Wednesday, 14 April 2010

The Also People by Ben Aaronovitch

Plot: The Doctor takes his companions to paradise, or at least the closest he can find. Chris and Roz fall in love, Bernice has a moral dilemma to consider and the Doctor befriends a sentient parachute. Everybody goes to fabulous parties and bread is baked in abundance. Children are conceived, passionate sex is enjoyed and the Doctor is beaten at chess. Glorious.

Master Manipulator: He is very playful throughout this novel, balancing a tea tray on his head and playing the spoons to cheer everybody up. Despite his sartorial inadequacies, the Doctor was good value as a party guest. He tended to ask more questions than he answered. He found it hard to know what the right thing to do was. The lesser of two evils is still evil. He is too naïve to realise that there aren’t any simple adventures. His doubts make him more human than the monsters he fights. The Doctor finds falling out of the sky very peaceful, a chance to think. He knows Bernice will discover Kadiatu but rather than defending his actions he lets her make the decision about whether to keep her alive or put her to ‘sleep’. Brilliantly when she viciously reminds him not to act without her decision he responds, ‘It’s not my problem now.’ In a charming scene he relaxes in a night time café, performing in from of a small audience. If he has stopped more wars than had hot dinners…how many had he started? Brilliantly the Doctor floats before the most awesome and fearsome warships ever devised and he comments, ‘I just want you to know there is absolutely no reason to be alarmed.’ He wanted to give him his responsibilities so badly it ached in his chest. He tells Roz he appreciates her, simply because she doesn’t push him for information or judge, a refreshing change from companions past. If he had to, he would kill for his secrets.

Boozy Babe: Astonishing characterisation of Bernice, beyond anything even Paul Cornell gave her. Meeting Mel had been a window into the Doctor’s past – she had seen a simpler, more innocent Doctor, a far cry from the homicidal monster she knew. If he says its safe, Bernice puts a knife in her boot. Her relationship with saRa!qava is just gorgeous, mildly flirtatious and utterly respectful. Bernice’s room on the TARDIS is strewn with clothes and possessions, saying this my stuff, my space. She finds Roz’s constant winding up of everyone annoying. She has too many bad memories about the difficult times with Ace to want to repeat the exercise with Roz. Bernice has no academic credentials, no fixed abode but she does have her name, the one thing remaining of her parents. When she discovers Kadiatu she is appalled that the Doctor has once again lied to her, she is sick of his excuses, his lies and his justifications that the ends justify the means. ‘If you do this thing, you and I are finished.’ she says about his desire to kill her. She walks away from him, ‘My decision. Just you remember that.’ She has a wonderful dream sequence where she is discussing the future of Kadiatu with a Dalek, a Cyberman and Grinx the Sontaran. She still thinks of Guy and knows it would have worked out with him. She has kept her diary since she is very young, it puts things in perspective and is somebody to talk to. Her agonising decision over Kadiatu’s fate proves just how far companions have come since the TV series.

Stroppy Copper: Besides Lance Parkin’s Just War Roz would never be characterised this well again. Just read this stuff, its divine. There doesn’t seem to be very many alien races Roz hasn’t personally insulted, blasted, shot at or arrested. Inyanthi is Roz’s clan name which means Buffalo – notoriously stubborn and bad tempered. Her Mama always thought she was too scrawny, her breasts too small, it pained Roz to think she didn’t fit the Xhosa maid ideal. She wanted heritage. Roz handles babies like they might explode any minute. She doesn’t like parties, making conversation she didn’t want to know. Her mother was intolerant of failure. She had done her fair share of waking up in strange beds but after a while sex had lost its charm. It was too messy, too sticky and too biological. When she talked about her childhood Roz could almost believe she enjoyed it. Her room on the TARDIS has a regimental air about it, a feeling of temporary accommodation. Bernice asks her why she antagonises people, ‘Because it’s easy.’ She spent hours of her childhood trying to walk like a woman, with her mama lamenting her for being such a graceless child. She gloriously states, ‘You’re right but since we’ve been with the Doctor I’ve found so many new things to really hate that all the things I thought I hated have begun to look much more attractive. I suppose it’s true, travel really does broaden the mind.’ She hates herself for crying when she is drunk and finds herself screaming, ‘I want my life back!’ ‘She’s just trying to reconcile what she is with what she thinks she is. Roz thinks that she’s a bitter, short-tempered bigoted cynic who expects the worst and is rarely disappointed. While really, deep down inside, Roz is a bitter, short-tempered, bigoted idealist who expects the worst and is rarely disappointed. There’s bound to be some mood swings while she sorts herself out.’ It is the hardest thing she has done but Roz forces herself to hand in feLixi, for the sake of justice. The Doctor wills her to talk to him at the climax but when he opens his eyes she stands alone, proud. Roz never feels better, just less worse.

Puppy Dog Eyes: Look at all this fabulous characterisation the other three have had…poor old Chris is left lagging simply because he is such a shallow character. He likes sex. He likes planes. He sleeps with Dep and has a couple of rides about. That’s about as far as you can stretch Cwej. He is oddly tender with Roz. One day Bernice thinks Chris will make a girl very happy. Someone with stamina. Everyone loses their innocence with the Doctor but Bernice couldn’t bear for that to happen to Chris (really?) – he of the wet nose, golden fur and big, stupid grin. Why the Doctor takes Chris fishing he wonders if it is possible to die of boredom.

Twists: Bernice standing on the remnant of a Dyson Sphere, broken up, the other fragments in the sky like crazy paving, a city visible, an ocean evaporating…this is epic stuff. Bathing in mid air? Chris’ bedroom breaks off from House and floats around at night. Kadiatu is on the Worldsphere, a stone cold killer who if proven threatening, must be killed. Bernice realises what she has taken for light fittings are loaves of bread at various stages of baking, bobbing around near the ceiling in individual spheres of oven hot air! The Disneyesque butter dish! The inhabitants can change their sex on a whim. Vi!Cari is murdered during a lightning storm. Hyperlude – pages 92-94 – is fascinating, we begin to understand the awesome power of God’s intelligence. The People could take out the Daleks and have a non aggression pact with The Time Lords. The talking parachute is a charming idea. Pages 144-146 AM!xitsa’s entire conversation with Roz is peppered with a 100 other activities he is doing at the same time. There is an amazing discussion on page 149 about the Daleks, Cybermen and Movellans. The Doctor found a near feral Kadiatu in 1754 and he cleaned her up and brought her to the Worldsphere to recuperate. Kadiatu is probably the most competent temporal engineer that is not a Time Lord, a dangerous agent if drafted by any of the superpowers. Chris and Roz interrogate a spaceship that knows your question before it has parted your lips. Is the Doctor worried that Kadiatu might enter into negotiations with God? God thought the idea of a sinking city was neat so one of his cities is sinking at a rate of six centimetre a year. The inhabitants add another storey each year. Roz’s love scene on page 217 is very seductive. In a brilliantly unsuspecting action sequence a seabird erupts in an explosion of bloody feathers and sand – eaten by homicidal grubs that are after the Doctor and Benny. feLixi is the murderer, he told !C-Mel that Vi!Cari knew about Omicron 378 and he wanted the ship to advise him how to kill the drone for failing to save aTraxi. Kadiatu’s mind snaps back into place and she plans to travel time and space with AM!xitsa as her companion.

Funny Bits: ‘Of course I’m not sentient. What would be the point of a sentient table?’
All the jokes about God’s dip (that nobody eats) are great.
Roz eats the Doctor’s note and it tastes of peppermint.
‘My name’s the Doctor and this is my friend Parachute.’
In the peace treaty drawn up between the People and the Time Lords there is a clause that the Time Lords take no responsibility for the plots or actions of the Doctor.
Dep spoke whilst she was in the womb, ‘eat this, eat that.’
Chris accidentally pours two litres of freezing water over the Doctor while he’s dozing!
Chris: ‘I think we’re supposed to bash it on the head.’ The fish: ‘Well excuse me!’
There are Roz and Chris action figures and T-Shirts available!
Whilst he slept somebody buried the Doctor in sand!
Unbelievably, Kadiatu beats him at chess…so he challenges her to arm wrestling!

  Result: Utterly sublime, every word of this novel breathes the sort of quality you only get once in a blue moon. The last Ben Aaronovitch novel I reviewed made me want to give up reading for good it was so painful, this is the antithesis of that novel in every respect, it is so good it made me tingle all over and I could beg for it to go on for another 200 pages. Aaronovitch effortlessly turns the regulars into a family and affords Roz and Bernice the best characterisation they have ever had. It is a low key novel in that the plot is extremely relaxed but it is divinely imaginative with every scene providing smiles and giddy moments of magic. Deliciously sensual in places and damn sexy in others, this is how to write an adult novel without exploiting your characters or compromising the tone. The setting is so deliriously wonderful you could set a whole series of books here. I have run out of superlatives, this is the best New Adventure by a country mile and the sort of book other writers should look at to see how astonishing these Doctor Who novels can be without juggling universes, horrific body counts, cyberspace and dream sequences. Orgasmically good: 10/10

Friday, 2 April 2010

Father Time by Lance Parkin

Plot: The Doctor has been on Earth for nearly a hundred years, he has beaten fire creatures, fought wars, aided Presidents and lost and regained much of his old personality. Is he now ready to take the next step and start a family…?

Top Doc: A shame The Turing Test has to exist otherwise this would be the best look at the eighth Doctor thus far. Described as a poet, a new romantic, a man from another world. He dreams of a house with hundreds of rooms (hmm…). He knows he has lost a great deal of memories that were special to him. He is almost aching out for a family when he tells Debbie she is the closest friend he has (and they have only just met). He knows he used to travel, meets friends and make a difference. I loved the scene when he was told he was a time traveller…he is genuinely shocked and delighted! Debbie tells him “All of us carry the weight of the past, eve if we don’t know what that past is.” Scarily described as Thatcherism personified! He tries to justify the death of a man in his place but is disgusted with himself. Proving he hasn’t lost any of his steel from the earlier books in this arc he holds down Ferran and breaks his nose when he kills Debbie and in the most poignant scene of his entire era he tells Miranda, “We could have been a family.” He is offered his memories back but so close to 2001 he feels it would be cheating. In the beautiful closing sequence the Doctor looks out at the stars and tells pilot of the space shuttle, “I am home.”

Of the Doctor’s relationship with Miranda is the books selling point and it is gorgeously depicted throughout. He is genuinely astounded when he discovers she is letting him win at chess, he sense something special in her straight away when she tells him it is better for him to win 11 games than to win 10 and lose 1. Miranda has two hearts, the first of many echoes of Susan. The Doctor starts to cry when he can’t answer her questions about space and she hands him a hanky. After saving her from the Prefect he vows to protect her, finally grounding him to the Earth, giving him a reason to stop looking for answers elsewhere. He tells her stories about Vortis, the Kandyman and the Scarlet Empress. They have a sweet unspoken love of each other’s company, a shared loved of science and beautiful things. The Doctor’s reaction to her killing the Deputy is conflicted, he is ashamed of her actions but aches to protect her so he takes the gun from and tells her to go. He is searches the world for her and even goes as far as stealing a space shuttle so he can reach her in outer space. Their final goodbye is touching, he wants her to go forward with her life and lead benevolently, even though she will be experiencing the life he yearns for he has a date with Fitz in 2001 which he doesn’t want to miss.

Foreboding: The TARDIS is almost back to her old self. The appearance of the PULL TO OPEN sign within its pages was a real delight. Even the flashing light is back! Although the Doctor wishes what is going on with his box would hurry up! The Doctor is determined to see through his 100-year exile (well its bit longer than that…) and meet Fitz in St Louis. In a moment of huge scope we get to see glimpses of many of the Doctor’s adventures. Violin music in the heart of a lightning storm. The Doctor ducked as a large robot arm swung a silver fist at his head. A swarm of wasps surrounded him. “Time is out of joint!” he heard himself yelling. Mr Saldaamir smiled his disconcerting smile. The Doctor grabbed a ships wheel, the stars streaking over his head above him. A man in a bowler hat walked through the mud, checking something from a clipboard. Mather, an old man now, his hair gone grey. A large metal vehicle, something between a tank and chrome turtle, sat in a forest clearing. A young woman in a scarlet tunic with long blonde hair, smiling at him as if he should recognise her. There was a crowd of people in what looked liked Renaissance clothing. “The planet’s called Albert?” he asked. A conical robot, gun metal grey, swung a camera eye at him, the lights on the top of its head flashing angrily. A man with a thin white nose and mournful expression looked down his nose at him, “I wondered when I would put in an appearance.” Make of those what you will… Plus the appearance of Rachel, Miranda’s friend in the early segment of the book who winds up being very important to the eighth Doctor in The Gallifrey Chronicles… Oh and someone mentions that business with the Kulan…

Twists: What a gorgeous cover! There is a heartbreaking passage describing the aching pain of growing up for Debbie Castle. The Doctor’s initial meeting with Debbie is suffused with warmth and cosiness. Joyfully the Doctor ends up playing all ten members of the chess team at once. Whilst being stabbed through the head Arnold feels serene because he was right about aliens all along. Miranda is revealed as the last in a long line of evil despots. Mr Gibson is revealed to be a Volkswagen who turns into a robot…a Transformer! The Doctor drives the Cortina straight over a cliff and it explodes smack bang into Mr Gibson’s chest. Debbie’s wife Barry is a patronising, hypocritical bully but true to the books ability to show surprising maturity also turns out to be quite a hero. Iris has been to visit but left in a huff when she ended up confusing him with info about his former life. Sallak wakes Barry up just to stab him in the chest and watch him choke on his blood. When Ferran looks at a century of humanity all he sees is hatred, greed and disease and he declares that we have great potential. Miranda is attracted to Bob because she has power over him and gets all girly and breathless over her first kiss. Miranda decides to sleep with Bob but finds him straddling her best friend and the next morning she gives him a vicious right hook for his troubles. The Tower bursting into a great plume of rose petals is typical of this books ability to overwhelm you with beautiful images. In the books most dramatic sequences Ferran snogs Miranda rather then killing her and tells her the truth about herself, she confronts the Doctor and kills the Deputy, shooting him in the chest twice. The Doctor visits and ages Betty Stobbold (The Burning) and we get to see how the Doctor, by saving her life in that earlier, has preserved a lifetime of happy memories. The Doctor writes his plans to steal the space shuttle on aeroplane napkins! In a top shock Debbie is killed and the Doctor flips his lid, giving Ferran a good kicking in. The Doctor proves the redundancy of violent power to Ferran, overthrowing him in the heart of his Empire.

Funny bits: When Debbie urgently tells the Doctor she has run somebody over he asks her why. When Barry asks the Doctor if he wants to make the game of pool interesting the Doctor asks if that is actually possible. When the mission specialist asks if they are UFO nuts, the Doctor points out of the window at the UFO and tells him it is no time for scepticism.

Result: Powerful, deep, beautifully written and populated with characters so real you feel as if you know them, this is something very special indeed. It is full of elements that feel traditionally Doctor Who (the alien dictator/rebels conflict, robots, lasers, spaceships…) and yet there is so much here that is fresh and interesting (the heartfelt relationships, Miranda’s coming of age, setting the book over a decade of history) and the mix is quite intoxicating. Peppered with beautiful moments (the rose petal tower, the hover discs rising over the snowy village), genuine emotion (I defy you not to feel something when Debbie is killed!) and cracking dialogue throughout (“The gun works…but it is useless”), this is how good every Doctor Who book should be. This is the EDA equivalent of Human Nature, it feels absolutely right in every respect. I adore it: 10/10