Parallel Lives and Something Changed: two Bernice Summerfield collections

Two anthologies of short fiction in the Big Finish Bernice Summerfield continuity – but they are actually very different from each other. Parallel Lives includes three novellas, all dealing with the same incident from different angles. Something Changed has sixteen short stories all set in divergent timelines. Both do share linking material by Simon Guerrier, who I guess should be credited as the editor in both cases.

I felt that Parallel Lives was much stronger. Second paragraph of third section of first story: (“The Serpent’s Tooth”, by Rebecca Levene):

But, on the upside, the fact that in under 24 hours she was due to be married to the Emperor’s daughter did have some advantages. For a start, she’d had the chance to ride back into Portred in state, in a carriage pulled by what really did appear to be unicorns. She’d also eaten so much at her victory feast that her prostheses were in danger of popping.

Second paragraph of third story (“Jason and the Pirates”, by Dave Stone):

Shamanthra rested the palm of a hand on the palm tree under which she sat, and it obligingly dropped a coconut.

The three stories concern the aftermath of the disappearance of Clarissa, the secretary of the Braxiatel collection, with Bernice’s young son. The strongest is Rebecca Levene’s opener, with Bernice herself travelling to a world where gender roles are strongly reinforced and needing to disguise herself as a man. The middle one by Stewart Shergold is a not terribly exciting piece with regular characters Bev and Adrian trapped in a strange seaside hotel. The third piece, by Dave Stone, is fun if you like pirates (not really my thing) and also moves that overall narrative along more satidfactorily than the others.

Something Changed introduces a new regular character to the series, Doggles, who wields a History Machine which malfunctions leading to fourteen branching narratives. The third chapter is “Dead Mice”, by Joseph Lidster, and its second paragraph is:

It’s a bit like screaming as the bell continues to chime and a thousand universes and a billion and one choices force their way through him and something… no, everything changes as white light starts to explode around him but he holds it back and he makes it stop. And he buttons his jacket, looks at his reflection and, having taken control once more, he breathes in.

However all of the chapters between the first and the last are numbered “Chapter Two”; the second paragraph of the final story “After Life” by Simon Guerrier, which is actually numbered “Chapter Three”, is:

She stared down at the loose soil. Hass had encouraged her to help fill in the hole, a shovel at a time. Sweaty, tired, raw, it helped her not to think. She couldn’t even manage tears. The grave looked peaceful now. This spot, just next to the greenhouse, always got the sun. It had been a favourite place. He had loved napping here, lying right in the way of the gardeners. Hass used to trip over him. She smiled at that, and tears came.

(The grave is that of Wolsey the cat, who is dead in all iterations.)

I found it striking that the fifteen authors of the sixteen chapters (Simon Guerrier tops and tails the book) are all men. I also find it difficult to get invested in a collection of stories each of which effectively has a reset button that brings us back to the end of the first chapter, and most of which involve dealing with the death or disability of one or other of the key characters. So these are a set of character studies and “what ifs”, with some moments of vivid descriptive writing but which deliberately don’t take the overall story arc forward, and it felt a bit pointless to me.

One thought on “Parallel Lives and Something Changed: two Bernice Summerfield collections

  1. over the course of years from 1990 to 2013.

    Exactly, so publication was completed in 2013, until that point the story wasn’t complete and very few people are going to vote for book X of Y in an incomplete sequence. Now, it’s complete and people can judge the work as a whole.

    I’ve never read it, I don’t really plan to, but given how many people love it, I think it’s a perfectly valid thing if, as many of its fans have asserted, it really isn’t a series of standalone works and is one ongoing story that is now finished. I’m good with that.

    Now, voters decide if it deserves the actual award.

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