Eternity Weeps
Beyond the Sun (Audio)
Virgin Books
Beyond the Sun
A Benny Adventure

Author Matthew Jones Cover taken from the excellent Doctor Who books page
ISBN# 0 426 20511 1
Published 1997
Cover Mark Salwowski

Synopsis: On an archaeological dig with a couple of inexperienced students, Bernice's ex-husband Jason turns up out of the blue. After that, things begin to go even more horribly wrong. Bernice and her students wind up on a prohibited planet, where the indigenous population is being enslaved by the cruel Sunless, in search of a weapon with powers "beyond the sun".


Doctor Who without the Doctor by Robert Smith? 16/1/99

In case you haven't noticed, Beyond the Sun is very much a Doctor Who story, with the exception of the ex-husband bit (unless there was something the Doctor wasn't telling us). The title is a bit of a hint, being the title of an abandoned William Hartnell story. Bernice is very Doctorish in many ways, but she does it on her own terms and this is never made absolutely explicit, providing the charming implication that she's really just doing what comes "naturally" to a former assistant turned star of her own series. The two students even serve as companions for the duration of the story!

The majority of Beyond the Sun can be summed up in one word: bleak. This is not to say that it's a bad book, however. Quite the contrary, in fact. However, the events are continually distressing for all involved, as well as the reader!

Fortunately, just when things turn bleakest, there is dramatic relief and one of the funniest scenes ever as Benny and friends try to break into the enemy HQ, armed with only some makeup and a few frocks!

The two students, Emile and Tameka are characterised very well. Not once did they seem contrived, even though in hindsight some of Tameka's affectations were a little convenient. The fact that the reader doesn't notice this and the actions spring naturally from the characters is a testament to the strength of the book. Emile is given more attention, with a journey of growth, but still remaining wonderfully in character. In fact, the two characters and their relationship to Benny and each other reminded me very strongly of Roz and Chris. I'm not sure this was intentional, but given the Doctor Who undertones this book possesses, I suspect it was.

However, aside from the Doctor Who-ish undertones, the book stands well on it's own right. The supporting characters are mostly well drawn (especially Kitzinger, Iranda and Scott, although Michael left me a little cold). And the resolution, something many New Adventures have problems with, is wonderful.

Overall, Beyond the Sun is a very strong entry in the Bernice New Adventures canon. It's a wonderful and very necessary look at Bernice as the central figure in a series of her own, the way the previous two books weren't. It's not all thrills, but it does take the reader on an interesting ride. The Doctor Who overtones in the final scenes are just perfect (both the final tagline and the question one character asks Benny when things are all concluded). Beyond the Sun is not quite the mind-blowing book the new New Adventures need to really cement their position, but it's exceedingly worthy and necessary. Recommended.

A Review by Sean Gaffney 8/10/99

Everyone seems to love this one. And it has some great bits. But...

Well, where to begin. Let's just take this in order:

PLOT: As someone pointed out in an earlier review, the exact same things would have happened, with a few less deaths, if Jason, Bernice & co. HADN'T been involved. The book started out very slowly (it was not a swift-reading tome), but got more involved as it went on. This was another book where you suspect that the ideas behind it were more important than the plot itself.

BERNICE: I've been reading these books in an odd order and therefore coming across Benny portrayed like this seems very odd. She seems very passive throughout, much like the Sunless around her. Certainly she gets very little chance to exhibit the charm that has endeared us to Bernice. Of course, that's because the plot doesn't allow her to.

JASON: I really like Jason, and was a bit disappointed that he didn't have more of the book. He came across as a bit of a git, really, in the Mortimore style rather than the Stone style.

TAMEKA and EMILE: Perhaps the book's biggest success. These were two very different and VERY interesting characters, bonding in ways they never would have otherwise. I am very glad that we'll see more of them.

VILLAINS: Um...well, lessee. The Sunless are too dull to be really evil, and Nikolas and Iranda were more sort of pathetic. So sort of a n/a here, except for the general feeling of despair.

STYLE: This is where the book falls apart for me. Now, I know that the Benny Books have a house style, and that's great. I don't mind serious Benny stories. But this was so bleak. Bleak and PASSIVE. You really didn't seem to care what happened to these people, because they didn't. It wasn't passionate. That may have been the point trying to be made about the Ursulans, but it's at the sacrifice of the reader's caring.

OTHER: The final paragraph, it must be said, is WONDERFUL. And, for reasons which most radwers except the old timers won't remember, I loved the "Git. Git. Git."

OVERALL: Another book where it's well-written, but I personally didn't care for it as much as others seem to have. Still, there are some good bits, and if you prefer your Bernice more mellow, than this might be for you.


Utterly Well Written by Peter Niemeyer 18/5/01

I am so blown away. I really enjoyed this book. I feel like the Doctor Who books are sort of a hit-and-miss affair. I'll like one, then I'll be impartial to the next, love the third, and despise the fourth. But the first three Benny books have been consistently good. I'm starting to be embarrassed that I didn't give these books a try back when they first came out, where in print, and weren't so hard to locate.

First off, the dialog is absolutely stellar. Much of it was lifted verbatim for the audio version, where it worked flawlessly, and I have always felt that things like that are one of the best tests of dialog that I can imagine.

As I mentioned in my review of the CD, I found the Ursu society fascinating. It really explored the notion of ownership, both of things and people, and although I may not agree with all the beliefs held by the Ursulans, I have to admit that the society sounded plausible. I also liked the notion that ancient societies don't leave their most powerful weapons lying around, and of course the question of what do they leave lying around.

I also liked the whole subplot about Emile coming to terms with being gay. I don't think homosexuality was ever hinted at in any of the televised material (well, maybe the Telemovie Master and Cho Je...), but it's gotten some air time in the novels (Marlow in The Empire of Glass and Mel's friend in Business Unusual come to mind). I'm not suggesting that every book should be about the homoerotic sexcapades of the Doctor and his companions, but I do like the occasional dabbling into the subject matter. It makes the Whoniverse more authentic to me. And, as a person who went through what Emile did (though admittedly not with a partially-scaled Ursulan), I can attest that Jones's account is spot on.

Some of the previous reviews have mentioned how this book was a downer. I didn't find it to be that way. I would agree that the scenes with Kitzinger and Nikolas had a brutalness to them, but these didn't form the bulk of the novel. The description of the Ursulan society being repressed by the Sunless also seemed harsh, but it also felt accurate and it wasn't sensationalized for its own sake. I felt that the book had enough upbeat notes that I wasn't too depressed by it. Not as light as Oh No It Isn't, but then what has been?

When it's all said and done, I'd like to seem some of the characters in future Benny books. I'd mostly like to see Tameka and Emile, as they would be the most natural ones for Benny to bump into, but Scott and/or Kitzinger would also be welcome. And of course, I look forward to seeing more of Jason. Any book that makes me want to see more of the characters has obviously done its job in entertaining me.

And now, I'm finally on to the first non-audio-adapted Benny book. Wish me luck on the Ship of Fools.

Was This Book Worth the Money I Spent On It: This was another bargain. I'd have paid twice to cover price and still felt like I got the better end of the deal.

A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 1/4/03

I'm not quite sure what to make of Beyond The Sun. At times it feels as though it simply isn't trying very hard, as if it's coasting on a reputation that it hasn't earned. It's certainly not a bad book; I found myself mostly engrossed in its straightforward plot. But it has enough flaws in it that I must reserve myself from fully recommending it. It's fairly unambitious, which isn't a crime unto itself (though personally I do prefer to read about something that's trying to be original), but it constantly seems to think that it's better than it really is. Its occasional attempts at levity and humor are welcome, though not always successful. Ultimately, I did enjoy it, but I doubt I'll be rereading this one any time soon.

The story is based upon an ancient artifact, a long dead civilization, and a deadly weapon, rumored to have powers beyond the sun. Professor Bernice Summerfield with the help of two unwitting students must unravel the mystery (and save her ex-husband's hide) before the dangerous secrets fall into the hands of those evil characters who would no doubt unleash deadly horrors upon the universe, as soon as they finish twirling their mustaches and tying Mr. Jason "Ex-Hubby" Kane to the train-tracks. The back-cover summary gives the impression of a fairly run-of-the-mill adventure, and to be honest, I found that to be an accurate assessment in many places. The plot is fairly entertaining, despite its limitations, and there's a satisfying (if not totally unexpected) little twist at the end to give the conclusion a needed shake-up.

I didn't find any of the characters here to be anything to write home about. They range from those who are adequate and occasionally interesting all the way down to those who are Really Bloody Annoying. And unfortunately, it's Benny's surrogate companions, Tameka and Emile, who fall into the latter category at most times. They do have moments where they become tolerable plot devices, but for the majority of there scenes, they're just whiney and annoying teenagers. It's rare for me to actually wish death upon a fictional creation, but when one of the characters appeared to be finally deceased I was actually pleased that I wouldn't have to read any more of their banal observations and dull thoughts. Imagine my supreme disappointment when that character popped up a few pages later in a distressing state of not-deadness.

And the surprising thing about the cardboard characters that do exist is that they are placed side-by-side with an environment and culture that are absolutely fascinating. Jones managed to pull off something that is usually very difficult to do; create an alien society that thinks and acts differently enough from humans, yet still manages to be logical and believable. Kudos for that. Their biology, their background, and thought-processes all make for fascinating reading. Perhaps Jones made his human characters such shallow creatures to better contrast the alienness of his new creation. If so, I wish he could have found a less annoying way.

Still, Beyond The Sun is a good read. It's not exactly demanding, yet it is enjoyable. The plot won't blow your mind, but it probably won't bore you either. The clever way in which Jones paints his alien landscape does make up for some of the failings in other areas. I didn't love it, but at least I didn't hate it.

A Review by Finn Clark 3/3/05

Pleasant and fluffy, though it probably comes across better if you haven't read Ursula Le Guin's The Dispossessed. At the end of the day it's an enjoyable adventure.

The links with The Dispossessed are so unavoidable that I'd better start there. Too many SF authors project their political beliefs into their worldbuilding to make universes that are irritating at best and unbelievable at worst. However that novel took a long hard look at anarchy. In practice anarchy could be stable at two extremes: (a) on low-tech worlds without complex societies, or (b) in ultra-high-tech utopias where everything is provided for you and it doesn't matter if everyone goofs off. Ursula Le Guin in The Dispossessed creates an anarchy that's operating at a tech level not far removed from our own, then does some detailed thinking about how it could possibly work.

At the end of the day, her conclusion is basically that it couldn't. Her "anarchy" isn't true anarchy, or at least that's what her characters decide. However it's an intelligent, thoughtful journey en route, with a more conventional capitalist society held up for comparison.

Beyond the Sun swipes all this, lock stock and barrel. The hat is tipped by calling the anarchists "Ursulans", but in fairness this book isn't about anarchy in the same way. This is an adventure, not a political philosophy thesis. It's good material, but it's not Matthew Jones's material and if you've read The Dispossessed you'll have seen it before. However the result is to create a distinctive, likeable alien society that's a nice backdrop for the main story.

The characters are pleasant too. Benny is fine. Jason appears for the first time in the Benny books... in fact it's the first time they've met since their divorce in Eternity Weeps. Fortunately he's not in it much. I quite like Jason in moderation, but I swear I've read so many Jason-Benny bitch scenes that I can almost see them writing themselves. The Ursulans are distinctive, but best of all are Emile and Tameka. They're just so darned cute! It's almost as if Benny has gone from companion to Doctor status, with Emile and Tameka as her companions. It's easy to see why they returned in later books (well, Emile anyway, though you gotta love his double act with Tameka here).

It started slowly. The continuity's a little overpowering... admittedly much of it is forward continuity to Benny books that hadn't yet been published (Ship of Fools, Down), which is theoretically clever, but these days they're just yet more references. However things gradually picked up and I was having fun by the time we reached Ursu. I laughed at the Priscilla Queen of the Desert bit in the middle, I liked the world of the Sunless and I liked the final revelation. It didn't feel like a deep book, but I found it enjoyable.

The title is a gag in itself, by the way. Beyond the Sun was a title that had been floating vaguely around the Hartnell era without ever getting pinned to one specific story, be it The Edge of Destruction or an unmade Malcolm Hulke script about a duplicate Earth that was really a DWM April Fool spoof. We all thought "at last" when we saw that someone had finally used it.

Overall, this is a nice book. It's not particularly ambitious or anything, but at least it's borrowing from the best. In fact, even if you've read The Dispossessed you'll still enjoy this book... it's strong and likeable enough to stand on its own despite inevitable comparisons. (I still prefer Le Guin, though.)