TTBA: Review by Una McCormack


'ttba' was a pleasure to proof, and now it's a joy to read. Tavia's aim was to create a zine which was, as the title of the editorial suggests, 'Conceptually Alien': which consisted of fiction chosen on the grounds of quality rather than according to any commonly accepted fan divide. In this aim she has been singularly successful. This is a zine for people who discriminate on nothing other than quality.

The layout of 'ttba' is clean, crisp and professional, with attractive and consistent styling. The artwork is of a high quality; as well as Val Westall's lovely cover, Firerose demonstrates that she is a talented artist as well as writer, and Penny Dreadful supplies some terrific stylish pictures of, well, I'll let you guess. The proofing is damn near perfect, by God, but the 2 challenge for 'first typo spotted' has already been won by yours truly (and there was much and loud swearing on the 17:45 King's Cross to King's Lynn service, to the consternation of East Anglia's commuter community). An honourable mention to Harriet Monkhouse, who spotted it about twelve hours later.

On to the fiction. Prize for most stories goes to Belatrix Carter, who contributes seven stories, which originally appeared as part of the 'Seven Deadly Virtues' challenge on Freedom City. Belatrix has written seven wicked little homilies on the dangers of good behaviour, ranging from the tongue-in-cheek ('Diligence') to moving ('Fidelity'). An excellent and well-crafted response to the challenge.

Executrix comes close to matching this number of stories, with four dispatches from her unique Avoniad. Her story 'Purple Haze' first appeared on Freedom City, and perhaps people remember my adoration of this story from then. Executrix's translation of real life events (the Kent State University shootings) into the B7 universe neither undermines those terrible, actual events, nor weakens the impact of their fictional counterpart. Turning the famous photo of the young student berating the heavens over the body of her dead friend into an image of Inga and the source of Blake's politicization is only one of a number of masterstrokes in this story. This is a superb piece of politically critical fiction; it could only exist as fanfiction, and is all the better for it. Anyone claiming that fanfiction cannot be as good as profiction should be forced to read this story until they understand the point.

Executrix's appearance as a B7 writer has been a real pleasure. She has her own unique take, some of which I don't see (Avon a queer Catholic?) but her stories and vision are executed with such style and intelligence that, frankly, who cares that it doesn't match my own view? Fanfiction is all about interpretation, and it's easily as interesting to read other people's as to construct one's own. When I read Executrix's Avon, drawn here at various stages of his life in three other stories ('Not Our Kind, Darling', 'Of All the Gin Joints' and 'Take My Breath Away'), I care about him and the other characters she draws because they are substantial and believable, and her take on the B7 universe is so finely detailed. Executrix is very close to being elevated into my personal pantheon of B7 writers (about which more below); I suspect it is only because I am so badly read that I don't appreciate half of what is going on in her stories that means she hasn't. Executrix is a much better writer than I am reader.

It has been great to see queer readings of B7 emerge recently and, along with Executrix, Ika has been at the forefront of this. Ika claims that her obituary of Roj Blake was purely written as a way of coping with having watched 'Blake', but it's much more than simply a fannish desire to salvage a happy ending. It's a celebration of the characters and the programme, and it damn near persuades me that Blake and Avon could have been happy together.

Ika contributes three other stories to the zine and, of these, my favourite has to be 'Awake And Find No', which made me cry. So much B7 fiction is orientated towards the male characters and their experiences, their losses and their grief. Ika's story has one of the best portrayals of Servalan I have seen. It's also clever in its themes of how technology can support and construct femininity, and it draws a detailed and convincing picture of the Federation under Servalan's Presidency.

Of the other short stories, my particular favourites are, of course, the sadder ones. Jenner's 'Nightmare' is a cool dissection of the cruelties of desire. Airan Wilkinson's 'Before the Fall...' remembers those that have been forgotten. Hafren's 'Fetch' is a delicate and chilling ghost story, which imperceptibly grips its hands around your throat.

Then there are the longer stories. Firerose's 'Ash Wednesday' is a most skillfully executed blending of fantasy and science-fiction reminiscent of Ursula Le Guin, and also an excellent study of the psychology of despair. Susan Cutter's 'Privilege' crept up on me unexpectedly. Proofing it was an upsetting experience; rereading it with the luxury of sufficient time to pay proper attention, I was left impressed by the story's treatment of class -- but still disturbed by its central scenes. Powerful stuff. 'Benediction' by Morrigan is a beautifully paced evocation of the Gauda Prime Blake, and a convincing exploration of how the idealist of 'Star One' could have become the hardened man we see in 'Blake'. And there's a funny little story in which the author is pompous enough to think she can pull off retelling 'Julius Caesar' as B7. These fans -- they're scamps.

There are also some fan authors who take the source material and from it produce something first class that is uniquely inventive yet profoundly evocative of the series, and of a standard that should make professional writers weep: I'm thinking here of Alison Page, Loulou Harris and Nickey Barnard.

And now there's a fourth. Penny Dreadful's story 'The Killer of Dole Nu Lin' is, quite simply, one of the best B7 stories ever written. It is a story of the resilience of humanity, and its emergence in unexpected places; it exploits canon yet is scrupulously attentive to its detail; it is pure B7, yet something absolutely novel from a gifted writer.

This is the kind of story that you wait years to read. Only 'Blake's 7' could allow a fanwriter the space to write a story like this; it is putting aside simplistic divides and concentrating on creating bloody good fiction that allows such writing to emerge. Penny has done the fandom proud in writing this story; Tavia is to be commended for creating a zine in which this story stands as the epitome of her aims.

It's twenty-three years since 'Blake's 7' was first transmitted. It's almost twenty years since I first read a piece of fanfiction. Since then I've spent a large chunk of my life and my grant cheques on fanfic and profic from many different series, always chasing that elusive good read. For imagination, consistency, and sheer bloody quality 'Blake's 7' fanfiction has no comparison. Neil Faulkner and Judith Proctor have set the standard over the past few years, and now I'm delighted that a third editor has come along who insists that with fiction, what matters most is that it is good. Congratulations to Tavia on a superb achievement, and here's to 'ttba 2'.

Una McCormack
May 2001

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