The Mind of a Man is a Double-Edged Sword
|Title:||The Mind of a Man is a Double-Edged Sword|
|Publisher:||Strelsau Press & P.I. Press|
|Author(s):||Susan R. Matthews|
|Cover Artist(s):||Pat Cash|
|Date(s):||September 1983, reprinted 1986|
|Medium:||print zine, fanfic|
|Click here for related articles on Fanlore.|
This zine was also part of a trilogy called "Double-Edged Sword Trilogy" published in 1989, see below.
SummarySummary from Southern Enclave:
It has been two years since Star One. On Liberator, Blake, Cally & Vila, along with Tarrant, Dayna & Soolin, are still fighting the Federation. Blake is also looking for Avon who disappeared during the fighting at Star One. Did Avon disappear on his own or was it something more sinister? What will happen when they find him and bring him back to the Liberator?
It is part of a series that was published separately, and then in 1989, as a single volume:
Reactions and Reviews
First (and best) of a trilogy. I am afraid of saying anything in case I spoil it. Maybe some would call it a psychological twistie story, with Avon as the victim, but it is very well done. The other two stories gradually become more sentimental, soppy or 'nice' - too much so, at least for the B7 universe. But they aren't bad, they just don't keep up to the same standard as the first. 
A very very good AU story built around the relationship between Avon and Blake - with one enormous flaw.
Any fan of Avon-torture must enjoy this one. The whole premise of the story is built on his suffering the most appalling agony at Servalan's hands - to put it as non-spoilingly as possible, the torture is almost entirely mental and emotional, and tied very tightly to the close relationship - the love - between him and Blake, which is turned against them both. And the story follows the results of that torture.
Both men are well-written (though I would have preferred a little more reserve in Blake, who was a *touch* too sentimental over Avon for my tastes) and the fierce bond between them very believable. The other characters are quite well-done, especially (in my opinion) Tarrant, who comes over as brash and irritating, but also quite likeable and sympathetic, not an easy mixture to achieve. Vila is a little duller than I like him, somewhat humourless, but not too bad. Servalan is even nastier than in the series, a mixture of sadism, slightly decayed sweetness and steely calculation, and she and her subordinate, who supervised the torture, share some rather enjoyable if psychologically ugly scenes.
Now. The flaw. For the first time, I found myself thinking 'this would have been better as slash.' Cally - one of the three major characters, as central as Avon and Blake - is in my opinion *dreadfully* written (and in a good story, a flaw like this stands out all the more). She starts off by being sullenly dull, and half-way through turns placidly dull - positively bovine. And so the Avon/Cally relationship falls as flat as a three-week-old pancake; even he is duller in their scenes together. There is so much more real emotion in the Blake-Avon scenes that it makes the 'romance' slightly ludicrous to me.
A lesser fault of the story is its slightly humourless quality. The blend of angst and humour that helped make the series so fascinating is admittedly very hard for writers to achieve - especially with an angst level as high as in *this* story - but I did miss the humour that the TV Avon and Vila, especially, could inject into the most grim of storylines. There were odd attempts at humour - especially the end - but they didn't work as well as the drama.
Nevertheless, if you like to see both Avon and Blake put through the wringer, physically and emotionally, as thoroughly as possible - lots and *lots* of hurt and some comfort to sweeten it at the end - this is definitely worth reading and re-reading.There are two sequels to "The Mind of Man" and both have some good points, but are inferior to the first. Mascarada has a quite well-done Jenna, a nicely twisted Dorian, and a mildly dull plot. And the third one Shadowplay has some of the best ideas of the three (a dangerously desperate faux-Scorpio crew, and Avon being forced to relive the worst moment of the torture from the first - this *should* have been explosive) but the whole work is so diffuse, the characters so bland (even Blake and Avon are almost placid this time around, and Cally - tranquil to the point of stupefaction and hugely pregnant in the bargain - has nothing in common with the TV character but the name) that these threads can't have the impact they should have. It also introduces Avon's small son. There ought to be a rule banning this - I have yet to see a story where giving Avon children wasn't a mistake. 
Plain cover, but some interior illustrations. 100+ double-columned pages.
Plot: Avon was captured by the Feds after Star One, and brainwashed to kill Blake the next time he sees him. The entire third and fourth seasons as we saw them took place only in his mind. In the real universe, Blake and the others have been searching for him. They find him and the bulk of the story is his recovery from conditioning.
So... this is the first (or one of the first) fan stories to use the ideas that the postBlake seasons didn't happen and that Avon's head was messed with to make him kill Blake. I like both ideas...rather more than I liked this story. To be fair(ish), this zine was called a "classic" when it was given to me so I probably had excessive expectations. Like most classics, it was something of a let-down, but not completely...
The good bits first: I thought Soolin, Dayna, and Tarrant were pretty well done (but, since my emotional investment in them is low compared to crew #1, I'm less stringent when reading); I also thought some of Avon's interior monologues, especially at the very beginning, were very well done; and I do like both ideas mentioned above. I quite liked Anna, too. She could have her own series of stories...I also was interested in the way the author made Sula and Anna two separate women. Don't know if I liked it, but it was interesting.
But...Cally and Vila are all over the place in terms of characterization. Hidden depths are hinted at, but then contradicted or allowed to die undeveloped. Blake is downright gooey. I appreciate that the author was trying to show at least two aspects of Servalan -- the side that was attracted to Avon, and the side that would let her kill him or, in the case, use him mercilessly -- but I don't feel that it worked very well.
One thing that amused/annoyed me was the repeated insistence that Avon is very masculine, virile, manly...pick your term, it's in there ....while dwelling on the studs (the clothing decorations, not people 8-). It made me wonder if the author was reacting to a slash novel that had just appeared? There are scenes where the men touch, and I don't think that I would have had slash in mind at all as a possible intent in those scenes -- it is possible for two people of the same (or opposite) gender to embrace without it being sexual. I don't know -- I had the impression she was reacting to, or trying to rebut, another source or was very worried any physical contact would be misconstrued, and assumed that describing Avon as virile would eliminate the possibility of a slash relationship. We all know, of course, that all gay men are effeminate... 8-/ <for those of you who don't read smilies -- the last sentence was dripping sarcasm>
But it's entirely possible that I have completely misinterpreted the author's intent...Has anybody else read this story? Care to comment?
Wow. This is an oldie, in point of fact the FIRST Blake's 7 zine I ever
read. I loved the premise, still do, but would agree with most of [another listmember's] criticisms, especially Blake being "gooey". Susan Matthews (who I'm pretty sure no longer writes fan fiction) was into slash, but I don't think it was intended in this particular zine.
Some of the problems with Cally and Vila are because the novel had two sequels, "Mascarada" and "Shadowplay", in which the plot grew steadily more convoluted and Blake AND Cally and sometimes Vila got all gooey. And Tarrant behaved like a kid.
Despite all this, I remember enjoying the trilogy very much-- I had to read the latter two parts as they came out, which is always exciting, especially ifyou haven't been in the fandom very long.
DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD and MASCARADA. Again, a predictable choice. I'm a bit different in that I prefer Mascarada to DES...Avon gets a bit "soft" in DES and I think he regains his "edge" in Mascarada. For some reason, I didn't care much for SHADOWPLAY, the last part of the triology...perhaps because Cally got relegated to "pregnant lady" status. 
"The Mind of Man is a Double-Edged Sword" was good, for its subtlety. If you didn't know it was an AU, you wouldn't find out too soon that it was an AU - and I like surprises. I dunno, it was well written. The later stories in the trilogy get too soppy, but the first one was good. 
"Why I Hate Susan Matthews"
I didn't half mind DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD musing on the B-A relationship, and thinking how disgusting and dreadful it would be if two such strong and masculine men were sexually involved. (Can you say homophobic?) I just could not believe that, and the implications were equally appalling, given the themes that crop up in her stories: chiefly, severe physical abuse. Apparently it's perfectly spiffy for two strong, "only men to beat the hell out of each other; but, ooh-ick how gross and horrible if they were to make love to each other.Matthews' style is also an example of a certain type of h/c that aggravates me. Where scenarios are set up to bring the fellas close, lots of touching and holding and emotional declarations, but taking pains to make sure no one thinks they're implying that nasty slash stuff. I've said it before: if someone sees a B/A relationship in my gen stuff, I'm not gonna have a hissy fit about it. 
(My thanks to burntcandlemas for lending me this one! Even though I really disliked it, I really wanted to read it. If it hadn't been a borrowed copied I would have spent loads of money tracking it down before then finding out that I hated it.)
I don't have much to say about this one, because I read it ages ago (or rather, I tried to read it ages ago - I never finished it), but I thought it fitted with the general theme of intense smarm and A/C that I'm going to talk about in a bit, so might as well glance back at it.
Essentially, as I say, I found it unreadable, though it is true that it's very intense B-A smarm (which is a favourite genre of mine). The plot is that Avon was captured by Servalan and made to dream series 3 and 4, which are a semi-accurate reflection of what is actually happening, as Blake has acquired Tarrant and Dayna and Soolin. I think Servalan (or perhaps the woman who Avon and we believe to be Anna - more later) wants to use Avon to help predict what Blake will do... or something.
I think there definitely is an interesting plot in here somewhere, particularly around the double Annas - Avon's actual ex-girlfriend (who I think has a child who isn't his?) is an attractive black woman, and the Anna we know is actually Bartholmew. But the writing was very hard to get through.
Also - my primary concern with this fic is that when he can't remember his name and is hanging out on this planet doing farm work (farm work!) Avon goes by the name 'Studs'. It's like Paul Darrow wrote this.
Let's talk quickly about the smarm since that's why I was here - for me, even as someone who thinks that B and A love each other etc, it's too much. I find Blake's intense devotion to Avon and the way it manifests before he eventually gets rescued to be too much (N.B. I've got some stuff about 'Mindfire', which I infinitely prefer' below), and I find the way they are able to talk about their feelings when they reunite too much. The actual pairing in this fic is A/C (as it often is in A-B smarm), but the portrait of Cally is as poor as the other reviews on Fanlore claim. Plus, the relationship with Blake is depicted as far more important to him, and the heights of ecstatic romantic emotion are all to do with Blake. Smarm fics that should really be slash fics have driven me to crazy before, but I don't like this one enough to get upset (even though I do think Blake is more important to Avon than Cally is). Something that helps the lack of crazy is that, as soon as you go over the top with the devotion... it does make them feel very little like the characters we saw on screen. And this me saying this – me.
[snipped]Essentially, I'm glad I sold 'Shadowplay' ages ago, because I was never going to reach it. 
I remembering liking the idea of Mind of Man a lot more than the execution (and definitely, I suggest you don't read the sequels, they go downhill badly, though again the ideas are better than the execution). Cally turns positively bovine... okay, she is anything but my favourite characters, but still, it hurt.... Cally's near the bottom in my list of the characters (along with Dayna, who annoys the crap out of me) and I can quite easily handwave A/C away.... given I spent years doing it :) 
- by Kathryn Andersen
- by Sally Manton at Judith Proctor's Blake's 7 site
- Zine review: "The Mind of a Man is a Double-Edged Sword" on Lysator dated March 2, 1993.
- Zine review: "The Mind of a Man is a Double-Edged Sword" on Lysator dated March 2, 1993.
- Lysator, Pat Nussman, August 31, 1994.
- Lysator, Kathryn A, Jan 1995.
- from a fan in Rallying Call #14
- Zines - smarm mainly, and Stadler Link - Procrastination Central, Archived version, post by Aralias, 2016
- comments by sallymn at Zines - smarm mainly, and Stadler Link - Procrastination Central, Archived version, post by Aralias, 2016