Cat's Cradle: Warhead
A Benny Adventure
|Authors|| Martin Day and
|ISBN||0 426 20528 6|
|Synopsis: Bernice finds herself involved in politics, gun-running and a centuries old love affair in an effort to help an old friend and stop a cycle of violence that threatens to spin out of control.|
Breezy, But Satisfying by Robert Smith? 30/1/99
With the relaunch of the New Adventures comes the feeling that some of the details have been paid greater attention than before. This feels like a real return to the setup that the Bernice New Adventures originally saddled themselves with. The Dellah of this book is very much the rain-soaked Dellah of Oh No It Isn't!, and it's nice to see some of the details haven't been forgotten.
Benny is spot on, but it's rare that she isn't. That's not to undermine the character seen here in any way; she's superb, of course, but also very human. I was quite pleased that the seemingly contrived "mysterious old friend whom we've never seen before" was well done, for once (which is fortunate, or else the joke of the title could have fallen really flat). We really get a sense of the tenuous relationship between Benny and Lizbeth and also the improbability of Lizbeth contacting our favourite archaeologist in the first place. Seeing their relationship deteriorate as time goes by works quite well, too. Bernice's involvement with Alex is an all too human one. Even though she knows she probably shouldn't be getting that close, it's something that's hard to avoid when you're actually in the situation.
The industrial espionage style really suits Bernice, for some reason (far better than the murder mystery of the week). There's an air of confidence here, so the book breezes by. It rarely feels as though any of it is a strain on credibility or a stretching of likely responses. Csokor's nature and his history could have been an incredibly contrived setup or less than believable in the hands of inferior writers; instead this seems to flow natural from the setup. I like that, a lot.
It's good to see some continuity with the older New Adventures, even if this does only mean some references to the Eurogen Butler Corporation. I like the musical track framing of the chapter headings, even if it doesn't seem to tie into the rest of the book much (although if it's only purpose is to poke fun at the favoured style of NA authors' chapter headings, it's still worth the effort). I also really like the way that Lizbeth's sneaking suspicions about being stalked are revealed and explained. The reduced cast helps to keep everything on a smaller canvas, but the book is all the better for it.
The only thing I'm really not sure about is the ending. I like the tie-in to the search for real archaeology on Dimetos and the result of Benny's actions in saving the day, but it all seems to stop a bit too early. That can't be due to the word count, since this is one of the shorter NAs. I guess I would have really liked to have seen more of a tag scene than what we got, but that's a fairly minor complaint. However, the epilogue seems to ramble on forever without much of a point. The footnotes appear to be the most interesting thing about this section. Still, while I found the epilogue less than satisfying, it's not such a terrible thing, because it's tenuous connection to the rest of the book means that it has little impact on the main story. And fortunately, that story is quite a good one. Recommended.
A Review by Henry Potts 22/6/99
I don't know why Another Girl, Another Planet should be neglected so: it's a fine book and while it isn't as significant in the Gods/Enemy arc as some of the later Benny books, there are surely some important foreshadowing in its epilogue.
If I were to grumble, the book does feel a bit clumsy in places. It reads well for the most part, with humour and increasing drama, but the writing drops into cliché at times. The plot is strong, but underdeveloped: it mostly seems to happen while you're not looking or spurts out in short infodumps. Nevertheless, if plot development is atrophied, the characters and the settings largely make up for it.
There are some subtle explorations of the usual Benny themes, considering the nature of history and text, contrasting the archaeology of the planet searching for the truth with Benny's own diary editing taking us further away from the same. Benny's own feelings are explored by comparison with her two companions in the novel, Lizbeth and Alex, each containing elements of her nature.
In all, a book that could have done with some more polishing, but a solid read. 8/10
A Review by Finn Clark 25/1/05
Mediocre, but with some nice writing. Martin Day's novels have always done rather well at the sensitive side of things, right back to The Menagerie. Too many Doctor Who novels have been rather juvenile when it comes to sex and relationships, but this feels mature with an impressive look at love, both the good times and the bad.
Unfortunately that's the main redeeming factor of a book with little else to recommend it. The plot is stuck in second gear almost throughout, with backroom deals, coded discussions, local politics and nothing for our heroes to do but wander around and have frustrating conversations. Anonymous heavies want to exert pressure on Benny and her friends, but we don't know who they are and in practice it's impossible to be scared of them. Occasional random acts are committed, but it's all faceless. Even the murder attempts are kinda ho-hum. The relationships between Lizbeth, Benny and Mphahlele were the main reason I kept reading... and that's all well-written, make no mistake. It's just a shame about the story taking place (or not) around them.
Lizbeth Fugard is a friend of Benny's, the eponymous "Another Girl", but at least the book has enough sense not to claim that she's a hitherto unknown oldest bestest friend. She's just a colleague with whom Benny has something in common and they've tried to keep in contact. Benny even admits on p19 that "I hardly know her". That worked well.
There's plenty of continuity, e.g. Eurogen Butler, the Pinks (see Mean Streets) and even Early Ikkaban poetry (p152). Occasionally it got intrusive, but I think I've observed before that Virgin's Benny books could get away with more continuity references than a ordinary Doctor Who novel. They're relatively spacelocked and timelocked. Their universe is smaller, so coincidences are more acceptable.
There's foreshadowing for the Gods story arc which began in Where Angels Fear, which is a big mistake. I've read all of those books before, right up to Twilight of the Gods 2, and even on this rereading it didn't make any sense. This kind of shoehorned arc material has practically wrecked books in the past (e.g. Cat's Cradle: Witch Mark) and it works no better here. Even a strongly plotted book would have suffered if forced to include these unresolved, ambiguous story elements, but it's particularly damaging here.
I find Martin Day an unpredictable author, good at evoking the quieter moments but often weak at more traditional plot-dependent SF fare. Unfortunately this book is structured to be the latter. This is my only exposure to Len Beech, but I've read a "Ben Leech" bargain-bin horror novel ('The Bidden') and I thought it was bollocks. (Though having said that, the back cover claims that Len Beech has written twenty books under various pseudonyms, so this particular book may have been unrepresentative.)
Overall, very much a curate's egg. As a whole it's unmemorable, but parts of it are excellent. You could well believe that one of its authors also has The Sleep of Reason and The Hollow Men to his name... but you wouldn't be surprised to learn that he perpetrated The Menagerie too. It's far from worthless and has more to offer than many novels I could name, but too many of its pages are skippable.