Friday, March 23, 2012

Chat: Cat's Cradle: Witch Mark

Dee: And what a long, strange trip it’s been the last few weeks. Which, really, is what this book is about, so it’s fitting that we’re talking about strange trips. And it feels redundant to say that about a Doctor Who book.

John: But in an odd sense, despite its being about travel to a far-flung fantasy world with unicorns and centaurs, this is almost quaintly domestic. The Doctor and Ace abandon the TARDIS early on to stay with a Welsh farm family, and much of the early goings of the book is spent romping about the countryside in Wales with big friendly dogs and eating large meals. Really, by the time we get to strange trippy territory, you could almost be forgiven for thinking that this was a crossover between Doctor Who and All Creatures Great and Small.

Dee: You mean it wasn’t? Honestly, though, I kept flashing to American Werewolf and so on much more. Which made one sequence almost a “what... really?” I meant what I said about this book feeling like “Hey! I just saw/read this and it was cool! Let’s throw that in!” Legend, AWIL, Dirk Gently, All Creatures... Sure! Why not! I’m sure there’s some British TV show focusing on the characters of the Celtic epics I’m not aware of that’s mixed in there somewhere.

John: Well, I think that’s more literary than televisual. Throw a rock in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section of a Barnes and Noble and you’ll probably hit a book just like this. And deservedly so, too. That was probably my biggest problem with the book, apart from the relentless blandness of its prose; shoving the Doctor into your half-baked fantasy novel that you wrote when you were thirteen doesn’t automatically make it good. Better, yes. Good, no.

Dee: Yes. Reading this, I did wonder at the age of the author. It read like the author had some growing to do. For all the New Adventures are touted as being “DW for grownups” so much, I am thinking this might be the exception that proves the rule. And the haphazardness of the endings for various characters added to that. We have characters with whom we are invited to sympathize who get nothing, and others who have a positive resolution for no reason whatsoever... and this doesn’t feel like “the arbitrariness of life,” it feels like “Whoops! I forgot to handle these characters!”

John: Well, it’s worth remembering that they were going for young, fresh faces in this book line, and people who hadn’t been professionally published before. Sometimes the downside of that is going to be that you’re very clearly reading someone’s first novel. What’s the old saying about first-time writers, that they try to cram in every idea they have just in case they don’t get published again? (Which in this case was a very good instinct, but...) Certainly, I know what you mean. There’s a very obvious loose end at the conclusion of this book that you keep expecting the Doctor to resolve, but he never does. Not to mention, the mysterious fleck of goo the Doctor accidentally brushes into the TARDIS, the one that makes the whole “Cat’s Cradle” arc seem to have an even more meaningless and arbitrary starting and stopping point...but I digress.

Dee: I’d have to say that I am disappointed in this whole arc. Maybe it was that I got spoiled by Cornell, but I kept thinking “Isn’t there going to be more to this?” But then, I’m perhaps not the target audience. And this book was such a long slog to get through, for a little book. But I have faith it can get better, because we’ve seen that it has potential.

John: No, I don’t think it was just you, and I don’t think it was just the lack of another Paul Cornell novel in all this. The “Cat’s Cradle” arc was vague, ill-defined, and didn’t really have a proper through-line. But I think that Hunt is more the victim than the perpetrator on that score. He started the novel with the TARDIS on the point of collapse after its ordeals, not really knowing that the author immediately preceding him would skip all the “ordeal” part in favor of the Doctor killing Evil Rich People. He’s clearly someone expecting a different previous novel to tie in to, and he’s also someone who’s been told to add a “stinger” ending that he doesn’t have a whole lot of faith in. There are a lot of sins in this book, but I don’t think that FUBARing the arc plot is one of them.

Dee: Can we also just stipulate that having Ace talk to the unicorns was cheesy on the face of it? I mean, Ace is SO the centaur type.

John: That bit...oh my sweet merciful spaghetti monster, I think that 90% of fanfic written by twelve-year old girls involves the main character learning how to talk to unicorns, regardless of genre or setting. And they all read like this. And Ace getting her own special unicorn friend? I felt like the pages were being dusted with glitter while I read it. Am I being unfair here, or did Ace’s Special Unicorn Magic Hour hit you the same way?

Dee: I think Hunt misread the target audience there too. The Ace of a couple of books back would have done far better with the Warrior Belching Centaurs, as I just said. But I also think this is beginning to pile on a bit, so let me say that I think that within the goofy places he put her, the characterization of Ace in those situations is spot-on.

John: And for that matter, the Doctor is well done too, albeit in a way that ignores the characterization of the last two seasons of the TV show and the first six books. It feels like what you might imagine Sylvester’s Doctor was going to be if all you’d ever done was seen his pre-Doctor Who acting--not the direction they went, but not bad either. And, if we’re saying nice things, he did make an effort to have the supporting characters act just a little bit differently from their stereotypes. Not enough to make it a classic, but enough so you felt like he was making an effort.

Dee: You know, that puts the finger on why I didn’t like the book. I wanted to see what this Doctor and this Ace would do if the American WereTeens In TirNanOg, Dirk Gently, and Tristan weren’t around. And I think this author could have given us a better book if he’d just written his own. He does have a good feel for character. And I admit I hoped for something more Lovecraftian in this wet, standing-stone, weird-events England. My problem is that I can see the book this almost was.

John: And given the number of “Doctor Who in a fantasy universe” novels we get over the course of the various series, you’re probably going to get a better chance at it. But now it’s time to get away from bland fantasy, and into Doctor Who’s preferred territory. Horror.

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