Tuesday, September 23, 2008

NEWBIE REVIEW #11: Imperial Moon

Just realised that, in spite of the flagging update rates of this blog, I still haven't posted all of the Newbie Reviews that I have on file. Tsk, tsk, Jared. So here's the next one:

Imperial Moon by Christopher Bulis

Right, this is the bit where I know people will be sneering. At the very mention of the name. You don't have to read far to find some of the snobbery directed at Bulis by books efficianadoes. More than once I've seen it claimed that he isn't even human, but some piece of software created by Virgin and since traded to the BBC which churns out literary dross like a factory.


Don't get me wrong - I'm not about to say he's brilliant, I'm just going to say that this was a good book in my opinion. A nice, solid read and it unmistakebly captures the Who mystique - if not the era in which it is set.

The introduction to this book drew me in - it describes, in abstract detail, the Space Empress, watching the launch of her fleet of spaceships, out into the stars, towards the moon. It goes into some sketchy details of the ships and the ceremony involved - and then the Empress' aide starts talking in a Scottish accent. Bloody hell, it's Queen Victoria and Billy Connolly!... er, I mean, James Brown.

Say what you like about the story itself - but that's a hell of an intro. One of the real "WTF?" moments that Doctor Who have a lot of, and it is quickly built on in the following scenes where the Fifth Doctor receives a message in the TARDIS' Time Vault (Which, as Turlough shrewdly puts it, "stores items for prior use.") and finds that it's a journal belonging to Thomas Halliwell, one of the captains of her majesty's Great British space fleet. At this point you should be thinking "What the bloody hell is going on?!" and this feeling lasts for more or less the entire book, as the mystery takes its time to be unravelled.

It didn't take long to see the reason why Bulis cops quite a bit of flak - frankly his prose is not very lively, falling flat in quite a few places, but on the bright side he isn't an author to get bogged down in reeling off too much description and focuses instead on a solid plot with lots of action - and this story does have a lot of action in it. One of my personal highlights was a sequence very remiscent of Aliens - Turlough trapped in a ship with a deadly alien killer machine on board. Great stuff.

I really don't want to give away the plot, because its unfolding is undoubtedly the best thing about this book, but the three spaceships, which contain a myriad of crew, soon land on what is apparently the moon but are surprised to find a vast jungle land that is filled with hellish alien creatures. Naturally, this is where the TARDIS itself manages to land, depositing the Doctor and Turlough into a harsh wilderness.

The characters are quite interesting... well, the main ones at least. Some are just place-fillers, but that's inevitable when you have three ships worth of crew in an adventure story. Captain Haliwell is a real boys-own hero, a natural leader and square-jawed hero but who clashes with Emily Boyes-Dennison, who is daughter of the engineer of the spaceships and a forthright feminist.(Hmm, romantic subplot, maybe?) Then the very dark subplot of Henry Stanton, a working-class man who works as pilot of one of the ships under the incompetent Captain Green, who realises that piloting requires a special knack that he has and this causes him to rebel against the rigid class structure of Victorian society.

The regulars are good, too. The Doctor seems a bit passive at times but is undoubtedly Davison - capable and practical - and we see an altogether different side of Turlough here. He's still sneaky, cowardly and selfish but we really see his softer side - he gets his own romantic subplot in this story! Some people have said that this isn't Turlough in this story but I disagree - Turlough is easily complex enough a character to have plots like this written around him, and I'm glad to see it. Oh, yeah, Kamelion's in this book, too, but it doesn't really matter how you write Kamelion because he's pretty dull anyway. I mean, I like him, but there are far more interesting characters out there.

As I said, the prose lags a bit, but I really did like this book for its faults. One of the things that got me was the climax - very, very brutal, but arguably it works for the story. But afterwards, everything just wraps up so perfectly I felt very good after I put this book down. How do I rate this book...? Hmm, I think 7/10 ought to do it.

Once again, I find my present self being quite boring by agreeing wholeheartedly with my past self. Imperial Moon is a good, solid read, and I want to add to what I wrote there by saying that it isn't one of the few books but one of the few Doctor Who stories full-stop to use Turlough well as a character. From the moment that he appeared I realised that the alien bloodnut had far more potential than any other companion in the Davison era, yet Saward latched onto his cowardly tendencies and made them define his entire identity. Yeah, that only got old after one fucking story...

I think that the sheer number of books coming out at the time was what caused the snobbish attitude to Bulis' works. I am the first to admit that he does not write good prose. However, so much as he is a lovely bloke... I have to say that Chris McKeown's dialogue is significantly worse. And yet Time's Champion is currently being hailed as a masterpiece on OG by people who really ought to know better. It pains me to say it but the book, simply put, is not very good but is recieved like a glass of Cherry Coke by a man stranded in a desert - apologies for the terrible metaphor.

It probably should be pointed out, though, that I am something of a Victorianaphile and enjoy my sci-fi to slant towards the 'pulp'-y area on occassion and these two facts massively contribute to my enjoyment of Moon. It is not by any specific or quantifiable measure a 'good novel'. It's just one that I happen to really enjoy quite a lot, mostly because of its singularly outlandish ideas.

Just thinking about what's great... one of the [many] reasons I disliked Journey's End was for not actually having a reset button when it made it obvious that the plot necessitated one, instead just ignoring the virtual destruction of Earth utterly. (Which seems an odd thing to ignore..) Imperial Moon goes down a very similar path by making it obvious early on that, with aliens gardens on the moon and a Victorian space program, this HAS to be a parallel universe, even to the point of having Turlough moaning about it.

However... it doesn't. Gradually over the course of the story Bulis deals with the loose ends - the professor who designed the rockets dies. Most of the crews die. The complex on the moon is blown up. The aliens leave. And finally Victoria pledges to destroy all evidence of the tests. And then, by the very end of the novel you stop and think and realise that, hey, there's nothing to say that it didn't happen! Apart from common sense but who needs that with a story this fun?

Also, props to CB for braving The Curse of Kamelion.

Man, I should go out on a low-key note to stop myself sounding like a complete Bulis fanboy... ah, well, he does have the Doctor save the day by going Terminator on the aliens. But, hey, you can try anything the once on DW...

1 comment:

Youth of Australia said...

I'll be very boring and mention how similar your review is. I love the fourth wall of the earlier bits where Turlough practically jumps up and down on the diary, calling it cliched crap and pointing out all the plot flaws. The brain-sucking spiders, Billy Connelly's cameo (I don't even think I'd seen Mrs Brown at the time, I just auto-added him), that rather tragic moment where Kamelion mistakenly believes the Doctor is insulting him as a "mechanical man" and never realizes it's actually a plot point, and as you mention the bit where Turlough's trapped in the rocket with the monster...

Despite the rather confusing idea that Turlough had amnesia about his past, there are some good moments between him and the Doctor - "What's a Time Wake? A funeral for time past?" "Heh, I better remember that one..." or Turlough's shock at the descriptions of Leela ("makes Tegan look like a schoolmarm"). And Turlough's obviously doomed love affair (how obvious? In the DWM preview, Bulis TOLD us it was doomed) is about 100 times better than anything Owen gave us.

Good cover, too.