The Algebra of Ice
|ISBN#||0 563 48621 X|
|Featuring||The seventh Doctor and Ace|
|Synopsis: A maths nerd, a weird webzine publisher and the Brigadier find themselves helping the Seventh Doctor and Ace to solve the puzzle of a crop circle in the Kentish countryside. Only it’s not a circle but a series of square-sided shapes, and it’s filled with ice. And it seems to be causing time anomalies...|
Gorgeous by Joe Ford 5/11/04
How on Earth do you follow up on The City of the Dead and Camera Obscura without disappointing your audience? A question I have been posing ever since I heard Lloyd Rose was to be penning September's Past Doctor Adventure earlier in the year. Fortunately she has found the answer... to try your hand at something entirely different so comparisons are just not valid. Rose's previous works both played about with the luxury of horror, both psychological (the Doctor's mind in the first book) and visceral (his missing heart in the second) but here she tries her hand an altogether different genre, a very human character drama with very few players who are explored in extraordinary depth.
Don't let the cover, the blurb and the first few chapters fool you, this isn't really about aliens and their intentions no matter how much the writer tries to convince you, it is about the lives of five people who come together in extraordinary circumstances and their reactions to each other.
The Doctor: I have never seen the seventh Doctor dealt with so brilliantly before and I have read a hell of a lot of seventh Doctor books. It is something of a minor miracle that any writer can still get some leverage out of this character who has been written to death over the years but if anyone could look at him, the quietest and scariest of incarnations in a new light, then it is Lloyd Rose. I truly appreciate the effort that goes into exploring his mind (without popping in there in some horrible metaphor land) and his way of dealing terrible situations. In Rose's hands he is a dangerous imp, resting in the shadows and watching the pain of his friends, the pain of the universe and stepping in when he feels things must change. His fake cheerful personality is ripped away throughout the book, just a smoke screen to hide his real emotions, his fear of how far he will go to save the day.
There are some seminal seventh Doctor scenes here, especially with Ethan. How he obfuscates and avoids telling the human the truth about himself despite needing his help, finally Ethan snaps and forces him to reveal his intentions. When he asks Ethan if he loves Ace, Ethan reverses the question and forces the Time Lord to confront his feelings. In a moment of startling drama Ethan realises exactly what the Doctors plan is and screams "You little monster!" and you can only agree with his assessment.
I loved the fallout from his actions during Remembrance of the Daleks, it is about time somebody questioned his damnable act at the climax to that story. To hear the Doctor justify his genocidal actions but to agonise over them in his mind proves how volatile he is inside. It takes an alien race devoted to killing to see who the Doctor really is inside, at least in this body.
He's got a smile on his face and a knife behind his back... he's not a man to trust and I like that. Rose has given the seventh Doctor back that unpredictability that made his previous incarnation so fascinating, he almost seems like a spanking new character again.
Ace: Justin Richards is right, it is Ace's story, primarily an exploration of her relationship with the Doctor without any of that horrid NA angst that sabotaged her character so much. Ace in The Algebra of Ice is spot on, a child inside despite her protestations to the contrary. She swears and shouts and bullies her way into people's lives, getting off on the adventure and bruising herself along the way. It is marvellous to see her innocence again, trusting so completely in the Doctor and not seeing what he is up to in the shadows. It is hysterical to see that both Ace and the Doctor think of each other as a child to be looked after; they truly have a symbiotic relationship. And it is heart-warming to hear them both admit how much they need each other but more importantly, why.
However Ace's relationship with Ethan is even more interesting and easily the highlight of the book. He's a computer geek, she's a well 'ard chick... it's a recipe for disaster isn't it? But there in lies the fun, their bitchy dialogue is great fun and how they continue to fight each other even when it is so obvious how much they like each other keeps their scenes sparkling throughout. It's rare for the books to capture a relationship between a regular and a non-regular that captures your emotions so totally but this is a roller coaster of surprises I never wanted to get off. Their inevitable parting is supremely touching.
Ethan: The star of the book as far as I'm concerned, a schizophrenic, neurotic, grumpy genius who just wants to be left alone! You've gotta love how the Doctor and Ace barge into his life and turn it upside down and his constant attempts to escape them. He is almost unlikable to a point but therein lies the charm, on page 102 there is a delightful shift in his character that impressed me no end.
I loved how the book looked at mathematics, an especially dry subject, through the eyes of this angry child. His relationship with numbers borders on insanity and encapsulates why he is such a loner, numbers are predictable, safe. As soon as Ace enters his life and sets off a nitro nine of emotions flowing he is unable to cope with matters and watching him grope about helplessly is what makes him so memorable.
Two scenes highlight his special-ness. There is a beautifully quiet moment with Ace at the piano, two people who are so totally different and one sharing a passion of theirs with the other, the way you only do with someone you care about very much. And the final scene that brought tears to my eyes, as Ethan admits his true feelings to the Doctor.
Molecross: Who can't identify with this total loser? There is something dreadfully appealing about a hanger-on, somebody who everybody wants to bugger off but always turns up unexpectedly. Everybody hates an investigative journalist (unless your initials are SJS), especially one who writes for an alien investigations/government cover up webzine! Molecross is so delightfully in his element with his window into the Doctor's world, to have all his silly opinions confirmed is the result of a lifetime!
Brett: I have now discovered a trio of villains who should gang up and become the vilest crime team the world has ever known. Wife beater Basalt from Timeless, mind fucker Guardin from Emotional Chemistry and now razor fists Brett from The Algebra of Ice. What a total and utter bastard! I felt nothing but contempt for the guy before I heard his motives for his actions but afterwards I wanted to kill him myself. He is the epitome of why the Doctor is around, to bring down manipulative bullies like this.
When Ace finally gets to have a go at him I was cheering all the way. There is an astonishingly brutal scene between the Doctor and Brett that made me feel sick, I'm certainly glad it was never televised. His eventual fate was freaky beyond words and makes for an impressive climax as he hijacks the safest of safe houses.
Mix these five with a little alien interference and let the drama boil over. It's a good thing to because the idea of a book that is built around maths sounds like a total bore, trust Rose to never let the novel get dry and despite the discussions of formulae, equations, algebra, etc there is always a very human element to keep you gripped.
It's strange, I was expecting something quite different from this book, an epic tale of alien invaders but what you get something much more intimate and involving. For long periods of time there appears to be no great danger at all but with all the emotions flying between the characters you never get a chance to notice. To scale a Doctor Who novel down to such an extent, concentrating exclusively on the characters and one problem (the crop circle) sounds a total bore but the writing, the prose is so special it draws you in. It might take you to the end to realise how special this book is but it hit me about halfway through where I stopped caring about the science fiction ideas and was absorbed into the drama.
BBC books are having a fantastic year. This is another top notch piece of fiction from an increasingly impressive PDA range, after last year's disappointing efforts it looks as though the sister range is finally delivering the goods.
Not at all what you are looking for and all the better for it.
Lloyd Rose makes a case for the seventh Doctor during his New Adventures years and astonishingly, given that I'm somebody who is not proud of his portrayal during that period, she happily succeeds. And while the seventh Doctor and Ace have been around now for many years this manages to explore every cliche of their lives together AND feel fresh and interesting. A fine achievement indeed.
As I have said before, the plot of The Algebra if Ice is hardly important; what makes this book so potent is its mix of characters and how they react to each other. The Doctor, Ace, Ethan, Molecross and Brett all leap well clear of their character definitions and become real people by the climax of the book. The novel threatens to become boring in a few places because it steps away from its characters to examine the mathematics that is powering the plot, but the second you start to think this will dive-bomb, a shocking character moment jolts you back to attention.
What impressed me more on my second reading was the two-hander scenes that every character is afforded. Take Brett for example: against Unwin he comes across as an arrogant, impatient man; but his scenes with Ethan turn him into a different character altogether, a violent bully; and then his scenes with the Doctor change him again, into a destructive moral coward; and finally against Ace we see a fearful man, afraid of her ferocity. It works when you look at each character; they are constantly evolving into stronger characters and Rose brilliantly tones down the plot so they appear even more vivid than they should. When Finn Clark mentions Rose's previous works are more fun and cool I think there is a case to made that, despite the quality of characterisation in those two books, The Algebra of Ice trumps them because it washes away the entertainment factor and gives you these characters in a clinical setting with nothing but their hard choices to impress you.
There is one scene in The Algebra of Ice which summed up the Doctor/Ethan/Ace triangle exceptionally well: where they eat together in Allen Road after Ethan and the Doctor have had a quiet chat before Ace arrived. The tension between the three of them is extraordinary. The Doctor is insanely jealous of Ethan's sudden place in Ace's heart and warns him away from trying to protect her. That's his job. There is always a lingering threat when the Doctor talks to Ethan that makes for some wonderfully tense moments. This domestic hell is mirrored beautifully in a later moment when Ethan realises the Doctor is going to kill him for the safety of the universe and they argue - only for Ace to wander in and all goes quiet. Neither of them wants to tell her the truth, both them protecting her now; the Doctor keeping her from the knowledge that Ethan could put the universe in danger and Ethan keeping from her that the Doctor would kill her boyfriend in order to save it. The uncomfortable atmosphere is stifling and all thanks to raw characterisation at its finest.
I am glad somebody decided to write the book where the Doctor examines his naive past and looks ahead to his dark future. His sudden leap into the player of a thousand worlds in season twenty five was never adequately explained and while this is clearly set after season twenty six, it is a relief that a writer has taken the time to show us how agonised and human the Doctor still is, despite his monumental responsibilities. There was always this urge to push the Doctor into a mythic role, not unlike God, which is as ridiculous as it sounds, but this book (and the best of the NAs) show that this is still the character we have always known, just more aware of his role in a universe gone sour. I was so glad he admitted his decision to kill Ethan was a mistake and that the climax of Remembrance of the Daleks still hung heavily on his shoulders... it is never wise to turn the Doctor into somebody who forgets about the little people and only concentrates on the universe and his attempted sacrifice for Ace's happiness is a joy to read.
The book shines a bright light at the Doctor and Ace's self-destructive relationship and shows you just how uncomfortable it can be. They love each other, although neither can admit it. Ace longs to be involved in everything. The Doctor is trying to protect her from the worst of the universe. Ace needs physical love and the Doctor does not like it that there is something other people can give her that he cannot. They both think they are looking after the other. They are like confused magnets, attracting and repelling and it is easy to see, just from the fireworks in this book, what a fantastic combination for drama they are. It is also easy to see how their relationship could be exploited too much, taken too far and turning Doctor Who into an angst-ridden melodrama. I think it's fair to say we had about half and half of these throughout the NAs.
I found Ace to be the scariest character in this book to be honest, despite Ethan's claim that she is the only one of the five of them to be genuinely alive. She encapsulates the best and the worst of human beings, being both intelligent and resourceful and also dangerously emotional and unstable. She reacts to the slightest provocation with a fist in the face and gets far too involved with people, to the point where she is rolling down a hill biting and punching at Brett because of what he did to Ethan. And whilst her emotional side is certainly put to good use (especially in the climax where she manages to get through to the Doctor with her tears) it is also seen to be a self-destructive part of her personality. The Algebra of Ice pre-empts all those heavily emotional NAs where Ace is put through hell and shows how that naive and innocent girl from Iceworld we all remember could become someone very dangerous indeed.
Molecross came across as a much more interesting character the second time around because we get experience his joy at being granted access into the Doctor's amazing world. For somebody who has always look at the skies for meaning in his life it is wonderful how he is swept up into the Doctor's mad adventure and gets to experience crop circles, military cover-ups, spaceships, aliens... The best thing you can say about Molecross was that aside from having the best comedy moments ("It's you!"), he starts of the book as an extremely annoying person and ends up a hero. Without ever changing who he is inside.
Lloyd Rose is one of the biggest names working for BBC books and this novel does nothing to damage her reputation. Vastly different to what she has written before but just as fascinating.
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 16/11/04
Been having a holiday from Doctor Who books for the last few months, catching up on the mass of other books on my bookshelves. It's never very long though before the "not-reads" on my Doctor Who shelves catch my attention - and I fancy entering the wonderful world of the Doctor for the millionth time!
I haven't read that many Doctor Who novels this year, only Empire of Death, Sometime Never... and Scream of the Shalka actually. I apologize for this neglect, and promise to do better next year (which will could very well be Doctor Who wall to wall thanks to the new series).
Algebra of Ice was one that stood out of this year's books, and no sooner had I bought it, I started to read it on the train home. Lloyd Rose after all is a proven author, and thanks to the magnificence of her two previous books this was a must-buy.
It all starts off quite sedately. The 7th Doctor and Ace drop on a time anomaly, and the Brigadier investigates some crop squares (different aliens these, no circles). Within 40 pages it's clear that we are in New Adventure territory.
After the initial turn-off of this type of Doctor Who story being recreated, I grew beyond my prejudices. Isn't it silly to say how we hate one type of story, and club all those stories in one bracket. I didn't hate all the New Adventures, there were just too many stories in there that I didn't take to - so as a whole I thought the range average. There were also about 10 that were amongst the best books I have ever read. So is Algebra of Ice one of those 10, or one of the 50 that didn't measure up?
As I continued on all the New Adventure references were there. The swearing, boy-loving Ace. Manipulative, shadowy Doctor, angst-filled supporting characters, computer speak too common. By page 100 I was rather bored by it, to be honest.
I decided to continue on past page 100 in the hope things would improve (the exception to my rule of reading 100 pages, and if I didn't like it, give it up). My train was delayed one morning, and an hour with this book in the waiting room was the result. I was thankful in more ways than one, when my train finally turned up (some poor soul had decided to throw himself under my intended train). I was on page 150 by this time - and I haven't picked it up since. 150 pages is surely enough to spend with a book you aren't that engrossed in.
I'm amazed, I truly am. This is nothing like the Lloyd Rose novels of before. I suppose it shows the variety that authors can bring. But this clearly wasn't a book I even liked a little. It's unrealistic to expect authors to always be brilliant. Somehow though, because of their previous heights, the disappointment is more acute.
I've figured out my New Adventure aversion now - it's good to face our fears. Look at my list of favourite NA's:- Exodus, Witch-Mark, Nightshade, Birthright, Blood Heat, All Consuming Fire, Blood Harvest, Human Nature, Just War, Dying Days. They are hardly representative of the New Adventure label that fans most readily identify the range with, are they? I hated Revelation and Love and War. I detested Transit. The Cartmel War books were dull. Kate Orman's books were nothing special.
I'm going to stay clear of anything in future trying to be a New Adventure - type story. I suppose none of us can like absolutely every type of Doctor Who story. 5/10
A girlie perspective by Kathryn Young 19/11/04
I think it is because I am a girl (I am a girl you know. You can tell by the word "Kathryn" in my name. And no I am not some weird anorakian bloke pretending to be a girl, I am a real honest to god female Doctor Who fan - and not just because I find Paul McGann cute. I have been a Doctor Who fan since I was knee high to a Silurian)...
But anyway - because of my girlieness running up and down corridors bores me senseless, evil since the dawn of time type stuff gets filed away under "oh - again... that's nice dear", and incredibly clever scientific theories go over my pretty little girlie head, but give me decent characterization in a book and I'm there like a limpet mine to the side of that big shippie thing that got sunk by a limpet mine.
Which is probably why I enjoyed The Algebra of Ice so much. Yes there is a plot - I just can't tell you what it is - spoilers you know. However can we just take it as a given that it probably involves some very nasty aliens intent on doing very nasty things to planet Earth and the universe in general (well it usually does).
And considering we have had some total doozies over the course of the PDAs and the EDAs, this plot isn't half bad in the sense that it doesn't make you sit up and go "oh now really that is total toss" and jolt you out of the book.
In fact the plot, while not exactly original or stunning, is integral to the book otherwise the characters in the book would just be sitting at home drinking tea. Instead they are all out there doing their best to either set the universe on a path to certain doom, save the universe from being set on a path to certain doom, or shag.
Which brings me to the Doctor and Ace or should that be Ace and the Doctor?
No, not the shagging thing (and no they don't get it on - so just get your mind out of the gutter), more the "why we like them"/"why I think they are cool" thing.
It must be nice, even for a grumpy old manipulative Time Lord, to have someone who really cares for you. Some one who watches your back and would break a nose for you. I have read quite a few PDAs, but only a few NAs and for me books like Loving the Alien and Heritage are the closet we get to the intricacies of the NA character relationships of The Left Handed Hummingbird.
Which brings me to Ace:
I have decided that in all Doctor Who history Ace was the first equal companion. And by equal I don't mean she can do sums and bypass the polarity of the neutron flow, but that she was the first "companion" ever to exist in more than a "Oh Doctor look... oops I just sprained my ankle" sort of way. Now you may think I am doing a disservice to other quite well rounded characters such as Tegan and co, who were personalities in their own right. But even though these companions were characters they weren't integral; picked up, taught and dropped without a second thought - even Tegan was dumped at an airport with nary a goodbye (in fact some have suggested the Doctor was, in fact, running away).
But could he do that to Ace?
Ace became (and probably always was) as important to the Doctor as he was to her. And not until Fitz have we ever seen such a symbiotic relationship. Yes the Doctor is all powerful, mysterious, manipulative, crush the lesser races, rice pudding, etc... but even Time Lords get the blues and hence we have Dorothy "Ace" McShane... or as I like to think of her - Susan with a bit of backbone and slightly stronger ankles.
And he cares for her, he really does. It pops up every so often - a line here, a nose bop there. How he feels about her is never really stated, but I get the feeling that it all boils down to just a vague idea that if something really happened to her by god there would be hell to pay: and I mean hell to pay in a really nasty disturbing, bugger the web of time, sort of way... bad men would die horribly, lands would be laid to waste, crops would shrivel, rivers would turn to blood and I personally would not want to be anywhere nearby.
ACE! Killer fighter, Doctor looker afterer or combat suited killing machine...
So I don't know if I am infusing the Algebra Ace with a bit of the NA Ace or that Rose intended this, but this book also has an interesting take on how Ace feels about the Doc. Excuse the Survival reference, but she seems to be very very protective of him - like a mother lion is protective of her cubs, especially the errant one who always goes wandering off and invariably falls down a hole. It is the little stuff: like the fact that she knows if he doesn't eat he gets cranky, that she will be the one to go around with a bowl of soup searching for him, that she will just as soon throw it in his face if he is in one of his moods, that gives us a glimpse into the father/daughter relationship between them.
And so we get to the shagging...
Well the Doctor just isn't her type is he? Ace is a young woman and well... blokes... you know...
But this also allows for an interesting insight into the Professor/Ace relationship. Is he her surrogate dad? Is he responsible? Is he proud of her? Is he watchful? Is he sad to see her grow up? Would he rip the balls off any bloke who hurt her and serve them up for tea?
I'll leave you to answer those questions. All I know is that I would be very careful if I was courting Ace.
But I am starting to worry about the Doctor...
I think he has been listening to Death Comes to Time a bit too often. He is convinced that he is responsible for the whole universe and quite frankly sometimes, just sometimes, it gets on my goat. It is all very well to be a god of the fourth, but sheesh! I assume, as we are all still here, that the universe somehow managed to survive before the Doctor took that bump on the head and became all protective of it. Come to think of it: maybe it was that bump on the head in Time and the Rani that set him off. But come on Doc - it's a big universe - surely it doesn't need yet another god?
And what worries me about all this "taking the whole Time's Champion thing just a bit too far" is that it is not making him very popular. In this book he seems just a tad too ready to sacrifice other people for the sake of the universe. And far from being grateful that their death will mean the continuation of the universe, people in this book call him a little monster and beat him senseless. So if you thought the Eighth Doctor kicking that nasty bloke in Timeless was bad, you ain't seen nothing yet.
A very intriguing book: Go girl power...
A Review by David McKinnon 30/11/04
Well, I finished reading The Algebra of Ice recently. Good book! I'm not entirely sure what people mean about dodgy math, though; I was able to figure out pretty clearly what Lloyd was talking about most of the way through. I mean, some of the explanations were clearly made by a layperson, but I could rationalize that away usually by noting that the explanation was usually being made to a layperson.
But the dialogue and characters were as sparkling as I've come to expect from Lloyd Rose. Maybe a shade less sparkling than in her two previous books, but still an outstanding effort.
I rate this a 9/10.
A Review by Mike Morris 2/12/04
Reading The Algebra of Ice, on many occasions, left me feeling somewhat puzzled. It's got some very good attributes and some very very silly bits, it's got some good characters and some dodgy ones, it's got some nice touches and some gratuitous walk-ons by the Brigadier. But the thing about it, is, is...
Okay. Have you ever told a non-joke? It's an amusing thing done amongst drunk people who've got a bit giggly. It involves, in the middle of a protracted session of joke telling, relating a joke like this. This fish walks into a chip shop, and says, portion of single chips please. The guy behind the counter says, would you like salt and vinegar with that? And the fish replies, no thanks, my bike's outside.
See, if you tell it right, you will actually get people to laugh. And then a glorious confused look will come over their face, as they try and work out exactly what the joke is. Eventually you put them out of their misery, and tell them there isn't a joke at all. Yeah, yeah, it's perverse and childish, but if you judge the mood right it's great fun.
And that's what The Algebra of Ice made me think of. It's set up as a tribute to the NA's (whose authors are given an acknowledgement, which oddly increased my unease), although it's more accurately a pastiche of them. It reads very much as a condensed summary of the NA's, warts and all. And as I read I became convinced that there was a joke somewhere, and I wasn't quite getting it. And then I thought that no, maybe there wasn't. And then I thought...
Well, I didn't know what to think.
See, this is very much The Five Doctors of the NA's (although let's be fair, it's a damn sight better). It touches all the bases with affection, including the bad bits. It's got abstract SF baddies, and dollops of "real-world"-ism. It has a lot of fun with science of the nerdiest kind; this time, advanced mathematics take up the slack that NA's tended to fill with now-dated cyberspace. It's got lots of angst on part of Ace, and the standard sex stuff. And it's got a game-playing, melancholic Seventh Doctor.
Separating things into strands...
The plot's rubbish. I can remember sod-all about it. It's something about crop-circles, and energy, and alien beings from another dimension, and mathematicians tip-tapping away on their computers to try and find results that will somehow destroy the world. It gives some stonking imagery, sure - the sky alive with web-like fire, the rush of energy from the crop-circles. And in many ways, that's more than enough. This book isn't plot-driven anyway, the title gives it all away; its about cold, uncaring environments and the way the characters behave in them, the strength of their emotions pulsing in clinical backdrops. So it doesn't really matter that the plot is incomprehensible, technobabbly and revolves around people working out equations, which isn't exactly riveting stuff. And then we've got a good old encounter in cyberspace at the end, which I was surprised to find as reassuring and safe as a good long corridor chase.
The Doctor is...
Here's where it gets odd. The Doctor is standard NA Doctor in many ways. He's doing big things and contemplating some horrible acts for the greater good. He's racked with guilt, and constantly making big alien pronouncements. He's distant, but friendly.
He's a great Doctor, actually. Unlike an awful lot of the NA's this never stops making him a person, rather than a mysterious force. You feel for the Doctor; his anguish at what he has to do, the way that he struggles under the weight of his decisions, and the pleasing way that he's nowhere near as big as the role he plays. He's even slightly jealous of Ace's new bloke, which is a nice touch.
Thing is, though, some of it feels oddly forced. It's hard to judge, sometimes, what the meaning of some of the scenes is. The - dammit, got to try this with no spoilers - at one point, the Doctor contemplates doing something really, really nasty. And it felt stuck on, like it was there because that's what the NA's did, even though it didn't really make sense in this story. And that feeling was what made me uneasy right the way through the book; I couldn't work out whether this was a driven and serious Seventh Doctor novel, or a NA cover version with knowing winks.
Which is a nice dovetail into Ace, and her unlikely sextastic romance. It's kind of hilariously great. It's also rubbish, and utterly, utterly unbelievable. I don't know how I feel about this. It's written - certainly at the start - in a sort of tongue in cheek way, an affectionate dig at the NA's and their silly bouts of sexual encounters that could often happen for no reason other than two people of comparable age were hanging about together, fnur fnur, heh heh. Then later on, it gets all serious, and I just couldn't take it seriously.
And that, really, was my problem with the book. A lot of the issues being dealt with were big and important, but I couldn't shake the notion that there was something else going on, that these big issues were being jokily introduced as NA staples rather than things to engage with. There was something of The English Way of Death feeling - the joy of recreating of an era - except that the characters were real, and the romances were genuine, and the events at the end are big big issues. So it was The English Way of Death, but as if the characters at the end all discovered a cure for cancer. It just didn't sit right.
I liked the characters, particularly Ethan, who somehow remains the same although he shifts from borderline schizophrenic to arrogant nerd to man of integrity in a very off-putting way, like a TV presenter who keeps changing costumes. The other characters are the usual twisted Lloyd Rose creations, but they didn't work for me this time. Again, it's the clinical setting - their foibles and obsessions seem faintly ridiculous and unbelievable, particularly the villain of the piece and his destroy-it-all mania. Rust made sense in the context of New Orleans, and Micah Scale made sense in Victorian London, but Fortean Times cast-offs don't make sense here, somehow. Lloyd Rose has always has more than a dash of David Lynch about her, but with the Ace romance it's like David Lynch is directing a romantic comedy, and with everything else it's as though he's having a bash at ER. Weird.
So, I couldn't really get a handle on this. It's clearly very skilfully written by a woman who's become one of the line's best writers with obscene ease, but there was a lack of guts and balls to it somehow - it felt like more of a playfully intellectual exercise than an emotional one, and yet had lots of emotional moments. I was tempted by Joe Ford's rave, I was thoroughly seduced by Kathryn Young's girlie perspective (well I'm a bit seduced by Kathryn Young generally, to be honest), and I really wanted to like it, but this book never quite came together for me. I'm a bit nonplussed, really.
Four out of Five by Jamas Enright 11/3/05
They say (and damn them, whoever they are) that 90% of what authors write is rubbish. This means that inevitably, no matter how good the author, eventually they will put out shite. In the case of Lloyd Rose, this isn't that book. But we can start to see that that book might not be too far off.
There is, I have to say, a certain charm missing here that was in her other works. It might be that she deliberately chose a different style for a different Doctor, or that she was having an off day, etc., etc., but while I was reading The Algebra of Ice, I kept getting a nagging sensation that it just wasn't quite clicking.
Still, immediate points for having a book about snow and ice (AGAIN!!!!), but not putting those images onto the first page. (Jac Rayner, you are still not forgiven.) Instead we have an entertaining wee mystery about crop circles (which aren't circles) and maths (and I'll come to the maths later). In some ways it's more a character piece than a 'run-around-stopping-the-bad-guys', but there's plenty of the latter too. The book opens with time slips, where events are repeated with slightly different outcomes (although the author later contradicts herself over the conclusion of the Poe episode), although unfortunately the time slips don't really seem to have a major purpose except for certain plot conveniences. And then we are onto the 'alien invasion' part of the story...
This book is set in a very particular place in the Doctor's life, and Lloyd Rose makes more than a few references to previous events so she can spend time (not a large amount, mind you) examining the Doctor's feelings concerning the destruction of Skaro and his role in it. The Doctor comes across as very... determined, having to decide what's right for the universe and trying not to think of the consequences. This is a somewhat naive Doctor, especially considering what other authors have done to him, but it still works as this is before, for example, the New Adventures happen.
In some ways, I wonder if Lloyd Rose ended up with this Doctor more because she wanted to use Ace. Ace's role in the storyline works well for her character, and it's hard to see another female companion being used here in the same way. Ace gets to be herself without being over the top annoying.
Aside from minor roles (which includes the Brigadier), there are four main guest characters. Ethan Amberglass is... well, 'hero' isn't the right word (he is a maths nerd after all) but certainly favoured in that he gets a lion's share of helping to save the day, and is well developed as a character. Molecross was odd, in that he sort of starts as a proto-Macbeth (from The Left-Handed Hummingbird), but soon dissolves into a very one dimensional person. Brett and Unwin are there as the bad guys, and whilst not the most exciting bad guys around, they fulfill their role.
Okay, now the maths. Aside from Ice the other major word in the title is Algebra, and Lloyd Rose gives us maths as the central underlying cause of everything (and without once mentioning 'block transfer computations'... thankfully!). Although she hints at problems like the Riemann Hypothesis (which I doubt will take that much longer to solve), she mostly has it as just 'equations'. Mathematical proofs can be beautiful (and yes, I am a maths nerd, so I know whereof I speak), and applause to Lloyd Rose for giving this, but she shies away from details. This is hardly surprising as a) it's incredibly hard to give necessary explanation to something like the Riemann Hypothesis in enough detail to satisfy the maths nerds, and b) it would be incredibly boring. And I also suspect that Lloyd Rose probably doesn't understand it that well herself, which might explain why Ethan (yes, the maths nerd) asserts that all numbers can be reduced to multiples of two primes. (Nope, not even slightly. Probably confused with the Goldbach Conjecture - all positive even integers greater than 2 are the sum of two primes - which is also unproven.)
End of the day, The Algebra of Ice is not Lloyd Rose's best book, but... can I still have more please? Her not best is still damned good.
A Review by Finn Clark 15/4/05
It's official: Lloyd Rose is turning into Kate Orman! The Algebra of Ice is Lloyd's Blue Box, but I'm not just talking about that. More generally, both women exploded on to the Who scene with two impressively crafted debut novels but then drew in their horns somewhat for a less thrilling third visit. Kate Orman's NAs from SLEEPY to Room With No Doors are pleasant, but almost deliberately mundane and more simply written than Left-Handed Hummingbird and Set Piece.
The Algebra of Ice doesn't have the evocative prose we saw in City of the Dead or Camera Obscura. Those books had exotic locations (New Orleans, Victorian England) and a more mysterious Doctor, but even so Lloyd Rose seems to have been taking Terrance Dicks pills. It's perfectly good prose, but precise rather than luscious. There's nothing wrong with that and there's much to like in The Algebra of Ice, but it's harder to imagine someone falling in love with it.
It's also like a Kate Orman book in its strong focus on the regulars. The 7th Doctor is scrutinised as a character in his own right instead of the generic Doctor with a few character traits on top. I liked that. He gets knocked about a bit in traditional Orman style and harks back to the NAs with his cream-coloured suit and Skaro angst, though Lloyd can't resist some 8DA foreshadowing. Perry-Tucker aside, yet again the BBC PDAs are using the 7th Doctor far better than the NAs did! In the meantime Ace's story is cosily familiar, both for the character and as another yet evocation of the Ghost of Orman. It's nothing groundbreaking, but Lloyd Rose impressed me by bringing alive this overused companion in such a well-worn story role.
This book has only one problem - it's kinda boring. There's currently a minor trend for un-Whoish Who books, set in deliberately mundane locations with very little action or excitement. Sometimes they've triumphed (Heritage, The Sleep of Reason and even The Deadstone Memorial, comparatively speaking) but it's also led to some big names coming a cropper. Blue Box and The Algebra of Ice are both efficiently told but dull. See nerds stand in fields! Lloyd's first two books were much more fun, giving us magicians, mirror men and carnival sideshow freaks. You know, cool stuff. This book's heroes never seem to be in danger (even when they are), as they investigate crop circles in Kent and do maths on computers. Even the bad guys don't feel threatening, with a plan for evil that could have enormous consequences but in practice mostly requires keyboard skills and wellington boots.
There's been criticism of the book's maths, but as a mathematician myself I didn't mind it. It's "maths as magic", like a next-generation Logopolis or Castrovalva. If the worst you can say about a Doctor Who book is that its technobabble is inaccurate... well, is that really so unfaithful to the TV show? :-)
I should mention the character work, with a cast that transcends their apparent stereotypes. This is a sober novel that won't be popular with the action-adventure crowd who hated Blue Box and Heritage. It's slightly colourless, but there's nothing actually wrong with it and some bits are quietly very good.
A Review by Brian May 29/9/05
You know, The Algebra of Ice would have made a fantastic Big Finish story! It's character-focused, with a small cast, limited locations and scenes that lend themselves to dramatic sound effects (the attempted abductions in the ice formations). It's also very talky. As a novel, it's still quite good, although not without its fair share of weaknesses.
This talkiness could have spelled disaster for a novel, but Lloyd Rose manages to avoid this by ensuring that it's well written and engaging - not just the reams of dialogue, but the prose overall. The few characters are all excellently rendered; Molecross and Ethan both start off as unlikeable, but through the course of the story they become very sympathetic, the more we learn about them. Unwin is similar to them both, but as he's spineless and amoral, all he gets from us is pity and disdain. Brett is a well-realised antagonist, and quite upsettingly so - he's nasty through and through. His nihilistic outlook on life is his sole motivation for his actions, and it has a chilling credibility, while his torture of Ethan is some of the most sadistic Who reading this side of Daniel O'Mahony. The Brigadier, one of the most oft-brought-back characters, is underused here, but this is actually a good thing. All the recycling of him and UNIT in the past ten or so years has been quite tiresome. He didn't really need to be in this book at all, but Rose captures the affability of the older, wiser Brig rather well, so his inclusion is excusable, even if it's superfluous.
The locations are very atmospheric, but with the focus on characterisation and dialogue, there's not much pace or action. That's not a bad thing in itself; however when the few action scenes do occur, they're all the same: at certain intervals we get another attempted visitation among the various ice formations - there's a bit of tension, some good depictions of silence and stillness being more unsettling than noise and activity, but the outcome is repeated: the entity can't get through, and the Doctor escapes, or is rescued, from being sucked into the other realm. Rose has made this book a tribute to the New Adventures - it's set post-Survival/pre-Genesys; there's plenty of teen angst in Ace and the Doctor is obligingly shadowy and manipulative (although Rose's characterisation of him overall is an accurate rendition of Sylvester McCoy's interpretation). His actions are once again brought into question, but as Joe mentions, it's good to see him confronted about destroying Skaro in Remembrance, rather than the usual Katarina/Sara/Adric cliché. The house in Allen Road plays a big part, and the enemy is some nameless, faceless, extra-dimensional entity. Add to this the Ethan/Ace love affair, which in my opinion is pretty implausible anyway, and the Doctor's warning that Ethan must die in order to save the universe, all of which is straight out of Love and War. The Doctor's journey into the mathematical realm at the very end is taken from the final showdown in Transit, complete with companion (or equivalent) following him inside and saving the day. But while imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, stealing, copying and pasting of plot devices is not. On the contrary, it's trite, and something fans have come to really dislike - and that's the feeling you're left with here.
The Algebra of Ice is also filled to the brim with existential angst, which, quite frankly, is incredibly depressing. Through the worldviews of Ethan, Molecross, Unwin and Brett, the reader is subjected to a real sense of pointlessness and emptiness. We're made well aware of what small, insignificant specks we are in the face of infinity. Entropy is brought back to remind us of our mortality - and the universe's as well. There's no real cheer when you filter all this in your mind. On the "brighter" side, there's some gripping drama - the Doctor's dilemma when he's faced with the unconscious Unwin: does he abandon him and escape, or try and help him, thus hindering his escape? His recognition of Ethan's melody is excellent, and the various problems with history in chapter one get things off to an intriguing start. All the maths is fairly simple, which means we're not bogged down in terminology that may be incomprehensible to some. It's technobabble lite, and it actually does make mathematics appear beautiful.
I may have sounded harsh on this book, but I certainly don't dislike it. The characters are excellent; the story, although thin and somewhat static, is accentuated by wonderful atmosphere and some accessible scientific principles. It's an existential journey - as are a lot of my favourite films (Bergman's Cries and Whispers; Wenders's Wings of Desire). But I think this book is too depressing in its musings. Doctor Who is first and foremost escapist fun, but I certainly have no objections when it gets all deep and meaningful. The programme has explored its fair share of grief, loss and mortality ever since Katarina sacrificed herself in The Daleks' Master Plan (and especially so in, you guessed it, the New Adventures). But it's always had a life affirming philosophy, which is absent here. It's extremely bleak. Yes, we're all going to die someday. I expect this when watching Ingmar Bergman - I don't expect it from Doctor Who. 7/10