February 9th, 2013


January Books 9) Casualties of War, by Steve Emmerson

    Finishing his drink, the Doctor placed his mug on the table with a grim look.
    ‘So,’ he said at last, ‘the question is, Constable Briggs, who do you think is responsible for all these strange happenings?’
    Briggs gave him his most serious look. That trench today had clinched it for him. Those footprints disappearing into nowhere like that. No sign of mud on the road. Although he was facing a man from the Ministry and obviously a learned man as well, without a trace of embarrassment Briggs told the Doctor exactly what he thought.
    ‘I think,’ he said, ‘it’s ghosts.’
An Eighth Doctor book which is set during the First World War, with the amnesiac Doctor now investigating mysterious happenings in a hospital for convalescent soldiers. For what is basically a zombie story, it is done rather well, with a particularly good one-off companion (Mary, the village midwife) whose emotional path is similar to many of the New Who companions, and other nicely depicted supporting characters. Would appeal to non-Who fans more than most.

I am still way behind with writing up January's books; expect a few more catchup posts this weekend.

Bechdel pass, as Mary and two other women discuss the weather in Chapter Four, though they go on to discuss the Doctor.


January Books 11) Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman

   Varney took a step back: a mistake. There was a knife at his temple, the point of the blade next to his eye.
   "Further movements are not recommended," said Mr. Croup, helpfully. "Mister Vandemar might have a little accident with his old toad-sticker. Most accidents do occur in the home. Is that not so, Mister Vandemar?"
   "I don't trust statistics," said Mr. Vandemar's blank voice.
I first read Neverwhere around the time that the TV series was broadcast in 1996, though it was years before I actually saw it. I am eagerly anticipating the star-studded radio version which apparently will be out in the next few weeks. (The contrast in star level between the 1996 and 2013 broadcasts is an indicator of just how much Gaiman's profile has risen in the meantime.)

The basic concept is superb, that there is a parallel London where there is a real Angel Islington, where the sinister Black Friars guard a secret, where Old Bailey and the Earl of Earl's Court and Night's Bridge all have their realities. London is a city which exercises a strong fascination, with its layers of history, architecture and literature, and Gaiman - who is very comfortable writing about slipping between our world and Elsewhere - is on a winner by exploring that. The descriptive passages are excellent, both in terms of attention to detail and atmosphere; one can practically smell Earl's Court in its decrepit nightmare Tube carriage.

However, this is minor Gaiman. It was his first solo novel - and novels are not his forte. It is an adaptation of quite a visual script. The plot, a basic quest runaround complete with a sudden yet inevitable betrayal, doesn't really match the excellence of the setting. And I found the most memorable characters to be the sinister Croup and Vandemar, themselves based presumably on Oak and Quill from the Doctor Who story Fury from the Deep, but realised much better as a concept in the single character of the Man Jack in The Graveyard Book. Of the good guys, the most interesting is the Marquis de Carabas (memorably played by Paterson Joseph in the original TV series) and the nominal protagonists are rather flat on the page. It is entertaining enough, but not the top rank.

Scrapes through the Bechdel test with a conversation between Door, Hunter and Serpentine on pages 167-168 where they all ignore Richard and talk about each other.

January Books 12) Jack Glass, by Adam Roberts

The authorities, returning, would find the prison empty. He couldn’t rid the place of all traces, of course; there was a lot of blood, on the walls and in the tunnel, and it would be a simple matter for the Police to DNA it and determine from whom it had come. But it was as much misdirection as Jac could manage.
I was at a conference the day that the BSFA nominations were announced, and as speakers around the table opined on the future of the European Union, I was utilising the hotel wifi to download copies of the books to my iPad and iPhone, which in itself was a delightfully futuristic experience. I'm working through the shortlist, as I like to do, in reverse order of popularity on LibraryThing, so will follow with Dark Eden, Empty Space, Intrusion and finally 2312 (which is owned by twice as many LibraryThing users, and almost four times as many GoodReads users, as the other four combined).

Jack Glass is not in fact about the famous bigot, but about a master criminal in the far future, in a solar system dominated by a few rich families. The novel is divided into three parts: in the first, our legless hero escapes from an apparently escape-proof cell; in the second, he helps spoiled rich girl Diana Argent solve a murder on her own estate; and in the third, he and Diana together work out how they were rescued from capture by her enemies. There's a lot of clever stuff; there's a lot of entertaining writing; there's a lot of interesting speculation about how a future society will divide between the ultra-rich and the poor, in what is recognisably a world related to last year's By Light Alone. I felt that the solution to the third of the three mysteries was a bit too clever, and I also would have liked a bit more of a sense of place from the passages set in the Eastern Mediterranean, but basically I enjoyed it and my BSFA reading is off to a good start - as usual.

Bechdel pass: Diana and her sister discuss faster than light travel.