Where Angels Fear
A Benny Adventure
|ISBN#||0 426 20512 X|
|Synopsis: The world of Tyler's Folly is not all it seems... at least according to the story of a bedraggled archaeologist that authorities pull out of the ocean. Has Bernice really been inside the planet's interior?|
Quite Good, but Caution Required by Robert Smith? 16/12/99
Down is a very good book. Everything about it reads well, from the spot-on characterisation of Bernice and the People, to the creation of two very believable supporting characters and the absurdity of the world the assorted crew find themselves on. There's humour and angst and genuine emotion-tugging events and an absolutely mind-blowing plot twist that is both incredible and yet so wonderfully, amazingly plausible. It's a well written book, confident in itself and rollicks along at a page-turning pace.
And yet I came away from it not particularly happy.
It's not that I didn't like the book, because I did, by the end. It's just that the very nature of the plot twist (and no, I won't give it away, you really should read it to find out) made me really dislike Bernice along the way (and yes, as I said before, this is perfectly in character). This is redeemed by the end and everything is entirely plausible, but I still ended up with a very real sense of dissatisfaction.
Which is a real shame, because on almost every level, Down succeeds. Ash and Lucretia are wonderful characters, the reader being very quickly drawn in to their personalities and hopes and fears. I can't help but wonder if they've been set up for return appearances and I don't think that would go astray. That said, one thing that's really in Down's favour is that for the most part it doesn't rely on the established continuity the New NAs have set themselves. Yes, it has the People, but the connections to the various characters at St Oscars are rather minimal. The supporting cast and their machinations certainly haven't gotten boring yet, but it's good to see that the BenNAs don't need to rely on them to tell their stories.
Katastrophen is a cliche done right and his gradual awakening portrayed very convincingly, especially as Miles presents the underlying absurdity so well in the first place. Even Mr Misnomer works for what he is. I was initially expecting him to be a Doctor substitute and there are a couple of references, but ultimately it becomes clear why this wasn't the case (although that in itself might have proved rather interesting, but I don't want to give away any more than I have).
!X doesn't quite come across as well as intended and I for one am actually glad the title of the book changed (even though ordering a book called !X from bookstores would have been fun) since that allows him to be slightly more effective as the focus isn't entirely on him. Fortunately, Fos!ca is quite well done and her reactions to !X make up for any deficiencies in the character himself.
The final solution is actually hilarious and very well done, redeeming Benny in so many ways, especially from the somewhat unlikeable (but necessary) characterisation established elsewhere in the book. It sets up the dilemma well and pays off better than could be possibly expected, but I still got a sense of distaste from it all.
My only other real complaint is with the cover. The creature is supposed to be an artificial plesiosaurus. My dinosaur knowledge isn't great, but I thought a plesiosaurus was a long, very thin green thing, not the stubby pink thing with ridges shown on the (otherwise quite good) cover. I suppose the rest of it could be "stretched out", offscreen (as it were), but as there's no hint within the text that this is meant to be anything other than an artificially created plesiosaurus I thought this a bit odd.
That's about all I really want to say about Down, at least without giving away the plot twist (which is so intricately tied to it that it limits the amount of things that can be said). Down is, for me, a slightly below-average Bernice book -- which of course still puts it head and shoulders over the first group of BBC Books (although Miles' eighth Doctor book is coming soon so all that my well change). It's a shame that when the Virgin books are consistently churning out books of such quality and cleverness as this, most Doctor Who fans will be reading the BBC fare, which isn't nearly as worthy.
Down is not a bad book, by any means. Indeed, it has the potential to be great and my misgivings are of a personal nature for the most part. I recommend it wholeheartedly, except to say that devoted Bernice fans should proceed with just a bit of caution. But they should definitely proceed.
A Review by Sean Gaffney 18/10/99
It's been a while since a weird NA has surprised me (after all, they do crop up a lot), but this one did. Down is... I don't know. I liked it a lot, but it's hard to say why, especially as most of the story we're told is doctored (so to speak). Lawrence Miles writes this sort of thing.
PLOT: Hoo boy. Complex. I thought Ship of Fools was complex. Ship of Fools was Ant and Bee compared to this. Messing with reality, archetypes all over the place (indeed, archetypes ARE the plot), once it gets started it rarely lets you think long enough to figure things out.
BENNY: Well, for most of the book she acted exactly as we would expect Benny to act. However, this is thrown on its ear when we discover that a lot of it was 'rewritten' by Benny herself. Suffice it to say she's in character, and gets a ton of great lines.
ASH and LUCRETIA: A study in relative opposites, both of these women are not quite what they seem. I'd like to have seen an epilogue where we find out if they really recovered, but...and the Appendix with Lucretia really needed to be seen. It's at the Shebeen website.
VILLAIN: !X. Boy, talk about...well, calling him a nasty bastard would be utterly wrong. He just makes you uncomfortable, as all villains do, but without the reassurance of evil lurking round the corner. Certainly very much what a psychotic of The People would be like.
OTHERS: Katastrophen was fascinating, as he made his journey of self-discovery and you began to understand him a bit. Kryptosa was a hoot. And Mr. Misnomer...reminded me of Jason, as I guess he was supposed to.
STYLE: The high point of the book. There are incredibly awful puns, fourth-wall breaking, and even lots of serious tension. The mood of the book ends up being more light than dark, but not by much.
OVERALL: Doesn't quite get the 10, as there were some slow bits about 1/3 of the way through, and the ending was rather rushed. But the book still drove you to finish it, despite its length. A worthy Benny book, and sets the stage for future books.
A Review by Terrence Keenan 11/2/03
All right... who put an old fashioned action/adventure story in a Lawrence Miles novel?
Well... it starts out that way, then becomes a Scream-esque parody of Action/Adventure stories, and then... to talk about would ruin the genius and surprise.
Down is an interesting read. The general plot is that Bernice Summerfield arrives on Tyler's Folly in search of a kidnapped student. Also arriving on the scene is !X and Fos!Ca from the WorldSphere, on a mission from God. From there, we find out that inside Tyler's Folly is an innner world that shouldn't exist.
How's that for a start?
Trust me, it gets better from there. Not to say that the beginning isn't top notch, but it's atypical for Mad Larry, the Universe Creator.
For the record, this is the best Bernice Surprise Summerfield, topping the one who appeared in The Dying Days. (Double Bonus with Cheese for not referring to Bernice by that horrible nickname.) Tired, weary, this is one of the rare times that she's a character, not a writer's avatar. Then there's Mr. Misnomer, a pulp action hero and resident cynic. Self-aware, he's a hoot, to say the least. The students, Ash and Lucretia provide the angst and neurotic portions of Down. The Nazis are straight from Hogan's Heroes and meant to be that way. Resident psycho !X and his keeper Fos!Ca always hold attention.
The end is where things really turn. It's in the last couple of chapters where the novel turns into a Miles train wreck for all the characters. Not as disturbing as the big revelation of Dead Romance, but it still causes brain matter to leak out of the ears.
Down is a dry run for Dead Romance. Not up to the standards (then again, what is?) of that masterpiece, but Down is brilliant on its own.
Miles is God. Accept it now.
A Review by Finn Clark 24/4/03
This isn't the book we read in 1997 any more.
When Down was first published, Lawrence Miles was merely the promising young author of Christmas on a Rational Planet. Alien Bodies was still a couple of months away. What's more, the nebulous and nearly fluffy menace we meet in Down would later prove to be the world-devouring, universe-shattering, Time Lord-banishing Gods whose year-long arc ended the Virgin NAs. There's even a bit describing Tyler's Folly in The Book of the War. At face value Down appears to be a romp through assorted pulp cliches, not to be taken seriously... but all that added baggage means that nevertheless we do.
First of all, it's Lawrence's most normal book. For a start, it has actual characters! I'm not talking about heart-stealers, conceptual entities or thirteen-faceted shaman-showmans from the Old Time on Gallifrey, but just ordinary folks. Check out Dufflecoat Girl. She's almost sweet, which must be practically unique in the Mad Larry corpus. It's also the only Lawrence Miles book to star Bernice Summerfield, which is a shame since he seems surprisingly fond of her. He gets her ball-rattlingly drunk at the beginning, but then having established her human credentials he lets her shine as a warm, clever, humanistic heroine in a manner that we never saw with his Doctors. Benny gets put through the wringer, a bit like Chris Cwej in Dead Romance, but (a) to a lesser extent, and (b) she wins in the end and gets the last word.
(She's wrong on page 68 though. Gravity decreases as you go underground; it's not the same as coming down a mountain.)
One can have fun spotting Lawrence Miles trademarks. The most obvious is a love of language, with some pretty turns of phrase. There's also plenty of invented history - as with the 21st century in Alien Bodies and Interference, it seems that Lawrence can't help fleshing out the Whoniverse wherever he goes. It's full of little throwaways... graverobber script from the turn of the 23rd century (p55), an Osgood-DeBono test which can produce 3.4 Facts on the Realometer (p28), the early colonial scientist-explorers like Joss McFinney and Gustav Ernst (p32) and just about every word of Ash's thesis on Mr Misnomer. Oh, and most obviously this is another Mad Larry book with monster apes.
Unfortunately it stars the People. Yes, I know. My heart was full of fear, but then I saw that Lawrence had created some evil People and I breathed more easily. !X is a super-genius indestructible psycho, so imagine my surprise when he also turned out to be quite an interesting character. The secret is that he's not yet another wannabe Hannibal Lecter. The world is full of 'em these days, all a pale shadow of the original and all profoundly tedious. Reading about Zebulon Pryce in Original Sin made my cerebellum shrivel and my eyes fall out. Whereas !X isn't suave, sophisticated or remotely interested in other people; he's simply a sociopathic savage with his own peculiar agenda. He's actually quite cool.
This book is a weird experience. We realise that it's a Mad Larry book that unleashed universe-shattering horrors on the Benny universe... but it's hard to keep that in mind when a character starts talking about their writers' guideline notes. This book has woolly mammoths, sabre-toothed tigers, cavemen and Nazis in a pulp homage journey to the centre of the world. It's light, fun and daft... at least until chapter twenty, whereupon things get confusing. Lawrence loads these chapters with strangeness and bizarre concepts, which reads even more oddly these days since we know the truth and this ain't it.
But after that come the last few chapters, which are great. I loved all the climactic stuff in Reality, especially the epilogue. With hindsight one could speculate all day about that. This isn't a particularly ambitious or memorable book, but it's entertaining and enjoyable with some good jokes and fun characterisation. And on p84 you even learn the collective noun for prehistoric mole people. (It's "corniche".)
A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 22/9/03
I'm going to do my best to review Down without making it sound much more pretentious than it is. This is made complicated by the fact that the book is indeed pretentious -- at least a little. But any description (and I can feel mine heading in that direction despite my best efforts) is bound to emphasize the high concepts being thrown around here. But it should be noted that despite everything else that is present, Down also contains a lot of fun adventure stuff.
I think the best way to describe Down is to say that it is very much a reaction to (and against) the events of The Also People, in the same way that Lawrence Miles has reacted against other Doctor Who creations (of course, you don't need to have read The Also People to enjoy this one, as everything you need to know is included). I find that I generally prefer Lawrence Miles' writing when he's playing with and subverting other people's ideas rather than trying to create something truly original. He usually seems to come up with angles and viewpoints that are skewed, stunningly creative but perfectly in keeping with the original. He does not disappoint here.
The Also People gave us a highly advanced People (they were referred to as "people" in the original, but become "People" here) who live on the inside of a massive Dyson's Sphere/Shell. They are a peaceful people, existing in an idyllic paradise, and ruled by a stupendously advanced computer that is jokingly referred to as "God". In Down, Professor Bernice Summerfield and two students are investigating a planet called Tyler's Folly. The back cover tells us that the planet is hollow, with some sort of creatures living on the inside. While God kept the Worldsphere in a state of serenity, the apparent controller in Tyler's Folly does not have the same benevolent motivation. Also included in the story are two representatives from the People: a student of psychotics, and a psychotic Person.
The story is told as flashbacks. The inhabitants of the outside surface of Tyler's Folly find Benny in a prohibited area; they throw her in jail, suspected of attempted looting. The story is told as part of her questioning by the authorities. Sharp-eyed readers may note some apparent inconsistencies, but these are brilliantly covered by the end. In fact, parts of the narrative are an intriguing look at parts of Benny's character, the ramifications of which I never really quite thought of before.
The book does have a few flaws. As a reaction against the Worldsphere, Tyler's Folly falls strangely flat. Miles tells us about the comparison, but what we see doesn't really go far enough to drive this home. This has the effect of making the middle of the book drag a bit.
And as I look up at what I have already written, I see that I have done exactly what I was trying not to do. Yes, Down is a book concealing huge ideas, but those ideas occupy a surprisingly small portion of the page-count. Most of the pages are involved in a good old-fashioned adventure story, where Benny and her two students (What's this? Original and interesting characters in a Lawrence Miles novel?) descend into the Tyler's Folly underworld on the trail of a long-missing archeologist. All the adventure stuff is merely setting up a lot of the revelations at the end. Fortunately, the adventure is an engaging one, although it does sputter a little and could have been a bit more exciting.
Down isn't perfect, and it doesn't do all the stuff that Miles is attempting; it still makes for fascinating reading. It takes some pieces of the Benny/Doctor Who universe (from the major to the minor) and cleverly rearranges them and adds to them in unexpected ways. But beyond that, the adventure is still a fun one, and most of the comedy pieces work.