Blake,' she comments, 'a word from the heart.' The motif of the heart is one of the most recurrent in this collection, used by different authors but essentially implying the same meaning. It is a notion closely related to Blake's decisions and actions, his chosen mode of living and his impact on others.
'The heart' covers much more than just one's emotional or intuitive response to the world. In these stories, it is used to denote the core of one's being, the deepest layer of psyche, the 'heart' of the self. The authors often suggest that Blake is in thrall of this 'heart', hearing and obeying the voice from the centre of being which determines his whole attitude to reality. First and foremost, it inspires his feeling of obligation, his persistence in the struggle against the Federation. In Sondra Sweigman's 'Proclamation of Principles', Blake writes that the urge to fight against injustice comes from 'the one voice' which stands 'behind the many languages of the Universe.' 'It is the voice of the heart and of the spirit.' 'If he had a choice in this matter, he no longer recognised one', Jacquelyne Taylor writes in 'Wind-up Toy'. After he has witnessed the massacre of Bran Foster's rebel group, Blake is tormented by doubts about his sanity, his conditioning and his past. Still, he returns to the Dome because his conscience demands it. 'You do have a choice,' he says to Vila in Sally Manton's 'Fellow Feeling'. 'And you don't?' 'It never feels like I have one,' Blake replies.
'The heart' also refers to one's essential core of goodness and humanity which (at least as some of the authors believe) is capable of withstanding any oppression. Because Blake has managed to keep this core intact, he is able to make his 'way back' and restore his former self. The deepest realm of his being hasn't been affected by mind-manipulation. Sondra Sweigman writes in one of her poems, 'If mind's so easily rendered dust,/ The heart is all that's left to trust:/ A vault the torturer could not enter-/ A solid, bright and blazing centre.' Pat Fenech expresses the same idea by entitling her story 'No Good Thing Ever Dies'.
However, while Blake abides by the 'words from the heart', the resulting decisions and actions collide with the wills of other people, and with his own fears and doubts, often creating an impression that the world around him is chaotic and that nothing in it makes sense. In Jacquelyne Taylor's AU story 'Kayn's Hands', Kayn fails to save Gan's life. Blake, however, decides not to carry out his threat and neither maims nor kills the surgeon. Unexpectedly, this course of action triggers a whole chain of tragic events which result in the deaths of his entire crew. What Blake thought was a correct moral choice turns out to have the disastrous outcome. Universe and its rules appear to be chaotic and unjust:
'There was no sense of order to a random universe, nothing made any sense; the price of sparing an enemy's hands was the lives of four friends; people died for no particular reason, they called your name as if you could do something about it.... meanwhile, the berserk juggernaut of the Federation crushed anything in its path, bending and breaking people into cogs for the machine, forcing order out of the chaos Blake tried so desperately to preserve, to defend...'
The only alternative to 'a random universe' seems to be the totalitarian order imposed by the Federation, characterized by brutality and violation of basic human liberties. Even in his confused state of mind, Blake refuses to accept such an inhuman order and rather opts for the chaotic freedom of a universe he cannot comprehend.
Eventually, however, a new meaning emerges out of this chaos. On the planet Cephlon, Blake meets Meegat. In Jacquelyne Taylor's version, she is represented as a somewhat different person. Beatific and confident, she is the embodiment of the goddess, the life-giving, nourishing feminine principle. Her wisdom, although instinctive, is superior to Blake's. After Blake has told her about his belief that reality is chaotic and meaningless,
'Meegat showed him a bit of cloth that looked like a hodgepodge of tangled thread. She asked if he thought this was "the look of a life disordered;" he allowed it was a fair enough representation of his - until she turned it over, revealing it was actually a beautiful piece of embroidery, everything falling perfectly into place.
Blake didn't know what to say.'
As the story reveals, Blake's decision to spare an enemy was not as meaningless and futile as it seems to him. The following scene, in which Travis and his mutoids burst into Kayn's office, is probably one of the best written pieces in the zine. It depicts very realistically the horror of living under a totalitarian regime, the dread and anxiety which constantly haunts even those blindly subservient to it - such as Kayn.
The very fact that the surgeon has survived his encounter with Blake is sufficient to make him a traitor and collaborator in Travis's eyes. Through their charged dialogue, threats and brutality, Kayn's fear and physical suffering, and his final refusal to participate in Travis's evil scheme, the reader witnesses a convincing catharsis.
Kayn's 'moral awakening', however, has been initiated even earlier. Ironically, it almost parallels Blake's own, triggered by the massacre of Bran Foster and his rebel cell. The horrible scene Blake witnessed could not be altered in any way to fit the model of reality previously imposed on him by the Federation therapists. 'Reality was reality,' Pat Fenech writes in 'The Edge of Memory', 'the reality of defenceless people, unresisting people, shot down. How did one interpret that reality in any other way than to recognize the truth of the cruelty and barbarity of it?... Nothing could alter it to fit any model of what a sane world was about... what he thought was his world.'
Blake's model of reality was challenged by a scene of bloodshed; Kayn's is challenged by Blake's forgiveness. 'You're too late,' he says to Travis. 'The injury done to me at Blake's hands cannot be included in any record or seen in a viscast.'
It turns out, however, that the 'injury' has been recorded after all. In 'Blake's Heart', Sondra Sweigman's sequel to 'Kayn's Hands', Blake accidentally comes across a visplay message Kayn has sent to his friend Ensor. Kayn tells Ensor that after Gan's death, Blake's crew were thirsty for revenge. 'And Blake stood up to them. Stood up for me. Or for some abstract notion of humanity which was anything but abstract to him....And because he did, although my body is intact, all the certainties I've lived by have been shaken to the core.'
The visplay functions as a revelation to Blake. 'Now he understood that a pebble tossed into a pond creates ripples, the farthest reaches of which the thrower can never hope to see. The consequences of a man's actions are never *only* the consequences he's aware of. And so the most reliable guidepost he has is his own moral compass and his faith that to honour it is always better than to betray it.'
Blake is now able to comprehend the meaning of the embroidery Meegat has shown him. Symbolically, it implies that the order the Federation promotes, 'breaking people into cogs for the machine', is not the only one which may be projected upon reality. There also exists a different kind of order, the one based on humanity, morality and sympathy. The change Blake has provoked in Kayn raises a fragile but still essential hope that it is possible to organize the human world on the principles of the heart.
2.'So all the time you spent with Blake, it meant nothing? You came out exactly as you came in, self-interested and blind to the suffering of others?'
It is a question Avalon puts to Avon in Michael J. Miller's PGP story, 'The Ghost of You'. Several stories are concerned with the influence Blake exerts, consciously or unconsciously, upon other people. In Curtiss Hoffman's 'Undelivered Letter', Kasabi tells her daughter that by training the best cadets in the Federation army she was naively hoping she would initiate changes and reforms in the heart of the system. Her attempt at teaching has failed, but she draws an analogy with Blake and calls him 'a true teacher'.
Blake's 'teaching method' is quite unorthodox, and perhaps most likeable when his lectures are delivered unawares. Sondra Sweigman's AU version of 'Orbit', entitled 'Altered Options', places Blake instead of Vila on the shuttle with Avon. Blake's own readiness for self-sacrifice affects Avon in a way Vila couldn't have done. Blake provokes what's best in Avon by his own conduct and personality, rather than by any conscious intention.
'His very history and life's work forces everyone around him, myself included, to examine very difficult issues about themselves,' Avalon writes in her diary in 'The Ghost of You'. Even Blake's death seems to make people question themselves. Blake's not a survivor, Vila surmises in the same story. 'Avon and I are survivors. We just keep on going. Blake's exactly the sort to up and die and leave everyone else with too much to think about.'
On the other hand, Blake's conscious influence on others (usually referred to as 'manipulation' by those who indulge in Blake-bashing) is closely related to his talent for psyching out people. The stories in this zine often point to Blake's ability to see beyond appearances and pretences and grasp the 'inner self' of others. In 'A Few Minutes More' by Rebecca Ann Brothers, after he has learnt the story of Avon and Anna, Blake is not at all surprised that his friend is capable of such an intense love relationship. 'Yes, I forgot,' Avon says. 'You like to see things that aren't really there.' 'It's there,' Blake replies. When, in 'The Unending Crusade', Curtiss Hoffman endows the clone Blake with telepathic abilities, the reader finds this idea plausible, because the original Blake was 'almost' a telepath, with his great capacity to sympathize and see through.
'Blake appealed to your better nature,' Vila says in 'The Ghost of You'. 'What I mean is, he never forced you to do something, he just let you know that if you didn't do it, it wouldn't get done.' 'I still don't understand,' Avalon writes in the same story, 'how he was able to assemble such a diverse group of individuals and forge them into something greater than the sum of its parts...Blake... has had to reach down into the bottom of people's souls and draw out whatever impulse towards justice exists there... He reminded people of the possibilities their own lives represent.' The problem with some of these stories, however, is that they fail to support their claims with concrete examples, which would have made them more convincing.
3.'So why do you keep going back for more, then?'
In Sally Manton's 'Fellow Feeling', Vila and Blake both have nightmares due to the brainwashing treatments they once received. Vila asks how come Blake hasn't been intimidated by his traumatic experience or why he doesn't think he has done his share of fighting and simply withdraw.
Sequences examining Blake's motives for fighting the Federation appear throughout the zine. In 'Fellow Feeling', Blake replies to Vila that the injustice done to him is in a way universal. He draws an analogy between altering historical records and erasing the memories of one's personal past. He recalls, for instance, a group of Federation officials present at Servalan's inauguration, who later became undesirables and were erased from the vistapes showing this event. 'They took the records and wiped out whole lives, Vila... like they wiped out whole lives in my mind, even my own. They changed you - they erased me... Are you so surprised I want to save others from that?' Mind manipulation, on a larger scale, parallels the Federation's manipulation of truth and history. Blake's struggle is therefore far from being just a matter of personal revenge.
Jean Hubb's fine story, 'It's About Time', allows the reader a glimpse of Blake's suppressed desire to give up fighting and withdraw to a world abounding in natural beauties. Blake's dilemma is here represented in terms of choosing between two notions of time: mythological time - suggesting a life in harmony with Nature and its cycles; and historical time - which implies living in a man-made world, with the full awareness of one's responsibility in constructing and revising this world. The attraction 'mythological time' holds for Blake and his final decision to opt for 'historical time' are wonderfully compressed in just a few sentences. Blake tells Avon that as a young engineer he was sent to a planet the Federation wanted to colonise. While working on the dam controlling one of the planet's major rivers, he was fascinated by the natural beauties. Suddenly, however, 'His memory stirred again. "As I remember, it was then that I first learned the Federation used slave labour." He frowned and lapsed into silence.'
Blake is too sorely aware of the general injustice and the suffering of others to abandon history. The sense of obligation forces him to return to historical time. His initial desire for a simple, uncomplicated life close to land and nature turns into a distant hope, a vision of some future he may never live to see. 'Blake wondered how many people were living amongst these trees. Perhaps there was room for one more... The sun was fully risen. The warmth sinking into his bones reminded him of the passage of time. He couldn't stay here... The Federation had too much to answer for. Even if it was too late for his family, there were thousands of others to be freed. Everyone should be able to stand on his own front porch and breathe freely. Like this.'
The most comprehensive 'catalogue of grievances', i.e., the Federation's evil practices which have driven Blake and others to rebellion, may be found in Sondra Sweigman's 'Proclamation of Principles'. I was much more moved, however, by a sentence in another Sondra Sweigman's story, 'Blake's Heart'. In very simple words, it manages to capture Blake's generosity of spirit and show he doesn't hate those who are not willing to help him. I must resume my struggle, Blake tells himself, 'for the sake of all those who cannot fight for themselves, who cannot speak for themselves, whose voices have been stilled whether by death, ignorance, confusion or fear.' Thoughts like this inspire tolerance and understanding - two valuable threads for the embroidery of the heart.
Posted on 02nd of September 2001
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