Elizabeth Sandifer: TARDIS Eruditorum – An Unauthorized Critical History of Doctor Who Volume 2: Patrick Troughton

Having embarked on the enterprise of watching every single Doctor Who episode from “An Unearthly Child” to “Twice Upon A Time,” I thought it might be a good idea to accompany that with some in depth reading, and among the available options very quickly settled on Elizabeth Sandifer’s Tardis Eruditorium, as I already had dipped into the blog this book originates from on several occasions (not all of them Doctor Who related).

So I already had some idea of what would be expecting me, and was not disappointed – this is an immensely readable, hightly informative and very clever account of all Doctor Who episodes startting Patrick Troughton as The Doctor (or “Doctor Who” as the character was then still called in the ending credits) as well as an examination of their cultural and political context, with excursions into other related material (mostly Doctor Who novels). The Hartnell volume of the series had mostly focussed an how the Doctor Who we know and love came into being, this Troughton volume sees it settle (mostly) into shape. Sandifer does a great job of showing the contributions Troughton made to the character, and clearly loves the actor(and rightly so, Troughton is utterly fantastic), while also being quite critical of quite a lot of the material he was given to work with (again, rightly so as it tends to be very repetetive [but does have some great stand-out serials, too]). She also is quite outspoken about the political impetus of some of the episodes and is quite open about her own left-wing leanings. While that might be an issue for some, those have only themselves to blame; for my part I thought this was an excellent volume, I particularly liked Sandifer`s in-depth analysis of the serials (which I much prefer to just accumulating factoids on their production) and her (for the most part successful) attempts to wrangle new insights and an original perspective from watching them.

I do not agree with everything she says, and her excursions on how a particular serial were received in fandom tend to go right past me, also some of the connections she makes between the series and its contemporary context seem coincidental rather than compelling – but those are all very minor niggles. Overall I enjoyed reading Sandifer’s books so much that i have decided putting my watch on hiatus in order to read another book on the series which Sandifer recommends, namely the first volume of Running Through Corridors which deals with the Hartnell and Troughton eras. After which, it will be on to Pertwee!

Stephen Booth – The Murder Road

The Murder Road: A Cooper & Fry Mystery by…

This is volume 15 of Stephen Booth’s “Cooper & Fry” series of crime novels – or, as it rather should be called at this stage, his “DI Ben Cooper” series, because the supposed other protagonist Diane Fry hardly shows up at all in this novel; she has only two (possibly three, I am not quite sure) short scenes from her point of view. On one hand, I can see why Booth has been sidelining her – you just need to skip through the reviews of previous novels in the series on Goodreads and you can’t help but notice that Cooper is by far more popular with readers, but nobody seems to like Fry much. Which, again, is understandable because she is far more unlikeable than genial local policeman Ben Cooper – she is rather prickly, keeps to herself to the point of being anti-social and makes no secret of wanting to advance in her job. All of which may not make her the nicest person to be around, but does make her a by far more interesting character than Cooper who, frankly, is a bit boring and Booth had to go to considerable trouble and introduce a major tragic event into his life to give him some colour.

After reading The Murder Road I am suspecting that Booth shares this assessment of his two main characters. All but jettisoning Fry in favour of Cooper may have seemed like a good idea to please his readers, but with Fry mostly missing from the novel, an essential element has been removed, and the resulting book seems to have taken on Cooper’s traits – in other words, I found The Murder Road rather bland. While I do not necessary read Stephen Booth’s novels for the mystery element, it still does not help the novel that the plot is rather flimsy – coincidences as well as (what I perceived as) inconsistencies abound, and I am not sure the crime is ever explained satisfactorily and plausibly. It seems like a lot of events had to align for the crime to even take place, several of which appear to be quite out of the control of its perpetrators and there definitely are one or two threads left dangling – which may very well have been intentional, to show that things are not resolved all that neatly in real life, but together with everything else one does wonder if may not have been laziness on the author’s part.

I do read Stephen Booth’s novels mainly for his descrptions of the Peak Districts and the way of live of its inhabitants as well as his realistic depiction of police procedure, and at least The Murder Road still delivers on that, so reading it was not a complete waste of time, and I will continue with the series in the hope that things will improve again. But even those parts are strangely listless, not at all like what one is used to from Booth’s earlier novels, and I had the distinct impression that his heart was not really in it and that The Murder Road was mostly phoned in.

Kim Newman: Dracula Cha-Cha-Cha

Anno Dracula - Dracula Cha Cha Cha by Kim…

After Victorian England and World War I, the third volume of Newman’s Anno Dracula series moves to Rome in 1959 and (for the appended novella) London in 1968. As usual, this installement is crammed full with open and hidden references to all kinds of pop culture, sometimes just barely managing to not bury the story under the avalanche of allusions. It always manages to claw its way out from underneath them however, and both novel and novella remain great fun to read.

They are, however, quite different in tone, which I think is due not just to the varying length and different time periods, but also because they both follow quite different templates. The general atmosphere and elements of the basic plot both appear to be based on movies – for Dracula Cha-Cha-Cha that are the over-the-top, extremely artifial horror movies of the Italian Giallo genre of the 70s, in particular those directed by Dario Argento, and for Aquarius another italian film by an Italian director, namely Blow-Up by Michelangelo Antonioni. Some readers seem not to have liked the novella as much as they did the novel, but for my part I am very impressed at how different they are from each other and how Newman manages to adapt to the divergent period styles without being too obtrusive about it – he is actually treading a very fine line here, on the one hand to match his style to the time the stories take place in, and on the other hand to keep the voice of shared protagonist Katie Reed recognisably the same in both texts. It is a testimony to Kim Newman’s quality as a writer that he pulls off this balancing act and appears to do so effortlessly.

Overall, this is nothing too deep, but a great yarn that I found very enjoyable to read – not just for the story but also for the way Kim Newman presents and handles it; there is a lot to admire there. I really need to read more by his guy, and branch out to his non-Anno Dracula novels, too.

Phyllis Ann Karr: At Amberleaf Fair

This is not your average Fantasy novel: At Amberleaf Fair contains no Chosen One and no Dark Lord, no swords and only very little sorcery, no battles are waged and no duels fought, no heroes show up and no villains, in fact there is barely any conflict at all, it takes place in a peaceful world among mostly happy people and there is far and wide no sign of that staple of fantasy novel structuring, the travelogue. In short, this brief novel is about both as un-Epic and as un-Grimdark as it gets and reads more like a cozy mystery (except there is no murder either) than a Fantasy novel.

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Elizabeth Bear: Ancestral Night

Not too long ago, I was writing about a book co-written by Elizabeth Bear and bemoaning the lack of pirates therein. Now, just two months later, I am writing about her most recent novel, and you know what? It not only has pirates in it, but they’re space pirates! To paraphrase Goethe, some days one feels seriously tempted to believe that there may exist a benevolent God after all.

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Patrick Gale: Notes from an Exhibition

Patrick Gale is quite a well-known author in the UK, but, as far as I can tell, appears to be mostly unknown outside of Britain. Going by Notes from an Exhibition – the first of his novels I have read – I am certain why this would be the case: While there certainly is a good amount of Britishness to the novel, it is not to a greater degree or more offensively than in, say, the Harry Potter novels – and those blatantly had no issues with being popular outside of the UK.

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Rachel Aaron: Last Dragon Standing

I have been a fan of Rachel Aaron pretty much from the first page of her first book, The Spirit Thief. With Last Dragon Standing, she has released her thirteenth novel and finished her third series, and she is still going as strong as ever. It is the fifth volume in her Heartstriker series, detailing the adventures of Julius, the Nice Dragon and Marci, his human mage. It  has been quite a ride since the first novel appeared in 2014, and the conclusion this final instalment offers is nothing if not triumphant. I’ll try to avoid spoilers for Last Dragon Standing, but there will be (very slight ones) for the previous volumes of the series.

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