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Genius Loci, by Ben Aaronovitch

Second paragraph of third chapter:
The Professor's database had a lot of material from the twentieth century. She called it the last Romantic age when the Earth was still diverse and exciting. She said it was a simpler age when the moral choices were clear. 'When we met our first aliens,' said the Professor, 'we had to accept the reality of moral relativism. A Martian is biologically hardwired differently from a human, who is hardwired differently from a Draconian. You can't find a basic moral common ground - only a constantly flexing point of equilibrium.'
Well, this was unexpected. I've been reading the Bernice Summerfield books in publication order, which generally means in order of internal chronology; but Genius Loci is an exception. It's a novel about the early career of the first archaeologist companion, on her first offworld dig, and I can think of only two other novels in which a future companion appears before they meet the Doctor (Harry Sullivan in The Face of the Enemy and Erimem, like Benny a non-TV companion, in The Coming of the Queen).

And this is rather good. I've had my problems with some of Aaronovitch's other work (though he certainly seems to have found his stride with Rivers of London, a finalist for last year's Best Series Hugo); here a lot of things come together, a well-rounded main character, lots of detail of non-human cultures, lots of reflection on human politics, and plenty of humour and throwaway lines about 21st century culture. It's one of the very few Bernice Sumemrfield books that you could try a non-Whovian fan on and have reasonable hope that they would appreciate it; the references to canon are light but tempting.

Sadly of course it is way out of print, and you can get it here at huge cost.

Next up: Collected Works, ed. Nick Wallace.

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