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Book Review: Heroes (short story anthology)


Blakes 7 - Heroes
Short stories by:
Una McCormack, Paul Darrow, Jonathan L Howard, L M Myles, Trevor Baxendale and Gary Russell
Edited by Xanna Eve Chown

Review by Jackie Emery


Heroes or villains? The crew of the Liberator are passionate in their opposition to the injustice and corruption of the Federation, but this group of convicts and outcasts aren’t exactly angels themselves. Whether it’s a large scale rescue mission, or a simple act of kindness, these stories explore an important question: what really makes a hero?

If reading a good novel is like eating a satisfying meal, then an anthology of short stories by different authors is like enjoying a selection box of chocolates, each with its own distinct texture and flavour. I love short stories, and until now there has been only one anthology of Blakes 7 novellas from Big Finish, the aptly titled Anthology, which was published in 2013. The new collection was especially welcome during the festive season; how blissful to take well-earned breaks for a B7 story (or two, or three, or six) with a drink and slice of Christmas cake to hand!

1. Separate by Una McCormack
Set between Season A episodes Seek-Locate-Destroy and Mission to Destiny
She did not enjoy being with the others. She was different from them; separate...

Cally is still feeling very much the new girl on board the Liberator; unsure of her place among the crew. Accompanying Blake on a mission to find the descendants of scientist colonists on the planet Whyway could provide the opportunity for her to get to know the rebel leader better – and vice versa. However, things are rarely as simple as they seem, and what they find on Whyway raises questions of motivation and conflicting loyalties. This thought-provoking and sympathetic story, told from Cally's POV, comes from a writer who proves again how well she understands the characters.

2. Rock Star by Paul Darrow
Set during Season C

The sun rarely shone on the dark side of the planet...

A concert by the rock band The Dangerous, fronted by the 'sexy, waif-like Pandora', sparks a rebellion on a mining planet. Pandora is captured by the Federation, and the Liberator crew decide to rescue her from their clutches...

When it comes to Blakes 7 stories by Paul Darrow, we know what to expect, and if you enjoy his racy style and James Bond-like version of the B7 universe, you won't be disappointed. It's a fast-paced story, complete with helicopters, lots of bloody action, a high body count, a femme fatale and a cognac-drinking, cheroot-smoking villain. Avon, of course, is the hero, but although the rest of the crew take part in the adventure, Dayna is inexplicably missing from this Season C story. She doesn't appear in any scenes on board Liberator, her name is not even mentioned by the others, to the extent that when Tarrant uses a new type of grenade he says it's '...one of Orac's little inventions'. I found her absence most curious, and can't help but wonder whether it was intentional and if so, what the reason was behind it.

3. Dominator by Jonathan L Howard
Set between the Season A episodes Project Avalon and Breakdown

Vila was usually to be found on the spectrum of fear somewhere between Disquiet and Terrified...

Station 78 in the Mataxis Bight is a Federation Deep Space Station where old starships are mothballed. Blake plans to steal some of these: to provide other rebel groups with their own ships or to form a rebel fleeet. However, the crew find more than they were expecting – a powerful new ship, designed by the Federation to take on the Liberator.

This excellent story contains a goodly mix of tech, politics and character interaction. The action is shared between all the Liberator crew, and even Zen has a role to play beyond that of providing +INFORMATION+. I'm wondering if this was one of the scripts written for Big Finish's Season A audio adventures that sadly had to be shelved when Gareth Thomas passed away (see our interview with producer John Ainsworth). Dominator certainly has the feel of a well-structured, full-cast adventure.

4. Metanoia by LM Myles
Set between the Season B episodes Killer and Hostage

Metanoia: a fundamental change in character or outlook; repentance (Collins English dictionary)

Blake is invited to meet up with a Federation Commander who claims she wants to defect. But is this a genuine offer or a trap? Only he and Cally are prepared to take the risk and find out...

With equal focus on the Commander and her smuggler ally, as well as an excellent portrayal of Blake, this story of Federation politics, military, loyalties and betrayals is an interesting examination of some of B7's greyest of grey areas. Why would a Federation officer wish to defect? Who here is the hero; who is the villain? There are no easy answers and few happy endings in the Blake's 7 universe.

5. Contagion by Trevor Baxendale
Set between the Season C episodes Moloch and Deathwatch

"We're all going to die... Every one of us."

The Liberator crew pick up a distress signal from the planet Malorbis, where scientists at a Federation research base were developing a powerful computer virus. It's the thought of getting their hands on a potential weapon, rather than altruism, that prompts their decision to respond. But once down on the planet, Avon, Cally and Tarrant find themselves pitted against the planet's weather, an uncooperative Orac and a contagion that could affect them all...

This is a gripping story, with some overtones of Killer. The writing is atmospheric in every sense of the word, with its depiction of the stormy and sinister conditions, both outside and inside the research base. There is action, peril and angst, together with some gloriously snarky dialogue typical of B7, that can raise a smile even in the most dire of circumstances.

6. Seven Magnificent Dirty Expendables on an Impossible Mission by Gary Russell
Set between the Season A episodes Seek-Locate-Destroy and Mission to Destiny

"I gave you a job to do, Travis. Go and do it. Get rid of Blake and get me their ship."

While Una McCormack's story, set in the same time frame, focussed on the Liberator's crew in the aftermath of the Centero affair, Gary Russell chooses to focus on the Federation personnel. Villains, after all, are the heroes of their own story. As the title suggests, this is a lighthearted story, but it starts out in earnest, as Servalan has to deal again with Rontane and Bercol, and Travis has to deal with Servalan. With fresh orders to kill Blake and capture the Liberator, Travis assembles a team of experts for the job. What follows is an entertaining tale, full of extravagant characters and sparkling dialogue. It fits in neatly with the series' continuity, reminding us that up to now Travis has met only Blake and Cally, and has not yet encountered the Liberator.

The only jarring note is when Travis is told that the Liberator's 'highest reported speed is Standard by 12'. The term 'standard by...' was coined by Blake; the Federation use 'time distort' as a measure of speed. Also, standard by 12 wasn't achieved by Liberator until at least the Season B episode Redemption'; the System's chase craft are seen to be travelling at almost that speed, which Avon declares to be 'impossible'. Apart from that nitpick, and the fact that I guessed the story's twist well in advance (it wasn't particularly well hidden!), this was a great way to end the collection, leaving me with huge smile on my face as I closed the book.

Heroes is also available as an audiobook, read by Michael Keating and produced by David Richardson.
Michael is a lovely narrator and does all the stories justice, not only performing Vila's lines to perfection, but capturing the tone and nuances of the other characters' voices – especially those of Zen and Orac. However, it's unfortunate that his pronunciation of 'Centero' wasn't corrected during the recording: in both the stories set after Seek-Locate-Destroy he pronounces it as 'Sentero', and mis-reads the title of the episode as 'Seek, Locate and Destroy'. Oops.

That aside, I enjoyed listening to Michael reading the stories as much as I did reading them myself. Whatever your preferred medium, I highly recommend Heroes, and hope there will be more anthologies to come from Big Finish.

***

Heroes is available in eBook and hardback formats from Big Finish HERE.

The audiobook is available as a digital download here: Heroes Audiobook and you can listen to a trailer HERE

The full range of original B7 novels from Big Finish can be found HERE

Cover art by Mark Plastow

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