Search This Blog

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Lois McMaster Bujold And Blake's 7!

Lois McMaster Bujold has denied her characters had anything to do with  Star Trek and it's her universe, so we must respect that, though I have to say that there is something Klingon-like about Barrayaran culture. And by the way, the Ferenghi would settle happily on Jackson's Whole if they were nastier, but they came after the Vorkosiverse.

But there are two, possibly three, characters who certainly were a tribute to the British SF series of the are 1970s/early 80s, Blake's 7

Blake's 7, for anyone too young to remember, was a show that started as a dystopia set on a wrecked Earth, in which people live under domes and are drugged to keep them placid and obedient, and went on to become a space opera in which the rebel leader Blake and his "Dirty Dozen" style followers were fighting the evil Federation from a magnificent ship and encountering aliens. 

The series had a villain, Servalan, who led troopers - stormtrooper types, only wearing black armour instead of white. But Servalan wore elegant gowns and heels instead of a uniform. She was tiny and had close-cropped hair, which made her no less terrifying. 

She had a sidekick, Travis, who was a Space Commander. He was not nice, in fact hated by the rebels, but respected by his men, who knew that they could count on him to look after them. Servalan treated him badly. 

There was another character, a reluctant rebel - one of Blake's people - called Kerr Avon, played by the then-gorgeous Paul Darrow. Avon had a sarcastic wit and spoke some of the show's most memorable lines. 

Got it? Now let's find these characters in the Vorkosiverse. Two of them are definitely meant to be there, Servalan and Avon. I think Travis is there too, although the character is a lot less sympathetic than Travis.

Servalan appears in The Vor Game, as Cavilo, leader of the mercenary army Randall's Rangers(she killed Randall and took over). Cavilo does wear a uniform, but not when we first meet her. Miles, going undercover as an arms dealer called Victor Rotha, first sees her passing on a space station and assumes she is someone's "expensive" mistress, due to her sparkly clothing. That doesn't last long once they actually meet; he notes she doesn't have the body language of a courtesan, who would have a desire to please. But even then she is wearing sparkly clothing. In fact, the description of her red, high-collared costume is specifically that of one worn by Servalan in a Blake's 7 episode called "Gambit." 

And she finds a weapon use even for her perfume. 

The only physical difference I could find between Servalan and Cavilo is that she's blonde and Servalan is dark-haired. Personality-wise, they are very similar, though I suspect they would hate each other, especially if they wanted the same thing. And they do - power. I thought Cavilo might return at some future time, but I don't think she has. Admittedly, I'm three novels behind in the series. 

I keep imagining the voice of Jacqueline Pearce, the actress who played Servalan, whenever I read Cavilo's dialogue. 

And then there is Captain Duv Galeni, whom we first meet in Brothers In Arms, the novel I'm rereading now. The description given of him sounds a lot like Avon. I keep hearing the beautiful voice of Paul Darrow, who played the role of Avon. Duv Galeni is the son of a rather dreadful man who can't get it into his head that the war between his planet, Komarr, and Barrayar, is over. Barrayar conquered Komarr about thirty years ago for practical reasons and then didn't become tyrannical, so most people, especially the younger generation,  are fine with it now. Not all, definitely, and in the novel Komarr, set several years laterthere is a major plot that will kill thousands. But most. In fact, by A Civil Campaign, Emperor Gregor of Barrayar is marrying a Komarran business woman. 

Duv Galeni has Avon's dry wit, as well as his appearance. Avon was arrested for major computer hacking which nearly made him hugely wealthy, except he was being watched - and betrayed. Duv is a decent man who is constantly having to prove himself to the Barrayarans - and has to deal with his terrorist father, whom he had thought was dead before he turned up in Brothers In Arms, working on yet another plot - and willing to do dreadful things to his own son in the interests of the Cause. But Duv's personality has a certain Avon-like flavour, though he becomes less Avon-like as he becomes a regular character in the series, takes on an important job, falls in love. 

 Like Avon, he has to deal with nasty things in his past. And both men are brave and honourable(Avon would protest at the notion that he's honourable, but whatever he does, betrayal isn't in it, even when he would be better off). 

I am not sure that LMB intended Cavilo's sidekick, General Metzov, to be Travis, but there is a basis for comparison.

We first meet General Metzov in the first part of The Vor Game("The Weatherman"). Metzov is in command on Kyril Island, nicknamed Camp Permafrost. It's a winter training base on Barrayar. If you're part of the permanent staff, you probably got into trouble for something at some stage. Nobody goes there voluntarily. Miles is assigned there as his first posting with the promise of a plum posting afterwards if he can keep a clean nose for six months, with the notion that if he can survive there, he can handle any job thrown at him. He is considered to have a problem with subordination and needs to get over it before he can be trusted with regular command.

And, as Miles suspects, Metzov did get exiled there for having done something nasty during the Komarran war, which is known but unproven. While Miles is there, he issues a criminal order. Miles manages to stop a massacre, but after that, no commander is likely to want him, which leads to his doing something else that ends up with the encounter with Cavilo - and Metzov, who has been kicked out if the army without a pension, so has become a mercenary. 

Come to think of it, it all happens in a very short time.

Travis had been known for a massacre of five thousand rebel colonists. Nobody wants to work with him, except Servalan, who can use him to do her dirty work, though she doesn't mind doing it herself as well. He hates Roj Blake, whom he had encountered before and who was responsible for his loss of an eye. The hatred is mutual, as is the obsession. 

Servalan uses his obsession with Blake. Cavilo uses Metzov's obsession with Miles(though Miles isn't obsessed with Metzov, he just understands how dangerous the man could be to him and his mission).
He hasn't lost an eye, but he has lost his job and pension, for which he holds Miles responsible. Cavilo, like Servalan, sends her sidekick on dangerous missions, using his obsession to help them along.

But Travis is, in many ways, a tragic figure. Metzov deserves what he gets in the end, even if he gets it from the wrong source.

By the way, Camp Permafrost gets a mention in a comical context in A Civil Campaign.

I believe you can get Blake's 7 on DVD still - and, interestingly, there are some new stories on YouTube, amateur productions by young cast who must have had parents who were fans. 

If you're a Vorkosiverse fan, why not check out the early episodes of Blake's 7? Both Blake and Travis are gone after Season 2 and those seasons are better anyway.

No comments: