Wednesday, July 15, 2015

4 Doctor Who Novels: "Beautiful Chaos" by Gary Russell, "The Coming of The Terraphiles" by Michael Moorcock, "Dead of Winter" by James Goss, "The Crawling Terror" by Mike Tucker

Four Doctor Who novels. Three featured boilerplate storylines, though one purportedly had an original idea, only it's author wrote it on a whim, resulting in boilerplate execution. As such, I felt all four books deserved to be written up in a single review..with good quotes for your viewing pleasure, of course. Onward...

Beautiful Chaos by Gary Russell: Among Doctor Who villains, the Mandragora Helix - a malevolent, sentient constellation with mind-controlling abilities - is not unlike the Great Intelligence from "The Snowmen" and "The Bells of St. John", and his/it's scheme has the same m.o. to it. The big difference is the Doctor and companion highlighted. The Tenth Doctor  is more fun to read about than The Eleventh Doctor, but Donna Noble, in retrospect, has nothing interesting to say..I don't think she ever did; her whole "arc" consists of her becoming better-educated/worldly via her travels with the Doctor before receiving a "Flowers For Algernon"-style I.Q. boost that allowed her to save the universe and serve as deux ex machina ( by typing, very fast, nonsensical technobabble onto a random computer keyboard ), before having to give it all up and become "Uneducated Get-To-The-Toe Donna" again ( this is certainly no Clara Oswald )..Thankfully, Gary Russell has her granddad Wilfred play a larger role here. The subplot about Wilfred's girlfriend coping with Alzheimer's is clearly trying too hard to echo Russell T. Davies' faux-TV style sentimentality, and Mandragora has more in common with The Wire from " The Idiot's Lantern " in it's ineffectiveness as a compelling villain, plus I don't recall Donna's mother really regarding the Doctor with contempt onscreen, so that bit seemed phony, but the Tenth Doctor characterization is just right, so it made the book a breeze to read. The book balances between fanfic and potboiler - Average.

The Coming of The Terraphiles by Michael Moorcock: The hype/backstory behind this book is more interesting than what we got...I recall that the original plan was for Moorcock to introduce a new status quo for Captain Jack Harkness as commander of a ship that traveled through a route between alternate universes and have him meet the Eleventh Doctor and Amy Pond for the first time, but the launch of Torchwood: Miracle Day likely derailed that idea, so he has the Doctor & Amy meet a new incarnation of his character, Jerry Cornelius, instead, and introduce his take on the application of parallel universes in Fantasy-Adventure fiction...sounds intriguing...but what we got was a potted, rambling, shaggy dog mess. Eleven and Amy weren't really complete characters at the time Moorcock was writing this, so they read like complete ciphers, here; he would've been better off using the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith, although BBC Books was still shy about relaunching a line of Past Doctor Adventures in the wake of the new series until the novelization of Shada in 2012. The strongest passage in the book has nothing to do with any high-concept stuff: it's a P.G. Wodehouse-esque pastiche with a Bertie Wooster-like character attempting (i.e., failing) to steal a ghastly hat and clumsily take credit when it disappears. Everything else feels like it was just Moorcock typing away unconsciously...lots of incoherent nonsensical descriptions of ships encountering ships and traveling through spatial matter...I do remember THIS book was hyped up just as much as it's faded away into obscurity. - Pure Drivel **

Dead of Winter by James Goss: Of the four books featured in this post, this novel had the strongest character work, featuring character development we didn't get from the show, because the writers became increasingly preoccupied/distracted with hashing out River Song's paradoxical backstory. Her absence from this book allows Goss to offer insight on the relationship between The Eleventh Doctor, Amy and Rory that confirms suspicions  ( that Rory and Eleven tolerate eachother's presence to keep Amy happy, while Amy sees her husband as consolation for the unattainable and forever enigmatic Doctor, who seems to be trying to recreate the relationship the Tenth Doctor had with Rose Tyler, but frustrated that Amy would have feelings for someone else* ) and plays on expectations with a brief amnesia/role-reversal subplot for the trio. The main story - about a seaside clinic ridded with doppelgangers - is given some snap by Goss's decision to used a mixed 1st-person narrative; most of the characters featured narrate several chapters in rotation. Never dull, though lacking surprise, I was disappointed that the scene depicted on the cover does not occur in the attractive zombie woman wielding the Doctor's sonic screwdriver sounds epic to me. - Not bad

The Crawling Terror by Mike Tucker: The author probably noticed the nod to Jon Pertwee's Third Doctor when Peter Capaldi's initial costume for the Twelfth Doctor was revealed, so he fashioned an adventure fitting the Third for Twelve. Giant bugs are ubiquitous in two of the 3rd Doctor's best-known stories ( The Green Death, Planet of The Spiders ), along with misguided wealthy British meglomaniacs delving into mad science abundant during that era. Technically, I thought this the best-written book of the four in this post - the suspense is genuine, the atmosphere has the right mix horror and sci-fi/adventure, and the Twelfth Doctor & Clara are depicted right, so it felt authentic, and the pace is just right for an adventure about English villagers possessed by colonies of giant aliens resembling Earth insects. It risks bad taste by putting a baby in danger in one scene before coping out. Clara gets her mind swapped with the leader of the alien spider bugs, so we get more "Evil Clara", which is fun. The only drawback is a personal one: giant alien bugs aren't an appealing menace to me; I picked this up because I had already read the other two novels featuring 12, but it is a well-written adventure - I would've preferred alien foxes or mummies..if Paul Magrs can have the Eighth Doctor encounter alien, I liked the passage about wild foxes in the village being regarded like wild raccoons...and then Tucker drops a suggestion/hint about a possible rejected idea that he might recycle someday: UNIT soldiers fighting robots emerging from a volcano in the Canary Islands...a sequel to The Fires of Pompeii ?!! Mike Tucker! - when Moffat finally gets around to answering the question of why The Twelfth Doctor chose to look like the same man his Tenth incarnation met in Pompeii, may we PLEASE see THAT story?
- Okay

*That last bit about 11 wanting his own Rose Tyler for a companion was my pet theory; once Billie Piper left, Tennant's Doctor became increasingly angst-ridden and melancholy, which soured the acting chemistry the actor had with his later co-stars; perhaps Moffat was trying to casually recreate the same dynamic with his launch as showrunner?...

**I'm keeping this one - I'll try it again some other's like they say: "Some books are just for having."

Frigates In A Star Wars Novel..

A Frigate is a type of warship. It is also an ubiquitous word applied by authors of Star Wars tie-in novels...I don't believe this word has ever been spoken by any of the characters in the Star Wars films. While it is an accurate word to doesn't sound like the language of characters from the movies..Star Wars characters travel in "ships" and "shuttles" or "shuttlecraft" and "vessels" - not frigates.


When the books I own don't send me, I try to figure out what happened. Kevin Hearne's Star Wars: Heir To The Jedi has an interesting narrative hook - an adventure told in the first person by Luke Skywalker - but I didn't believe for a second that Luke would use the word "frigate" at all..he never used that word in the films, why the change? It's strange storytelling hiccups like that which make it feel like I'm reading something that was cranked out under a deadline, as opposed to something with more care, but sci-fi and fantasy novels are not often known for conscientious craftsmanship, they're more about concepts. This is actually the 2nd SW novel ever to try 1st-person narration  ( I, Jedi by Michael Stackpole was the other ), so there's a painful lack of innovation. What's worse is that Luke is separated from the core SW supporting cast, so Hearne has no one for Luke to play off from the films; if the "payoff" was to show how Luke learned telekinesis  ( pulling his lightsaber out of the snow as he did during The Empire Strikes Back - one of the neat tricks he accomplishes in the series, mostly overshadowed by the popularity of Han Solo's swagger ), then it's a very myopic payoff.

There are nice moments, though, so, yes, I can offer a good quote.