Professor Bernice Summerfield
A Life Worth Living

Editor: Simon Guerrier
Big Finish
RRP £14.99
ISBN 1 84435 109 2
Available 30 September 2004

The occupation is over. The Braxiatel Collection is back to normal. People are all making an effort to get on and to rebuild. Life is good. It's not going to last, is it? Soon Benny is up to her eyeballs in strange deaths, sinister cults, peculiar love affairs and a Collection full of people who haven't yet stopped fighting...

I must say that for an anthology with such an uplifting title, A Life Worth Living does contain a heck of a lot of downers! Welcome to the Machine, by Sin Deniz, deals with a woman who is menaced by a stalker; Ms Jones faces ongoing hostility whilst trying to get over the death of her Fifth Axis lover Bernard Moskoff in Joseph Lidster's A Summer Affair; while Ian Mond's Denial concerns a holocaust denier. The restoration of a relic stirs up deep-seated colonial ill feeling in Reparation, by Gregg Smith; while Bernice objects to the excavation of Axis artefacts in Nick Walters's Mentioning the War.

Lighter notes are provided by Cameron Mason's Final Draft, a comical tale of last-minute rewrites to a flawed speech; The Blame of the Nose, by Ben Woodhams, a pastiche of The Name of the Rose; There Never Need Be Longing in Your Eyes, by Ian Farrington, featuring a sinister crèche; and Richard Salter's Nothing Up My Sleeve, in which Bernice takes on some even more sinister magicians. My personal favourite, however, is Philip Purser-Hallard's Sex Secrets of the Robot Replicants, which deals with Jason's latest scheme to boost sales of his xenoporn (inter-species sex) novels through the use of fake literary criticism and android literary critics - with hilarious results!

Events in this anthology take place over a year. There isn't the same unifying feeling that there was in Life During Wartime, which I described as seeming more like a novel than a collection of short stories. Nevertheless there is a sense of continuity, since several tales contain unobtrusive references to previous stories in the book, or to stories yet to come. The setting of the Braxiatel Collection becomes more like the planet Dellah from the old Virgin Publishing New Adventures days, as Brax opens up his planetoid to students.

The spotlight isn't always on Professor Summerfield during these tales. It falls on Ms Jones in the aforementioned A Summer Affair, on Jason Kane in Sex Secrets, on Hass the Martian gardener in Eddie Robson's Against Gardens, and on Bev Tarrant in Reparation.

All the stories are of a notably high standard. Usually with these collections I find that there is at least one tale that I would have chosen to eject, but that is not the case here. So, all in all, A Life Worth Living is a book worth reading.

Richard McGinlay

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