The Way Forward: Crusades of Blake

Edited by Sondra Sweigman
Published February 2001

This is a big fat zine (166 pp) which speaks of the love that the editor and her contributors have for the series and its ideals, and especially for the character of Blake. The presentation is excellent, with generally clear typesetting (though the sans font was a bit fuzzy in the ink-jet printout), some nice greyed-out images of Blake behind the title pages, and a sturdy format. Personally I’d have preferred a cheaper black-and-white approach, saving the colour printer for occasional pictures, but Pat Fenech’s colour photomontages are very pretty.

Few of the stories in ‘The Way Forward’ try to recreate the goal-oriented adventures of the original series; still fewer play with its science fictional trappings. There’s also little speculation here about what ordinary life might have been like in the cramped and sterile environment of the Earth Domes. Instead, most of the stories examine Blake’s character, either taking an introspective approach or revealing the man through his actions. The former approach is exemplified by ‘Wind-Up Toy’, in which Jacquelyn Taylor postulates that Blake fears he’s being used by the Federation to betray his friends. (‘Kayn’s Hands’ is another well-written ‘what-if’ piece by the same author.) The latter approach is taken by Sondra Sweigman’s chilling ‘The Choice’, which highlights Blake’s ultra-manipulative side. Also by ‘Grey Scale’ (Jean B Hubb), which retells an incident from the Second World War. For its original setting, plausible characters and realistic moral dilemma, this story was my pick of the zine.

The rest of the crew isn’t entirely neglected in ‘The Way Forward’s focus on Blake. Sally Manton’s ‘Fellow Feeling’ has a plausible Vila narrator, while Michael J Miller (‘The Ghost of You’) creates an engaging cameo of a post-‘Blake’ Soolin struggling to come to terms with disability. While several stories feature Avon, surprisingly, Jenna and Cally play only minor roles. Criticism of a ‘men-only crusade’ is only partially allayed by a plethora of female one-off characters, who do feel a bit like ‘the usual suspects’.

Serious zines focusing on Blake face a few problems. Blake’s lack of memory can make him a somewhat dull or confusing PoV character. The fragments we know of his background can make for repetition among stories that try to mesh closely with the series. There are few opportunities to expand the cast to include season 3 or 4 characters. Most seriously, perhaps, as few, if any, of us are revolutionaries by trade it’s difficult to portray this side of his character realistically. Thankfully, ‘The Way Forward’ doesn’t succumb to the temptation to whitewash Blake. Despite its gen classification, the zine doesn’t shrink from violence, torture and killing, nor does it glorify any of them. On the whole, though, the stories in ‘The Way Forward’ have an upbeat feel, which occasionally seemed slightly at odds with the subject matter. I’m not convinced that the virtues celebrated here would survive under Federation repression, but it’s nice to hope.

June 2001


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