Three new (and short) Doctor Who books

Snake Bite, by Scott Handcock

The Doctor threw him a look. “How do you know that?”
“I read a lot of comics when I was a kid,” explained Rory sheepishly. “A lot of comics.”
The Doctor smiled.

This is the very last Rory/Amy audiobook (unless we return to them in future flashbacks), featuring the old (ie 2010-12) version of the theme tune, with the three turning up on a giant space station called Jörmungandr after the Midgard Serpent; lots of snakey creatures and references, with wormholes and cobra-like aliens. It is surprisingly slow paced for a New Who story (which I don’t mind; frenetic doesn’t always work for me), and Francis Barber reading it stumbles occasionally over the names (though does a fine rendition of the characters), but it is competent stuff.

The Silurian Gift, by Mike Tucker

“The Myrkas will provide the means to bring the humans to their knees! We can wipe out the rest of these primitives with ease!”
“No! I will not allow it!”

The latest of the BBC’s Quick Reads series, we have Eleven travelling on his own, and being called in to investigate mysterious happenings on an Antarctic base. The plot is thoroughly rooted in (which is to say largely copied from) the Old Who stories, particularly Warriors of the Deep, and Tucker seems to be consciously following Malcolm Hulke’s style in his novelisations, but these are not intrinsically bad things and in fact it is done rather well, if fairly obviously aimed at a younger reading audience. Who would have thought that the Myrka could actually be resurrected without embarrassment?

Though I was deeply annoyed by one grammatical point – “its” was frequently though inconsistently spelt as “it’s”. I know that this usage is found in the Declaration of Independence, but its time is past; it’s not what we do now.

The Nameless City, by Michael Scott

The older man stuck out a leather-gloved hand. ‘Thank you, thank you very much.’ He smiled through a neat, grey-flecked goatee beard, his eyes dark and curious beneath heavy brows. ‘I’m Professor Thascalos.”

That was the moment on page 5 when I punched the air and thought, I’m going to enjoy this one. And indeed I did; it’s the second in the series of eleven one-off Puffin ebooks by well-known authors to be released on the 23rd of each month this year (I downloaded and drank it in the day it was published), far far better than the first in this series, with Michael Scott pulling in references to Old Who, particularly the Second and Third Doctor eras (with a nod to The Doctor’s Wife), and also especially to H.P. Lovecraft. I am a sucker for Lovecraft/Who pastiches in general and I loved this one too, the Second Doctor and Jamie being transported in the crippled Tardis to the Nameless City by the operations of the Necronomicon, and having to deal with eldritch horrors by whatever means they can. It is very short (40 pages) but great stuff and gives me hope for the rest of this series. (Interesting to note that the first two authors to write for this series are both Irish.)

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Hitchhikers fan needed

A journalist friend has been commissioned to write a piece on the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (35th anniversary of first broadcast coming up on 8 March) and would like to interview a fan; he is especially interested in reflections on the multi-media nature of the Hitchhiker’s phenomenon, but I think will basically take any quote he can get. Anyone interested? ZZ9 spokesbeings would be particularly welcome. Contact me by comment here or email to my personal address and I’ll pass you on to him. I haven’t asked but I suspect it’s for the largely web-based newspaper New Europe, as that is his main beat. His deadline is Wednesday.

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Snow on the tumuli

With B and F at the Three Tumuli of Grimde earlier.

The Tumuli are three first- or second-century graves on the outskirts of the town of Tienen; one is known to have been the tomb of a Marcus Probius Burrus. Excavations in 1892 produced among other things a cameo of a young man, assumed to be the Emperor Augustus, which was sold to the Rothschilds, stolen by Göring, and eventually tracked down in Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire, in 2007.

B and F did not care about that, and B was in an exceptionally good mood and seemed unusually lucid, though it is always hard to be sure. It was a lucky strike, in a way; the church I usually take her to was closed for some reason. We looked in on Our Lady of the Stone as well; it’s only a few hundred metres away from the Tumuli.

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Links I found interesting for 23-02-2013

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February Books 9) The Turing Test, by Paul Leonard

But as for the rest – the events I lived through in those strange last months of the conflict – nobody except Greene knows about them, and perhaps the American, Heller, for some of it. And the Doctor. Of course, the Doctor.

Three grumpy book reviews this evening, the effects of post-Gallifrey jetlag (or timelag?) I suppose. But once again I wasn’t wild about this one. The book is told in the first person by, in turn, Alan Turing, Graham Greene and Joseph Heller, as they one by one accompany the Doctor from Oxford through occupied France to Dresden in 1944, on the trail of some presumably alien signals. The Turing part is rather good, even if the author must heavily insist on Turing’s crush on the Doctor; the Greene and Heller sections totally fail to catch the styles of their ostensible narrators, and the plot is not in fact resolved. Reading the ecstatic fan reviews I realise that I am clearly in a minority.

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February Books 8) Empty Space: A Haunting, by M. John Harrison

If she saw it she would recognise it. Something awful had happened, or was about to happen, the last time she was there. We never went back, she told herself. I know that. We were too afraid.

I thoroughly bounced off the first of the Kefahuchi Trilogy when I read it back in 2004, and read the third book in the sequence because it has been nominated for the BSFA Award. I found it a little more to my taste than Light, but that is not saying much; apart from Anna Waterman (the “she” of my quote above”) I found the characters unengaging, and I had difficulty following the plots and grasping how or why they intertwined. No doubt this was due to too much transatlantic flying, but I won’t be ranking this one high on my ballot.

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February Books 7) The Red and the Black, by Stendhal

Au séminaire, il est une façon de manger un œuf à la coque, qui annonce les progrès faits dans la vie dévote.
In the seminary, there is a way of eating a boiled egg which reveals the progress one has made in the life of devotion.

One of the classic nineteenth century novels which I had not read, written and set in the years leading up to 1830. The ambiguous protagonist, Julien Sorel, while training as a priest and confidential secretary, seduces the wife of one employer and the daughter of another; and a book that started off looking a bit like a cross between Middlemarch and Casanova ends up like L'Étranger as Julien takes romantic victimhood to its conclusion.

I have to say that while it was well written, I didn't really like any of the characters much, nor really understand why they felt compelled to play roles rather than be themselves. I had a similar frustration with The Catcher in the Rye.

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Nebula shortlist on Goodreads and LibraryThing

Because I know you care:

Goodreads Librarything
number average number average
Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed 1664 3.60 195 3.55
2312, Kim Stanley Robinson 1644 3.42 285 3.51
The Killing Moon, N.K. Jemisin 1257 3.86 74 3.48
Ironskin, Tina Connolly 867 3.40 74 3.48
Glamour in Glass, Mary Robinette Kowal 706 3.75 107 3.85
The Drowning Girl, Caitlín R. Kiernan 424 3.95 80 4.11

Full shortlist (including short fiction, Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation and Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Book) is here.

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February Books 6) Original Sin, by Andy Lane

“So,” a voice crooned smugly in the darkness, “you return again to our little planet, Doctor, with a new face and a new friend. You must find us very interesting indeed. Almost as interesting, perhaps, as I find you.”

Andy Lane has rarely disappointed me, and this New Adventure, introducing new companions Roz Forrester and Chris Cwej, is up to his usual standards, with lots of good ideas – mollusc-like aliens resenting their recent defeat by humanity; a peculiar radiation that induces homicidal psychosis in its victims; a richly imagined array of settings, including a bootleg medical centre in the former church of St James Garlickhythe; and the rather glorious return of an old enemy who has been very active behind the scenes for centuries – all disciplined reasonably well.

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February Books 5) London Falling, by Paul Cornell

“Footballers who score hat-tricks against West Ham do not always die in suspicious circumstances, but … they often do. More often, statistically, than they should.”

In London Falling, a team of police detectives find themselves pursuing an evil entity around London – a being whose fascination with the fortunes of West Ham turns out to be rooted in ancient and tragic history. It has a bit of a slow start but is otherwise brilliantly done, a fantastic run combining police procedural (including the complex details of the coppers’ private lives intertwining with the details of the case) with eldritch magic. Particularly interesting to read it so soon after Neverwhere, which I think does not execute the concept of London as an occult city half as well; Cornell’s London is much less whimsical than Gaiman’s in its threatening aspects, and much broader in terms of physical and human geography; and the mystery is resolved leaving enough thread hanging for more to be written in this universe. Good stuff.

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Last pictures from Gallifrey One

The littlest Angel

Stephen, One, Dodo (Team TARDIS of mid-1966)

We Dodo fans are a hardcore minority

Barbara as Yetaxa

Snowman and Adipose

followed by K1 the Giant Robot

There is, in fact, a cosplayer in there

Two cats tease a dog

Why Who is different from those other shows

Sam and her leggings

Stephen Thorne (Omega, also Marvin the Paranoid Android – he’s really tall)

Daphne Westbrook (Grace in The Movie)

Mark Strickson (Turlough)

Who she?

Who he!

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Some more pictures from Gallifrey One

The setup team for the Loncon 3 tea-party: Andrew, Kathryn, Spike, Alissa and Michael

Alex Wilcock’s guide to Who in London, with locations mapped out

Another version of the map (shower curtain pinned against the window) with extra marker for ExCeL.

Tea in full swing

Merchandise: Big Bang Theory crossover

More merchandise: plush bacteria

Ten and Five – Time Crash reimagined (they weren’t together, just happened to be passing at the same time)

Two, at the tea party

Six, at the tea party

Amy and Nyssa

I got Fraser Hines a cup of coffee

And bumped into Ian McNeice on the way.

A Dalek going past the Loncon 3 desk

They get everywhere.

The singer and the shark

TARDIS group picture

Alissa in her dress (note also temporary tattoo)

The voice of protest

The littlest cosplayer

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Some pictures from Gallifrey One

Peter Purves

Philip Hinchcliffe

Nicholas Briggs

Me with the head of Jon Pertwee



Ten and Rose

Six, Five and Four

K9 and company

Policewoman Amy, Cat and Roman Rory

The TARDIS girls

Expensive autographs (beyond my budget)

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February Books 4) Slaapkoppen, by Randall C.

I have been enjoying reading Leo's bande dessinée series Aldébaran in the original French, but reflected that actually Flanders has a fairly vibrant graphic novels culture of which I know shamefully little (my previous ventures into Belgian comics have all been Francophone). A little research of recent award-winners gave me a list of five or six writers to try, and this was te one which seemed most appealing.

Randall Casaer actually first achieved prominence as a standup comedian, half of the double act known as Vrolijk België (Happy Belgium) around the turn of the century. I wasn't aware of that either, and in fact little of it translates to Slaapkoppen, apart from a sense of the theatrical. The story – if indeed it is a story – is about a couple, talkative bloke and quiet woman, and their loquacious dog, exploring a series of peculiar dreamscapes – caves, dinosaurs, the ocean floor, clouds, all the interesting places from Freud and Jung. At the same time Olav and Igor, shipwrecked rom a Russian submarine via a Portuguese whaling boat, discuss the meaning of life and the charms of the long-lost Natasha on their desert island.

The art is rather beautiful, and the basic ideas are pretty sound. It is notable, however, that even the dream world is bounded by Portugal to the west and Russia to the east, and Olav and Igor unfortunately lurch into Russian stereotype a bit. I was also a bit confused by repeated references to the sea being to the east, which of course it isn't in Flanders; I suppose it is a wider metaphor about dawn and waking up, but it jars a bit with the sense of Western Europe (even in Britain and Ireland, which do have east coasts, one does not think of the sea as being purely to the east).

Still I think I recommend Slaapkoppen (or the English translation, Sleepyheads, available here and reviewed here) for the reader who wants to try something a bit different.

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February Books 3) Dark Eden, by Chris Beckett

Somehow the Earth people must have found a way of making heavy things fly. But how? Well, I had no more idea than Jeffo or anyone else. I was no different from the rest. We knew so little, and Earth knew so much. We might as well be blind for all we understood about things. No wonder we longed for Earth.

As ever, the BSFA shortlist continues to deliver good reading, with this story of an accidental human colony on a distant, cold world, decided from two survivors of a lost expedition, and now subject to politics and splintering. It's of course reminiscent of Tunnel In The Sky (Heinlein) or The Face of Evil (Doctor Who), but Beckett brings a nice dimension of rebellious, factionalised youth, of control of history and culture, of the power of new ideas in an alien environment. I really liked it, and a couple of trailing plot threads indicate that there is room for a sequel.

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February Books 2) The Menagerie, by Martin Day

The much larger Taculbain flying about their heads were providing a diversion, the Mecrim jumping into the air whenever one came close. A ring of Dugarqs with guns had surrounded the beasts.

I found this rather a confused and slightly tedious tale, the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe landing on a planet where medievalish humans are dominated by an anti-science cult and various subterranean alien races emerge to do battle or otherwise prop up the plot. The is one nice scene with Jamie and Zoe driving a hovercar together. And there is a nice continuity touch: the I in IMC originally stood for Issigri.

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February Books 1) Matilda, by Roald Dahl

She was a gigantic holy terror, a fierce tyrannical monster who frightened the life out of the pupils and teachers alike. There was an aura of menace about her even at a distance, and when she came up close you could almost feel the dangerous heat radiating from her as from a red-hot rod of metal… Thank goodness we don't meet many people like her in this world, although they do exist and all of us are likely to come across at least one of them in a lifetime.

For some reason I had never read this particular Roald Dahl book before. It is rather good. Little Matilda has learned to read at a very young age; school and library provide an intellectual refuge from her comically awful dysfunctional family; it turns out that dysfunctional family relationships are at work among the school staff as well; and there is a happy ending, brought about by Matilda's brief acquisition of psychic powers (slightly reminiscent of Henry Sugar). It is interesting to read a children's book where a terrible family background is actually mere coloration for the real story, rather than being awfully earnest about it all; yes, Matilda's parents are odious and the headmistress is a psychopath, but she looks for things in her life to enjoy, and enjoys them. Quentin Blake's illustrations, as ever, multiply the effect of Dahl's prose.

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Links I found interesting for 12-02-2013

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How to become Pope

(This entry was originally posted in April 2005. I encourage readers to track down the books on eBay or elsewhere; would be interested to hear what others make of them)

Since it's that time of century, I thought I would dig out of my memory four books I remember having read where the protagonist becomes Pope. I've lost my copies of them, if I ever had them, long ago.

Peter de Rosa, Pope Patrick. Written in 1995, set in 2009 after the death of John Paul II. This has got some quite good reviews, but I don't know why; I thought it was a load of rubbish. Irish country priest gets sort of accidentally elected Pope; outlaws banking (or at least banking with interest); bonds with the (Catholic) US president who defeated Sylvester Stallone in the 2008 election; eventually wiped out in a nuclear war with the Islamic world. Full of cod-Irishry.

Morris West, Shoes of the Fisherman. Written and set in 1963, the year of the death of John XXIII. Starts dramatically as a Ukrainian is elected pope without a ballot, the cardinals being suddenly inspired by the Holy Spirit. Nothing much then happens; the Church attempts to bridge the gap between the Soviet empire and the West, and somebody resembling Teilhard de Chardin gets into theological trouble. Made into a 1968 film with Anthony Quinn, Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud. Unlike the other three books I list here, the Pope lives on for two sequels, which I have not read.

Fr Rolfe (Baron Corvo), Hadrian the Seventh. Written and set in 1904. Total wish-fulfillment of the author, himself a failed priest; the Cardinals, unable to agree on the new Pope, come and beg him to take over; he duly does so, sorts out the entire world by allocating large chunks of it to the Germans to run more efficiently, and is, inevitably, assassinated. Horrendously right-wing, even I suspect for 1904, but more passionately written than the above two.

Walter F. Murphy, Vicar of Christ. I think I have listed these in reverse order of when I read them and this was the first. Written and set in 1979. The hero in this case is much more interesting, an American war hero who has served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and then abruptly retires to a monastery after his wife is killed in a car crash. Like de Rosa's book, set after the death of John Paul II (but in this case after a one-year rather than a thirty-year reign); like in Hadrian the Seventh, the cardinals are deadlocked and go for an outside candidate, ie our protagonist. He proceeds to reform the Church drastically (reforms that are all still needed) and is, of course, assassinated at the end.

All of these books veer from earnest to silly, and I haven't read any of them for around a decade. To be honest I think Murphy's Vicar of Christ is the only one I would seek out again.

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Links I found interesting for 11-02-2013

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January Books 16) Chicks Unravel Time, edited by Deborah Stanish and L.M. Myles

We look at the Doctor, awkward and impossible in a given place and time, old-fashioned, beset by lace cuffs and red-lined capes and jingoism, and we reverse him. We reverse his polarity until he works the way he's supposed to, over and over and over, and makes us better so that we, in turn, can make him better – bravely, courageously, with conviction. (Amal El-Mohtar on Season 8, ending the book.)

A sister book to Chicks Dig Time Lords, this is a set of essays by women on each season/series of Doctor Who, old and new. One or two are sheer squee, but most are serious examinations of the show, usually (but not always) positive, often looking at gender issues, and one or two commentaries on race (also one chapter on "The Doctor's Balls" and another on "David Tennant's Bum".). From my own LJ friends list I spotted , , , , , , and among the contributors, and there may well be others whose names I did not recognise. I particularly enjoyed the chapters which were constructively critical – thinking of Caroline Symcox and Aliette de Bodard in particular – but almost all of them are good and thought-provoking. (But I discover that I have a finite tolerance for sheer squee.)

Recommended for thoughtful Who fans.

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January Books 15) A Big Hand for the Doctor, by Eoin Colfer

As soon as the last gloopy globs of the anti-grav beam had faded, the Soul Pirates cranked up their hoses and turned them on their latest victims, blasting Susan, the Doctor and the four others into a heaped hotchpotch of limbs and torsos in the corner of the pit.

Oh dear. This is the first of the planned 11 short Penguin ebooks to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who, one Doctor per month, the books to be released for £1.99 on the 23rd of every month up to November. It is by Eoin Colfer, best known for the Artemis Fowl books, but also author of an authorised sequel to the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy which I may not get around to reading, and it is about the First Doctor in London in 1900 trying to get a cybernetic replacement hand and defeat the Soul Pirates. There are meant to be lots of references to Peter Pan, which mostly passed me by. The central character bears little resemblance to any other interpretation of the First Doctor on screen, audio or page. The author’s Guardian interview about the book is much shorter and much more interesting.

Fails Bechdel at the first hurdle: Susan is the only named female character. (The Doctor’s mother appears separately in a flashback passage.)

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January Books 13-14) Step Back in Time, by Richard Dungworth and Jacqueline Rayner

The last (so far) of the six two-in-one books featuring the Eleventh Doctor, Amy and Rory, and aimed at younger readers.

Extra Time, by Richard Dungworth

Syd watched the group of youngsters move off along the street. He shook his head and tutted.
‘Look at ’em, officer,’ he muttered. ‘Right bunch of peacocks, these young ’uns, ain’t they? My missis don’t approve of them new “miniskirts”. Says they’re not decent.’

The Doctor and friends arrive in 1966 at the World Cup Final, to find emotion-sucking aliens threatening invasion. the Doctor and Amy deal with them while Rory substitutes for linesman Tofik Bahranov, who is indisposed. This is really a bit lightweight, struggling to fill its 200 pages, and not very original, and the scene-setting bits are a bit gor-blimey. I guess the kids will love it as long as they take the 1966 World Cup Final seriously. (Fails Bechdel at the first hurdle as Amy is the only named female character.)

The Water Thief, by Jacqueline Rayner

[Amy said] “I suppose it’s different if you’re a thousand years old. all these human lives must seem like mayflies to you.”
For a moment the Doctor didn’t answer. He was staring into the distance. Without looking at her he said, “Is that how you see me? Is that how I appear to you?”

This is a different matter. Rayner consistently has good ideas for her Who stories, and on a good day she delivers them too – I think her Winner Takes All, about computer games, is the best of the (sadly few) Ninth Doctor novels. Here she has the Doctor and friends landing in Egypt as the Oxyrhynchus papyri are being unearthed, with Amy and the Doctor then needing to visit ancient Egypt to sort out the inevitable alien invasion (though the water-slurping alien is a very nice touch). Contains gruesome details of the mummification process, but also a murder mystery and lots of nice character moments for our protagonists. Great stuff. (Bechdel pass: Amy befriends an ancient Egyptian woman and they talk about many things.)

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