Tuesday, March 11, 2008

NEWBIE REVIEW #2 - The Ancestor Cell

Yes, I'm dipping into the archives. How can you tell?

Unbelievably the second DW book and the first EDA I read was The Ancestor Cell. But then I have had a problem with patience in the past and DAMNIT HOW DOES GALLIFREY GET BLOWN UP?!? That was the entire thought process behind buying it. I think the concept of an 'arc' was still new to me at that stage and I knew so little about the EDAs that it was begging for trouble.

But I have to say that Ancestor Cell still maintains a special part in my heart. Stephen Cole and Peter Anghelides had to do a lot with that book. Many writers would have baulked and made it as abstract as possible so as not to piss people off. But I have to admire their balls in not fucking around and taking to decision to methodically tear apart everything that we know about Gallifreyan society, effectively demolishing the society throughout the book before eventually, in one gloriously in-your-face moment, the whole planet goes *Foom*.

The book still has quite a good reputation in the face of Lawrence Miles' giant hate-campaign against it from the moment it was announced, in fact, so you know it has to be good.

What did I write back then, though? I dunno, something borderline illiterate...

The Ancestor Cell by Stephen Cole and Peter Anghelides

Buying this book was probably a stupid thing to do, I admit it. But I knew this was the book where Gallifrey was destroyed, so the instant I saw this on the shelf I bought it. At this stage all I knew about the Eighth Doctor was that he was played by Paul McGann and apparently banged about with a bloke named Fitz. And the blurb on the back gave me a bit of extra knowledge.

No doubt, people will be shaking their heads reading this. Yes, I had no idea who Lawrence Miles was. I only knew Faction Paradox were "some kind of time-travelling voodoo cult". But I kept an open-mind and accepted the strange things that were happening. I seem to remember a few periods of putting down the book and digesting the ideas, but soon enough I worked out that the Third Doctor had been killed on a planet named Dust, that the Eighth Doctor was infected with a virus, that the Police Box was gone and replaced by a living TARDIS named Compassion who was a bit 'unbalanced' and Fitz seemed to fancy, that the Time Lords are fighting an unknown Enemy from their future, that there's a universe in a Klien bottle that's apparently terribly important, and that Fitz was actually a clone of the real Fitz who died in Geneva in the 1960s except he wasn't really dead but a member of Faction Paradox. Actually, I'm still not entirely sure about that last point but that was the general gist.

But never mind the ideas, what about the plot...? Well, in what I seem to understand is something of "Mad Larry's" style, the plot and the concepts are very intertwined. The story itself flags around the middle, with lots of runarounds on the Edifice and spider attacks, and scenes of Fitz with Tarra and the other cultists that don't add much in terms of story, but this is probably to compensate that the final half of the book is akin to a Greek tragedy, as deaths and chaos build up and up and up until Gallifrey's eventual destruction.

Something this book has been noted for, is it's set-pieces. And why not? They make the book. The revelation of Grandfather Paradox, the discovery of 'the Dust Doctor', the summoning of Father Kriener, and of course the biggy - "You cut off your arm because you did this with it!". Yowza! They're all thrilling moments to read, and brilliantly executed.

The characters are variable, though. Greyjan is intriguing (Though the story doesn't allow much time to explore him, with everything else going on) Mali is charismatic and a nice focused character to have amidst the chaos... unfortunately Tarra comes like a bit of a tin-pot villainess, but with Father Kriener and Grandfather Paradox you can be forgiven for forgetting her entirely. Something that doesn't sit well with me though is this book's depiction of Gallifrey - the idea of the 'rich kids' and 'poor people' being shot in the streets comes out of nowhere and isn't necessary. And Romana III is hard to associate with her forebears - she's really a nasty piece of work!

And this, like the Indestructible Man, laid on the violence nice and thick to understand what the range can be about. Dozens of characters getting eaten by spiders, Tarra ripping her face off, some poor girl who's name I can't remember getting burned alive, and the young Time Lord suicide bomber. This is an incredibly dark book.

Of all my books though, this is the one I plan to re-read, possibly after I can get my hands on copies of Alien Bodies or Interference (At prices below triple digits preferrably) not just because of the grand ideas, but because there's still a lot of stuff I don't get - what was with the cut-aways? Why did the Panopticon keep changing? - etc.

This book may be a bit over the place, but I think its set-pieces really carry it. Not 'fun' by any stretch of the imagination, but intriguing in a very noir way. I think it's a 7.5 from me, but for simplicities sake I'll round it upwards - 8/10

Well, I found out about most of the questions about weird shit going on in the middle - not from reading the books but just infinite analysis online. 8/10 I'd say is a wee bit generous and now I'd take it down to 7 but it's a good read, and probably the only EDA that I've been driven to re-read parts of.

As for Lawrence Miles - not starting arcs for an ongoing series of books is probably the way to go when you hate people writing stuff with your ideas. As good a writer as he is, he doesn't get any sympathy from me at all in this case.

(Hmm, I've done two posts that swipe at Larry in quick succession... nah, I'm sure it's fine. He only gets pissed off at people who email him...)


Youth of Australia said...

I got Alien Bodies and Interference in PDF form. If that helps. Plus a pile of novelizations from
Marco Polo
The Sensorite
The Reign of Terror
The Space Museum
The Chase
Galaxy 4
The Myth Makers
The Dalek Masterplan
The Celestial Toymaker
The Evil of the Daleks
The Krotons
The Space Pirates
The Mutants
The Time Monster
The Monster of Peladon
The Sontaran Experiment
Genesis of the Daleks
The Pescatons
The Pirate Planet
State of Decay
The Visitation
Time Flight
The Five Doctors
Revelation of the Daleks
Time and the Rani
Terry Nation's Daleks
Made of Steel
The Sands of Time
The Scales of Injustice
The Empire of Glass

Jared "No Nickname" Hansen said...

I got Alien Bodies off eBay cheap ages ago - it's a great book - but not Interference. That's one of the books that's just never on there for some reason. Wouldn't mind a look, even though .PDF ha never been my favourite medium...

Youth of Australia said...

Well, it's not ideal, but it is cheap.

As for TAC, there's always one line that sticks in my head:

"Nivet couldn't imagine that his home wasn't in the sky any more."