|ISBN||0 563 40593 7|
|Synopsis: Immense gravitational effects and dimensional disturbances threaten an entire planet. A religious leader survives certain death and proves more dangerous than the forces of nature. Only the Doctor can halt the devastation, but the TARDIS has been lost to him.|
A Review by Finn Clark 17/3/99
Many people have disliked this book, some violently.
My opinion is that it's a very clever book, far more so than you'd guess on a casual reading, but that Jim hasn't done himself any favours in its hurried execution. In those first forty pages, there are at least two places where the narrative appears to contradict itself. Dead people are suddenly alive again and at one point Sam appears to be teleported to a completely different place with no warning or reason why. With an ordinary book you'd call these bloopers, but here Jim's doing it deliberately. Perhaps a few more paragraphs might have helped the reader in the teleporting Sam incident (which in fact isn't anything of the kind), but everything else that happens is in fact meant to do so. The impossible is being shoved in our faces. Jim Mortimore is thinking big again.
Don't worry about it and certainly don't let it slow you down. You won't be able to work out any of this for a long time to come.
Jim tells a scene unlike anyone else; his action sequences are not careful pieces of exposition, but glittering fragments of a mosaic. The big picture is slow in coming. The headlong rush of the book's opening chapters will eventually relax as the action set-pieces give way to Mortimore philosophising, but you still won't understand what's going on. One starts to wonder how firm the author's grip on it is, too. Nevertheless there's a lot whirling about in his head and if you're willing to spare the effort, there's a good deal of gold to be mined here.
Ironically, looking at the plot in retrospect one realises that this could have been another tediously unambitious plod... but as we all know Jim Mortimore never errs in any direction but overambition. If you strip away the veneer, it's a fairly straightforward story, confusingly told.
Oh, and there's a religious messiah of undeath called Eldred Saketh. Is this a complete coincidence, or did Jim deliberately name this character after Eldrad and an anagrammed Sutekh? Perhaps it's just an accidental resonance, but after I spotted that little detail the book became for me decidedly sinister...
Now we proceed to the regulars, a phrase to make experienced 8DA readers draw in their breath and perhaps sob gently. Jim's approach is distinctive and intelligent. I'll deal with the Doctor first.
This is not Doctor Identikit. Assisted by generous dollops of our favourite Gallifreyan's thoughts, Mortimore gives us an energetic, improvising whirlwind of a Doctor with several neat little TVM touches. He felt more of a distinct character than in most 8DAs, which inevitably meant a certain discontinuity with the rest of the line! He's chatty, perhaps chattier than I'd personally write him, but Jim gives him some great Doctorish scenes and cool gags.
Most importantly, he's far more than just a collection of mannerisms. As we all know, Mortimore has his own particular take on the good Doctor. In Eternity Weeps and Eye of Heaven he's more a force of nature than a mere mortal. Another important fact to bear in mind is that horrible things happen in Mortimore books. Like, really horrible things... and from time to time it's the Doctor's fault. Presented with this impulsive all-powerful creature of peculiarly slanted morality, we suddenly don't know if his actions will turn out well or not. This Doctor can and does make mistakes. And with the stakes so high, sooner or later one of those mistakes could easily result in death. Lots of it.
What about Sam? There are good and bad conclusions to be drawn from Beltempest. We'll start with the bad.
In my opinion, as far as reconstructing Sam goes, Seeing I was a failure. We can still hope that Fitz will liven things up, but five books have now passed since Seeing I hit the shelves and in none of them did Sam significantly differ from the earlier version. What did Blum and Orman do to her?
The crucial point is that those two writers are in tune with the character's idealism and didn't want to water it down or turn her into a cynical know-it-all. Thus they made Sam older. That's it. During Seeing I, Sam aged three years and became more knowledgeable and experienced. No longer could we criticise her for being a dumb know-it-all teenager. Now she's a wised-up young woman -- but she still wants to save the world. She sorted out her relationship with the Doctor, but otherwise there's been very little actual change in how she acts and thinks.
The sad fact is that a great number of readers, me included, find her deeply annoying. Jon Blum and Kate Orman would clearly love her to be self-sacrificing and admirable, but we just don't like the character. Short of a sarcastic bastard taking residence in the TARDIS (Hello, Fitz!) then the best thing to happen to Sam would be an axe in the head. When either at rest or with the Doctor, she has an unfortunate tendency to become a humourless, earnest, dumb, moaning cow; writers who don't portray her like that are not being faithful to the character.
Now for the good.
The wonderful thing about Sam is that she's so real. Precisely because she's a whinging cow, we can all visualise her perfectly in our minds (even if we hate her bloody guts). She's not a wise-cracking Benny clone, but a flawed and confused human being. Also, even after the hell that she's been through, she still cares. She's kept her idealism, which is a hell of a thing. As Jim Mortimore has realised, this makes her very, very dangerous.
One of this book's themes is religion. Don't believe anyone who tries to claim it's the only one, by the way; Beltempest is a bewildering kaleidoscope of philosophical tangents and moral complexities. Sam's great quality is that she believes, utterly. She's a self-righteous idiot who can let her principles get in the way of her intelligence. Imagine what havoc could be wreaked if Sam started playing God...
I won't go any further for fear of spoilers.
Jim Mortimore shows us just how lethal this duo can be. The Doctor, a blundering genius who'll risk everyone's lives on a whim. Sam, a pig-headed teenager who always knows what's best for you. The fate of a solar system.
Be afraid; be very afraid...
Terrifyingly Huge by Robert Smith? 4/4/99
No one has ever accused Jim Mortimore of thinking too small. Beltempest is an absolutely enormous tale, with a cast of billions and a death toll almost as high. There are people who take communion and live forever, living entities the size of planets, a mad and dangerous companion and a congenital idiot for a Doctor. This is Doctor Who on acid.
With all that Beltempest has going for it, it's a wonder that it isn't nearly as good as it should be. The scope is huge and Mortimore writes individual scenes like no one else. Yes, it's confusing and overwhelming and I doubt even the author knows what happens at the end, but these aren't the worst crimes in literature. However, I think I can see the problem.
Quite simply, Beltempest has no characters.
Of course, it has a cast of billions, but they're almost all faceless. I can understand that; even Jim Mortimore has trouble when conveying the concerns of the crowded populations of twenty two planets. There's a small attempt to focus on a couple of characters, but it doesn't seem to be much more than a token attempt. At best, we have some caricatures , at worst we have some names and functions that barely struggle to represent themselves as people.
 I'm unsure as to whether to include the TARDIS crew in that - see below for more thoughts on that topic, and you can probably make up your own minds.
On the bright side, I think the book is big enough that Mortimore can almost - almost - get away with it, but I can't help feeling that some characterisation would really have helped. I wanted to like this book much more than I did and I think the only thing actually missing was some characterisation. Fifty more pages and this would have worked a treat.
There's a bit of a religious theme going on in the books at the moment, what with this, Salvation and Where Angels Fear all appearing at approximately the same time. Three book lines, three months, one theme. You could build a Decalog around that. Mortimore is definitely up to the task, having run with the same theme in quite a few books already. I have to admire the way he goes about it, even if we do get absolutely no explanation for Eldred Saketh's immortality wafers. I suspect I'm thinking too mundanely in my desire for explanations: such things are simply beneath Jim Mortimore. I have to admire the bravado, if nothing else.
As other reviewers have pointed out, the eighth Doctor seems to have finally developed his own character trait. On the downside, this appears to be best described as "congenital idiot" (with thanks to Art Banana for the description). It's been a long time coming, and a lot of authors have put a lot of work into it, but at last we have something.
I mean, really. What on earth is going on with the eighth Doctor in the books? If it were just this novel, I wouldn't mind, because Mortimore has always gone his own way in these things. Here, however, it's just a little more obvious than usual. The Doctor is a grinning idiot, nothing more. Okay, he does seem to do something at the end to help things along, but this comes out of nowhere and as far as I can tell, he just seems to have come up with it on the spot. I'm at a bit of a loss as to where this characterisation seems to have come from; it wasn't in the telemovie that I watched. I suppose I should count my blessings, though. At least he isn't the fourth Doctor again.
If we're going to run with this characterisation, then I should probably evaluate it on its own merits, not grumble about other books (sorry, force of habit). The idea has some merit, in a Troughton-esque way, although there's no sense that the Doctor really knew what he was doing all along. There's also some genuine terror on behalf of the reader, because it's not at all obvious that the Doctor ever will save the day. Part of this seems to have been quite deliberate in Beltempest and it works a treat: I was nervous as hell, all the way through. It might not be the eighth Doctor I thought we were going to get, but there might just be some life the concept yet.
And then we come to Sam. Ah, the favourite of reviewers. Sam the caring. Sam the idealist. Sam the bloody-minded. She's so wonderful to talk about, because there's so much there to dislike. This is no generic shrinking-violet companion, who twists ankles and screams for help. This is no companion who rushes in blindly to try and make things better. No, this companion is dangerous.
I've given up all hope that we'll ever see the more mature Sam that Seeing I led us to expect. Obviously something didn't click or somebody never got a memo, but Seeing I appears to have been an aberration, nothing more. Here, she's gained three years of life, but no more sense. From the moment she decided to cast the Doctor's bag of goodies aside (for no reason whatsoever), it's clear that this is teen-Sam in all but name.
She's starting to remind me of the seventh Doctor in some ways. When writing for the great masterplanner, the authors had it easy: they didn't even need to construct a problem and have the Doctor swanning in to sort it out. Suddenly, the rules had changed and the Doctor became the problem. You could use this newly pro-active character as a catalyst for the events, setting things in motion and watching the plot spin out from there. In many ways, Sam serves the same function. She's not a spectator. She doesn't rush in blindly. No, she rushes in deliberately and the ensuing problems result because of her, not in spite of her.
And I have to say that I quite like this. There's been too much attempt to make Sam work, to make her likable and endearing. It obviously hasn't worked, so it's time to do something different, something nastier. The Sam of Beltempest is incredible. Not because I sympathise with her, or like her, or that she reminds me of myself or my friends. No, this Sam is like watching an accident in slow motion. Not just any accident, but an accident that started with the best of intentions and continued to snowball, with cause piling upon effect until there was absolutely nothing to be done but stand well back and watch in a mixture of horror and wonder. This is the Sam that I can enjoy reading about. This Sam will make things right and make you happy, whether you want to be or not. This Sam cares. And that should scare the willies out of everyone. More like this, please.
In summary, Beltempest is a well-written, fast paced, page-turning book, that seems to stumble when it comes to characterisation of any of the original characters. The regulars are now a terrifying combination of goon and evangelical crusader. I don't know how this tale was squeezed into 249 pages, but I'm not sure I want to. I recommend it, but I'd like to stick government warnings on the back cover. Proceed, but with caution. Oh, and after the events of this book, Sam is now immortal. God help us all.
A Review by Dr. Terry Evil 6/4/99
Babylon 5's own Bristol bristler Jim Mortimore is now so established as a Doctor Who author pursuing his own unique path, that he can here present us with a story that just says 'Jim Mortimore' in huge BDO letters and leave it at that. Taking the planet-sized birth theme of Parasite and stirring in a dollop of the worldwide calamities presented in Eternity Weeps, he has managed to whip up a story both sexily incomprehensible but also entirely forgettable. Set in a star system about to go boom, it features a religion of death worshipers usurped by someone with the power of eternal life, whilst the Doctor and Sam run around futilely trying to save lives and acquiring information and then not telling us about it.
Sure, there are megadeaths-a-plenty but not once throughout the entire typically breaknecked-paced story to we get the impression that this is actually happening to a living, breathing civilisation. It's as if a story has been concentrated down from its original Bible-like length into a decidedly snug 249 pages. This may be handy if you happen to be in a hurry, but no good if you reach the end of the book with no idea who the bloody hell the Hanakoi are supposed to be, beyond a 'system co-habitee' aside (that's rather a lot of people and a whole history of discovery and integration we'll never know about then).
This sort of 'quick, before the plot catches up' approach can often work, as it did in Eternity Weeps, where a simple tale of innocent terraforming gone out of control was enhanced -- and certainly not slowed down -- by peripheral details. In Beltempest, Mortimore lets his storytelling run away with him, resulting in a mess of planets identified with roman numerals, lead characters popping in and out with no explanation of how they got there, and the afore-mentioned lack of detail regarding presenting an entire alien civilisation in a believable way. It's like trying to hold a bread-less jam sandwich in your hand.
Tempest in a Teacup by Jason A. Miller 7/7/99
It's a sign of the Apocalypse when one can boil down the post-modern, avant-garde, post-plot, metaphysical novel into a neat potboiler formula. As far as Jim Mortimore is concerned, the universe has long since passed the point of total collapse. It's Apocalypse Now and Again, second verse, same as the first.
Beltempest (or "Bel Tempest", as it's referred to in United States' bookstore catalogues, perhaps a better title) is an excellent novel. There's an apocalypse, Doctor Who style. There's religion, death, and no sex. There's a death toll of millions, almost entirely off-screen; Mortimore chooses to focus instead on half a dozen or so (interesting) characters, some of whom perish, some of whom don't. There's a lot of technobabble and a lot of philosophy. There are motifs, recurring symbols and jokes, and a very televisual structure which echoes the direction of Geoffrey Sax.
But for Jim Mortimore, none of this is new ground. The themes of sentient ecosystems and biological rape were explored well in Lucifer Rising, and less so in Parasite. Even Blood Heat examined this to a very small degree. Every novel confined to a single planet but tied in to the face of a Universe, or Universes. With this new Bel tempest, it's not the familiar story that counts, but rather how the Doctor and Sam react to, and are affected by, the catastrophe.
Beltempest was the last Eight Doctor novel of 1998. 1998 was the close of the third calendar year, Paul McGann time, and of the second year of Eight Doctor novels. But after all this time, authors are still re-examining the themes of the Geoffrey Sax/Matt Jacobs telemovie! (Recite: Life with a capital "L"; a humanoid female Doctor who acts as the moral conscience for our own Eighth, who hums eternally the same bit of opera which killed Sylvester McCoy and birthed himself) Even the direction, with intercutting, repetition of key events, and terse scenes cum camera angles, is identical.
Beltempest has a downer of an ending if you read it too closely, but it's also bittersweet and happy in other lights. The Doctor (written here with a manic askewity that at least belies the dull photocopy seen in other books; this is the real McGann, at least, even if it's the same old aria) is vindicated. He offers Life; those who accept it, live, and those who attempt to use it as a weapon, don't. And he only gets shot once.
The novel's massive liability is, of course, Sam Jones. The notion of the companion turned evil was shown best on this past season's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, via the tempted Faith. If only Sam's conversion in Beltempest had ended as did "Graduation Day"; alas, while Sam goes through major issues requiring industrial strength therapy, we know that by the next novel, she'll be back to status quo -- sans any of the measured changes wrought by Mortimore and Jon Blum & Kate Orman in 1998. Like Ace at the end of Parasite, this Sam may be beyond recrimination, beyond everything. But next book, she'll be 17 again and described solely by what indie group's T-shirt she wears. And that strange fate is a tempest for some other author's teacup.
A Review by Peter Drew 6/10/99
Beltempest is awful plain & simple. More specifically, its plot is murky & unclear; its characterization of the Doctor is terrible; its prose reads like poetry penned by Stephen Hawking; & lastly it's just a collage of intellectual masturbation rather than an interesting & thought provoking tale.
The author sets his goals very high, indeed you can't fault the original concepts being presented in this book. However, the execution is lacking in skill & effect. There are several instances where a story line is going along & all of a sudden-BAM-the characters involved are in a completely different setting with little or no explanation of how the narrative got from point a to point b. Now, this is not to support connect the dots storytelling, indeed complexity is a good thing, but in Beltempest the complexity comes not from the elements comprising the story but rather the omittance of key details leaving the reader scratching his/her head. To complicate matters even further things are described in such a huge scale there is no possible way to grasp a story, identify with characters, or keep a reader's attention. It's stange because there are a lot of things here that could make a really good read: exploding suns, suicide cults, mysterious aliens, & some unexplained phenomena that seems to be tying everything together. However the author wastes these opportunities & ends up being too ambitious (clever?) for his own good. The end product is a really watered down pseudo philosophical science fiction epic.
Next the characterization of the Doctor is very annoying & tedious. For some reason, the Doctor is constantly engaged in multiple activities simultaneously. He seems to enjoy being dreadfully serious one minute & playfully idiotic the next. This sledgehammer technique of attempting to portray the Doctor as some kind of magically unusual omniscient being fails miserably as superficial & irritating. The juxtaposition of superior intelligence & knowledge with childish tomfoolery destroys any credibility to the character & the series of events involving him. Agreed the Doctor is a complex character who cannot be described through conventional standards, but the technique used here in Beltempest is trite & intolerable.
The book's style is incredibly dull & boring. The reader is treated to unending paragraphs of drab descriptive narratives of abstract concepts such as planets mating, supernovas, & vague mysterious aliens. Topics are brought up without any real physical description with long cumbersome vocabulary. The author must have had a handy thesaurus nearby when penning this tome. Also, there are a number of sequences within the novel where the author tries to communicate states of mind by scattering words across the page in a disjointed manner. Literally there are whole pages with maybe 15 words on it. It's a really juvenile way of writing & an ineffective device to convey the state of mind of characters. Thirdly, the book reads more like Stephen Hawking than Doctor Who with all the half-assed attempts to explain existence, the scale of planets & suns, & god. Bringing heavy intellectual topics such as these into a genre that is usually considered brain junk food is really praiseworthy, however, the author does not have the creative skill to weave them into an interesting & thought provoking story.
The end feeling one gets after completing this book is unsatisfying. Rather than being entertained by storytelling, one feels like they've just been lectured by the author for 249 pages on his own philosophical beliefs. There are no real characters to empathize with. The narrative hops from place to place sporadically with an in your face attitude that dares the reader to grasp the entirety of things in one reading. This is not a request for light storytelling with simple good-versus evil plot lines or cookie-cutter type science fiction. The criticism is of poor storytelling sacrificed for the sake of intellectual masturbation & personal creative expression. The criticism is not in the ideas themselves but rather the amateur ham-fisted manner in which they were envisioned. In the future write books with stories, don't preach.
A Review by Dominick Cericola 4/5/00
I must confess: This was the first Mortimore Who novel I read that wasn't a virtual bloodbath. Sure, there were casualities, but it was expected, almost accepted, as part of the rhyme and reason of everything. And, you know what? It made for a welcome change.. :) Now, for the real review..
Beltempest is one hell of an Eighth Doctor Adventure. From beginning to end, the entire story held my attention, never once forcing me to wonder if I made the right decision in buying it. Everything about was top notch, way above the top. Let me try and break this down somewhat..
The Characters. Ah, why couldn't all the EDAs deal with one set version of The Doctor, one not unlike this one? Mortimore's rendering of The 8th Doctor has him as a less angst-filled persona, laced with an almost child-like innocence (running parallel to Jon Blum's depiction of him in his Short Trips contribution, "Model Train Set"). He is a Doctor who knows what has gone before and is trying his damnedest to make sure he doesn't repeat himself, while at the same time trying to make the Universe a better place to exist in..
And, then there was Sam.. Yes, another fine performance for Our Miss Jones. None of this "I'm a Carbon Copy of Ace.." or "Ooh, feel bad for me..". Jim has given us a focused, determined young lady who is growing with each adventure in the TARDIS, and her decisions in this tale certainly prove she is a far cry from the high school girl we were introduced to The Eight Doctors.
The Story. There is so much going on in this one.. Yes, many have compared it to Mortimore's 7th Doctor adventure, Parasite. And, while this is kinda true, I think here, in this direction, it works, given it a more fulfilling, more focused approach to what he dealt with in Parasite.
One of the strongest themes throughout the story is the Freedom to Choose, as regarding Religion and Matters of Faith. It's a rather heavy issue, but one in which, surprisingly, Mortimore, pulls off well without it becoming preachy or so heavy that you want to hang yourself. Considering what is going on in my Life offline, this plot was really important to me, kinda helping to stabilize some of the "grey" areas I am trying to iron out.
In closing, let me just say this.. Jim Mortimore has had his share of dark books, but that doesn't mean he can't change. And, with Beltempest, he shows us another side to him, one in which I hope we see more of in adventures yet to come. Cheers, gang...
A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 6/7/01
This book consists of two main sections separated by a short interlude. The first part is one hundred and eighty pages long and the second part is fifty-nine pages long. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to notice that the last section is quite a bit shorter than the first, and this is what kills the story dead. The shorter section is just as important to the story (indeed, it's where most of the major developments occur) but things are skipped over at a ludicrous rate. This culminates at the conclusion where we go from the potential destruction of an entire solar system to the resolution of the story inside two pages without any explanation. We aren't told anything about how the regulars escaped certain death, what the eventual fate of the star system and it's billions of inhabitants are, whether the aliens survived and just what on earth happened to Sam.
This was an extremely frustrating conclusion to the story, as I had been greatly enjoying the first two hundred or so pages. There are some fascinating discussions on religion and the power of a leader. Never do these become overbearing or tiresome. In fact, they were by far my favourite parts of the beginning and middle of the book. I grew impatient during the Doctor sections and the long explanations of the Beltempest star life cycles and wanted to get back to the sections I was enjoying. That said, I thought the Doctor got a very good showing in this book. While he's not given a lot to do, he handles his role with a lot of humour and charm. Jim Mortimer manages to give the Doctor the innocence that we've seen in Vampire Science and Seeing I without falling into the trap of "the Doctor as a congenial idiot".
This book could really have benefited from a stricter editor. The prose was quite literally all over the place; in some places it's utilitarian, in others it tries to be poetical and in others it's incomprehensible. It's as if Mortimer was having major mood swings while writing this and let whatever whim he was experiencing at the moment dictate the tone of the prose he was currently creating. This would not necessarily be a bad thing, except that it leads to a few areas of incoherence where the reader is left unsure of what actually happened. And I'm not speaking about the author being deliberately ambiguous, I'm talking about confusion over how characters got to certain places, why people were trusting the Doctor without question, where some characters had been inserted into the narrative, etc. I don't mind having to piece together things without help from the author, but I am annoyed when people start following the Doctor around when they actually have more of a reason to stay where they are. Characters and character motivation are not something that feature heavily in this book.
The story contains the same faults as the prose. At times it's brilliant and at other times (such as the aforementioned non-ending) it's missing. I can just imagine in the future an editor standing over Mortimer demanding that he finish writing the chapters he's doing before moving on to the next good idea. "No, Jim, this is a great idea and you already have the first seventy-five percent of it finished. All you have to do is to finish writing the ending and it will be brilliant."
To sum it up, this is a very good book that's let down by some very big flaws. It's odd that a story that feels so rushed is actually about thirty or forty pages shorter than the Doctor Who range average. If Mortimer had taken the time to flesh out some of the good ideas that were present here (and bothered to write an ending), I think Beltempest would stand to be one of the all-time best Doctor Who books. As it exists now, it's a bit of an oddity.
A Review by Terrence Keenan 2/1/02
This is a book about ideas, really big ideas. Not the normal big ideas that float through a Doctor Who novel: continuity, canonicity, ideas on what Doctor Who means to the author.
Jim Mortimore is aiming much higher. His ideas are on religion, choice, what is best for humanity and what it means to be a savior. These are not the normal ideas in a DW novel.
The story is obstensibly about the death of a solar system. Weird events occur as the sun Bel is on it's last legs. The Doctor and Sam are drawn to this part of the universe by the TARDIS. An odd religious cult, led by Eldred Saketh, is converting people to their cause by promising immortality, and events spiral out of control from this basic premise.
The prose is gorgeous. Mortimore uses all sorts of trick and tools to his advantage: alliteration, poetic constructs, toe-tingling descriptions. And throughout it all, he stays on point with the thematic ideas he brings up, tying it all together by the end.
The regulars are off point, but within the context and the themes Mortimore is playing with, the characters are on point. The Doctor is the TV movie character taken to almost ludicrous extremes, a whiling dervish of childish fun helping out when he can and not worrying what the consequences might be, making him more dangerous than he is helpful.
Sam? Well, Miss Samantha Jones is the novel's centerpiece character, the one who is most impacted by the concepts and ideas Mortimore writes about. And what happens to her is astonishing, making her the most dangerous companion ever to come along. She wants to help, but all the ways that are far more frightening than comforting. This Sam Jones will help you, whether you want help or not.
This is one for the rad camp. This is a book with an agenda that doesn't ram said agenda down your throat. Instead it throws everything up against a wall. It's left to the reader which ideas will stick or which will slide off. Beltempest is a book about big ideas that are far beyond the usual big DW ideas. The Chutzpah that Mortimore shows in writing this book makes it recommended, if not all that likable.
7 out of 10
A Review by Sean Twist 1/10/02
I don't think Beltempest is something you enjoy. And I don't think it's so horrid as to be something you simply endure, in order to achieve Who Fan nirvana by reading every single Eighth Doctor novel. I think the best way to describe Beltempest is an experience.
I've always been one to quickly raise an eyebrow at people who cling to their beloved definitions of what 'makes' a Doctor Who story. Towards the end of the Virgin New Adventures, when things became very dark indeed in terms of story, I found fan complaints about the violence and nastiness to be just short of infantile. If they wanted comfort reading, pick up a Star Trek novel, the McDonalds of SF.
But now, after reading Beltemptest, I have a definition of what makes a Who story. A vague one, to be sure, but here it is: Death has to have a moral consequence.
There is plenty of death in Beltempest. In the millions. There is plenty of suffering and agony. Planets die, people die with them. In the end, the death loses all personal feeling, and just becomes a steadily rising number. And that is something, I feel, doesn't belong in a Doctor Who story.
To be fair, Mortimore does try to put a human face on the death, but he is constricted by the rather small page count of this book. To be fair, Sam is used to convey the horror of the devastation. Her reaction is perhaps the only one anyone could have: she goes mad. Yet this isn't dealt with in enough detail, and before we know it, the book collapses to an end.
And that's the problem with Beltempest. With a story this -- and I hate using this word, but it's the only one appropriate -- cosmic, you would need several books to fully explore the humanity destroyed here, the choices made, the losses felt. Instead, it feels rushed. Mortimore is a very gifted writer in being able to convey as much as he does, but more space -- and time -- is needed.
Did I enjoy Beltempest? No, not really. Did I find it agonizing to read? No, because there is craft and talent here. I just don't really want to repeat this experience again. Like a particularly stomach churning ride at an amusement park, at least I can say I read it. I can admire how it made me feel ill, and wonder at the genius of its construction. But I won't be picking up a return ticket.
Give Mortimore space to put a more human face on his cosmic epics of loss and horror, and one day, a true Who classic may emerge.
But this isn't it.
A Review by Rob Matthews 28/11/02
(Thanks to lovely Joe Ford for letting me know about the cheap P/EDAs at The Works!)
Jim Mortimore's one of those great Who authors with a vision very much their own - much like those other blokes I always mention in this context, Miles, Magrs and Mick Lewis. After getting hold of a copy of Blood Heat I knew his writing had a tremendous physical intensity and sense of scope. After the stunning Eye of Heaven I knew I'd found another author to stick with, and that his name on a book jacket was - for me - probably a pretty good sign.
And so to Beltempest. Well, you can't fault it for ambition. I always think that's a good thing. I much prefer artists who aim high and miss than aim low and hit their target dead on. For example (and completely tangentially), I thought this summer's Attack of the Clones was better than the absurdly over-praised Spiderman, because though both films were guilty of frequent clumsiness and atrocious 'romantic' dialogue, I at least didn't walk out of Clones feeling like I'd seen it before. It seemed to me that Spiderman was praised for its plodding nuts-and-bolts competence; a quality I think of more as drawback than virtue.
Does all of the above mean that Jim Mortimore aims high and misses? Well, yes and no. I won't pretend to entirely understand everything that happened in the book, but I ought to point out that the high confusion count didn't bother me either. For me it makes a book more interesting that it's a bit of a struggle, that it confounds you every time you think you're getting a handle on what's going on.
So it's a massive and massively confusing book. Indeed, it's scale is something of a problem, since Jim rests the crazy-paving fractures of his narrative against a background of of violent death, on a scale that's impossible to conceive. That's part of his theme, of course, the inhuman and unimaginable massiveness of the universe and of time itself - but it's surely a major obstacle to creating a narrative that a reader can engage with. His description of Bel and its planets often lapses in awfully clunky poetry and inappropriately anthropomorhic metaphors - that is, he occasionally describes these cosmic events through analogies to human behaviour, even though he argues more frequently that they can't be understood in these terms. Generally he acknowledges that the planet-sized beings and their actions are conceivable in the abstract, but he couldn't make me interested in them, except as metaphors for a faceless sovereign universe that doesn't give a damn about you and me.
Thus - unavoidably - it's a cold and conceptual book, albeit not one that's without sensation. As you might expect of Mortimore, though, that sensation is pain. It's the crush of bodies together, or the pressure on your chest as you start to asphyxiate (a sensation I, as a London Underground user, may get to experience myself). Mortimore's writing is always acutely aware of what it's like to be acutely aware there's something wrong with your body.
Where it fails in comparison to Eye of Heaven is that that book had a similarly shattered narrative structure that was only deceptively chaotic. Eye unfolded as it went along from a story on a comprehensible human scale to an implied epic on an interplanetary scale. The final revelations felt rushed, but we were prepared for them. Beltempest, on the other hand, overwhelms us right from the off by beginning not with individuals, or even a society, but rather with a solar system. Immediately it feels abstract and alienating. But I guess in that sense it does start as it means to go on.
On one level it seems to be about how dangerous the Doctor and his friends can actually be; specifically, how dangerous Sam's zealous idealism can be when coupled with a bit of power. I must admit, I don't think I've read enough of the EDAs to really know the Sam who fans love to hate. I'm not sure what she did in the first place to incur such venom. A lot of the books I've read that feature her (such as Alien Bodies, Unnatural History, Revolution Man, Interference) seem in part to be a reaction to fan reaction to Sam. If that makes sense. I get the feeling the authors of those novels are quite well aware of how unpopular she is, and are making attempts to address the issue, while not actually trying to make her more likeable. Certainly Mortimore's not out to endear her to anyone...
His treatment of Sam is pretty successful, and though I'm not sure how everything was finally resolved, I guessed going in that this was the type of book that would leave you with more questions than answers (though thankfully, not literally a la The Blue Angel). Since that's true to the author's terms I didn't have a problem with it. The biggest failure of characterisation in the book, however, is that of the Second Doctor. Fair enough, Troughton's a hard one to pull off on the page, but-
What's that you say? This is the Eighth Doctor? My arse it is. I've got to disagree with Finn Clark here; the Doctor of Beltempest is very much an empty collection of mannerisms, Troughton and Tommy B without the loveability. His childish would-be funny incongruous behaviour in the dire circumstances depicted irritated me no end, and I was left wondering why he didn't get punched in the face by the supporting cast a lot more often. He just comes across like a complete tosser, and - scanning the above reviews -, the fact that readers accepted this as a viable portrayal not that long ago suggests that the EDAs really were in trouble for a while. But of course, they were on the other hand also producing books as ambitious and high quality as this one, Interference and The Blue Angel... I think I'll just shrug off Mortimore's Eigth Doc as an abberation.
Beltempest is on the whole a flawed but heroic book. The flaws are large, but the book's gigantic enough to survive them.
Bloodbath... by Joe Ford 2/3/04
I have a universe-sized headache. I have just finished Beltempest for the second time and I am enjoying a large whiskey and it is only 7.10 in the morning. This is such a horrific book in so many respects it is almost as good as Doctor Who comes in print. And as bad as it comes too.
Jim Mortimore is a very clever man, of that I have no doubt. This book is a cornucopia of huge ideas that Doctor Who rarely has the audacity to explore, religion, death, global panic, life that comes in all shapes, existence... oh yes you will feel your mind expanding with the possibilities as you tread through Beltempest's pages. It is just a shame that Mortimore refuses to tell his story in a satisfying narrative. This book is a mush of intelligence and tempestuous science that refuses to gel into a coherent story.
The biggest problem with the book is the ending, which is squeezed into about twenty pages where another two hundred are needed. Part one of Beltempest hurles many of the brilliant concepts at you and it is only fair to admit I was expecting the second part to deal with them in a dramatic and satisfying manner. Dramatic, yes, satisfying, no. If there was ever a book that required an Interference length it is Beltempest but instead the finale that shows the Doctor hopping about from plot to plot in the blink of an eye is rushed into a few lines of explanation, huge twists skipped over thanks to the rapidly depleting number of pages left. And in the most stultifying numbing ending the history of Doctor Who a lot people die in a moment of inevitability and our two heroes leave, completely oblivious to the massacre they have been responsible for. This is shock Doctor Who and no mistake and I don't like it one bit. Talk about sweeping all the mess under the carpet, none of the ideas flourish as they should, nobody learns anything from the mass destruction and the book even refuses to give any characters a send off, just kills them all off. It's lazy and incomprehensible since this sort of 'tidy' ending should never have escaped past the editor. It is almost as if Jim Mortimore was bored with these ideas now and ready to start his next book and decided to wrap everything up in thirty pages. I turned the last page thinking, "Was that it?"
A crying shame because some part of me was actually involved with the first two hundred pages. This is a writer who has the imagination to take an entire solar system and make a character out of it, one that is very slowly dying. A solar system disaster story that takes place over 249 pages has Jim Mortimore stamped all over it and one he almost does justice to by adopting a omnipresent prose style that treats the planets as characters over the human characters. This is a book that is far more intelligent than most readers will understand. The villain of the piece is the sun of the Bel system and the victims are the hopeless, helpless planets. The mass slaughter of the people that crawl over these planets is just an unfortunate side effect. What a scary way of looking at things, a book where the death of millions is breezed past as inconsequential compared to the death of one, planet sized infant. It's a bold and groundbreaking take on the Doctor Who universe, one that is usually happy to limit itself to human (or aliens that behave pretty much like humans) drama. Unfortunately it isn't a very likable innovation, my brain and many others geared to the idea that human life IS important. You can't argue with the book's scale and imagination, just with its morality.
Death. I thought I could smell burning flesh whilst reading this book (but it turned out Simon was cooking sausages in the next room) such was the brain expanding love this book takes in exploring such a dark theme. Why didn't they go all the way and have the pages splattered with blood? Beltempest is only one step away from that already. What frightens me is that the reader is never allowed to get close to any of the victims of this system wide devastation, in a blunt, informal manner we are informed that more and more people have died. But there is no feeling there, no reason to care. We don't know these people, just that they are dying. How terrifying is that? It is almost as if Mortimore wanted us to question our own reaction to murder... when you hear of a man being stabbed to death on the street in London, miles away from where you live and with no connections to you whatsoever do you really give a shit besides a sympathetic sigh of despair? Had he bothered to colour in any of these civilisations perhaps I could have shed a tear or two but all I felt was a cold, empty void of depression. Mortimore snuffs out planets like candles after a dinner party, concerned more with the ecological ramifications than the effect on human life. Perhaps he had a very disturbing childhood.
The most distressing thing about Beltempest and also one of the best things about it is the sense of panic Mortimore manages to achieve. Seen mostly through the eyes of the Doctor and Sam, the destruction of the Bel system is captured with a frightening sense of urgency. The sun is a big, bad bastard and nobody can stop it, it will consume all life and it is only a matter of time. Status is dismissed in the thrall of human panic, nobody wants to die but everybody knows they will and so they make noise. Lots and lots of noise. While I was reading the sections with Sam amongst the refugees I was deeply in impressed with the way Mortimore captured the feeling of desperation, the crushing crowds, the murderous unfeeling mob doing anything to survive. It made me sick to the stomach to see people trampling over children in order to reach an escape vessel and survive but soon got me thinking, would we abandon our morals if our life were threatened? What would it take to create a slaughterhouse of despair like this in the centre of London, to see people attacking each other for a chance to live? Scary thought and portrayed with unthinking nakedness by the author. Sam is lost amongst this frantic crowd and we are there with her, the suffocating prose burrowing deep inside of you.
Who the hell thought up the name Sam Jones? Every time I see it in black and white I shake my head with astonishment. It's almost as if they WANT you to hate her! I cannot think of a name more suited to its owner than in Beltempest, the worst Sam book by a huge leap. Bland, unimaginative, childish and boring... that's what I think of the name Sam Jones.
It baffles me that anyone would want to take Sam in this direction and for an editor who must (by now) be fully aware of resistance to the character to openly push her towards such unlikable extremes is proof enough of the problems the novels were in at the time. Mortimore willingly propels Sam into a new level of fan hatred, ducking past Dodo, bonking Adric on the head and settling somewhere near Mel, although Sam is a little further ahead.
In Beltempest we get inside Sam's head as she is consumed by an alien force so you could technically say that she is not responsible for her own actions but since said infection takes place on page 180 there is room to slaughter that argument. Kate Orman and Jon Blum must have wept when they read this, sweating blood in Seeing I to see that Sam is reborn a likable, mature character only to see it torn away here by an unthinking author who uses her as a tool to explore his alien concepts. She has no character beyond her obsessive childishness and wish to grow up (Mortimore regularly refers to her time away from the Doctor on Ha'olam but then actively dismisses it by forcing her to act so immaturely, proving she learnt nothing during those three years).
She is constantly fighting the Doctor for what reasons I have no idea and they just serve to frustrate the reader. When he offers her a bag of goodies to help her survive she dumps them at the nearest opportunity. She says she needs to be away from him for no reason other than to upset him. There is an entire solar system falling to pieces and Sam thinks this is the perfect time to find herself and try and figure out her relationship with the Doctor.
Later on when she starts receiving visions from the Hoth things go from bad from worse. Not only is Sam a angst ridden teenager with a serious hormone imbalance, now she is hysterical, insane and worst of all... trying to save peoples lives in her own special way. Ripping away the choice of death from people she sets about handing out immortality en masse. This is more frightening than any mass slaughter. You have to wonder why the Doctor is so obsessed with keeping this monster so close, she is clearly unbalanced and fights his every effort to help. It makes him look like an idiot for remaining a friend of somebody so messed up. Ace was bad enough.
Ahh yes the Doctor, a factor of much debate for this novel. Is he a worthy adaptation of the TV movie persona or a blatant rip off of the excesses of previous incarnations rolled up into one uber-annoying grin? Well a little of both actually, I can see what Finn is saying when he says he is genuinely funny and readable and I can see what Rob is saying when he says he finds him extremely annoying. The Doctor is on total overdrive, he never shuts up, stops moving or winding people up. I expected him to be shot more than once throughout the course of the book but alas once was all we got. There are some ultra cool Doctor moments such as riding the super destructive tidal wave or standing up in Parliament and forcing them to accept his plan with a perfectly worded speech but then there are some equally crushing moments where you just want to kill him. He is constantly distracted, name-dropping and rarely does anything in the book that prevents lives being lost. Indeed, he is responsible for the loss of so many lives before the final page it almost makes the good work of his previous seven incarnations practically redundant. I've always heard of the USELESS eighth Doctor but rarely seen him in the flesh... here he is for all to marvel at, perpetrator of at least three major disasters in the book.
I kind of enjoyed the intelligent dialogue everybody seemed to say, it was unrealistic to be sure that everyone in the book should be engaged in philosophical debate but much of what is said means something and gets you thinking. That helps in a book this distant. While the arguments between Sam and Denadi/Saketh drone on, pushing religion to the fore, much of the existential conversation between the Doctor and Conaway is blisteringly thoughtful. So there you go.
I don't know what to say about Beltempest, as there has never been another Doctor Who book like it. I have never read another book like this in any genre. It is in a league of its own, brilliant, bold, deadly... a prose style that captures individual moments with shocking realism and yet passes over cataclysmic events with little more than a yawn. Where an entire solar system is devastated and the Doctor's companion achieves immortality. It's sick, sick, sick and yet strangely compelling, the scale and importance of the threat dragging you into its defeatist depths.
The only problem is I hate it.
A Review by Alexander Kershaw 17/12/04
I picked up this book quite a while ago when a friend bought it for me last christmas. At first the book seemed interesting, but the quality of what I was reading changed so erratically I had to put it down and pick it up a few weeks later. Beltempest has quite a good beginning and it sets the scene well, but the beginning is so confusing I had to read the first part about 3 times before I properly understood it. But in a way the plot seems so non-existent, it just feels like the Doctor and Sam going from world to world trying to save a sun from something that is explained so appallingly I still don't understand it.
The main problem with the book is really rather shallow, it is the fact that you can't tell who's speaking half the time, which becomes extremely frustrating. The other problem is that you go from world to world so often that you don't feel you have enough time to get to know anyone. I also disliked the whole bodily regeneration thing which was also explained rather poorly.
But enough of the bad points, this book is well written, and is even funny in places despite the mass death. You feel a real sense of panic amongst the people whose governments have almost deserted them, and as I don't like the character of Sam, it is nice to know that she is bitten and becomes one of the regenerated freaks. Overall, it's a good read and well worth picking up even if you just want to sleight it
A Review by Steve White 8/10/14
Beltempest is an Eighth Doctor novel by Jim Mortimore and not one I was looking forward to reading as I loathed his previous novel Eye of Heaven, and it has garnered awful reviews pretty much across the board.
The story starts with a prequel detailing an impossible triple eclipse of a dying star and its subsequent impossible rebirth before moving into the present day with the Doctor and Sam being seemingly sucked out of the TARDIS and thrust into the Bel system in the midst of some odd solar behaviour. The Doctor joins a rescue party and saves a spaceship from destruction whilst Sam gets rescued by Father Denadi, a religious freak who thinks death is the answer to eternal life beyond. Denadi is then shown up by an old follower Saketh, who is seemingly immortal, proving eternal life doesn't necessarily mean death. The Doctor then realises the sun (Bel) is in danger of wiping out all life in the system and sets off to help whilst Sam throws a hissy fit and throws her lot in with the religious weirdos. The plot device of the odd behaviour of the sun draws similarities to the previous novel in the range, The Janus Conjunction. Whilst this would normally bug me, the fact Mortimore references this in the novel, and has the Doctor wondering if the TARDIS is doing it deliberately somehow makes it all OK.
The second half kicks off with Sam having to decide whether or not to take the communion from Saketh and accept everlasting life to save a newborn baby and its father. We are then treated to an entire chapter of seemingly drug-fuelled deliberations that make very little sense to anything that has gone previously both in this novel and the series to date. We later find out it's some sort of alien influence, trying to tell the people that they need to let the sun die to save them. The aliens then turn up as three huge planets and we learn they left their child to grow inside the sun and it now needs to be born, something that will wipe out all life in the system. Sam then goes crazy and converts millions to immortality before it is explained that the immortality is a form of nanotechnology left behind by the original inhabitants of the system and that it has taken on a life of its own, saving any who are converted and also restoring the sun to its pre-impregnated state.
The Doctor in question is the 8th, or so the cover says at least. What we actually have is a Doctor more akin to David Tennant, youthful, exuberant and bouncing off the walls, which I quite enjoyed reading about if the truth be told, especially how he escapes from capture using a chocolate firing gun. I was a little bit put off by the Doctor doing his "all life is precious" speech but then showing a distinct lack of compassion for the many people who die throughout the novel. He also shows incredibly technological knowhow, creating force fields capable of lifting entire spaceships and repelling tsunamis with ease which is a little unbelievable. Overall, I enjoyed the portrayal despite it not being the Eighth in any way; honestly though, as fun as he was to read, Mortimore has got the Doctor completely and utterly wrong so he loses some serious points here.
Likewise, Sam is also incredibly badly written. Seeing I and the 4 following novels may as well not have happened as the Sam we have here is back to the whiny teenage version of old. The Doctor needs her help to sort out the sun, but she'd rather question his motives, claim he is acting like her parents and throw away a bag he gave her after letting her go off on her own. Her previously mentioned alien- presence-affected decision-making process was really hard to read and, when she did finally decide to become "immortal", she went crazy, which wasn't a great addition to the book.
The religious backstory is more interesting than religious backstories usually are. Father Denadi is obviously a bit tapped, as he believes you need to get your soul ready to become Endless, then kill yourself to achieve it. As soon as you think he's mad though, Sekath comes along and claims to have achieved becoming Endless whilst still alive and has become immortal. All of a sudden, you don't know which of them is mad or what to think about the whole situation. Both characters are very well written and totally believable. Its a good plot device, and it is never really explained who was right, so it symbolizes our own religions.
The other characters do tend to fade into obscurity though. Caraway is obviously meant to be important, but she never becomes more than a 2D, Grace replacement for the Doctor to talk at throughout, and Smoot could be an old military mind from anywhere in space and time.
After reading reviews and fan opinion on this novel, I really thought I would dislike Beltempest, but I really didn't find too much to hate about it aside from the extremely poor characterisation of the series regulars. Even then, I thoroughly enjoyed the portrayal of the Doctor, even though I knew I shouldn't. The jumbled storytelling of Mortimore's Eye of Heaven is thankfully absent, and the plot is enough to keep you entertained throughout the reasonably short novel. I certainly didn't struggle to read it, as I have with previous Doctor Who novels, so it can't have been that bad.