Bernice Summerfield
Nobody’s Children

Authors: Kate Orman, Jonathan Blum and Philip Purser-Hallard
Big Finish
RRP: £14.99
ISBN: 978 1 84435 281 4
Available 31 August 2007

The war is meant to be over. The Draconian Empire has won the day, and the Mim have lost pretty much everything. That includes the borogoves of Proxima Longissima, the Mim’s beloved children. The Draconians claim the borogoves are foundlings, abused and neglected by their parents. In the Empire they will be protected and provided for. Fearing that its species faces extinction, one of last surviving Mim begs Bernice Summerfield to come and see for herself. Benny just wants to do right by her own son, Peter, and the brother or sister that may follow him, but soon the borogoves are, rather unexpectedly, her godchildren, and she becomes their best hope. As if dead oceans and burning deserts weren’t hostile enough, Benny must then enter the labyrinthine corridors of diplomacy, where right and wrong are questions of perspective...

This collection of three novellas is all about points of view. All Mimsy Were the Borogoves, by Kate Orman, is conveyed from the first-person perspective of a Mim, called Lwpha. This really quite delightful narrative, which is full of wry observations about the lifestyles of sexually-reproducing species such as our own, makes me care about the asexual, shape-shifting Mim in a way that I never did before. If a story like this had been published sooner, I might have been more interested in the recent Mim/Draconian conflict.

Jonathan Blum’s The Loyal Left Hand counterbalances his wife Orman’s tale in a number of interesting ways. Having been well and truly won over to the Mim point of view, here Bernice experiences the Draconian way of life. Though this story isn’t a first-person narrative, Bernice gradually forms a connection with Ithva, the inscrutable wife of Jarith Kothar, and the other Draconian women out on a female bonding ritual in the middle of a desert. In both stories, Bernice visits a vacation destination of the species in question, one an ocean world (the Mim name for Proxima Longissima is Holiday Home), the other a parched wilderness (the Tembleth Desert). In both stories, she becomes intimate in some way with that species’ representative.

After the instantly engaging viewpoint of Lwpha, I found The Loyal Left Hand rather difficult to get into. However, it’s worth sticking with, as Blum reveals a fascinating and hitherto hidden side of Draconian sexual politics (one that, quite cunningly, due to its clandestine nature, will probably stand up to any future revelations about the species’ culture in other narratives, such as upcoming Doctor Who television stories). He also makes intriguing references to the First Doctor’s visit to the Draconian Empire (alluded to in the Jon Pertwee serial Frontier in Space). When Benny reaches the Tembleth Desert, the narrative switches from the past tense to the present, lending an air of immediacy and proximity to the events that unfold.

Now that we and Benny have accepted both the Mim and Draconian standpoints, the final novella, Philip Purser-Hallard’s Nursery Politics, adds further complications by conveying multiple perspectives, including those of Jason (which come complete with some appropriately Dave Stone style wordplay), Kothar, Ithva and a Mim or two. Significantly, Bernice’s point of view is absent until the epilogue, though her actions and expressions are observed and interpreted by all the other characters. The setting of the story is the Draconian-Mim Reparations Tribunal, which is being hosted on the Braxiatel Collection, and the diversity of viewpoints drives home the difficulty of getting people to agree with one another.

The machiavellian complexity of the political resolution hurt my brain a little, but that’s my only complaint about this well-constructed narrative.

Usually I treat such novellas on an individual basis, but I would have ended up giving them all the same mark anyway, and my views on each one have been informed by my reading of the others, so my review has ended up blending into one. Like the Mim’s tending of the borogoves, Nobody’s Children is a true team effort and this book is everyone’s brainchild. As such, its parents should be duly proud.

Richard McGinlay

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