Tuesday, 19 January 2010
Review: ALL-CONSUMING FIRE
New Adventure novel written by Andy Lane, 1994
That I read the majority of this novel in one sitting has to be a pretty good sign. It’s not even amazingly written, by a long shot, but at the same time, it’s nowhere near as tediously inept as some of the earlier New Adventures. It certainly outdoes stories like Parasite or Theatre of War, which fail totally to even sustain their own internal logic.
One fault typical of the early NAs which All-Consuming Fire does share is that there is only the most basic description of the action or setting of any given scene; it’s all quite literal, and there’s very little emphasis on characterisation that really gets into the characters’ heads. (I did find myself comparing this book slightly uncharitably with the Faction Paradox novel Erasing Sherlock, which is a much more rounded piece of writing. Incidentally, I’d urge everyone to check out the Faction Paradox series. Except the one by Lance Parkin. That was crap.) Having said that, Andy Lane does do a nice line in local colour – both in Victorian London and colonial India.
I get the impression that this book was never intended to be anything more that pure pulp, and on that level it’s a huge success – it’s fast-paced enough to not feel like thin material is being painfully wrung out of its settings (stand up once again, Theatre of War, which I had the misfortune to read prior to this). The story is diverting, and has more twists and changes of allegiances than you could shake a stick at. The middle section borrows slightly distractingly from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (initially benevolent airy white palace harbours villains – including a young native noble – with their very own underground lair), but that’s balanced out by interesting ideas like the Diogenes Club and the Library of St John the Beheaded – which nevertheless don’t outstay their welcome. (It has to be said though, the Library’s security arrangements don’t seem particularly tenable to me.) Even the concept of the manservant, Surd, with velvet-lined compartments in his head and chest cavity, is a memorably grotesque image.
One of the main pluses of this book is that its Seventh Doctor is very well written, and Lane actually manages to capture McCoy’s mix of danger and apparent imbecility. It’s actually depressing how often the earlier New Adventures got the Doctor completely wrong – I love the manipulations and sometime-unscrupulousness of the Seventh Doctor, but to my mind this shouldn’t mean he has permanently lost his morals (or at least, when he does do something that chafes against his innate heroism, this should be acknowledged within the text) – so often the NA Doctor became a humourless, unpleasant bastard. And this is coming from someone who loves the NA Doctor! So, it’s a relief to have him written in such a way that his intermittent appearances in this narrative actually make you want to see him again, rather than wishing he’d piss off for good.
What’s funny though is that, as I say, Lane’s take on the Seventh Doctor is very close to Sylvester’s performance, and this actually makes some of the more unsavoury elements of the story’s locales quite shocking (probably more so considering the level twenty-first century on-screen Doctor Who has been pitched at). There’s some pretty strong stuff here: dog fighting, the degradation in the Rookeries, and even a brothel of child-prostitutes. I’m not one to rail against the NAs’ adult approach, so I’m reserving judgement on whether that is going too far, but it does seem very strange nowadays, given that Doctor Who has effectively been reclaimed for a children’s audience. Actually, I like Doctor Who to be challenging and I think it’s big enough to be able to encompass swearing and sex and drugs (although preferably not because the author thinks he’s being ‘radical’). But, it is interesting, with the perspective of the Davies series, to appreciate what a seachange has occurred in Doctor Who these days.
That aside – from previously reading reviews of this book, I was worried that everything would fall apart when the action shifts away from earth, but, strangely, the change isn’t that jarring. And Lane even manages to balance making it interesting (walnuts with five legs and an ice sky!) without it becoming so self-involved that it vanishes up its own arse (paging Parasite). Although I agree that Holmes is sidelined in these later sections, I’m not sure it damages the novel enormously.
Oh yes – Holmes. I’ve always had a sort of soft spot for Sherlock Holmes (not, I should stress, the Guy Ritchie version), or, at least, for the idea of him, as I must shame-facedly admit I’ve never read any Conan Doyle. I found myself particularly enjoying the earlier sections of the book where he is essentially the main character (or, at least, ‘the hero’ – in a way the Doctor isn’t until he gets more involved later).
I’m not even sure why I was compelled to review All-Consuming Fire immediately after putting it down – it’s not mind-blowing, just fun and entertaining. But maybe that’s it – I’m working my way through a stack of Virgin novels I relieved my local Oxfam of, and I have to say, the majority (although, not all) of the first half of the NA run – the White Darknesses and Dimension Riders – do very little for me. They really are dry and unimaginative and lousy with mediocre writing in a way I’ve always persuaded myself the NAs aren’t. Don’t get me wrong – the best are genuinely amazing. But right now, it’s a relief to have read one that isn’t a complete waste of my time. Ah well. Onward!