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June Books 22) Byzantium! by Keith Topping

There are some aspects of this book that are so awful that I almost wanted to claw my eyes out. It is set in the city of Byzantium (the future Constantinople / Istanbul) in the first century AD. The city's population appears to be mainly Jewish (divided between Zealots, Christians and those in between), with a Greek minority and a settled Roman ruling class.
It has minarets.
Huge thudding mistakes and discrepancies abound in the Latin phrases (one recurring example - the senior Roman government official in the city lives in the villa praefectus).
And the first century city has minarets.
The presentation of characters' names is horrendously inconsistent - some are Latinised, some Grecianised, some Hebrew (or possibly Yiddish), and one who is called "Fabulous" (sic).
And he seems to think that there were minarets in the city before the Turkish conquest of 1453, and six centuries before the foundation of Islam.
Even the transcription of the opening of St Mark's Gospel in Greek is incorrect, which is pretty astonishing as all you have to do is find a copy of Nestlé-Aland - I've got one I can lend you if you like. But (as you may have noticed) I keep coming back to the minarets; it's only one word in one of the book's rare descriptive passages, but it demonstrates the utter superficiality of the author's research into the historical setting.

The train-wreck of the author's attempts at world-building made it difficult to absorb the actual plot, but I did my best. It is set between the first and second scenes of The Romans - it turns out that the Tardis falls off a cliff near Byzantium and the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki all get separated when they get swept up in a riot in the city. A thinly contrived sequence keeps them separated until the end of the book when they discover the Tardis has been taken to Italy; in the meantime the Doctor has helped the local Christians write the Gospel of St Mark. Topping writes Barbara rather well, Ian very badly, and the Doctor and Vicki tolerably. (There is a framing narrative with Ian and Barbara, now married in 1973, taking their son to a museum where they see Ian's old sword.) The most memorable of the supporting characters are some nymphomaniac Roman ladies, and that is not saying much.

I am having difficulty deciding whether or not this is the worst Doctor Who book I have read. The only ones that approach it in awfulness are Eric Saward's novelisation of The Twin Dilemma and Topping's Telos novella Ghost Ship. In the end I think Byzantium! takes the prize for sheer quantity of awfulness; it is roughly twice as long as the other two combined. I will send my copy to the first person who asks nicely; I have no interest whatsoever in keeping this book in my collection.


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 23rd, 2009 06:25 am (UTC)
See now I'm wanting to know where the minaret idea came from and to what extent they were a new invention when Islam begun. Wikipedia has not helped me with this.
Jun. 23rd, 2009 06:35 am (UTC)
A bit of googling led me to the conclusion that they started coming in about the time of the construction of the Great Mosque of Damascus in about 705.

The context in the book makes it clear that Topping is thinking of the minarets on the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, so really there is no excuse!
Jun. 23rd, 2009 07:04 am (UTC)
I can't take it off you for research purposes, as I already own it, thoiugh I've never read it. Not sure I will now ...
Jun. 23rd, 2009 07:07 am (UTC)
Not wishing to dogpile here, but of all the Telos novellas I felt Ghost Ship was certainly the least good, the kind of story that somehow fell apart simply with the act of reading it. And it doesn't sit easily alongside the brilliance of Fallen Gods or Citadel of Dreams.
Jun. 23rd, 2009 08:00 am (UTC)
And it's definitely not all for comic effect?

I'm very curious, and will gladly take this bullet for you. (*hopes that is asking nicely enough*)

Edited at 2009-06-23 08:00 am (UTC)
Jun. 25th, 2009 04:38 am (UTC)
Happy to send on - you are still at the same address as you were when I sent The Rising of the Moon in February?
Jun. 25th, 2009 04:49 pm (UTC)
Yes, same address. Many thanks!
Jun. 26th, 2009 09:09 pm (UTC)
Sent - enjoy!
Jun. 27th, 2009 12:10 am (UTC)
I'm really quite looking forward to reading it! Thank you very much!
Jun. 29th, 2009 01:48 pm (UTC)
Received - thank you!
Jun. 23rd, 2009 09:00 am (UTC)
I did at least manage to finish Byzantium!, which puts it slightly ahead of Ten Little Aliens and The Indestructible Man. The good writing for Barbara helped, I think, though on the other hand Ian's dialogue sounded like it had been lifted directly from The Bumper Book of 60s Slang without much reference to the way Ian actually speaks.
Jun. 23rd, 2009 09:12 am (UTC)
The worst one I read was a Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Turlough one called King of Terror - I didn't pick up another Who novel for a year. And I swear that until I googled it just now I'd forgotten it was by a certain Mr Topping...
Jun. 23rd, 2009 09:29 am (UTC)
Topping was responsible for the most bizarre piece of Whedonverse interpretation I have ever seen, a claim that Dead Things was strawfeministically anti-male not for any of the obvious reasons but because he interpreted the episode as suggesting that the murder and attempted rape of Katrina was Warren's rite of passage from adolescence to manhood.
Jun. 23rd, 2009 01:55 pm (UTC)
minarets huh! You've convinced me. Worst ever - author is a lazy git.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )

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