Sunday, 29 August 2010

The Slow Empire by Dave Stone


I have something of an issue with The Slow Empire - it is my Mindwarp of the book series. One time I read it...and hate it with a passion bordering on insanity and the next time I pick it up I am just in the right mood and love its riotous deliberate flouting of the rules of fiction! So here for your perusal is two reviews i have written, positive and negative...and you make up your mind. Because I can't.

The Slow Empire by Dave Stone

Plot: The Doctor and his friends arrive in the Empire, a region of space with whacky physics that prevents anybody travelling faster than the speed of light. Soon they are teamed up with an extremely verbose traveller and a blob of jelly that likes collecting nice shiny things and taking a tour of a dysfunctional and highly disturbing Empire…

Top Doc: It could have been a fascinating experiment, trapped in an area of space where time travel is an impossibility it is very possible that a Time Lord would start to unravel. We’re told countless times that the Doctor is acting out of character, that ‘little bits of personality are surfacing and collapsing, as if being taken over by the spirits of other men’ but I never saw it. Not once. He didn’t act like an of the other Doctors as far as I could see. Didn’t grab his lapels and go “hmm”. Oh whimper “Oh my giddy aunt!” Didn’t rub his chin and “I know exactly what’s going on here.” Etc, etc…unfortunately what Mr Stone did capitalise on and so much that started to get fed up at the end was the Doctor’s amnesia, especially his lack of knowledge in just about everything! He’s rubbish! He can’t figure out anything! Kate Orman managed to explore the Doctor’s explosive, forgetful personality far more sensitively in the last book without every making him appear foolish or surplus to requirement.

He doesn’t want to fill his head with nonsense just because there is space to fill. Described as having mystical, sorcerous powers. His life is described as a closed book with some of the pages missing. In one of his funnier moments we realise his amnesia has led to the Doctor being unable to separate fact from fiction leading to him to be forced from watching a particular BBC soap in fear of slitting his wrists. Apparently he emits an aura that allows people to cope with utterly horrendous situations (although he does little of that here).

Scruffy Git: Was Fitz there? He has a funny moment when he thinks Jamon might be the regenerated Doctor and forgets that the subtle wrongness of alien planets can bite into the mind but aside from that…diddly squat. Unthinkable…a book that gets Fitz wrong!

Career Nazi: Arrgggggggghhhhhhhhh! What is THIS? No wonder everybody hated Anji after they read this! She’s horrible! Not just bog standard horrible but evil b*tch queen sl*t cow from hell horrible! There are all the unlikable aspects of Anji that are apparent in other books, her temper, her rudeness, her businesslike attitude…but it is lacking the essential humanness of Anji that irons out all these elements and makes her so wonderfully real. Her she is just an automaton of hate and bile. I loathed her.

Apparently she doesn’t make friends but contracts, doesn’t build relationships but acquires and maintains them. She is described as a personal servant to the Doctor. When Jamon pats her head like a good little girl she throws him a look so venomous he fears he is dicing with his life. She feels alone, dislocated because human rules don’t apply here. Her dreams don’t extend beyond having a content life accounting…although at least she has the decency to be horrified by this thought. She feels lower than she has ever felt in her whole life…run a bath and slit your wrists bad. Described as a pair of boobs and buttocks hanging off an articulated frame with a dash of the ‘ole curry powder for a bit of flavour.

Foreboding: In the Goronos machine Anji meets a dapper, sardonic looking man with a creature of hideous, diabolical and slitheringly unutterable evil. Hmm, wait a few books and you might find out who this is! The Vortex Wraiths are on the run from something hideously awful in the Time Vortex…

Twists: The Empire can only travel at light speed, a lovely idea. Transference requires the subject to have his flesh burned away and bones charred away and transfer the Soul of Man. Brilliantly, the Vortex Wraiths dive bomb the TARDIS stellarium, quite an amazing feat considering they, and it, are not psychically real. Jamon de le Rocas manages to spend over two pages talking absolute nonsense (twice). The Doctor manages to affect their escape by acting the complete clown, moving furniture here and there and making the guards stand back dumbfounded at being treated in such a manner, moving them from the path of the door and running through it. The Collector is lovely, a genuinely wonderful creation and the book should have featured him more. The Doctor is stabbed in the chest so his blood can glue the last shard of the Engine of Transubstation in place. It is hard not to agree with Anji at the sheer stupidity of the Goronos slaves who, once achieving their freedom chose to wire themselves to a collected intelligence that in a sense made them slaves again. The setting up of the Empire is sheer genius…shooting off lobotomised criminals into space and hoping they come across planets to set up Transference Pylons. The Vortex Wraiths are revealed to be the big baddies…controlling the Ambassadors by voodoo and thus controlling the entire Empire…but luckily the Doctor tricks them into thinking they will bring their brethren into our reality but short circuits the TARDIS (oo-er clever!) and wipes them out instead.

Funny bits: The books real saving grace. It is riotously funny in places, especially in the footnotes which read a little dry on their own but in the context of the story work and absolute treat. With The Story So Far…Dave Stone manages to sum up the entire eighth Doctor range up to this point…in half a page.

Embarrassing bits: The Slow Empire has no plot. Okay every book has a plot but the yawning excuse for one that fills these pages is so miniscule you have to wonder why Stone even bothered. The plot is the Vortex Wraiths want to escape the horrid uggy-buggy that has set up shop in the Vortex and find a way into our universe via the Transition Pylons of the Empire. The Doctor figures their plan and stops them by short-circuiting the TARDIS. The end. The book only bothers with this plot; I might point out, during the first twenty and last twenty pages. During the rest of novel we are treated to a sub plot of monumental unimportance where the Doctor treats his companions to a tour of a few of the Empire worlds just to keep them from getting bored. As Anji so astutely points out the information they gather from this trips could have been gathered in the safety of the TARDIS and in terms of the book could have taken up one page, maybe two and not the two hundred they actually occupy.

The Slow Empire has no characters. Okay every book has characters but the ones that populate this book are pretty much dismissed. Even the regulars are treated to this disrespect, the Doctor, Fitz and Anji all affected by the bizarre science of the Empire and so are all acting way out of character as to be practically unrecognisable. Compiling this issue is the only other character of note Jamon de la Rocas who would be worthy of note were he note just Stone implanted into his own book and given the opportunity to speak directly to his audience. Anybody else you might stumble across in this book is either killed horribly or skipped over in an instant as the book lurches to yet another destination. You could count the Collector, a supremely funny creation, but in all honesty how much meaningful characterisation can you get out of a slimy green blob with multiple appendages who has a love of piles of nice shiny things?

Result: I just don’t know what to say. It is not good. There are flashes of imagination and the some cracking jokes but this doesn’t make up for 240 odd pages of nonsense we have to endure. There are some great ideas in here but they are wasted on a slooooow plot and writer who is so far up his own arse he thinks he can get away with prevaricating with pointless asides over and over and over and treat characters as a bunch of random observations. I was waiting for a revelation that would tie this altogether and make it all make sense (in that it isn’t just a bunch of random observations shoved in between two covers…the front one of which is utterly hideous too!) but it never happened and the answers we do get are pretty lame considering the everlasting wait for them. Saying all that, Dave Stone has a mastery over language which verges on the genius with lots of horrifically complicated words cropping up…its just a shame he didn’t bother to use them to write a plot with characters and a point. A huge let down for the range, Stone’s unique view of Doctor Who can be a breathless, invigorating experience but this isn’t going to please either camp, it is neither brilliantly camp and insane or purely traditional and functional…its just sort of there. Achieving nothing: 2/10

The Slow Empire written by Dave Stone

Just imagine for a moment a conversation around a pub table. Steve Emmerson is there, so is Kate Orman, Trevor Baxendale got the round in and, of course, Justin Richards and Dave Stone are in attendance. Steve, Kate and Trevor have already been green lighted for writing new EDAs and are around to ensure a certain continuity between there books but Justin is in a black mood. The schedule is missing one book and he is desperate not to have spend three weeks filling it himself.

"Sigh" says Justin, "new to my position as editor and already I have come across a problem."

"Anything we can help you with?" asks Kate.

"Well, I need a schedule filler. I want something audacious, ground breaking, something that informs the readers of the EDAs that now the Doctor is off-Earth again his adventures will be exciting and unpredictable!"

"I'm writing you a book about talking Tigers!" Kate exclaims. "Plus if you're lucky I'll throw in an unrequited gay romance."

"I'm sure you'll do your usual sterling job but we already did that in The Turing Test" he remarks.

"How about a traditional Doctor Who story with all the trimmings?" Trevor pipes up with.

"Blimey Trev, that describes your last two books, we need something new!"

"This time I've got wasps and time travelling agents!" he enthuses.

"Hmm... sounds alright but what about my schedule filler?"

"I've got it!" cries Dave Stone, standing up and holding his pint aloft. "Given my previous excursions into a discombobulated land of quasi-illiterate fiction I could extradite myself from this entertaining social gathering, return to my furnishings and hammer out a reasonably lengthed piece of dogmatic scribblings which serves as an example of freshman into the worlds of Doctor Who by blatantly ignoring said rules of literature and failing to adhere to any form of entertainment a reader might expect!"

Justin, Kate, Trevor and Steve gasp with joint astonishment.

"You mean to tell me you are going to write a Doctor Who book that lacks any plot, any characters, any sense of coherence and is filled to the brim with witty asides that are written so languidly that one simple point like "I'll make the tea" will take seventeen pages to complete?" Justin asks.

"Absolutely. Indubitably. Without a drop of sweat breaking my flesh!"

And so he did...

Groundbreaking, some could call it. Subtituational toilet paper others might say. My initial reaction to The Slow Empire sprang from my inexperience with his previous Doctor Who work. I was simply unaccustomed to his unique writing style and was so wound up by his beating around the bush I could not bring myself to finish the thing. Now here I am, two years older and wiser (hmm) and I feel compelled to go back and read those books that rubbed me up the wrong way the first time around and try again. Hope and Reckless Engineering went down but surprisingly The Slow Empire has gone up in my estimation. There are some issues with this book but there is one aspect that pretty much saves the day.

Issue number one: The Slow Empire has no plot. Okay every book has a plot but the yawning excuse for one that fills these pages is so miniscule you have to wonder why Stone even bothered. The plot is the Vortex Wraiths want to escape the horrid uggy-buggy nastiness that has set up shop in the vortex and find a way into our universe via the transition pylons of the Empire. The Doctor figures their plan and stops them by short-circuiting the TARDIS. The end. The book only bothers with this plot, I might point out, during the first twenty and last twenty pages. During the rest of novel we are treated to a sub plot of monumental unimportance where the Doctor treats his companions to a tour of a few of the Empire worlds just to keep them from getting bored. As Anji so astutely points out the information they gather from these trips could have been gathered in the safety of the TARDIS and in terms of the book could have taken up one page, maybe two and not the two hundred they actually occupy.

Issue number two: The Slow Empire has no characters. Okay every book has characters but the ones that populate this book are pretty much dismissed. Even the regulars are treated to this disrespect, the Doctor, Fitz and Anji all affected by the bizarre science of the Empire and so are all acting way out of character as to be practically unrecognisable. The Doctor is all over the place; scatterbrained, ecstatic and acting like a total loon. Anji is suddenly the super bitch slag from hell who purposely winds people up, gets homicidally aggressive and screams like a big girl. And Fitz is surprisingly intelligent.

Hmm...

Compounding this issue is the only other character of note Jamon de la Rocas who would be worthy of note were he not just Stone implanted into his own book and given the opportunity to speak directly to his audience. Anybody else you might stumble across in this book is either killed horribly or skipped over in an instant as the book lurches to yet another destination. You could count the Collector, a supremely funny creation, but in all honesty how much meaningful characterisation can you get out of a slimy green blob with multiple appendages who has a love of piles of nice shiny things?

Issue number three: The Slow Empire is the first novel in an arc that will stretch right the way through to Sometime Never... in 2004 (this book was published in 2001). It features the first sign of something going horribly wrong in the vortex since the Time Lords were eliminated by the Doctor. Something has set up shop in their absence and is frightening all the other Vortex dwellers away...

It is certainly an intriguing idea to hang a story around but the answers wouldn't be available for another three years. How many people had forgotten about this book come Sometime Never... which it references back to? Telling a story over several years of fiction is an audacious idea and the arc references in apparently standalone books would get much more frequent in 2002 (and dominate 2003).

The English language... I love it. I was having an interesting discussion with Simon's mother a few weeks ago about how beautiful the English language can be. She disagreed and I suggested she read something by Paul Margs.

It is a glorious language and one that Dave Stone uses to its fullest potential. He constructs amazing sentences, some that will make you boggle at the sheer incomprehensibility of them and others that make you gasp at the imagination that has gone into them. As I have said, he can linger on one point for minutes of reading, exploring the idea in its entirety and leaving the reader flushed at the lengths he goes to get his point across. He comes out with bloody great words that even I, and I am under the impression that I have a superb grasp of the English language, fail to find any meaning in but once looked up make perfect, educational sense. He understands the power of language and how to construct it to create powerful images and breathtaking events. His is a masterful talent in this respect and I am insanely jealous.

And this is what The Slow Empire is. Not a book as such, where characters go on a journey and learn things about each other and reach a satisfactory conclusion, but a glorious expression of language. It betrays every facet of modern literature by refusing to play by the rules; I can fully understand why people were bored rigid by a story with no direction or characters. But for the exploration of words, this could be the best Doctor Who book yet.

Dave Stone gives the English language a hand job; it is as simple as that.

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