The Psi Powers Series
Christmas on a Rational Planet
Psi Powers Part Five
|ISBN#||0 426 20476 X|
|Synopsis: Cut off from the Doctor, Roz is stranded in 1799, Chris is trapped in the TARDIS. At the dawn of the Age of Reason, violence and festivities interlink. And more people seem to know far more about the Doctor than he would like...|
A Review by Jill Sherwin 27/8/99
Cacophony being a main theme in this book, one might accuse Laurence Miles, author of Christmas on a Rational Planet, of being too liberal in his usage in writing this work. Or to put it simpler: it's not a bad book, it's just silly. No, not funny-ha-ha. Silly. The Seventh Doctor reads like a very early Sylvester McCoy episode, very flip and light, not the Doctor as we've come to know him through the years. Of his latest companions, Roz Forrester reads like Benny and Chris Cwej is superfluously shoved aside for most of the book. Aside from that, there is (rather thankfully) no attempt to adjust the speech patterns to historical accuracy. Everyone speaks very twentieth century English, slightly curious as the story takes place in 1799 America.
Consider this a companion piece to the (far superior) Missing Adventure Millenial Rites or even to the recent McGann TV-movie. It's the end of the century as we know it and nobody feels fine. Strange things are afoot in the small town of Woodwicke, New York, and after some convoluted machinations, Roz and the Doctor wind up there. Chris is stuck running around a rapidly dissolving TARDIS with a psychic Frenchwoman (from yet another secret society following the Doctor), magically brought there by yet another oh-so-convenient Time Lord device called an amaranth which warps reality in the nearest space according to the most rational potential. (I know... doesn't make much sense in the book, either.)
This convenient little device, which serves no better purpose than serving the author's needs for a magic wand (wave to change things as needed) in the story proves to be one of the many crutches in a basically limp story. An interesting seed of an idea is hidden behind the convoluted plot (involving a rational man slowly going insane and using the stolen amaranth to affect his surroundings): that rationality, the framework behind the universe, is essentially male construct, and that imagination, shut out of this universe, is essentially a female construct. Now, this is either very sexist or very true. Or both.
But the exploration of this idea gets caught up in a war between the Watchmakers, the creatures supposedly ordering around the rational man -- whose description made me picture them throughout the book as the Candyman from "The Happiness Patrol" only with a watch for a face -- and the Goddess of Cacophony (not to be confused with "Next Generation's" Goddess of Empathy, of course!)... neither of which are explored or explained until the end of the book. By that time, I really didn't care who these creatures were or why they were interfering with 1799 Earth. Actually, the Watchmakers aren't ever defined.
What it comes down to is, I just didn't care about the 'guest characters', none of whom was even remotely three-dimensional, and as stated before, the main characters didn't read properly. If you're looking for new insight on our characters or the history of the universe, look elsewhere, particularly toward the recent and wonderful GodEngine.
The real shame of this book is the author has a clever turn with descriptive phrases. Perhaps if he wrote with a partner who structured the plot better, then he could let loose with his ability. Just a thought. But could somebody please explain the frisbee? Or the cover painting?
A Review by Sean Gaffney 30/8/99
Y'know, there are times that I regret getting Doctor Who Magazine. Here I am, reading this book and thinking, "Hey, I can mention the similarities to Dan O'Mahony in my review!" Then I pick up the July issue. D'oh!
It really is a weird book. Starts out funny-weird, gets disturbing-weird, and ends up just plain weird. Good, though.
PLOT: Devious, with most of it stated obliquely. You don't get the standard "This is what's happening" 3/4 of the way through. It's also interesting to see the Doctor guilty over abstact concepts again, seemingly the only thing he can ever be guilty about.
THE DOCTOR: Very sullen through most of the book, this is a very McCoy Doctor nevertheless. Lots of witty one-liners in there, and ends up being outwitted by the TARDIS.
ROZ: You know this had to have been submitted for Ace, but nevertheless, Roz works extremely well in 1799 NY, and I think is finally coming to terms with travelling with the Doctor. A fairly serious part, but not as serious as:
CHRIS: Really put through the wringer. Meets a woman, and doesn't even try to shag her. (Who are you and what have you done with our Chris!!!) His latent telepathy from Sleepy appears to be popping back up. Best written Chris since Sleepy, actually.
OTHERS: Vague, as you would expect. Duquesne probably ties in with The Death of Art in September. I liked the interface. The villain was the best part of the book; dripping with non-evil.
METAPHORS: Really the purpose of the book. Time Lord society is shown again, and we see what appears to be a truly dangerous "game" which the Doctor played, that goes a long way towards explaining Time's Champion. The frisbee thing was just plain weird.
STYLE: Paul Cornell meets Dan O'Mahony and they have lunch with Kate Orman and Steve Lyons. Nine months later, Lawrence Miles is born. Hope he writes more.
OVERALL: Despite the cover not being in the book, and a few really weird for weird's sake bits, excellent. NA haters beware, though: it's one of those.
Excuse me, this year we've moved Christmas to a Rational Planet by Cainim Truax 24/6/01
I hate Lawrence Miles, I really do. Or should I say I really want to. Ok I do hate him. Interference is one of the greatest travesties I've ever read and still the thought of it leaves a sour taste in my mouth. So for years I've avoiding tracking down and/or reading Christmas on a Rational Planet. But as I am a completist and rapidly running out of books to collect, I finally gave in and bought it.
But what could actually make me read it?
To be honest it was my third attempt to read The Taking of Planet 5 that did it. I needed something, anything to make that book palatable.
So what do I hate Lawrence Miles for this time?
For writing a book that I enjoyed, one that I downright loved.
COARP (not CRAPO as I feared) is one of a group of books that I like to describe as Doctor defining books. This select group includes The Infinity Doctors, Human Nature, Alien Bodies, Interference, The Ancestor Cell and The Burning. All of these books set out to define what the Doctor is and what his role in the Universe should be. Some more succesful than others,
COARP sets the Doctor up not only as Time's Champion but Logic and Reason's as well. At this point in the books the Doctor is akin to a force of nature so his definition is achieved by a contrast with the best villain I've seen in a long time, The Carnival Queen.
Her ways are inticing even to a reader, so I can understand what Cwej was going through (The more I read the more I love this character). The book comes down to his decision and for once the Doctor stands aside and let's a person decide the fate of the Universe. Of course something interferes. TARDIS, you go Girl.
Roz gets a cool story thread. A secondary character becomes a hero. The Doctor meets a Doctor Proof Assassin. All great and wonderfully presented ideas. I could even ignore the annoying Gallifrey stuff in this one.
The best part: page 248. A moment where I realize that Mr. Miles gets it. He knows why the Doctor is one of the greatest heroes of all time. Lawrence all is forgiven and I'm actually looking forward to your next book .
OK Bottom line, not as good as The Infinity Doctors or Human Nature but still 7.5 Doctors (out of 8)
Now let's see if I ever read Planet 5
A Review by Finn Clark 7/12/01
I'd been really looking forward to this, but in the end it was okay. Not brain-meltingly unusual, just okay. It's a mess, to be honest, but at least it's quite a fun mess. The prose is just a little too loud, Lawrence still insecure and showing off. The second half is like a huge dream sequence. It's a terrible book to kick off the Psi-Powers Arc, being so impenetrable and confusing that any arc details probably go by the board. You'll work like a dog just trying to guess what's going on. Mind you, it's an interesting coincidence that even with his first book, Lawrence Miles was kicking off arcs.
But there's lots of good stuff in there too. I liked the setting. 1799 America, not because it's a famous event (war, revolution, etc.) but as apparently casually as another story might be set in the South of England.
I also liked the wacky ideas. The Gynoids are mind-bending, though not used much. They're an illustration o' weirdness rather than an actual force to menace our protagonists. There's also lots of throwaway detail that Lawrence eventually used again - the universe-in-a-bottle, Grandfather Paradox (who's a prisoner of the Time Lords)... I remember being really impressed by the universe-in-a-bottle first time around.
I knew about the references to every single televised story ever, but I've got a feeling Lawrence also references every single Virgin NA. And Who Killed Kennedy. And The Ghosts of N-Space. I started trying to compile a list of references, but then my brain overloaded and I had to go and lie down for a few days. (Don't worry; they're subtle. The Ark in Space one is a mention of Nostradamus's wife, for instance.)
According to Lawrence in his DWM 310 mini-interview, he was trying to say things about history in Christmas on a Rational Planet. I sort of see what he's getting at.
So that's it. Lawrence's debut book was... a bunch of cool stuff enthusiastically crammed into 277 pages with only token nods towards coherence and structure. Chris and Roz get lots to do, which is nice. "God only knows how they'll follow this up," I thought regarding the Psi-Powers Arc, which was already starting to look a little weak at the knees. It was fun. I enjoyed it.
A Review by Rob Matthews 15/1/02
Currently I'm in the midst of an epic search for book 1 of Interference - which they never stock in any bookshops and completely mess you about with when you try to order it on Amazon. So when I spotted Christmas on a Rational Planet on ebay, I thought I may as well spend the interminable wait catching up on Lawrence Miles' earlier work.
I was astounded at how much I enjoyed it, especially after seeing such lukewarm reviews on this site. COARP really lives up to Miles' maxim about writing these stories as novels, 'proper novels rather than Who stories for their own sake'. It is, simply, a superbly written riff on rationality versus unreason - so I'm surprised that its setting, 'The Age of Reason' has been referred to as an arbitrary one. This a book where the events of the Whoniverse tie in exactly with the real-world that is evoked through the choice of setting. It's a proper story because the saga of Time Lords, and the Doctor's continuing struggle against injustice, is written like an expanded and fantasised version of very human struggles.
'Magic' in Doctor Who is a thorny issue that has been the subject of some discussion on this site, and like a lot of fans, I'm largely against it as a concept because I simply don't believe in it, and threfore can't buy it in fiction. This may seem hypocritical, given that as a Doctor Who fan I obviously don't have a problem with time travel, bigger-on-the-inside boxes, stabilised black holes buried in planets and so forth, but the difference is that with the pseudo-science of science fiction, we are allowed to believe that these things are based on logical principles applied in as-yet-undiscovered ways. Much of it may actually be impossible, but nothing happens just because it feels like happening. I suppose what I mean is that we're convinced by the illusion of causal relationships, but not by the idea of something coming from nothing. The Virgin line introduced their own rather vague notion of feminine mysticism in the Dr Who universe with the invention of the seeress Pythia, who ruled ancient Gallifrey and who made all Gallifreyans sterile by - you've got to be kidding me - magic?!
Somehow, though, this seemed to fit established Gallifrey lore rather well.It explained much about a race who'd set themselves up as Lords of Time and relegate women - and, let's face it, sexual interest in them - to a small, subdued role in their society. The image of them as a bunch of naughty boys with inferiority complexes and a deep fear of femininity fitted perfectly, and correlated exactly with the history of our own society.
And Lawrence Miles, with Christmas on... has written the best book I've read in the line about the Pythia concept, despite mentioning her only a couple of times. The Carnival Queen is a brilliant surrogate for this figure, could even be a reincarnation of the Pythia, acting as an embodiment of the superstitious chaos that the rational world seeks to turn its back on. And the Watchmakers, surely, represent both the Time Lords and patriarchal society. Here the Time Lords live up to their TV description as the 'oldest civilisation' - they're almost the universe's template 'masculinist' society.
Of course, I'm a rationalist and belive that's the best thing to be in our world, but Miles tracks the order/chaos conflict back to a more basic, more fundamental level. Here it's not so much a matter of difference of perception as, What if you could set the rules for the universe itself? What if someone deliberately wiped out a primal, imaginative universe and imposed what we call order on it? It's an abstract argument, but a very fruitful one for Miles' writing - rationality can never beat irrationality in an argument, because irrationality wouldn't subscribe to the rational principles of argument in the first place. It's a whole book themed on that paradox - no wonder this bloke later came up with a whole Faction dedicated to Paradox - and would have been dry as dust if it weren't stuffed with appropriately Dali-esque imagery and richly, robustly-written characters who all illustrate different aspects of the cenral theme. Erskine Morris and Daniel Tremayne stand out, but the Doctor illustrates it best of all. His big showdown with the Carnival Queen reveals him as a man trapped in cause-and-effect, doing everything he does because of what has happened in his past. I can't believe in 'magic', but that's precisely why I enjoyed this book. It engaged and challenged me, it was an argument I was interested in.
I have a problem with femininity apparently portrayed as synonymous with chaos, mind you: linking women with irrationality sounds positively Victorian. But I suppose the problem is more that these concepts are expressed through such terms than that they're conceived in them. Chaos is actually as 'masculine' as order - a world without rationality wouldn't be a feminine magical happyland - it would be a place where witches are burned rather than one where they rule. Anyway, I'm getting into an argument with myself, and Lawrence Miles did that better with this book. If you haven't read it, do so.
Miles' mission to include a reference to every single televised story is by turns fun, tedious, inspired and distracting. But the Dalek Masterplan one is definitely the best.
"Black Orchid 2 -- This Time it's Personal!!!!!!" by Terrence Keenan 3/2/03
Okay, I don't think I've read a Doctor Who book that's caused me to laugh out loud so much since Transit. Lawrence Miles's debut novel is funny, rolling on the floor, pee your pants, split your sides funny.
It's also bizarre, weird enough to make The Scarlet Empress read like a Terrance Dicks Target Novel.
COARP, at its core also features a giant debate between Reason and Chaos. And in typical Miles fashion, he brings up numerous points on both ends before choosing a side -- well, sort of.
A basic summary of the plot goes like this: in the town of Woodwicke, New York on Xmas Eve, 1799, the forces of Reason -- The Watchmakers -- battle the force of Cacophony -- The Carnival Queen -- in the first battle over whether the Universe shall remain on Rational Lines, or become irrational, a world of magic and ideas. Cwej is trapped in the TARDIS, which is falling apart. The Doctor and Roz are stumbling through Woodwicke while riots threaten to plunge the city into chaos.
Characterization is, as usual with Miles, brilliant. This is the best 7th Doctor since Transit; a goofball, flippant Doctor trying to fight the enemy head on and not let anyone die. He's also dealing with his role as Time's Champion in a way not previously seen -- fulfilling the role, but also trying to reject it as well. This is a Doctor fretting over abstract concepts, which makes sense. Roz is dealing with her own past, literally by the last third of the novel, and also accepting her relationship with the Doctor. Cwej is adjusting to his psychic powers and having visions of frisbees. He also gets to make a most important choice at the end of COARP, so he is led to believe.
The guests are archetypes, but fun ones. My personal fave was Erskine Morris and his colorful epithets he spews forth at every turn. Catcher is perfectly realized as a clockwork human wound too tight to deal with the coming chaos. Marielle Duquense and Daniel Trevisian make interesting counterpoint characters for Cwej and Roz, respectively. And then there's the Carnival Queen, the "villain" of the story. There a Bond Villain charm to her, which was an unexpected treat.
It wouldn't be a Mad Larry book without some universe creating. And he doesn't disappoint, with his recreation of the Time Lords as The Watchmakers, writing History over the universe as a way of controlling how events will occur. We also hear about Grandfather Paradox for the first time -- coming from the House of Lungbarrow, of all places -- and the Doctor has a Universe in a Bottle in his TARDIS. Then there's the Shadow Directory -- rewritten as The Secret Service in The Adventuress of Henrietta Street -- and their mission to eliminate callilou whenever they appear. Even in his debut, Miles was trying to recreate the Who mythos into something more fantastical. Methinks it was done better in AOHS, but I enjoyed what Miles was trying to do here. Obviously well thought out and respectful of the Whoniverse at the time.
The style of the novel? Pynchon-esque comes to mind. Fragmented and dreamlike, with Dali-esque characters and settings, COARP is not for people who like corridors and space opera. Then there's the link to almost every single TV and book story to date, which should have sent me into spasms of anger and Tourette's Syndrome shouting, but instead had me laughing out loud. The references are done with tongue firmly planted in cheek, with the Black Orchid and Dalek Masterplan ones being the funniest.
COARP is strange and brilliant. It's Lawrence Miles finding himself, and writing for himself. If you get it, or at least allow yourself to get sucked into the Larryverse with an open mind, it's a sumptuous treat.
A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 5/1/04
I came to Christmas on a Rational Planet in rather a roundabout way. While this was Lawrence Miles' first piece of work for the Doctor Who canon, I have only arrived at it recently, after already having read the bulk of his fiction. It gives one an odd perspective. If Christmas were released today, it would probably be regarded as almost a Greatest Hits collection; it encapsulated a lot of the themes that Miles would develop further on down the line. Some aspects are quite blatant, while others are subtle. But it's interesting to see them here in their infancy -- warts and all. Christmas on a Rational Planet indeed has a plot, although the themes are running so heavily through the story that the actual events feel almost like an afterthought. (This does work to the novel's advantage though, as it isn't a plot-driven story and Miles takes the needed time to allow many of his themes to flourish.) It takes the crew a little while to get to the layout suggested by the back cover, but eventually the Doctor and Roz explore a small town in New York State in 1799, while Chris is lost inside a strangely malfunctioning and disintegrating TARDIS.
A large number of the Doctor Who novels written by first-time writers share a striking characteristic: the Let's Throw In Everything But The Kitchen Sink Syndrome. Although it is generally regarded as a bad thing, it can occasionally feel like a burst of fresh air as a struggling author goes for broke trying to impress us. Christmas shares this feature, and it brings the associated advantages and disadvantages. Miles would learn in time to restrain his themes to a smaller number per book, giving them time to breath without having to jump around between various topics. His "Reason versus Superstition/Magic" stuff would be done better in The Adventuress of Henrietta Street. His mob mentality discussions would feel more at home in his Interference. And his Time Lord mythology-building would get a whole book to grow in Alien Bodies (though for the record I should point out that the Time Lord stuff he does do in Christmas is about a thousand times more interesting than the stuff he would later come up with for the early BBC books). Christmas on a Rational Planet was a book that I very much enjoyed while I was reading it, but its flaws become more apparent with distance. Some of the plot strands take too long to get to the point, while others go on for quite a while and never do get to their objective. The book is sort of like seeing a really good magic show and being impressed at the time, but managing to figure out where the strings and trap-doors must have been while you make your way out of the theatre. Still, it's a damn good show, and the flaws do not distract hugely from the work as a whole. It's not the greatest Doctor Who book in the Miles canon, but it isn't the worst either. And, as always, Miles' prose manages to convey an aura of overbearing menace.