Friday, October 5, 2012

Chat: The Highest Science

John: Cyborg hermaphrodite turtles. I’ve been trying to think of where to start this off, and I think it has to be with the Chelonians. They are to the New Adventures what the Weeping Angels are to the Moffat era, or the Ood to the RTD era. It feels like they’re inextricably linked to the period all out of proportion to the number of appearances they made. And they’re awesome, too.

Dee: With PMS. You can’t forget with PMS. I love that joke, and it’s not one your mind would automatically necessarily see. I can forgive the obvious “Luka, I am your mother” bit completely as a result. It’s even funnier given this was the era of TMNT movies. I think this is a lot better than those ever could have been. It also plays a bit with the idea that herbivores are peaceful, which is nice.

Really, I see this as being good, but even better when it was released. It was the last big era of the music festival: Lollapalooza, Lilith Fair, and so on. There haven’t really been as many of those since the advent of music downloads. He’s playing with the big festival idea too in a way that wouldn’t work as well today.

John: There’s definitely an element of that...oh, I hate to say “counterculture” but I can’t think of another word that fits. The New Adventures were written by a lot of people whose lifestyles were outside the mainstream, whether they were gay or kinky or poly or recreational drug users or possibly all of the above in the case of Dave Stone, and you see it come out in a really authentic use of alternative culture. The three music fans are obvious parodies of that Deadhead type of follower, but they’re parodies that are inhabited by a lot of real understanding and knowledge of the people who spend their lives traveling from festival to festival. They feel believable, which helps make the humor work.

And, I’ll admit, which makes their eventual fates seem harsher. I know you think I disliked this book, and while that’s not entirely accurate, I did dislike the way that it seemed to punish you for finding it fun.

Dee: It goes back to the idea you told me a long time ago and I see firm evidence for in the series, books, and audios: It’s not so bad to be the primary villain, necessarily. But if you’re in cahoots with him, you’re doomed. And the fact is that a lot of people in those cultures did fall in with the wrong people and suffer for it. I didn’t see that as punishment for finding it fun. I saw it as the inevitable side effect of choosing your “friends” based on the wrong reasons. (I do think those fates were some of the poorest writing in the book, but that’s not to criticize the lesson; Kurt Cobain may have still been alive as of the time of publication but a year later he was gone.)

I think more what’s happening is that Roberts hadn’t yet learned some of the deftness of touch he later shows. The Unicorn And The Wasp is hilarious, but there’s a point to the kitchen scene with the poison that gets softpedaled by the humor: If it had been a human and not the Doctor in that circumstance, that human would have been dead. It’s something Roberts got the hang of as he went along. So there’s some first-book-itis going on here.

John: Yeah, I think that’s what I was trying to get at with my review (whether I succeeded or not is another question.) He’s a good writer from square one, but he gets a lot better at making that subtle shift between, “Oh, that’s so awesome!” to “Oh, my GOD...” There are places where you see that in this book, with the creepy Guardians turn out to be remarkably inept when they encounter something outside their limited worldview, but it does feel like a patchwork creature at times. The joins between the gruesome horror novel and the light-hearted comedy are very visible at times. Especially the ending, which feels very sour and unfair to the very sweet eight-twelves. I think I could have taken a lot more of the stuff in the beginning and middle if the Doctor had unambiguously defeated the Chelonians at the end.

Dee: Right with you there. But Transit felt similarly “We’re done now? Oh!” to me, as did Cat’s Cradle: Witch Mark. It felt like they got to editing stage, and the editors said “WAIT! We can use these critters. Let’s not have them all wiped out.” And Roberts wasn’t yet skilled enough to make it more than a deus ex machine literal moment.

John: I’d say ‘Transit’ worked better because it wasn’t so much of a downer--Kadiatu going out, inventing her own time machine, and exploring the universe felt like something you could imagine lots of fun possibilities for even if you didn’t know when you’d see them. But yes, I’d agree that the evil Doctor and Ace in ‘Witch Mark’ were another example of a pointless, irritating loose end.

But in this case, it felt more like either Roberts or the editor wanted to kill off the eight-twelves completely and make this a total downer ending that showed how trusting that the Doctor knew what he was doing could sometimes backfire horribly, and there was a long bitter argument behind the scenes and this is the compromise that nobody was happy with. Which is something else to remember...Peter Darvill-Evans was still trying to find the range’s voice, just like each author was trying to find their own. I think that might explain some of the reasons why this felt like it lurched around so much--Gareth Roberts might not have had as much choice as he would in later books.

Dee: Point. Editing can make all the difference in the world.

Another thing I thought was perfectly in time range for the book, by the way, was the Cell. Holy cow. Dolly the Sheep was a couple of years in the future, but the “horrors of cloning” was a big trope at the time. The Cell fit perfectly into this. And Benny as euthanizer was a bit of a shock.

The drug thing was interesting. I wanted to see more of that. I liked that the Chelonians were also vulnerable, but wondered what on earth made a Chelonian sample an unknown foodstuff.

John: Maybe they’re part turtle, part goat? Or maybe turtles just do that. I’ll admit, I don’t know much about the eating habits of small-c chelonians, let alone big-C Chelonians. Certainly the idea behind the bubbleshake was very much of its time...which isn’t to say it’s not still relevant, but the 90s were the era when people first started to really consider the potential consequences of genetic engineering and designer drugs being in the hands of corporations that had grown so large that any given person’s ethical objections were subsumed into a sort of bland, gray sociopathy.

Which is why the ultimate answer to Sakkrat worked so well, I think (switching topics from the books problems to its successes.) The fact that ultimately, the whole thing boiled down to a big corporation attempting to recover its stolen property with absolutely no concern for the consequences wasn’t just a logical answer to everything that was going on, it also fit in thematically with the Cell and the bubbleshake that had been such large elements leading in. Sheldukher is supposed to be the universe’s most terrifying psychopath, but he only steals the Cell. He’s a puppy dog next to the people who made it.

Dee: Another of the book’s successes: Mocking the Lovecraftian writing style. That was hilarious. He did such a fantastic job with it. The smile I had from that kept me going a ways into the book.

John: Oh, I’ll totally grant that one. If the whole book had been written in that Gustav Urnst hyperbolic uberdramatic style, I would have probably still been hoping for more. Again, I don’t think there’s any question that this book has a lot to recommend it. It’s just that, equally unquestionably, much better is on the horizon for Gareth Roberts.

Dee: But... before that... we have a book I have heard rumored in shaking whispers wherever DW novel fans meet. It’s spoken of with averted eyes in dark corners by fans who assert their longing for a shower afterward, and not in a good way. It is said to have emerged from the birth pangs of the line and to lurk trying to pounce upon the unsuspecting who think the premise is promising. I refer, of course, to The Pit..........

John: **sad, slow nod** We’ve had such a great run. ‘Nightshade’ to ‘Love and War’ to ‘Transit’ to ‘The Highest Science’. You had to know it couldn’t last. Join us next time for what may be the worst book we’ll read for the rest of the blog!

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