Saturday, July 26, 2008

NEWBIE REVIEW #10 - Millenium Shock

Yes, it's another book that I can barely remember!

Millenium Shock by Justin Richards

Something I knew about this book when I went in: it was written over two weeks or so. That probably is useful information to have as this book certainly isn't ground-breaking stuff. But it is certainly a competent and entertaining read.

(This book's also a sequel to System Shock which I haven't read, but all the events of that novel are quite competently re-capped.)

This book is a bit amusing as it concerns something that fizzled out quicker than the Matrix phenomenon: Y2K. I found it funny, reading again how seriously everyone took the whole thing back then. The book is set over the course of the weeks leading up to Y2K and the big day itself, where, in true DW-fashion, everything goes crazy! Planes falling, raiding, instant gridlocks, power failures, the whole lot. Ah, the sweet memories of rampant paranoia.

But, slight datedness aside, the book teams up the Fourth Doctor and Harry Sullivan, which is always a great combo. Harry is now middle-aged and working as chief of MI5, and this transformation, surprisingly, comes across as fairly credible. Harry gets caught up in a strange affair involving a company named Silver Bullet, aliens that travel as computer data, Russian paramilitarists, and things of course only get more complicated when the Doctor shows up. In his living room.

At times, the book can border on a bit silly. The aliens appear in makeshift human form (don't they always?) and, frankly, it's pretty easy to work out who're the aliens from when you first meet them - but none of the characters are this perceptive. However, the light-heartedness of this book becomes positively non-existant the further you read it - Richards gives us a body-count of Saward-proportions! No secondary character is safe.

For me, the real highlight of the book was the friendship between the Doctor and Harry. Richards captures Doctor #4 brilliantly - he's just mad. Scenes such as when he starts polishing the nameplate of a tank and has a chat to it are just wonderful and so easy to visualise. Harry, likewise, is the no-nonsense stiff-upper lip chap we know and love, just older and wiser. The two have a great rapport, and it's charming to read scenes like when they exchange Christmas presents.

Another good thing is at the end when Richards delves into the politics and we get to meet PM Terry Brooks - a wonderfully unflattering caricature of Tony Blair, with the cabinet to match. I guess this may have alienated Blair supporters somewhat but I had a bit of a chuckle at it. (BTW, I'm Australian so your politics really aren't much business of mine anyway...)

For me, the book was lumbered a little by the prose, that was workman-like, but this is really understandable given the circumstances under which it was written. Aside from that there's lots to enjoy - the Doctor's plans are suitably clever, the characters quite enjoyable, and there's lots and lots of action. I remember reading it and thinking - "God, I wouldn't mind so many new stories set on Earth if they were like this!". Yes, I'm a UNIT fan and this book smacks of 'Action by HAVOC', I am pleased to say. Aside from the needlessly high death-toll the only thing plot-wise that irritated me about this book was a rather cheap trick by Justin - telling us that there's an alien agent in the military and clumsily setting up one character to be the obvious culprit only to reveal - OMG - it was a character we had never seen or heard of before. I am simply mystified as to why he wrote it in.

So, it's a good, solid read. I think I'll give it a 6/10

Hmm, six out of ten? Seems quite Scrooge-ish of me. But then I haven't read it in ages and I do remember finding quite a few of the death scenes LAAAAME as I like to say. As in Richards does a Saward and just goes "Sick of this person - kill 'em!" And I faintly recall some instances of "Captain Scarlet Syndrome", as I shall now call it, on the part of the aliens. That's where the Doctor works out a way to kill the aliens using acid... and they survive... then some guy just throws a grenade at them... and they survive... then they get a ten-megatonne nuclear bomb dropped on their balls and do die... but then it turns out they were playing dead and kill the ambulance drivers/pallbearers... and then some guy shoots them with a special Anti-Alien ray... and they survive... and then the Doctor waves a magic wand over a church organ and they die when you're near the end.

It's probably fair enough for that to pop up in the books because it's pretty rife in the TV show. The one that sticks in my mind being Bok, the loveable demon, getting blown into powdery rubble by a bazooka, and yet somehow being able to reform himself perfectly mid-air. Okay, that could be Azal at work... Another similar thing would be the Silurians gaining the power to create concrete from thin air with their third eyes so they won't be caught. I mean... generating concrete through their eyes? What evolutionary purpose could that possibly serve? What other situations does that even come in useful for them as a species? Is that just MAGIC or what?

So, anyway... Millenium Shock. Bugger it, I'll just go ahead and say that Justin Richards should be the new producer of Doctor Who. Why? He did this book in 2 weeks. Two fucking weeks. That's HALF the time it takes RTD to write a script. And it's about six times longer. And about 2 million times better than Journey's End. Take these mathematics further and he could write an entire season of stories in the space of just over a month. Then he could look at them and say "What a minute, that's shit. I'll NOT bend over backwards to give Donna amnesia, but instead do something cool" and be able to write them again, PROPERLY, in another month. And still have time to shag Julie Gardner senseless like the rugged, masculine writing-tiger that he is.

Also worthy of note is that he wrote it in 4.7 times the time it took Larry Miles to write The Book of the World. Which shows that he doesn't rush things.

I can't remember this book at all...

EDITED TO ADD: Actually, I do remember something.. read this one at about the time I was doing my HSC, realising that 13 years of education was going down the gurgler as I was in the middle of a crippling depression, studying courses I didn't like and doomed to NOT get into uni as UAI's are determined as much by your own efforts as the biggest fuckwit in your class. And it cheered me up a little. I henceforth declare it the greatest book in the world. 12/10.


Youth of Australia said...

Fascinating. I read the whole book but can only remember the bit with the Christmas presents, when Harry wonders if the Doctor's going to thump him for the laughing box.

And it's one of my favorite covers too.

Jared "No Nickname" Hansen said...

Hmm, maybe it's got amnesia built-in...

Youth of Australia said...

What has? Oh. Right. Remember now.

I think I remember the abrupt ending, thinking it would have been a good ending to the TV Movie.