Friday, 17 September 2010

Dark Progeny by Steve Emmerson

Plot: Problems are plaguing the terrifying city machine churning up the soil of Ceres Alpha. Mothers are giving birth to alien children, power disruptions are causing havoc with the computer systems and an interfering Doctor from Earth is trying to gain access to an archaeological dig that will cause serious delays…

Top Doc: Appropriately he is afforded the most page space out of the three regulars and whilst not to the heights of Emmerson’s interpretation in Casualties of War he is still a pretty wild character, with moments of unexpected passion. In moments of extreme weakness he appears all too human and when it appears he cannot save Fitz he explodes with frustration. Described as a survival kit. A man who thrives of improvisations, it frustrates the Doctor that humans are capable of such care and yet so often are conceited and egotistical and downright thoughtless. He automatically sides with the underdog, when Foley storms Tyran’s office to kill Bains the Doctor grabs a gun and points it at Tyran in Bains’ defence. Suspected to be Anji’s lover the way he handles her with such care. His anger at the mistreatment of the alien children is extremely memorable (“You’re torturing sentient beings to test their telepathic abilities? And you call them creatures? You label them evil?”) and his protection of them proves touching, especially when one of them is killed and he weeps at the child’s funeral. His reaction to finding Fitz alive is one of pure, unadulterated joy.

Scruffy Git: Involved in a subplot of monumental unimportance, Fitz is basically sidetracked throughout the entire novel only to surface in the main plot at the very end and contribute absolutely nothing at all. Bit of a waste really. He considers himself to be a swashbuckling time gypsy. He considers if you want a fulfilling life, you get it full of all sorts of ****. Fitz would rather get old dying (ie having adventures, on the run for his life all the time) then get old dead (his old life at the garden centre). He has a real flair for pretense.

Career Nazi: Host to a blast of alien energy, emanating from the alien children in search for a mother. Unfortunately leads to her being laid out on her back for most of the book or acting under influences so we get to spend little time with her as the real Anji. When she first held her brother in her arms she felt a profound sense of love open up insider of her, that is the same need she feels for the alien children. She has never thought sensibly about motherhood - she wanted to make sure she was financially secure first. She has a strong dislike of rats but refuses to admit she has a phobia about anything.

Twists: Anji throws up violently at the beginning, her eyes filling with black like an oil slick. A dramatic pregnancy leads to a touching subplot about parents who were lied to about the death of their child, with the pair of them investigating the death and finally discovering that Veta actually gave birth to one of the aliens. The city machine is a ‘moving mountain, eating the planet’. Tyran mentally abuses Carly with images of vicious torture he is inflicted on her in the past. Pryce slices his wrists open when the Doctor shows him how innocent and childlike the aliens he has been experimenting on are. I loved it when the real Dr Domecq showed up, blowing the Doctor’s cover. And he turns out to be worse than the Doctor…and Tyran wishes he could take back the Doctor as Domecq! In a memorable the Doctor is tortured under the mind probe to discover an identity he doesn’t know. In a moment of marvellous optimism the alien child wakes up during his own funeral. The children reverse the guard’s blaster fire and their rifles explode in their faces. The planet is revealed to be a sentient entity rebuilding itself, trying to reject the human settlers and the dig disturbed the dormant psychic force of the original settlers and hijacks the female embryos to create hybrid creatures that could bridge the gap between the aliens and the new settlers. The children are in effect emissaries. In a heart stopping moment it appears Anji is dead. In a last minute Tyran is revealed to be Bains’ son. Domecq is skewered and the Doctor rushes in a race against time ending to save the alien children.

Embarrassing bits: Setting, characterisation, pace and content…unfortunately they are all a step down from Casualties of War.

Result: The two problems with Dark Progeny are that after the arresting opening chapter nothing happens until the climax AND it writes out its regulars for 2/3rds of the action, two huge errors that leave the middle sections of this book a real slog. A shame because the plot concerning the alien children is genuinely involving and the characterisation of the Doctor is once again fabulous. Emmerson’s guest characters hold up most of the book, especially Josef and Veta who get a sub plot that deserved much more attention. Some scenes are gorgeously written (such as the telepathic Anji hearing Fitz and the Doctor’s thoughts) which annoys because there is so little plot to get your teeth into but with some major tightening up this could have been superb. There are some wonderful concepts introduced at the end that could have done with exploring further too (the Gaia planet). All in all, a bit of struggle to enjoy because you can see clearly how it could be done so much better: 5/10

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