Friday, April 20, 2012

Chat: Love and War

John: Paul Cornell’s back...and this time, it’s personal! I know you thought this was a bit of a sophomore slump for Cornell, but I actually thought it was a bit better as a novel. Not as much fun as ‘Revelation’, perhaps, but it’s kind of hard to write an upbeat novel about Ace and the Doctor having a falling-out over his callous treatment of her fiance and his gruesome, untimely death.

Dee: I wouldn’t say “Revelation” was fun, so much... people getting heads cut off, a crucified Doctor, and so forth. But I felt like it hung together better in some ways. And this one wasn’t bad, at all. One thing that I thought was interesting was the way at the end, the TARDIS took away Ace’s ability to understand languages before she’d even really left... a bit final, that.

John: It’s one of the things that happens in a more “mature” version of the series, I think. They tend to explore some of the logical consequences of things that were just lampshaded in the old series. You can see how the books influenced the new series in that sense; the scene where Rose suddenly begins understanding the Sycorax is a distant descendant of this book. But to get back to your more general thrust, “final” is really a good word for this whole book. It’s all about the way things end, and at the time, you could be forgiven for thinking that Ace was gone for good. (That’s not spoilers, right?)

Dee: The worst of it was that she’d be right. The Doctor was more of a Right Bastard to her than he’d been to anyone in hundreds of years. Ace was perfectly entitled to be pissed at him. And “forgive me” only works so many times. He’d pretty much used his up. Seven might have big soulful eyes, but actions speak so much louder than those.

John: But you know, no matter how many times I read this one, I’m still never sure whether the Doctor planned all along for Jan to be on that ship at that time, or whether that was his backup backup backup backup plan and everything he did leading up to that was an attempt to save everyone including Jan...and it just failed. He definitely knew from the beginning what was going on, as soon as he sniffed the soil and saw Jan. Everything after that...the Doctor is a very opaque figure in this novel. This is Ace’s book.

Dee: To me the theme of this novel is trust, and how when it’s not given everything falls apart. The lack of trust between Roisa and Jan, Roisa and Maire until the last second, Jan and most everyone, the Doctor and Ace... and the places where things work, it’s because of trust: Jan and Christopher, the military guy and the Doctor, Ace and Benny.

John: But it’s important, I think, to note that it’s not as simple as just, “If you trust people, everything will all work out great!” The Hoothi really do have spies and eyes everywhere, and the Doctor plays it close to the vest because he has to. Some of the saddest parts of the novel, I think, are the ways that Roisa winds up betraying the people she loves so much, all through no fault of her own. The scene where the priest asks her if she has a hole in her shoe is utterly chilling and note-perfectly ominous.

Dee: No argument there, except that had she trusted them earlier it wouldn’t have been so bad. I agree with you that it’s perfectly executed, don’t get me wrong. I just think there’s a lot of meditating on trust in it. And in the end, it was Julian and Jan’s trust in Ace that ended the menace, despite them being controlled and even killed.

John: And in a way, Jan’s trust in the Doctor. I think that Jan is the only one who trusts completely in this novel; even though he doesn’t consciously go along with the Doctor’s plan, he does let the Doctor know that he’s willing to do anything to save his friends, and in the end, he does what the Doctor asks of him with all that’s left of him. He’s kind of a twit at times, and a bit clueless and inept with his interpersonal skills, but you have to give him that. (Or did you not think he was a bit of a clueless twit?)

Dee: A bit? Very. I thought the “Ace Goes For The Bad Boy” thing was a bit too pat. She didn’t thwap him upside the head (metaphorically) enough. But he did have the strength to keep up with her, and in ten years he might have been quite a decent guy.

John: Oh, yes. Tremendously immature, no question. Which plays, I think, into the reason that he couldn’t make a poly couple work very well. His motivations for being with Roisa were not good ones, he couldn’t let go of her and he couldn’t be what she wanted him to be, which was more committed (I never got the feeling that she wanted him to be exclusive to her, only that she wanted him to be her husband...) He hurt her a lot by trying not to hurt her too much. Even though it was a portrait of a poly relationship that wasn’t working, I thought it was a poly relationship that wasn’t working for real reasons, not just because “poly relationships never work”.

Dee: I’d agree with you if we’d seen one that worked. I get the feeling that Cornell thinks they don’t, but well-meaning people can try to make them work. Call it a hunch, we’ll see if it plays out at all in future books. But yes, he did give it real reasons, which is refreshing.

I’m still having a hard time fitting this Ace into the Ace from a few books back. I don’t see how you can deescalate from warrior with gunsights to the calmer Ace here.

John: I think you’re right. I think they actually made the break here the way they did because the direction they wanted to take the character couldn’t really work as a gradual transition; it was like the ghost of the character we saw on TV kept hovering over the Ace of the books, constantly dragging her back to fit into that mold. By taking her off the scene for a while, and then bringing her back as almost a new character with a new character bible, the editors stopped people from writing her like it was still Season 25. I think this is really the major transition point for the series, where they finally leave the TV show behind completely, and leaving behind the TV version of Ace is a big part of that.

As is introducing Benny. It’s funny, but as much as Cornell puts into showing you the character in this one, I don’t think she really does much here. She basically spends the whole book waiting to step into the TARDIS, only occasionally contributing to the plot. (I liked your idea of Maire on the TARDIS, though. But given the way the Doctor acted, she’d never have gone with him.)

Dee: I’m not quite sure why Benny did, given how she backed up Ace.

John: I think the opportunity of traveling through all time and space, combined with the not-quite-buried thought that she could find out what really happened to her father, was just too much to resist no matter how badly she thought of the Doctor. (Hmm, and years later we’d get “Father’s Day” from the same author...have I mentioned lately that the new series drew heavily on these books?)

Anyhow, next time we’ll get another plot that Benny is involved in both very much and almost not at all, but in an entirely different way...

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