Friday, March 29, 2013

Blood Heat!

Jim Mortimore's "Blood Heat" is like a cross between Jurassic Park, The Hunt For Red October, and Planet of the Apes - all set in the Whoniverse. I'm not sure I really liked the book, but I do have to give him credit: it's a fantastic examination of actions and consequences, and he does a good job of faking that no character is too important to kill off. At various points, it almost seems to apply to the Doctor himself.

My reasons for not being sure if I like it stem from my general dislike for mass bloodshed and military novels, coupled with my equally-general dislike of dystopian fiction. But the changed Earth of "Blood Heat" is expertly drawn. While there is a lot of new information since the book came out on dinosaurs, it's clear he spent some time researching the ecosystems of prehistoric Earth. I particularly liked the "no flowers" touch and the fact that humans were starting to be nearing a food crisis with the changes to everything.

It's those little touches that really make the difference. Watching familiar characters die. Moments of bravery. Strangeness in characters we thought we knew well, but we can see why the strangeness is happening. Ace's little smartbomb. The TARDIS sinking into a tar pit, of all things!

I hadn't encountered the Silurian's third eye before, but my exposure to them has been limited to new series characters and I'm not at all sure at this writing (within minutes of having closed the book) whether the third eye is something Mortimore made up or if it's found in the earlier Silurian episodes. What I do know is that I like it. But then, I have a weakness for telepathy.

I don't hate this book, not by a long shot. It's well-written and well-thought-out. I just don't think I'm the target audience. Its audience will love it.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Still here, we promise!

The reason for my radio silence this time is that I've been running an edit pass on my middle-grade story and sending out query letters. It's been intensely nervewracking and I'll probably have next to no fingernails for the next six months or so. The reason for John's is that he's working on other projects and kind of got sidetracked. Expect a post this weekend, and thanks for sticking with us!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Chat One: Spare Parts

John: Hi, folks! We’re going to do something a little different with these audio “Side Trips”--since the audios are broken up into two discs, we’re going to do two chats. (In fact, we might do a chat after each episode in future, but we’ll see how that goes later.) So at this point, we’ve finished Disc One of ‘Spare Parts’, and I think what we’re both most agreed on is that the Mondasian elements are the best bits. In some ways, this might even be better without the Doctor. Agreed?

Dee: Agreed. And this is not only on-purpose, even the Doctor knows it. He IS a Spare Part. And that’s one of the things I love so much about this title: At this point, every character except Doctorman Allen is, in fact, in one way or another completely unnecessary, completely redundant. It’s so sad, and yet so completely perfect for the fall of an entire planet and the desperate reaching for survival of an entire race.

John: A lot of the story involves the way people react to being made redundant. Sisterman Constant is furious--she’s always assumed she’s irreplaceable. Yvonne is terrified; she assumed she was doing her duty for her planet, but in the end she’s just another interchangeable cog in the work crews. Mister Hartley scrimps and saves and barters and bargains, hoping for some sort of ease that will never come, while Dodd...he’s a survivor in his own way just as much as the Cybermen. You can see him as the last human being alive, cracking open the bones of the second-to-last to get the marrow. And Doctorman Allen...but she hasn’t found out how redundant she is yet, has she?

Dee: Frank is the one who gets to me, really. He wants to be a hero, sees hope in the conversion, and is so very very wrong that he will get either heroics or hope from it. But he’s Yvonne’s kid brother, and he’s every kid who ever dreamed of being more. And it’s that, I’m sure, that made Nyssa bring up Adric.

John: I got the impression that Nyssa brought up Adric because she was upset and it was the most hurtful thing she could think of to say right at that moment. Which is kind of a surprise, given that it is Nyssa we’re talking about here, but I don’t think it was out of character. She’s finding out that she’s redundant, too; neither she nor the Doctor belong in this place and time, and they don’t have any role to play in the destiny of Mondas. But while the Doctor is trying to be fatalistic and fall back on his Time Lord detachment (and doing a lousy job) Nyssa is angry. She’s watching people suffer and die, and sitting back and letting it all happen is anathema to her...even if she didn’t know that the monsters created out of this will go on to murder one of her closest friends. And because the Doctor won’t stop it, she blames him. She is being tested in a way that the character never was on-screen, and good for Platt for doing it.

Dee: Oh, you are very right. I just think that Frank plus Cybermen equals a lot more than just a sucker punch to the hearts. And I saw her pulling that as evidence of exactly how disturbed and angry and sad she is: Nyssa never struck me as the dirty-pool-comment type. I think that was more Tegan’s thing, right? And the Doctor is angry too. “You let a Cybermat into my TARDIS?!” - that line is enraged, but there’s a sense of relief. She’s actually done something he can yell at her for!

John: And further, she’s given him a concrete problem he can solve. He can’t do anything about Mondas dying, he can’t do anything about the Cybermen, he can’t do anything about the inevitable future staring them both in the face...but he can do something about the little metal rabbit nibbling his TARDIS cables! (I think it’d have to be a rabbit. Rats don’t chew cords, do they?)

Dee: (Yes, they do, if their humans aren’t smart enough to supervise running-around time.) So they’re all extraneous, all useless... and meanwhile, the world keeps spinning on toward its destiny and the extinction of all non-converted inhabitants. And this is so different from Iceberg, because even the already-converted have a sense of pathos along with the menace. I also think it’s interesting that it feels like the Doctor, in not really doing anything much, is doing more than in Iceberg.

John: And I think it’s interesting, as we look ahead to the second disc, that just as Nyssa is being tested by finding out that she’s entirely superfluous to events, the Doctor is going to be tested by discovering the exact opposite...far from being an observer, his presence is absolutely integral to the future of the Cyber-Race. But we’ll talk more about that next time!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Chat: Iceberg

John: So it might be a loaded question, but I just have to start this off by asking. Was that what you imagined the Doctor was doing when he wandered into the interior of the TARDIS at the beginning of ‘Birthright’ and didn’t come back out until the very end?

Dee: No. I’d rather hoped it was something more... I don’t know the right word for this, but this is not what I imagined. I was even more disappointed when he showed up in the cruise ship. I mean, really? I am hoping his weirdness is a side effect of what he did to the TARDIS, and serve him right!

John: I think his weirdness was...well, I don’t want to say that as a writer, David Banks makes a terrific actor, but I do think he was wandering pretty far afield in his interpretation of the Doctor. I understand that some people might see the Doctor as an eccentric sage, but there’s more than a hop-skip-and-jump from that to making him a portable Lao Tzu, complete with his own miniature jade pagoda. It felt like he was writing about a character he’d made up that interested him, and then slapped the “Doctor” label on that character. I’d say his original characters were better, but really the only good character in this one was Ruby. And even she was your basic “plucky young lass”, as comes kitted standard in the new series. Or did you like the supporting cast better than I did?

Dee: This isn’t a mature novel. It feels a lot like a teenage fanfic, and accordingly the characters aren’t developed. Ruby was way too young to have the position she had. None of the other characters are given any kind of development at all. I also think that the diversity of the cast was a very paint-by-numbers thing: Oh, let’s have a black guy, and if we have one of them we need an Asian woman. That’s even more problematic given the links to Tomb of the Cybermen, which wasn’t exactly the most racially sensitive of episodes either. The thought processes we’re shown of any given supporting character are interchangeable. A couple of times I had to check who was the focal character in question.

John: I do think that Bono was there as a deliberate counter to Toberman in ‘Tomb’--sort of a “Look, this African-American character is really really smart and well-spoken as well as being physically powerful!” thing. Which made me uncomfortable in a whole different way, because there’s nothing quite like tone-deaf overcompensation for racism to compete with tone-deaf oblivious racism for cringe-worthiness. Other than that, yes, I think pretty much everyone is either undeveloped or developed poorly. He was clearly trying very hard with Mike Brack; the character has a dark secret, a Byronic brooding intensity, and winds up making a heroic attempt to save the day at the cost of his own life...only to turn up alive at the end and win the heart of the female lead.

Or, at least, that’s what Banks was aiming for. In practice, Brack is just a grumpy asshole who drinks a lot and has no chemistry with Ruby’s character, to the point where you’re sort of surprised at the end when Banks seems to imply that they get together. (Really, does this make any sense as a romance? “Yes, I know I came off like an arrogant prick and a creepy stalker. But it’s only because I didn’t want to tell you that I’m the guy who crippled your dad!”)

Dee: Yeah... absinthe isn’t as edgy as Banks thinks it is, either. And I really wasn’t paying attention at the point where he implies they get together, because I was all riled up at the Doctor and didn’t really care about the supporting cast.

I keep coming back to “The Impossible Planet.” There are so many parallels, but it succeeds where “Iceberg” fails because you end up caring about the characters early on. It’s not just the classic “base under siege” elements becoming boring, either. The creepy sneak-up-and-convert Cybermen are more effective than new series Cybermen. But you have to care about the characters being converted, and here I just don’t.

John: It helps that in most “base under siege” stories you actually get, you know, bases under siege. The good Cybermen stories worked because there was a sense of claustrophobia that was almost tangible; the characters were either trapped inside by the monsters, or trapped inside with them. Banks keeps skipping away from key points in the action (the capture and brainwashing of all the station personnel, the planting of the bomb, the Doctor’s escape...) to go faff about on the cruise ship for another sixty pages or so. Which would be almost unforgivable in and of itself, but ultimately the cruise ship turns out to have nothing to do with the Cybermen’s plans. Brack isn’t working for them, Straker isn’t allied with them...they just happen to be passing by when the Cybermen need a convenient source of body parts. And then, just as that becomes important, we jump back to the army base! It’s like Banks has a pathological aversion to drama.

Dee: And that further sabotages feeling any sympathy for the Doctor, in my opinion. I can’t shake the feeling he didn’t really do anything, even though if I recount the plot he did do quite a bit. We just never saw it. It’s hard to like a book without any real developed heroes.

John: Or any real developed anything, for that matter. This one felt like opening a Christmas present and finding out that the giant box contained one action figure and a million foam peanuts. Luckily, we’re pausing in the books for a little bit to look at how the Cybermen should be done. Join us next time for our first Side Trip, to Marc Platt’s ‘Spare Parts’!

Thursday, March 7, 2013


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.

Monday, March 4, 2013


I know I said the last book was fanwanky. I don't take that back in the least. This book is even more fanwanky than the last, and it didn't make me feel any better about the Doctor leaving Ace and Benny to fend for themselves. Right now, I'm pretty darn disgusted with him.

So what was the Doctor doing while Ace and Benny were off coping with the deliberately-crashed TARDIS? Stowing away on a cruise ship, kind of foiling a Cyberinvasion. I say "kind of," because really some of the humans do a fairly credible job of handling parts of it themselves.

Don't get me wrong, without the Doctor things would have been far worse. And yet the real moments of bravery in this book are all human. Some are fairly improbable. Some are realistic. Some completely sabotage the suspension of disbelief. And some of them are completely offscreen.

And that's where this book falls down: it's very much "tell, don't show." I could be charitable and say that's because the main character is a reporter, but it doesn't excuse everything. She tells us, for instance, that she saved the Doctor's life. We could have gathered that by her thought process in the previous scene and her noting she has a syringe. We could have been shown the plunger going on and the effect of the medication on a guy with two hearts. But no, we are told instead. We are told about her father's problematic relationship with her mother and what happened after the accident. We are told about an artist's suspected arms deals. We are told that the Cybermen have taken over certain people, but it's never shown how they reacted. One moment most of the base is fine, the next they're Cyber-pawns.

I could have forgiven a lot if there was more show than tell, but at the end of the book the offer the Doctor makes to Ruby made me want to throw the book against the wall. This is probably a personal thing, but given the state of things with Ace and Benny it irritated me beyond belief. The poly community has a saying for one of the biggest mistakes you can make in a relationship (and this goes for friendships as well): "Relationship broken? Add more people!" Adding more participants to a malfunctioning group is not the way to fix anything. It's a really good way to make it completely splinter. And yet the Doctor was ready to bring Ruby into the TARDIS? Thank goodness that wasn't a real reset of the status quo, because it's a complete disaster waiting to happen. The Doctor needs to either focus on the current crew, or "break up" with them. I can only imagine the reaction Ace would have to Ruby. Benny's might have been more measured, but both of them would have been justified in telling the Doctor to go do anatomically impossible things if he'd shown himself with a new Companion.

I am really hoping the next book is better. The highs of the New Adventures are wonderful. The lows... well, they're pretty darn low.