The Gods Storyline
Return to the Fractured Planet
Virgin Books
The Mary-Sue Extrusion
A Benny Adventure

Author Dave Stone Cover image
ISBN 0 426 20531 6
Published 1999

Synopsis: Bernice finds herself at the centre of the effects of the cataclysm that devastated Dellah. Inevitable war is coming and it threatens to blow the fragile stability of the glactic sector apart. Only Benny can help, but right now she doesn't even know who she is...


A Review by Finn Clark 7/6/99

I've been reading Benny books again! I went into Oxford yesterday and made its booksellers a great deal richer than would be considered prudent by my accountants, buying various SF and horror novels plus The Mary-Sue Extrusion, Dead Romance, Walking to Babylon, Storm Harvest, Millennium Shock and Unnatural History. (Those last two go together so well with their millennial themes that it's a shame they weren't released as a pair.)

That's a fine collection of novels, but The Mary-Sue Extrusion won out as my numero uno read. The gods storyline kicked off by Where Angels Fear looks set to be the best story arc Virgin ever gave us... not just that, but it might be quite good too! I should confess right away that this is the first Dave Stone book I've read since Death and Diplomacy, so I was quite curious to see what he's been doing in my absence. Shall we begin?

Erratic and idiosyncratic grammar, lurching descents into circumlocutory chattiness, utterly unrelated infodumps coming in from far left field, the fact that the whole thing falls apart spectacularly at the end...

That's not my verdict. It's Dave Stone's, or at least that of his narrator. (With a book called The Mary-Sue Extrusion, one starts off rather uncertain about where the dividing line falls.) It's a harsh verdict, but not unfair. In fact, for quite a while the novel completely fails to bother with a storytelling level and remains just a series of extended essays. Gradually narrative rules take over (and do so extremely well, too) but we have been warned. This ain't the usual thing.

The Mary-Sue Extrusion is about novels and storytelling, and more particularly its rules and conventions. Dave Stone often stops the action stone dead to throw rocks at SF cliche, both in prose and concepts. He's happy to use coincidences and contrivances that Just Aren't Allowed in ordinary narrative and is completely up-front about it. "I'm doing it wrong and this is why," says the narrator, thus drawing our attention to the storytelling rules which dictate what's "wrong".

Great ire is poured upon the New Frontier Adventures, a Dave Stone term for mindless slabs of SF action that conform to formula without a speck of originality or thought. I don't like such beasts either, but I've read far too many of them in the name of Who. Dave doesn't name names, but simply shows us what he doesn't like. Thankfully for the reader, he also shows us plenty of what he does.

The narrative is first-person, but there are interludes in other styles. This isn't unlike what Paul Magrs was doing in The Scarlet Empress, but Dave Stone takes it to an entirely new level. Here we have diplomatic speeches, schlock pulp, travel brochures... basically a pot-pourri of almost everything human language can be used for, with the underlying message that novelists are generally content with an iceberg's tip of this vast potential.

Throughout, we have the deafening authorial worldview of Dave Stone. To call it loud and distinctive would be to understate by several orders of magnitude; on this level, he makes Douglas Adams look like Piers Anthony. Everything is refracted through Dave Stone's prism, which has been developing steadily ever since his days of Dredd. It's obsessively offbeat and fantastically lavatorial to a degree that at times reaches genius.

I wouldn't dream of claiming that Dave Stone is Doctor Who's best writer, but I think he's perhaps the most important. The work he's produced under the Who imprint is breathtakingly audacious, original to a degree that puts entire lines to shame. Even when he fails, you've got to admire the fireworks. For good or bad, long may he write.

But enough about Mr Stone! What have I to say about his book?

It's actually quite a straightforward story. You won't have any problems getting into it or understanding what's going on, though you'll have to wade through a lot of tangential discussion at the start before the storytelling begins. It has some really nasty bits, though Dave's almost-flippant narrative voice means that the horror of the situation clicks better on an intellectual level than on a visceral one. I'd strongly recommend first reading Where Angels Fear, not because it's required to understand it but simply because it's the beginning of this story arc and you'll get much more enjoyment that way around.

Oddly, The Mary-Sue Extrusion has strong links with the world of Dredd. The unnamed narrator comes from the world of Brit-Cit, invented by Dave Stone and described in fullest detail in his novel Deathmasques. "Birmingham EMG Zone", if you're interested, stands for Emergency Military Government.

More startlingly, however, pages 63-70 are a straight lift from a Dave Stone short story in the 1993 Judge Dredd Yearbook! I started off wondering if it spoiled Ship of Fools, but soon realised that something far more blatant was going on. The cheek of the thing! You've got to admire his brass neck, if nothing else. It's almost word for word. The same names, the same dialogue, the same events... Is this just another game for those who might spot it; Dave Stone running with his chosen theme? It's interesting to go through the two versions to see what's been changed; the rewrite is a considerable improvement.

Basically, I liked The Mary-Sue Extrusion...

"A Review of The Mary-Sue Extrusion" by Robert Smith? 7/6/99

In the following, I've tried to give a full account of my involvement in what has, for a variety of reasons, become known as "A review of The Mary-Sue Extrusion". I don't know why I bother to write these things down, but I can only hope that they'll form some sort of historical persepctive in years to come - or get me out of a bit of a tight spot in the slightly nearer future.

I made my way slowly onto the large moving public transport vehicle. I jostled with several fat women and used my superior genetic enhancements to secure myself a choice seat towards the back. A famous philosopher once said that there was no better way to travel, but he was talking bollocks, frankly. I stared at the cover for a while. The words "Dave Stone" leapt out at me and I began to feel that familiar stirring feeling in my loins. I'm sure you know what it's like when the very name of an author you've never met can cause you to go all gooey inside.

Begin Attachment:

To: The Doctor Who Ratings Guide
Subject: Spoiler Space
Message begins

"1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10"

End attachment

If my vast experience as a professional reviewer has taught me anything, it's that bland, turgid works can never match the thrill or excitement of an incredible book, written with considerable panache, twisting and turning all over the place and generally flowing like a lovingly oiled machine. It's always seemed pretty obvious to me, really. And that's why I want to have Dave Stone's love child.

Supplementary insert: They needed something good to follow the climactic events of Where Angels Fear, in the last days of the twentieth century and it seems that The Mary-Sue Extrusion was just the thing. It hit all the right buttons and answered many questions left by its predecessor.

As I turned the pages, my optical implants continued to scan the text. I must say, I was particularly wowed by it all. My not-inconsiderable interest was captured right from the start and I catapulted myself through an incredible array of prose, description, tangents and asides that just tickeled my genetically enhanced fancy.

Attachment (supplementary):

Intergalactic Jury Verdict for the casual reader: "We find the book very suitable for casual readers, your worship. If readers knew nothing about Bernice or her universe, this would serve as a great introduction, not only for the various paraphenalia and populace of the universe, but also for the continuing theme of fiction vs reality"
Attachment (additional): "It should be noted, however, that long term fans would find even more rewards in the text of the defendant.

My amusement chip was activated on multiple occasions, but I knew instinctively that this was not exactly a comedy novel. The in-joke alert programme went overboard on a couple of occasions (the reference to scarf wearing time travellers caused a major malfunction), but fortunately, the experience wasn't overburdened by these. I have to admit, they're the sort of thing that lesser authors use when they can't write humour properly, relying instead upon audience identification and snappy juxtapositions to carry the day. I'd kill every bastard who uses them if I had my way.

Supplementary insert:

Subject: You can get away with it this time, you bastard
Message begins

"Dear Dave. I love you. I still think your trademark pointless asides are rather, well, pointless, but I'll let you get away with it this time, not just because they had less irritation factor than usual, but also because you flat out told the disinterested reader like me not to read them! All the best, snookums"

End insert

All in all, I found my reading experience of The Mary-Sue Extrusion to be just about perfect... until the end, that is, when I had to hurl the book across the room, inadvertently hitting several large women on the other side of the aisle. My senses of perfect recall led me back to the beginning, where the words, "the whole thing falls apart spectacularly at the end" leapt out again at me, but provided absolutely no excuse for the whole thing falling apart spectacularly at the end.

Final insert: Read this book. You won't regret it. Even after the lame-o ending. This has been an advertisment on behalf of the Dave Stone Reviewer Testosterone Brigade.