The Psi Powers Series
Happy Endings Oblivion
Death and Diplomacy
Psi Powers Part Three
|ISBN#||0 426 20468 9|
|Synopsis: The Doctor must mediate between three warring factions, where things are definitely not as they seem. Benny finds herself stranded, facing the greatest challenge of her life: he's called Jason.|
A Review by Shaun Lyon 26/8/99
I'm not a pessimist. Really! Especially when it comes to the New and Missing Adventures books. I loved so many of those I've reviewed; I gushed over Sanctuary and Millenial Rites (my all-time favorites in both categories) in these pages, for example. There have been so many good Who novels in these series: Timewyrm: Exodus, Love and War, The Also People, The Crystal Bucephalus and The Romance of Crime are all marvelous. And because of the subject matter, I really wanted to like this book. I agonized about it... maybe it was just me? After all, fellow Meddler Jill Sherwin really enjoyed Dave Stone's first Who book, Sky Pirates! where it just left me cold.
That said, I have a clear conscience when I confess that I hated this book. Hated everything about it, and quite possibly I hate the author too. (No, I'm just being dramatic... that's a joke.) But for some reason, Stone seems to be the guy sitting in the corner with the insufferable grin on his face, having conquered his own private universe and being the only person in that universe to get the joke. For over 300 pages, Stone seems to be pleased with himself to no end: "oh, look, wasn't that clever?" It's too bad, too, because he's been handed yet a third book (albeit a Missing Adventure, early in 1997)... and after this one I don't think I'll ever read his stuff again. (Stone, you're no Douglas Adams. Not even with a "There remains little to tell" comment to start off the epilogue, blatantly ripped off verbatim from Adams' "So Long and Thanks for All The Fish".)
Four times it took me to get into the plot, but here it is: the Doctor, Benny Summerfield, Chris Cwej and Roz Forrester have all been separated. The Doctor has ended up in a space station where three races in the distant Dagellan Cluster are meeting at the behest of something called the Hollow Gods. Chris and Roz are on this planet and bump into a few "squaddies" (fancy name for bumbling moronic police officers), whack them over the head, steal their clothes... and then are sent on the squaddies' original mission to another planet. That leaves poor Bernice, stranded on another planet and running around (first, with no clothes on) before she bumps into this guy named Jason Kane. We already know Jason; we spend an entire chapter getting to know this space-bum and basically find that he's about as dimensionally fulfilling as a two-by-four. Yes, there are attempts to soften him up, including finding out about his family... but by then, I didn't really care.
Basically, the Doctor is left in the charge of figuring out what the Hollow Gods are. Now, think about it... "Hollow Gods". These giant images that appear to the three races of the Cluster, the Saloi, Dakhaari and Czhanos. "Hollow Gods". Say it outright and tell me that the name doesn't immediately conjure up an image of William Shatner confronting the Landru computer in the Trek episode "Return of the Archons". (Sorry, I think I spoiled the story there!) The major nasty of the book turns out to be someone introduced to us as Jason's pet... and after said nasty is obliterated, we get yet another trite ripoff, this time from Pinky and the Brain... "What are we going to do now?" "The same thing we always do... try to take over the universe!" Oh, brush me with a feather, I'm impressed. (Not.)
Perhaps the shortest shrift is that given to Chris and Roz, who spend yet another book in search of a plot. Now, I'm going to repeat something I said when I reviewed their introductory book, Original Sin, last spring... I was very distressed that Benny, Chris and Roz would suffer the Tegan-Adric-Nyssa Syndrome of the early Peter Davison years, where the Doctor would go off to encounter the story, quite frequently with Adric, leaving Nyssa to pine away in the TARDIS and Tegan to get into some sort of trouble on her own. In other words, wasting time making sure everyone has something to do. This book is no exception; the plotline that involves Chris and Roz really doesn't mean all that much, and could have been dropped. There seem to be only a few New Adventures writers who know what to do with these characters -- Kate Orman did it in Sleepy, and Gareth Roberts in Zamper. Unfortunately, even the great Terrance Dicks suffered the problem Stone faces in this one, and can't do enough with his characters.
Much of this novel we spend with Benny and Jason, watching as they fall in love. Now here's another problem I had with this book... chemistry. Even though we've never seen Benny Summerfield in televised stories, those of us who have followed her for years in the New Adventures (I kid you not when I state that she's one of my all time favorite companions) know exactly how Benny reacts. And personally, I think she'd have killed this guy, or at least walked away. Instead, we're treated to a romance that seems more forced than anything, and as a prelude to next month's Happy Endings, where Benny and Jason tie the knot, I'm beginning to wonder if that's a wedding I may skip out on. (But I'll read Happy Endings, certainly; I'm looking forward to it. Besides, it's a Paul Cornell novel. Paul Cornell rocks.) I'm certainly going to put D&D toward the bottom of my list. Still not as bad as Head Games or, heaven forbid, The Pit, but I think you've already gotten my drift.
A Review by Sean Gaffney 8/9/99
I find myself being a little more careful in my reviews, now that two previous DWM reviewers, plus the current one, are online. God knows I'm no David McKinnon, but I shall try to be more - specific in my praise. And I don't praise everything, remember - just most things. Plus, I have the ultimate excuse - "I'm not a critic, I'm a book reviewer!"
Plot: Intriguing and complex. I suppose I was so intrigued because I wasn't really there for a plot; it was therefore a surprise that one dropped right in my lap. Even the time loop weirdness is perfectly acceptable, if Vardan-esque.
The Doctor: I thought he was a bit Dark Doctor-ish earlier, but having finished the book, this isn't true. He manipulates everyone, but a) he's overt about it, and b) everyone knows it. Beautifully characterized, every bit screamed Sylvester McCoy, and there wasn't even any spoon playing.
Roz and Chris - Pure double act in this, so I've given them a joint credit. It does seem as if they were put in the story beccause they had to be - but this doesn't mean they are poorly done. Chris' speech on slavery is one of the best bits he's ever had, and Roz's sullen reaction to the treatment of blacks in several previous books finally snaps.
Supporting: The villain was a) obvious, and b) really silly. These are good things, however, in the same way that Romance of Crime (you remember, the Gareth Roberts book I liked) uses them - they become fun. Harrison Chase only wishes he were this over the top. At the same time, the three rulers (who basically represent all their races) are made refreshingly 3-D, not because we glean more about them, but because they were genuine cardboard before, and by the end of the book they have aquired a third dimension. I don't feel bad leaving this sector in their hands - plus, a wedding is always nice!
Writing Style: Oh, did I mention that this book is f**k me funny? Well, it is. Not in the same way as Sky Pirates! - although the jokes are just as overt. Perhaps Dave's style works better when he isn't trying to be Terry Pratchett. There are enough lines here to double Kathryn Andersen's collection of NA quotes. The Peri and Mel ref alone will win the people on rec.arts.drwho.
Benny and Jason: It wasn't a coincidence that I saved them for last. Frankly, the book could have been written in iambic-pentameter Kabuki and I wouldn't have cared. We meet Jason!!! And he is, needless to say, the perfect man for Benny. I thought they were Solo/Leia earlier, but that was really wrong - they are themselves. The dialogue, however, starts with "Arms and the Man", works through "Twentieth Century", and ends up in "Moonlighting". That is a compliment. Jason's background provides a chilling part of the narrative, as we realize that Benny and Jason, through all their fighting, have avoided trampling on each other's feelings so much that it hurts. Pain is where this relationship begins, but luckily, it ends with a proposal - and acceptance. Plus, they both have the best sex of their life - numerous times.
Closing praise: This book, by the way, rips off from so many sources that I'd be amazed if Dave didn't use Tom Lehrer's "Lobachevsky" as his muse. All for the better. This book is funny, but in a serious setting, which makes it more acceptable than Sky Pirates!. This would also be a good intro book for fans - everyone is deeply in character. The book ends with the blurb for Happy Endings, and now has me positively galivanting with anticipation.
Did I mention I liked the book?
I've been to Istanbul.
A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 8/12/03
Why am I writing this review? Why am I bothering? Nothing in Death and Diplomacy inspired me to sit in front of a keyboard and type out my thoughts. The only excuse I have for putting fingertip to key is that I've done this for the first forty-eight New Adventures, and I might as well keep going for this one. It's a struggle though. Almost as much of a struggle as reading the book was. The book is just so pointless, really. I mean, would the world be that much worse off if this book had never seen the light of day? Did an author really wake up in the middle of the night screaming, "Yes! This is a story that absolutely MUST BE TOLD!"
One can see from the beginning that this is not exactly going to be a tightly plotted and intricately detailed story. The regulars are so clumsily separated, one wonders if this is supposed to be some hilarious meta-textual joke; if it is, it fails. In any case, Benny, Roz and Chris fall out of the TARDIS and become embroiled in subplots of their own. The Roz and Chris story is so clichd and unoriginal that it scary bears discussing; let's just say that it puts the "bog" in "bog-standard" and we'll not speak of it again.
The Doctor's story actually appears to be relatively interesting for a while. Not because it's an engaging or witty narrative, but because there is a hint of some fascinating world-building going on. The Doctor finds himself in a portion of the galaxy inhabited by three different war-like space-faring races. The three are perfectly balanced as far as position and weaponry is concerned. So naturally, the Doctor shows up just as they are being ordered by their mysterious Hollow Gods to engage in a peace summit.
Unfortunately, this subplot eventually devolves into bland people walking quickly through corridors while Discussing Important Things. There are a few surprises to be had here, but by the time they're sprung I had gone beyond the point of caring. At one point, a character who belongs to one of those three races realizes that after spending time with his enemies he has begun thinking of them as people rather than faceless monsters. I wish I could have said the same thing. For the most part, all of the characters are as flat as the page they're printed on. The story takes the lazy road of telling us that these are three-dimensional characters without showing us anything to back up its own statements.
Now, the real meat of the book is contained in the passages involving Benny and her soon-to-be fiance. I actually kind of enjoyed these sections, though they certainly feel superficial. Jason comes across as a standard pulp character, not too much depth apart from that which is applied with all the subtlety of a thrown brick. He's a relatively fun character, though I'm not sure he exactly works as a romantic foil for Benny.
Overall, well, this is a very mixed bag, ultimately with more negatives to its name than I would like. Sure, I laughed at a handful of the jokes, but I rolled my eyes at others. And that, is pretty much my summing up of this novel. It's slightly clever in one or two places, but never gets anywhere near to being as funny or as smart as it thinks it is.
The book opens with a rather defensive note from the author where he haughtily suggests (more or less) that there's a lot more going on in his books than people realize and that, damnit, people ought to appreciate it. My own comment to future authors out there is that this is a terrible way to start a novel. A novel should stand or fall on its own merits, so if you're going to blind us all with your brilliance, make sure you write a better book than Death and Diplomacy.
A Review by Finn Clark 4/10/04
That was kinda dull. I wasn't particularly excited by Death and Diplomacy back in 1996, but the intervening years have done it no favours. I'm normally a Dave Stone fan, but I think this must be my least favourite Who-related novel of his (not counting Citadel of Dreams).
The story is boring. The TARDIS crew get split into three completely disconnected groups, each with its own plotline that doesn't affect anything else. Benny, Chris and Roz do nothing that could possibly matter, but even the Doctor's peace conference is dull. The Dakhaari, the Czhans and the Saloi might go to war! Well, gee. Their leaders are respectively Ravla, Koth and, uh... whatsisface. Yup, it's that thrilling. They're bog-standard Dave Stone characters with little we haven't seen done better elsewhere, with the usual sex, drugs and offbeat anarchist-flavoured sentimentality.
The most memorable bit of the book in 1996 was the relationship between Benny and Jason, the man she would marry in Happy Endings. In fairness, this is well done. [I still don't like Jason as much as Guy de Carnac from Sanctuary, but that's my problem.] Only during the Jason-Benny plot strand does this book feel grounded and potentially interesting. Unfortunately it's basically a bunch of Jason-Benny scenes and in subsequent years that got done to death in books, audios and Big Finish anthologies. It's not Dave Stone's fault, but these days the only decent bits of Death and Diplomacy feel old. By my count Jason has appeared in 10000000000 books and had sex and/or argued with Benny so often that interference patterns from the standing wave of their raised voices were responsible for the burning of the library at Alexandria, the destruction of the ozone layer and the vapourisation of the Crab Nebula. Or does it just feel that way?
Chris and Roz are shunted off into... you know, I just finished reading this book and I can't remember. I think they dress up as soldiers or something. It's that memorable.
There's a Pinky and the Brain gag that only registered because I remembered noticing it last time. Pop culture references... wow, what a good idea. Not. Admittedly I laughed once or twice, but as the author's note points out, this isn't a gag book like Sky Pirates!. Instead it's a "comedy". Note the inverted commas. Dave Stone explains that comedies don't have to be funny, which is a good thing or else this book would have puzzed me exceedingly.
I'm not wild about the title, either. It's clearly meant to be reminiscent of Jane Austen, but I'm unconvinced. Sense is the opposite of Sensibility. Pride could be seen as the mirror-image of Prejudice (black pride and white prejudice; that kind of thing). So what do Death and Diplomacy have to do with each other? Okay, maybe it kinda works in the context of a peace conference if you're prepared to squint, but to me they feel like two words that got chosen for alliteration and a good number of syllables.
It's set in 2011, despite what you might have read in Lance's 1996 History of the Universe. Apparently the synopsis said this book would be set in "the present day", but according to the published text (p123), 1996 was fifteen years ago.
The regulars are well done, for what it's worth. Dave Stone's 7th Doctor is always fun, though I preferred him in Sky Pirates!. (In fairness there's some entertaining TARDIS characterisation which goes beyond anything you'll have seen in any other novel.) Benny is lumbered with Jason. Roz and Chris... uh, do something or other, though they're quite enjoyable to read about anyway.
As the follow-up to Sky Pirates!, this book was okay. Not amazing, but readable. However it loses a lot and becomes almost pedestrian if, like me, you've read enough Dave Stone books to make your eyeballs bleed. He clearly loves writing for this TARDIS crew and does it well, but the book around them didn't do much for me. (Though having said that, it might work better if you're rereading it for the first time instead of rereading it like me. There's good stuff in here, albeit worn smooth for long-time readers through familiarity.)
I don't necessarily demand a plot from my Dave Stone books (e.g. I loved Heart of TARDIS), but I like at least the illusion of one. If I start to feel that what I'm reading is pointless, I get twitchy. Apparently this novel is the middle book of a trilogy with Sky Pirates! and Oblivion, but since I've never been able to spot the links I couldn't really care less about that. This isn't a bad book, but it's below-par Dave Stone that may have aged more badly than anything else in Doctor Who (not excluding the seventies haircuts and hippy chick costumes from the TV series). A disappointment, sadly.
Devilishly Different by Godfrey Hill 20/3/05
Now some might just say that I'm arriving at this reviewing game a tad too late. At this rate I'll be ready to write the review of Rose sometime in 2014. But if you're going to follow a legendary TV series, you've got to do it in order. So around the time the news came out last September about the new series, I finally put down my well-worn and well-loved copy of Nightshade (still one of the best New Adventures, and a total shame it was never put on the small screen -the wonderful images and heartstopping moments are just too many) and resolved to catch up on the mass of seventh and eighth Doctor fiction out there.
There was just one problem,though. It took me an absolute age to get through Birthright, Set Piece, Original Sin and Head Games. I just couldn't connect with them. It was as if the eyes were mindlessly moving from page to page, but the head and brain just wasn't taking it all in.
Until I got to Death and Diplomacy. And finished it in one week. It's that good.
Now some people would like to string me up for heresy for liking this book. The Doctor actually makes a good speech towards the end of D&D that sums up some people's reaction to the work:
"It's falling apart because its a botched job ineptly maintained... it's all been cobbled together out of junk and imperfectly understood principles by some person, or persons, or things unknown who confused complication with sophistication. The towering genius and the utter stupidity of an idiot savant writ large."Well, I have some news for you, Mr. Stone. I've seen through your transparent attempt. It's as if the writer nods and winks to the knowing and says " I know that you know what it's all about..."
The whole prose and flow of the novel is so overwhelming - that's why it's so difficult to put down. I would go farther than only referring to one Douglas Adams reference ("There remains very little to tell"). The whole book is very reminicient of a Hitchhikers novel.
And thats no bad thing at all. Stone revels in telling a particular story or paragraph in, say, 500 words when 90 would do. This may seem irritating and very random at first, but as I got used to this particular device, I learnt to love it even more. It is actually a very skillful way of imparting thousands of little bits of information which just adds flesh to the bones of the story.
As for the characters and plot, it's a shame about this stage of the New Adventures - the writers of the rare novels of the last year of the Virgin range (Damaged Goods, The Death of Art, The Room with No Doors and Lungbarrow in particular) seem to have nailed the best aspects of the show just when it's time for the franchise to change hands. The Doctor is portrayed as this omnisicient all-knowing mysterious alien with just the right dose of humanity, able to be in many places at once and defuse any situation with the right word or the right deed - in fact just the right qualities that the fans love. None of this self-qualified daftness or desperation that Sylvester McCoy had in spades. And there's a simply fantastic joke running through the book about the differences and perceptions of the three alien races (the Dakhaari, the Saloi and the Czhans) not really being differences and perceptions at all. Very clever indeed. Also, it's highly impressive that in a plot so large scale as this with 500-mile tall Hollow Gods, that the real threat should come from somewhere much smaller and closer to home. Just another inventive trick from the devious Mr. Stone.
But the real star of the book is Bernice - if you thought all along she played best as a smug hard-ass bitch, then you don't really know her at all. Her breakdown of emotions as she discovers life without her new soulmate Jason just wouldn't be worth living is a real gem - there's real passion in the writing and the new Professor Summerfield is a much more rounded and genuine character - and much the better read for it. Even Jason shines as an intended Joe-90 lad who turns out to be far more handy than he appears on the outside. It's not love at first sight, but its definitely fate.
Show Death and Diplomacy to all those who dismissed Sky Pirates! as a circus farce - it's hard to believe the two books came from the same author. I got my hands on a copy thinking it would be a handy bridge between the middle and last part of the Virgin range, but nothing more. I'm very pleased to be proved wrong. Maybe a controversial choice, but definately one of the best of the bunch.
Next stop is Return of the Living Dad - it's got a lot to live up to.