Saturday, January 5, 2013

Chat: White Darkness

John: If we’re to start anywhere with ‘White Darkness’, it should really be the zombies. Because I think this one’s primarily known as “the Doctor Who book with the zombies”, and to some extent I think this misrepresents it. This one was very much a book about voodoo, not a book about “zombies” in the Romero sense. I think it did a pretty good job with that for the most part; how about you?

Dee: As I said in my entry, I was really relieved to see a book that didn’t assume all practitioners of the religion are assholes on power trips. Don’t get me wrong, we did have some negative stereotypes represented, but the implication was that these were also people being influenced by powerful beings with powerful telepathy, and it was a nod to the degraded rituals in Lovecraft. I give it a pass for that reason. I personally think that the followers of the loas are participating in a legitimate, positive religion. The Doctor’s actions and words gave credence to that within the world of this book. That mattered to me. But yes, to me it was more like Doctor Who Meets The Cthulhu Cult.

John: But we don’t really see much of the Cthulhu stuff until the end. For a lot of the book, it’s Doctor Who Meets the Sinister Germans, with a side note of “Hey, remember ‘Live and Let Die’? That was pretty cool, wasn’t it?” Don’t get me wrong, I agree that McIntee was trying to treat the religion with more respect than usual. Dubois, as the houngan the Doctor enlists for help, is a positive character. (Although the “You must trust me, a white guy who’s different from all the other white guys!” scene is a bit patronizing.) But there’s a lot of potent imagery that McIntee’s playing with, despite the fact that I think he knows he’s playing with fire, just because it’s so archetypal. The sinister voodoo ceremony undoes a lot of good intentions, but he can’t help including it because it feels like you have to have a big “evil voodoo ritual” set piece. Likewise, although much less problematic, the Germans are all stereotypical World War I Germans. We even get one with a duelling scar, don’t we?

Dee: See. I think you’re wrong, there. I think that there’s a lot of indicating that the Cthulhu cult is the dominant force. The Germans have a black guy on board, one they don’t even really know why they trust. The museum has it all there. It’s not as obvious as in a Lovecraft story, because McIntee is saying “What if Lovecraft hadn’t made all those cultists paper characters? What would a cultist be like? What would happen to people around them? What kind of place would they thrive?” And I think that is why I like it: I’m a Lovecraft fan who wants more depth in that world than good old Uncle Howie wanted. I think Uncle Howie would be horrified at this book, and I don’t so much mind that given his horrible racism. I like the world a lot more than I like him. That’s why I don’t mind Howard Phillips being something of a nice guy.

John: I can agree, Lemaitre has more depth and motivation than your average Cthulhu cultist. Again, I think there’s a long way from what McIntee wrote to actual racism, and I think he wrote with the best of intentions. I just think he also wrote in big, broad, sweeping brushstrokes, and not all of the details got filled in. And speaking of Lemaitre, is this the point where we talk about the “Hey, that’s French for ‘The Master’” red herring?

Dee: See, I missed that completely, because I realized right from the beginning who Lemaitre was. Given that, it never occurred to me to wonder. Sorry, Mr. Author David McIntee Man sir! So you can talk about it if you want, but I won’t have a lot to say. “Master” is loaded in the Whoniverse, but not so loaded I doubted my first ident of the character.

John: I missed it the first time too, but I caught it when I went back after reading his three novels with the Master in them. He’s kind of known for having a very...detailed take on the character. But we’ll get to that later. There are certainly plenty of villains in this one even without the Master...let’s see, we have Mait, Carrefour and Henri; Karnstein, von Stein, Reichmann, Froebe, the U-boat captain whose name I can’t remember; Bobo; Sam and I missing anyone?

Dee: The unnamed hotel clerk, possibly. Otherwise, no. I think you might be able to count Woodrow Wilson in there, briefly, for the racist remark McIntee reports and makes clear he justly dislikes. But yes, plenty for the Doctor and Companions to oppose. And thank goodness for good characterization, because I’m finally seeing what people like in Benny and Ace is having a reality check.

John: This is kind of where you start to realize how writer-proof Benny is. Her basic brief is, “I get to be the extremely competent smart-ass who knows all the tropes of adventure stories and doesn’t fall for them, and oh by the way I’m also a super-smart archeologist!” If you can’t make that work, you’re just not trying. And Ace...the next few books are where Ace really starts to sort herself out. It’s not all in one go, and it will get worse before it gets better (this is by way of a warning, because she does hit some pretty unlikable depths over the next six or seven books, and you don’t have the benefit of reading them out of order like I did and knowing she improves a lot.) And the Doctor is well-written, too, I think. Not so much to the Seventh Doctor’s brief of being always one step ahead of the bad guys and having a master plan, but that’s sometimes a plus. It can get tiresome if the Doctor always knows everything the bad guys are going to do before they do it.

Dee: I loved here how he was right so often, though. He knew what he was talking about, knew the history. Where he messed up, it was only nuance and not realizing what his Companions would get up to... like Benny picking up things in a museum in Haiti. And besides, this was supposed to be a holiday. I think this was the TARDIS putting him where he needed to be again.

John: Yes, it’s the perfect balance for the Doctor in that aspect. He’s generally knowledgeable about relevant topics, but he doesn’t have the kind of absurdly specific information that comes from time-traveling to after it’s all over and writing hints to his past self. It’s a nice change...and a trend that continues in our next book, ‘Shadowmind’. See you then!

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