Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Blog note!

I am going to be having surgery on 3-JUN. (No worries: it's fairly major but everything is expected to be just fine.) Because of this, we're going to try to get through Conundrum and then there may be a delay before the next entry. Alternatively, I might feel like blogging on pain meds, which should be amusing!

We're having way too much fun with this blog to stop doing it, and we are both deeply grateful to the regular readers for your support!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Chat: The Left-Handed Hummingbird

John: It's been a while since we've had a book this good, hasn't it? I mean, it's been a while since we've had one as bad as 'The Pit', but this one really does make you sit up and take notice.

Dee: Yes, and I have a confession to make about this one...

John: Yes?

Dee: ...I reread this one three times for fun before writing my blog entry. I think that was against the rules or something...

John: I'm spending all my intervening time between blog entries re-reading the Doctor Who books author by author. I'm not sure I can really judge you there.

Dee: Still. It's that good. I wanted more, but she knew when to end it.

John: It really is one of the best debut novels in the whole range. The opening sequence, the murder of John Lennon, is absolutely riveting. It's like a splash of cold water in the face, waking you up and getting you to pay attention. And yet it doesn't feel exploitative in any way. I can see how some people might feel like that, especially since the death of Lennon is within the lifetime of the reading audience, but it's done with such intensity that you feel like Kate feels it as strongly as you do. Like she picked it because it was personal.

Dee: Further confession: it's within my own memory. The colossal outpouring of pure grief was amazing. I remember it keenly and yeah, there was a hell of a lot of emotional energy there. It makes sense within the novel's framework, it makes sense with the characters, and it seems fitting: the reason the Doctor didn't save Lennon is because it's partially his fault, in that universe. It's a real gut-punch.

John: The whole book is a gut-punch. I can't think of another book, certainly not of another author, that does such a good job of creating such an immersive, vivid, emotionally wrenching experience. The Doctor is vulnerable in a way that he's never been before (maybe a few times since, but you never forget your first time) and it absolutely gets at you. Everything feels desperate. The stakes feel so high, because if Huitzilin can do this to the Doctor--and not just any Doctor but the Seventh Doctor, one of the most scary Doctors of all of them--then how is anyone going to get out of this alive?

Dee: Yep...we understand Benny's urge to ditch the whole thing back in the 60s. This one makes you feel the probability of disaster like few others. They're doing their best to pull togeth, but when Benny starts swinging that frying pan and Ace does what she does and the Doctor is dropping acid and shrooms... Wow.

John: Yeah. By the end, you can totally understand why the Doctor decides to stage the final confrontation on the Titanic, just in case. But it's not really just "just in case", is it? This is where you start seeing a recurring theme in Kate's Doctor Who novels, this idea that on some level the Doctor wants to go through these ordeals. He almost seems to welcome the suffering, because deep down he feels like he might deserve it. Let's face it, after some 200 adventures full of death and destruction, the Doctor has to be suffering from some epic survivor guilt.

Dee: Cornell explicitly went there back in T:R, with Five being crucified.

John: Yes, but that was more intended to be the Doctor suppressing his conscience. With Kate, it feels more like the Doctor has a secret death wish.

Dee: Well, he's tired, and he screwed up Ace. I think he has more of a make-it-stop wish, really.

John: I think it goes a bit beyond that. I think he really does feel like he deserves to suffer. You see it a bit more in Kate's next book, perhaps, but even here there are points--like right before jingle-jangle time--where it seems like he wants to find the solution that will cause him the most pain and suffering. Because he's dished out so much of it that he almost feels like it's his turn to hurt.

Dee: No argument except that suffering and death are not the same, and some would argue that death for a Time Lord could be a fate worse than life... Because your next regeneration might care even more.

John: And it's crazy to think that this comes just three books off of 'Iceberg'. It really is Paul Cornell all over again. This is just an author that is operating on a whole different level of talent.

Dee: And it's so unbelievably readable.

John: Oh gods yes. This is one of those books that practically inserts little hooks into your eyeballs and drags you through it. You wince, you whimper, you want to give every single character in it a big hug, but you cannot. Stop. Reading. (Which is another interesting thing--since this happens mid-arc, there's very little catharsis at the end. Some people have accused Kate of writing "hurt/comfort" fiction, but this is very much "hurt/comfort" without the "comfort".)

Dee: Except for Christian and Ben, who make me happy.

John: Yes. This is, in a lot of ways, Cristian's story. And on that level, it's beautiful. He's one of the best-written guest characters I think I've ever read in the series.

And while I think we could both gush even more about this one, we do have to get on to another one I really like, 'Conundrum'! Join us next time for superheroes, deadly board games, and Doctor Who's other grandchildren!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Left-Handed Hummingbird

And here we are, in a book that I have to consider one of the top three books in the line to date. THIS is a story with some bite to it. This is a story that shows what Doctor Who can be when you take away the need for a budget. And thank goodness for Kate Orman, because I was really starting to wonder what some people saw in the line.

This book is clearly thoroughly-researched. I have no idea if it's accurate or not because the Aztec mythos is not my specialty, but if it's not accurate it holds together as cleanly as reality does. Tenochtitlan is a tangible place in Orman's capable hands. The Doctor's love for the place and its people - odd as it might seem to his companions - shines through. 

The characters are plausible. The enemy is menacing and really terrifying - where we've been just told to accept some of the enemies as dangerous, boy howdy this one is believably nasty. More important, this is the first book since White Darkness where I really, really like Benny. She is scared and overwhelmed and when she thinks about jumping ship, it's clear this is not just a feeling-sorry-for-herself moment. Anyone would feel the same in those circumstances. 

Best of all and thank goodness, Ace isn't falling into bed with anyone. I cannot express how happy this makes me. Orman has a fantastic feeling for Ace's natural speech rhythm and how a grown Ace would sound, and instead of Ace being a soldier paper doll she's a real person again. It gives it even more impact when the baddie does what he does to her, and makes it even more poignant that the Doctor elects not to tell her what she did.

The Doctor makes mistakes, and bad ones - but he doesn't come across as blind to the implications of the chances he takes. He does figure out what's going on in time to save the day, and he nearly loses himself in the process. 

The plot uncoils itself very neatly, with a minimum of missteps. Christian is a sympathetic character, and his bundle of blankets and its passenger in the end are wonderful. He is intensely human and I like him as well.

The best thing about the book is the cleanness of the prose. Everything is clearly described. Orman doesn't try to keep her words to small syllables. She has faith in the reader, and as a result the book just flows. She assumes that the reader loves Who as much as she does, and that love carries the characterization through hard scenes.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Left-Handed Hummingbird

Within the world of Doctor Who, Paul Cornell has to be considered not just one of the best but also one of the most influential writers out there. 'The Left-Handed Hummingbird', by Kate Orman, is one of the first wave of books to be conceived in the wake of Cornell's debut novel, and it shines through with every word. Kate Orman completely understood everything Cornell was saying, not just with his approach to the Doctor as a character but with his approach to storytelling, and her debut novel absolutely explodes with that same vibrant energy. If Paul Cornell was the first disciple of the new Doctor Who, then Kate Orman has to be the first disciple of Paul Cornell.

Everything about the novel brims with energy. From the opening, a transcendently chilling retelling of the last moments of John Lennon's life, through to the shocking and brutal sequences of human sacrifices in the Aztec Empire, up to the final showdown with Huitzilin on the Titanic is written with an intensity rarely seen in any kind of TV tie-in. This is a grown-up novel written for grown-ups, and not just because it's got blood and gore in it. It's a book about damaged relationships and wounded people, with a complex time-twisting narrative that seeks to explore the Doctor's effect on people and people's effect on the Doctor. Nobody would give this to their kid, even if you removed every swearword and bowdlerized every fight scene, because it's a book you have to be an adult to understand. It couldn't get published today, more's the pity, but at the time it was exactly what Doctor Who needed to be.

I could gush for another several paragraphs about the prose, because it's absolutely brilliant, but what's striking to me is what happens to the Doctor. This is a rarity for the Seventh Doctor, a book in which he is nothing more than a victim. His every effort to fight Huitzilin fails, he's tortured and brutalized and violated and in the end, it feels entirely believabe when he decides to make his last stand on a sinking ship in the middle of the Atlantic, just in case. Because Kate Orman makes it absolutely believable that this Doctor could lose. It's exactly what's needed at this stage of the arc, a novel that pushes the Doctor to his limits and beyond.

And Ace is just as well handled. You can feel, intensely ("intense" is a word I keep coming back to when I write about this novel, but it's the perfect word for it--it's a book you don't stop reading, you come up for air from) the way that Ace is losing her faith in the Doctor. Not in a simple, adolescent way like she did in 'Curse of Fenric', but in the way that adults look at their parents and wonder why they ever thought that they had all the answers. Ace is caught up in trying to justify herself for not being the Doctor, and it causes her to doubt that even the Doctor is really the Doctor. And with the Doctor in this novel looking very much like he doubts it too, we're given several threads that are well-developed as the arc moves toward a climax.

If I had one complaint, it's that Benny is a bit sidelined in this novel. With Ace and the Doctor getting all the meaty character development, and Cristian acting as a surrogate companion, Benny's role is basically to tag along and get in all the good jokes. ("Twentieth century medical care? I suppose you're still sewing people up with thread!") Still, she's authentically Benny, something that more than a few novels before now haven't managed, so I shan't complain overmuch. Not with as much to praise as I have. I really can't gush about this book enough--it's one of the finest debut novels the range ever produced, and it's no wonder that Orman became one of the "go-to" authors for Virgin and the BBC.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Chat: The Dimension Riders

John: It says a lot that when I sat down, I had to remind myself that we weren’t doing the chat for ‘The Left-Handed Hummingbird’. Because this really is such a forgettable book--in fact, I’d say it’s the only forgettable book of this whole arc. All the others stand out in my mind as classics (and yes, I do consider ‘No Future’ to be a classic, no matter what know-nothings like Paul Cornell might say) but this’s there. Things happen. There’s a beginning, a middle, and an end. A monster from Gallifreyan myth shows up, it does bad things, and the Doctor stops it. Oh, and there’s a lot of continuity references. If they ever made a Generic New Adventure, I think this would be it. Or am I being unfair?

Dee: I can’t say yet, we’re not done with the New Adventures. But I’ll say that it’s a quick read, hits all the beats, and still somehow melts away after. It’s not bad, like Warhead, of which I now remember all of three scenes. But I wonder if, in six months, I will remember any at all from this book.

John: I rarely do. I’ve read it at least four times now, maybe five, and all I ever remember is that it’s got the Garvond in it--I don’t remember who the Garvond is or what it wants, which is mainly because the author barely explains who the Garvond is and never gets around to explaining what it wants, but I do remember the name “Garvond”, because it has that perfect “generic Doctor Who monster name” feel to it. It feels like if you were to chop up all the phonemes of all the Doctor Who monsters into a blender and reduce them down to a two-syllable puree, you’d wind up with “Garvond”. So I remember it for that. Oh, and I always remember that whatsisname dies at the end. And the author makes it blatantly clear that I’m supposed to care a lot, but doesn’t clarify the reason. I think that’s about it, although I think if you quiz me in three months’ time I might remember that it’s got an evil Time Lord in it. But not in six months’ time.

Dee: … I’m honestly hung up for what to say here.

John: Well, we could try to puzzle out the villain’s plan together. I get that he wanted the President to assassinate himself, because that wasn’t supposed to happen, because...well, wait, if he was a disguised Time Lord all along, then how was that part of “established history” to be disrupted? Or was the whole “disrupting established history” thing just what the Garvond told the President, and actually it was a closed loop like what happened on the space station and that was how he got his power? And where do the two Cheynors actually fit into any of this, anyway? And also, what the heck was the Garvond going to do when it got all this power? I mean, the Doctor said, “If it does this, it’ll be invincible,” but so what? Is it going to be an invincible model train hobbyist, setting up its tracks in the Basement of History regardless of who tries to stop it?

...or did it make more sense to you?

Dee: I hate to tell you this, but I don’t remember the Cheynors. And I didn’t have a clue as to what the Garvond wanted. It was, for me, very much a “OK, this thing is killing and torturing people for no expressed reason, not that I would have accepted any reason given for the crap it was doing. Therefore, it’s bad. Therefore, it getting any more power is bad. Therefore, stop it.”  I’m shallow, I’m afraid.

John: The Cheynors were the college student from Oxford and the second-in-command on the spaceship, who was supposed to be his descendant. They were the Garvond’s Time Focus, which was important because it was capitalized in the middle of a sentence and you don’t do that with ordinary words unless they’re important to the plot. I think that’s how ninety percent of fantasy novels work. Other than that, I got nothing. But I should wasn’t that I didn’t understand why the Doctor should stop the Garvond. The whole “killing people” made that pretty clear. (Certainly clearer than why whatsername went crazy and started talking in French midway through the book. Did you pick up on why that happened?) No, I just meant that there was never a clear idea of what was at stake in the story. To pick a not so recent example, since I just realized that it’d be mean to give away the ending to ‘Name of the Doctor’ so soon after it aired, in ‘The Big Bang’ we see very quickly and clearly what the consequences are of not fixing the TARDIS. Every star in the entire universe has gone out. (Although, speaking of things that don’t make sense, what consequences exactly are the Silence trying to prevent by killing the Doctor that could be worse than that? Um...but I digress...) Blythe never really makes the threat of the Garvond concrete and tangible. It’s just something that dicks with people...using TIME! And capitalized words.

Dee: I know something that caught my attention! The TARDIS team isn’t really a team here. They’re in three different places hoping to God they find one another. I don’t care for Who books like that. Small thing, but there you go. I don’t think the writer was clear on multiple fronts, and you’ve hit a few of them. Mostly, I could have wished for another chapter or so telling me why I should care.

John: I’d like to say that was deliberately done, to emphasize their emotional distance from each other, but I just don’t think the writer was thinking that far ahead. Unlike our next book, which is really about to grab the TARDIS crew’s emotional centers and yank on them. See you then!

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Dimension Riders

It's clear that 'The Dimension Riders' is the work of a first-time author. It has the very specific, utterly unmistakable feel of a writer who's been living with these characters and these ideas for years, perhaps even decades, and is so completely in tune with them that he totally forgets that we're being introduced to them for the first time. Daniel Blythe assumes a rapport instead of building it; James Rafferty is, to him, a well-known and beloved character who's an old friend of the Doctor and the Brigadier, with a fascinating past filled with adventures all his own. But he forgets to tell us about them. Instead, we get a blast of old continuity references and name-dropping, and a bland academic who wanders through the plot without really connecting.

The same goes for Romulus Terrin, whose tragic past is clumsily dropped into the narrative rather than being organically exposed, and whose supreme self-sacrifice falls flat as the emotional climax of the book because we just don't know him very well. (The same can be said, even moreso, of McCarran and Strakk.) It's not that Blythe is incapable of doing these things--there are hints here and there, with Tom Cheynor, of a personality that could be charmingly mischievous. But Blythe makes the unfortunate assumption that we know him already, instead of taking the time to introduce us.

Even the villains fall into the same trap. The Garvond feels like the work of someone who assumes the audience is already intimately familiar with 'Shada' and the rest of the Gallifrey stories; his scheme, an overcomplicated trap involving grandfather paradoxes, time-traveling spaceships, two TARDISes, and an assassination that happens a couple of times, never stops feeling abstract and unengaging. There's never a sense that we know what the Garvond is trying to do, or more importantly why it's trying to do it; Blythe assumes we already know. The President's downfall, which has the potential to be rich with irony, fails to affect because it's not really worked into the plot properly. It just sort of floats on top of it without getting involved.

Even through all that, you can see that there are seeds of talent. The plot is ultimately coherent, even though it never feels particularly well explained. Characters have detailed backstories, even the minor ones. The Doctor himself is portrayed as an alien wanderer haunted by his past, which is perfectly apt for this particular point in the story arc. Benny is spot-on as well, although Ace comes off a bit more like her teenage self than she should. Even the setting is nice, although here again there's a bit of first-novel jitters--it's simply assumed that Oxford is a fascinating, larger-than-life location with more than its share of weirdness and hijinks, so why bother showing them? And at 241 pages, the book certainly doesn't outstay its welcome...but a bit less tell and a bit more show would have done wonders for it, even if the page count would have gone up a tad.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Dimension Riders

After the sturm und drang of "Blood Heat" comes the also-violent but oddly bloodless-feeling "The Dimension Riders." After the last chat talking about the 90s gritty hero bit, I can clearly detect that here. Unlike the previous book, though, there's a different flavor: where the remains of humanity are struggling to just survive in "Blood Heat," here the theme is sacrifice for the good of the many.

Almost all of the heroic characters in this novel make brave sacrifices in order to make sure the main cast can save others.  Note I don't say a lot about the actual wisdom of said sacrifices: many times the sacrifices the characters make aren't all that bright. Nevertheless, they make them. They're a survey corps ship, not really military, but they behave far better than the remaining members of UNIT in the previous book. 

I have to say I'm getting really tired of Ace having emotional one-night stands with some soldier or other. It was all right for a book here or there, but it's getting a bit old. It would be one thing if she was just enjoying the connection physically, but it seems that every other book she's getting drawn to stay. Eventually, I'm sure this will end. Right now, it feels like a square on a New Adventures bingo card. Benny drinks, the Doctor is cryptic and creepy and enigmatic, Ace gets a soldier boy. I also thought the Epsilon Sigma character was too unbelievably dumb to be a Time Lord. 

All of that said, I don't think I'll be reading this book again. It's like cotton candy, melting away. I can't remember almost any of the character names three days after finishing. I don't feel the need to go back and find out, either. I'm ready to move on. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Chat: Blood Heat

John: the ‘Blood Heat’ chat. (Cue John Williams score...) This feels to me like a big watershed arc, the point where the juvenalia gets all tucked away and the TARDIS crew becomes a functional group of friends instead of a book-long bicker each month, but I’ll admit that seems pretty far away at the beginning of this arc. In fact, I think they kind of try to make things worse before they get better. I’ll toss it up to you--did you feel like there was too much TARDIS-angst?

Dee: This book is dark. DarkDarkDarkDark. At some points I was thinking it read like someone trying to do a White Wolf game without any supers. But angsty? Mmm. I’m not sure I’d agree until the very end of the novel, and then the gutpunch seems to be almost par for the course of the book, a kind of “Well of COURSE it can’t be that easy, not this time.” But it made me want to watch “The Doctor Dances” to clear the taste from my mouth.

John: But at the same time, stories like ‘The Doctor Dances’ are written because the writers remember stories like this. Eccleston’s “Give me this...” moment comes from Moffat reading a story like this, or possibly even this very story, and imagining the Doctor so infinitely old and weary and heartsick from seeing death beyond human comprehension. And somehow enduring, somehow able to turn that into hope. Stories like this convey that he is alien, truly alien. And I think that part of the process for Ace and Benny is understanding that they have to take him on his own terms, that he’s not going to become a normal person just for them. That he will have his moments where he does terrible things, for good reasons. (And supposedly the arc is about the Doctor learning to do that a little less, but we both know that’s not going to stick.)

Dee: I know. It just strikes me that this is where Ace *should* be turning from him, at the end of this novel, and that it makes more sense that way than earlier on. And I really can’t see how the Brig got so clearly broken. And yet... I really actually liked this book, and I couldn’t tell you why looking back at it now.

John: I think it pretty much works on Mortimore’s prose skills. He’s an excellent stylist, to the point where I’m not even sure “prose” is the right word; there’s something so poetic about the way he describes the posthuman Earth, and paints such a vivid picture of something strange and new growing out of the bones of the Nightmare. I don’t think he’s always going to be able to carry off so much bleakness and ugliness with poetry (certainly I don’t think he manages it in his next novel) but here it works. And of course, the plot is purest fan-porn. A bad-ass Brigadier on the edge of madness leading a UNIT Resistance movement in a fight against the Silurians? You could practically hear the fangasm across the Atlantic.

...or did you not see it that way?

Dee: Um. No, I didn’t. I saw the Brig as a shell of a broken man, not a badass. No fangasm here. I didn’t see the group as really being UNIT so much as “who can we get together and oh yeah we’re ex-mil so of course we’re in charge.” The fighting almost got them wiped out early. I would never have had what you described occur to me.

John: Point taken. I should say that it’s a fangasm for a certain type of fan, the sort who wants to see ‘grown-up’ versions of all their childhood heroes, with ‘grown-up’ being synonymous in their minds with “sees violence as a first resort, is bitter and emotionally scarred, dispatches one’s enemies in gore-porn fashion, has casual sex/drinks/uses drugs/all of the above, and doesn’t display much of a moral compass because being a goodie is for chumps and suckers.” As you may be able to tell from my description, it’s not actually a viewpoint I’m enthralled by. But in the era this book was written in, this was a huge movement in fandom, and not just Doctor Who fandom. This was the era where Mystique and Sabretooth were aggressively promoted as “the new anti-heroic X-Men superstars”, the era where we got a grim ‘n’ gritty post-Apocalyptic dystopia in the X-books (literally--this was the dawning of the Age of Apocalypse) and...well, let me put it this way. This is where Warren Ellis’ career took off. Not where he started writing, but where he realized that the way to make money off of fandom was to write stories like ‘Ruins’ and ‘G.I. Joe: Resolute’, then use that money to fund his actual good writing like ‘Transmetropolitan’. Basically, the TL;DR version of that last paragraph is that the Brigadier in ‘Blood Heat’ = Spider-Man in ‘Reign’.

Dee: I am looking at you with the same complete and total lack of impressed-ness with which I regarded this kind of thing at the time.

John: And that’s an entirely fair response to me giving you a window on a type of human who thinks that the Brigadier is cooler in this book than he’s EVER BEEN. (Which, BTW, is also the look I give to people who really loved Future Amy in ‘The Girl Who Waited’. But I digress. Again.) The point is, this was a book that was practically a manifesto for the edgy, violence-is-cooooool type of adult Doctor Who fan. And I think it’s pretty safe to say that Paul Cornell’s book, at the end of the arc, is designed to be an explicit and glorious antithesis to it. But I’m getting ahead of the story. But at the same time, it’s hard not to because really, all that ‘Blood Heat’ is memorable for is the prose style, the grim ‘n’ gritty UNIT, and the fact that the Doctor is forced to do unspeakable things at the end and only the beginning. (To coin a phrase.) Fair or unfair?

Dee: Fair. Also, congratulations: I now like the book less because I need brain bleach. The Doctor in that view is both cowardly AND cruel, and I can’t see the same guy in Remembrance in this book when put into that frame. I think I like mine better.

John: Well, I don’t know that the Doctor is part of that world. He’s visiting, and I think all the regulars spend most of the book trying to avoid the gravity well of grim ‘n’ gritty...but he doesn’t live there. In the end he puts it back in the box and says, “No. This isn’t the way things should be.” And he even does it in a way that lets everyone live. Does that help?

Dee: Eh. I won’t be rereading it. But at the same time, again, it was a good read while it lasted. And I’m already done with the next one...

John: And you may well have forgotten it already. That’s right, folks, up next is ‘The Dimension Riders’!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Blood Heat

In some ways, 'Blood Heat' is almost a metatextual commentary on alternate universe stories as much as it is an alternate universe story. It starts out like your typical alt-u storyline; the Doctor winds up in a parallel reality where the Silurians won World War, that is to say, where the Silurians killed the Doctor and wiped out the vast majority of the human race. Only a few survivors remain--and as is always the case in stories like this, those survivors just happen to be alternate versions of the Doctor's close friends. Liz Shaw, the Brigadier, Benton...even Jo Grant shows up, in total defiance of any kind of real world logic or even her own regular role on the series, solely so that we can finish off the scorecard of Pertwee regulars. (Well, okay. We don't get Mike Yates. But there's always one regular who died tragically off-screen, to show that this reality Is Serious Business.)

Then, of course, we get the other tropes of parallel universe stories fired off at us; the dystopian alternate present, because the hero has to be shown to have Made a Difference; Manisha, the character who died in the "real" reality, but who survived in this reality, because the heroes have to wonder if maybe Things Wouldn't Be Better This Way; and the escalating action as the heroes obtain a nuclear weapon and the villains find out the heroes' secret base, because these thing always have to end in a blood-soaked apocalypse that kills everyone off so that the heroes can put everything back to normal with no qualms at all...

Except that's not what happens at the end. At the end, everyone survives. The Brigadier finds a way to make peace with the Silurians, the humans move past their fear and the Silurians move past their genocidal hatred, and the next generation has hope for the first time. The Doctor even stops the nuclear missiles. It's all the kind of miraculous ending you never get in a "proper" alternate universe story, because the traditional alternate universe story always builds up to the one thing that the regular episodes can never do--total narrative collapse, as expressed through the death of people who are normally off-limits due to the need to have them in the next story. (See "Inferno" for a perfect example.)

Instead, everyone lives...until the Doctor steps in to personally inform Ace and Benny that no, that's not the way things are supposed to work. Parallel universes are made to be destroyed. The narrative collapse can't be averted by anything as mundane as saving the day and making people get along. This world was here for one reason and one reason only, to elicit an emotional reaction. Now that's done with, it's time to switch it all off.

The rest of the novel is good enough, but it's in that moment where 'Blood Heat' really does something unique and fascinating. The Doctor stands revealed, just for a moment, as one of the men behind the curtain, an agent of the narrative and not of morality. He's there to make sure the story runs the right way, not to save the day. No wonder Ace and Benny are repelled.