A Benny Adventure
|ISBN#||0 426 20513 8|
|Synopsis: Jason Kane and his unlikely sidekick, Emile travel to a planet that shouldn't exist. Encountering a prison ship full of hardened criminals, they are surprised to discover the comatose form of Chris Cwej...|
A Review by Robert Smith? 2/7/98
Gary Russell's books have, on the whole, been decidedly average. Some good ideas and interesting set pieces spoiled by a lack of attention to detail and some sloppy writing. Deadfall, however, is by far Gary's best book yet. And more than that, I really, really enjoyed it.
Fortunately, the sloppy writing of the past is rarely in evidence here. I think that's great, not only because it makes the book far more readable, but because it shows that even authors whom you think you have pegged can still surprise you, turning out a book that's another strong entry in the Bernice canon.
There's still the lack of attention to detail, of course. Michael Doran undergoes a mysterious transformation into "Matt" Doran (pg 32). And it's clearly meant to be the same student, because he appears alongside Vitor Pluse, who was also one of Benny's students from Oh No It isn't! Ensign Sax also undergoes a transformation from a woman to a man to a woman again, via pg 17. Oh, and as Captain Lidiard is six foot three (pg 8), this makes Ensign Sax seven foot three on page 16. Still, picking out the errors added to the fun of the book and most are in the first fifty pages, so they don't impede the flow once the story gets going.
And those quibbles aside, Deadfall really is lots of fun. Not that it's a comedy, per se, but it's fun seeing the various bits of New Adventures continuity mesh themselves.
Focussing on Jason and Emile works quite well, although this is tempered by referring back to the occasional scene with Bernice and Braxiatel, which makes the non-Bernice stuff work even better. Had the book virtually ignored Benny, as I suspected it would at first, I don't think it would be nearly as good as it is. Indeed, Gary's characterisation of Benny is spot-on, so it's something of a pity that we didn't get to see more of her throughout the book. Then again, the way it sits now, I'm hungering for more Gary-written Bernice, not sick of her, so maybe this is a good thing.
Cwej didn't work so well, but that's more because of the way the plot has to use him than bad writing. There's a nice bit as he regains his memory, but other than that he doesn't seem to add anything, even though he was so crucial to the story. Indeed, the nature of the menace worked exceedingly well, especially as it was 'unseen' for so long. The Jithii weren't quite as interesting once they became homicidal maniacs, but the initial uncertainties of the crew, especially after the reader was aware of the events of Chapter 2 made for quite an effective menace.
Emile is much more mature than in Beyond the Sun, but this makes sense. Fortunately he's still the same old Emile, causing inadvertent havoc wherever he goes. I was surprised more wasn't made of a potential relationship between Emile and Jason, even if it was only fantasising on Emile's part (although Jason was very firmly established as bisexual in Death and Diplomacy, something most subsequent authors seem to have ignored). Actually, the relationship that Jason does end up having seems a bit corny and contrived, merely to work in the final line. I'm firmly of the belief that Jason and Benny belong together, so that may be my bias coming into play, but I'll reserve judgment on this until later books deal with it (since so much is left hanging here).
Actually, the revelations of Jason's covert activities, which have been building up in minor scenes for a few books now, were quite interesting and I look forward to more of this being sketched out in dribs and drabs over forthcoming novels. It's good to see bits of story arcs starting to manifest themselves in these novels, especially when things tie in so well like they do here, making the readers wonder why they didn't think of that themselves!
Perhaps I missed something, but I'm not really sure what the story was with the Jake Garrett newscasts. Not that I didn't like the news segments, they were well written and a nice break from the action, but I'm just confused at their apparent pointlessness. And I did wonder a bit about only six months having passed since Bernice arrived at St Oscar's, including Tameka's baby having been born, but that's not impossible I suppose, just a little odd.
Deadfall is not a faultless book by any means, but the faults it does have aren't enough to stop it being an enjoyable read, another in the continuing successes of the Bernice novels. However, I'm secretly convinced that Gary had to make it good with a title like that or we'd all be calling it Dreadfall for the rest of eternity. I'm very pleased to say that Deadfall is anything but.
A Review by Sean Gaffney 18/10/99
It is no great secret that I was not fond of Invasion of the Cat-People. And The Scales of Injustice, while a nicely written book, was not my cup of tea. I liked Legacy at the time, but don't really feel the need to reread it like I do some of the others.
That having been said...Deadfall is the first Gary Russell book I wholeheartedly recommend. (I suspect I'll like Business Unusual as well, but I'm waiting for the books to get over here.) The pace is cracking, and the plot wonderfully cheesy without being annoyingly so. It combines the best of 50s horror with 80s horror, and melds them nicely.
PLOT: As I just said, nice. There is a bit at the end where Jason gets the villain to explain everything just before she kills him, but that totally fits with the style of the book, so wtf. The use of Jason, and more importantly the way Jason reacts to his use, is also excellent.
BENNY: Cameo, really, but well written. Gary does the Benny/ Jason relationship well.
JASON: Our hero, even if he'd rather not admit it. He keeps trying throughout the book to be the anti-hero, and let Cwej get to do the heroics, but it just ain't happening. I sense Gary's seen Die Hard a bit as well. ^_^
CWEJ: aka Jamie Lee Curtis. Still, he eventually gets to save the day, and let's face it, he's fun to watch when he's moral dilemma-ing. ^_^
EMILE: Grown up a bit from Beyond the Sun, and therefore a bit less irritating, he seems to be the observer through most of this book. Interesting character development, though - are any other authors planning on bringing him back?
THE PRISONERS: Running the full gamut of personality. I ended up casting a lot of them in my head, the sure sign that I'm enjoying a book. I ha no sympathy for Greirson, though - her death did not move me at all. Even before we heard her real story.
THE JAILERS: I kept picturing Tolland being played by Sid James. Despite that, his absolutely nutty colonial was just realistic enough to chill. And in Ryne and Blummer, Gary has come closer than any other NA author in recreating a Holmes double act.
THE VILLAINS: This is where it didn't work as well for me. I'm a big fan of mind-control stories, so I dunno why, but the saga of the Jithii left me going, "hm." And Njobe was a fun cliche, but still the least realistic of the cliches.
STYLE: Fits right in with the John Carpenter film it tries to emulate. This book reads about 200 times faster than Scales of Injustice.
OVERALL: Aside from a rather feckless villain, this book is excellent. Nice use of Jason, interesting characters, and a lovely plot that takes me right back to watching those old 50s aliens control your brain films. And the final line of the book had me ROTFL.
A Review by Finn Clark 19/9/04
I quite enjoyed that! I remembered Deadfall as a bit boring, but after this reread I think there's a decent (albeit slim) story underneath the slow pace.
The book's biggest plus point is its characters. None of them are particularly deep, but they're given plenty of room to stretch and be themselves. What's more, they have more bite than I'd expected. Benny hardly appears, her place in the plot being taken by the far less cuddly Jason Kane and a temporary sidekick with whom he has a downright spiky relationship. The incidental characters are prisoners in the sci-fi equivalent of a chain gang in the hope of working off their life sentences. They're a mean-spirited bunch, struggling with psychopaths in the ranks and the jailbird equivalent of office politics, but their gaolers are even less sympathetic!
I enjoyed all that. There's no lazy attempt to make these characters likeable. Instead Gary Russell presents them honestly, not skating over their brutality and incessant feuding, then makes you like some of them anyway.
Oh, and Gary's obviously into cats. You don't have to read Invasion of the Cat-People to guess that. I'm not normally a Wolsey fan, but here he gets enough skewed focus that I found myself liking the furry bastard. That's a considerable achievement, by the way.
The plot has been cannibalised from those Audio-Visual fan-produced audio plays from the 1980s and it shows its roots. That's not to call it bad, but this novel has the flavour of an expanded novelisation. It only has enough story for four standard 25-minute episodes, thus often its early chapters felt like rewritten five-minute intro scenes with added detail. Each of the first three chapters is practically a reboot of the story with a completely new cast... and I'm talking about chunky chapters of thirty-odd pages here. I didn't mind that as such, but it felt odd.
Incidentally I've never heard Deadfall (1980s audio), but apparently it's not the only Audio-Visual source for this novel. BABE is from the series pilot, The Space Wail. Planet of Lies and Deadfall introduced the convicts and the planet Ardethe, though with a very different secret for the latter. Ardethe in Planet of Lies was Gallifrey after the fall of the Time Lords! Further elements in this novel come from an unused Gary Russell script called Justyce, which was to have been the last Audio-Visual play.
Back to the novel... Jason comes across well. Chris doesn't get much to do, though there's a plot reason for that. There's a rather fun development at the end of the book which deserved better than to be completely ignored, specifically by Dave Stone in Oblivion (the next Jason book) and more generally by everyone else. Deadfall's last line acknowledges the end of Death and Diplomacy in an in-joke that's sadly faded over the subsequent years, but fortunately the line's good enough to work in its own right.
Oh, and apparently Marianne Townsend appears both in Deadfall and Divided Loyalties. So now you know.
At the end of the day, this is still a Gary Russell novel. It has namechecks, fanwank, chirpily readable prose and almost no depth. It's passable, but by the standards of the Benny NAs, it's a lesser offering. However in its favour it does nothing wrong and remains one of Gary's more solid efforts. Not one to seek out, but it's not one to avoid either. I read it quite happily.