VIRTUAL by Manna and Donna (Avon/Original Character): A sexually charged game of wits between Avon and Toreth, a Federation psychomanipulator.
VISITATION RIGHTS by Amethyst Lane (Blake/Roj; Blake/Roj/Rashel; also, briefly - Blake/Jenna; Roj/Travis non-con): Blake's visit to the world where his clone lives brings unexpected consequences.
A SPANKING NEW TOY by Helen Patrick (Avon/Gan): Avon finds he unexpectedly shares certain of Gan's tastes...
BACKSLASH by Willa Shakespeare (just about everything you can imagine): This story starts with "Avon! Come here, I need you!" and then proceeds in all manner of unexpected directions.
AND BESIDES THE MAN IS DEAD by Helen Patrick (Blake/Bellfriar): When Bellfriar encounters Blake, he realizes the rebel has no memory of their previous acquaintance.
BULKHEADS by Oliver Klosov (Tarrant/Vila): Tarrant, recovering from a wound, finds unexpected help on his return to health.
CONTROL by Linda Norman (Avon/Dorian): Dorian's sadistic games have long since passed any point of return...
SARACEN EXILE by Jade Day (Blake/original character): Ex-President Blake finds his only consolation in the arms of someone most unexpected.
BEFORE AND AFTER by Nova (Vila/Deva): When the worst has occurred, what happens to those left behind?
HEARTLANDS by Hafren (Avon/Vila): They both survived Gauda Prime, but how much is left intact?
ROADMAPS LIKE SHATTERED LIGHTNING by Rosamund Clifford (Avon/Vila): Avon flees Gauda Prime, the bodies of his crew left behind. Left alone, going mad, he conceives of a daring plan...
TAR(R)ANTELLA and DANCING WITH DEATH by Jade Day (Tarrant/Blake): Two rebels find unexpected comfort.
HEIROGLYPHICS by Willa Shakespeare (Blake/Avon/Dayna) PGP. (Dayna) turned away from Blake. The only family she had left were prisoners of Blake's people, she had to remember that. She found herself glancing back at him, observing the rise and fall of his broad chest, the way the light picked out his wayward curls. Well, there wasn't anything else to capture her attention, was there? Besides, she ought to be studying Blake. He was the only one who could help her friends. To save Avon and Tarrant and Soolin and even Vila, she'd befriend the devil if she had to.
This is an adult zine, het and slash both. I have to be honest first: my default setting is A/B, so No Holds Barred, which is any partnership but A/B, has a harder job convincing me than, say, Fire & Ice does. Which means that if I do like a story here, it's liable to be very well written.The stories in this fall into 3 categories: ones I don't like, ones that are OK, and ones I absolutely love. In reverse order then:
Visitation Rights, by Amethyst Lane, I dislike partly because it has a lot of clumsy exposition - there seem to be pages of this, that and the other happened before you came in. And talking of the other, the sex, IMO, reads awfully mechanical and put in for its own sake. I didn't enjoy reading it and I can't believe they enjoyed doing it. It's a story set on the planet where Rashel and the clone went, and when Blake himself turns up the relationships get quite complicated without actually being very interesting.
There are 3 stories by Jade Day, Saracen Exile, Tarrantella and Dancing with Death, and they all leave me fairly cold for the same reasons. One, the voices don't convince (Blake saying "I'm sure glad I'm not"?). Two, there's far too much explaining people's motives and reactions. The dialogue and action should do that. Some of the ideas are potentially interesting - Blake having a thing with Avon's son and agonising about the age difference - but I don't think there's enough writing skill to capitalise on them.
Ones I liked:
Linda Norman's prose is a bit too purple for my taste but if you're ever going to be purple, a Dorian story is probably the place to do it. And at least "Control" made decadent, twisted sex games sound fun.
"Bulkheads" by Oliver Klosov, is a Vila/Tarrant, which means the greatest writer in the world couldn't actually make me believe in it, but the well-caught voices and plausible scenario meant I could accept it without worrying too much about that. (And the last sentence is very thought-provoking.) It's an odd thing that a story can have characters interacting in a way you doubt, and yet still be intrinsically true to them, so that you feel "I'm not sure they'd do that, but it's still them". I felt that also about Helen Patrick's "A Spanking New Toy" - I don't actually credit Avon and Gan with doing what they do, but it's still them, their voices, their characters.
"And Besides, the Man is Dead", Helen Patrick's other story here, is a "Blake's lost memories" one in which he and Bellfriar had had a thing, which Blake, when they next meet, doesn't recall, and Bellfriar feels he shouldn't remind him of. This is a fascinating idea. I think it could have wrung more angst out of Bellfriar's silence, but maybe it didn't want to. I'd also, as an angst fan, lose the last line, without which I think it's more searingly painful, but that's just my taste. There should be more Bellfriar fic.
Willa Shakespeare has two, "Hieroglyphics", a threesome of Blake, Avon and Dayna which I find inherently unlikely but which is written well, and "Backslash", which is hilariously funny but I'd ruin it if I said much about the plot.
That leaves three stars. "Roadmaps Like Shattered Lighting", an A/V by Rosamund Clifford, is probably too angsty for some but it pushes all my emotional buttons, plus I don't *care* how the time-travel works. Orac fixed it. Fine.
Manna and Donna's "Virtual" has the chilling OC psychomanipulator Toreth, plus an unorthodox Avon whom I've always found compelling and oddly believable. Must be the way they tell 'em. Just great writing.
And more in "Before and After" - well it's Nova, so no surprise. People surviving, making the best of things, rendering a sad world a bit better through mutual kindness. Very hushed, downbeat, utterly compelling. Deva/Vila, btw.
In the interest of completeness I should mentiion I'm in here too, with an A/V PGP trilogy called "Heartlands", but obviously I can't say any more about that.
Overall, though it isn't my favourite zine, it does have some of my favourite stories in it.
Hafren and I have similar tastes, i.e. A/B and angst. So I particularly liked her story, a bittersweet PGP in which Vila is fighting for Avon's sanity, then his love. I've read too many A/V stories where Avon takes Vila merely as a second-best option because he can't have Blake, and too many others that don't acknowledge that Avon *is* attracted to Blake, be it physically or emotionally. This story balances the two relationships - Avon loves both men, but in different ways, and feels guilty because Vila knows he's competing with a ghost. The triangle, and the emotional tangle caused by one of the three having killed another, is beautifully handled.
What little hope there is in the ending is a lot more believable because it *isn't* a happy ending - just one where they come to terms with their situation. Too clean and tidy and happy an ending would have dismissed their previous suffering too lightly, I think.
As for my stories, no, the Bellfriar one didn't want to wring more angst out of his silence. It was also very firm on the subject of no on-screen sex. That was how I discovered that my Inner Editor doesn't like gratuitous sex scenes, which may sound odd considering some of the extremely explicit and kinky stuff I've written, but in this story an explicit sex scene *would* have been gratuitous. And reaction has been divided on whether it's more angsty with or without that final line.
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Last updated on 21st of December 2007.