Thursday, March 7, 2013

Iceberg

It's interesting to read 'Iceberg' and look at what 1993 expected the year 2006 to be like. One of the truly delightful things about Doctor Who is that with fifty years under its belt, the series has actually outlived many of the futures it predicted. (In fact, there's a double irony to this book's setting, as it's a book set in 2006 written in 1993 that connects to a TV show set in 1986 written in 1966.) Banks doesn't get everything right, of course; the ecological collapse predicted here hadn't quite occurred, and his prediction of teledildonic booths replacing peep shows hasn't come true even today. (Although I think that's less due to the problems inherent in creating convincing virtual reality and more due to the question of just how you'd clean the booth between patrons.) And some elements, like Ruby's mixed-race heritage earning her extra pat-downs and questions about her native country, are downright prescient.

It's easy to think about questions like this, because the central plot of 'Iceberg' is about as interesting as unflavored gelatin. There's a degree of padding that only really staggers you when the novel is over; Pam Cutler's entire character, and all the walloping great contrivances needed to make the commander of the Antarctic base the daughter of the character who was the commander of the Antarctic base in 'The Tenth Planet', turns out not to matter to the plot one tiny little bit. She has a two-sentence conversation with the Doctor and then disappears from the rest of the novel. Mike Brack, Lord Straker, the Panamanian "arms" shipment, the hidden level to the cruise ship, the mysterious device Brack is building, his obsession with efficiency, the escaped terrorist...all of it turns out to be a series of re herrings that never turn out to be important. Basically, if you were to diagram the plot, it would be a fifty-page novella about FLIPback with a subplot sucking up all the nutrients like a twenty-pound goiter.

The novel's "theme" really just consists of shoehorning in references to Lao Tzu and 'The Wizard of Oz', without any real underlying logic. Banks doesn't put in Taoist references because the book is a Taoist metaphor; he puts them in because he wants at least some part of the book to sound smart. The 'Oz' references, on the other hand, are supposed to be a deliberate metaphor; Ruby, you see, is Dorothy, going on a trip "over the rainbow" on the Elysium to a magical land (the Antarctic) where she faces wicked monsters (the Cybermen) and wizards who are not all they seem (the Doctor) and gains great insight into herself...OK, that bit kind of got left off. Much like the Taoist insights. Or, really, any subtext at all. This is a book that means exactly what it says, no less and (unfortunately) no more.

Which brings us to the roughest part. I once commented on how tedious the prose was in 'The Pit', but there's something almost hypnotically dull about the sentence structure of 'Iceberg'. "She shook from the guts with forgotten sadnesses. The hopes that had turned to dust. The disappointments. Her mother's death. The loss of her father's love. The hate inside her. All of it hurt. Like the deep throbbing hurt in her thigh." Any second, I expected Banks to start going into how sand was rough, not smooth like Padme.

Really, the whole thing is mainly notable for its vapidity; it only comes to life even a little when Banks is writing from the Cybermen's perspective. It seems to be the only thing he's interested in; having been a Cyberman himself on-screen, he's really enjoying getting inside the heads of the Doctor's enemies. Maybe if he'd done the whole thing from the Cyber-point of view, it would have been a worthwhile book. But unfortunately, that's one idea that even the experimental New Adventures couldn't get behind.

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