21 June 2012

Professor Bernice Summerfield and the Novellas' Curse

Hardcover, 218 pages
Published 2006
Acquired February 2012

Read May 2012
Professor Bernice Summerfield VI: Parallel Lives
by Rebecca Levene, Stewart Sheargold & Dave Stone

Ms Jones, the Braxiatel Collection's venerable administrator who made the mistake of falling in love, is gone. Bernice Summerfield is sent out to track her down in an anthology that, like A Life in Pieces, is made up of three closely-linked novellas.

Well, sort of. The collection is bound together by some typically strong writing from Simon Guerrier, who writes a four-part story that precedes and follows each of the novellas. This leads into the first, "The Serpent's Tooth" by Rebecca Levene, where Bernice finds herself on an out-of-the-way planet where Ms Jones has been sighted-- a planet where women are required to cover themselves up completely and hide from sight. So, she disguises herself as a man and soon finds herself involved in a quest to win the hands of the daughters of the king. As you do. Levene writes a story that does what the best Bernice stories do, moving between light humor and dark implications, sketching in a commentary on gender relations that almost seems worthy of Ursula K. Le Guin. Levene was the editor of the New Adventures for much of Bernice's run in the title, and she clearly gets what makes the character work.

As in A Life in Pieces, the middle novella features Adrian and Bev Tarrant on their own adventure. "Hiding Places" is the prose debut of Stewart Sheargold, who wrote two crazy Bernice audios (The Mirror Effect and The Masquerade of Death), and his experimental tendencies turn out to be fantastic in novella format. As Adrian and Bev try to find Ms Jones in a strange hotel, he gives us great prose, terrifying events, and some great characterization for these two oft-underused leads. Between this and Sutton's novella in A Life in Pieces, these characters are being handled very well, and I hope the line keeps this up-- and that we get to see some of this depth given to the actors playing the characters in the audio dramas.

Lastly we come to Dave Stone's "Jason and the Bandits; or, O, Jason, Where Art Thou?" I wanted to like this story, I really did. It features Jason trying to catch up with Benny when he's heard of what's going on, but a series of increasingly unlikely events keep him away. It's a good idea and a really fun story, but it conflicts completely with the tone of the other two novellas and the linking material-- much as happened with Dave Stone's contribution to A Life in Pieces. You can have one oddball story in an anthology of dozens of short stories, but I don't think it works in a collection of novellas, where it means that a whole third of the book is off on a weird tangent. Especially when it it's the last novella in the book, coming just before the incredible climax.

For incredible it is. Guerrier once again shows his depth of understanding of Bernice and her supporting cast, and that last line is oh-so-sad, to boot...

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