Sunday 27 March 2011

Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #36 - now available for free download!

It's March 27, and that means today is Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #36 day! We bring you 144 pages of fiction and reviews, all available for free download. It's enough to make you wish it was March 27 every day of the year!

Our fiction this time: "The Photographer’s Tale" by Daniel Mills, "A Fable of Worcester" by Victor D. Infante, "Angeline of the Woods" by Dylan Fox, "Told in a Brothel on Darien" by Elaine Graham-Leigh, "The Burden of Proof" by David X. Wiggin, "Totem" by Howard Watts, "Huracan" by Matt Baxter and "'A' Story: an Animated Adventure" by Nicholas Rasche. It's one of our strongest ever line-ups.

The Quarterly Review takes in four Doctor Who audio adventures, books from James Lovegrove, Michael Moorcock, Brendan Connell, Stephen King, Michael Croteau and Gary McMahon, and comics from the brothers Nicolle, Black Coat Press and Dargaud. In our film section, Jacob Edwards and Douglas Ogurek review The Adjustment Bureau, I Am Number Four, Paul, Season of the Witch and Tron: Legacy.

The space-age cover is by superstar artist Howard Watts, and Ben Ludlam illustrates the story "Huracan" in the pdf and print editions.

If it weren't for the slightly lazy editorial, I'd call this our best ever issue!

It's available in all the usual formats, all free except the print edition, which we’ve priced as cheaply as possible:

Here are the dear people who made this issue possible:

Ben Ludlam is an artist from the wastelands of County Durham. You can see more of his work at

Daniel Mills is a young writer and lifelong resident of New England. His first novel, Revenants, is available from Chômu Press. (I’ve read it, and it’s quite superb—a review should appear in TQF37.)

David X. Wiggin was born during a blizzard in Georgetown Hospital. He currently occupies the position of a living cliché as a Brooklyn-dwelling writer along with his supportive wife and two insane cats. He has previously published fiction in Steampunk Magazine and Alt Hist (edited by TQF33 contributor Mark Lord).

Douglas Ogurek’s Roman Catholic faith and love of animals strongly influence his work. He lives in Gurnee, Illinois with his wife and their pets. To this issue he contributes reviews of Season of the Witch and I Am Number Four. To TQF33 he contributed the astonishing “NON”.

Dylan Fox lives in North Wales with his partner, their cats and their laptops, and works in an office doing admin. He’s had fiction appear on the Science in My Fiction blog, Bewildering Stories and a few other places. He has a blog at where he talks about writing, memes, living with depression, gadgets, interesting facts he stumbles across and anything else about which he needs to think aloud.

Elaine Graham-Leigh is a political campaigner, historian and trainee accountant. When not bringing down the system from within, she writes speculative fiction and has had previous stories published at Jupiter SF, Bewildering Stories and The Harrow.

Howard Watts is an artist from Brighton. He has previously provided covers for Pantechnicon, Dark Horizons and TQF, and for this issue as well as supplying the cover he provides the story “Totem”.

Jacob Edwards is currently indentured to Australia’s speculative fiction flagship Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, as Jack of all Necessities (Deckchairs and Bendy Straws). To this issue he contributes reviews of the films Tron: Legacy, The Adjustment Bureau and Paul.

John Greenwood is the co-editor of Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, and before that had been its most frequent contributor. His blog on rare and unusual books can be found at

Matt Baxter is a chef who occasionally runs an online bookshop, and he lives somewhere in the Midlands.

Nicholas Rasche is a writer and comedian based in Melbourne, Australia. His fiction has appeared in various journals, including Island, Going Down Swinging and The Famous Reporter. He recently co-wrote and appeared in “Supermanchild” (with Lisa-Skye Ioannidis), presented at the 2010 Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

Stephen Theaker is the eponymous co-editor of Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, and writes many of its reviews. His reviews have also appeared in respectable publications like Prism and Black Static. He is very happy with this issue.

Victor D. Infante is the author of City of Insomnia, a poetry collection from Write Bloody Publishing (, and his poems and stories have been published in numerous periodicals, including Chiron Review, Pearl, The Nervous Breakdown, Spillway, Word Riot and Dark Horizons. He founded The November 3rd Club, an online literary journal of political writing, and will shortly be launching a new online project, Radius: Poetry From the Center to the Edge. He lives and writes with his wife and pet ferret in a triple-decker apartment in Worcester, Mass., USA and has serious opinions about reality TV cooking competitions.

Next issue due June 27!

Friday 25 March 2011

The sky is falling! PS Publishing publish ebooks!

PS Publishing have always combined a commitment to quality in fiction and production with a willingness to embrace experimentation. Not just in the texts they publish, but also in their publishing: for example they were supplying pdfs for review to bloggers years before Netgalleys was around. The review section of our magazine pretty much owes its existence to that generosity.

I'm delighted to see that they have now begun to publish ebooks. What's more, they've settled on much lower prices than originally announced.

We've reviewed six of those announced, and all were well worth the tiny amounts of money being charged:

  • LIVING WITH THE DEAD – Darrell Schweitzer, £1.99 – our review
  • THE BABYLONIAN TRILOGY – Sébastien Doubinsky, £3.99 – our review
  • WHAT WILL COME AFTER – Scott Edelman, £3.99 – our review
  • SONG OF TIME – Ian R. MacLeod, £3.99 – our review
  • GILBERT AND EDGAR ON MARS – Eric Brown, £1.99 – our review
  • THE LIBRARY OF FORGOTTEN BOOKS – Rjurik Davidson, £1.99 – our review

Also publishing at £3.99 are these titles:

  • BLACK WINGS – ed. S.T. Joshi
  • CATASTROPHIA – ed. Allen Ashley
  • CLOWNS AT MIDNIGHT – Terry Dowling
  • CAGE OF NIGHT – Ed Gorman
  • SEEING DELL – Carol Guess
  • DARKNESS ON THE EDGE – ed. Harrison Howe
  • GRAZING THE LONG ACRE – Gwyneth Jones
  • MOBY JACK – Garry Kilworth
  • DIVERSIFICATIONS – James Lovegrove
  • CINEMA FUTURA – ed. Mark Morris
  • URBIS MORPHEUS – Stephen Palmer
  • LITERARY REMAINS – Ray Russell
  • OSAMA – Lavie Tidhar
  • THE PAINTING AND THE CITY – Robert F. Wexler

And for £1.99 you will be able to get these novellas and shorter collections of short stories:

  • STARSHIP SUMMER – Eric Brown
  • STARSHIP FALL – Eric Brown
  • STARSHIP WINTER – Eric Brown
  • THE BROKEN MAN – Michael Byers
  • THE MERMAIDS – Robert Edric
  • THE LIVES OF SAVAGES – Robert Edric
  • HOMESCHOOLING – Carol Guess
  • REUNION – Rick Hautala
  • SEVEN CITIES OF GOLD – David Moles
  • THE LANGUAGE OF DYING – Sarah Pinborough
  • THE ENIGMA OF DEPARTURE – Nicholas Royle
  • IMPOSSIBILIA – Doug Smith

And lots of individual short stories are available too, for just 79p.

The titles are available in DRM-free epub and mobi formats (suitable for Sony Readers and Kindles respectively, along with many other devices) from the ebooks section of the PS Publishing website. There are at least half a dozen titles there that I'll be buying as soon as they become available…

Monday 21 March 2011

Doctor Who: The Last Voyage – reviewed

In this two-CD adventure the tenth Doctor lands upon what appears to be a spaceship, but is actually an Interstitial Transposition Vehicle. He’s barely aboard before almost everyone disappears. His goal (as usual!) is to gather the survivors, work out what’s going on, convince them he isn’t to blame, and save them from disaster. In this he’s helped by Sugar McAuley, a flight attendant – or rather, “comfort mediator” – whose lashtop computer will prove very useful later on. But before getting better, things get worse: passengers start to hear their names being whispered, strange beings seem to snatch them out of reality, and when they reach their destination things don’t improve at all.

This was a nicely-written adventure read very well. The setting gives David Tennant several very different characters to get stuck into, and he mostly does a great job, though I found his Sugar McAuley a little rougher on the ears than Liverpudlian Layla in Dead Air; I didn’t look forward to her dialogue, and there was quite a lot of it. At times the Doctor’s own dialogue feels like a run-through of this Doctor’s greatest hits – “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry”, “Well... Well...” and other Tenth Doctor stand-bys get a run-out – but I doubt fans will complain about that; I won’t.

Doctor Who has a long, proud history of pilfering its plots from the best, and the main plot of this one felt a little too close to Stephen King’s The Langoliers for me to be completely enamoured. But I did enjoy listening to it. The story has several neat ideas, from those lashtops to the nature of the spacecraft itself, and the way the Doctor manages to fix it. There are some great sound effects, some good mysteries, and a bunch of interesting characters. It’s not a dud by any means, but not quite a classic.

Doctor Who: The Last Voyage, by Dan Abnett, read by David Tennant. BBC Audio, 2xCD, 133 mins. Amazon UK. Amazon US.

Friday 18 March 2011

Protean Dimensions: The Worlds of Philip José Farmer, Volume 1 – reviewed

When I was about ten or eleven my dad gave me a box of books. They weren’t fancy – most were library rejects. Years later I counted up how many books I had read by my favourite authors; almost all but Terrance Dicks and Philip K. Dick were in that box: Moorcock, Asimov, Heinlein, Van Vogt, Aldiss and so on.

One of those books, and one of the first that I read, was The Stone God Awakens, in which a long-petrified human wakes up to find himself in a world where some animals have evolved into humanoid forms. It was a long time ago now, so I don’t remember much, but one thing stands out: the hero has sex with a cat lady.

As the moment approached, I remember thinking, “He won’t surely?” But he did: Philip José Farmer was a writer who always did!

This diverting book follows on from Farmerphile, a magazine that ran for fifteen issues. You might think that would leave little for a book, and it’s true that Farmer’s contributions are not extensive, but editor Michael Croteau has built a very good book around them.

The first half is given over to non-fiction and Farmer’s own work. Much of this is fascinating, for example seeing him roll an idea around in the inchoate “Newly Born, Newly Dead” to see what sticks. “The Bite of the Asp” is Randall Garrett’s account of a story’s mutilation at the hands of Hugo Gernsback. “It Could Make a Great Fantasy” is an essay by Laura Wilkes Carey about an idea Farmer had for a fantasy set in a Book of Mormon universe. One guesses the reason it was not pursued might not have been unrelated to the problem of dealing with the idea that brown skin is a punishment for one’s evil ancestors!

An article by Jack Mertes on Farmer’s brushes with Hollywood was the first thing I read; I knew the ending already, but I was keen to discover why things worked out that way. But maybe that story isn’t quite over: Farmer’s big concepts are perfect for Hollywood, and it’s only a matter of time before someone notices. The odd thing is that even his books of forty years ago might still be too controversial for the big screen.

A previously unpublished Danny Adams interview with Farmer from 1997 provides lots to think about, such as his advice to would-be writers: “My main suggestion is to have a profession or a job, or a spouse, man or woman, who’s got a job and will support you while you’re writing.”

For me the highlight of the first half was the section Classic Worlds, which offers the story “Sail On! Sail On!”, an excellent essay by James Gunn analysing the codes and signifiers embedded in the story for SF readers, and a comment on the story by Farmer himself, explaining why he didn’t follow it up with a sequel: he couldn’t work out the science of the world. But watching him try is an education.

The rest of the book, the larger part, is given over to original fiction inspired by the work of Philip José Farmer, or by the man himself. I expected to be a little lost here: I’ve read a lot of Farmer’s books, but quite a while ago now, and the books being riffed on here weren’t always the ones I’ve read; there are no Riverworld or Dayworld stories. But I needn’t have worried. Most of the stories stand alone, and are enhanced by knowing the originals rather than spoilt by not knowing them.

“Infamy” by Edward Morris and “Le Maréchal” by Paul Spiteri both feature Farmer as a character. In the first he is a young man interviewing William Burroughs, currently working on his novel Tar-z’n of the Apes, in the second a time traveller adventuring in the thirteenth century. Two very different tales, both very good. “A Kick in the Side” by Christopher Paul Carey is a brief but entertaining and clever spin-off from Flight to Opar.

“Is He in Hell?” by Win Scott Eckert is a story of the Scarlet Pimpernel, designed to explain how the progenitors of the Wold Newton family tree came to be gathered in one place where the meteor struck. Interest in the story and its accompanying family tree is likely to be largely limited to fans of Wold-Newtonry, in the same way that All-Star Squadron finds its readers among fans of DC continuity, but it wasn’t a bad story.

“No Trees of Earth” by David Bischoff presents an episode from the gap between The Maker of Universes and The Gates of Creation. Robert Wolff is coming to terms with his rediscovered memories of his life as Lord Jadawin, but loses lover Chryseis to the secrets of his newly recovered mansion. Exciting, mysterious, and with a few tweaks to the plot wouldn’t have been out of place in the recent Jack Vance tribute, Songs of the Dying Earth.

“The Final Flight of Greatheart Silver” by Chris Roberson takes an old airship pilot back into the skies for one last time, centralisation having led to a monopoly on the skyways for a big corporation. The story’s villains are chillingly bad, but it suffers from a lack of subtlety: the liners that dominate the sky are called The Da Vinci, The Potter, The Twilight: “the conglomerate makes enough money off of them that it doesn’t even want to bother with anything else”. The “heroic” conclusion has rather uncomfortable real-world resonances.

In “Flesh Endures” Dennis E. Power combines two stories, neither of which I’ve read. Hozay plays in a great tournament, the Great Series being to baseball what the Mean Arena is to basketball. The MVP (Most Virile Player) wins the chance to make hay with Miss Liberty in the Great Rites, but a challenge throws Hozay into a one-on-one fight with Jamdar Zhulayn, who makes no secret of his plans for the priestesses should he win. An exciting, brutal post-apocalyptic adventure with a fine ending.

My favourite story in the collection, despite strong competition, was “The Pollinators” by Rhys Hughes, a relatively restrained story by his standards, set in the world of “The Lovers”. A chat with Hal Yarrow stimulates a change in the life of Nosy Sam, leading him eventually to the jungles of the Malay Federation and an unusual branch of evolution. It’s not perhaps a story Farmer would have written himself, but it shares his spark and imagination.

Your enjoyment of this book is likely to be in proportion to the number of Farmer’s books you’ve read – and how much you enjoyed them – but there is plenty here, both non-fiction and fiction, that would be of interest to any science fiction fan. The variety of its contents bears witness to the astonishing variety of Farmer’s own work. For Farmerphiles, it’s quite essential.

Protean Dimensions: The Worlds of Philip José Farmer, Volume 1, ed. Michael Croteau. Meteor House, pb, 264pp.

Wednesday 16 March 2011

The Life of Polycrates and other Stories for Antiquated Children, Brendan Connell

"Neo-Decadent writers will honour the fragmented, the contorted, the unfinished, the unpublished" writes Brendan Connell in his manifesto. With the obvious exception of the latter, many of the stories in this collection fit the first three categories, although to call them "unfinished" might seem churlish. I wouldn't want to suggest that they are unfinished in the sense of having splinters and unvarnished surfaces - clearly a great deal of attention has been paid to getting the tone of each piece right, and generally these efforts are successful. But quite a few of the pieces end on an arbitrary tangent or drift into a fantasy.

Again from his manifesto: "Story arcs should only be used to hang oneself with. Nothing is ever resolved. Nothing progresses." That's not always true in life, or in this collection. Many things progress: tumours, obsessions, men's fates accumulate momentum, leading to their ultimate downfall. Connell has indeed studiously avoided any traditional open-and-closed story arcs. In fact, some of the pieces can hardly be called stories at all. In some cases, the possibility of a story is all that is glimpsed behind layers of obfuscating fragmentary texts and references.

"The Search for Savino" begins in typical gothic style with dark hints at the peculiar habits of an obscure artist related by one collector to another. But the narrative quickly breaks down into a series of lists, catalogues, letters, dialogues and transcripts of interrogations. Somewhere behind all of these partial evidence there may be a story, but Connell is not going to give us enough clues to work it out. There is something to do with painting on skin, on eyelids or eyeballs, but that's as close as you're going to get and, one suspects, if that frustrates you then you've missed the point.

The title piece of book is by far the longest. From my initial bafflement at what seem to be invented "sigla" (e.g. "conjectural conceptions" or "offstage comments") and the slight irritation with which I always meet untranslated quotations in languages that I cannot easily translate, I began to get a sense of what the text was pretending to be. Taken partly from classical sources (such as Herodotus), "The Life of Polycrates" sometimes does just what it says on the tin, narrating the rise of fall of the tyrant of Samos in an approximation of the exotic austerity of classical Greek style. But the straightforward narrative is interrupted by fictional fragments of epistles, excerpts from the catalogues of libraries, lists of the contents of a dressing case, ancient graffiti. There are absurdly lengthy footnotes to rival Flann O'Brien's asides about De Selby in "The Third Policeman". Connell seems to revel in playing with the architecture of academic discourse: the "sigla", when the do make their appearances, seem arbitrary, there is a great deal of indentation, numbered and lettered lists and chronologies.

It's an epicurean tale too, which delights as much in the descriptions of feasts and of unusual dishes (e.g. fried daffodils), of the perfume of young men's oiled hair, of the exotic specimens in Polycrates' garden, as in the actual plot, which feels of secondary interest. Connell is more interested in the texture of ancient Greek life than in ancient Greek lives. Clearly a huge amount of research and a lifetime of erudition has gone into so dense a piece, but occasionally the tone is betrayed by an out-of-place chattiness: "a boat-load of goodies" does not strike me as a line that could have been lifted from Herodotus, if that is the intended effect.

Elsewhere "The Life of Captain Gareth Caernarvon" recounts the adventures of a nineteenth century English Colonial, hunter, transvestite and uber-carnivore that wouldn't have looked out of place as an extended Monty Python sketch (with Graham Chapman as the bewhiskered and corseted Captain).

Less successful is "The Slug". A handsome man deliberately sets out, over the period of his lifetime, to make himself repellent, for reasons we cannot properly understand. Here Connell's use of sentence fragments and single sentence sections seems self-indulgent and designed to shock. "Section VIII" of the story simply reads, "The colour of vomit", which is neither shocking nor interesting, merely adolescent posturing.

Connell has a gift for the kind of phrase that looks out of place, but which nevertheless jolts the reader to attention. In the otherwise unexceptional piece "Molten Rage", the narrator looks and the traffic and describes "men willing to kill, not only each other, but babies, old men and women, in order to feed these creatures in whose bellies they perched like half-digested herring." Neither does he shy away from raiding the dictionary for what primary school teachers now call "Wow Words": altocalciphiliac, acousticophiliatically, frotteurism. Usually I raise my eyebrows at this kind of extravagance, but Connell does it with such chutzpah that in the end I gave up minding.

In "Collapsing Claude" a bank clerk becomes addicted to an emasculating, obese and sexually voracious woman. In a superficially similar piece, "Maledict Michela", an elderly German man falls for the magnificent ankles of a similarly poisonous female, but in this (superior) story the battle is more poised, and the story takes an abrupt corner before ending at a Chekovian impasse as the German husband's immunity to his wife's spite leads to the last line: "She despised him. Her walled-up spite was for him the very fountain of youth."

As in his other books, Connell is only interested in extreme characters, wholly gluttonous or predatory women, completely spineless, abject men, or impossibly, fantastically carnivorous. There's also a common thread of disgust for crowds, for the mass of unremarkable humanity, which many of his self-marginalised characters share, and which seems vindicated by the last line of "The Slug": "Everyone is vulgar".

"There’s nothing wrong with writing a lousy book," states point 10 of his manifesto. Just make sure it’s really lousy. There is nothing worse than competence." This book is by no means lousy, and Connell is too addicted to risk-taking to risk mere competence. I didn't think all of the risks paid off, but I'm glad he took them, because without the deliberately grotesque stylistic flourishes, and the fragmented textures, the thinness of the characters and conceits would have been glaring. Like a bike ride in the Lake District the terrain of this book is uneven almost to the point of fatigue and irritation. There are one or two nasty ditches, but the views from the tops compensate.

The Life of Polycrates and Other Stories for Antiquated Children, by Brendan Connell will be published by Chômu Press on the 23rd March 2011. Pb 266pp. Available from Amazon UK.

The Best Horror of Dark Horizons

I was very chuffed to see that no less than eight stories and poems from Dark Horizons 55–57 appeared in Ellen Datlow's online list of honourable mentions for best new horror of the last year or so. It’s a very, very long list, but it was a really nice surprise to see some stuff I published on it.

Stephen Bacon, “The Other Side of Silence”, Dark Horizons 57

This was a cracking story about an apocalypse of deafness and blindness, and a survivor getting the chance to experience sight and sound again. The part that sticks with me is the husband and wife together, knowing they have been struck by the plague, unable to do anything to stop it.

Niall Boyce, “The Frames”, Dark Horizons 56

A lost young man, trying to make sense of his childhood and life, is haunted by the image of a girl in a train window. I loved this moody, eerie story; one of the artsier pieces I published in Dark Horizons.

Mike Chinn, “Sailors of the Skies”, Dark Horizons 55

I’d mentioned to Mike Chinn how much I’d enjoyed his book The Paladin Mandates, my only disappointment being that the hero didn’t spend enough time in the air. Imagine how delighted I was to receive this new story in the series; easily the longest story I published in Dark Horizons, and worth every page. (I was strongly reminded of it when watching Altitude last week.)

Charles Christian, “Taking Tea With the General”, (poem) Dark Horizons 56

Ian Hunter takes the credit for selecting this for publication rather than me, but I can take the credit for appointing Ian as poetry editor! A smart poem; wish I’d given it more room in the layout.

Ian Hunter, “The Circle”, Dark Horizons 55

And here is Ian too! I published a series of stories by Ian in Dark Horizons, all different, all interesting. This was one about a group of villains gathered to undergo a vampire initiation rite.

Philip Meckley, “Faithful Midnight”, Dark Horizons 56

I think this was the most traditional supernatural story to appear in my issues of Dark Horizons. It was so well written and the ending was brilliant. Faithful Midnight, the canine ghost patrolling the house every night, was unforgettable.

Ralph Robert Moore, “In the Tunnels of the Agogs”, Dark Horizons 55

Of all the stories I’ve published in Dark Horizons and TQF, this is perhaps my favourite. In fact, it’s one of my very favourite short stories ever. An expedition is mounted to rescue a woman from the Agogs, cow-like beasts that swallow humans in their huge mouths, to live in their stomachs. The premise sounds silly, but it’s written with such gripping seriousness and intensity that it’s utterly terrifying. So proud to have published this story.

Ralph Robert Moore, “Rain Turns to Snow”, Dark Horizons 56

Another superb story by Ralph Robert Moore. Shame we couldn’t get this out in a Christmas issue (Dark Horizons published in September and March during my period in charge); it was about a couple terrorised by cruel, intelligent snowmen. And inside the snowmen’s heads? Real brains.

Well done to all those marvellous writers! And look out for the book itself. If these excellent stories only made the longlist, the stories in the book itself, The Best Horror of the Year Volume 3, must be real corkers.

List, part 1:
List, part 2:

Monday 14 March 2011

Doctor Who: Dead Air – reviewed

Due to the tardiness of my reviewing, this takes us back to the days of David Tennant in the Tardis. It seems like so long ago, but the passage of time is quickly forgotten as the reading begins. A recording found on the wreck of a pirate radio ship has been restored, and this CD is the result. The voice on the tape is that of the tenth Doctor, travelling alone post-Donna. Radio Bravo was infested by a rather nasty entity called the Hush, and the Doctor followed it there.

This is essentially The Boat That Rocked crossed with The Thing. The crew are an assortment of DJs from the dawn of time: Tommo, smooth Jasper, Liverpudlian Layla. One by one they fall prey to the Hush, the story putting the surviving characters in situations where it is often difficult to tell when the switch has been made. It’s up to the Doctor to find a clever way of stopping it, but is he quite as clever as he thinks? And this CD that I’m listening to, was it really a good idea?

Of the Who CDs I’ve listened to lately, this wasn’t my favourite, the broad characters and accents of the pirate DJs clashing somewhat with the serious and frightening plot. I enjoyed the way that the CD itself was worked into the plot, and the story exploited its status as an audio adventure very well – it wouldn’t have worked in any other format – but it just didn’t excite me. David Tennant’s reading is committed and sincere, but we don’t see any new facets to his characterisation or performance.

Not bad, but not great either. It was really good to hear David Tennant as the Doctor again, though.

Doctor Who: Dead Air, written by James Goss, read by David Tennant. BBC Audio, 1xCD, 70 mins. Amazon US. Amazon UK.

Monday 7 March 2011

Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles, by Michael Moorcock – reviewed

The eleventh Doctor is on tour with the Gentlemen, having shown some aptitude for the game of whackit. Soon they will play either the Tourists or the Visitors on the dimension-hopping world of Miggea for ownership of the Big Arrer, the Jewelled Shaft of Artemis. Mr Banning-Cannon is concerned that the appearance of his wife’s gravity-defying and spider-resembling hat at dinner will cause him such fear and consequent embarrassment that his reputation and career in planetary development will be ruined.

Lord Robin of Sherwood, Earl of Lockesley, also known as “Bingo”, is engaged to steal the hat. A planet will be his reward, letting him ennoble his friend Hari, who will then be in a position to request the hand of young Flapper Banning-Cannon. Bingo himself has eyes only for Miss Amy Pond. Meanwhile, the universe has been prompted into an early regeneration, and the moment has definitely not been prepared for. General Frank/Freddy Force and his Antimatter Men, agents of law, are on the case and the Doctor will have to turn for help to the corsairs of the Second Aether. Can balance be restored, or is the multiverse doomed?

Many Doctor Who plots sound a little odd when summarised, but this one will take some beating. It probably isn’t a surprise that Michael Moorcock’s first Doctor Who novel throws in elements from his other books – the multiverse, the characters and settings of Blood and its sequels, and the division between law and chaos, for example. What really surprises is that for the most part this reads like a Jeeves and Wooster novel, with posh young things getting into scrapes. This conjunction of styles makes it very peculiar, but like the excellent Michael Moorcock’s Multiverse comic from Vertigo, this isn’t inaccessible or difficult, it’s just odd.

Remarkably for a novel published so soon after broadcast of Steven Moffat’s first season, it captures the voices of the eleventh Doctor and Amy very well, despite the strange story in which they find themselves. Having said that, I suppose you could argue that the performances of Matt Smith and Karen Gillan have been so distinctive and singular that it’s a delight to read any dialogue and imagine it in their voices. As far as the story goes, it would perhaps have fitted best in the Graham Williams/Douglas Adams period of the show.

The Doctor is shown as an informal agent of balance, which fits well with what we’ve seen of his life. We’ve seen him throw worlds into anarchy, seen him help people build new governments, and of course seen his decision to deny both Guardians the Key to Time. In any situation, he cares above all for the people involved. He’s very much at home in Moorcock’s multiverse; if anything he seems rather strait-laced and conventional in comparison to characters like Frank/Freddie Force (two men in one), Captain Cornelius (the pirate in the iron mask) or Captain Abberley and the Bubbly Boys.

I can imagine some Who fans simply dismissing this book as nonsense, but for some lucky fellows it’ll be their entry point into Moorcock’s marvellous oeuvre. Who fans enjoying this book might want to try the aforementioned Multiverse comic, or the Second Aether trilogy, though his most accessible works are probably the early Elric books. Moorcock fans heading in the other direction might enjoy the Who novels of Paul Magrs, or the Iris Wildthyme spin-offs. (I noted in a previous review that Iris herself was a very Moorcockian character.)

One negative point is that some running heads from the print version seem to have sneaked into the text of the Kindle edition, giving us confusing sentences like “He reached for his pipe, the coming of the terraphiles changed his mind” and “It’s been so long since doctor who I was here!” Also, the recaps, though helpful, can be a little repetitive, and in one or two places the book feels slightly underwritten. One might well speculate it was written at speed, given Moorcock’s well-known talent in that area.

Though The Coming of the Terraphiles isn’t a novel for everyone (possibly just for me, and no one else!) I found it witty and wise, silly and serious, nostalgic and innovative, and very affectionate towards the Doctor. Not my favourite Moorcock book, not my favourite Doctor Who book, and I wouldn’t necessarily expect anyone else to like it at all, but I certainly had a very good time reading it.

The Coming of the Terraphiles, Michael Moorcock. BBC Books, Kindle, 5598ll. Amazon US. Amazon UK.