Reviews of Southern Comfort
Written by Sarah Thompson
Note from Ashton Press: These reviews were originally published on a Blakes 7 mailing list, Space City, and are reproduced here with the permission of the author.
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Southern Comfort 10.5
Okay, here's the first of the new batch of smutty goodies that I've read all the way through. It is excellent, very highly recommended, and my quick glance through #11.5 indicates that that one is equally good. Southern Comfort is one of my favorite erotic zines for its wide variety of pairings, both slash and het, and the nice mix of long and short, serious and funny stories. There's something to fit every mood.
The centerpiece of this issue, in my opinion, is "Night Discord," the new story in Paula's much-admired A/Ta series. The conflict that the title refers to is the arrival of Blake and Jenna to rejoin the Liberator. How will the developing relationship between Avon and Tarrant be affected by the presence of Blake? The combined crew then meet with a character named Dorian, and adventures ensue. This one has everything: plot, character interaction, hot sex, satisfying length-- it's over 30 pp., a novella by the STIFFie standards. A must for all A/Ta fans!
There are two more excellent A/Ta stories, too. Riley Cannon's "Under the Influence" traces the development of the relationship in a series of three touching vignettes: post-Sarcophagus, post- Deathwatch, and PGP. Andrea's "Transmission" has Tarrant showing Avon just what Servalan did to him on Virn-- while the lady herself eavesdrops via a device planted on Tarrant. The author does a good job of sexualizing the complex friendship/rivalry of Avon and Tarrant, with very hot results.
Admirers of "The Nothing That Is" by Lexa Reiss, which appeared in SC #8.5 and which I personally consider one of the finest B7 stories ever written, gen or slash, will be thrilled to see that there is a sequel here. Like the first story, it deals with Tarrant's life pre-series and features one of the most memorable of all fan-created characters, Tarrant's FSA roommate Jarn, a puppeteer in training. Now on the verge of deserting from Space Command, Tarrant yearns for one last experience with someone he can really trust and visits his old friend.
Vila gets his turn with Tarrant in T. Z. Trouper's "Night Class," teaching the somewhat inexperienced younger man the finer points of m/m sex. This sweet, well-written story reminded me strongly of the prize-winning story by Mireille, "All Work and No Play" in Liberator Fantasies. I could even imagine this story as the prequel to that one, showing how the established Ta/V relationship we see in "All Work" got started in the first place.
In Willa Shakespeare's humorous "Beggars Can't Be Choosers," Cally and Dayna feel frustrated by the fact that Avon and Tarrant are involved with each other. Since both of them prefer men to women, they discard the idea of trying it with each other and instead decide on a collective seduction of Vila. But alas, a series of accidents foil their plan.
The same author recycles two classic dirty jokes in B7 form, in "It's Snow Wonder" and "Delta Math," and builds short stories around a play-on-words punchline (not quite a feghoot, but almost) in "Don't Get Me Wrong" and "Forget-me-not." A slightly-- but only slightly-- more serious story is "The Ultimate Unauthorized Hellhound," in which not only the entire series but also the Hellhound sequel turns out to have been a fever dream on Avon's part. The real truth about his relationship with Blake is more than a little strange. The prolific Willa has also contributed a funny parody poem and a straight-- so to speak-- rendition of a quotation from Oscar Wilde describing a rather Avon-like character.
Jenner's "Memories" is a classic, tragically romantic A/B. It begins as a flashback on Avon's part during a later affair with Tarrant, but then continues relentlessly on to GP. I found the handling of timing slightly confusing, but the writing style and the eloquent evocation of the tragedy of the A/B relationship are wonderful.
Emotional intensity between Avon, Blake, and Jenna is the core of Vanessa Mullen's "Circle." Jenna wants Blake, who's gay; Blake wants Avon, who's straight and has his eye on Jenna. The three resolve their mutual problems in a temporarily satisfying way, but the suggestion of future tragedy hovers in the background.
The A/B relationship gets lighter treatment in Susan Cutter's pair of amusing short stories, "Nor the Race to the Swift" and "But That's the Way to Bet." Blake gives his laryngitis to Avon, who takes appropriate revenge. Her "Zipper" is a tasty little het number in which Vila must use his skills to extract Jenna from a bit of antique-style lingerie she has rashly tried on and now can't get off.
The A/V relationship is represented by Ada L.'s little gem, "That Word Beginning with 'C'." I love it for its SF-ishness and its canonical plausibility. Fourth-season Avon and Vila, searching for a scientist they hope to recruit, find themselves trapped by a frightening natural phenomenon. When Vila's panicked reaction threatens both their lives, Avon must find a way to distract him and calm him down quickly. The A/V quota is rounded out by two reprinted stories by Catocala, one serious and one funny.
The second-longest story in the zine, "Outcast of Auron," is an entirely het story, but one with a difference: it's very dark in tone, more like a Dark Fantasies-type slash story. It is, in fact, classic BUARA, except that the Avon-abuser is female, Cally's evil twin in the most literal sense. This one has lovely lurid illustrations by Val Westall, that in my opinion make it inadvisable to read the zine in public-- but then, the color A/B/V cover by Leah already does that anyway!
The zine has the clear, attractive layout and high printing quality that we've all come to expect from Ashton Press. And not a bad story in it! Whatever your preferences in smut run to, you almost certainly want this zine. (Well, unless you insist on either Travis or Gan, in which case you want #11.5, which has good stories with both of them.)
Southern Comfort #10.5 (adult and slash)
Editor: Ann Wortham
Publisher: Ashton Press (Altamonte Springs, FL)
†Date: May 1999
Format: letter size, 131 pp., full-color paper front cover
with clear plastic overlay, offwhite card back cover,
black comb binding
Riley Cannon, "Under the Influence" (S3-S5; A/Ta)
Willa Shakespeare, "Beggars Can't Be Choosers" (sequel
to "An Embarrassment of Riches" in DIVERSE DOINGS
#2 [mm; US, 1998.5]; S3; implied A/Ta, uc C/D/V)
Paula, "Night Discord" (sequel to "Nightsongs" in #9.5;
alt-S3; A/Ta, B/J)
Willa Shakespeare, "It's Snow Wonder" (S4, Rescue; A-O,
implied C/Ta; humor)
Vanessa Mullen, "Circle" (S1?; A/B/J)
Andrea, "Transmission" (S4, post-Sand; A/Ta)
Jenner, "Memories" (S3- S2, post-Trial- S5; A/Ta, A/B)
Lexa Reiss, "Exit Interview" (sequel to "The Nothing
That Is" in #8.5; S0; Ta/ocm)
Susan Cutter, "Nor the Race to the Swift" (S1; A/B)
Susan Cutter, "But That's the Way to Bet" (sequel to
"Nor the Race to the Swift;" S1; implied
Willa Shakespeare, "Don't Get Me Wrong" (S3; A/Ta;
Catocala, "Fool's Interlude" (universe of "Fool's
Paradise," gen story in RAISING HELL #4; S5; A/V;
reprinted from REBEL DESIRES #1 (1995)
T. Z. Trouper, "Night Class" (S3, post-City; Ta/V)
Ada L., "That Word Beginning with 'C'" (S4; A/V)
Pat Jacquerie, Lexa Reiss, and Erika Bloom, "Outcast of
Auron" (S3; A/ocf, uc C/Ta, A/C)
Willa Shakespeare, "The House of Judgement" (adapted
from Oscar Wilde, Poems in Prose; A)
Susan Cutter, "Zipper" (S2; J/V)
Willa Shakespeare, "The Ultimate Unauthorized
Hellhound" (S5; A/B)
Catocala, "Hitting Bottom" (S4; Ta/V, A/V; humor;
reprinted from AVON CALLING II [US, 1991])
Willa Shakespeare, "Delta Math" (S1?; A/V, A/B, implied
Willa Shakespeare, "Forget-me-not" (S5; A/B; humor)
Willa Shakespeare, "My Alpha" (based on John Kendrick
Bangs, "My Dog;" A/B)
Leah Rosenthal cover A/B/V, color
p. 124 A/V cartoon
Val Westall p. 85 A; illo for "Outcast"
p. 93 nude A; illo for "Outcast"
p. 99 nude A; illo for "Outcast"
p. 108 A/C; illo for "Outcast"
Southern Comfort 11.5
Here's the companion zine to SC #10.5, and amazingly, it's just as good. I really appreciate the skill of the editor in juggling a wide assortment of stories so that each zine would have a good mix. Once again, every single item is well worth reading.
The standout in this issue is Alicia Ann Fox's "Xenogamy," one of the hottest het stories ever written. A rough draft appeared on SC and was perhaps the most popular story ever serialized here. This is the final, polished version, and it's even hotter now. I'd recommend that slash fans who think they don't like het give this one a try. There's lots of other good stuff besides the sex, as a deeply suspicious Avon, rescued by the Voyager crew after he escapes from torture by his Federation, learns his way around the Trek universe. And the hot tub scene is-- well, you'll just have to read it and see for yourself.
The other long story, this one novella-length, is Misha's surreal dream story, which rather reminds me of New Wave SF-- as if J. G. Ballard or some such author were writing B7 fan erotica! This one is very complicated but repays careful reading. It opens with Cally, captured on Centero, being raped and tortured by Travis --who has, however, made her believe she is having sex with her beloved sister-- in the hope of getting her to talk. But Cally is already suffering severe mental illness as a result of her experience on Saurian Major, and is broadcasting strange and disturbing dreams to everyone within reach. The Federation must get rid of her but dare not kill her ("The death-scream of an Auron is incredibly powerful"), so they send her back to neutral Auron in the care of Senator Tyce Sarkoff of Lindor and none other than Olag Gan, now also a Lindorean diplomat after he decided not to join Blake back on Cygnus Alpha. Gan, of course, has problems of his own due to the limiter, but with the assistance of Tyce, Docholli, and later Zelda, he and Cally are able to help each other. Dream sequences are interwoven with real events in a complex plot that also involves evil Federation experiments and Lindorean mythology. I predict that this will be a "love it or hate it" story. Some will find it too confusing and too far from the aired series, while others will find it fascinating. I guess it's obvious which category I'm in!
A/B fans will be delighted to find two excellent A/B stories in this issue. "With This Ring" by Julia Stamford explores the erotic ramifications of genital piercing and Liberator healing pads, as well as the emotional ramifications of the relationship between Blake and Avon. The illustration by Val Westall is very beautiful and very explicit, stunning in every sense. My jaw dropped when I saw it. And the story itself is both hot and unusual.
Nova is a new author to watch out for; her A/B story in the multimedia zine Dark Roses is also noteworthy. Here, "Delinquent" provides an unusual but plausible background for Avon and explains why both he and Vila hate psychiatrists. Avon's cynicism is revealed as thwarted early idealism-- and Blake realizes that Avon is in fact the very person he has idolized for much of his life. And then things really begin to sizzle!
Federation mind-meddling also figures in the plot of "The Turning of the Worm." This story grew out of discussions in the Tarrant apa, in which Tarrant fans complained about all the old stories in which mean bully Tarrant rapes the poor widdle Delta until Avon makes him stop, and said they'd like to see a story in which Vila rapes Tarrant instead. Well, here it is at last! Poor Tarrant is blackmailed into serving as the helpless sex slave of Vila's evil alternate personality, which was generated by all the shrinking of Vila's head. Avon resolves the problem by making love to Vila himself, and they all settle into a happy threesome, joined by Cally and Dayna in the sequel.
Young Tarrant has encounters with m/m sex both tender and brutal in "Embarkation" (originally called "Initiation"?) and "Flight Path." The first story opens with the bizarre image suggested by Penny, of Tarrant in one of Servalan's gowns. It's an initiation prank at the FSA. Tarrant is rescued by Major Travis, who turns out to have his own agenda.
In the second story, Tarrant seeks out Travis once again. Travis is now changed physically, after what Blake did to him, and he appears to be changed emotionally as well. Or was he really that way all along? Tarrant learns a lesson, though not, as he thinks to himself at the end, the one that Travis intended. It's an interestingly eroticized twist on the question of why Tarrant decided to leave Space Command when he had been so successful there.
More het content is provided by the reprinted A/J story "Taken In." I haven't actually compared it with the original version, but this version is distinctly hotter than I remember, so I think it has been skillfully spiced up. Very nice.
I suppose "Pet Project" would have to be called het too, or at least partly so, since Cally's moon disc and Avon's Sopron manage to reproduce! This event coincides with Tarrant's unsuccessful attempt to seduce Avon. The same story is also presented in the form of a Mad-lib game-- a list of words to be supplied at random by the game player, which are then plugged into blank spaces in a story, with hilarious results.
"Fun with Dick and Jenna" presents the entire aired canon in the form of a Dick and Jane reader, but very definitely for adults. A sample, which explains the title: "See Jenna see Blake in the showers. Blake is not small. See Jenna smile. Jenna says, 'Hello, Dick.' "Blake says, 'My name is not Dick. I am Roj Blake.' "Jenna smiles."
Other humorous items are the "Application to Pilot the Liberator," which could almost have gone in a genzine except for the question about the Prince Albert (a foreshadowing of the "Ring" story later in the zine!); and Predatrix's B7 version of a slash drinking game, in which the player must take a sip for every cliche encountered. (The "Dick and Jenna" passage quoted above corresponds to item 2.3, "Are you pointing that thing at me?," worth a half sip.)
A stellar lineup of authors, and none of them disappoint. Again, highly recommended.
Southern Comfort #11.5 (adult and slash)
Editor: Ann Wortham
Publisher: Ashton Press (Altamonte Springs, FL)
Date: May 1999
Format: letter size, 136 pp., full-color paper front cover
with clear plastic overlay, offwhite card back cover,
black comb binding
Willa Shakespeare, "The Turning of the Worm" (S3; Ta/V,
Willa Shakespeare, "The Worm Continues to Turn" (S3;
Catocala, "Taken In" (S1; A/J, with V as voyeur;
revised and reprinted from BLAKE'S SEVEN: THE
OTHER SIDE #3 [AU, 1987.3] and STRAIGHT BLAKE'S #2
Alicia Ann Fox, "Xenogamy" (S2; ST Voyager crossover;
Willa Shakespeare, "Fun with Dick and Jenna" (S1-2-3-4;
Fun with Dick and Jane parody; B/J, uc A/J, past
Ta/Jarvik, past Ta/Travis; humor)
Tessa Nolan and Cami O'Tool, "Embarkation" (S0; Ta/Tr)
Tessa Nolan and Cami O'Tool, "Flight Path" (sequel to
"Embarkation;" S2; Ta/Tr, past Ta/Jarvik)
Misha, "If There Were Dreams to Sell, What Would You
Buy?" (alt-S1; C/Tr, C/Zelda, C/G, dream C/Tyce,
dream A/G, past G/ocf, uc G/Tyce)
Julia Stamford, "With This Ring" (S1; A/B)
Willa Shakespeare, "Pet Project" (S3; uc A/Ta, moon
Nova, "Delinquent" (S1; A/B)
Predatrix, "The Ultimate Slash Cliche Drinking Game"
Willa Shakespeare, "Application to Pilot the Liberator"
("Liberally modified from an anonymous Permission
to Date My Daughter form;" humor)
Willa Shakespeare, "This Is a Mad Blakelib" (game based
on story "Pet Project;" humor)
Leah Rosenthal cover A/Anna fantasy, color
p. 45 "Malodaar Melodies" cartoon
Val Westall p. 23 nude A
p. 112 nude A; illo for "With"
p. 121 nude A
Sarah S. p. 129 A/V
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