So right, 'Conundrum', really freaking awesome and brilliant and good and stuff. Now on to the important part--violently disagreeing with Phil Sandifer!
Phil (I am on a first-name basis with him, and almost certainly will be even after this, because he's always up for a good argument) wrote a piece on 'Conundrum' for his blog, the TARDIS Eruditorum, in which he basically argued that the entire brilliance of the concept, the novel, and the storytelling is utterly invalidated because the Doctor at one point says that the Land of Fiction was created by the Gods of Ragnarok. Which is pretty impressive on the face of it, especially when he argues that the problem is that it caters to pedantic people who focus on insignificant details instead of appreciating the magnificent whole, but it's even more impressive when you remember that this occurs towards the end of a book in which the Doctor blatantly lies about every damn thing that's happening the entire book long.
The fact is, Phil's reading of 'Conundrum' only works if you approach it with the prima facie assumption that the book is utterly lacking in irony on any possible level, which is sad because it ignores the fact that the book couldn't be dripping with irony more if it was a special irony sponge, dipped deep into the broth of irony until it was saturated with irony down to the last tiny ironic pore. Even the irony itself is steeped in irony in this book. The whole story is exactly what it doesn't mean. Reading this and deciding to take only the parts that piss you off as intended seriously is like choosing to believe that Kubrick made 'The Shining' just to tell you that he really did fake the moon landings but you'll never catch him hahahahahaha!!!!
The whole idea of the novel, like the idea of the original 'Mind Robber' before it, is that the Master of the Land of Fiction is trying to trap the Doctor within the context of our understanding. He's trying to reduce him to nothing more than a fictional character, something that we can switch off and ignore when the screen goes dead. But the Doctor is more than that, and always has been. You can't get rid of the Doctor by switching him off--he's not defined by the fictions around him, he defines them. He warps genre, he infects tropes, he subverts cliches and traipses gaily from one metafictional universe to another. He is bigger than fiction.
But in the original 'Mind Robber', this was expressed by having the Doctor rewire a computer and blow it up, because it's hard to express this concept in a way that also makes for satisfying drama. How do you have the Doctor win by subverting a trope, or defining a narrative? How do you beat a bad guy by outwriting him?
Because that's exactly what the Doctor does to beat the Master of the Land of Fiction in the end. It's not that he tricks the Master into creating a big bunch of technobabble radiation that disperses the Land, it's that he subverts the narrative by suggesting that technobabble radiation should disperse it in the first place. The Land of Fiction is part of his universe, not the other way around. The Doctor narrates the Land of Fiction into defeat by crafting a conceptual framework for it that gives him narrative primacy. He's not a character in someone else's story. Everyone else is a character in his.
In that regard, it wouldn't work if the Doctor took the Land on its own terms. It wouldn't make any sense if he accepted its reality and nonetheless escaped it, because the whole mechanism of its defeat is that he defines it as a part of his world. That doesn't mean it actually is--the entire book is quite literally a duel between two unreliable narrators, and there's nothing in the entire story that can be trusted as "fact"--but to express that, to suggest that the Doctor is lying to us...no, not lying, telling a story--HIS story...would be to break character. And Lyons is too damn good a writer to break character just to explain the story to people who wouldn't get it anyway.
So if there are a group of fans who decide to accept the Doctor's narrative of the Land of Fiction, who feel that it tucks the Land neatly away into the structure of the Whoniverse and makes it all Make Perfect Sense, well...let 'em. But to suggest that it was written for that purpose, and to hate it for that reason, does nothing but reduce your own enjoyment of a perfectly awesome book.
Oh, and the Scrabble scene is freaking metal.
Monday, June 10, 2013
Back after successful surgery, healing beautifully, off pain meds, and still with a warm glow regarding this book. It's another highly readable, fun piece.
I think the word that first comes to mind is "irreverent." The characters are delightfully goofy (except when they're not), and the breaking of the fourth wall early on and repeatedly seems to indicate this will be a rule-breaking book. In fact, it's only as things go on that it becomes very clear that, in fact, it's a highly rule-obeying book. It's just that those rules are a bit different.
I loved this book and got into it like a well-broken-in pair of jeans. In total fairness, I can see the stereotypical characters getting on the nerves of a different kind of reader. I can imagine someone becoming annoyed with the predictability of the action unspooling. Just as there have been books in this range where I was not the target audience, those would not be the target for this book. This time, I feel like I am.
I also enjoyed this much more than the Second Doctor adventure on which the concept was based, although I think that's largely down to the TV limited budget factor. Here we have a Land of Fiction that literally is only bounded by what its Master can be arsed to delineate. The revelation of who that Master is makes perfect sense, and it fits perfectly with the previous events in the book.
It wouldn't be one of my reviews without me talking about Ace, of course. Benny shines here, and it's one of the first times I really love her and can see her meriting the adulation. Here, though, the Doctor nearly reaps the whirlwind with Ace. He's lied straight out and by omission so many times that he nearly loses Ace's willingness to even work with him at all... And this time it's not his fault, but he has to deal with it anyway. It really makes me wonder where they can go from here.
I highly recommend this one, and if you're not the target audience, just remember: it's only a story...