Tuesday, 21 August 2012

WHO REVIEW: The Wheel of Ice by Stephen Baxter

Oh my giddy aunt, I’ve been looking forward to this one!

Stephen Baxter is one of my favourite authors, and one of the finest science fiction authors writing today. He’s known for taking cutting-edge science and exploring its effects on large casts of characters to create tales that are somehow both epic and personal. He’s branched out a little lately, producing some interesting works; just last month, his collaboration with Sir Terry Pratchett, The Long Earth, hit the shelves (and very fine it is too), and now comes his first Doctor Who work.

It’s not before time. Baxter was down to write a sixth Doctor audioplay for Big Finish several years ago, but this came to nothing. His love of the series is no secret; he’s even penned articles on the TV21 Dalek comic strips for SFX. To finally have some genuine, Baxter-authored Who is a joy; not only that, it’s the first totally original, official ’past Doctor’ novel since 2005, and it’s my favourite Doctor too! I admit, my expectations for this one were very high.

I’m both very satisfied with The Wheel of Ice, and a touch disappointed. It’s wholly satisfying as a Doctor Who adventure; as a Stephen Baxter book, a little less so. For him, it’s quite small-scale; this may seem a strange thing to say about a novel that crosses the Saturnian system and reaches back in time millions of years, but such is the scale of Baxter’s usual work. There’s certainly plenty of his trademark cutting-edge astrophysics to enjoy. There’s nothing too complex for the more casual sci-fi fan, but it’s fascinating nevertheless, although there’s a point where Baxter resurrects a classic example of David Whitaker pseudoscience.

Monday, 13 August 2012





IDW have been publishing Star Trek comics for a few years now, but lately they’ve made a real push towards the sort of titles that really make Trekkies sit up and notice. Not only are they playing fast and loose with their licences and giving us various crossovers, but they’ve been given the rights to the new ongoing run set in the universe of the new movies - the ‘Abramsverse,’ as many are calling it.

Set between the events of the 2009 film and its upcoming sequel, this series has had some input by the creative powers behind the movies, so it could be an interesting look into the way the movies may progress. Readers’ enjoyment of this series will depend on how much they can enjoy what is, for the most part, repackaging of familiar stories, since most, but not all, of the storylines are reimaginings of classic series episodes. For the most part, this has worked very well; the new timeline has established a different enough set of parameters to allow things to shift in some unexpected directions. Alternatively, this could be seen as a chance for a new creative team to do their own versions of favourite episodes, showing how they should have been done. It’s a good way to update the series, and also a good way to piss off the purists. The continuity-geek in me struggles to accept the same events occurring fifteen, sixteen years earlier than in the primary timeline, but that’s my own mental aberration.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

WHO REVIEW: Dark Horizons by J. T. Colgan

J. T. Colgan wasn’t a name I was expecting to be announced in connection with Doctor Who. Better known as Jenny Colgan, she is a bestselling author, but one known for what can only be called chick-lit. She writes books with names like Sixteen Again and The Good, the Bad and the Dumped. This is presumably why the BBC decided to disguise her under a gender-neutral version of her name, fearing that the usual Doctor Who readership would be put off by a such an author writing for the Doctor. Now, I could make some snide comment about how my Mum loves Colgan’s work, and it’s true, she does. She also loves Terry Pratchett, Iain M. Banks and Stephen Baxter, so perhaps we shouldn’t make any genre-constricted judgments. After all, if there’s one group who should be used to having their tastes mocked, it’s science fiction fans.

As it happens, Colgan is a perfect choice for Doctor Who. As she points out herself, she is a long-term fan of the show, back at least as far as the Davison days, although a cheeky cameo in her book would suggest that Tom Baker is her Doctor. Of course, being a fan of the show doesn’t mean she’s necessarily going to be able to write well for it; thankfully, she’s a natural. Dark Horizons, the fourth in the BBC’s range of occasional larger format hardbacks, is a cracking read. It would fit in nicely amongst the BBC’s old EDA range; not one of the groundbreaking books, but a solid, enjoyable one.

Life on Earth

I'm sure it won't have escaped your attention, but the Earth is under the yolk of an all-pervading, domineering influence. No nation in the world is free from its reach. It's called the London 2012 Olympics. Actually, I'm not really sure how much the rest of the world is behind it. Are you all watching it daily, in the United States, in Canada, in Romania and the Gambia and Guam? I only see the all-encompassing Olympic presence in the UK. Actually, I'm rather enjoying it all. I wasn't bothered at first; I'd got very bored with it during the long, tedious build-up, especially at the bookies, a non-sporty person working in a sport-obsessed environment. Still, it's hard not to feel a dash of national pride when we're doing so well, when the crowds are getting behind our athletes and sailors and cyclists and so forth. And it does give me something to watch through the quiet bits of the working day, particularly welcome considering my ever-lengthening working hours these days. I've got quite into it now. It's good to see the people of various nations pretending they don't hate each other, forgetting about each other's various atrocities and just getting on with some fun and games.

There was, however, a significant anomaly during the beginnings of the events. I'm not alone in having noticed this of course. We all saw the tenth Doctor, David Tennant, light the Olympic flame back in 2006. Now that we've finally reached 2012, there was no sign of him. A severe continuity error, and one that has prevented my enjoying the full experience. To be honest, I wasn't to bothered about the Olympic opening ceremony. People were raving about it, but I'm content to pick out the odd interesting bit on YouTube or wherever. And they cut the Doctor Who bit anyway.