Bernice Summerfield: The Christmas Collection

Posted in Audio by - December 24, 2020
Bernice Summerfield: The Christmas Collection

Released December 2020

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Just in time for Christmas- or whatever name it may go by on any given planet- when the nights are dark and the lights are sparkling, Bernice Summerfield returns in an anthology of ten festive audiobook tales in Bernice Summerfield: The Christmas Collection.

Beginning Part 1: Seasonal Stories from St Oscars, ‘Tap’ by Mark Clapham highlights Bernice as the junior member on an expedition to a junk world. On a planet that undergoes a complete seasonal change every three days and thus experiences a year in under a fortnight, winter coincides with Christmas this year, and the team looks to uncover the truth behind disks relating to a long-dead civilization while huddled inside a basic accommodation from the harsh weather outside. Discovering a simulation of sorts that seems to tell of a race in touch with nature and with no natural predators, the long fingers of these figures becomes a haunting image inside and outside of the game as its very progression comes into question. Benny here is at a stage where she revels in the chance to espouse her knowledge and happily twists ancient holiday traditions to meet her desires, and the haunting ghost story that results is a poignant and visual one that expertly taps into the universal will to survive.

In ‘Null Zeit’ by Scott Harrison, Benny is searching for her friend Haruko on a devastated planet that seems to be at war with itself. Looking into the hypernova that possibly was once the Christmas star, a group of astrohistorians had begun terraforming a nearby planet to support life while using an immersive technology to create and manipulate worlds. Yet as the studies intensified, the people began retreating from reality and thus creating another facet to the schism that had been growing while attempting to interpret the events of the Nativity and just who Jesus may have been. No matter its beginnings, the world that Bernice finds is one of the most remarkable and visual ever presented, and the impressive sights of Santa on a cyborg reindeer with guns built into its horns as well as of robotic camels shooting candy canes present a unique wartime setting that has so affected the emaciated survivors on this world’s surface. Not content to end its yuletide ties there, this story also manages to deftly incorporate a haunting version of Santa’s workshop and a Christmas angel that is anything but a good omen, and although the reality behind this world is fairly predictable, its striking visuals and further development of Bernice at this earlier stage in her life makes it a true standout.

‘Glory to the Newborn King’ by Matthew Griffiths sees Bernice dragging her assistant Gavin away from his planet’s winter celebrations to help with a well-financed expedition to the mysterious planet Telway. With the decrees and motivations- hidden and overt- of corporatism omnipresent throughout, Bernice comes to a world where even the surface is far from what it seems. It’s what is hidden beneath that surface that has garnered everyone’s attention, however, and blocked communications are quickly put into an entirely new context when the dark space far above this world proves to be much more intrinsically linked to events than imagined. This is a tense story that reveals its critical information at a satisfying clip, and although there is little that remains secretive about the corporation’s agenda given Bernice’s suspicions and accusations throughout, the scope of events balloons in a wholly logical progression that comes to truly test Bernice and prove just how shrewd and intelligent she is in the process.

Part 2: Christmas Tales from the Braxiatel Collection begins with Tim Gambrell’s feature-length ‘Signifiers of the Verphidiae.’ While enjoying the planning process for a traditional Christmas party for her friends, something that Braxiatel is less enthusiastic about than anyone else, Bernice soon finds her attention divided when a mysterious alien artifact is brought to her. Fascinated by a mysterious stone slab emblazoned with unknown symbols upon a series of doors, she is understandably annoyed both that she has no environmental context for this find and that she cannot seem to make any progress with translating the symbols or uncovering what secrets it may hold within its doors. However, while she quickly discovers that this mystery is something akin to an advent calendar that opens once daily and that wishes those looking upon it traditional holiday platitudes, an appendix’s clues to this language where each word is dependent on those around it for meaning as well as the unexplained furtive motions of one of her friends come to reveal a most unexpected hidden aspect to this find. And although the tense fallout doesn’t quite match the overall intrigue of the buildup surrounding this mystery, this is a tale that wonderfully captures the immensely nuanced relationships that Bernice has with both Braxiatel and Jason in particular as she butts heads with and works alongside each to try to gain the upper hand at every step, ably reminding listeners of arguably Bernice’s most famous era along the way.

In ‘The Frosted Deer’ by Sophie Iles, Bernice and Braxiatel have traveled to the planet Teilan in search of an ancient artifact. With the festival commemorating the fallen from a war that quite literally tore the planet in two, the relic found in a child’s hand so long ago that has come to signify the hope for an enduring peace and that has not been seen since is allegedly once more on the move to keep its location a secret. Through two very different approaches that perfectly signify the different walks of life Benny and Braxiatel occupy, they are deftly able to pinpoint the artifact’s present location, and the distinct hopes and motivations of these two are perfectly outlined as expectations and reality collide while truly exemplifying the very best of Bernice as a character. Mysterious, witty, whimsical, and poignant in equal measure, ‘The Frosted Deer’ manages to perfectly encapsulate the Bernice Summerfield experience without relying on the most immense and personal threats or dangers beyond those used for setup that simply looking at the relic could carry.

“Collector’s Item”’ by Eddie Robson sees Benny trying to wield her influence on Braxiatel to protect a small planet from mining and development after discovering an impossible sculpture. Made of something similar to glass but without the reflective properties and seemingly made of disparate pieces held aloft by nothing, this sculpture intrigues everyone who lays eyes upon it and is found to hold a unique relationship to time itself. To her credit, Bernice does her best to involve Braxiatel in her own investigations into the origins of this piece, but Robson quite adeptly captures the unique relationship these two have and the ever-present haughtiness that Braxiatel holds no matter the situation. Still, the truth behind this piece and the dramatic effect it has on Braxiatel in particular are quite profound, and the power and importance of memories both from one’s own perspective as well as from another’s proves to be the impetus for a touching coda to the main event that fits perfectly with the more self-reflective notions that the holidays bring.

‘Santa Benny at the Bottom of the Sea’ by Simon Guerrier takes a much different approach to the yuletide theme, exploring the young siblings of a strange underwater species who have come of age together and are learning to cope to with their newfound qualities as Nessa, Freng, and Strong absorb knowledge and feelings from those around them and try very hard to be nice to ensure that Santa will bring them presents. Through this somewhat bizarre and seemingly innocuous setup, however, unfolds a remarkably incisive and thought-provoking tale that touches upon the innocence of youth and the uncertainty and distance that aging can bring as well as the genuine meaning of and motivations for being nice. Guerrier also showcases just how adept Bernice is at using all available information to her advantage as she attempts to achieve her latest task, and the remarkable degree of compassion and empathy she maintains as she comes to reflect upon her own family in these uncertain circumstances proves to be another testament to this beloved character.

Part 3: Holiday Stories from Legion begins with ‘Bernice Summerfield and the Christmas Adventure’ by Xanna Eve Chown. Here, Bernice calls upon all of her knowledge of twentieth century Earth traditions while serving as a beta tester for a virtual reality experience set at Christmas during that time. Yet while enjoying mince pies and Christmas trees and while sidestepping a strange propensity for lobsters and a story that radically alters the established histories of two very prominent holiday figures, this experience’s recycled code leads Benny on a wholly unexpected adventure that presents danger both inside and outside of the experience. Intertwined with this fast-paced sequence that proves how intellectually and physically adept Bernice can be at a moment’s notice is rather humorous dialogue about this system’s setup, its safety precautions, and just how easily those precautions can fall to the wayside with a lapse of judgment and one stray object, and the resulting advertisement that Bernice comes to unwittingly give this system is a perfect bow on this thoroughly enjoyable gift.

‘White Christmas’ by Victoria Simpson takes on a much more sombre tone than its predecessor when Bernice is mistaken for a theatre critic during an odd version of the Bing Crosby classic. Set in an industrial hangar, this local production quickly reveals much more sinister secrets than expected, and the curious visuals and dangers that Bernice unexpectedly encounters while unable to trust even seeming certainty of a known voice test her mettle to its fullest. As several of these stories have similarly touched upon, the holidays are a time for reflection on where loved ones are and have been, and Simpson takes a surprising yet effective route to explore what this can mean in even the most unanticipated of circumstances where anyone and everyone can set aside any differences to share in a common sentiment. Sadly, even the most honourable sentiment and expression can be exploited by those looking for some sort of personal gain, and that relatable aspect of modern society is a fitting yet dour note to leave listeners with as this look back into Legion comes to a close.

Part 4: Festive Tales from the Unbound Universe is composed of just one story, ‘Wise Women’ by Q. Bernice plans to join her friend Gilly for a traditional Qiyotian holiday, but she soon finds herself trekking through the desert on the back of a Nurmash in search of engine coolant to regain use of her crashed ship. Confronting the unexpected challenges that using live transport can entail, Bernice and her companions unexpectedly find themselves filling the de facto roles of the gift-bearing magi of Earth legend as they encounter the three newborn queens that represent the future of this world. Wisely, the holiday themes are subtly referenced despite the obvious parallels, and it’s the wonderful character work that brings this unlikely grouping to life so well that becomes the standout success of this story. Although ‘Wise Women’ doesn’t quite tap into the full potential that the Unbound universe offers, it nonetheless highlights the strengths of Bernice Summerfield and those she surrounds herself with at any given time, using pure determination and a little good fortune to achieve the most arduous tasks and providing a strong conclusion to this holiday set that has so successfully navigated Bernice’s long and complicated life.

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