Parallel Lives

Parallel Lives is the second Bernice Summerfield novella collection published by Big Finish productions.

Parallel Lives (I)

Parallel Lives (I)
Author(s): Simon Guerrier
Recurring Characters: Bernice Summerfield
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Goofs: Peter is said to be nearly six years old here, but was only two years old in The Tree of Life and it is stated that it is only two years since the occupation.

Continuity: We get the first hint here that Ms. Jones is from the future.

Peter is said to be nearly six years old (see Goofs) and has started talking.

The Braxiatel Collection was in Draconian space a century earlier; they are claiming that it is still in their territory under a caveat about war reparations - Ms Jones tells Braxiatel that it will come to nothing. There is also a Martian asking "awkward questions" about some of Braxiatel's artefacts.

Location: The Braxiatel Collection, 2606AD.

Unrecorded Adventures: Bernice is currently visiting Etheria.

The Bottom Line: A deceptively uneventful opening that actually hints of some of the traumas about to overtake the Collection...

The Serpent's Tooth

The Serpent's Tooth
Author(s): Rebeca Levene
Recurring Characters: Bernice Summerfield
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Roots: The civilization of Atwalla 3 is very obviously based on extremist Islamic states, with public executions and the complete lack of rights for women. There are references to Hansell and Gretel, The Hobbit (Bernice's dispatch of the Dragon and the whole quest subplot), Weetabix, Frankenstein, The Keystone Kops, Alice in Wonderland (the Cheshire Cat), and Brer Rabbit.

Dialogue Triumphs: "Greetings, human female. I wish no offence, but would be most grateful if you would consent to breed with me."

Continuity: The Fallan Nebula is a long way from the Braxiatel Collection, in a spiral arm of the galaxy that few people visit. The whole region of space containing Atwalla 3 is under cultural quarantine by order of the Military Educational Complex of the Spartan System. The Atwallan civilization has achieved space travel, but only on a local scale. Atwallan civilization is in decline; the Atwallans were once extremely accomplished genetic engineers. In order to achieve peace with their neighbours, the Atwallans genetically engineered their women to be cross-fertile with any other species, marrying their daughters off to the families of the species with which they had conflict. They suddenly realized however, that they had thus given themselves the power to breed themselves out of existence, creating future generations of hybrids; panicking, they slaughtered all their half-breed children and started to oppress their women, keeping them virtual prisoners so that they could never find alien men to breed with. Atwalla 3 is the seat of power in the region. Women have no rights whatsoever, and are barely regarded as citizens. Portred is a town or city on Atwalla 3. Amongst the creatures created by the machine on Atwalla 3 is the Great Beast of Wendt (a dragon); five inch long flying pixies with sharp teeth; and a big blobby grey shapeless thing with an assortment of furred and human-like limbs. An Emperor, Jodal, rules the Atwallan civilization. Women who disobey the men are executed by being burned alive. Sligwraith liver in blatterwort sauce is an Atwallan recipe. Bernice tells Jodal that she has engineered a virus that will render Atwallan men as cross-fertile as the women, and uses it to blackmail him into starting to free the female population, giving them the same rights as men.

The aliens have gills, and feeding tendrils, and are bioctopoid with sixteen tentacles. Their mottled reptilian skins change colour and texture depending on their emotions. They can control this, allowing them to blend into their backgrounds like chameleons, a talent they use for stealth. They are a head higher than a human, and are ocean-dwelling organisms, although they can survive on land. They use translation devices clipped to their belts to communicate with the Atwallans. They call their planet Home. During the pacification campaign of 905, the Atwallan Emperor's army (Jodal's grandfather's army) dropped an antichloroplastic agent into the oceans of Home, forcing the aliens into the open and leaving with them with no option but to sue for peace; the Z chromosome carried by the males rendered them immune to the toxin, but the females all died. Thiss and his group want a group of willing Atwallan women, lead by Jodal's daughter Jesh, to breed with them, their genetically engineered ability to breed with other species meaning that the aliens can at least have children. They want children, more than they want their species to remain genetically pure.

Bernice has never been the Fallan Nebula before. She travels to Atwalla 3 in search of Ms. Jones, who left the Collection suddenly at the end of 'Parallel Lives (I)'; Atwalla 3 is the last place she and Brax believed that Clarissa had gone to. She uses prosthetics and a voice-modulating implant to disguise herself as a man and adopts the name Bernhart whilst visiting Atwalla 3, claiming to be a friend of Bernice who is following up leads for her. Braxiatel suggests that she has an operation to turn her into a man as a precaution, a suggestion she flatly dismisses. She badly wrenches her shoulder whilst fighting the Great Beast of Wendt. She eats a thin-limbed monkey-like creature with the Knights. She later drinks a drink provided by the aliens which they claim has been biometrically matched to human dietary requirements but which doesn't taste very nice. She marries Jesh, the Emperor's daughter whilst posing as Bernhart, and later marries the Emperor of Atwalla 3 once her deception is discovered. When she agrees to marry the Atwallan Emperor, she is dressed in an elaborate costume heavy with embroidery and jewellery. She later gets only a black robe to dress herself in, after her public display of nudity. She is able to operate an Atwallan flyer. A Professor Williams told Bernice about the cultural importance of fairy tales. She ends up with a death sentence hanging over her head if she ever returns to Atwalla.

Benny hitches a lift on a Shenian buccaneer ship; the Shenians' teleport is second-to-none.

Books in Jodal's library on Atwalla 3 include Flora and Fauna of the Cresh Archipelago; Blaster Maintenance for Dummies; Premodernism to Postmodernism, a Paradigmatic Deconstruction of Ancient Fairy Tales; Atwalla on my Mind - A Childhood Remembered; The Chronicles of Grelsh; Profits Before Prophets; and Ooks Spoil the Bro.

Location: The Braxiatel Collection and Atwalla 3, 2606AD.

The Bottom Line: Thought-provoking and beautifully-written, The Serpent's Tooth attacks an issue still relevant in the real world, and addresses it without pulling any punches, despite the science fiction trappings. Although only the usual novella length, it feels much longer simply because Levene packs so much into it, somehow managing to avoid making it feel over-complicated. It isn't terribly relevant to the linking theme of the anthology, but it is easily the best thing in it.

Parallel Lives (II)

Parallel Lives (II)
Author(s): Simon Guerrier
Recurring Characters: Bernice Summerfield
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Continuity: The Collection celebrates Vosta's Day to mark the anniversary of the end of the occupation (Life During Wartime, Death and the Daleks). Braxiatel is worried about possible threats posed to the Collection by Earth, the Draconians, the Galyari (The Sandman, Dreamtime, Professor Bernice Summerfield and the Bone of Contention), Phaidon (The Apocalypse Element), Monan (The Apocalypse Element), Grellor, Barampa, Arbivatroocius, and Mim.

Clarissa Jones briefly returns to the Collection after her sudden departure in Parallel Lives (I) and kidnaps Peter.

Benny brings the Atwallan virus back to the Collection with her in case they ever need it (The Serpent's Tooth).

Location: The Braxiatel Collection, 2606AD.

The Bottom Line: Functional, with a revelation at the end that notches up the tension and leads neatly into the last two novellas.

Hiding Places

Hiding Places
Author(s): Stewart Sheargold
Recurring Characters: Bernice Summerfield
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Roots: The asylum that has become tainted by its inmates is a staple of horror films, including House on Haunted Hill.

Continuity: The unnamed planet in the Phylox Chain is largely uninhabited and has at least one sea. It has numerous moons and several suns. Ms. Jones and peter briefly visited it before escaping from Henry and Henrietta. Jacob is the hotel, an asylum for the criminally insane that is sentient due its programming; it is designed to take away the hate of the patients and seems to have telepathic [or empathic] capabilities. It couldn't cope with Peter's innocence, and was shaped by him, becoming more self-aware and with a child's emotional needs. The lighthouse seems to be a control mechanism of some kind for the hotel; Adrian and Bev use it to destroy Jacob, causing the hotel to melt in the process. Henry is a werewolf.

Killorans have more than one stomach. Adrian fought in the invasion of Világ (Arrangements for War, Thicker Than Water), where he murdered a small native boy; he is still haunted by the guilt. His actions were governed by the fact that, like many of his species, he was force-evolved for war and had no control over his nature. Whilst possessed by Jacob, Bev stabs Adrian in the torso; she aims for his heart, but his height saves him. He snaps Henry's neck. He later sustains various small wounds and cuts when the lamp in the lighthouse explodes.

Bev and Adrian are continuing to grow close, and Bev feels that they make a good team (see A Life in Pieces: The Purpura Pawn). Bev can play the violin with considerable skill, having had lessons as a child as a result of her mother, a society lady who wanted a gifted daughter. Bev once let someone named Markus take the blame for a crime whilst she ran away. Bev is trained in self-defence. Henry breaks her shoulder.

Bev and Adrian set course for Thuban at the end of the story, following the coordinates provided by Jacob in their search for Peter.

A tangen is a particular to the Dagellen violin.

Location: An unnamed planet in the Phylox Chain, 2606AD.

The Bottom Line: Dark and rather exhausting, Hiding Places showcases the burgeoning relationship between Bev and Adrian to great effect, even if the plot is rather reminiscent in places of Robert Shearman's The Chimes of Midnight. It does rather overdo the emotional trauma and drags slightly in the middle, although the eventual resolution is sufficiently satisfying.

Parallel Lives (III)

Parallel Lives (III)
Author(s): Simon Guerrier
Recurring Characters: Bernice Summerfield
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Continuity: Bernice dons fighting clothes, including a pair of stiff uniform trousers and a Marosa jacket with pockets full of survival equipment.

Jason has been away from the Collection and was not around when Peter was abducted; Braxiatel contacts him and tells him to meet Bernice.

Wolsey hasn't been to Hass' garden recently and spends most of his time sprawling in Benny's window boxes rather than venturing outside.

Hass likes Bernice for her concern and her care, and for her taking the trouble to befriend him.

Location: The Braxiatel Collection, 2606AD.

The Bottom Line: More linking material, which slips in a hint as to the victim of the next death on the Collection.

Jason and the Pirates

Jason and the Pirates
Author(s): Dave Stone
Recurring Characters: Bernice Summerfield
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Roots: Pirate stories and clichés. The complete lyrics to "Fifteen Men on a Dead Man's Chest" are provided. There are references to KwikSave, Waitrose, H. P. Lovecraft, The Pilgrim's Progress, Ozzy Osbourne, and William S. Burroughs.

Goofs: Given the seriousness of the situation regarding Peter, would even Jason really try and explain his absence to Bernice with such a blatantly silly and obviously false story?

Dialogue Disasters: "Garn away with yer, then, yer namby-pamby, nimany-pimany little milksop"

Continuity: Virtually everything that happens here is recounted by Jason and is almost entirely a fabrication designed to convince Bernice that he's been unavoidably detained from returning to the Collection.

Amongst Jason's X-rated productions is Xenomorphic Bondage Slaves XIV. He claims that he learned how to do macramé as a child. He also claims to know how to open a safe with an oxyacetylene torch.

Praxis IV is in the Tarsus Nebula, on the other side of Glomi and the Cool Cheese Confederation from the Braxiatel Collection. The planet Squazabobulus Prime is mentioned and is possibly real.

The Swami Whompa apparently practice the religion of Thirty-seventh Day Whompaterian Adventism.

Cavorite-alloy is used in spaceship construction.

Location: The Ithica Secondus outpost of the Proximan Chain, 2606 AD.

Future History: Lord and Lady Trolltrundler are the owners of the largest slunk-processing concern in the Ithica Secondus outpost of the Proximan Chain.

The Bottom Line: Dave Stone on autopilot. Much as I like his work normally, this smacks of lazy filler requested in a panic in order to meet a fast deadline. Stone is capable of much better (so for that matter is Jason!) and revisiting the set pieces and jokes of the recent Zardox Break break does not recapture its success.

Parallel Lives (IV)

Parallel Lives (IV)
Author(s): Simon Guerrier
Recurring Characters: Bernice Summerfield
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Roots: There is a reference to James Bond.

Continuity: The suburban worlds of Thuban all look very similar, with skies that are yellow-green for three-quarters of the day and green-brown to black for the rest.

Benny and Jason, and Bev and Adrian, track Peter and Ms. Jones to the suburban worlds of Thuban.

Ms. Jones shoots Jason with a focused electrical discharge, which lays him out despite his body armour; she also shoots Adrian when he attacks her, badly injuring him. She is frightened that Jason will become a monster, because of his future self's murder of Sophia's son (Professor Bernice Summerfield and the Grel Escape). When she realizes that Benny has guessed that she is from the future, she cryptically suggests that Braxiatel might actually have known about the occupation all along, and hints at dark things to come. Bev kills Ms. Jones, shooting her dead. She left a will on the Collection, and in accordance with her wishes her body is shipped back to a planet in [the] Acteon [Galaxy - see Planet of Spiders].

Location: The suburban worlds of Thuban, and the Braxiatel Collection, 2606 AD.

The Bottom Line: A tragic end to a rather unfocussed collection, which sees one of Benny's supporting cast dispatched in the blink of an eye and brings news of another death to be elaborated on in the next anthology. As with A Life in Pieces, the overall picture is one of terrible changes on the horizon for Benny and her extended family, which has some promise.

Discontinuity Guide by Paul Clarke

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