Well, I've finally managed to get my grubby protruberances on Avon: A Terrible Aspect by Paul Darrow. It's odd how I seem to be stumbling over his writings of late, though this isn't some delightful paperback but a bunch of tenth-hand pdfs of photocopies of photocopies of the book pages. Annoying, particular as, in my childhood I ACTUALLY HAD THIS BOOK!!! It was up on a shelf, in its neon yellow/green/orange glory with a painting of Avon bizarrely jammed into a space the same size and shape of RTD's now-abandoned logo. But somehow, that book vanished... perhaps taken by my friend Gunther? (Imagine the YOA team fused into a single humanoid and with a Yugoslavian accent). Mind you, a lot of my B7 stuff disappeared in my childhood before I could appreciate it - novelizations, annuals, magazines, videos... I'd suspect a conspiracy.
Anyway, as original B7 novels go A:ATA works as the antimatter opposite to Afterlife. Not only is a prequel rather than a sequel, but I can't find a review that doesn't defend it against other, bad reviews - not that I've seen any. Although no one was going off saying this was the best book ever, it's certainly treated with affection and respect by those who read it and concepts like the Iron Guard, Lupus Castle and Avon's military background have been embraced by fanfics from Neil Blisset to Kaldor City. Terry Nation loved the book and very vocally too, presumably stunned that the hacker cliche he first wrote had a whole history undreamed of.
Of course, A:ATA isn't going to be a Garry Russell-style fit-the-continuity-gaps bit of perfection. Indeed, far from it with lots of details and the like lost - of course, back then, Darrow was writing this from memory as much as research. Can I complain? Well. Yes, I probably will. I'm like that. Get over it.
The thing about B7 characters is, of course, we know so very little about them. I read a fanfic once that said Jenna moonlighted between smuggling trips as an infant school teacher. Now, try and find some evidence AGAINST that insane suggestion. We know nothing about how children in the Federation are taught (except it will be propaganda, of course). It's quite possible that Jenna did that, except of course for her lack of people management skills (you'd think she'd deal better with Avon and Vila for a start). But we don't know. There's no episode, no scene where she actually talks about her past, her family, her hopes or her dreams. Is this a bad thing? Well... not really. We know all we need to know about her, from her love of Blake, her relishing space travel, her constantly crushed idealism, her crisis management. We know enough.
Like Vila. Does he have a sister? Is he an orphan? Was he really some brainwashed psychopath who lost his 'evil Restal side' and became a mostly harmless thief? I've absolutely no idea. The only thing we know about his life is that he was a working-class theif from an early age who played stupid as he was moved from correctional facility to prison planet. Do we need to know any more?
This is probably the freedom that Darrow had creating the history of Avon. As long as a few basics are kept (Anna Grant, the bankraid, getting shipped to Cygnus) we cannot, hand on our hearts, say "That never happened!" This is of course a brilliant excuse for the wide variety of fan fics... although it allows the idea of Avon working as a male hooker in a strip club in The Syndeton Experiment by Barry Letts (...thanks for that, Barry) and of course Olag Gan the Cat Strangler.
Anyway, the first section of the book.
The prose, I would probably described as just above Terrance Dicks level. Basic, minamilist though with a slight flair for descriptions. A quick guide to Target Level writers.
Working from the following:
BLACK DALEK: Doctor. The ruthlessness you have demonstrated here is – impressive.
DOCTOR: Spare us the pleasantries. We’re leaving.
(FX: THE KISEIBYAA LULLABY BECOMES AUDIBLE AS THE MASS OF MONSTERS APPROACH THE LABORATORY)
BLACK DALEK: You will share my fate, Doctor. Listen!
(FX: KISEIBYAA SINGING GETS LOUDER, AS DO APPROACHING CLOMPS)
BLACK DALEK: The Kiseibyaa. They are coming.
"Doctor," said the Black Dalek. "The ruthlessness you have demonstrated here is – impressive."
"Spare us the pleasantries," the Doctor retorted. "We’re leaving."
"You will share my fate, Doctor," the Black Dalek called. "Listen!"
Such was the authority in the metallic voice, the Doctor obeyed. He could hear the Kiseibyaa singing in the distance getting louder and louder, as the mass of monsters approached the laboratory.
"The Kiseibyaa," the Black Dalek announced. "They are coming."
The Dalek was giggling in a strange singsong voice. "Oh, Doctor, why have we been such enemies when we both share the same ruthlessness!"
"We share nothing," the Doctor said, but his keen alien hearing had already picked up the distinctive humming from the Kiseibyaa wings. The creatures were closing in.
The Black Dalek spun with joy. "We share the same fate, Doctor!" it laughed.
The black helmet twisted painfully to look at the Time Lord. "Doctor," it croaked with admiration. "The ruthlessness you have demonstrated here is – impressive."
The Doctor didn't return the unblinking gaze. "Spare us the pleasantries," he spat in disgust. "We’re leaving!"
But then he froze. As they'd been talking the distinctive lullaby had wafted through the door, a siren song getting louder and louder, bouncing off the Dalek's metal body. "You will share my fate, Doctor. Listen!" the Black Dalek wheezed over the din. "The Kiseibyaa are coming!"
The smell of roasted chicken and motorway fuel grew stronger as the Dalek shell spasmed, jerked and forced more bubbles of green puss through the diseased cracks. "I am... impressed..." the agonized throaty cough emerged from under the rotting plates. "Such... ruthlessness..."
The Doctor's eyes were like duck eyes beneath his furry brow. "I'll leave you tae admire me," he chortled, his little form shaking with mirth under his starched linen outfit, turning to the door.
But beyond that door was the distinctive toffee smell, wafting in on air vibrating to the same lullaby that had earlier shaking the teeth in the Doctor's head, and now the vibration was louder, rattling the phlegm inside his lungs as more vile fluid was shaken from the Dalek. "My fate... is yours," croaked the mutant through its own clogging blood.
The Doctor knew that the impressive ruthlessness he had shown here would never be remembered. He lead the others out, abandoning the Dalek to face the Kiseibyaa. Retreating to the TARDIS they had escaped, to live another day.
The Black Dalek called out to the Doctor, impressed at the demonstration of ruthlessness.
"Spare us the pleasantries," the Doctor called and then skidded to a halt as the noise of Kiseibyaa shook the metal room around them. In some other place, some other time, discos would have payed a fortune for such a lullaby, which would evade musicians and singers across the galaxy. The Kiseibyaa were homing in on the laboratory using their incredibly Gedfrek** antennae.
** Gedfrek antennae are delicately woven hair folicles that are wired straight into the brain of Kiseibyaa, allowing them a degree of telepathy and hightened awareness of their surroundings. They are prized by collectors as novelty toothpicks.
"You will share my fate, Doctor!" the Black Dalek shouted. "The Kiseibyaa! They come!"
But the Doctor was already gone, leaving the crippled Dalek alone to face the maurauding shelled insects.
Pip & Jane Baker:
What was this? Was there still some life in the old Dalek yet?
The eye camera lens flexed; a shudder of vertiginous agony.
"The ruthlessness you have demonstrated here is – impressive..."
A rare compliment indeed! Surely for a Dalek, a disembodied brain wired directly through Jermanian micro circuits cuckolded into the supporating flesh, admiration was near a foriegn concept. But the vile acts committed today had not been ignored. For this Dalek would speak its vile mind.
The Doctor's lips pucked. A sneer marred his gentle Scottish voice. "Spare us the pleasantries! We’re leaving!" With the curt farewell, the Doctor was already ambulating at velocity northwest to the exit portal.
But what now? Did the Doctor's ears decieve him? Or was the Kiseibyaa lullaby become manifest? The swarm, letting out the vibrating equivalent of "Tally-Hos!", was closing in on the small laboratory, their singing fighting the discordant clomps of trisected petals to be heard over the din.
Smugness tainted the Dalek's rasp: "You will share my fate, Doctor. Listen!"
A redundant command, a request made simply to gloat.
"The Kiseibyaa," the Black Dalek elucidated, every syllable a puchritudinous woo. "They are coming!"
Well, that should make it clear the levels of prose you can get in books.
Anyway. The plot.
Our story begins with the solar system plunged into civil war as the Federation fights the War of Uranus!!! It's a drinking game as to how often the planet's name gets shoved into into the text, which seems slightly confused if its set on the moon of Uranus or the moon of another planet altogether called Raphael (which is baffling referred to as "her" at one point - imagine, "there lay the planet Jeremy and her moons", just sounds wrong huh?) Anyway, the Federation discovered the huge mineral resources on Uranus, the Uranians insisted they wanted first dibs, fighting broke out and now the only people being massacred at the deserters trying to flee the battlefield.
One such deserter is minding his own business wandering through a quarry on Phax when he bumps into a sweet girl called Rowena who lives in a wooden hut with her doting mother. The deserter sweet-talks his way into the hut for the night and reveals his name is Avon. Before the first night is up, all three have been attacked by Subsiduries in Heliplanes (or maybe rabid Mutoid bounty hunters in fliers would be a better description). Luckily, Avon has a pump-action-shotgun which he uses to blow up each and every one of the mofos. With Rowena's mother conveniently unconscious, Avon decides the price of saving their lives is Rowena's virginity.
Following what even Liberation describes as "a truly hilarious sex scene" (imagine Sparacus trying to write hetero porn), Avon discovers he's got Rowena pregnant and all of a sudden has a strange desire to flee the entire planetoid right away. Which he does. I wonder if there's some kind of subtext there.
It is around this point we discover that "Avon" is actually Rogue Avon, the father of the man who appeared in the TV series (and, indeed, has just been concieved). Rogue is a "Killer Man", a corporate assassin and trouble shooter with a rather odd death wish. Despite repeatedly showing he's quite capable of surviving everything the galaxy can throw at him, he's convinced he's going to die and wants, Little John style, to do it on a "good day" of his own choosing. And if the beard, beer-belly, and Nigel Verkoffian libido weren't enough to clue the gentle reader into twigging this Avon isn't the one we expected to read about, his suicidal musings do it soon enough. One can only imagine Rogue's son telling him to just get the hell over it and stop acting like such an emo loser.
The next few chapters follow What Rogue Did Next after he discovered he'd knocked up a cute hillbilly. Disconcertingly the very first thing was "1. Visit a brothel and try and score with the first chick to try and kill you while naked". Clearly these sort of kinky death games are an Avon family fetish. After "the whore" (as she is endearingly referred to") tries to get her twin stooges to kill Rogue (they failed and Rogue used his ninja gardening rake to slit their throats open), Rogue gets his naked hooker pal to lead him through the backstreets to a dodgy Peter Davison fella with a stupid name. Exactly how or why Rogue knew that this seemingly random prostitute would have such a contact is never actually explained.
In either case, Rogue and Davo soon build up a vaguely entertaining double-act as they leave this shithole to... go to a completely different shithole. Rogue wishes to return to Earth, which is not only incredibly difficult but suicidally insane what with the aftermath of the civil war and all. Davo recommends Rogue getting a lift off his pal, Pruth the Martian. After an awkward dinner conversation with Pruth, Rogue decides this all one big conspiracy and Davo and Pruth are running a false escape route to trap deserters and shop them out to the authorities. Pruth offers Rogue a free trip to Earth in return for killing Davo and cutting out his eyeballs as proof of death. Rogue agrees, but mainly because he wants to steal Davo's cool spaceship.
After a machine-gun-chainsaw massacre in an aircraft hanger, Rogue not only has the said spaceship, but also that hooker has turned up again and wants to be his bestest ever friend. Plus, escaping hickville before the Federation invade is a slight motive as well. Rogue agrees... but, unsurprisingly, the price is ANOTHER disturbing sex scene of comparitive LBC quality. And, of course, the hooker must remain naked for the rest of the story. There's a disturbing hint that the hooker looks a bit like Servalan as well. But could that POSSIBLY be relevent (as she's probably not been born yet... even Blake would be in short trousers).
Rogue's cunning plan to escape and return to Earth
1. Leave Phax
2. Slingshot around the rings of Saturn
3. Switch off engines
4. Freefall into the Magellanic Clouds (a freaky nebula Darrow seems to have mixed up with the asteroid belt)
5. Land on one asteroid and pick up more fuel
6. Head to Earth
7. Die horribly.
Alas, around point 5 things go wrong. Pruth the Martian has laid an ambush on one asteroid and Davo's ship was under control. It turns out that Rogue wasn't paranoid, he WASN'T PARANOID ENOUGH! The whole thing has been a trap, especially the hooker who pulls a gun on our... hero... and, no I won't ask where she got it from what with her being naked and all. She reveals that Rogue is the most wanted man in the galaxy, as he's the most famous survivor of the civil war and the kudos for taking him down will help one faction of the Federation dominate the other. Deeply bored by this, Rogue snaps the hooker's neck, uses the ship engines to fry the troopers, escape the ship, shotgun the remaining troops, steal a heliplane, blow Pruth the Martian up with a missile, and then flee.
Rogue lands on another asteroid used as a graveyard/Tranquil Repose shindig run by a bloke too similar to Friar Tuck from Robin Hood 2006 for me to visualize him any other way. Tuck chats with Rogue and explains he's been stuck minding frozen corpses for so long he hates the Federation so much he WON'T betray Rogue, who moans on and on that he's going to die. After about half an hour Tuck snaps and offers to fire Rogue in a canon at Earth to shut him up and, hell, will even pack Rogue a lunchbox to do it. Rogue agrees.
Rogue soon is marooned at the North Pole and eats some sandwiches until someone turns up to kill him - and guess what? It turns out to be Axel Grease, Rogue's evil half-brother and fellow Killer Man who's just like him except EVIL! After exchanging some pleasantries, Rogue decides to throw away his pump-action-shotgun and try killing his evil half-brother with a rake.
Axel Grease cuts Rogue up like Freddy Kruegger on acid.
To be continued.