Here's a book that I barely remember at all, apart from a vague sense that it was, all in all, quite good. Back when the words hadn't faded from my mind, I said something very much like this:
Venusian Lullaby by Paul Leonard
This is the first book I've read that made me want to read more from its author... and, erm, unfortunately I haven't yet. I saw a copy of Genocide on eBay but it was just not to be. At any rate, this book is trememdous and, like good books should, just jumps out at you with the author's sheer style.
The book stars the First Doctor and Ian and Barbara - like some stories from this era do, apparently, it features a steerable TARDIS, but Leonard at least gives us a vaguely scientific reason for why this is possible so it's not too intrusive. The story starts off as a bit daft, with the Doctor giving Ian and Barbara a candlelit supper of pills from the food machine, but I think the odd bit of daftness is appropriate in a 60s story.
The tone turns odder very quick, when the Doctor discovers a lost invitation to an old Venusian friend's funeral and decides to pop back and attend the event. We meet the Venusians, gigantically tall creatures with many eyes, tentacles, and claws and from here on you may want to get yourself a pencil to keep up: we meet LOTS of Venusians, and we are given the full name and clan of each. For the purposes of this review I can only actually remember two Venusian characters' names: Mrak'acedo and Trikhobu, and these names are very typical. As I'm sure you can imagine, keeping track gets quite difficult, and this is probably the worst part about the book.
The best thing, however, is directly related. A lot of DW stories have, let's face it, quite half-arsed alien worlds. There are often some interesting worlds, some fascinating tidbits about culture, but usually it's just actors in bodysuits over-annunciating their dialogue. This being a novel, though, Leonard has let his imagination run away with him and the results are tremendous. The Venusian culture seems just dripping with detail: their law, their social hierarchy, their ideals, their communications, their advanced sciences, their political factions, their transport, it's all there. I'm not saying every book should go into this sort of detail but it's great that one does.
And the story itself... clocking in at over 300 pages it's quite epic, I have to say, but there's very rarely a dull moment - in spite of the fact that the main conflict doesn't even emerge until 100-something pages into it! It's quite a simple plot I guess, stripped down to the basics - invading aliens trying to decieve the good old Venusians by appearing benign - but the delivery is great. In spite of the long, cumbersome names you really get to know the characters, and Ian and Barbara go through their fair share of action in this novel.
Surprisingly Leonard, in spite of being a relatively new fan when he wrote this, as mentioned in his notes, draws a great character sketch of the First Doctor. His crotchety side (which was never that prominent, in actuality) barely makes an appearance and we see his charm, his childish curiosity but also his moroseness, gravitas, and authority. He comes off brilliantly in this adventure.
Very little to not like about this one, just a bit long and a lot of characters, another 9/10.
Next: Millenium Shock by Justin Richards
Hmm, by this stage I seem able to string two sentences together without looking a complete arse, so I can show some pride in the works of my past self at last. And I clearly did something right because reading that somehow brought back memories of the story...
It's great because of it's eccentricities, essentially. The Vesuvians, for reasons I can't recall, are effectively poisoned every time that they touch metal. Their society thus needs to function on devices of stone and wood, and the crossbow is the deadliest weapon. Because of this their space program [literally] doesn't get off the ground due to a need to construct the spaceship entirely out of wood, and without the motor-engine or anything like it possible the Venusians get around with gigantic ships with sailing masts - that sit on top of a gigantic wheel. Or in stone elevators that get pushed around by lava flows.
It is all nonsense but of such a terrific nature you go along with it utterly, like Paul Leonard is some sort of magician masterly using some narrative sleight-of-hand to convince you, even for a second, that this stuff is sensible.
The book also captured my interest by an evolving plot - the planet of Venus is dying, as we know it must, but, huzzah, their prayers are all answered by some benevolent aliens come to rescue them. Only, as happens, they're evil - but they've been brough their by the Venusian high priest, who sees that the planet is dying and has arranged to spare the people the long years of dying by arranging a glorious massacre of them all... the fact that what he's doing is fuelling more evil is further confused by the fact said aliens want to eat them all and Venusians believe that eating a body ensures its re-incarnation and other oddities..
It would be great if all DW stories could have plots so ambiguous and complex and downright strange as this one has. This is one of the few novels to capture the unpopular 'two alien races in conflict' trope well, in fact, and it is really tremendously served here. It also fits so very well into its chosen era, by combining the standard 'We cannot change history!' and 'This planet is MAD!' storylines into one which is stronger than the sum of its parts.
Brilliant characterisation of the Doctor and companions tops it all off, and I think that this book, more than any other that I've encountered, really does justice to the idea of going beyond what could be shown on screen that Virgin kicked off with.
And, unusually, I agree with the above review 100%, even if it is succinct by my standards.