Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Book review: Doctor Who – The Twin Dilemma

Cross-posted from my Hardcore Nerdity blog:

Title: Doctor Who - The Twin Dilemma
Author: Eric Saward
Publisher: Target Books
Publication date: 1986

"The Twin Dilemma". Oh dear. Oh dearie, dearie dear. Okay, some background on this novelisation of a Doctor Who story.

A couple of years ago, the Doctor Who franchise hit its 200th televised story (not episode, but story - back in the day, stories were several episodes long) with "Planet of the Dead". So Doctor Who Magazine held a poll, wherein readers picked their favourite stories. The 1984 story "The Twin Dilemma", written by one Anthony Steven, came dead last. 200th out of 200. Sure, some story had to come in last. Such is the nature of lists. "The Twin Dilemma", however, mostly deserved it. It's really not a good story. Really, really not a good story.

"The Twin Dilemma" was the first full story for Colin Baker, the 6th actor to play the part of the Doctor. Having just regenerated from the Peter Davison incarnation, the new Doctor goes completely insane for much of the story, shouting at his companion Peri, attempting to strangle her, deciding to become a hermit (with Peri in tow) to atone for the strangling, and choosing to wear the ugliest coat in existence. Somewhere in there, in a setting of the year 2300, there's a couple of brilliant, but annoying, young twins (played by a real-life pair of annoying twins who can't act), an old Time Lord friend of the Doctor, a space cop and a giant slug named Mestor. It's not as good as it sounds.

So, why the hell did I read the novelisation of this story? Because I'm a hardcore Doctor Who fan, who will read, watch or listen to pretty much anything to do with the program. Plus, I thought, surely the story must be better in written format. Right? Right!?

Well, it might have been better, if it hadn't been adapted by Eric Bloody Saward! Eric Saward was the script editor for Doctor Who for a number of years, including most of Colin Baker's time in the role. Saward, unfortunately, was kind of a prick. He seemed determined to suck the joy out of the program. Every interview I've ever seen with the man makes me want to slap that self-important smirk off his face. But, hey, maybe he'd write a good novelisation and improve the story a little. He did, after all, write at least one decent story for the show, 1982's "Earthshock".


Saward even writes smug. He really does. He tried to liven up "The Twin Dilemma" by giving it a little humour. But Saward is trying to write like Douglas Adams, with bizarre tangents, which might have been funny if worked into a story that was humourous in the first place. It just comes across as... annoying. "Hey, look at how funny I am!" Just when the rambling plot finally starts to do something, along comes another comedy aside, which is almost certain to include a reference to a fictional alcoholic beverage called Voxnic. Maybe Saward was drunk when he penned this. (Hell, I'm willing to bet he was drunk through much of his time as story editor for the show.)

He screws around with the characters a bit too much as well. Azmael, an old friend of the Doctor, is a renegade Time Lord too, not content with life on their home world of Gallifrey. In this adaptation, Saward turns him into a mass murderer, having, in a fit of pique, killed the entirety of a previous Time Lord Council as part of his back story! And we're supposed be sympathetic towards the guy! Hugo, the space cop, is made into a shallow mercenary, who only cares about getting a promotion. Saward's answer to a story full of unlikable characters, is to make the characters even more unlikable.

The plot, like the original, just sort of ambles along until the Doctor stumbles onto things. He doesn't really have much to do with what's going on, something that much of Colin Baker's tenure suffers from.

So, no, I guess I wasn't terribly impressed with this novelisation. Still, onwards. What's up next in my Doctor Who pile? "Attack of the Cybermen". Enh. Again, not a highlight of the Colin Baker years. Still, it might be an all right adaptation. Let's see who wrote-- Oh, frak me.

Eric Bloody Saward!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Book review: The Bird of the River

Cross-posted from my Hardcore Nerdity blog:

Cover of The Bird of the River

Title: The Bird of the River
Author: Kage Baker
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: 2010

The Bird of the River is the third and, sadly, last (due to the author’s untimely death early last year) novel set in the fantasy world introduced by Kage Baker in her 2003 work, The Anvil of the World.

Baker’s fantasy world features two different (although both essentially human) races: the red-skinned, industrial Children of the Sun and the green-skinned, tree-dwelling Yendri. Also populating the world are demons and gods. However, the demons are not your evil, hosts of Hell type of demons. They’re elementals, given physical bodies (usually in a variety of colours and often sporting fearsome features like tusks) to interact with the world. Some are good, some are bad. None of them fear death because if their bodies are destroyed, they just go off and have a new form made. As for the gods… well, they’re rarely seen. But they are most definitely real.

Of the three novels in the series, Bird is certainly the most… the word I want to use is “gentle”. It’s not nearly as cosmic as the others. Anvil ended up involving nothing less than the fate of the world, while 2008′s The House of the Stag told the epic tale of the rise of the Master of the Mountain, the dark whom most demons serve. Bird, however, tells a simpler story, one about a sister and brother on a long trip aboard a river barge named The Bird of the River.

Eliss is a young woman, about 15 or 16 years old. Her younger half-brother, Alder, is a half-breed; Child of the Sun mother, Yendri father. However, he looks Yendri, which causes some problem around certain, less enlightened Children of the Sun. They live a nomadic life with their mother, Falena. Unfortunately, as the death of Eliss’ father, Falena fell apart, becoming a drug addict, and hooking up with a string of “uncles”, including Alder’s Yendri father. While never abusive to her children, she became unable to look after them adequately, forcing Eliss to grow up quickly.

Very early in the book, Falena dies in a diving accident, leaving the children to become members of the Bird of the River‘s crew. The crew are generally a kindly bunch and Eliss and Alder begin to fit in quickly, especially Eliss, who has a tremendous talent for observing detail and made a look-out (and nicknamed “Vigilance” by Captain Glass). Alder, however, is restless, longing to experience life with the Yendri, and perhaps find his father.

There follows a series of adventures as the Bird makes its way down the river, adventures made all the more, um, adventurous by a certain young man coming on board. A young man who is secretly an assassin, intent on avenging the mysterious death of a nobleman.

I loved this book. Kage Baker can literally have me laughing out loud on one page and then tearing up on the next and this story was no exception, from the young assassin’s self-effacing humour (laughing) to moments when Eliss realizes she may have to let her brother, the only family she has left, leave her and follow his own path (tearing up).

Baker’s writing seems effortless. Although she rarely uses the grandiose language often used in describing fantasy words, it’s easy to visualize the story’s environment. The dialogue is casual, making even the minor characters believable (with the deliberate exception of the occasional villainous-type).

And there’s a pretty good mystery amidst the human drama. I realized one page before the big reveal what was up and actually blurted out “Son of a bitch!”

So, to sum up: high adventure, genuinely funny humour, touching drama, all brilliantly executed. Definitely recommended.

(Okay, my first ever book review ended up being a gushing one. The timing worked out that it was a book by one of my favourite authors.)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Hardcore Nerdity

A quick little post to let folks know that... Hardcore Nerdity is finally back! Woo hoo! I'm a member, and you should be, too. If you're a nerd. And, if you're reading my blog, you probably are. So go on, already.