Trooper Orac's Fantastic Plastic Army
|Title:||Trooper Orac's Fantastic Plastic Army|
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Trooper Orac's Fantastic Plastic Army is a Blake's 7 fanzine, edited by Neil Faulkner and produced by Judith Proctor. Published in 2001, it runs to 134 pages and contains predominantly gen material, with one slash story. This zine is sometimes referred to as "tofpa."
Contributors are Andrew Williams, Ellynne Grant, Executrix, Firerose, Ika, Julia Stamford, Marian de Haan, Morrigan, Steve Rogerson and Tom Forsyth, with art by Andrew Williams, Firerose and Neil Faulkner.
From the Editorial Online
Having finally found the courage to announce that I would not be doing another zine, I promptly got my arm twisted into... doing another zine. The first submissions arrived within days, and they were so good I could hardly back out. For a long while I provisionally called the zine Eric, not for want of a better name, but because I wasn't sure I could pull off my rather ambitious plans for a cover. These plans were first hatched in 1997, with B7's 20th anniversary looming. Had this idea of launching the latest issue of AltaZine in January 1998 with the catchy subtitle It was twenty years ago today... Does this remind you of a certain song? It did me. Unfortunately I didn't have a PC then, so my graphics potential wasn't up to much. Never mind, better late than never. 
From the Editorial in the Print Zine
I decided, some time after Pressure Point had finally made it into print, that I was not going to do another zine. Foolishly, I announced this to the world, or at least online B7 fandom, and promptly found myself armlocked into... doing another one. This time, however, I mean it. I am not going to do another zine, okay? Production for this one has been delayed by way too far a margin, somethings for excusable reason (like people disappearing just as I wanted to collar them on crucial matters, but more for less excusable ones. Not least of these is a growing disaffection with fandom in general and fanfic in particular, but having promised to do a zine, a zine had to be done. Eventually. So, later rather than sooner, here it is.
To say that I think this is the best collection of B7 fan fiction I have ever put together would be immodest were it not for the fact that credit lies entirely with the contributors. There should be something to satisfy just about every genfic reader here. There are essentially traditional character-steeped stories in the shape of Marian de Haan's light and frothy "A Clever Plan" and Morrigan's darker, angstier "The Second," whilst Tom Forsyth's "Escape" sidelines character to make way for hardtech pragmatism. The popular fannish activity of weaving deeper continuity into apparent canonical dead ends is featured in Andrew Williams' "Animal Nature," whilst the PGP (without which no anthology zine is complete) is catered for by Morrigan (yet again) in "The One Shot" and Ellynne Grant with "Twilight." The more literary trend that seems to be infiltrating fanfic these days can be found in Firerose's "A Short Ride in a Fast Machine" and Ika's "With/Out Blake," which I take to be examples of that postmodern thing everyone bar me is talking about. Unusually, for one of my znes, there is only one humorous story, Marian de Haan's "Enter the Penguins," which is ultimatly my own fault for trying to persuade the rest of the world that penguins are pivotal to any understanding of B7.
Even slash fans need not feel entirely left out, since there seems to be an inadvertent slashy subtext to a couple of pieces which is obviously quite unintentional on the part of the respective authors. They know better than to slip slash under my nose on the pretext that it's really gen.
In addition to the main stories, I am extremely grateful to Steve Rogerson, Julia Stamford, and Executrix for supplying sorely needed vignettes at very short notice to fill the dreaded Bit White Space, bane of editors everywhere. Doubly grateful, in fact, since all three supplied gen stories when two of them in particular are not especially noted for working in that field.
But to give credit where it it's really due, it has to go to Judith Proctor, for volunteering to take on the production and distribution side of things. Without her, this zine would have never got of the ground. If you're into zines, then you'll know who Judith is and how much she's done for B7 fandom over the last ten years or so.Finally, my apologies to everyone who's been waiting for me to get my arse in gear and finish this zine. It really has been an unreasonably long period of time, which is why this is my last. Quite frankly, I think I'd be quite happy to never see another fanzine ever again. I hope you don't feel the same way.
- Editorial (ii)
- What Might Have Been by Firerose. (PWB, Avon/Blake). Back in the domes, Blake comes into contact with a curiously magnetic figure. (1)
- Physics 101 by Morrigan. (S2) For every action there is an equal reaction, as the Terra Nostra are determined to prove to Blake. Grim and gritty hurt/comfort. (9)
- Aunty Anna's Agony Casebook #1 (38)
- A Clever Plan by Marian de Haan. (S2) As one plan goes disastrously wrong, another one is hatched. Will it fare any better? Fast-paced lightweight action romp where everyone in the crew has their moment of glory (but especially Avon and Vila). (39)
- A Short Ride in A Fast Machine by Firerose. (PWB/AU) Five strangers on a train find themselves hurled into fleeting acquaintance. (61)
- Enter The Penguins by Marian de Haan. (S1/humour) Stranded on an icy planet, Avon and Vila encounter some unlikely saviours. (68)
- The Second by Morrigan. (S2, Avon/Blake). The planet Parrish has some rather antiquated customs, as Blake and Avon discover when they fall foul of local protocol. Something to do with pistols at dawn, apparently... (71)
- Aunty Anna's Agony Casebook #2 (80)
- Begin as You Mean to Go On, vignette by Executrix (81)
- With/Out Blake by Ika. (S3). Blake's name and fame reach far into the Federation's military machine. But is his reputation all it's made out to be? One Federation officer is about to learn the hard way. (82)
- Escape by Tom Forsyth. (S4) Avon is a prisoner of the Federation. Does he brood on the circumstances that led him to this predicament? Does he ponder over his continuing obsession with the long-absent Blake? Like hell he does! (103)
- Eavesdropper, vignette by Julia Stamford (112)
- Animal Nature by Andrew Williams. (S4) Justin is dead, Dayna is grieving, Avon is doing a bit of detective work ... with a horrific truth waiting to be discovered. (113)
- The One Shot by Morrigan. (PGP) In the aftermath of Gauda Prime, Blake interrogates Vila ... again. And when he finally gets the answers he wants, what will he do with Avon? (119)
- Twilight by Ellynne Grant. (PGP) As events on the far side of the galaxy hurtle to their inexorable conclusion, Cally has two regrets. That she survived Terminal, and that she didn't kill Avon when she had the chance. (125)
- With additional vignette stories by Executrix (Begin As You Mean To Go On), Julia Stamford (Eavesdropper) and Steve Rogerson (The End), art by Andrew Williams and Firerose, two excerpts from Aunty Anna's photo casebook, and a special guest appearance by Britney Spears. (126)
Reactions and Reviews
[What Might Have Been]: (Sex? No) PWB not quite slash, not quite friendship, high tension all the way through. Very nicely written. 
'Trooper Orac's Fantastic Plastic Army' is rather different from Mr Faulkner's previous anthology zines. For a start, at 134 pages -- with ten meaty stories plus assorted shorts and cartoons -- it's exactly the size of 'Stadler Link' and 'Pressure Point' combined (can this be a coincidence?). For seconds, the production values have leaped: gone forever the black-and-white, ink-jet printed, side-stapled, coffee-stained covers in favour of an all-singing, all-dancing (all too literally) colour photomontage. 'tofpa' also contains a more equitable distribution of B7 characters than either of the previous zines, as well as a much higher concentration of serious pieces. And finally, the zine includes several stories with 'adult' content, and thus must probably be considered a 'mixed' zine.
The typesetting is unpretentious, clean and readable. In general, the proofing is of a reasonable quality, though someone should probably inform Mr Faulkner of the difference between 'discrete' and 'discreet' (we all have our blind spots...). 'tofpa' might be considered an art-lite zine -- apart from the covers, there are only three small illos by Andrew Williams (including an excellent seedy Justin on p118) plus a single full-page Cally by me. The deficit is supplied by occasional photomontages and an amusing couple of cartoons masquerading as Aunty Anna's Casebook.
'tofpa' contains three long pieces and, while two illustrate different archetypes of the 'Blake's 7' fanfic genre, Ika's 'With/out Blake' is an original. In a style somewhat reminiscent of Neil Faulkner's own 'Kriegspielen', 'With/out Blake' creates the supremely believable Space Commander Siv Holland and her post-Galactic war world. With excellent characterisation of the third season crew, plus cameos from various well-known figures, the saga moves effortlessly from an outer-world refugee camp to Space Command HQ to an interrogation unit and finally to the _Liberator_, taking in asides into revolutionary and sexual politics, not to mention a bit of fanfic cliché bashing along the way.
On the other hand, Marian de Haan's rollicking ensemble adventure 'A Clever Plan' makes ingenious use of a familiar format, with a mission that just *keeps on* going awry. Great characterisation and deft humour in this light-hearted story where almost everybody wins.
Morrigan's 'Physics 101' is an illustration of Newton's third law -- the Action being Blake's destruction of the shadow farm on Zondar, the Reaction being the Terra Nostra's response -- in the form of a hurt/comfort story. Though the idea is novel and intelligently handled, I hope the author will forgive me if I say that I felt nearly 30 pages might be a little too long for the exposition.
Morrigan also contributes two medium-length pieces. Quite simply, 'The One Shot' is the most moving PGP I've ever read, and I'm delighted that it's found a home here. 'The Second' is primarily an Avon--Blake character piece, written to illustrate the Freedom City 'Seven Deadly Virtues' theme. Set in a skilfully evoked primitive culture, it's the little details that make this piece so entrancing: Avon tearing his hanky in half, little boys scuttling after pistol shot for melting down and recasting, the collaborative ruse to persuade Blake to wear body armour...
'tofpa' appears to be a particularly masculine zine: not only a male editor, but no fewer than *three* male contributors! The editor's warning 'Escaping from imprisonment by pretending to be violently sick, or crawling through conveniently large ventilation ducts, does not normally win me over' seems to have inspired Tom Forsyth's story 'Escape', which gives a reasonably realistic view (with one obvious initial caveat) of the options open to a particularly ingenuous prisoner in a Federation base. There are some interesting thoughts on mutoid technology along the way, as well as a few cute jokes. I found the characterisation a touch bland, but you can't have it all. Readers of a delicate stomach might appreciate a four sick-bag 'ick' warning for Andrew Williams' 'Animal Nature' -- a well-written attempt to make something interesting and biologically plausible out of the similarly named episode. (For those of us who can count to three, Steve Rogerson also contributed to the shorts.)
Another justly reviled episode is the focus of 'Twilight', by Ellynne Grant. (I won't reveal which for spoiler reasons.) While nicely written with a lovely dreamlike feel, I felt that this was a somewhat less successful rehabilitation job: Avon as a repressed telepath has become a bit of a cliché and the plot developments felt to me to have been rather shoe-horned into the author's ideas.
And finally there are my two contributions, both prequels. 'A Short Ride in a Fast Machine' was conceived cinematically with accompanying music for each section, and speaks to the difficulties of connecting with others in a city environment. It's a five PoV piece which was great fun to write; the reader can decide how successful it is. 'What Might Have Been' examines the life of a revolutionary in the sterile environment of the Earth domes. The story brings together Blake and Avon in an environment without guns, bombs or pursuit ships, only to find that problems with trust as well as their differing political ideologies still lead inevitably to tragedy. For what it's worth, I personally consider this to be my best story yet using the B7 characters.
Among the shorts, the Executrixian 'Begin As You Mean To Go On' stood out for me as an examplar of the great effect a skilful author can achieve with just a few hundred well-chosen words.
Interestingly, Mr Faulkner does not appear to deign to put his name on this zine, though interested parties might spy his face hiding near the back on the cover. He does, however, contend in his editorial that this is the best collection of B7 fan fiction he has ever amassed. Given the quality of its antecedents, this is rather a forceful claim: 'Stadler Link' and 'Pressure Point' each contain unforgettable, stand-out pieces of fiction -- I'm referring, of course, to Alison Page's 'The Young Ladies Home Companion' and Nickey Barnard's 'Haunted' -- which make one look differently at the series afterwards. I don't see in 'tofpa' any such stand-out piece; in my opinion, the strength of the new zine lies in the uniformly high quality of *all* the contributions, as well as the exceptionally varied nature of the contents.
In this light, I find it interesting to compare 'tofpa' with two other recently published anthology zines with predominantly gen content, Judith Proctor's 'Star Four' (Autumn 2000) and my own 'ttba' (February 2001). (All three zines are available via Judith.) Unsurprisingly, the three zines overlap substantially in their contributor base (of 26 authors, 11 appeared in two or more), yet the differing tastes of the editors have made for rather different flavours.
Making generalisations is bound to reflect a degree of observer bias. With that caveat, I'd say 'Star Four' focuses on character and character interactions, with a strong bias towards ensemble pieces (50--60%); stylistically, it generally sticks to the more traditional end of the spectrum. In 'ttba' I set out with the aim of accumulating a range of writing styles and structures, and was lucky enough to receive tribs that reflected my interests. My bias as a reader is towards small intimate character pieces, and that's again reflected in the contents (only 30% ensemble). I'd say that 'tofpa' is more similar to 'ttba', in that it encompasses a wide range of writing styles and treatments, and tends to focus on the individual/small group, rather than large ensemble pieces (again around 30%). In terms of looks, 'tofpa' has a much more straightforward typesetting style than 'ttba', and is much less heavily illustrated than either 'Star Four' or 'ttba'.In conclusion, I'd say that 'Trooper Orac's Fantastic Plastic Army' is an excellent zine, well worth its asking price, whose contents are sufficiently wide ranging to please anyone but the most ardent slash fan. The high quality of the fiction included in 'tofpa', 'Star Four' and 'ttba' (if I might be so immodest), as well as 'Stadler Link' and 'Pressure Point', is a tribute to the B7 fans who continue to write it. Personally, I'd have been sad to have missed out on *any* of these zines.
[See this fan's comments about the cover above.]
This zine, btw, though 'gen' is strongly B/A, although most of my favourite stuff (except Physics 101 weirdly) is on the internet already.
What Might Have Been by Firerose: I really really like this one, which is one of the most interesting PWB that I've read. Lots of good stuff about grading and living in the Federation, a nice Bran Foster. It keeps Avon's thoughts so close, though, that I find the ending (where we still don't know what he thinks or why he's done what he did at any point) a bit unsatisfying. Interesting stuff, though.
Physics 101 by Morrigan: This is also extremely good and interesting. I love the idea of the Terra Nostra getting revenge for 'Shadow' - and in a way that is strongly and cleverly linked to the 'crime' and that Blake can't oppose (maybe he's slightly too weak as a character/Avon has to have all the ideas, but not in a hurtful way). It makes that episode (really awesome!) feel like it has repercussions, and makes the Terra Nostra genuinely terrifying as villains. The H/C section does go on for a long time, but I enjoyed it all (for me, like What Might Have Been this is also a seriously gay fic, btw, even though it's marketed as gen). I didn't much like Morrigan's B/A in Forbidden Star 3 (maybe I was wrong?), but after this I ate up all the other stuff posted on the internet. My favourite is Pyrexia, which I really should comment on.
A Clever Plan by Marian de Haan: I skimmed this. Unlike the others, which are my favourite variety of gen that is actually intense stuff about feelings, this has an adventure plot but doesn't seem to secretly be about how much everyone loves everyone. No offence to it - it just isn't for me.
A Short Ride in A Fast Machine by Firerose: I like but do not love this, which is a bit too weird for me.
Enter The Penguins by Marian de Haan: Chose not to read this one.
The Second by Morrigan: This one (where Avon and Blake have to fight some random lords for their honour) is obviously my crack, and accordingly I liked it very much - I would have liked it more if they'd liked each other more, even in a smarm way (instead Avon disdains Blake and is so sexy that he sleeps with a beautiful lady repeatedly while Blake's in a conjoining room - I don't find this likely, but then I'm a Blakestan, rather than the other one), but Blake is honourable/learns how to be very good with a gun, and Avon knows him well - yes please. I still prefer Physics 101, but this is good stuff. It's also online.
With/Out Blake by Ika: I really like this one, which is largely about an OC, but she's entertaining if you like that sort of thing (feels not very B7, but lots of fun). I really like the conflict Siv has with loyalty and honour and fellowship being part of the Federation on one side, and distain for the leadership (which is very funny) and desire to actually do good rather than just be told one is doing good on the other. I think the ending reveal is very nicely done, too.
Escape by Tom Forsyth: The summary for this piece is: "Avon is a prisoner of the Federation. Does he brood on the circumstances that led him to this predicament? Does he ponder over his continuing obsession with the long-absent Blake? Like hell he does! If only he had, I probably would have loved it! As it was, I skimmed. It's OK.
Animal Nature by Andrew Williams: This one is a whole fic written to justify one idea (how can we make series 4 even MORE depressing???). It's OK, but I'm not attracted to the idea. Also - old fandom, you were obsessed with Og! We'll talk about Tales later on, but seriously - Animals is bad, but Og isn't that interesting! Jarvik is bad and interesting! Let's talk more about him.
The One Shot by Morrigan: I wanted to love this one, because it's a PGP B-A fic about crazy love (again - only very vaguely not slash), but as I read it I became more and more bemused. Blake's actions are completely bewildering to me and he deserves what he gets.
Twilight by Ellynne Grant: Cally fics are often not for me. This one is not for me - the summary is very misleading too (unlike that one where Soolin goes to mercy kill Avon in whatever it was - SoCo7.5? I liked that one)This is a good zine. The fact that so much of it is on the internet means that I don't think you need to seek it out, though. 
This review was originally written for a Blake-oriented apa, hence the focus on Blake.
Trooper Orac's Fantastic Plastic Army--Edited by Neil Faulkner, 134 double-column pages. Basically gen, but one story contains explicit sex and two contain foul language (these are clearly noted in the Table of Contents).
For starters, the cover is a blast. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is my favorite Beatles album, and I recognized immediately that it was the inspiration for the montage Neil has assembled. (Which is not to say I recognized all the individual images. You can test your own recognition quotient by clicking on the picture at the right and having a look.
The zine consists of 11 stories, plus 3 short vignettes and a couple of cartoons from what Neil calls "Aunt Anna's Casebook." Apart from one story featuring telepathic penguins, these constitute the humor in the zine. (Since I prefer the serious stuff, that's not a complaint :).) Apart from the cover and the cartoons, there's very little artwork. (That's not a complaint either, just an observation.) The quality of the writing is consistently high (ranging from competent to outstanding), and the Blake quotient is more than acceptable (he's a major player in 6 of the 11 stories and puts in an appearance in 2 others). So, do I have any complaints at all about this zine? Well, yes...
Blake may be present for much of the action, but (in my opinion), he isn't always in character. In fact, he's sometimes extremely out of character. For example, in "What Might Have Been" by Firerose, which posits that Blake and Avon did know one another during their common tenure on the Aqitar Project. It didn't feel like Blake to me, and while it did feel like Avon, the relationship depicted is difficult to imagine (eg, attending concerts together, dining on gourmet food, etc). Though a hint of homoerotic attraction between them lends credibility to these "quasi-dates", it diminishes the overall credibility of the portrayal. On the other hand, if you like stories that try to flesh out the details of everyday life in the domes, this one gets high grades on that score.
Firerose's other offering, "A Short Ride in a Fast Machine", portrays a chance meeting on a train (several years before The Way Back) between Blake, Avon, Jenna, Vila and Gan. Here, too, the author puts a lot of effort into depicting "life in the domes", the grading system, and so forth, but again only Avon was really recognizable to me, and I was totally confused about Gan, who seemed to have two women in his life, contrary to canon. In fairness, I should add, that it's possible my enjoyment of the story was impaired by my lack of familiarity with the 3 pieces of music selected to "accompany" various parts of it.
The zine contains 3 stories by Morrigan, all of which deal, in whole or part, with the Blake-Avon relationship. The least convincing to me was "The One Shot", a pgp in which Blake puts Avon on trial for attempting to kill him. I didn't buy the verdict, the sentence, the way in which the sentence was carried out or Blake's reaction after it was carried out. (Morrigan clearly envisions a GP Blake who's changed far more radically from the earlier man than I do.)
Fortunately, her take on 2nd season Blake is much closer to my own :). Both "Physics 101", in which the Terra Nostra attempts to take revenge for Blake's destruction of their Shadow crop, and "The Second", in which Blake and Avon get caught up in the local customs of a planet steeped in medieval chivalry, are, for the most part, faithful in characterization and well-plotted. Blake's anguish in the first story when the crime syndicate targets not him personally, but Avon and Jenna, is entirely believable, as is the sense of danger and suspense over whether a solution will be found in time to save them. (There is one awful interior monologue in which Blake frets about the meaning of physical touch while holding an unconscious Avon and worrying that the others will see him and "misunderstand"--but, hey, what's one scene out of 30 pages?)
Marian de Haan has 2 stories: the aforementioned telepathic penguin romp and "A Clever Plan"--a 1st-season story involving several clever plans, one of which goes badly awry, one of which gets thwarted (but that's good because it was a bad plan by a "bad" character :)) and one of which ends nicely for perpetrators Avon and Vila (a trial run, no doubt, for their later escapade in Gambit). Nothing terribly profound in this one, but I daresay it wasn't meant to be, and not everyone shares my appetite for unremittingly profound :).
The remaining story in which Blake puts in a brief appearance (but in which his absent spirit overshadows much of the action and events) is a 3rd-season story by Ika called "With/Out Blake." This is another long piece, extremely well-written and narrated by an original female character: a Space Commander who becomes disillusioned with the Federation while fighting beside rebels in the Intergalactic War. This is the non-gen story in the zine, but it's also the most original and the one which most held my interest (despite an explicit sex scene between the narrator and Tarrant, which I found gratuitous, and a statement that Blake and Avon were lovers, which I found preposterous). Totally believable portrayal of life in an oppressive society, spot-on characterization of, and dialogue between, the 3rd-season crew, an equally well-rendered Servalan (I can believe the portrayal of her as bisexual) and masterful little touches throughout, connecting the story to canonical events, both prior and yet to come.
As for the 3 stories without Blake in them...
"Escape" by Tom Forsyth is a super-technical account of Avon's escape from a Federation prison, whose only redeeming feature for me (the story's, not the prison's :)) is its exploration of his ability to resist torture. (I mean that seriously. One of my pet peeves in fan writing is writers who take the position that nobody can possibly resist torture and that to imagine otherwise is hopelessly naive. Having had contact in real life with people who've been tortured, I can attest that the "sophisticated" position is wrong. Some people do resist. Honest.) Oh, and I'm sure there's a contingent of fans out there who will hungrily devour all those technical details I ran screaming from :).
"Animal Nature" by Andrew Williams is an extension of the episode Animals combining Dayna-centered hurt/comfort with an investigation into just who were those subjects Justin experimented on to create his animals. The story's conclusion is meant to come as a shock but, while chilling, didn't really take me by surprise. (Then again, I was around for a discussion on Lysator some time back that floated the idea in question. If you weren't--or don't remember that discussion--you might well receive the intended jolt full-strength.)
"Twilight" by Ellynne Grant is difficult to describe in any detail without giving away the goods. Suffice it to say, it's a Cally-centered story which posits that she didn't die on Terminal, but was recaptured by the Thaarn. Events of late 3rd and 4th season are then cast in a new and eerie light. Did I believe it? Not really, but I appreciate the imagination that went into crafting it, and if you're a Cally fan or into the Avon-Cally relationship, you'll probably be moved by it.Bottom Line: I didn't personally find as much to my liking in this zine as in Neil's two previous ones, but good writing makes up for a lot, and the sheer variety of the stories virtually guarantees that few fans who buy it will regret the purchase. 
- comments by Aralias, zine reviews! - Procrastination Central, Archived version, December 27, 2015
- from Judith Proctor's Blake's 7 site
- from Katy and Molly's 77+ Favourite A/B and A-B Stories, August 5, 2013
- Review by Tavia (accessed 31 October 2012)
- comments by Aralias, zine reviews! - Procrastination Central, Archived version, December 27, 2015
- from Review by Sondra Sweigman (December 21, 2007)