The Other Side of the Coin (Blake's 7 zine)
|Title:||The Other Side of the Coin|
|Publisher:||Waveney, Allamagoosa Press|
|Author(s):||Jean Airey and Ruth Berman with Laurie Haldeman|
|Fandom:||Blake's 7 RPF/FPF|
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The Other Side of the Coin is a gen novel by Jean Airey and Ruth Berman with Laurie Haldeman. It was illustrated by Gail Bennett. It's a FPF/RPF crossover, i.e. characters and actors swap places in this series. It is the sequel to The Totally Imaginary Cheeseboard.
In the early 1990s, Jean offered the series to fans freely via email.
Novels in this Series:
From a flyer: "While Avon is away, what happens to Paul Darrow on board Liberator? Can he convince them that he doesn't know the first thing about computers? Janet Lees-Price (Paul's wife) once played a part on Blake's 7, so naturally her counterpart appears to cause him confusion."
Reasons for Writing
The afterword includes the following explanation for the zine's existence from Ruth Berman:
I've always been a sucker for colliding universes... I've written some other stories of the type myself, such as... 'Visit to a Weird Planet Re-Visited' (in 'Star Trek: The New Voyages I, e.d Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath). Although having mentioned that story, I suppose I might almost be calling the story to hand [Other Side of the Coin] a Re-Visit Re-Visited, because of the similarities. What happened was that Jean Lorrah and Williard Hunt had a story, 'Visit to a Weird Planet' in 'Spockanalia'... in which Kirk, Spock and McCoy show up on the Paramount lot. I thought it was a delightful story, and couldn't help wondering about the half of the story their story didn't choose to tell, what Shatner, Nimoy and Kelley were doing on the Enterprise in the meantime. So that was what I wrote...
[After reading Cheeseboard, I] sent Jean a letter saying I wished they'd write the other half of the story about what happened to Darrow on the Liberator while Avon was at the con. And I made some suggestions about what I wished would go into it. And at that point I found myself 're-visiting'... I started writing it down. Pretty soon I had a completed draft, and sent it to Jean with a letter explaining that I knew I was jumping in in unsolicited - but here it was, and what did Jean think, and would she want to do some re-writing.So then we started writing and re-writing back and forth, and arguing over everything - commas, heroism, Blake's temper, order of shooting, use of adjectives, adverbs, and saids, points of view, proofs of non-identity, theories of acting, visibility of bears, etc. - and generally having a fine time. And so it turned into 'The Other Side of the Coin'. 
Reactions and Reviews
[for both zines]:"They both are fun, and oddly affecting. I liked 'Cheeseboard' better, for this is where we meet Avon, and watch him interact with a group of people who not only know a lot about him (his world and the aired episodes parallel closely) but love him unconditionally. Avon is ported to a large B7 convention in Chicago, at which other actors from the series are also in attendance. The actors, who portrayed his companions and enemy, and 'lived' certain events, also like and accept him, and encourage him to make different choices than the series indicated he made (the intersection point is shortly after 'Gambit'). The fans, of course, accept him totally, and his minders especially work hard to make him safe.
'Coin' isn't as good, I still liked it a lot. Darrow tries to convince the Liberator crew that he really isn't Avon, really isn't a Federation plant. But he knows too much about Avon, and the Liberator, to make that an easy task. He also is too used to 'being' Avon, and only Cally (good ol' telepath that she is!) can tell the difference.They are worth the $6.00 Jean asks for them!"
'Other Side of the Coin' is gentle, pleasant and entertaining. It features several incidents where Paul Darrow uses some traits specific to him as an actor, and as Paul Darrow, specifically for the betterment of the crew, which pleased me, because I didn't want him just to be a dead weight. It also features lots of quite nice bits where Blake is nice to him - Blake lends him his shirt, Blake carries him, a sleepless Blake gets given the Avon!bear (we learn later that Vila gave it to him so that Blake could shout at it in place of Avon, but until then I spent about 3 pages going 'is he... going to sleep hugging it?') (There are also some adorable scenes of Blake going to sleep on the flight deck in a force field, so he won't be disturbed). Where Cheeseboard was all about the Avon-Michael Keating relationship, with some glances towards Gareth and/or Blake; this is clearly about the Blake-Darrow relationship - which I liked, because I like Blake and his relationship with Avon, and I was sad that there wasn't more of this in the original. There's also a nice bit where Jenna gets to do her job - and hangs out with Darrow, which was good - and also the setting for some of the Darrow being good at his job stuff that I talked about earlier.
But... the bottom line is that 'The Other Side of the Coin' is not nearly as good as the original. There's comparatively no conflict - Avon had conflict with most people he met at Scorpio, everything felt quite tense (and yet adorable), which makes for good drama. The Liberator crew are quite nice to Paul really - he gets shot, but he gets better. He also doesn't learn anything from his experiences, or help the others to learn anything about their relationships - and this was one of the best things about 'Cheeseboard'. That and the touching moments of friendship between Avon and Michael. This fic...just sort of rumbles along - although one is a mundane convention world and one is a high-tech spaceship... life is far more mundane on the Liberator than it is at Scorpio. Paul has a shower and eats rubbish food. He does drills. He goes to sleep. Things happen for not very much reason (I really like the Docholli's daughter idea, but once you go 'oh, I see what you did there', I'm not sure why she stays on the Liberator) and there isn't much emotional change or arc.
The other thing is that - we know from the original that Avon has a great time in our world and doesn't want to leave (spoilers, but whatever). That makes for quite a good plot. I feel a bit sad that Paul Darrow doesn't have a great time in Blake's world (this is all a bit part and parcel of the whole no relationships/no learnings deal) - I know people are trying to kill them and stuff, but surely it's pretty great to be in the future? Wouldn't it be exciting to actually do something for real, rather than just act it? And if we are going to do the Blake-Darrow relationship, there should have been (I thought) more bits where they actually hung out and talked, did things together/went on missions together, and Paul got him to admit that he missed and needed Avon. To be fair, it is sort of implied that he does the last one, but I didn't feel that it was earned when we got to Blake telling Avon over the communicator that Paul wasn't a good substitute for him. It was just sort of odd. And kind of mean to Paul.
Plus there's this slightly weird bit:
- "Sure you don't want to keep the other one [Darrow, rather than Avon]?" [Vila asked Blake]
- "Oh, Vila, I am quite sure of that." Vila looked at Blake questioningly. This was quite the longest conversation they had ever had together since the London. "I would much prefer to live up past the expectation of someone who expects me to fail, than someone who is convinced that all I have to do is wave my hand the right way to succeed."
- "Yeah. Paul does expect us to be the good guys."
For a start I just don't like the idea that Blake and Vila haven't talked more than this in two years. Not ever? Also - it's a slightly sad representation of the Blake-Avon relationship, even though Paul earlier offered friendship as the reason Blake might want Avon back and Blake didn't exactly deny it. I do think this 'fear of not meeting expectations' thing could be an interesting avenue to pursue, though. Blake wrestling with the burden of someone else's belief in him, particularly at this point when the rest of his crew know how fallible he is. But it feels like it came out of nowhere here, and there's not really any follow up because the story ends pretty soon after that.
I also don't know why Darrow is telepathic - perhaps I was reading too quickly. And I still don't know why Blake has a beard! That, and the fact that Avon's taller than Paul Darrow, are the only things that are different about this universe. I think maybe they're supposed to give us the air of possibility, but Paul knows what Blake said word for word in 'Voice from the Past'. In a world where even dialogue is the same, how much scope for change do we really have?
This is all quite negative, and the fic doesn't really deserve that - it's very readable. But I was so impressed by how emotionally effective the first one was, and... nothing happens in this one at all really.
The art's still nice. I like that the checklist is back. I also like that there's quite a long author's note at the end - it's nice to know how and why things were written. Also - I am going to quote this bit for no reason other than that it tickled me.
- Jenna and Vila were in nightshirts like Avon's - not black, of course. Jenna's was deep blue, and Vila's a don't-take-notice-of-me grey. Interested in spite of himself, [Paul] noticed Blake's was in the earth colours he liked, a brown streaked with dull green. Paul was a little surprised, remembering an episode when Blake wore the clothes he'd been sleeping into the flight deck. The costumers thought it indicated his devotion to duty, to be ready to leap up at a moment's notice to take charge of the ship. (It also saved them from having to design futuristic pyjamas.) Paul thought it was more likely to indicate Blake was a slob, but that was neither here nor there. Anyway, here Blake apparently was, looking reasonably natty in a patriarchal sort of way - that was the combination of the beard and the robe, no doubt, but -- Beard?! Paul's line of thought veered off abruptly, and he stared doubtfully at Blake, unless it was Gareth.
- "You have a beard!"
- "Was this news worth getting out of bed for?" Blake said acidly. 
A lot of things conspired to prejudice me against this story... car trouble, the flu, lack of heat in my house, and having only a manuscript in little itty bitty type with no paragraphs to review. It's really a testament to the work that somehow none of this spoiled my enjoyment of going "behind the looking glass" with Ruth Berman, Jean Airey... and Paul Darrow. The Other Side of the Coin is a sequel to Alley's earlier zine. The Totally Imaginary Chessboard, in which Avon is lifted from the Liberator and deposited squarely into a Blake's 7 convention. This second effort reverses the swap, bringing Paul Darrow into the Blake's 7 universe.
I have no idea if Avon's alter-ego is as gracious and charming as Berman and Airey have portrayed him, and actually, it doesn't matter. We want to believe it. I can't imagine too many things more frightening for an actor than to be dropped into his role for real, and Berman and Airey have done a good job of keeping my (admittedly distracted) attention.
There isn't a lot of new ground broken here, but the writers have managed to paint familiar landscapes very well, and imbue them with a touch of nostalgia and even grief that holds together very well. If the events of Blake's 7 are real, somewhere, then Paul must (and does) face the fact that his friends won't get up and wash off the fake blood at the end of the take, and the woman who's the image of his wife Janet (Klyn) will die by Avon's hand. His need to change the coming events hold the right note of desperation.
I've got to congratulate the authors, as well, for thinking through the mundane problems, such as where's the bathroom? and what do you guys use for a toothbrush around here? Well? Didn't you always wonder, folks?
I confess to a couple of moments of confusion with the flow of the story as the Liberator's crew concentrated on returning Darrow and retrieving Avon. The action at times seemed forced and unnatural in the building and subsequent use of the "kludge?', and very vague. I also detected a bit of the 'let's have another space battle" syndrome, too, but in all honesty though these things did slow me a bit they didn't really ruin anything for me, either.All in all, an enjoyable and well done effort from Berman and Airey. I wish I could have had a copy with illustrations (and paragraphs), but I'll settle for what I read. 
- Subject: Cheeseboard and Coin by Nan E. to Lysator dated Nov 22, 1993:"Some time ago, Jean was making these available free via email. I don't have the address anymore but if anyone does, perhaps they could post it."
- from a con report in Orac's Oddities #2
- Afterword in 'The Other Side of the Coin' by Ruth Berman
- Subject: Cheeseboard and Coin by Nicole V. to Lysator dated Nov 19, 1993.
- a review by Aralias, see it, and comments here; WebCite, posted August 31, 2014, accessed September 7, 2014
- from Tarriel Cell v.5 n.3