Retrospective | Simon Bestwick on Blake’s 7.

Blake’s 7: a science-fiction TV series that ran for four seasons from 1978 to 1981. In a grim, nightmarish future, resistance fighter Blake fought the evil Galactic Federation with a hi-tech spaceship, the Liberator, crewed by escaped prisoners. It tended to be pretty damned pessimistic at the best of times. Blake went missing after season two, leaving his second-in-command Avon in charge; the Liberator was destroyed at the end of season three.

Even so, the final episode was an emotional kick in the nuts by any standard.

The final episode found them on the planet Gauda Prime, trying to find Blake. They succeed- but Avon, mistakenly thinking Blake’s betrayed them to the Federation, shoots him. Dead. While we’re still reeling from that, Federation troops burst in; Avon’s crew are shot down around him. Surrounded, Avon stands astride Blake’s body, raises his rifle, and smiles bitterly… cut to black, and a volley of shots ring out.

I fucking bawled. (I was seven at the time, I should hurriedly add.) Blake’s 7 was a regular fixture, like Dr Who, and it’d just ended in the most bleak, brutal way imaginable. They hadn’t even gone out in a blaze of glory or with Blake and Avon reunited. I hated that bastard scriptwriter (Chris Boucher.)

But now I admire him greatly: that final episode is still burned into my memory thirty years later. Because this wasn’t supposed to happen. They were the good guys (though Avon was a ruthless bastard;) the good guys were supposed to win. Not kill each other in a tragic misunderstanding and be mowed down in disarray.

Welcome to the real world, kid. You keep fighting overwhelming odds for too long, it’s only going to end one way.

Here’s the thing, though: if Blake’s 7 had ended less unhappily, I doubt I’d remember it so fondly, or so well. Ramsey Campbell once said of Stephen King that he gave readers what they thought they didn’t want. That final episode did the same.

The great love stories: Romeo and Juliet, Antony and Cleopatra, Heathcliff and Cathy… do they end with love conquering all? If they did, would they be so memorable, so moving?

The lesson: honesty, in writing, beats clichés hands down. Two of your characters might end up getting horizontal: doesn’t mean they’re going to settle down, get married and have kids. It might be the expectation; it might be the easy option- but unless it’s the truth it’s lazy, clichéd, a lie. Where are the characters’ drives and motivations taking them? Look at their final destination and don’t flinch; Look for whatever truth the story and characters have.

I’ll leave you with three quotes to sum it all up:

‘This is my truth; tell me yours.’ –Aneurin Bevan.
‘Never underestimate people; they do desire the cut of truth.’ –Natalie Goldberg
‘What’s important is not what an audience thinks the night they see a play, but what they think six months later’ –Edward Bond

Or in my case, thirty years.

Event | FantasyCon 2011

This weekend saw me at my third FantasyCon. The first (2009) I was clueless and misstimed everything. I popped to Nottingham in the morning on Saturday, when everyone was still in bed after drinking friday, and left at tea time just as things started to warm up.

Learning my lesson, last year (2010) I spent the weekend in Nottingham and that changed everything. I committed myself to ‘conspace’ (it is a different space/time structure to the real world) and had a much better FCon. It might also have helped that I knew a few people by this point.

This year the Con moved to Brighton and the sun shone, the sea sparkled and somehow I still didn’t manage to get any candy floss. The Royal Albion isn’t a conference hotel really, so there are quirks to the layout and such that may have provoked occasionally comparison to ‘The Shining’ but overall it worked and the atmosphere for the weekend was fantastic.

This was the first time i’d been invited to be part of the programme, moderating the ‘Maintaining an Online Presence’ panel with Lee Harris, Adam Christopher, Scott Andrews and Stephen Hunt. I was a little nervous and may have had a bit of a coughing fit, but overall I think it went well, my panellists were excellent speakers, well informed and considered and we had some good questions from the audience.

Other than that I attended some reading.
Lou Morgan read from the upcoming ‘Blood & Feathers’, wisely acquired by Solaris.Well read and I am looking forward to that one coming out. Lou handled difficult questions about mythology and religion very thoughtfully and with a nod to her own knowledge still being limited. This book will be one for urban fantasy fans to look out for.
Rob Shearman read the first story from ‘Everybody’s Just So So Special’ which is a another  fantastic selection of short stories. His reading was wonderfully animated and brilliantly delivered. Again, time for questions saw Rob dealing with everything with his usual warmth and humour.
Simon Bestwick ably read two extracts from his horror writings,The Faceless (out next year) and Angels of the Silences dark and atmospheric. The extracts were well selected to give a flavour, difficult without giving away key plot points.
Vincent Holland-Keen read his short story from the new Anarchy Press  anth, coming soon. It ties loosely with Lost and Found and since I was there and he is one of us video footage will be going up on the Un:Bound youtube channel, for posterity. It was well delivered and is a great story. There was only time for a couple of questions as the reading was slightly longer.
Finally Guy Adams read a chapter from ‘Restoration’ that was originally written as a short story taking a seat in true Jackanory fashion. The first question was ‘can you read some more’ and since it was the last reading of the weekend he sought another suitable passage while answering the other questions.

I was extremely impressed with the quality of the readings, all the ones I attended were extremely smooth and enjoyable, which is not always the case. The attendees at FCon seemed more interested too with a pretty full room at all five I saw.

The rest of the weekend was a blur of unnecessary calories, conversation, meeting up with friends, getting to know new people and a lot of laughing. Apart from the raffle, when time stood still, but I was impressed with our hosts game attempts to keep it moving. I have lost my voice and sleep gained some books and new friends and am definitely going to have to spend more time in London just to have all the coffees i’ve promised to go for (oh the terrible terrible hardship). All in all an excellent weekend.

A huge shout out to the Redshirts btw, who did an amazing job throughout and seemed to be a very small number for everything they achieved!

My pictures are on the Un:Bound flickr set.

Coverage Round up, which I will add as it goes up.
Adrian Tchaikovsky starts at the end.
Christopher Fowler contemplates the venue
First timer Rhian Bowley covers her weekend
A before and after from Simon Kurt Unsworth
A round up of the award winners and a few comments on the process
Rob Spalding fears for his liver
A quick look from Lily Childs
My lovely roomie Karen Davies shares her thoughts
Danie Ware’s views of a sweaty Brighton
The lovely Pablo Cheesecake shares his overview
Fantasy Faction provides a superb look at the con
And Wilf contemplates one of the arguments that raged in the bar