“Those who spearheaded the totalitarian regime constantly jockeyed for position, seeking greater power and influence…power being an essential aphrodisiac for febrile minds.”
With those ringing words of condemnation, author/reader Paul Darrow sums up everything intrinsically wrong with the world today, from corporate multinationals to the world governments they serve as puppeteer/owners of.
Rattling off some rather familiar country names in a recitation of the dirty game of global power politics, Darrow pulls together historical precedent (with a cautionary eye towards the rise and fall of Ancient Rome) and recognizably near future machinations to build his tale of the rise of The Federation.
But that’s only the prologue.
The story proper picks up decades later, with Federation successor The Quartet under the helm of a megalomaniacal Pandora S. On an enormous Quartet warship known as The Base, her former assistant Gabriella hires Solomon Fish and his family of hitmen (!) to venture into “The Beyond” (a sector of un-Federated space) to eliminate longstanding rogue Kerr Avon, who she holds directly responsible for the exile and death of her bank manager father.*
*later it’s revealed that she’s also related to Travis, making the entire Blakes 7 universe more interconnected and incestuous than anyone knew!
But there may be more to this than Gabriella is letting on…for she seems particularly interested in the sentient computer Orac. Could she be plotting a coup of her own?
“Are you familiar with the phrase, keep your friends close, but your enemies closer? Avon hasn’t got any friends…and he kills all his enemies. So you know exactly where you stand.”
Stopping off on the planet Xerxes for fuel, he’s pressed upon by the local regent’s unwilling wife Juno to take her away with the marked man in exchange for swift and secret passage offworld. But she has certain connections of her own to Avon’s pursuers…and it only gets more complicated from there.
With a price on his head and various forces conspiring against both each other and him, Avon finds himself at the nexus of an ever more complex game of one upsmanship, alliances both forged and broken and general political scheming which leaves him on the run, making strategic use of cigarettes and offing guards while they relieve themselves. No, I’m not kidding.
While a straight dramatic audiobook recitation of his own novel, Paul Darrow brings his grim, stentorian baritone and dark demeanor to full play, lending authority and an unusually serious tone to the proceedings.
While hardly stretching in terms of individuation of performance between the many characters encountered, on the flipside this actually serves the production better than a more standard audiobook reading. No squeaky voiced approximations of female characters or goofy accented walk-ons to be found here!
While Darrow is clearly writing to a specific cottage audience here, with his obvious injections of “insert fanboy cheer here” moments praising the cleverness, sex appeal and dangerousness of the Avon character bringing many a bemused smirk to the more savvy listener, he contrarily seldom lets things get too out of hand or absurd, reigning in the fanfic leanings of such bits of business swiftly and keeping things moving along at a sufficient pace that any metatextual bemusement they elicit soon fades into ephemerality under the weight of his overall script and performace.
To be sure, much of the pacing is likely equally creditable to veteran director Lisa Bowerman’s ever deft touch, but the simple fact of the matter is you can’t build without a proper foundation – one which Darrow appears to have shored up rather well.
Blakes fans should be proud.