Review by Jacob Licklider
Over the past two years, Big Finish Productions have been rereleasing their out of print Bernice Summerfield books as audiobook readings for the low price of $10 a book with the first five full length novels already being released (interestingly they haven’t done any of the anthologies or novella collections yet). A surprise December 2020 announcement gave listeners the opportunity to add three new Benny books to their audiobook collections: The Big Hunt, The Tree of Life, and The Two Jasons, all set for release in 2021 and 2022. The Big Hunt by Lance Parkin leads these audiobooks, released this month and available for download right now. Now, it is important to note that this is not a new release, nothing has been changed from the text of the 2005 book release, just put into an audiobook reading with Benny herself, Lisa Bowerman. Perhaps listeners were spoiled by Terror of the Master in Masterful, but going from that right into The Big Hunt, the lack of music and sound effects in the audiobook may detract. Potential listeners shouldn’t go in expecting them in any way as this is a release. The Big Finish website shows this as being recorded completely remotely in November and December which is confirmed by the included Q&A. Bowerman, as always, is an excellent narrator using her impressive range to bring to life several characters, only one of which actually appeared previously (that being Benny).
The Big Hunt’s description is perhaps a bit misleading, ending with the line “Benny realises that to survive she must join in on what might be the most dangerous ‘game’ she’s ever played.”
“The Most Dangerous Game” is a short story by Richard Connell about a shipwrecked big game hunter gets forced to be the prey for another hunter, Zaroff, who hunts humans for the fun of it. This premise has been used many times, especially as the story is in the public domain, but outside of having hunting and a shipwreck, The Big Hunt really isn’t all that inspired by “The Most Dangerous Game,” with the absolute best parts of Parkin’s novel has nothing to do with hunting. The real idea behind The Big Hunt is a colony built by artificial intelligence and robots which can evolve, not in the Darwinian sense, but in the Lamarckian sense (that is changing within a lifetime to suit their needs). This is an absolutely fascinating premise and it kind of makes this book feel like Benny does Jurassic Park where everything goes wrong and it is intelligence which eventually falls into the solution. Parkin’s prose is, as always, silky as the book relishes in exploring how Benny deals with the aftermath of Death and the Daleks away from Jason and the Braxiatel Collection. That context is by no means necessary for enjoying this book, though it does enhance some of the novel especially early on when Benny is just on vacation. An archeological dig is a way to relax, though her initial standoffish interactions with her assigned assistant, Noelle Flynn, is excellent.
The mystery aspect of the book is where it really does shine. Parkin puts Benny in the pilot seat as the detective to discover just why these robots first can evolve and second just why they have kept this uninhabited planet clean, including the potential colony aspects of the story which eventually builds up as a brilliant conclusion to the book. Now this isn’t the perfect book: it is a slow start and the final chapter in particular drags. There is also a problem with Parkin not fleshing out every idea he introduces, making me wonder if he intended to follow this book up. Overall, The Big Hunt is a great novel and releasing the audiobook gives it a new opportunity to shine to a brand new audience. 8/10.
Check out other Big Finish reviews.