What’s it about: Negotiations have failed and the Braxiatel Collection now sits within a war zone. Bernice and Maggie are racing back to the Collection with something that may just help bring an end to all the fighting - or at least protect their home. That something is a man, Maggie's father and the would-be killer of Bernice's own husband. His name: Irving Braxiatel. But the Collection is on the far side of the Mim blockade, and there's no possible way they can get through. They'll just have to do something impossible…
Archeological Adventuress: As an expert on cats (after her love hate relationship with Wolsey) she knows that the cats on the ship aren’t aliens in cat form, or shape shifting alien cat women or even super intelligent cats from the future. She knows a cat when it’s trying to cripple your ankles with its face. Benny refuses to throw questions at Braxiatel and demand answers – she can leave that to Jason when they get home. I think Bernice wanted to acquire Brax’s services because she knew he would be able to do the things the rest of them weren’t capable of to ensure their safety. Bernice has the look of a smart ass and for an archaeologist she seems unusually wary of antiques. When it comes to the choice between stepping into the filter or allowing Maggie to do so Bernice understands that she is more important to the events that are currently playing out and yet she hates herself for not telling her friend that she knew she wouldn’t be coming back. She realises that it is always someone else who has to take the pain, to make the sacrifices – don’t get too close to Professor Summerfield or she might do something necessary.
Super Genius: Braxiatel knows there are people who would undoubtedly try and destroy the Gravity’s Rainbow if they knew that he was on board and so he has placed himself in suspension and is being loaded as cargo. Although Benny thinks he simply doesn’t want to fork out for decent transport home! She tells him to expect Jason to cut him open with an ice pick when they get back with a long queue behind him ready to have their turn. He groans with despair when Benny tries to reduce his relationship with Maggie to biology (calling him her father) because he considers her an artefact. Maggie remembers slipping free of her nutrients and her father declaring in a flat voice ‘it’s a female.’ What a touching birth story. He is quite touchy about the fact that he spent the last cosmic cycle hiding as a rock and not under one! The moment the Draconians know he is back things will become even more unpredictable. Just when we thought that Braxiatel was a heartless bastard we hear his last conversation with his daughter and feel his pain as they are irrevocably torn apart.
Standout Performance: When people enter into this bizarre and wonderful world of Bernice Summerfield I sometimes wonder what the actors must think of the trippy material they are portraying. This is a more unusual script than usual and yet Nigel Pegram and Diane Fletcher both attack the story with real vigour and vim. It takes good actors to take something this insane and make it plausible and they both achieve that in droves. The way O’Mahony and Pegram shift Rodgers character from raving madman to heartbreaking victim is beautifully done.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Either we are going to find the Collection reduced to a smouldering ruin or we’re going to get back in time to die with the rest of them.
‘When this thing was built they were still putting people into space by strapping them to enormous explosives and praying!’
‘Best to leave the sleeping Irving’s to lie…’
‘Emanations of Brahma…’ – O’Mahony is such an intelligent writer, using a Hindu God to create a moment of serene poetry.
‘Most of our astronauts came from a male modelling agency in New Mexico!’ – the Space Programme debunked in the most facile way imaginable!
‘That’s different. They don’t need to apologise. They’re cats.’
‘There wont be a sodding Collection anymore. Not only will we die but everyone on the Draconian flagship will die. Then their fleet will fire on the Mim and loads of Mim will die. Then they’ll fire back and loads of Draconians will die. Then everyone in the middle will die! Everyone on the Collection will die and they’re going to die because you are bloody moron!’
‘Pin pricks! They’re tiny compared to me!’ ‘Yes, yes, I can see that you’re an enormous prick!’
‘Ideally we need a self obsessed narcissist with a God complex. Where’s Brax?’
Great Ideas: Both sides in the Draconian/Mim war are reinforcing their blockade and the Mim are creating safe corridors for evacuees whilst at the same time opening fire on anybody that attempts to leave fearing they could be smuggling arms to the Draconians. The ship they are going home in is obsolete 21st Century technology but no one would actually want to travel through space in one of them now. Bernice wants a guarantee that it wont blow up on the launch pad but having survived over 500 years it is what you could coin robust. If they are caught on the way home it will turn into a bloody great shooting match with everybody Bernice loves in the middle. If they don’t try and get back to the Collection with Brax there is a good chance the shooting will start anyway and if they do there is a chance they can stop it. How to go from cargo to stowaway in one easy step – wake up. Blood has already been spilt in this conflict and Brax knows that they may have to be ruthless in order to maintain their safety. The Deselby Matango filter reduces you to a state of non-existence and allows you to travel to your destination before putting you back together. In theory. Brax put himself into null suspension because he though he would be safe from the creatures in the light once the ship slipped through the DM filter. The cats become primal cat beings, in their dreams they remember their savage primal lineage when they were kings of the world. Captain Rodgers has been hooked up to a life support system for 600 years, the first man to travel in space. He is wired into the ship as a living part of the Deselby Matango filter, it kept him alive for over five centuries and he has been piloting the ship. Rodgers was wired into a satellite and blasted into space in the 1940’s to watch over the Earth and protect it from his enemies. When he was no longer needed they auctioned off the surplus hardware and he came with the satellite as any accessory. Property of the space programme and sold off for a pittance. He was the only man to walk in space, to constantly watch the Earth dawn and the Earth set – an expression of human paranoia and technology. A victim of a suspicious race that wanted to ensure their safety in the stars. I wondered how they were going to write Maggie out of the series and she makes a real sacrifice whilst her father hides away like a snivelling coward. Astonishingly the weather systems repair as soon as Brax steps foot on the Collection.
Audio Landscape: Purring cats, screaming primates, a car swerving off the road, playing ping-pong, the growling monsters in the light, hooked up to a life support system, mewling pussies, wind and rain, birdsong.
Standout Scene: There is a very tense ‘silent running’ sequence as the Gravity’s Rainbow has to sneak past a heavily armed Mim warship that reminded me of the claustrophobia of submarine movies.
Notes: The short story anthology Collected Works revealed the Collection to be a malfunctioning TARDIS which needs Braxiatel in order to work properly. It would seem in order for them to remain safe on the Collection; the faulty TARDIS needs a time sensitive pilot at the helm. It’s a fantastic little anthology which shows the devastating effects of an ailing time craft and well worth seeking out.
Foreboding: There is a scene where Benny is described as ‘Madame President’ and the ‘First Lady’ leading Braxiatel to admit since he has been away that his friend has gone up in the world. People seem to think she is the spitting image of the big Chief’s wife back on tribal Earth and this will be followed up in The Final Amendment.
Result: Opening one of the strongest seasons of the Bernice Summerfield range with a story that confirms this series has become serialised and taking place in the heart if a war zone, A Tub Full of Cats sees Benny trying to circumnavigate the war in order to get Braxiatel back to the Collection. O’Mahony never quite gives you what you expect; he always glides his stories in unpredictable directions and plumps up the clever ideas with intelligent dialogue. This is a range that can make a journey home (surely one of the most dullest experiences in anybody’s life) a thoughtful and imaginative delight. The biggest strength that Simon Guerrier brought to the range was its coherence and dramatic potential – every story feels as though it is adding to the whole rather than simply telling standalone tales which wander aimlessly. This is a great time to be a fan of the Bernice Summerfield range and there are some real shocks and surprises just around the corner. A confident opening story and one that cements O’Mahony as one to look forward to: 8/10