John: So admittedly, it’s taken us some time to schedule this little chat about ‘Transit’. Luckily, I’ve read this one so many times I’ve practically memorized it, so I’m not worried about losing anything.
I’ve read it before too, because it stands alone fairly nicely as a
Doctor Who novel. And here’s where I start to think I sound like I don’t
like any of the books: I loved this novel, but not as a Doctor Who
novel. As a standalone SF novel, it’s utterly and totally fantastic.
Clear characterization - I loved Kadiatu putting her back against a
drink machine to cool off, for instance. Just lovely. Fun plot. But as a
Doctor Who novel, I am not so sanguine.
I noticed that from your blog. And don’t feel bad, because that
actually puts you more in touch with the majority of the Doctor Who
fanbase at the time. Even by the standard set by the previous book, this
one jars. We get very little Benny (although the bits we do get are
choice), we get a Doctor who’s undergoing an emotional crisis and not
handling it well...it feels like a cyberpunk novel that the TARDIS is
passing through, and that ticked a lot of people off. And of course,
other people were outraged by the sex, swearing, drugs and alcohol
abuse, but I know you well enough to know that’s not an issue here.
Oh, the sex was fine. So was the threat of what would happen to Kadiatu
if she couldn’t pay her debt. Honestly, the thing that turned me off
was Benny. I felt like we didn’t know her well enough after one novel to
know whether this was out of character for her or just a side not seen
in the previous book. I felt like we were supposed to infer this was
weird, and I could tell he wanted us to think it was weird, but... no.
And that was sad, because I’m aware that Benny has a huge fan club in
the DW fan community. I couldn’t have told you why based on this book,
As I say, it’s a common complaint. And a not unjustified one. But on
the other hand, we do get the wonderful flashback to her childhood, the
scene of the last time she saw her father...it’s a tiny moment in a book
in which Benny is generally conspicuous by her absence, but it’s
glorious. And it sets the tone for much of the later books. Almost like,
“Okay, we’ve seen her deepest and most heartbreaking tragedy. Later
books can focus on the superficial stuff.”
I see your point. But I really enjoyed this much more the first time I
read it, when I wasn’t aware that Benny was brand-new. Let me focus for a
moment more on things I liked, though. The world was fully realized. It
was one of the clearest, sharpest societies we’ve yet seen in Doctor
Who, and future novels will have a hard time capturing the same feel for
their settings. The bar’s been set very high by this one. The bits
about the Martians, little as we get, are absolutely awesome. I want to
take Ming out for dinner.
Ming is, by the standards of this book, a relatively minor supporting
character, and she is better drawn, more interesting, more sympathetic,
has more quotable dialogue and is generally much more fun to read about
than everyone in ‘Timewyrm: Apocalypse’. PUT TOGETHER. Really, there’s
not a single character in here that couldn’t sustain their own book:
Kadiatu, Old Sam, the Angel Francine, Zamina...even the razvedka are
compellingly creepy. And they work in service to the story, not to
distract from it, the same way the setting does. It’s important that the
story is set in a post-Thousand Day War world, but it never overwhelms
And there is a huge, Ace-shaped hole in the story. On purpose.
Aaronovich is drawing our attention to it without being a jerk. “What
would it have been like had Ace been here?” is one of the questions the
Doctor is asking himself, and Aaronovich’s talent is to make the reader
ask it as well without being maudlin. (The Doctor gets to be that
Oh, and the Doctor is great in this. I remember getting a copy of the
Writer’s Guide for the New Adventures so that I could pitch for them (I
have a great knack for deciding to pitch right as a book line is
ending), and they actually made a rule about Not Writing From the
Doctor’s Perspective, because they’d read so damn many lousy
first-person Doctor Who samples by then. But Aaronovitch does it and
nails it so well that the Writer’s Guide pretty much says, “If you have
to do it, do it like Ben Aaronovitch does it.” And he gets some of the
best dialogue in a book full of sharp, witty lines, too. “Oh no.” “Oh
yes.” “Oh no.” The best six-word exchange in literature.
I don’t think many people do well at writing truly alien, but yes,
Aaronovich pulls it off. Like I said, I like the book. I just don’t
enjoy it as a DW novel.
I think it helps a bit if you’re not reading them in sequence. It also
helps if you’re more familiar with Benny...and the next book is one of
the more Benny-centric novels. And our introduction to another future TV