THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

BBC Books
The Suns of Caresh

Author Paul Saint Cover image
ISBN# 0 563 538?? ?
Published 2002
Featuring The third Doctor and Jo

Synopsis: In England a hotel worker has been turned to stone, an ancient lake has vanished, and the inmate of a mental hospital is being terrorised by unseen creatures. In Israel, in the shadow of Masada, an archaeological dig unearths something that should have stayed buried. The Doctor is sure he is dealing with a local and relatively straightforward temporal anomaly. Troy Game, a refugee from the planet Caresh, is not so certain. She believes the impending destruction of her home world is somehow linked to the events on Earth, and she is pinning her hopes on the Doctor to avert the catastrophe. But can the Doctor interfere with a planet's destiny? And should he risk his new-found freedom to do it?


Reviews

What a landing! by Joe Ford 26/9/02

What a deeply frustrating novel this is. And not because it's bad, it's most certainly not but the annoying thing a book can do is start well and end badly. And it does.

The first two thirds of The Suns of Caresh are stonkingly good. So good, I was willing to call this the best PDA in ages. It's clever, it's involving, it's full of great ideas and wonderfully identifiable characters. The prose is good, nothing fancy, but easy to read and absorbing enough. Unexpected things happen, the Doctor and Jo are peripheral until about 70 pages in but its not even noticable, Saint's story is so entertaining it's actually a shame when they do arrive.

I've always enjoyed books that showed us a human perspective of an alien world. Well Saint reverses the deed and shows us an aliens perspective on Earth. It's an intruiging idea and one that he pulls off with a lot of style. By crafting Caresh and all it's alien ways he expertly explores all the unusual things Troy Game experiences in Chichester. And of course by introducing Simon Haldane, one of the most identifiable characters the range has ever produced (surely) they make a highly engaging couple. The 'romance' that springs up isn't half as up chuckingly bad as you would expect and actually provides the book with one of its best shock moments.

The Suns of Caresh is one of the most blatant SF stories the range has thrown up. Time anaomalies, alien worlds, space travel, time going backwards, monsters, time loops, it's all in here and more! You'd think this would seem like a hodge podge of ideas thrown into one book but they are actually applied quite effectively and for the first two thirds the plot unfolds both unpredictably and excitingly! The middle of the book is especially good where there are three or four plots running at once, each full of action and suspense (whilst revealing some anwers to the mysteries posed during the first third!). Needless to say I didn't want to put this one down during the middle section.

I should mention that the Doctor and Jo are both portrayed well, Jo actually getting a larger slice of the action. She comes across as capable and quite intelligent in this one whilst still being her natural dizzy self. It makes quite a nice change.

So what goes wrong? What I found extremely insulting was how certain plots were wrapped up. The major plot line for the first two thirds (the time fracture) is convieniently ignored for much of the last third and wrapped up quite unsatisfactorily in the the last few pages. Yes it is adequately explained and all that but after waiting the whole book I was expecting some sort of rabbit out of the hat trick, something to blow my mind not just a poor whimper of an ending. Also irritating is the sudden appearance of another plot in the last third that had had no relevance to the book until that point. And THAT is the race-to-finish plot we're expected to care more about at the end. It's as if Paul Saint has run out of interesting things to do with the time anomaly plot so introduced another quickly to to your mind of it and then rounded it off at the very end. Very irritating.

Also grating is the fates of certain characters. Simon particularly, after having a MAJOR slice of the action early is just forgottern and Lord Roche too, is hardly thought of later on. I don't expect the world but when I have invested time in these characters I expect some pay off.

But don't get me wrong for the most part (and the prose and characterisation were still solid for the last third any-hoo) this is an excellent novel. Troy is a great character who deserves a second novel. The dizzying mixture of hard SF ideas makes this good escapism and it's more than a little fun too. Solenti is a marvellous Time Lord. The first few chapters are the most promising for a Doctor Who PDA in ages.

And there are loads of standout scenes that remind you how good this is long after you've bitched about the stupid ending. The bumpy TARDIS landing is the best one I have ever read. Troy and Sai-mahn's 'date' is brilliant. The scenes of the decaying ship are tense and effective. The furies pose a genuine threat. The Doctor's reaction to the crashed ship at the archelogical dig is priceless... as is his reaction to having his hair shaved off!

And I love the cover. Troy Game is quite dish.

So I would say yes, give this a go, it's a solid read despite my qualms and many of you may find the ending more than acceptable. There are plenty of thrills in the first two thirds, that's for sure.

Supplement, 3/3/05:

This is a book of ideas, Paul Saint was probably so excited to get commissioned he crammed as many ideas as he had into his book. There are too many to allow the book time to breathe but that is both a weakness and strength, the relentless pace dismissing the lack of depth and sweeping the audience along with it.

What makes this book such a pleasure is that every idea used actually works and crammed together in such a mad rush plot it sustains a level of interest and unpredictability most Doctor Who books lack. Among the very best of these madcap plot devices are:

Aside from the ideas what keeps the book afloat is the sheer number of gosh-wow set pieces; The Suns of Caresh thrives on them. Nothing could have prepared me for the joy of the TARDIS crash landing on Earth and being dragged across country to the correct location, smashing through forest, buildings and even the occasional car park. Let's face it, there was never a materialisation as cool as this before and I can't imagine one bettering this. But I live in hope. Among the best set pieces are: A lot of people seem to be convinced that the first one hundred pages and the last eighty aren't connected in the slightest, even I was not immune to this misconception and I ploughed into this re-read under the impression I would get two thirds into the book and plunge straight into a new story. Erm, I didn't and it doesn't. The last eighty pages dealing with the catastrophic orbital situation around Caresh caps off the story perfectly and answers why the Furies were sent after Roche and why he was on the run on Earth. Perhaps it is because of the planethop but events were always going to end on Caresh, the first two hundred pages of furious entertainment merely whetting our appetites for the grand, planet-shifting conclusion. The story of Troy Game reaches its natural conclusion and she remains the star of the book.

The other complaint is how the book drops Simon Haldane unexpectedly halfway through and this time I found the idea much more appealing. It reminded of Psycho, slashing down Janet Leigh just when the audience wasn't expecting it, Simon had reached the end of his story, easing Troy into life on Earth and it was time for him to go. Trouble was we had grown to like him a lot (according Matt Jones' Fluid Links in issue 350 of DWM we are all sad anoraks, a point which I wholeheartedly disagree with, but perhaps a small number of you identified with Simon) and to have him excised from the book so quietly was a brave move considering how much attention detail he had already received. It's offputting and unusual but as such I found it rather brilliant, Saint still proving his worth as newbie and keeping us on our toes. Besides there was so much fun going on elsewhere I was soon distracted.

Despite the fact that 2004 was a superior year for Doctor Who fiction written by old timers, The Suns of Caresh is an attention grabbing debut from newcomer Paul Saint and with Dale Smith's Heritage the last of their kind until late 2005 (nearly two years apart!). With names such as Nick Wallace and Simon Guerrier turning up in the schedules this year it is pleasing to see that further new blood will be injected into the Doctor Who universe.

One of my favourite PDAs.


A Review by Finn Clark 20/10/02

NO SPOILERS... well, sort of. I reveal something that's given away on page two. That count?

There's plenty of good stuff in The Suns of Caresh. Unfortunately most of it's to be found in the first 200 pages, with things getting a bit boring once the action moves to Caresh itself, but even taking that into account I still enjoyed the book.

Doctor Who isn't often science-fiction, and even when it is it isn't always particularly successful. (The Janus Conjunction, we're talking about you.) The Suns of Caresh isn't afraid to get down and dirty with high-concept sci-fi, though... time-travel shenanigans, apparent paradoxes, astrophysics and a complicated two-sun solar system. Uh oh. What was the last one o' those? It wasn't the Janus system, was it? Not a good omen. Nevertheless Paul Saint's ideas are strong enough to power the book instead of just being a sort of garnish. Even the details are fun, such the mercy gun. For once the Doctor's Big Solution isn't a half-page of technobabble pulled from the author's arse at the end, but instead a clever and logical answer to an honestly presented problem.

We meet some slightly spoddish fan characters, but that isn't necessarily a problem. It's just a feature, and quite well done too. There are also Time Lords (double that "uh oh" and raise it a "Jesus wept"), at which the warning bells were practically deafening until I realised that Paul Saint was actually doing semi-interesting things with these guys. Solenti doesn't quite do enough to differentiate herself from a cut-price Iris Wildthyme, but Lord Roche springs a few surprises. He has special abilities up his sleeve and a fair whack of ingenuity. He's actually quite a spooky character. If all Time Lords were like this, I'd be happy to see them.

Back in Virgin's time, Gary Russell brought Ben and Polly forward to 1994 in Invasion of the Cat-People. Paul Saint pulls a parallel trick here, bringing Jo Grant to 1999, and I thought it was rather good. It's not dwelt on, but while it lasts it's fun. (Note: Ben & Polly debuted in The War Machines five years before Jo Grant did so in Terror the Autons, which is also the timespan from 1994 to 1999.)

While I'm on the subject of Jo Grant, she and the Doctor are lots of fun. The Doctor in particular is extremely amusing, always bringing the story alive whenever he's onscreen. There's a wacky TARDIS cock-up which might be the most entertainingly spectacular we've seen yet. It's not quite a first-rate portrayal of the regulars (they don't burst from the page after the manner of Gareth Roberts) but it's well up there at the top of the second division. They're always well characterised and they get plenty of action, so a thumbs-up to Paul Saint for that one.

Troy Game is the book's most important character, as one might guess from her back cover billing. She's a good character, particularly when wandering around Chichester and trying to get her head around our Earth customs. That's always good for a laugh, especially with Jo Grant doing something similar from her seventies viewpoint. Troy Game doesn't have much control over events, being a victim rather than a master manipulator, but she still fulfils a valuable function by helping to connect these disparate plot elements in the reader's mind. She's more interesting as a fish out of water on Earth than when acting as a Caresh tour guide, but I suppose that was inevitable - and it's not as if that's the only problem with the Caresh sections.

To be fair, I like the planet. It has an ocean-spanning scale that one doesn't get too often, Doctor Who (including the novels, alas) tending to default more towards the template of a castle, three rebels and a secret tunnel. It takes time and effort to travel between Caresh's various islands, which have themselves been put into perspective by a thorough run-down of the solar system's cosmology. It has weather, it has ecological problems and it has dangerous beasties. However by the time the narrative gets there, most of the interesting plot threads and characters have been forgotten or shoved offstage (in one case with jarringly Sawardian offhandedness) and a promising book degenerates into running around, getting captured and escaping. It's wrapped up in a pretty travelogue, though.

I definitely enjoyed The Suns of Caresh. I couldn't tell you what happened with all the time-shifting stuff, but I'll take the author's word that it turned out well in the end. I liked the characters, I liked the ideas and I liked the worldbuilding. The last eighty pages were merely okay, but even so there's a lot to like here.


Two out of Five by Jamas Enright 16/12/02

Oh dear, oh deary me. This is very much a car crash of a novel, in that there are many many story ideas crammed into this book, all shoved in and used no matter if they go together or not. Have idea, will write. What we end up with is a mish-mash of concepts and vignettes that doesn't bear inspecting too closely as the scars of their joining are very near the surface.

Does this lead to a bad book? Well, yes actually. How did this one get past the editors? There's an alien planet. There's Jo in the future of Earth. There's alien beings on Earth. There's sailing. There's someone aging in reverse. There's a swarm of large insect-like things. There's people being turned into stone. There's other Time Lords. There's an escape from a train. There's also no need to put them all into one book, but that's what we get. Perhaps Paul Saint just threw ideas together until he got his word count, because there isn't much other reason I can see for many of these concepts being in there.

Which is a shame, because some of the ideas are good, and deserved an airing in their own right. There's a sense of unrefinement to it all, which might have been fixed had Paul Saint only sat down, worked out which bits were actually necessary to the story, then completely rewrote it.

This also comes across in the characters. Paul Saint spends a lot of time developing a lot of them, only to have them disappear from the story at odd moments. Zeke Child could have lead to the interesting developments in story ideas, except... Simon Haldane would have made a great connection for the readers, being someone that many could identify with, however... Lord Roche himself should have been involved at every point, and yet... Solenti would have made an interesting contrast to the Doctor, but... Rak Toos, despite coming in late, would have made a great character, only...

You get the idea. In fact, there's only one character to make it through the entire novel without suddenly dropping out of the story unexpectedly. Admittedly, Troy Game is written well, but she spends most of the time commenting on how animalistic Earth culture is, and we hardly get a sense of her culture, despite many scenes being written from her point of view. Oh, and that reminds me: Paul Saint has yet to work out how to exposit without it coming across really obviously that he's trying to not be obvious about it.

But what of our main cast? Paul Saint does create the third Doctor well, without resorting to having him rub his neck every other page. The Doctor's charm and irascibility come through in equal measure, and it's easy to see Pertwee performing this role. Jo Grant is also captured well, remaining herself yet without many of her irritating mannerisms. If only the rest of the book lived up to his promise here.

The Suns of Caresh, a piecemeal book that the words 'dogs breakfast' would well describe. That this is a first novel, there can be no doubt, but are there any ideas left for Paul Saint to attempt a second one?


A Review by John Seavey 4/12/03

According to rumor, The Suns of Caresh is the product of a disgruntled book reviewer who wished to show the authors of the line "how it should be done". While I have no idea as to whether or not this is true, I think that the book line could do far worse than a few people writing the best book they're capable of in order to improve the general quality of the range -- The Suns of Caresh isn't going to match the greats of the line, but it does go a far way towards keeping up a recent spate of excellent books.

Admittedly, Caresh is a bit thin on plot... actually, "thin" isn't the right word to use, but I'm not sure what is. The book basically breaks down into two sections, the first being on Earth and the second being on Caresh. However, the Earth section takes up the majority of the book, with the Doctor's trip to Caresh being confined to the last third or so. This unbalances the novel a bit, especially since most of the exposition occurs on Caresh; it leaves one with a lingering feeling that very little happens in the first two-thirds of the book.

Amazingly, though, one never gets that feeling while actually immersed in the book. When I'd heard that this was going to be "hard sci-fi", I physically winced -- "hard sci-fi" usually seems to be a euphemism for "sci-fi with bigger words and a smug sense of superiority to people who just call them 'rockets' and 'rayguns'." However, apart from making sure his model of Caresh works, Saint mixes his hard sci-fi in quite effortlessly with the story, letting his characters tell most of the tale. Troy Game, the Careshi trapped on Earth, is a well-drawn and well-realized character, as is Simon Haldane, the human who befriends her, and Roche, the Time Lord whose attitude towards collateral damage is a bit more cavalier than the Doctor's. The prose works nicely, and the time on Earth passes quite quickly (with lots of evil monsters from the Vortex, escapes, and a temporal anomaly that seems to get a bit of short shrift, considering.)

Once we get to Caresh, the exposition flows a bit more, although there's still time for a bit of the traditional Doctor Who runaround -- still, to be fair, the "capture-escape" does function to illuminate Roche's character quite well. (The natives mistake the Doctor for Roche, and we see through their eyes that although Roche is concerned about the welfare of Caresh, he's still terrifyingly amoral.) There's one very ham-fisted plot device on page 238 -- the Time Lord "mercy gun", which will stun the first time and kill the second, seems to be almost sign-posted 'THIS IS A PLOT DEVICE' when you hit it, and sure enough, it's a plot device. The book doesn't often hammer its ideas into your skull, though, so this stands out more or less as an isolated instance of creaky writing. The Doctor's final solution to the problem, too, is clever, and doesn't rely on pointless technobabble. However, something occurs to me about the Doctor's cunning solution to Caresh's problems that's rather disturbing... In the early, Earth-based portions of the book, we learn that the natives of Caresh have "fertile times", based on the proximity of the different suns. This stands out for Troy Game as a prominent difference between Earth and Caresh, since on Earth, we're fertile according to individual biological rhythms, whereas on Caresh, they're fertile (IIRC) at the mid-point between Beacon and Ember.

The Doctor's just shifted Caresh into permanent orbit around Ember.

Doesn't this mean that the Careshi won't be able to breed, and the race will die off of infertility?

On the whole, I'd consider this to be a very worthwhile debut novel, and I hope to see more from Mr. Saint... if that is his real name...


The longest short story ever written by Robert Smith? 14/12/03

The BBC's latest short story collection features The Suns of Caresh, by promising newcomer Paul Saint. It's a compact little tale of the Doctor landing on the world of Caresh, fighting off some local giant insects and putting right the mistakes of a renegade Time Lord in a pretty clever way. It's a neat little tale, with some nice worldbuilding thrown in, a bit of Time Lord shenanigans and it suits its length perfectly.

What's that? Oh, yeah, there are also 200 pages of padding tacked onto the beginning as well.

Hmm. It's not that The Suns of Caresh is bad -- far from it, I enjoyed it immensely -- but it's incredibly uneven. There's nothing in the final Caresh segment that needed the preceding 200 pages to exist at all. It doesn't even add depth to what we do get, because the author has to introduce the world and its concepts basically from scratch in those eighty pages. This is definitely an interesting approach to novel writing.

And yet, if you ignore the plot concerns, those preceding 200 pages are fabulous, probably better than the second part of the book. The Caresh segments aren't terrible, by any means, but the book is chopped in half so oddly that it's hard to remember you're reading the same novel.

The Earth segments live and breathe from a mix of their detail and the inventiveness of established Doctor Who concepts. The pseudonymous author is clearly an overenthusiastic bearded fanboy who's just been itching to get his pet theories out there - but the theories he presents are so inventive and clever that you can't help but be astonished by it.

Seriously, the list of things he does with the TARDIS alone are fabulous. There's the all-action materialisation, the scanner in the floor, Roche's TARDIS swallowing an entire lake, HADS in a hailstorm and the reference to materialisations on knee-deep ocean worlds and inside caves (page 82). Although when the Doctor and Jo had time to do that is a complete mystery to me, given that the TARDIS is only just making its first forays into the unknown after the Doctor's gotten his freedom back. I simply can't see the Time Lords sending him on a mission that involved landing inside a cave and then leaving again. What gives?

Then there's all the regeneration malarkey, from Roche's persona-hopping and his Princess Astra-style regeneration into the Doctor's double (which is hilarious) to an early appearance of the zero room and even a regenerating dog (!). There's some wild stuff here.

There's only one original character to speak of, but she gets some lovingly detailed attention. It's a bit weird having a grand buildup and characterisation of Simon, only for him to be casually murdered in a throwaway scene later in the book (and he's not even handwaved back to life later, like the other characters we don't care about), but that seems like par for the course by that point. Lord Roche never feels real and Solenti is all intrigue and no character (and a bit too similar to Miss Gallowglass from earlier in the year). On the other hand, the Furies do actually seem unstoppable for once, thanks in part to the detail and in part to the things Roche thinks up to evade them. The Leshe threaten to be interesting, but as they're trapped within one and half obligatory appearances in the short story, they don't get time to succeed.

The cover is grossly inaccurate. Troy Game's hair is black, not blonde and she has blue irises, not brown (page 25)... but it's also a beautiful cover in other ways, one of the most striking in ages and it's one of the very few to do something interesting with the regulars. I guess sometimes you can judge a book by its cover.

The view of contemporary Earth through Troy Game's eyes is really nicely written. There's a level of detail here that's extremely engaging. There's also a look at 1999 through Jo's eyes, which is cute, although we don't quite see enough of it. That said, this is another PDA which does the loopy "let's throw a past Doctor and companion into a modern setting, but we won't make it the current year, we'll pick one essentially at random." Why 1999 and not 2002, say? It doesn't make much difference for Zeke Child, who is the only constraint on the timezone. I guess the only answer to that is "Why not?" and that's fair enough.

Speaking of which, the timeloop thing with Zeke is another wild and loopy touch, although a) I think we really needed some more detail about the practicalities of living your life backwards b) it gets plopped in at a random point and doesn't feel integrated into the rest of the story at all c) none of the characters in this part of the novel are at all engaging d) has no resolution whatsoever and e) has a lame copout ending. I realise that d) and e) are essentially the same point, but it's one I feel so strongly about that I think it bears mentioning twice.

Seriously, the ending is a metaphor for the book itself: part genius, part handwave. The Doctor's solution to Caresh's problem is stunningly brilliant and packs a real punch. But the incredibly wimpy restoration of the Earth-based plot is a huge copout. Move over Psi-ence Fiction and Book of the Still, we've got a new contender for the honorary Trial of a Time Lord "most wishy-washy ending by restoring dead people back to life because we're feeling needlessly sentimental and don't want to deal with the consequences" award.

Oh yeah, and just what was Roche's connection to the people we never met on the far side of the planet? The book makes a big deal about it, including the fact that the Doctor doesn't know, but then neglects to tell us. I searched and searched for the answer hidden somewhere, but I honestly couldn't find it. We're not talking about a minor in-joke or reference that we could have guessed on our own, we're talking about a fairly fundamental motivation for the entire novel. Somebody email me with the page this appears on, please. I honestly want to know.

The Suns of Caresh is uneven, sloppily plotted, has no emotional payoff for the bulk of its story and appears to be lacking the answer to one of the key questions it sets up... but I loved it. It's an easy book to nitpick, but that doesn't do justice to the writing and the detail that's on display here. It's one of the better PDAs around, although you wouldn't know it from all the problems it admittedly contains. But there's a real sense of effort and creativity here that overcome other flaws and I've got a lot of time for something that has a real love for its subject material. If you check a third of your brain at the door, this'll wow the remaining two thirds.


A Review by Richard Radcliffe 3/1/04

I quite enjoy the combination of the 3rd Doctor and Jo Grant. Their guardian/girl to be rescued relationship was one of the series best. Unfortunately, for the most part this has not transferred too well to print though. There are notable exceptions, but it just hasn't quite been there for me.

The combination thrived on TV because they really liked one another. They were part of an extended family - UNIT, and we enjoyed having them round for Saturday evening tea. When the Doctor and Jo went on holiday, I enjoyed things less.

The Suns of Caresh is such a break from the norm. I bought the book, and read it, in spite of being totally put off by the cover. Has there ever been a more horrible cover for a Doctor Who book? (Yes, I'll answer that one myself - Mad Dogs and Englishmen! - but this is second in that garish list of art monsters). Pertwee bereft of his wonderful head of hair. Someone we don't even know staring out as the main star of the book. Was this intended to shock? It would have put off many, many fans I would wager. But you can't judge a book by its cover - and so I dived into this orange spectacle.

After just finishing Warmonger, this book felt deeper. The typeface is smaller, it's a longer novel - with more to think about. But also more to be confused by I feared.

As the story panned out the different journeyings left me dizzy. Different time periods also left the whole thing feeling disjointed. There were many races, each given its moment in the sun. The many characters vyed for attention, with Troy Game (the woman on the cover I presume) quite clearly the top supporting character. The book features other Time Lords other than the Doctor - this came across as confusing, especially when one regenerates.

The chapters set on Earth were the best ones of the book, I lost it as it went to other worlds - kind of like its TV counterpart really. I lost the time going backwards plot, and many other parts - my attention lagged and I had missed a key part. The 3rd Doctor and Jo were presented okay, but it's just not their best forum really. Troy is a good character, not only was she the main focus of the cover, but also the focus of the book. Turns out you can judge this book by its cover.

Paul Saint has written a very involved book, with lots of ideas struggling to the surface. It's a book that's not one of my favourites, I must confess. But I believe this is more the book's style and depth not suiting me - it's just far too clever by half. Plenty will love it I'm sure. 6/10


The Blurbs of Back-cover by Jason A. Miller 30/1/04

You really can judge a book by its cover. Specifically, by how much information the back cover blurb gives away. The Space Age still remains best known, after nearly four years, for its wildly imaginative blurb, rather than for the warmed-over "West Side Story" coffee grounds we got within. Not only is Divided Loyalties one of the worst novels published east of the Atlantic Ocean, but its blurb is doubly unimaginative -- spoiling, as it does, just about all of the story's major plot twists through page 200.

Now, when I read reviews of The Suns of Caresh online, I'm actually reading reviews of two different books. There's the school of thought which celebrates Caresh as a nifty 80-page novella, set behind a largely unmemorable 200-page trailer. But there's also the school of thought holding Caresh as 200 pages of an inventive science-fiction novel, let down by an 80-page coda that has little to do with the elaborate set-up.

I'm going to join the latter group, and say that Caresh had me right up until the page 200 mark -- or maybe page 149. I believe that, if the back-cover blurb had been redone, I would not have felt that way. The blurb really gives away the game all the way up through page 200, thus setting up the seemingly disconnected 80-page Caresh sequence. We know going in that Troy Game "is pinning her hopes on the Doctor", but she doesn't even meet him until well after the halfway point. The effect of all this is that "Saint" has given us an inventive novel with loops and twists... but it just doesn't seem that way, since we know too much before we even start.

The book I enjoyed is not even hinted at on the back. It's about an alien who falls from the sky and has to adjust to working-class England. It's also the story of Doctor Who's quintessential poor shlub, Simon Haldane, a factory worker with a strong SF bent, whose fantasy comes to life when the alien moves into his bedroom. Simon believes her story and starts working with her (thanks to some nifty computer graphics that might've looked great on TV) to phone home. The Doctor and Jo are a million miles away from all this, but it's OK. Meanwhile, Simon has a problem... he's been so conditioned by the culture that all he can do is count down until the inevitable moment when the nympho alien, stranger in a strange land, will seduce him. Only that never happens, and when Simon tries to (drunkenly) force the issue...

Meanwhile, the Doctor and Jo are getting involved in some Time Lord intrigue of the kind the EDAs can no longer provide. There's a renegade Gallifreyan lording his scientific advances over another exotic alien planet. There's his one-time consort, a Time Lady who (thankfully) is nothing like Iris Wildthyme. The Doctor's on a rescue mission for the Time Lords, but this time, the CIA is not involved, and there are no men in funny hats telling him what to do.

The back cover blurb, naturally, ignores both these stories, and instead leads off with three oblique mysteries, all of which are incidental to the story I just described. Meanwhile, Simon is casually tossed aside in a two-sentence parenthetical, thus giving him the PDA equivalent of Liz Shaw's departure scene in Inferno.

The Suns of Caresh is evocative Pertwee, with gadgets, a sympathetically-drawn Jo Grant, and interesting TARDIS mythology. It's also, however, a victim of the six-part format that plagued stories like Invasion of the Dinosaurs and The Time Monster, as the shifting focus knocks the original story clear off the table and brings in something far less interesting to end the day. Why couldn't Simon travel to Caresh? Why is Masada mentioned on the blurb when we leave that locale for good on page 13? When the Epilogue causes all of the story's Earthbound catastrophes to unhappen, why isn't Simon brought back?

Anyway, these are first-novel excessives compounded by an editorial blunder. Caresh is endlessly inventive and fairly readable. Let's let this Saint pseudonym loose on the UNIT gang and see if we can't turn out anything better than Eye of the Giant or Amorality Tale.


A Review by Brian May 11/10/11

The Suns of Caresh is quite good for a first novel. It's strongly reminiscent of Ursula Le Guin, whom Paul Saint respectfully name-checks (alongside other SF authors I'm not qualified to comment on). In particular, there's her creation of worlds that are different from Earth in small ways, which in turn makes the similarities even more unusual, The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed being the two examples that spring to mind. So it's not in the fact that Caresh has two suns, that's nothing out of the ordinary in sci-fi; it's the Careshi irises, earlobes, mating habits, music, language and perceptions of the unknown, such as Troy Game's initial interpretation of the bus hurtling towards her, and her reactions to television.

The novel is largely set-piece based, moving from one scenario to another, yet a consistently moody atmosphere is maintained throughout. A mix of suspense and paranoia dominates as the teenagers infiltrate the dead TARDIS beneath the lake and during Jo's encounter in the bathroom of the ersatz Room 18, while her psychedelic journeys to the hospital are just plain freakish (the changing newspaper is also a nice touch). The Furies and Leshe are well realised monsters, the TARDIS's wild flight across the English countryside is highly amusing, and the journeys across the world of Caresh, which also evoke The Left Hand of Darkness, are wonderfully depicted. They're lengthy but hold the interest, making the planet a richly detailed one.

There are two excellent characters: first up, Troy Game, whose personality is stamped quite definitively, with appropriately unearthly trains of thought; her aforementioned reactions to the ways of Earth serve to refine her even further. Simon Haldane could have been a walking cliche and a very tempting parody of a fanboy; thankfully he's anything but. He's very much an everyday person, his situation sympathetic, his interactions with his co-workers are realistic and his hopes of hitting on Troy Game are natural. (However his subsequent drunken attempt to force himself on her cannot be excused, and while he deserves his black eye and broken rib, he certainly doesn't deserve his final end, which is imparted to the reader with a casual, arbitrary ruthlessness.) On the downside, Lord Roche and Solenti don't really work; renegade/independent Time Lords are just too cliched by now and neither offer anything new.

The Doctor and Jo are particularly good when together, their interactions accurately reflecting the relaxed, mutually respectful partnership we saw in season 10. They fare less well individually; Jo's shock at seeing a gay couple gives her a naivete that's rather unfair, while the Doctor is given an unconvincing and irksome moment of PC revisionism on p.111, his supposed aversion to using physical force is along the lines of the "Greedo shoots first" retouching that Star Wars received upon its 1997 re-release. But thankfully these moments are in the minority.

What also brings the novel down is its tendency to abandon threads. For example the character of Michael Sheridan, who disappears suddenly and conveniently, i.e. when he has no further purpose to serve the narrative. This is a pity, for he's quite interesting. Similarly, some scenarios are given that most infuriating of treatments - the "rewind/erase" - Zeke Child's reverse ageing, the whole situation with him and the Keller twins, Lord Roche's final fate. Effectively none of this ever happened, which is annoying as so much dramatic impact is lost. Copout is the word that springs to mind.

I've sounded quite critical, but nevertheless The Suns of Caresh is always entertaining. Paul Saint has done a more than reasonable job: the prose is expressive and fluid; the reader's attention is held as the story progresses, and that's the important thing. It's a very promising debut, not bad at all.

7.5/10