Thursday, 19 May 2011

The Art of Destruction by Stephen Cole

Plot: In the shadows of a dormant volcano lies long hidden art treasures that two races are willing to fight over…

Mockney Dude: There is very little that makes this book a Doctor Who book because the regulars are literally as peripheral as the guest cast – this story could happily play out with any other characters than the Doctor and Rose and that is never a good sign. If you aren’t going to use the situation to explore these characters I think you need to rethink the situation. The Doctor says he is not an aid worker, a journo or an activist. He is embarrassingly enthused at hearing people have been eaten and later is said to collapse in a bony heap. He is appalled that Faltato is willing to provoke widespread slaughter for a mere one percent of the art haul! His special method is to shut up, think positive and get working. ‘Coming Rose’ he says as he surrenders to the molten material and it tempts him into sacrificing himself because she has appeared to have died. He has turned travelling hopefully into an art form.

Chavvy Chick: A much less interesting book for Rose than Cole’s last effort. It struck me as astonishing that she was heavily involved in the action throughout but is constantly reacting to the dangers that we never get any chance to get inside her head or learn anything new about her. She’s just there. Compare and contrast with the delightful work Jac Rayner does with the character, constantly innovating and amusing, and it really pales in comparison. She loves coloured men – an odd observation! She feels a familiar tingle of disbelief at being in the future and realises that some things like poverty will always stay the same. ‘Get off me you muppet!’ she cries at one point, the one example of chav speak.

Twists: A glowing, devouring metal is alive beneath the volcano. They are an agricultural unit farming inside the volcano, sucking the land dry to pay for debt that Africa can never pay off and renting out its land to Europe and America so they can feed their people whilst they go on starving. The one problem with the fungus they are trying to cultivate is that it is poisonous! The molten substance is defensive and turning animals into sentries and a flock of molten bats attacks Rose in what would be an impressive set piece had we seen it on screen. These golems are unthinking servants, creating by alien technology rather than spells. Faltato is described as being spiked like a cactus with a neck that pulsates like a toad, two spindly arms with pincers and many legs that clack together – what an image! He comes from a world of art and class and takes real umbrage to have a ‘skanky pit’ considered its lair! A treasure store of alien art, pictures and sculptures, is being stored beneath the volcano. Faltato has many tongues, one for talking, one for eating and one for flossing! The Valnaxi are an avian race of gifted artists who are connected with their own planet. Brilliantly, mouths open in the base of the Wurm spaceship and vomits a foul smelling muck to cushion its landing and buries the TARDIS. They carry mud guns which spit out gloopy earth with living, devouring things wriggling inside that strip off your skin. Africa has become the final battleground between the Wurms and the Valnaxi and there is a grippingly violent battle between the giant earthworms and the golems as soon as they land. If you attempt to escape the Wurms they will eat you alive – ugh! Whilst the Valnaxi have devoted their life to art the Wurms have devoted their time to destroying it. The Valnaxi wanted to return to their homeworld and walk amongst their enemies in their form. The alien mud turns out to grow anything in it and will revolutionise farming and they file a claim in the name of the African people. People the world over will want to purchase this miracle mud and they can pay for it, pulling Africa out of poverty.

Embarrassing Bits: ‘Some Star Trek style tricorder gadget in her hand’ – since when has this sort of lazy description ever been acceptable in Doctor Who novels? The Doctor grates on your nerves at times by suggesting he is ‘really, really, really, really, reeeeaaaallllyyyy old.’ Cole describes a hole as the size of a ‘chubby Labrador’ – huh? He also suggests that the Wurm make a hissing, straining noise much like ‘an elephant on the loo’ – I have read many Stephen Cole books before but this level of amateurish description was never evident – what the hell is going on? Was this book written in a hurry? Oddly the story seems to be entirely plot driven with only the barest levels of characterisation to add very little depth. In the last third of the novel Cole gets lost in his own insane plotting and there is lots of running away from earthworms and golems and very little plot development. Fynn’s death might have been affecting had we known anything about him in the slightest. Aside from a tiny rant at the very beginning of the book and a miracle cure for poverty at the end of it there is absolutely no reason for this book to be set in Africa – there is so much room for some fascinating ecological and socio-political drama (which is not beyond Doctor Who as both were very much evident in the Pertwee years) that this book ached of wasted potential. The conclusion is very messy and confusing, seeming to suggest that the underdeveloped Valnaxi wanted to both trap the Wurms and take on their image but rather than explore this in any detail it is simply more rushing about. There is a moment when the book seems to suggest that Rose is dead but this is a huge problem with the NSAs that they can never get away with this sort of shock tension because we know the books are slaves to the developments of the TV series.

Funny Bits: Thank God for Faltato and his cohorts the Wurms because they turn up and add some much needed spice to the novel. ‘I live my life surrounded by art treasures so unutterably beautiful that your puny eyes would implode at the mere sight of them and you assume my natural habitat to be a rancid rock hole like this? I was never so insulted! And by a biped!’ cries the middleman! The Wurms are great fun, I especially loved their ‘if you attempt to escape to interfere you will be killed, ingested and excreted!’

Result: Cole’s books continue to be the weakest of the range and The Art of Destruction feels even more hastily written than The Feast of the Drowned. It has an exotic location that adds nothing to story, barely sketched characters that make no impact and a confused and unengaging plot that seems to contain of little more than running around a volcano! Fortunately there are some imaginative aliens that turn up in the middle sections of the book that turn up to kick the crap out of everybody in some exciting scenes and Faltato the indescribably odd looking middleman provides some good laughs. The writing is no where near Cole at his best (go and read Ten Little Aliens for that) with some truly strange descriptions and the Doctor and Rose might as well have not turned up at all since they barely show any personality whatsoever. A poor book with a few redeeming features: 4/10

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