Renaissance (Blake's 7 zine)
|Author(s):||Diane L. Holland|
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This is a genzine for fans of Avon, Blake and Vila. It's also one of the most unlikely Blake's 7 stories you'll ever read. In Renaissance Italy, we find a world where Avon has been recast as Leonardo da Vinci, Vila as one of his pupils and Blake as Machiavelli (a Florentine patriot whose bad reputation is at least in part due to history being written by his enemies). The friendship between the two will change history. In the sequel, each of the three men is reincarnated into a slightly later period of history. Avon is now Galileo, Blake a Grand Duke and Vila a street juggler. One of the three committed a great sin in his previous life and must find a way to repay that debt. The whole thing sounds weird, but trust me, it works. The characterisations ring true even in the different incarnations and there's lots of angst as the stories play out against the background of Italian politics and the shadow of the Inquisition. 
Reactions and Reviews
In Renaissance Italy, we find a world where Avon has been recast as Leonardo da Vinci, Vila as one of his pupils and Blake as Machiavelli (a Florentine patriot whose bad reputation is at least in part due to history being written by his enemies). The friendship between the two will change history.
In the sequel, each of the three men is reincarnated into a slightly later period of history. Avon is now Galileo, Blake a Grand Duke and Vila a street juggler. One of the three committed a great sin in his previous life and must find a way to repay that debt.The whole thing sounds weird, but trust me, it works. The characterisations ring true even in the different incarnations and there's lots of angst as the stories play out against the background of Italian politics under the shadow of the Inquisition. 
After flicking through this work, I bought it knowing that it would be an intriguing and interesting read, and was certainly not disappointed. The author took a novel approach, involving an interesting alternate history variation on what has been called by Kathryn Andersen 'character insertion'. Unlike crossovers, or making the B7 characters go backwards or forwards in time in their own universe, this concept presumes, in the words of Neil Faulkner, that the B7 characters are 'readily transportable to other times and places'.
As someone who believes that the B7 characters are, to a significant extent, products of the particular socio-cultural factors of the period they were born into, I regard fanfiction based on this concept as unconvincing. Even though the characters might be similar in looks, and their names might also sound familiar, they are as different as the society into which they were born is from the societies depicted in B7.
'Renaissance' consists of a couple of novellas, 'Chiaroscuro' and 'Purgatorio', both set in Italy in the Renaissance and Baroque periods. The author gives us characters that are hybrids: characters of the period that have elements of B7 characters, suggested in many cases by their names and looks, as well as behaviour. Some of the characters are obvious adaptations of significant historical personages.
For example, Cerevello d'Avonici in 'Chiaroscuro' is a hybrid of Avon and Leonardo da Vinci. His speech is an interesting mixture of Avon's in the B7 series and of Leonardo's notebooks. There is a Ruggiero Blachiavelli, this time a hybrid of Blake and Niccolo Machiavelli. Vito Ricotti, the adopted son and pupil of Cervello, is a hybrid of Vila and Salai, a pupil of Leonardo's. In this novella, as well as in the second, the emphasis is on the characters partly based on Blake, Avon, and Vila, although other characters appear, based on the other B7 ones, introduced in interesting guises. For example, in 'Chiaroscuro', we meet a Moorish woman called Daina; and a character based on Vargas appears in 'Purgatorio' as a monk, later as a cardinal.
The stories are very interesting and are alternate history. (Another alternate history of the Italian Renaissance already exists, Paul J. McAuley's 'Pasquale's Angel' (1994), based on the premise that Leonardo's inventions were put into actual use, starting the Industrial Revolution three centuries early.) Ms. Holland has done her research very well, and the stories are so good, with such interesting endings, that I will not reveal them here. The dialogue is excellent, and the artwork, by Whitby27, is superb, particularly the sunset on p.45.
There was, for me, a problem with the work in that while the characters were intended to be hybrid, their looks and names, added to by [Whitby27's] artwork, made them to obviously B7 characters. The problem was made obvious in the treatment by the author of reincarnation.
A particular link between the two novellas is the fact that the characters with elements of Blake, Avon, and Vila in the second are reincarnations of the first, reincarnated in the _same_ kind of bodies. Unfortunately, I feel this to be too much of a coincidence. Personally, I have no problem with reincarnation in a story; a favourite book of mine, Nevil Shute's 'In the Wet' (1953), has the reincarnation of a person at its centre. A clergyman hears a dying man talk about the life of a named person three decades in the future; and he later has to baptise a baby born at the time that man died, who has the same name as that named person. This problem in 'Purgatorio' is again added to by the artwork. Again, the characters look like B7 characters, leaving aside variations of hairstyles and clothing.
To conclude, Ms. Holland's 'experiment', as she calls it, is well worth buying, and I would certainly encourage people to read it. The packaging is very attractive, and the dialogue between the characters is lovely. The problem is that it retains the same mistakes of a character insertion story, because in spite of trying to create hybrid characters, they are too much like the original B7 ones in looks and names, something encourages by [Whitby27's] artwork. The problem was added to by having characters in the first novella reincarnate in characters in the second that looked physically alike. In short, it made the B7 references too obvious, when more subtlety would have worked better.A way to improve the story, making it more subtle, would be to change the appearances and names of the characters so as to remove the obvious B7 references, though I would not change the stories and dialogue. That would, I feel, make 'Renaissance' into a very good alternate history. 
"This story is actually very well written. It’s always difficult to write AU in an completely different setting and still keep the characters in character, but this story did it very well.
Avon as Leonardo da Vinci is very interesting, even though I don’t really think in the cannon Avon showed any artistic talents, but he was a genius (or believes himself to be one at any rate), and I enjoyed see him depicted as one. His friendship with Blake and his relationship with Vila are described with depth and feeling, and moving to read. This Avon isn’t exactly the same as cannon Avon, but is still recognisable as what Avon would be like if he was born in Renaissance Italy.But this is a rant and not review is because I got very annoyed with Vila in the story, not because he wasn’t depicted well, because his characterisation was very believable, but the deviances, though small, did stretch his cannon characterisation, and these stretches made him stupid and weak and un-likable."
Of all the zines that [Judith ProctorJudith]] sent me, this was the one I was most looking forward to. I was not disappointed, though in the early stages of the first half I thought I might be. It starts quite withdrawn from the characters - we watch them from a distance as they do things we are told about but not shown. Which makes it difficult to have any fun with the idea - they almost might as well be anyone. That's not how fanfiction works: in fanfiction we spend far too long on dialogue and things like sex that allow you to spend loads of time with the characters!
The other thing that is difficult about the first half of Renaissance part 1 (Chiaroscuro) is that Vila is a major character, but not properly. He's been through too much of a wringer (he's a small child, and he's trying to do what Avon does - neither of which is true of Vila). He comes off a lot better in the second half. Interestingly, Avon, Blake and Vila are the only characters who reappear in the second half, whereas the first is quite well populated with familiar faces (it took me a while to work out that Gian was supposed to be Gan, although on retrospect it's obvious - but Gan is characterised by not having a terrible personality, so it was difficult to pick him out from another nice person). Jenna is only in it fleetingly, but comes off quite well. Avon is very nice - in this his chief problem is that he's too distant and doesn't explain himself well, but he does come across as Avon - that said, the major thing that paints (aha) him as Avon for me is that he is completely obsessed with Blake (a past love for beautiful dead Cally only partially conceals the fact that Avon takes four things with him when he fleas his home - and one of them is a portrait of Cally, and one of them is a portrait of Blake). The bit where Blake is having Machiavelli plans (which work in this universe) is very interesting - I would probably have spent longer (despite what I said above about adventure plots not being my thang) on the practicalities of defeating Servalan, and how that brings them together and also shows that Avon is So Clever (and so is Blake) - we skim over all of that in a matter of sentences. The narrative becomes slower (and yet strangely more involved) once the Medici's come into power and Blake is locked up - I really like the final rescue and how that plot point plays out. In general, nice re-framing of familiar B7 plot points in a way that makes them new.
Is the ending of part 1 necessary? I don't know - it's quite striking, but again doesn't work for me with this being Vila.
Part 2 I like a lot more as it is even MORE about how Avon is gay for Blake, and has a better Vila who does have his own sadface plot but also gets to insult Avon and be insulted by him (though Avon is still very nice). It also has less ground to cover and spends a lot longer on conversations they all had together (and they work together in a lab and Blake is clever too). Avon's book dedications, and the way this feeds into the plot, are perfect.
The plot here is much more tangentially related to a) history and b) Blake's 7, but the familiar themes of sacrifice and betrayal are working well with the terrifying church. We cover less ground in the same length of time with fewer characters, and it works much much better.
Nothing else to say, probably, except that Blake and Avon's names often sound (I think) a bit silly because they are too obviously a cross between their own names and the people they are playing (whereas the others just get normal Italian names, which works better) - Blachiavelli, Cervello d'Avonci. Fortunately/cleverly, Avon mostly gets called Maestro (which I am so very weak for - mm), and Blake mostly gets called by his Christian name.
There are some really nice images here (I really like the cover) - some of which are printed as pencil should be printed, and some of which are the horrible black and white scratchy images that show up sometimes in these zines, although the sunset one which is explicitly mentioned by several as excellent is not, for my money, one of the good ones.Anyway - if you like Blake-Avon, I thoroughly recommend this zine. And I'd like more historical AUs if possible, please, thanks. 
- from Knightwriter
- from Judith Proctor
- by Murray Smith at Judith Proctor's Blake's 7 site
- Read the entire version of redpearl-cao's "Rant: Blake’s 7 Fanzine: Renaissance – Chiaroscuro" dated Sept 12, 2009 here; WebCite.
- comments by Aralias, zine reviews! - Procrastination Central, Archived version, December 27, 2015