November 11th, 2005

earthsea

November Books 7) Hogfather

7) Hogfather, by Terry Pratchett

I wasn't especially expecting to like this book. The humour of inventing unrealistic characters and then putting them in a difficult position has always seemed contrived to me. But a sudden impulse hit me in Vienna airport last week, and I bought it. And I rather liked it. I must get more of the Susan Sto Helit sub-series - she is a great character.

OK, I wasn't really sure that the plot made total sense in the end. The means and motivation of the villains, and to a certain extent of Death, are not so well explained. But Pratchett has managed to pack an awful lot of layers of allusion about families, celebrations, belief and morality into the story - and I think he does it rather better than Neil Gaiman in American Gods. I've been having fun glancing through this list to see what references I missed.

Two bits I didn't miss were his nods to Arthur C Clarke - when Stibbons explains to the Archchancellor that his computer works by "sufficiently advanced magic", and then a bit later on a paraphrase of HAL 9000 when Hex announces, "I Am Fully Recovered And Enthusiastic About My Tasks". Clarke of course is famous for wanting to explore spirituality without invoking God. Pratchett here is invoking gods, and many of them, but I think Clarke would be comfortable with the result.

And of course the main point of reading a Pratchett book is for the humour. The "Blue Bird of Happiness" was a particularly great moment of bathos. And you can't beat one-liners like "I'm sure he wouldn't keep on eating them if they were addictive."

Good stuff.
doctor who

November Books 8) Doctor Who: Genocide

8) Doctor Who: Genocide, by Paul Leonard

Picked this up really as an experiment at WorldCon. I never saw the Eighth Doctor TV movie, so this is my first encounter with him; I had no idea if his companion, Sam, was canonical or not though I now learn from Wikipedia that she had an exciting life; but the story also features Jo Grant, and it's not so long since I watched "The Green Death".

Well, it's not bad. The central plot is a set of time paradoxes - will humanity survive, or will we be displaced by humane, environmentally conscious equine quadrupeds who are very reminiscent of Swift's Houyhnhnms? The Doctor has to choose one way or the other, and either way an entire race may be destroyed, hence the genocide of the title. I felt there were one or two problems with the internal chronology of the book which could not be smoothed over by time-travel, and too many cases of a) characters promising not to move from a safe location, then immediately doing so and b) "I'm going to kill you now!" "No you're not." "Okay, I won't kill you now but I might kill you later!" And one plot twist was foreshadowed many years ago by Douglas Adams, but I thought Paul Leonard invested it with a certain dignity (leaving a message in the basalt, surely inspired by the towel in the prehistoric volcano). Overall it was just about worth the £2 I paid for it.

I'm stunned to discover that there are no less than 73 books in the Eighth Doctor Adventures series! Are any of them better than this? If so, I'd be interested in looking at them...