Beloved Adversary

From Fanlore
Jump to: navigation, search
Zine
Title: Beloved Adversary
Publisher: Kathy Resch
Editor:
Author(s): Sondra Sweigman
Cover Artist(s): Lucia Cassarella Moore
Illustrator(s):
Date(s): October 1994
Medium: print
Size:
Genre:
Fandom: Blake's 7
Language: English
External Links: at AO3
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.
cover by Lucia Cassarella Moore

Beloved Adversary is a gen 101-page Blake's 7 novel by Sondra Sweigman.

It is a sequel to Sondra's short story "Other People's Hearts" in Rebel Destinies. It has a sequel, A Delicate Balance.

This zine contains no interior art.

From an Ad

"A post Gauda Prime gen novel of danger and suspense, emphasizing the issues of conflict, loyalty and trust which perennially plague the ambivalent bond between Avon and Blake."

Author's Comment

Re hurt/comfort: I don't especially care for it--and I've been "accused" of writing it! In fact, I've been praised for writing it (irony of ironies). Several fan friends who should know better (or know me better) insist that Beloved Adversary is "hurt/comfort." Look, the way I see it, any realistic story set in the B7 universe is going to have people getting hurt. And any story that posits a modicum of caring between the characters is going to have people responding to that hurt. But that's just human nature and the nature of life. Hurt\comfort to me connotes fiction written for the purpose of "hurting" some particular character and then having some other particular character "comfort" him. The whole relationship is predicated upon the power of suffering to generate intimacy—and it'll be a cold day at the center of the volcano on Obsidian (to quote myself) before I write anything with that premise in mind. As for the relationship between h/c and slash—well, both genres seem to attract the same subset of fans, but I must confess that the basis for their appeal totally eludes me. [1]

Reactions and Reviews

Unknown Date

BELOVED ADVERSARY by Sondra Sweigman is a post-GP gen novel and sequel (although it stands alone quite well) to Sondra's short story "Other People's Hearts" in Rebel Destinies. Beloved Adversary is an alternate universe tale based on the premise that Avon, having stumbled across a self-confrontation "counseling" program Ensor had installed in Orac, doesn't shoot Blake when they meet on GP after all. Not that Blake's survival will end the character conflict between them: they're explosively confrontational throughout the novel, much to the consternation of the rest of the crew (which includes Vila, Dayna, Soolin, Taffant, Deva and eventually, Avalon and Docholli). The plot hinges on discovering and destroying - Servalan's newest source of Pylene 50. But this is primarily a relationship delving story, examining in angst-ridden depth just how far Blake and Avon's dedication to each other can (and will) go. This is not a slash novel, however. Sondra's Blake is resolutely married - to his cause, and even rebuffs Soolin's seductive advances. Avon eventually tells poor frustrated Soolin that Blake is voluntarily celibate. Avon possesses a somewhat disturbing, self-destructive streak in this story, perhaps induced by the guilt he feels for almost killing Blake. But his loyalty to same also induces his stubborn willingness to endure some (rather gruesome) tortures when an infuriated Servalan fails to drag Blake's whereabouts out of him.

This aspect is beautifully (and graphically) illustrated in Lucia Cassarella Moore's color cover.

See also A Delicate Balance a sequel.

Beloved Adversary is written with professional style and is handsomely presented in an easy-to-read, double-column layout. [2]

I enjoyed these two zines. First and foremost, they are overwhelming focused on my two favourite characters, and the endlessly absorbing relationship between them. And while I don't entirely agree with the characterisations - especially of Blake - the differences between the author's view and mine aren't grating enough to put me off.

Blake and Avon are the centrepiece of both stories. Now Sondra's Blake, to me, is *too* good, too noble and high-minded; and he knows about and talks about feelings - his and other people's - far too much and far too directly. He's far too - um, what is the word I'm looking for - *nice*. Avon is also considerably nicer than I see him, and the relationship between them, while acceptable, is a tad too lush for my taste, a bit too hot-house in feel - there's little of the dry malice-mixed-with-affection, and none of the iced acid that makes the relationship, gen or slash, burn that much better.

But the voices ring true for the most part - I can *hear* them saying these words. And that's important.

And one must say that they fight splendidly and very believably, and the lighter moments between them and the other characters are handled well. It's hard to mix the angst and the one-liners the way the series did; it isn't done perfectly here, but at least there is some light and shade. Both Avon and Blake get to suffer impressively - the torture scenes in both stories are both long and fairly gruesome - and be heroic (in Avon's case, while denying any such thing), and *act* out their feelings for one another. We're not asked to believe Avon actually *talking* about his feelings (except to himself) and not too much of Blake doing it.

All of the other major characters, though rather lightly fleshed out, are acceptable - I liked what is done with Docholli, Dayna and Avalon; Tarrant and Vila are all right, though both could have used a few more edges. Soolin on the other hand is much too sweet (and there's a seduction scene with Blake that I *cannot* swallow - he may have been mind-wiped, but he isn't that stupid!!) I don't care for Servalan anyway, but this version was quite believable, Arlen worked rather well, and the head villain in Delicate Balance I found very convincing. One of the other original characters in Delicate Balance, however, I found totally off-putting - I'm sure she was meant to be appealingly heroic and noble, but creating an original, good, strong female character seems to be harder than it looks, and this one doesn't work at all and seriously spoils the story for me at least. I kept waiting for Avon to toss her out of an airlock!! (Dayna, who doesn't have to carry the burden of being *good* comes over very well in both stories.)

There are quite a few other things I liked about them; the plots are well thought out, making intelligent use of the Pylene-50 business from the show. The threads involving an attack on the Gauda Prime base, and the one infiltrating the Pylene factory are very good. The backgrounds were solidly imagined, but not intrusive, with a definite sense of place being achieved.

In all, a good story for fans of Blake and Avon, though if you *aren't* into that relationship, you may find very little else to keep your interest... [3]

1994

I am privileged to have some very talented friends and to occasionally get a preview of their work. One such is ...BELOVED ADVERSARY by Sondra Sweigman -- Sondra just posted information on this a few days ago and I will add an unsolicited endorsement that this is a a very good novel indeed. I'm not a Blake fan and I thought it was knock-out terrific. The best aspect IMHO is that Sondra's Avon and Blake exchanges are dead-on to the series, just what I'd expect to hear if Terry Nation or Chris Boucher wrote a PGP. And if you want gut-wretching, there's that, too...not only the "snake" scene that Sondra posted, but an earlier scene on Blake's former base. No, you'll have to wait to find out what happens there. But trust me, it's worth it.[4]

1995

You thought Checkers was "vile character mangling" (to pick a passage at random during several pages worth of discoursing)? There was a passable Blake The one in "Beloved Adversary" had me pitching fits. Here we have Avon lasering himself in the shoulder all because Blake placed him into an irresolvable situation (no torturing for information, no killing, etc) and left him to figure a way out of it. I suppose the point was made as to the lengths Avon would go to obey Blake. Later, in the sequel "A Delicate Balance", it happened again. Avon locks Blake in an underground room for 3 days, a sort of monk's cell. Does he brood, does he get hopping mad? I remember the Blake of old had a temper. No, this one goes on with the plot and it's relelentless heroics as usual and the subject never comes up again I can't see him for the halo he's wearing.

I apologize if it seems I'm always picking on [the author]. That is absolutely not my intention I did rave about her short story in "Dark Between the Stars" Maybe I feel deeply threatened by people, even fictional ones, who are perfection incarnate. If only he had some flaw, some teensy little thing I could get my grapplers on, then I'd feel a sense of "That's the Blake I know" It'd be a beginning anyway. [5]

This is a 4th season gen story, following events depicted in "Other People's Hearts" by the same author, printed in Rebel Destinies (available from Bill Hupe). In that story, events on Gauda Prime take an alternate universe turn when Avon really listens to what Blake says, mind unclouded with expectations of betrayal, and does not pull the trigger. Federation troops do storm the base, however, forcing an evacuation. This novel picks up immediately afterwards, and finds the regulars — Blake, Avon, Vila, Dayna, Tarrant, Soolin, and Deva — holed up in a GP farmhouse, planning their next move. Which includes pursuing a plan to disrupt the manufacture/distribution of Pylene-50, a delving into the mind of Lt. Aden, and an encounter in the woods with Servalan.

The centerpiece of the story, however, is the Blake-Avon relationship. This is both the strongest point of the story, and the weakest. If it is the fireworks between Blake and Avon that are the heart and soul of B7 for the reader, then this story will have a lot to offer. The drawback is that fans who prefer the other characters may come away unsatisfied, as they get little in-depth attention: their chief role is that of Greek Chorus, remarking upon the goings-on between Blake and Avon. No one gets trashed or bashed, however.

The weakest point for this reader was the characterization of Soolin, or rather the way the author has her drawn to Blake, and then—kindly—rejected by him. To r credit, the author does address the incongruity presented (for Avon being the exception to Blake's rule). Curiously, the other character who does come in for a deeper examination is Arlen. which is unique enough to be remarkable. The author uses Arlen to very effectively illustrate the dangers of shame, among other things: not the obvious thing one might think of doing with Arlen. but it works out well.

And it is a scene involving an interrogation of Arlen, by the rebels, that leads to a scene that should please hurt/comfort fans. After another fight with Blake, brought on by Blake's disapproval of Avon's method of getting information from Arlen, Avon stomps off into the forest. Where he encounters Servalan. The subsequent episode, involving an open wound and Servalan with a stick is not for the squeamish (at least this reader was distinctly uncomfortable during it), but the pay-off makes it all worthwhile. That involves a carimbula — a native snake — and Blake coming to the rescue.

One word of warning, though: if the reader likes her h/c with heavy doses of soppy sentimentality, the reader will be disappointed. It's not that kind of h/c at all. And despite the title, and the focus on Blake-Avon, is isn't slash-masquerading-as-gen, either. The rewards are there, but not necessarily lit up in flashing neon lights.

In the words of Joe Bob Briggs, "Check it out." [6]

This is a post Gauda Prime zine by Sondra Sweigman. Avon has accidentally accessed a hidden program in Orac which makes him confront his true feelings for Blake. Due to this he resists killing Blake when they finally meet up again and he and all the main characters escape alive from the rebel base. This story is dealt with in a prequel called Other People's Hearts which is in the zine Rebel Destinies, available from Peg Kennedy and Bill Hupe. You are given a brief synopsis of the story at the beginning of Beloved Adversary and it is not necessary to have read the prequel to enjoy this zine.

The zine begins with our rebels in hiding on Gauda Prime and Avon overhearing Vila explaining the intricacies of the computer technician's relationship with Blake to Tarrant, Dayna, Soolin and Deva. As is often the case, Vila is also giving the reader as well a valuable insight into both men's feelings for each other. Annoyed at this invasion of his privacy and at the truth of Vila's words, Avon decides that Blake should be the one to put a stop to the thief's tale telling and goes in search of him, only to find that Blake has taken his advice and is also using the hidden confrontation program in Orac. In this way Blake discovers that Avon came to Gauda Prime pursuing The thing he loves most in the universe" namely Blake.

All through the story we see Avon battle against his almost obsessive regard for Blake and the control he believes this gives the other man, but Blake's feelings are no less deep in return. It is only when Blake is held prisoner by Servalan that the tech is finally able to acknowledge how much means to him, and he endures incredible torture rather than reveal the rebel's location.

After he is rescued by Blake, the whole group leave Gauda Prime and head for the planet where the Federation's docility drug, Pylene 50, is being produced, planning to mix the antidote in with the drug and thereby use the Federation's own resources to bring the antidote to those they intend to subjugate.

The story ends with them about to embark on the mission and a Blake and Avon once more at odds over Blake's plan to have himself surgically altered so that he can infiltrate the planet where the drug is being manufactured.

This is not a slash story, but the only thing that's missing is the sex. The Avon in this story can be cruel, petty and marginally unbalanced, yet this is tempered by his overpowering love for Blake. We always hurt the ones we love is a very true saying in this case, but it is equally true, as Vila tells us in the story, that Avon would walk over hot coals for Blake. He certainly does far more painful things than this for the rebel's sake during the course of events.

Blake is a heroic character in the story, but there is room for self doubt and the fear that Avon's charges of manipulation could be true. In this way the writer makes him interesting and likeable and not the fanatical monster that he is often portrayed as.

There is a minor sub-plot of Soolin's unrequited passion for Blake, but the main thrust of the story is the relationship between the two main characters.

The only quibble I had with the zine was the rather abrupt ending. I am hoping that a sequel is planned so that we can find out what happens during the mission and how A von handles Blake charging into danger once more.

I enjoyed this zine tremendously and can't recommend it enough to anyone interested in the basic premise. A must for all Blake-Avon fans. [7]
Although I didn't care too much for Beloved Adversary myself, I'll agree that, even though a genzine, it would appeal to most B7 slash fans. My own reasons for disliking it had nothing to do with the way the Blake-Avon relationship was handled. I just have a personal dislike of any tale where Servalan is made to behave like an idiot. [8]
The handling of the h/c element was one of the reasons I personally didn't really care for Beloved Adversary. The 'h' was there, but precious little 'c' Avon seemed to remain determinedly oblivious to his reactions and motivations with respect to Blake, and I give the man credit for more intelligence and honesty than that. I also don't see him as being as self-destructive as the arm injury would make him out to be, and I have a much higher opinion of Arlen than the author showed us here. All of which is not to say it's a bad story, this is just my personal reaction to it. Different interpretations. [9]

1996

I should begin by admitting I didn't come to this zine with a completely open mind. I've disagreed with Sondra Sweigman about many things in several different form. In fact, I'd decided to give Beloved Adversary a miss, until a friend insisted that I read it and loaned me her copy to make sure I did. The zine surprised me. Despite all my past arguments with Sondra, I solemnly promise that I never expected Beloved Adversary to be as bad as it is.

I'm aware that not everyone here shares this opinion, so I'd like to take some time to explain it, and to explain why I'm calling Beloved Adversary bad instead of simply shrugging and saying, as I originally expected to, "Well, it's just not my cup of tea."

There's a phrase some people use to describe first and second season Avon: Sulky Adolescent From Hell. In Beloved Adversary he's regressed from that, and everyone else is operating at the same level of immaturity except for Blake (most of the time). What we have here is the Day Care Center of the Damned. As evidence, consider the opening scenes, in which Avon comes to Blake with a complaint that can be paraphrased as "Teacher, the other kids are talking about me. Make them stop." And Blake, being the Ideal Elementary School Teacher, tells him to fight his own battles.

Avon isn't the only one who's infantilized: at one point Blake looks at Tarrant "as one might look at a trembling child who is just a shade too old to be quaking at the dark" and later Dayna and Tarrant shrink away from Blake "like guilty children caught at the cookie jar." Blake also has the habit of calling women "girl," and none of the friends, enemies, Federation officers, rebel leaders, lovelorn gunslingers, etc. so addressed ever thinks of calling him "boy" in response. But I think Blake's address to the closed door of Avon's room takes the prize: "'All right Avon, this has gone far enough,' Blake said firmly. 'You're worrying people who care about you, and I won't have that. If you don't answer me now, I'm coming in.'" Wait a minute, shouldn't this speech include a threat of spanking, or at least no desserts for a week?

I assume that the message the reader is supposed to get is that Blake is operating on a higher level of moral and spiritual development than the people around him, so naturally they seem like children by comparison. The problem is that they don't seem like children by comparison, they seem like children, period. The hard choices of fighting a war are reduced to schoolyard morality lessons about not playing too rough even with the mean kids who dump your books in the mud.

For example, when they plan a raid on the Gauda Prime base, Blake tells them that they'll be armed with tranquilizer guns. Avon asks if killing is ruled out, and "No, it's just not a first-line option," was the calm reply, ignoring the challenge in the other man's tone, refusing to be riled or goaded. "Have you a problem with that?"

Avon retreated awkwardly. "No, of course not." (p.14)

I found myself thinking wistfully of George Bernard Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra, in which one of Caesar's subordinates makes it clear why he has a problem with his leader's policy of sparing his enemies' lives: "Clemency is very well for you, but what it for your soldiers, who have to fight tomorrow the men you spared yesterday? You may give what orders you please, but tell you that your next victory will be a massacre, thanks to your clemency. I, for one, will take no prisoners. I will kill my enemies in the field; and then you can preach as much clemency as you please: I shall never have to fight them again." Shaw was on Caesar's side, but he was willing to let grownups argue with him and even win an occasional round.

The raid on the Gauda Prime base leads to the Avon-Arlen torture scene, which is the funniest thing along those lines I've seen since Monty Python's Spanish Inquisition skit. Apparently in this universe not only did Avon not shoot Blake, but Arlen had a lobotomy. Canonically, she seemed to have a grasp on the concept of deception. In Beloved Adversary she falls for a staged quarrel between Avon and Blake, and is outraged that Blake has given her false information. Then, to top it all off, when she's threatened with a dose of Pylene 50 she sneers and makes it clear that she's immune. Why, given her loyalties, didn't she pretend to be scared, pretend to be affected by the drug, and then lie her head off when questioned? Of course, that raises the vexing question of whether Blake would actually have used the drug on her, but that's a whole different can of moral worms.

Anyway, after a significant exchange of glances, Avon sends Blake out of the room and threatens Arlen with a laser probe. When she's scared but not scared enough, he demonstrates it by using it on himself. She panics, collapses in hysterical fear, and spills everything. This collapse seems motivated primarily by the fact that Avon and the author would both be up the well-known creek if she did anything else. (All right, she thinks Avon is crazy. Did the possibility of being hurt by a crazy person never come up when she was being trained to work undercover?) There is a 1ine in one of Raymond Chandler's novels, in which a cop discusses a new kind of third degree in which the police beat each other up and the suspect cracks from the agony of watching. But the cop was kidding.

When Blake returns, Arlen tries to attack him with Avon's laser probe and then spits in his face. He decks her. This prompts Avon to say "Good, Blake," which seems fairly mild under the circumstances. However, we're told that Avon grins "like a self-indulgent child finally getting his own way." (A slightly charred child.) And the Ideal Elementary School Teacher is exasperated enough to tell him "Learn to keep your toys out of harm's way!"

But Blake recovers immediately and apologizes to Avon, and gives Arlen a drink of water as she's tied up waiting to be found by her people after our heroes have escaped. She behaves like a kid who's tested her limits, gotten spanked, and regressed a few years in consequence. At her request, Blake sets up water for her for the rest of her wait. Readers can only be grateful that no songs or stuffed animals figure in this interaction.

The other torture scene in the novel, in which Servalan works Avon over, is not nearly such a laugh riot. It might even have been impressive, had it remained focused on the two principals instead of insisting that they concentrate on Blake.

After Avon has been beaten, tortured, and hasn't talked, Servalan leaves him tied to a tree to be killed by a poisonous snake. She tells him that when she catches up to Blake, she'll tell him that Avon did betray him. That worries Avon more than his impending death, and sends him off into a series of hallucinations about Blake. (Servalan later shares her own suffering-Blake fantasies with Arlen.)

The fever-dream conversation in which Avon seeks certainty about his relationship with Blake and is told by Blake's apparition that the only way is through faith would bother me a lot if I were religious. The tradition I come from takes a very dim view of idolatry.

But then, I was already bothered by a scene in which Blake is told by Orac (who's also undergone a serious personality alteration) that "The heart is immune to manipulation. Hearts meet in freedom, in purity, in unending light. And he who knows his own heart can read the hearts of others." I consider that to be profoundly mistaken in every clause. My own view is closer to that of Hannah Arendt, who said "not only is the human heart a place of darkness which, with certainty, no eye can penetrate; the qualities of the heart need darkness and protection against the light of the public to grow and be what they are meant to be, innermost motives which are not for public display." I think that the best one can get from the "unending light" formulation is an impenetrably solipsistic self-satisfaction: "I'm pure because I know I'm pure, and if you were you'd agree with me." The worst? Well, Arendt made her remarks in On Revolution, when describing how efforts to drag the heart into the light helped turn the French Revolution into the Reign of Terror. This is a philosophical question on which Sondra Sweigman and I are never going to agree, and there's probably no point in belaboring it. I will, of course, defend to the death her right to believe that hearts are readable. From a literary point of view, I wish such reading would at least take place without lip movement. "Show, don't tell" is particularly good advice when the telling concerns emotions. Some friend of hers really ought to ration her supply of abstract nouns, adjectives, and adverbs. A sentence like "Blake looked down at him with utterly tender and selfless affection" (when people see the word "affection," do they ordinarily suppose it to be self-centered and gristly?) shouldn't happen to anybody.

And if this sort of thing is hard to take in exposition, it's even worse when we're asked to believe a character said in casual conversation, "Blake reached out and took my hand--such warmth in that grip of his, such strength and such utterly casual selfless giving." (None of that partially selfless giving for Blake.) Whatever happened to Mark Twain's quaint idea that "when the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances"? The speaker quoted above was Deva, who could have been an interesting character had he been given the opportunity to do anything but praise Blake, defend Blake (ineptly), and lean on Blake. Well, Blake is the star of the zine. But his portrayal as the Ideal Elementary School Teacher doesn't serve him well, nor does one scene in particular which is apparently supposed to demonstrate Blake's sensitive empathy, but which makes him appear as appallingly self-centered as any Blake-basher could imagine.

The scene I'm referring to is one in which Soolin has to debride Avon's injured arm without anesthetic. Avon doesn't want Blake or anyone else with him while this is being one, and his cries of pain drive the rest of the group out of earshot. (Well, sort of. When Avon was hurt on an earlier occasion, and requested privacy, we are told that as his crewmates left "they heard Avon wincing." With hearing that keen, they won't be out of earshot of an actual scream as long as they're on the same continent. But I digress.) Blake chooses to remain in the vicinity, suffering the torments of empathy.

OK so far. He might be punishing himself, or simply reminding himself of the human costs of his revolution. But he then starts feeling sorry for himself, because it doesn't occur to any of the others to stay with him and keep him from being "alone with the anguish of his too-keen empathy." A reluctance to hear a friend suffer through necessary but excruciating medical treatment has just been turned into proof of insensitivity. While "Blake's dead--poor Avon" is an absurdity, "Avon's hurt--poor Blake" is scarcely an improvement.

But then Deva turns up, and stays with Blake. Deva has been established as someone who has doubts about his own courage and ability to endure, and listening to Avon scream in the aftermath of torture might well be a source of anguish even if he's only equipped with standard-issue empathy. It does not occur to Blake that Deva is making a sacrifice for him, or that perhaps allowing him to do so reflects less than utter selflessness. It doesn't seem to occur to anyone else, either.

Early on, I said that Blake is the exception to the
prevailing childishness most of the time. However, on occasion 
he does join Avon in the sandbox. Near the end of the zine, they
are Not Speaking to each other, in that style of quarreling in
which a third party is requested to relay information to someone
who is present and heard it, but to whom the speaker is Not 
Speaking. Avalon gets tired of playing third party and says
"Can't you see how ridiculous you're being? A couple of grown
men--leaders of the rebellion yet--behaving like spoiled
 children." If my copy of Beloved Adversary were not a borrowed
 one, I'd inquire in the margin "So where were you ninety pages 
ago?"

As I said when I began this review, I'm aware that some people think more highly of Beloved Adversary than I do. That is why I've felt free to make my criticisms so frank: I'm not picking on a zine which has no defenders, or about which people are likely to form an opinion based solely on my remarks. But I've gone on for quite some time, and will now shut up unless or until someone else wants to continue the discussion. [10]
Wow! Nothing like an in-depth zine review [of Beloved Adversary in Rallying Call #18]. I think I agreed with most of what you said. I hadn't analyzed it in anywhere near that much detail, I just knew that I found it unsatisfying, not feeling 'real' somehow. Or put another way, I bought the zine but it has long since been re-sold. [11]

Brooke's review of "Beloved Adversary" in the last issue [of Rallying Call] interested me, even revived a memory of some claw-sharpening of my own, I remember the novel annoying me enough to acquire its sequel, "A Delicate Balance." About this I moaned about a Blake who was "perfection incarnate" and improbable situations showcasing "relentless heroics."

Then I looked for the rest of the series.

Almost two years later, I've seen nearly all the other Blake-fiction out there: bad Blakes, stupid Blakes, manipulative Blakes, scarred and crippled Blakes, shouting Blakes and ones RIP. Blakes with and without belly hair. Blakes loving Avon, Blakes vengeful, Blakes forgiving, clone Blakes, mutoid Blakes, telepathic Blakes, ghost Blakes. Saint Blakes.

Similarly, PGPs come in all shapes and flavors. In Sondra Sweigman's [A Beloved Adversary], Avon never shoots this Blake so there is nothing for Blake to forgive. Some angst potential missed there, probably intentionally. Sondra has explicitly said elsewhere BA is not hurt-comfort. Don't be misled by the misleadingly so cover by Lucia Casarella Moore. It's the bloodiest I've ever seen, a hurt-comfort fan's wet dream — but entirely suited for the aftermath of the scene depicted therein.

Excepting some of Susan Mathews' work, a more harrowing torture scene doesn't exist in B7 fan-fiction. It was too real to be "fun." Probably not a wallow either. She isn't writing for titillation, not her own or the readers. I remembered being irritated at the implicit superiority, the "Go look elsewhere for sleaze and sadism, if you want that" attitude, even while knowing I generated this out of my own defensiveness. And who wouldn't be defensive after being teased? This Wet Blanket at the Party co-opted the elements of hurt/comfort and wallow and didn't give me what I wanted, even after that juicy cover.

I chose not to hear the rest of the message, "But if you want to see something better, something ... ennobling, read on " Need I say, her stories - all of them - are an acquired taste and not for every Blake-Avon fan - - or Blake/Avon fan, for that matter. But I digress...

Sondra thwarts a reader's expectations at every turn but stirs in the odd surprise or three, depending on the level of annoyance taken.

The pivotal scene, the psychological - crux - of the book occurred in the aftermath of Avon's torture. His pretenses are shorn. He's crucified on the altar of his own pretenses. He can no longer ignore his feelings for Blake. Facing imminent death at the end of his "long dark night of the soul," he confronts a Blake apparition that tells him what he least wants to hear, that the only way out is through his faith in Blake (p.58). He squirms like a "trapped animal" but eventually submits to the new reckoning of his self. Later, bounty hunter Blake appears and symbolically resurrects an Avon already resigned to death.

Religious connotations abound, almost as impossible to avoid as Avon's awakening to Blake. But this isn't the usual kind of sentimental awakening the slash or gen fen usually sees. (During my journeys through Blakeland, I found many a gen novel that so desperately wanted to be slash I had to wonder why the author didn't write it that way to begin with. This isn't one of them.)

Sondra sees something different between Blake and Avon. In BA, her unique vision overlays the Blake-Avon love and changes it into something other. Unclassifiable. Blake's love is larger than life but there is no sex to speak of; Blake is not only not having any of Avon, he isn't having any of anyone. Deva and Soolin pine for him unrequited. Blake is celibate for the Cause.

Someone somewhere, probably me, stomps their bunny-slippered foot in annoyance, Blake loves Avon more than anyone else, it's practically canon and probably the one thing we can agree on with Sondra — but why aren't they felling into bed together and doing the horizontal boogie? (Maybe Blake wasn't celibate so much as neuter, I thought unkindly) writer before.

Brooke had mentioned some parental mannerisms from Blake so maybe it would be incestuous for him to bed-wrestle Avon like that. But then again <digression alert!> most everyone has read the same Avon-abused-as-child-with-fewer-Blake-spanking-him stories as I have. Not to make light of the subject, incest never stopped the adventurous slash writer before.

No, this was completely different from the "usual." It was the kind of love which transcended any kind of erotic outlet. This kind of love wouldn't belong in a slashzine where physicality rules. Everyone keeps their knickers on. It aspires to be ... ennobling, Can it be as boring as it sounds? It's likely the closest to canon we'll ever see. Still, there's nothing really to see. You can forget about any form of erotic turn-on, especially with religious elements involved.

Back to BA: Following Avon's torture, Blake "pulled Avon close against him ... As he clasped the man tightly to him and showered him silently with love, Avon's body relaxed completely in Blake's embrace; Avon's hand reached out for Blake's hand and closed around it" (p.69).

Unconscious throughout, his body already knowing what his mind refused to admit, Avon trusted Blake and, ravaged by a degree of physical destruction the rest of us can only dimly imagine, clung to him as a child to its parent. As a peak of intimacy, it's surprisingly effective for all its subtlety. There's no jumping up and down here. Avon has been seduced and is subconsciously responding to Blake's nurture and something else, the heart of Blake Avon sees in his own.

This is the foundation of BA. It takes a turn into territory all its own and yet remains true to canon: Avon's fascination with Blake. Suppose his fascination isn't a sexual itch to scratch, suppose it isn't a variant on the Kirk-Spock thing, emotions vs, logic or other buddy pair of opposite temperaments. These have their appeal but not here, not in this universe. Instead of looking at what Sondra contrarily refuses to give her readers, what's left in its place? Who are the "Blakes" she refers to so warmly in her dedication at the beginning? Does she write a "Blake" incarnation from personal experience?

BA is a work from the heart. She writes it with conviction because she believes it. She writes the dynamics between Blake-Avon because she knows it. If anyone has seen "Braveheart", you'll know what I mean by the significance of the finale. We have the same mythic transformation in effect, the non-believer, scoffer and skeptic coming up against the believer, idealist and hero and finding their calling - their reason to be. Eventually the hardest cynic becomes the most ardent believer. The jagged edges are blunted, worn away. Isn't it true we fight and resist the hardest against that we most truly desire? Blake never let Avon go. Even before Blake's speech at the end of "Star One" ("I have always trusted you ..."), Avon had already lost his fight.

I enjoyed BA more the second time around because I was "ready" for it this time. There was quite a lot more humor than I remembered, the banter between the supporting characters amused me. Having Deva be attracted to Blake was a nice touch and subtle way of conveying this universe's acceptance of bisexuality, though I tend to think Deva was actually indifferent to the matter of Blake's gender and was simply attracted by the great mg beating heart within ... a kind of low-key, less frantic Avon.

Not that I've had any practice in battle tactics but drugging the guards on base seems a rather ponderous way to go about seizing control and that only for a night. It was fraught with unnecessary risk. Avon should not have complied so readily, as Brooke pointed out. Avon characteristically would have shot up the place ala he and Soolin in "Gold" In this case and others, Avon seemed far too ready to bow his head to Blake, Or Blake should've come up with a cleverer, less risky plan. It escapes me what that might have been though, given their resources. The interrogation scene remains a sore point. It doesn't feel right, in every sense of the word. Why does Blake let Avon take the fall for this? I mean, if Avon wasn't around muttering threats at Arlen for Blake to react to what would Blake have done about extracting the information? Good thing Avon was around to volunteer to do the dirty work. I couldn't quite see fourth season Avon, independent cuss, falling so readily into line. In every one of his fights with Blake his verbal cutdowns lacked the certain zing of conviction. He had nowhere else to go, as he'd already conceded his fight to Blake.

The shoving scene in front of Arlen was surreal (B7 as directed by Terry "Brazil" Gilliam, not Terry Nation). I had as much difficulty picturing this as with Avon's actually wounding himself. And when Blake left water for her, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Avon was hallucinating everything following his injury, he was in shock. Who wouldn't be? And later, after Avon's torture, Blake pronounces sentence: "You're dead, Servalan," (he) swore hotly. "Mark my words" (p.67). Is she really? Do I dare allow myself the hope? It's all I could do not to call out "Liar, liar, pants on fire."

Of course, if he'd given any other kind of response to Avon's suffering, as in, "Servalan, you poor misunderstood psychopath," Blake oozed selfless compassion, a veritable puddle of it forming around him and Avon. "What terrible thing (or things) could have happened to you to have made you the evil witch you are today?" I swear I would've thrown the book so hard it would still be in orbit.

Blake was still not the "raddled remnant" (thanks, mfae on SC, for this charming description) I saw in the final episode. He was too good to be real. I'd have trouble imagining this Blake blowing up things with the abandon of his days of yore. This is not the Blake that would've taken out Star One.

I can't help but be struck by a certain irony in discussing "Beloved Adversary" within these pages, especially if it continues beyond mine and Brooke's reviews. Sondra's no longer here to respond to any of the points we've raised And then I wonder, would we have raised them at all if she were still a member of this apa? [12]

References

  1. from Rallying Call #13 (1995)
  2. review by Jean Graham
  3. review by Sally Manton
  4. Lysator, Pat Nussman, August 31, 1994.
  5. from a fan in Rallying Call #15
  6. from IMHO* #2 (May 1995)
  7. from Late for Breakfast #24 (February 1995)
  8. from Late for Breakfast #26 (September 1995)
  9. from Rallying Call #15
  10. review by Brooke in Rallying Call #18
  11. from Rallying Call #19
  12. from Rallying Call #19