March 31st, 2008


March Books 40) [In Search of Lost Time #5] The Prisoner and The Fugitive

40) [In Search of Lost Time #5] The Prisoner and The Fugitive, by Marcel Proust

This is Volume Five of the Penguin Proust, but actually includes two originally separate novels, called (not very surprisingly) The Prisoner and The Fugitive. But my March books list is already unfeasibly long, so I’ll list it here as a single entry.

The prisoner, overtly at least, is the narrator’s girlfriend Albertine, who moves in with him at the start of the book and Collapse ) The translator says in her foreword that she thinks it entirely unrealistic to portray a young single upper-class woman cohabiting with a man she isn’t married to at the time period in question, even under the very secretive circumstances described in the novel (hence Albertine being described as a “prisoner”). I am not so sure. There was an awful lot going on under the radar screen in real life – indeed Proust is full of illicit and secretive love affairs, both gay and straight – and in a world where he thinks she is being sought after by every woman they meet, her secretly shacking up with him is not especially implausible.

There are some wobbly bits (again, the translator notes that Bergotte, a minor character, dies dramatically at one point but is being talked about as if still alive a few dozen pages later), but some great bits of description. That goes even more for the second part of the volume, The Fugitive, where the identity of the titular fugitive is much less immediately apparent, and the book starts off with loads of vicariously reported hot girl-on-girl action, and then spins out into a detailed and honest examination of the psychology of loss, with some very good sentences that almost qualify as one-liners. (But not quite. This is Proust, after all.)

Maybe I’m only now really getting into it, but it seemed to me that this was the most approachable volume yet of the five I’ve read, and I think I would actually recommend that someone wondering if Proust is for them should start here rather than with the first volume. It’s not as if the narrative is all that linear anyway. Having said that, those of you in the US will have to wait until 2018 to get this edition, or else get it shipped in from abroad.

March Books 41-42) Two more Doctor Who novelisations

41) Doctor Who - Planet of Giants, by Terrance Dicks
42) Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth, by Terrance Dicks

Two quite different Terrance Dicks novelisations here. Doctor Who - Planet of Giants was literally the last First Doctor story to see print, in 1990; Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth was from much earlier in the sequence of publication, in 1977. In fact they are respectively the last and the first Dicks novelisations of Hartnell stories.

I’m slightly surprised to report that Doctor Who - Planet of Giants is the better novel, perhaps because it had only three episodes on TV rather than six and therefore Dicks has had to pad rather than summarise; and his own powers of invention, once brought to bear, are helpful. We do miss out on the broadcast story’s key selling point, the visual special effects of the Doctor and company miniaturised to an inch in height, but the plot as a whole does hang together, though fans of Barbara will (as usual) complain that Dicks doesn’t do her character much justice. And once again, as with Doctor Who and an Unearthly Child, Dicks finishes by telling us that the Daleks are out there waiting to start the next adventure which is a bit tedious second time round..

Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth leans a bit on the Peter Cushing film as well as on the originally broadcast story. Its most remarkable innovation, and improvement on the screen version, is the Daleks’ pet monster, the Slyther, which is much more terrifying on the page. But unfortunately a lot of the good bits of the TV story – the desperate chase across a deserted London in episode 3, and even the Doctor’s farewell to Susan at the end – are truncated and lose their effect. It’s still a good story but this comes across rather in spite of than because of Dicks’ efforts.

I’ve already read Doctor Who - The Rescue – probably Ian Marter’s best book – so will head for Doctor Who - The Romans by way of Venusian Lullaby.

March Books 43) Halting State

43) Halting State, by Charles Stross

And so I start my reading of this year's Hugo nominees (and am also now nearly finished Brasyl). I really enjoyed it a lot, though admittedly not every reader's experience will be enhanced as mine was by discussing bits of background for the sequel with the author over the weekend. It's a melding of genres, police procedural and cyberpunk, set in the Edinburgh of an independent Scotland in a few years' time. The narrative voice is striking - three different viewpoint characters, but all told in the second person, as (quite deliberately) in a computer game. There are nods to all kinds of sf taproot texts, and an unnerving background theme of questioning reality. And Charlie's prose seems somehow more under control than I can remember from any of his other books. My Hugo reading is off to a good start.
doctor who

March Books 44) Venusian Lullaby

44) Venusian Lullaby, by Paul Leonard

I wasn't overwhelmed with the only other Paul Leonard DW book I'd read, but I must say this one really grabbed me. Jon Pertwee's Doctor used to tell us that "Klokleda partha menin klatch" meant "Close your eyes, my darling - well, three of them at least" (see here, at about 1:20 in). Here Paul Leonard has taken that throwaway line and constructed one of the best alien cultures I've ever read around it; reminiscent a little of both the pentagonal creatures of At the Mountains of Madness (though a lot less evil) and David Brin's Alvin the Hoon, but faced with an imminent world-destroying tragedy - this is Venus of several billion years ago, still habitable though steadily deteriorating. It's set immediately after The Dalek Invasion of Earth and before The Rescue, so the Doctor is here with Ian and Barbara but no younger female companion. Leonard, like most writers, cannot write Hartnell's Doctor especially well, but the story and the setting more than compensate. An unexpected pleasure.