31 October 2018

Review: Bernice Summerfield: Present Danger edited by Eddie Robson

Reviewing a book tied into some audio dramas reminds me that I actually haven't cross-linked my audio reviews here of late; there have been three. "Flight into Hull!", a Doctor Who: Short Trip read by Camille Corduri, features Jackie Tyler and the "metacrisis" Doctor. The Root of All Rage is the second Star Trek: Prometheus audiobook, presenting the German 50th-anniversay special. And Jeremiah Bourne in Time is a new, original concept from Big Finish about a teenager travelling between contemporary and Edwardian London. (Quoth my editor when I submitted the last review: "'famous magistrate and infamous nudist' is a hell of a character description, I need to listen to these." Indeed he does and so do you.)

Hardcover, 208 pages
Published 2010
Acquired August 2015
Read October 2018
Bernice Summerfield XIV: Present Danger
edited by Eddie Robson

Present Danger fills in the gap between the audio dramas Resurrecting the Past and Escaping the Future. Partially it serves to just move characters into position (in Resurrecting, Benny and Hass are on Earth, but when Escaping opens, Benny is travelling through time to fight the Deindum with a restored time ring, while Hass is a Deindum prisoner on Maximediras), and partially it serves to dramatize the Deindum War more completely, since it's mostly off-stage in Escaping, but of great importance.

So, it's kind of like Life During Wartime, but it doesn't work quite as well. Life During Wartime felt like a novel by many hands, showing the progression of the Bernice Summerfield range's cast of characters during the months (and months?) of Fifth Axis occupation. Present Danger is more spotty-- it often feels like things that ought to have been dramatized are skipped over in favor of things that are less important. Like, there's no story about how Bev manages to take control back of the Braxiatel Collection, which ought to be a key character point, and the refugees crowding the Collection is referenced in Escaping, but that's dramatized here in only a very cursory way. It would have been nice to see this in Present Danger; instead, the most we get for Bev is a story by Niall Boyce, "The Empire Variations," where she witnesses a time travel adventure Benny has by seeing how works of art in the Collection change as history does. It's a neat conceit, but if the book was going to tell just one Bev story, it doesn't seem like this is the one.

This goes for a number of stories. Like, I enjoyed a lot of them, but they often seemed like sidebars to the Deindum War. It's neat to have a sequel to Battlefield in Jim Smith's "Excalibur of Mars," but should working Brigadier Bambera in really have been a priority of this collection? There are a few too many Benny-on-strange-adventures stories that are tenuously incorporated on the basis of Benny scouring time for weapons to use against the Deindum. That said, Jonathan Blum's "The End Times" is a great Benny-and-Peter tale in the way that only Jon Blum can do, and I was unexpectedly delighted by the return of the tax assessor from Venus Mantrap in Mark Clapham's "In the Ledgers of Madness," where a group of reclusive monks keep their books in an ancient, dangerous language so that anyone who tries to audit them will go mad.

The book's best stories are those that deal with the Deindum War and the characters more concretely. "Winging It" by Lance Parkin focuses on Braxiatel figuring out how to fight the Deindum through time, and it's a clever time war story that I really enjoyed. Kate Orman's "Don't Do Something, Just Sit There" of course is a winner, with Benny trying to protect an indigenous population as Earth and the Deindum duke it out. Simon Guerrier gives us some Doggles and Adrian in "Six Impossible Things," a potent combination given their history; there wasn't just the space for this reckoning in the audio dramas, so I'm glad to read it here. (Is Doggles the worst? Yes.)

LM Myles's "The Better Part of Valour," Oli Smith's "Digital Dreams," and editor Eddie Robson's Hass-focused interludes were among the other highlights. But if this collection was meant to make us feel the immensity of Deindum threat in preparation for Escaping the Future, it didn't quite accomplish that as well as it ought to have.

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