Christmas on a rational Planet
Alien Bodies
The Gods Storyline
Faction Paradox: Dead Romance
Virgin Books
Dead Romance
A Benny Adventure

Author Lawrence Miles Cover image
ISBN 0 426 20532 4
Published 1999

Synopsis: The world ended on October the twelfth, 1970. This is the story about the last days of London, about murder and love and waking up in the ruins, about all the people buried in the wreckage and the only person who got out alive.


A Review by Finn Clark 7/6/99

I'll start by quoting Thornton Wilder...

"Toward the end of the twenties I began to lose pleasure in going to the theatre. I ceased to believe in the stories I saw presented there. When I did go it was to admire some secondary aspect of the play, the work of a great actor or director or designer... I was like a schoolmaster grading a paper; to each of these offerings I gave an A+, but the condition of mind of one grading a paper is not that of one being overwhelmed by an artistic creation.

"These audiences fashioned a theatre which could not disturb them. They thronged to melodrama (which deals with tragic possibilities in such a way that you know from the beginning that all will end happily) and to sentimental drama (which accords a total license to the supposition that the wish is father to the thought)"

Thank you, Mr Wilder, and I wish you were still alive. Quite apart from anything else, your words sum up too many Doctor Who books.

Villains lay evil plans, but the Doctor beats them. All well and good, but all too often one searches in vain for anything more. Is the writer saying anything? Would this have any intrinsic merit without its Whoish elements?

Since the very first NA we've seen book after book in which the writer is simply trying to recreate Doctor Who as seen on television. They're being "traditional". Nothing wrong with that; it's the essential backbone of any Who book line. But that wasn't what TV Who was like! Think of your favourite story; was it simply a regurgitation of past glories? The only TV story I can think of offhand in which the production team was actively trying to be traditional is The Twin Dilemma. The best Doctor Who always had a spark, something lifting it above the childish adventure formula of monsters and corridors.

Lawrence Miles has always chafed at the adventure serial format of Who. Frankly, he's not very good at it. Christmas on a Rational Planet gets buried under the weight of all the other things he's trying to do with it. Down simply isn't the psychological descent into hell that Lawrence claims to have been aiming for. Alien Bodies (which he describes dismissively as a big, noisy SF epic) is wonderful almost until the end, but there it falls apart. I suspect Lawrence got bored and gave up on trying to sustain the action. It's just not what he's interested in.

What does Lawrence want? What is his philosophy of writing? To find out, read Dead Romance. It's almost a textbook on the subject.

Remember Thornton Wilder's definition of melodrama? It fits most Doctor Who to a tee... but not Dead Romance. This book deals with appalling possibilities and makes it explicit right from the beginning that tragedy is inevitable. Everything will go spectacularly arse over tit and our faces will be rubbed in the horror. This story isn't even slightly cosy or comfortable. There are no corridors; no black-clad villains. By any definition, this isn't an adventure.

Kate Orman is singled out for attack (see pages 156-7). It's easy to criticise the bad melodrama of Terrance Dicks or Gary Russell, but I think Lawrence's point is that Kate writes good melodrama. Her books are very popular and rightly so, but she's doing basically the same stuff as her less talented peers. It's better, not different.

Readers expecting a happy runaround will find Dead Romance a shock. Lawrence isn't even slightly interested in action and dramatic confrontations. This is too explicitly stated even to be called a subtext. When his heroine eventually does something heroic, Lawrence apologises! He talks about where the end of the story "should be", before going on to something completely different. This is a proper novel, make no mistake. It's not action-adventure; it's not a transcribed TV episode.

There is of course the controversial author's note, in which Lawrence claims that his Virgin and BBC books don't take place in the same universe. I for one am very grateful that he stated this, since a reader without this at the back of their mind would probably come away in a state of shock. To put it crudely, Lawrence Miles takes the Whoniverse by the nuts, scrunches it into a ball and throws it away. It's exhilarating and thought-provoking, but I don't think the BBC line could long survive many books like this. Virgin, however, is charging delightedly down this path and good luck to them.

And of course, if you believe in a near-infinity of parallel universes, then you can doubtless accommodate the BBC and Virgin continuities without pain. (Not to mention every other fictional universe that's ever seen print, but let's not go there.)

But enough about writing philosophy. I'd better talk a bit more about the book...

The scale is magnificent. Lawrence's earlier books were characterised by their throwaway ideas, rewriting the Whoniverse in a million little ways - some dazzling, some irritating. Dead Romance ups the ante, rewriting the Whoniverse in a million gigantic ways. Lawrence Miles has spread his wings and I really don't think he could go back to his old ways again.

The main character isn't very strongly characterised; she's of her historical period, but not much more. Dave Stone used the first-person narrative format more successfully in The Mary-Sue Extrusion (though Lawrence largely avoids the classic first-person dangers into which Dave Stone gleefully plunged, head-first).

There's a lot of discussion and philosophising which might have become terminally indigestible if Lawrence hadn't had the bright idea of dividing the book into about 350 numbered mini-sections. It's easier to read just a bit longer when you know there's a possible stopping point on almost every page.

Horrible things happen, so nasty that I feel confident in predicting violent reactions from many readers. I won't elaborate for fear of spoilers, but a certain character's emotional trauma is the main thing one takes away from this book. That and the amazing ideas, of course.

Is it a good book? In the end, yes, though it's a shock to the system. It's world-shaking, or even universe-shaking if such a description exists. It's a violent attack on the melodrama conventions of Doctor Who, but that's just Lawrence's private agenda and not what most readers will remember afterward.

Do I agree with what it says? To an extent, yes. Traditional adventure must always be the backbone of Doctor Who and rhetorical fervour makes Lawrence overstate his case, but he has a point. There are alternatives to mindless action. Variety is the spice of Who and I think we need far-out books like this alongside the more regular fodder.

With caution, I'd recommend Dead Romance. If you read Doctor Who for the whizzes and bangs, be warned that it's meant to stimulate the brain, not the adrenaline. The ideas are jaw-dropping, if possibly a little impenetrable to non-fans. IMO the book heavily depends for its impact on reader knowledge of Doctor Who's mythology. It's not particularly easy to get into, but it's arguably the culmination of almost ten years' Doctor Who novels.

Supplement 7/2/03:

Dead Romance has a reputation for being better than Interference, perhaps Mad Larry's best novel. After this reread, I'm not sure I agree. Interference has shot up wildly in my estimation, but Dead Romance has stagnated a bit. Perhaps it depends a little too hard on its shock tactics. It's still a hell of an achievement, but it doesn't have quite as much to offer once you know the story in advance.

It's very much a companion piece to Interference, mind you. It's interested in similar themes (real life versus narrative convention, with the twist that in Dead Romance the latter is more real than the former) and even contains similar plot elements. Regeneration is used much like the Remote's remembering tanks or what happened to I.M. Foreman. Christine Summerfield even visits Ordifica, a planet also seen in Interference (and Ghost Devices). The chap on p244 is familiar, too. It's nearly as political as Interference and of course has all that bottle-universe stuff, though later books from both the BBC and Virgin had opinions on that one. (Since Lawrence's intended linkages between the two books have thus been severed, it's possibly worth rethinking how Dead Romance does fit into the Whoniverse. 'Twould be a shame if it simply disappeared into one of Orwell's memory holes.)

It's ideas-heavy, to the point where Lawrence is happy to give an entire page of socio-political argument to Character X even if it's obviously biased, oversimplified or immediately contradicted. It's not just author-mouthpiece stuff, but a more wide-ranging exploration of the territory. This is Lawrence's most bleak, cynical book... and it stars the most innocent, trusting regular in the Virgin universe. This only makes later developments more shocking.

In some ways it's like Who Killed Kennedy, except that it's reinventing the Time Lords instead of UNIT. The tactics are similar, starting with an extremely personal first-person narration in an aggressively real-world setting and then introducing the fantastic. You've never seen Time Lords like this. Admittedly Lawrence was only following in a tradition going back to Robert Holmes, but no one had ever done it so bleakly or on such a scale. Khiste is particularly chilling.

There's obscure continuity, as usual from Mad Larry. The brain-pool from Deceit appears on p243, while anyone interested in half a millennium's worth of the Summerfield family tree should check out p199+. Most bizarre is a reference to Henrietta Street! At first I thought nothing of it, but then I found that there lived a demented old bat called Lady Diamond who "didn't see any difference between magic, psychic powers, Buddhism, spiritualism and drug use" (p42). That's practically a thirteen-word distillation of Adventuress.

(As a curious aside, Lawrence's Benny books both featured unreliable narrators while none of his Doctor Who books did until Adventuress.)

There's also more of Lawrence's wacky science. Christmas had gynoids, Alien Bodies had biodata and Dead Romance has the space-creating sphinxes. Even before Adventuress, he was more interested in a evocatively surreal Whoniverse than a hard sci-fi one (though he includes imagination-grabbing throwaways like the intelligent numbers or liquid cats).

Dead Romance is an excellent book, no question, but it's less interesting on a second reading. It's theoretically a tragedy, but it's too nihilistic and detached for the horror to have the impact it really should have. The Doctor may not fit particularly well into Lawrence's novels, but his humanism makes them more emotionally involving. There's a great scene here (Christine vs. the Horror)... but the book apologises for it afterwards! The ideas are everything here; making us care about them is secondary.

I was very impressed by Dead Romance. I even enjoyed it, mostly.

Astonishingly Good by Robert Smith? 28/6/99

Fantastic, absolutely fantastic. The single best Doctor Who book to come out in a long time. Yes, you read that right. Despite being published as a New Adventure, this is very much a Doctor Who book. Not just because it features characters as far stretching as the Time Lords, the Daleks, Rassilon, Fitz and Cwej but it positions itself as essential reading due to featuring the opening stages of the war prophesised in Alien Bodies.

Don't be fooled by the author's note at the beginning. There are red herrings a-plenty in this book and that's just the first one. The earnest "Believe me" is a dead giveaway. I've seen books that have been a joy from the first word of the text. Dead Romance manages to go a step further by being a joy to behold even from the author's note! Oh, and it also positively encourages you to question authorial intent, right from the beginning. How many other authors even think about that?

This book is astonishingly well written. It's so well written that it almost hurts. I can usually forgive a certain lack of skill on the part of many of the authors from the BBC and Virgin, but this book dares me not to. It's the standard for which every book should be reaching. I'm terribly afraid that my innocence is going to be lost after this; my patience for shoddily written books is going to be stretched rather thin after I've seen what can actually be accomplished with enough skill and care.

The first person narrative is great and really well done. Christine Summerfield manages to shine through as one of the best developed characters in a very long time. She's so very, very real and that irony isn't lost on anyone. Her growing interest in Bernice is quite interesting, both leading into the fascinating Summerfield family history and concluding in her search. Benny actually seems to benefit from not appearing, which is something I hadn't thought possible.

And then there's Cwej. Oh, Cwej! What happens to him throughout the book is so cleverly set up and so convincing that it's like witnessing an incredible accident in slow motion, with no real sense of where it all went wrong. Cwej's descent is an amazing take on an established character - even more so because it still leaves him sympathetic. By the end, you feel sorry for him more than anything, which is quite a feat on the author's part.

You can see precisely why he does everything he does - right down to the brainwashing and the reinterpretation of the Doctor. What's truly amazing about this is that even though the Doctor's adventures have been rewritten and redefined, they still shine through as ultimately right. We might be told that he's the Evil Renegade, but his later actions and the way the Time Lords are set up to counterpoint this, leaves him ultimately in the right, whatever Chris's memories might say.

There are so many little touches that are just so neat. There's the sequence involving the cover, which works fine on its own level, but also manages to illustrate just how far the events have brought us by the novel's conclusion. I'd naturally assumed that the cover depicted some stock alien world (possibly Dellah) that Christine mentioned visiting; the revelation of where exactly this was is quite poignant.

There's also the great joke about the final twelve pages of the second notebook... even better for someone like me, who'd flicked through beforehand to see how many chapters there were and saw the note about twelve missing.

This book plays games with our perceptions and manipulates our impressions of everything, but it does so in a beautiful and oddly touching way. I adored this. I love having my initial perceptions distorted time and again, so that every time I think I know what's going on, something else actually is. It's been quite a while since a Doctor Who book has actually rewarded me for thinking and I appreciate it enormously.

Chris's comment about the Pyramids is wonderful, making us the readers wonder exactly where we're supposed to fit into all this. The BenNAs have always had a fascination with questioning the line between fiction and reality and that ethos is never more apparent than it is in this book.

There's a great undercutting of fan assumptions, since we'd all assumed the Enemy was the People - completely blinding us as to their real identity. When we hear about Chris's encounter with the People (which is written almost exactly the same way as his downright disturbing encounter with the Daleks, interestingly enough) you suddenly realise just how clever this is. Well, I didn't guess it, at any rate and it was under my nose all the time. As I said, I really like this trick, even more for being so spread out over so many books.

There are also a number of little potshots at various things, which have already generated controversy on rec.arts.drwho (as they were very clearly intended to!) From The Edge of Destruction to Walking to Babylon, Lawrence pulls no punches... and yet this is criticism that isn't quite as obvious as it first appears. Take the discourse on Edge, for instance. While going to great lengths to point out how ridiculous it all is (and let's be honest, it is), it then turns around and mentions an explanation so rational and so logical that you wonder why it hasn't been here all along! This is deconstruction at its best: taking something apart to see how it works... in order to show just how good it was in the first place. Lawrence's love of Doctor Who isn't expressed in blind fanboy adoration, it's expressed in (at times) brutally honest criticism, showing that the series is so strong it can even withstand these attacks! I'm absolutely in awe.

In short, I cannot rave enough about Dead Romance. It's astonishingly good, it's vitally important to both the NA range and the Doctor Who one (as I'm sure we'll see soon enough) and most important of all is the skill with which it's presented. This is everything that Where Angels Fear could have been, with a little more skill. Thoroughly, absolutely recommended.

A Review by Sean Gaffney 29/11/99

SUMMARY: Um... if you've read my reviews, you could almost write this yourself. Basically, everything I look for in a Doctor Who book (and don't say it isn't, cause it is).

PLOT: So torturous I'm amazed Justin Richards isn't a co-author. We get the plot we're told, the plot we figure out, the REAL plot we're told later, the REAL plot we figure out later...I'd take careful notes if I were you. I must admit, there were a few times during this book where I got caught totally flat-footed concentrating on the wrong thing (such as the Horror, which I placed far too much importance on).

CHRISTINE: For someone with her basic background (real background, that is), she's an amazingly well-developed and sympathetic narrator. It's also a bonus that she is a real person, no matter how the book defines it. She feels real pain, she experiences some nasty surprises and manages to survive, and at the end of the book she's STILL taking drugs, showing that you can survive what she has and still not necessarily be a better person for it. I wonder if we'll see more of her... the ending seems to imply that we will, but I'm not sure how she would work in a normal Benny book.

CWEJ: Gee yah. It's not so much what happens to Cwej over the course of the book, or what actions he takes that could only be called questionable. It's that he's still very much the Cwej we know. I never doubted for a moment that this was Chris Cwej, our old friend. And that is what makes his character arc truly chilling. We stand appalled watching him, because we can see how he must have gotten to this point. I don't know how I'm going to be able to read Cwej in Tears of the Oracle without thinking back to this one.

KHISTE: I kept thinking he'd been in a previous New Adventure that I just couldn't quite put my finger on. In any case, he makes an interesting contrast to Cwej, and by the end he's shown that he's a lot more human than he'd like to be.

OTHERS: Really hard to say. This book lives and dies on Christine and Cwej. I didn't notice any hideous problems, but then most of the other characters weren't around long enough for me to get an opinion.

VILLAINS: Um, who? The Sphinxes? As it turns out, they're quite the sweetie-pies. The Horror? Nah, too vague. The Time Lords? Probably, yes. They're certainly a lot more villainous here than we've been allowed to see them be in other Who adventures. And yet, like Cwej, you have no trouble imagining them falling down this road. Oh, and then there are the Gods. Confession time, I haven't read Where Angels Fear yet. So a lot of this book's background might have gone over my head. Still, they made a good scary villain I knew nothing about. ^_^;;

STYLE: First-person narrative, and like its predecessor, The Mary-Sue Extrusion, it handles it by making the events very booklike, very 'fictional'. Since Dead Romance is about a universe that isn't quite 'real' itself, this makes for some interesting metatextual headaches. In addition, the narrative bounces around in time and place, much like a story started before you know where it's going to finish. To give Lawrence credit, though, I had no difficulty keeping up with him. Well, style-wise, at least.

OVERALL: This book tends to slap you in the face and call you Susan a lot. I think that, in the end, that's a good thing. There's lots of stuff meant to make you consider both the Doctor Who universe and the Bernice NA worlds (including that acknowledgement page, which I suppose might bother me if I gave a rat's ass about continuity). There are lots of amusing one-liners, as well. Despite its dark core, the book can be quite hilarious when it wants to be. I just really enjoyed it a great deal. Hey, it made me get off my ass and write a review, didn't it?


A Review by Tammy Potash 19/12/00

OK, first off this is the only Benny book I've ever read, or may ever read. And it's the only semi-Dr. Who book I got from the library rather than owning. I'm very glad I didn't buy it, especially not for the price I've seen listed of $15. This book was highly recommended. I was told that: it was Lawrence Miles' best book, a sequel to Interference, Fitz Kreiner's in it, the Doctor's in it, and you need never have read any of the other Benny books to understand what's going on. As far as I can see, none of these claims are correct. In the words of Roger Ebert, I hated hated HATED this book. I am now donning my asbestos suit in preparation for angry emails.

Maybe I just don't like Lawrence Miles? Possibly, but I enjoyed Christmas On... and Alien Bodies. But I detested Interference. I cannot say much for fear of spoilers, but Miles seems to have an obsession with bottles. This is a Benny Book minus Benny. The Doctor is referred to, but he's not in the book, unless I missed something. Cwej is here. I always liked Cwej. What's done to him in this book is nothing short of criminal, though Miles here seems to answer once and for all why Time Lords don't have sex. None of my fellow reviewers have stated this, so I will: I believe that Cwej is not working for the Time Lords, but for Faction Paradox, based on what is revealed in the last sections of the book. If this book were televised, though it probably never could be as it is too postmodern and metatextual (maybe), Christine Summerfield would be played by Uma Thurman, drawing on her role in Pulp Fiction. She probably is closer to the Dark Sam a lot of people wanted from Unnatural History and didn't get.

This book is not funny. I don't think Miles does funny. If you want funny Who, try Dave Stone, especially Sky Pirates! I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone unless you need some very expensive toilet paper. At least the cover's nice, and the title makes sense. I just wish more of the book did.

My Memories of Dead Romance by Dominick Cericola 28/1/01

Here's my side of the Story, a Story that harbors no "grey" areas. It is a Story that will either be hated or loved, never Undecided.. However, this is my Version of it, so bear with it, it may contradict anything you have heard or seen thus far..

At this point, having JUST finished reading it, I am in a state of shock.. Nothing I had heard up to now could truly prepare me for this. Take a moment to yourself before proceeding. Grab the most current dictionary within reach, look up the word "angst". I doubt you will find any books listed as examples of angst personified, but Dead Romance should be on that non-existent list! This book makes any of Jim Mortimore's existing Works of Angst run and hide behind the proverbial sofa!

Let's start from the beginning.. We have Chris Cwej (NOTE: Miles is going with the "Kwe-dge" pronunciation for his last name!). Here's a fellow who was all about fun and Life, and full of such undying Enthusiasm -- forget all about that side of him when you read this. Whatever happened between the end of Marc Platt's Lungbarrow and the beginning of this book must have been such a eye-opening, Soul-searing event that it left a pale shadow of Chris in its wake!

I have a theory of sorts regarding this.. One of the other reviewers on the Guide had remarked how he believes that Cwej's employers are not the Time Lords of Gallifrey, but in fact Faction Paradox. This seems a not entirely unlikely possibility.. His mannerisms, the lack of resemblence to his former self, even the idea of the genetic reworking (such as with Khiste and the other 'agents') -- that is more seems more in line with Faction Paradox's ideals than Gallifrey's. Even the idea of trying to get into the bottle seems more like an attempt at extending the Eleven Day Empire..

However, if it is the Time Lords, and not Faction Paradox as I am hoping, then they having become worse than even the Master EVER was. I mean, when we learn of the deal they made with the Dal -- I mean, machine people -- I was disgusted. To offer someone something, and then decide to wipe them out! UGH! Just irresponsible, and damned odd! I'm sorry, but those are far from the actions of the Time Lords I THOUGHT I knew!!

As for the book's format, choosing the 1st Person Narrative was a risky move, but one that I think Miles pulled off well. Offering the whole tale from the point of view of Christine Summerfield was pivotal, as we get to go inside her mind at the end, experiencing her pain and confuscion as she learns the Truth. Heck, even the scene where the Horror finally breaks through into the bottle -- that was just down right disturbing, something I just can not see being written in any format other than 1st Person..!

So, we're reached the end of my Review.. Did I like it? Hell, yes! This was a book that serves two purposes: it's a enjoyable read that fulfills the Daily Required Amount of Angst, as well as adding some new perspectives to widely-accepted beliefs in Who-ology. Yet, on the other hand, it was a book which could be read by non-Who fans and be enjoyed just as much. That's a rare feat to pull off, yet pull it off Mr. Miles did! Cheers!!!

A Review by Terrence Keenan 18/7/02

There are times when you pick up a book and feel cheated. You feel disgusted by the author's hack writing, bad plotting, awful attempts of using hackneyed themes and blatant manipulation.

I bring this up because Dead Romance has none of these qualities.

Dead Romance is the story of how the world ended on October 12, 1970, told by the only survivor, named Christine Summerfield. She is one of the best developed and well rounded characters I've read in a Doctor Who book. And make no mistake, Dead Romance is a DW book, despite not having the Doctor -- well, hešs in there, sort of -- or Bernice Summerifeld -- not directly at least -- within its confines. We also have appearances by the Time Lords, the Daleks, and others from the NA and BBC universes.

Because there is no standard Bernice Summerfield, or Doctor, Loz Miles can eschew the normal adventure format. Presented in the form of journals, we find out Christine's life story and how she got involved with one Christopher Cwej, the Time Lords, and how the universe(s) work. Dead Romance has a lot of common ground with the works of Kurt Vonnegut -- specifically Cat's Cradle -- and also Joseph Heller's Catch 22 -- the black humor hiding the truly horrific revelations to come.

The main character, and narrator, is the aforementioned Christine Summerfield. She's a cynical, drug addicted human just trying to understand what's going on and make it through another day. She gives us hints of what has happened how it affects her. And despite events that should have her drooling and lying fetal, Summerfield survives -- although with all her foibles and faults intact. She is not a hero, but does heroic things in spite of herself.

Through Summerfield, Miles tells a riveting story and also takes issues with many a thing that angers him -- bad politics, melodrama, Kate Orman's Walking to Babylon, etc. As always, Miles manages to wrap all these tirades and diatribes into the story he wants to tell, making them part of a larger whole. You can remove the rants and still have an amazing story (Try doing that with an OrmanBlum book). Another wonderful trick Miles manages to pull off is to avoid technobabble. By having Summerfield as a narrator, a person like us who couldn't possibly understand all the things happening around her on the technical level, we get amazing and logical explanations of the scientific principals going on without having it sound like bad Star Trek dialogue.

The other main character is Cwej. Um, not knowing him all that well, I thought Miles did an awesome job with the character. Although the revelations that come about Cwej makes Fitz's journey in Interference seem like a walk in the park. These revelations hit home like a sledgehammer. Shocking stuff, best left unspoiled so you can find out for yourself.

Then again, what Miles does with the Whoniverse... well let's just say Miles breaks out the big wrecking ball, smashes most of our preconceived notions and rebuilds the bits into modern art sculptures. Don't be shocked if you start speaking in tongues and have your brain dribble out your ears. Yet, once again, Miles does this because it works within the confines of the story he wants to tell.

I can't think of a single problem with this book. Then again, I can't think of a single problem with any of the other books I've read by Lawrence Miles. This is without a doubt the best book ever published under the Virgin Banner and one of the best books I've ever read, full stop. Get your grubby mitts on this one, boys and girls.

In my review of The Adventuress of Henrietta Street, I mentioned having a jackhammer proof smile on my face after finishing said book.

The smile is back, and I think this one can survive an H-Bomb. Supplement, 18/12/03

I came back to Dead Romance on a mission.

I was going to read this book as if it was just a novel I had picked up out of the library. That it wasn't tied to 40 years of TV serial and book history. That it wasn't written by a favorite author of mine. That I'd never even heard of Doctor Who.


Preconceived notions, opinions and ideas can cause people to judge books before they even open up the first page. When I first read and reviewed Dead Romance, I had come off of reading Human Nature for the first time, which I hated, and deep down, thought, "It's Lawrence Miles, so it'll be awesome and make me want to read Who books again." So, it occurred to me that my love of Dead Romance could have come from pure Miles adoration. Therefore, this time around, I would bury all that Who baggage and just read the book and take it on its own merits and see whether or not it stood up.

The results are as follows:

Dead Romance manages the very tricky feat of balancing a personal story about identity against a huge backdrop of bottled universes. Miles succeeds by telling the story through Christine Summerfield, our hero and narrator. If you don't believe Christine's voice, then you'll be hard pressed to believe about Gods, bottled universes, Time Travellers, the Horror and Sphinxes.

Christine is very likable. She's cynical, and has a morbid sense of humor which she uses a lot in the book. She's also quite human and humble, not wanting to be seen as a hero, even though she does do heroic things. Then again, if you've managed to survive the destruction of your world, you'd probably be very cynical about things, and a dark sense of humor would be very important in keeping whatever sanity you might have left.

The other main character is Christopher Cwej. He is set up early on as a man who is uncomfortable with the secrets he's carrying, as well as someone who hates the job he's been assigned to do. By novel's end, you feel sorry for him just as much as you hate him for the actions he's committed. It's by seeing him exclusively through Christine's eyes that helps set up these emotional responses.

Dead Romance is not set up to be a standard science fiction/action novel, filled with chases, escapes, cliffhangers and big battles. Dead Romance is a tragedy based on identity, reality and deceit. The hero will not save the day. In fact, there is no true hero. Instead what we have is a witness to events. It's not to say we don't have action moments -- the standoff between the sphinxes and time travellers, the emergence of the Horror, the time travellers' gutting of bottle Earth -- it's just the presentation of said events makes them not as important as to why they're happening and how they relate to what is the real story: who Christine Summerfield really is.

The book is divided into three sections -- the notebooks used by Christine to tell her story. Each section is subdivided into short chapters that feel like complete rants/tales unto themselves, but also link into a collective whole. The format allows leeway for personal rants and in jokes that color the narrative, but aren't really necessary. The prose is straightforward and not flashy, in a good way.

Dead Romance is a powerful read that manages to transcend its sci-fi conventions and become something unique. That it's an unputdownable read with a narrator you'll empathize with makes it all the more special.

Give a God a Bone by Rob Matthews 20/8/02

Hoo boy, I've been waiting a long time for this one to turn up. Interference has always been my favourite Lawrence Miles book because it convinced me that he's the only author in the Who range(s) who can actually 'do' postmodernism. Some people think they can, but it's only in a limited, hey-let's-do-some-weird-shit kind of way. Steve Lyons comes to mind, and of course Paul Magrs. And Magrs may be by far the best at hey-let's-do-some-weird-shit, but with him postmodernism's just a branch of literature, just a strategy that allows him to mix Lord of the Rings, Noel Coward and a bunch poodles together in the same book. He's basically too upbeat and fun-loving to extend it further than that. Too sensual too. Give him a glass of gin and a bacon sandwich and he's happy. His fiction is about fiction, sensuality and aesthetics. Not about the world. Lawrence Miles' writing is a lot more ambitious, more cynical and more searching. He recognises what we call 'postmodernism' as a societal issue rather than a narrow bookish one, as evidenced by his creation of the Remote.

(I put 'postmodernism' in inverted commas there because it's such a pretentious-sounding term. Just to add here that I blame this on all those silly people in the early twentieth century who called their way of thinking 'modernism' because they were vain enough to believe it would be the last word on everything - which clearly it wasn't)

Er... oh yeah, I was about to review Dead Romance. Okay, well, I'd gathered that the book was even better than Interference. In fact, a lot of people seem to think that Interference was a lame misfire (! : - 0) compared to the earlier book. So my expectations were pretty high.

The novel's a few years old and currently unavailable, but I think it'd be for the best if I yelled SPOILERS! at this point. Anyone who hasn't read the book but plans to at some point, stop reading now. I'd hate to ruin this one for anyone. You know, with the SPOILERS! and all. I'll skirt around them as best I can anyway, but even so.

Right, well I won't run through the whole plot because I don't have a month to spare but, typical of Miles, it all begins boldly. The world ended in 1970. The narrator's a bitter and jaded coke fiend who somehow managed to survive the apocalypse. She's somehow connected to Bernice Summerfield. She keeps skipping ahead in her own narrative, offering teasers of events to come that - I realise now - ingeniously keep us from examining what went before, the seemingly banal mystery of how she ended up on that building site and the reasons for Cwej's arrest.

We move on to the dicovery that Christine's universe is inside that bottle that made a cameo in Christmas on a Rational Planet. But the 'real' universe, where the 'time travellers' live doesn't appear to be the place where you or I come from either. There's something ingenious about that. Miles' universe (multiverse?) is in a bottle all of its own too.

The tone of the book is striking. Completely bleak and cynical to the point of near-truculence, it nevertheless makes itself shiver with goosebumps at matters huge and awe-inspiring. It's like a bizarre fusion of angry old man and wide-eyed kid.

Countering the 'big lie' or the general view in Doctor Who fiction that niceness will win through in the end, Miles offers an angry critique of pretty much any claim to morality us humans would like to make for ourselves. For him, our values are based on nothing more than expediency or vanity; the former in dire straits, the latter in moments of quiet reflection -

"You give money to fucking Save the Whales. You don't bother giving money to cancer research, do you? You just give money to causes you like the look of."

That's one example. The comment about Nixon torturing kittens(!) is another. This is a preoccupation of Miles' of course - he offered numerous ingenious permutations on this argument in Interference (remember Sam and the puppies?), and there was more than a hint of it in Christmas on a Rational Planet too ("But what do you really believe in?"). Values and morality are all just a matter of perspective. I think Nihilism is the word I'm looking for here.

It bothered me a little. There's no way I can take this on in my silly little review, there are thousands of good reasons in this world to be angry and pessimistic and despairing so I'm not going to try to redeem the world and say Miles is wrong. All I can really say is that a person who gives money to Save the Whales and not to cancer research is, in my opinion, still being more constructive than the person who does neither and sneers at her. Perhaps I'm too hung up on some notion that Doctor Who should be about constructing values rather than deconstructing them, I don't know. If I am, that's my problem. Anyway, this is not to look down on Miles. I mean, by the same token, he's gone to the effort of writing whole novels to make his statements. By comparison, I'm someone who's sitting on the sidelines and sneering.

No, this is the thing: I'm not shocked by bleakness in any of the 'proper' books I read (most of them being post-/modernist literature). You pretty much expect that from 'serious' writers. It's almost part of their job description. So Doctor Who fiction, traditionally fun and escapist, is the last place where full-on pessimism actually comes as a shock... erm, the last place it provokes an effect in me, at any rate. Kudos to Miles for that. Goes to show that Doctor Who is actually a lot more formulaic than I thought.

Fortunately Miles is in no way constrained by the rules of Doctor Who here. Technically he's not even writing a Doctor Who story at all. And that frees him to do whatever he likes with the Time Lords, the Daleks, the People and so on, simply by never naming them (the term 'regeneration' comes up once, which I guess he can get away with since it's in the dictionary).

The story features an accumulation of Who mythos that could have been nightmarish if dealt with by, say, Craig Hinton in an EDA. Here Miles strips all those familiar ideas bare and show us what we actually find so fascinating about them, without having to accommodate interruptions from that pesky fella with the jelly babies. Which brings me to the 'awe' I was talking about.

Miles is curiously involved with myth-making. Remember how the Time Lords were those godlike wizard figures in The War Games, and stayed that way until Robert Holmes turned them into a bunch of doddery, conniving old crooks? Well, Miles wants to have it both ways. The Time Lords are complete bastards but such gigantic bastards that they don't even take any notice of us when they invade our planet. When they break open the horizon and start charging onto Earth it's like a scene in a Stanley Kubrick film, so astounding and so far outside of human experience that it defies analysis.

Miles went further down this road with his rethinking of the Time Lords as 'Elementals' in Adventuress - a book which echoes Dead Romance in intriguing ways (Henrietta Street's a central location in both, sex summons monsters, and the Babewyns seem analogous to the Sphinxes - perhaps Miles was suggesting that the Eighth Doctor has simply shunted into another bottle? I never bought that the universe could keep existing without Gallifrey - a time-travelling society like that would be causally linked to just about everything).

I mentioned 'near-truculence' earlier. Miles doesn't approve of our smallness and pettiness, our lack of awareness of the big picture, and here his anger is taken to almost superstitious extremes. You think you're so great? Well there are things bigger than you that you'll never understand and pretty soon they're going to stamp on your head. That's what he seems to be saying, and it seems spiteful. At times he appears to believe in this bottled universe thing so strongly that you feel like reminding him it's just something he made up. Who's to say the Christian girl was wrong about the dinosaur bones, the narrator asks. Oh fine, well, who's to say the Christians were wrong about those women in Salem, come to that? I'm afraid rationalism's the best we poor fuckwitted humans can do for the moment, Larry. Sorry.

I sound angry, but I wouldn't change a thing about this book. The conviction of the narrative voice is perhaps the most effective thing about it, and it stays with you long after you've finished. You almost feel Miles could produce that snapshot of the sphinx if you asked him to.

Miles is a venomous pisstaker of the mythos too. Prefiguring his amusing casting of Brian Blessed in Interference, he gets to mock the Terrance Dicks-ish idea of big bearded warrior Rassilon ('Captain Marvel'), something I thoroughly approve of. I've long thought that with each time Rassilon was used in the TV series after The Deadly Assassin he was more and more cheapened. It started with his 'deification' in Invasion of Time, with that stupid amnesia bit. It continued in State of Decay, when Dicks decided to make Time Lord history as conventionally generic as possible (Time Lords fighting giant vampires? Oh puh-lease!), and turn the founder of their society into Rassy the Vampire Slayer. Next there was the abominable pantomime genie of The Five Doctors, which was ultimately telescoped into the all-powerful wish-granting Father Christmas Rassilon favoured by Terrance Dicks in The Eight Doctors. All of it far too boy's-own predictable. And just how many bloody Keys did he own anyway? He must have clanked wherever he went.

Marc Platt put this to rights (in my opinion, anyway) with the clumsy shortarse Rassilon of Time's Crucible. Finally he was just a bloke. Returning to a point I made in reviewing Stones of Blood, this is the man-behind-the-curtain effect. Terrance Dicks is all curtains. Miles is mercurial enough to disbelieve that kind of nonsense on principal, kind of like Tom Baker's Doctor would.

Then there's the other nonsense he doesn't like, the escapism, the optimism, the historical revisionism; all that stuff that comes under the umbrella heading of 'Romance'. In another passage from the book - which I suspect was one of the first parts of the narrative he wrote as it doesn't entirely fit Christine's voice - he not-so-subtly lays into Kate Orman, comparing her to Barbara Cartland. Ouch. I actually haven't read a lot of Kate Orman, just Hummingbird and Set Piece, so I couldn't really comment on that.

But, for every part of the book he spends criticising Doctor Who in one or another of its forms, there's another written by a man who remembers what the Daleks meant to him as a kid, how they were the epitome of inhuman evil (and therefore how much more evil the Time Lords are to have done a deal with them), or a fan who really liked The Also People. He even manages to crack a smile every now and then - witness the most hilarious "no, not the mind probe" joke you'll ever read in a Doctor Who novel.

Onto the big twist, which I've cunningly left until the end in case those people I was warning away from my review accidentally spotted the spoilers further down the page.

Well, the twist is a double-twist really, and it's just stunning. Not just because it comes as a shock, but because at the same time - like all great plot twists - it makes perfect sense and doesn't contradict a single thing that came before. It simply amplifies what we've seen so far and makes us realise all of a sudden that we're further in than we thought.

What's most breathtaking here is that its utterly consistent with Chris Cwej's character, the naive peanut butter-munching, frisbee throwing boy with toys who Miles clearly despises but revels in writing about. And even manages to be sympathetic towards sometimes. I haven't read a huge amount of NAs featuring the character, but enough to know that he was all too often treated as a dumb but rather muscular piece of ass. Not to be crude, but sometimes you could detect a bit of one-handed typing going on. One particular low was in Damaged Goods when we were treated to a description of how very well he filled his jeans out from the front, which I thought was pretty cheap, as bad as if someone had written a loving commentary on how firm and protuberant Peri's nipples are. (Then again, maybe someone has done that. I'm certainly not going to buy Warmonger to find out).

The other thing that seemed a consistent part of Chris' character was that he was a big, simpleminded kid. And this, Miles is keen to remind us, is in no way cute or sweet. Miles' rendering of Cwej, as the boy who never had to grow up, is the best I've read.

The other part of the twist is the revelation about Christine. I've seen this particular revelation at least twice in other, later Who books, but this is really the way to do it. It's like if Interference had been narrated entirely by ersatz-Fitz. Someone mentioned Miles' preoccupation with simulacra in reviewing Interference recently. Here Miles murders authenticity on almost every level. Everything is ultimately revealed as facsimile in Dead Romance, yet ironically Christopher Cwej is far closer to empty simulacra than Christine herself, almost like he's been spiritually photocopied by the Time Lords with ever diminishing results. The book complements Interference magnificently. Same themes, same motifs, and the plots are linked. The clever difference is that Dead Romance is subjective POV and Interference has an omniscient narrator. Massive events in one, a single victim of those massive events in the other. I'm not up on the Gods arc, but I suspect it doesn't matter.

Mind you, I missed Fitz. I guess he was that bone-masked one-armed fella, but he didn't really do anything, did he? Or was he there to hint at the involvement of the Faction?

Hm. It seems anticlimactic to end by just saying it's, like, really brilliant. Instead I'll finish with a note on Miles and death -

Alien Bodies: The artefact turns out to be the Doctor's body
Interference: The Third Doctor is shot dead.
Dead Romance: Chris is effectively annihilated in body and spirit by the end of the story, and it's implied that Bernice has been killed.
Adventuress of Henrietta Street: The Doctor's's xxxxxx xxxxxx is xxxxxxx, thus turning him into a mere mortal.

It seems like bit-by-bit Miles is out to either kill or degrade every major character. Go figure.

Bottles Within Bottles by Neil Clarke 13/7/08

Dead Romance is pretty much perfect, really, isn't it? Just... amazing.

Ordinarily, I wouldn't say Lawrence Miles is my favourite author - that accolade (ahem) would go more to Cartmel or Aaronovitch, for the sheer joyous quality of the writing - but, as soon as I read anything by him, I remember how much I love, love, love his books. It's the imagination that does it, which puts everyone else to shame. I'm not sure why there's a shortage, but no one else seems capable of cramming in the sheer amount of fascinating, intriguing concepts that Lawrence can. His casual reinventions and subversions of established Doctor Who concepts - his books are packed with throwaway ideas other authors would kill for - are just so exhilarating, and fires the imagination like no other.

The explicitly Doctor Who elements of Dead Romance are so much more powerful for not being tied down to constant name-dropping of Gallifrey, Rassilon and his Seal (hah - not the mammal variety), Shada, the Eye of Harmony (although all these things are present); it's amazing in fact how much more impressive the ideas become when not linked to these over-familiar terms. I wish more people would adopt this approach. Considering that people debate whether the man with the rosette in Henrietta Street is the Master or not (!), just because he's not explicitly named as such, it clearly does make things far more fluid and less mundanely explicit; I can think of plenty of books that could have done with some fuzziness, rather than a straightforward overload of continuity references.

Miles' ability to make over-familiar ideas huge and grand and awe-inspiring is literally stunning; the Time Lords ("Great Houses", as I was reading the Mad Norwegian version this time round) have never, ever been this massive and impressive before, and in all honestly, probably never will again. They stitch machines into their skin; alter their agents into bipedal tanks; walk through the sky into London; rip up the buildings with machines "the size of the Isle of Wight", make their own cities out of the rubble, and turn the sky orange. All in an afternoon!

It seems to be a patented technique of Miles' to expand on and make even the weakest of Doctor Who concepts fascinating (ie, the Krotons in Alien Bodies, who are still meant to be a bit rubbish, but nevertheless get an interesting backstory, and sense of scale), and come up with a mind-boggling array of involving concepts - but then to only suggest them: universes within bottles within bottles; machine men; clockwork/flesh machines.

I think also, unlike the vast majority of Doctor Who authors, he doesn't render his ideas mundane by presenting them through straight sci-fi concepts: everything is couched in mythic, almost fairytale terms (enabled by Christine's inexpert testimony); the time travellers use magic, machines are "stitched" into skin, potions alter the Earth's population, the "sky opens up", rather than a space/time portal (etc) appearing. Which - as all the usual technobabble is bollocks anyway - I find far more satisfying, as well as ramping up the scale.

I'm not sure Doctor Who deserves anything this good. Certainly, very little else lives up to this book (ie, compare and contrast to RTD - I know, yes, it's amazing Doctor Who's back on our screens at all, and yes, I understand why we're being "treated" to sub-soap emotional interaction, and crap shock-casting, but, really... it's all so tedious compared to the intelligence of something like this novel). It can only go downhill from here. Even with the Time Lords alone, Miles keeps them (very effectively) at a distance, and they truly become giants; then, in the Faction Paradox series (arguably playing with Lawrence Miles' Lego set), Lance Parkin comes along and gives us an old dude in a habit. Great, cheers.

Similarly, I haven't read a great deal of the Benny NAs "Gods" arc (though The Mary-Sue Extrusion is gorgeous!), but it almost seems absurd that they even bothered trying to follow up something this earth-shattering - both fictively, and in terms of the approach.

How can you go back from this to St Oscar's and Justin Richards? Surely that's all a bit mundane (not to say, superceded) now? I know Chris Cwej turns up again, but the events of Dead Romance are so huge (even just the ways in which he's used by the Time Lords: he's been ritually murdering young women, and is presumably on his way to becoming a bulldozer with a face, like Khiste), yet I've read that a Time Lord monk later turns up to help him regenerate. Wow. If that does justice to the concepts here then I'm Lana Turner.

Cwej seems far too expansive and interesting a character to turn up in a "normal" book now. Dull Dellah and even (sorry!) dear old Bernice are going to seem a bit flat after Dead Romance came along and blew the series out of the water. (You can tell Miles must've pitched this out of nowhere, the way it's presented as just another novel in the range. Maybe it's a good thing Virgin didn't try to jump on the bandwagon of Miles' ideas though, seeing how spectacularly (or not) the BBC fumbled the War in Heaven...)

Unfortunately, although the twists of this narrative fit together staggeringly well, and the novel (yes, not just book) definitely holds up to repeated reading, perhaps inevitably it loses some of its grandeur when approached by someone knowing what transpires. (Although I admit I couldn't quite remember how Christine fitted in with Cwej.) However, despite this, simply for the sublimeness of its concepts (from small details like the dragon ships, or the wormy, multi-jointed sphinxes - the NA cover is gorgeous, and gets them exactly right, as far as I'm concerned - to the reimagining of the Time Lords as monumental, faceless magician-warriors), it is among the best story - in any medium - that Doctor Who has to offer.