Thursday, 28 April 2011
The Infinity Race by Simon Messingham
Plot: Stuck in an alternative universe, manipulated by Sabbath and discovering a ship full of dead crew, the Doctor must uncover the secrets of the famous water planet of Selonart. The trans global regatta is about to begin but beneath the cosmetics there is a completely different race taking place, a race for the power over infinity…
Top Doc: Like the book, he works in places and doesn’t in others. Described as the most annoying person in the galaxy, he is extremely verbose in this adventure and seems to get off on the thrill of adventure (hardly the right attitude to take given the state the universe is in at the moment!). It is impossible to be angry with him when he gives one of his warm smiles (at least according to Anji). Unhinged and joyful, like Willie Wonka. The Gene Wilder one. He panics underwater, feels claustrophobic as the silent ocean cocoons around him. With the Doctor, anything could be true. He is a charmer and it is impossible to not like him. He feels a loathing when he comes into contact with Sabbath; his very existence feels like a violation of the Doctor. Described as randomly picking his way through the universe, sticking plasters over wounds her and there. For the Doctor, the adventure is everything. Does good because it flatters his ego?
Scruffy Git: Bizarrely, The Infinity Race chooses to write sections directly from Fitz and Anji’s POV which gives some insight into what goes through their minds whilst running for their lives. He is the enthusiastic child of the TARDIS and looking good is half the battle with him. He has the disarming cow eyes of the truly stupid (can you guess who is thinking this stuff?). He doesn’t like having his opinions dismissed by the others although by his admission he is the action man and the Doctor and Anji are the thinkers. His friendship with Bloom is very sweet and it is proof that Fitz’s mere presence makes a difference as growing close and earning Bloom’s trust makes the Selonart native step forward and save his life and then jump in at the climax and give the Doctor the power to save the day.
Career Nazi: Whilst she is a little overstated at times, Anji’s sections are the best and easily the funniest. Being trapped in an alternate dimension, she feels as though somebody has vandalised her home and no matter how much she re-decorates, she will never feel safe. She was just getting used to living in the ‘normal’ world again. She is the self appointed headmistress of the TARDIS, admonishing the naughty schoolboys for getting too wrapped up in the adventurous spirit of the race! Her mocking of Fitz’s physical ineptitude is hilarious. She wonders if everything she has ever known will ever be the same again. Anji’s sections are lifted by some brilliantly post modern thoughts (‘It all seems so easy on the telly, doesn’t it? You can just cut to the next scene. In the real world there’s all this tiresome travelling stuff to get through’). She admits towards the end how very tired she is and how much she misses her old life. She is terrified of Sabbath and holds the Doctor back when he tries to rescue him.
Ham Fists: An extraordinary man with a strength in him that is tense and dangerous. He is packed tight with muscles and not as decadent as he would like to appear. Brilliantly, he sits and munches an apple as his associate is slaughtered. A beast pretending to be a man? Amoral, ruthless and utterly egocentric, Sabbath sees himself as a crusader. Described as humanity’s final enemy. He still has it in his head that he can crush reality into one definitive timeline, one that he can mould and control, uncluttered and free. He understands violence, its necessity and its glamour but it still was not pleasant to him, such a small concept as it is. He is thought of as a formidable opponent, insane, ambitious, even ridiculous but still a marvel. A man of brutal grace.
Twists: The warlock attacking the Doctor on the yacht is excitingly written; in fact much of their exploration of the dead ship is pretty creepy. The TARDIS is lost to the ocean. The warlocks turn out to be a colonisation crew who were infected by the cancer that is soaked into the bones of the planet Demigest. The scenes underwater are arresting, especially when the sub and Warner start being divided by the crystals. The sailors are split by their infinitives (omigod can you believe he got away with that?), alternate versions all grouping together rather than branching off into a separate timeline. Far scarier than the main plot is the abrupt end to the race, which leads to scenes of vicious, competitive capitalists on the rampage. It transpires that in this universe the Service (of which Sabbath was once a member) still exists and they have a contract out on Sabbath’s life. Horribly, the natives are butchered in from of Anji’s eyes. Selonart was built to help its natives transcend death, to know everything, to join directly with the universe and yet retain a sense of self. That is what Bloom goes through in this book, becoming one with infinity. The Doctor slides the Jonah’s windows open and allows the ocean and the timeberg to blast them. Fitz is killed, his throat slashed open by a Warlock but thanks to Bloom’s help in choosing the variety of paths one can take, he goes back to before his death and changes events. Sabbath is kidnapped by the Warlocks and made to suffer for his actions. The Doctor takes it upon himself to remove the Warlocks’ stain from the universe at the end of the story.
Embarrassing bits: The switching narratives are extremely distracting throughout, especially when Fitz and Anji talk directly to somebody (saying funky things like “Hey folks its Fitz again!”)…who the hell are these fictional characters talking to…us? What’s even weirder is when Messingham starts addressing us too (We return to the Governor much more relaxed than of late…)!!! Bloom’s fractured speech is pretty annoying in places. Anji admits that she is NOT used to death in her adventures when she said the exact opposite in the last book. Sabbath really is a bit of a dunce not to realise he is now in an alternative reality.
What annoys me most is how wonderful Simon Messingham's PDAs are and yet how underwhleming his EDAs turn out to be. This and The Face Eater hardly seem to be by the same writer of the superlative Tomb of Valdemar and The Indestructible Man. Messingham can clearly deliver the goods so what is it about writing for the eighth Doctor that leaves him so lacking?
Funny bits: They say cockroaches are likely to be the most successful survivors of a holocaust but I’m sure junk mail is up there! Anji taking the piss out of Fitz is always funny (“What Fitz did next was excellent…as far as I can tell he made to leap out after me, launched himself forward and smashed his head into the doorframe.”) Marius’ idea of diplomacy is hilarious (“Look tell me what you were doing or I’ll blow your brains out all over this desk!”).
Result: The Infinity Race has the unfortunate feeling of being made up as it goes along, the author has sections where he is full of ideas and others where he is bored tit-less and can’t wait to finish the thing off. Consequently the resulting novel is hilarious, boring, imaginative and slow. The switching narrative is distinctive but annoying and it feels like Messingham is trying to be too clever for his own good. Compared to the drama of the last four books this is distinctly substandard with huge stretches of nothing happening to prolong the (admittedly) dramatic climax. I cannot bring myself to loathe the book as individual scenes are pretty good (such as the nasty rich folk riot and the native hunt) but as a whole they just don’t gel as well as they should. Sabbath has lots of great descriptions but this is the first time he has really come across as a pantomime villain. In true season eight fashion, you know he will be back in the next story: 4/10