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Saturday, 13 April 2013

Book Roundup


Diversity has been the theme of the last few titles in the ongoing Doctor Who range published by the BBC. Mad Dogs and Englishmen is the title of the 100th Doctor Who novel to be published by the BBC, and it’s a very strange tale indeed. Author Paul Magrs has cunningly taken more than a few leafs out of popular culture and has come up with a story where in a noted author and English historian Professor Reginald Tyler, writes an epic tale of questing in a fantasy landscape … however when the Doctor and his companions Fitz and Anji discover that far from featuring wizards and dwarves and swords, the film version is all about talking poodles from another planet, they realise that something is seriously amiss. Into the melee comes Oscar Wilde, who is able to travel in time by using a pair of shears to cut through the fabric of the vortex, and a dastardly plot is uncovered to overthrow the Dogworld and allow talking space poodles to take over the Earth … Magrs is obviously having a lot of fun with this, and for the most part it rattles along nicely. However it is somewhat indulgent, and when the Doctor infiltrates Professor Tyler’s writing group, the Smudgelings, perhaps the roots start to show too much.

Hope on the other hand is a bleak tale set in the far future. Mark Clapham sends the TARDIS to the ends of time where the Doctor finds a community living on a rig in the middle of an acid sea. The rig is the city of Hope and it is ruled with an iron fist by a part-man, part-cyborg creature called Silver. Silver’s ambitions however run further than control of one city, and the Doctor becomes drawn into helping Silver in exchange for retrieving the TARDIS from the bottom of the sea. Clapham writes a good yarn, and there are some great ideas in here. There’s also a duff subplot as Anji tries to create a clone of her dead boyfriend …

Time distortion forms the basis of the uneven Anachrophobia in which Jonathan Morris posits an invasion from another dimension of creatures which convert humans into walking and talking grandfather clocks. This is very strange stuff, and to Morris’ credit, the book is pretty chilling and disturbing, despite the fanciful nature of the idea. The infected humans are an unstoppable presence as they can bend time around, and the solutions to killing them are ingenious. An enjoyable and often horrific romp.

On the other hand, Lance Parkin’s Trading Futures is a romp of a different kind. Complete with action packed prologue, this is Doctor Who meets James Bond and it has a cover to match! The Doctor becomes involved in the intrigues of the early 21st Century as a mysterious agent is trying to sell a time machine to the highest bidder. With trusty leather-clad girl assistant by his side (named Malady Chang), the Doctor swings into action to save the day. This book is nowhere near as clever as some of the others in the range, but manages to be enjoyable and effective. However there are perhaps too many elements herein and the whole thing ends up a little ragged as rhinoceros-like aliens invade, real time travellers turn up, and the Doctor manages to survive a tidal wave.

Despite all the action in Trading Futures, the next title, The Book of the Still, manages to top it for sheer exuberance. The central idea here is that there exists a book in all times and places called The Book of the Still. In it are written the names and details of stranded time travellers, and then people read the book and come and rescue them - a little like the sequence in Douglas Adams’ Hitch Hiker’s Guide where they throw the Book into a lava flow so it will be found millions of years hence and a time ship sent to rescue them. The problem is that the Book is trapped in a museum, and also that a race of aliens called The Unnoticed want to destroy it as they are paranoid about being discovered. It’s a mish mash of many different ideas, all clamouring for attention. Best among them are The Unnoticed, a superb, and imaginatively created alien race which will get your skin crawling with sheer horror.

Finally, we come to The Crooked World. Steve Lyons has had great fun here, and has dumped the Doctor and co in the middle of Toon Town. Barely disguised pastiches of Scooby Doo, Penelope Pitstop, the Hooded Claw, Tom and Jerry, Sylvester and Tweety Pie, and Elmer Fudd vie for position as the Toons discover free will and their world collapses around them. It’s an uncommon blend, and almost works. However the big problem is that there is no discernable plot, and much of the pleasure of reading comes from the incidental detail, and from knowing the cartoon counterparts of the characters herein. The book also has a ‘striking’ cover which suits the subject, but which hardly inspires one to buy.

David J Howe