John: And we have now finished the first work of one Chris Bulis, a name that will loom larger over this blog than almost any other. By book count, at least. Surprisingly, given his reputation as a "filler" author, I think we both liked this one quite a bit. Fair to say?
Dee: I did, yes. It felt to me a bit like "Doctor Who" meets something of which Gene Roddenberry might have approved. Not necessarily Star Trek, mind, but it would not have been out of place in that universe. And yet it was fully a Who story. The thing which is most intriguing to me is how it feels like a nice book. That makes no sense, given the body count, but it's true.
John: Yes, this does feel like another one of those books where the body count was tacked onto a cheerful and charming little book by Editorial. But i think if I was Editorial, I'd have done the same thing. Ace kind of needs to be in a bad place for the next few books to work, and the next few books need to work for her to get into a place where she can be a really viable companion. They must have realized very quickly that 'Lucifer Rising' totally didn't get the job done there, I think. Um...but yes, a generally nice book. A nice world full of nice people being nice to each other with just one nasty villain to defeat. Two nice worlds full of nice people, if you count the Shenn. (Which I think one should definitely do.)
Dee: I enjoy the Shenn. Their eventual alliance with the humans rings true for me. It doesn't hurt that we get to see them learning how to understand the humans, or that we learn the fate of the duplicates' originals isn't so bad. Even Umbra is a "Q"-ian character, in his way. So I'm hard-pressed not to rank this among my favorites to date.
John: There are certainly a lot of things that stand out in the memory positively. Not so much the plot, oddly enough, but the little things. Bulis is one of the few writers I can think of that starts with the TARDIS crew having a really nice time together on an alien world, and I think that worked even better than he intended it to. Not only is it a sweet moment in and of itself, it shows Tairngire as a place worth protecting. That comes back to us at the end, when Umbra is playing out its final gambit.
Dee: I am having the hardest time not comparing this to "Shore Leave," reading that! Most of the issue is that I'm trying to avoid giving the impression that this isn't a wholly Who novel. But I do think there are places where the series does have some tone overlap, and this is one. "Squire of Gothos," "Shore Leave," and the characters would be perfectly at home in any colony world in any universe, so that works too. And yet it falls apart if the characters aren't the Doctor and Ace and Benny. You can't put Spock and Kirk and McCoy in those roles.
John: I agree on both counts...ish. I agree that it’s not written as a ‘Star Trek’ novel, but that the culture the Doctor and company interacts with is one that comes strongly out of the utopian tradition of the Trek future. This is a time and place where humanity has more or less Worked Things Out, at least when it comes to ourselves (as with Trek, there’s a ginormous military presence, but it’s clearly designed to deal with external threats. Tairngire is not a military dictatorship.) And I agree that the solution to the situation is a Whovian situation. There’s no stirring speech that convinces Umbra of the importance of the human condition, no technobabble or military solution, and gaining the understanding and trust of the Shenn is portrayed as vital. Those are all key differences, to some extent or other. But I think there’s a bit of a difference, in that I felt like the Doctor is frustratingly generic “wise mentor” at times. The scene where he recites his monster-fighting credentials feels almost like Bulis is making explicit in the text what he couldn’t quite convince us of in the characterization.
Dee: Ish. I feel like that’s kind of an issue with many of the books, so maybe I’m kind of getting used to it. But I think it’s also OK that there is tone overlap between two series I like. This came very close to hitting my sweet spot for both series, and while the book has its weaknesses I’m OK with having those positive buttons hit.
John: Yes, I think that’s it exactly. It’s just so hard to really dislike this book. It feels like Bulis really loves the world and the characters he created, and that shows through in the prose. That makes up for a lot of the problems, because the passion and enthusiasm he displays is so genuine and joyful that it kind of carries you along. Probably why I still have fond memories of this one, while ‘The Ultimate Treasure’ (to pick a later one) doesn’t resonate so well. And speaking of fond memories, the next book is one I also remember pretty well too. Join us next time for a return engagement from long-time Target author Nigel Robinson!