16 May 2012

Professor Bernice Summerfield and the Trilogy of Novellas

Hardcover, 212 pages
Published 2004
Acquired January 2012
Read April 2012
Professor Bernice Summerfield V: A Life in Pieces
by Dave Stone, Paul Sutton & Joseph Lidster

Not yet satisfied by her domination of audio dramas, novels, and collections of short stories, Bernice Summerfield now moves into a new format: the trilogy of novellas. A Life in Pieces is made up of three novellas that interlink to make a complete story.  Given the series's success with the interlinked short story format in Life During Wartime and A Life Worth Living, I was looking forward to this, but I actually ended up being somewhat disappointed.  Nothing is bad, but the book never forms a cohesive whole, either.  It doesn't have to, of course... but I think it might want to.

The first story is by Dave Stone, who I always remember as writing the weird stuff.  That's as true as ever here: Bernice and Jason go on vacation... only it turns out they're secretly on reality television?  There's not so much a plot here as a series of jokes, some of which are funny.  Not all of them, unfortunately, and maybe not even most of them, but there were a couple good ones, and one belter. (When Bernice figures out how to circumvent the reality TV cameras, if you're interested.) As a story, it's kinda there: it wants you to laugh, but you don't want to, so everyone is just standing around awkwardly most of the time.

The next is by Paul Sutton, one of my favorite Big Finish writers, as he's penned Arrangements for War, Thicker Than Water, and No More Lies.  His contribution here is very different from those big, emotional stories, but it's still very character-driven.  It follows Adrian Wall, Bev Tarrant, Irving Braxiatel, a couple cops, and a host of criminals on Earth as everyone tries to get their hands on the Purpura Pawn, a valuable artifact from an alien planet that's recently been stolen... by Jason Kane?  It's a dark, tangled story, but Sutton's knack for character strikes; it's perhaps the most insightful story about Adrian and Bev we've ever had, and there's other good stuff, too, especially with the cop character.  Dark and ominous; I'd call it noir if I knew enough about the genre to feel confident enough to make such an assessment.

Finally, there comes a story by Joseph Lidster about Jason's trial for stealing the Purpura Pawn.  It's the flipside of the events in Sutton's tale, told as a series of reconstructed documents a couple generations later. It's an interesting idea, and I like the narrator of the piece, a very likable and driven fellow who is completely and utterly wrong. The thing is, I think I'd prefer to get into Bernice and especially Jason's heads more than the format allows.  Intellectually admirable, and with some good stuff to say about how we try to uncover truth, but it left me kinda cold in the end.

The three stories are all decent at least, but the book feels lopsided. Stone's story is so goofy compared to the other two dark ones, and its tale is completely irrelevant to the later ones, making it feel like it doesn't even belong in the same book.  I like the idea of the book, and I liked the book itself more than I didn't, but I feel like it could have been done better.

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