A Benny Adventure
|ISBN#||0 426 20519 7|
|Synopsis: Roz Forrester heard about a secret project and vowed to investigate it someday. Chris Cwej decides to honour Roz's promise and teams up with Bernice to take on the seedy criminal underworld of Megacity.|
Lots of Fun by Robert Smith? 18/12/98
Mean Streets isn't a deep or insightful novel. It doesn't break any boundaries or push the envelope of science fiction. What it does do, however, is tell an entertaining and absorbing story, making good use of its characters and also the tagline that "science fiction has never been this much fun".
This is not Bernice's novel. However, unlike Deadfall, she's in a lot of it and has a substantial part to play (much of it exposition and linking scenes, but she works quite well for this). Instead this is the novel of two people: Chris Cwej and Garshak, the genetically enhanced Ogron.
I was a bit worried when I discovered Garshak was in this book. I was worried that Terrance was plundering anything he could from his earlier works in order to trot out the same old plots he's given us before. And in a sense, he has -- but only superficially. There could be allegations that he's plundered his own Virgin work for the plot of Blood Harvest with the characters of Shakedown, but I think such an allegation would be unfair. Instead, I think he's drawing on the strengths of both to provide a brand new novel that's better than either of those works.
Indeed, Garshak bears scant resemblance to the character from Shakedown. There, he was a one-line joke (admittedly a very funny one) who was around for a few scenes and then gone. Here, he's a fleshed out character who works really well as a first-person-detective narrator, the sort of person you want on your side and also a situation comedy form of character as you have to keep reminding yourself it's an Ogron you're reading about (and there's a great take on the old Doctor Who joke "[Companion], you're a genius!").
Chris is finally Chris again after the non-character we didn't have in Deadfall. He's actually much the same, still likable enough and deferring to Benny in the same way he used to defer to the Doctor or Roz. Indeed, Roz has a few scenes here, in flashback and it's interesting seeing Chris relate to people who ask after Roz. "She died" is all the comment he makes (on several occasions) and I think that actually works quite well (especially since we've seen all the angst before and these aren't people who are either particularly close or really caring).
Terrance concentrates on the two male characters far more than Benny, but I think that's a shrewd move. Like a novelist Brigadier, Terrance has never been particularly successful at writing for female characters, so here he simply avoids much of the problem. Although the Bernice that we get is sometimes a bit lop-sided, the parts that he does give her to play work quite well. He gives her the denouement scene at the end, because the others point out that as a lecturer, she'd be more used to talking to groups of people like that! He also frames the story quite well, using the St Oscar's setting to good advantage and further advancing the gentle arc the NAs have set themselves.
Of Terrance's original characters for this novel, only Lucifer really stands out, but he does so with considerable style. There's a hint of romantic feelings from Bernice, but I think that has more to do with the type of being Lucifer is (and he's pretty cool, I must admit!). I feel fairly confident we'll see him again, probably in Uncle Terrance's next novel for Virgin.
The other characters don't fare quite as well, but they aren't mistakes either. Nastur could use a little work to really flesh out who he his (excuse the pun) and Harkon never quite clicked for me but is otherwise competent. Only Sara really caused me problems, once again because Terrance has difficulty writing for female characters. Actually, I felt sure she was up to something sinister because of the stilted was in which she was written, but at the end of the day, she just turned out to be stilted.
The nature of the conspiracy worked extremely well, IMO. Part way through I thought I had it all tagged and was a little disappointed because most other books have something else going on. I was actually quite surprised, but quite impressed to discover I was wrong! Furthermore, I think it works really, really well the way he's done it.
I also quite liked the setting. Having Megacity One basically be a B-movie set of cliched gangsters works far better than doing the same to Chicago in Blood Harvest. The aliens get to be more fun and there's no problem with a Terrance-created world being a fun cliche. The number of Doctor Who references was quitesurprising, but if anyone can get away with it, it's Terrance. I actually really like this, as it ties the NAs back to their Doctor Who roots, without being overt about it (especially as the references were unimportant, but fun).
All in all, I thoroughly recommend Mean Streets. For those who have left the NAs for more Doctor Who oriented fare, it's fairly close to Doctor Who in both style and content and hence may form an introduction to the series. For NA fans, it's a fun read in a continually excellent series. It's not the most intellectually challenging novel ever written, but I welcome the change of pace that Mean Streets brings, without sacrificing the enjoyment factor for the reader.
A Review by Finn Clark 24/1/99
I have a confession to make. It's very embarrassing and my friends will all hate me for saying this, but I've got to come out of the closet some time. There's no easy way of saying this, but...
I don't hate Terrance Dicks.
There. I've done it.
Actually, he's quite fun. (Don't kill me, don't kill me!) I know that these days he's got rather less depth than an exceptionally shallow puddle, but at least he knows it. Reading a Terrance Dicks book is a bright and breezy experience, unhindered by great drama or indeed any need for thought. I certainly prefer him to the likes of Bulis and Peel, since he doesn't take himself seriously. In fact that's an understatement. You couldn't write a Terrance Dicks send-up because that's exactly what Uncle Terry's already doing himself.
Mean Streets comes between The Eight Doctors and Catastrophea, both chronologically and in terms of the inexorable decline of anything remotely approaching seriousness. The Eight Doctors isn't quite a comedy, just a piece of enjoyable fluff that's a lot of fun as plotless pieces of execrable fanwank go. Catastrophea is a string of gags flung together with all the deep philosophical angst of a particularly silly Wodehouse novel. Mean Streets falls somewhere between the two.
It's got lots of exclamation marks. It's got extremely short paragraphs. It's got drugs, gangsters, murder and hit-men, but it's all presented in a happy comic book way. Somewhere out there is a serious and disturbing book waiting to be written about organised crime... but this isn't it. If this book concerned World War Two, it would be 'Allo 'Allo. (Don't laugh -- Terrance did the period before in Timewyrm: Exodus and he likes revisiting the scenes of his old crimes...)
What about the characters? Benny is instantly recognisable, of course. I remember reading in an interview that Terrance finds her as easy to visualise as any companion ever to appear on-screen, which is a considerable compliment to the writers who created her and shaped her over the years. Chris Cwej is back, allegedly older and wiser... but this is Terrance Dicks we're talking about here, so let's not pay too much attention to that. The plot hangs together well enough, which leaves us with only one problem...
Dellah: to be more precise, St Oscar's (see note). Terrance tries to tie this setting in to the rest of his book and succeeds to an extent, but it's extremely arguable whether this improves it. The real action isn't taking place there, and it provides us with an unintentionally disquieting ending, in which Terrance ties up a loose end in a manner which doesn't portray Benny in a good light at all. I suppose having the Great Criminal Conspiracy(TM) spread its tentacles even as far as this hallowed seat of learning adds a certain something, but one still gets the impression that the Dellah scenes are there simply to be got out of the way.
I'm not very familiar with the Benny books, so I don't know if this is a problem. How often does Benny wake up drunk and endure various irrelevant inter-departmental wrangles before taking some vacation time and going off to start her real adventure? This could easily get old, fast. I believe some big changes are happening in the NA line at the moment; is Dellah being nuked? It offers opportunities and some shape to the life of our favourite archeologist, but I'm not convinced that its influence is a good thing.
Still, I suppose Benny needs an income of some kind. Better she have regular employment than we have to endure endless chapters of Benny's-job-of-the-month..
Mean Streets starts with a prologue set during Shakedown, starring Chris and Roz. This is a bonus for anyone reading the two books back-to-back as I did, though Terrance's Shakedown recaps eventually became obtrusive. Though having said that, I don't remember having a problem with this on its original release.
Mean Streets is a smaller book than Shakedown, both in scope and word count, but it's as effortless as ever. Mind you, Megacity is unbelievable. Terrance admits it's Chicago! You've got to admire the brass neck of the man. Without a speck of shame he gives us booze shipments, jazz clubs, gangsters and gruff police chiefs. Garshak returns... and he's been turned into Dekker! Gone is the corrupt, silky genius at the heart of the Megacity police department, and in his place is a rough but honest private eye and ex-cop with a trenchcoat and a heart of gold. His introductory scene is even identical to Dekker's in Blood Harvest!
Then there's the plot. I've discussed elsewhere Terrance's fondness for breaking his novels into disconnected subplots, but foolishly I imaged Mean Streets would avoid this by being set on one planet in one timezone. Wrongo! I'm starting to think Terrance approaches a novel much like the old-time scriptwriters approached six-parters. Whew, what a lot of pages! Better tag on another plot at the end, eh? Mean Streets potters along happily for 175 pages... but then Terrance decides he needs another fifty pages and thus reveals that our heroes were following red herrings. Abracadabra, a new set of bad guys!
The resolution bugged me, in which Benny gets one of her enemies at St Oscar's murdered and then drinks a triumphant toast as the news breaks. Ugh.
But all that said, I still enjoyed Mean Streets. The distasteful ending apart, it's Terrance being Terrance. The pace is fast and the villains are dumb. He's picking up where he left off with his Target novelisations, and if the results aren't as sophisticated as the work of some other authors then does it matter? Some time soon I'll read a Terrance Target or two and see how they compare. I suspect I'll find the same brisk, cheerful virtues and have a wonderful time.
A lot of fun. Terrance does it again.
A Review by Sean Gaffney 9/11/99
I have not read The Eight Doctors yet. But boy have I heard about it. You'd think Terrance had suddenly had his writing skill shot off in the war. This did not put me in the best of moods for MS, especially since the Ogron on the cover appeared to be gween...
However, my fears were quelled. MS is no Human Nature, or even Strange England. It is, however, a fun romp.
PLOT: Nicely interesting. Not overly complex, but after Ghost Devices, that's a relief. There's lots of good guys and bad guys, and almost no one in between. The final revelation about what 'The Project' is is perhaps a tad flat, but after building it up for 230 pages that is perhaps expected.
BERNICE: Speaking of rather flat...there was something off about Bernice in this book, and no, I don't mean the ending. She seemed curiously undeveloped, as if Terrance had to include her but really wanted the book to be a Cwej/Garshak two-hander. And her drinking is just out of control here, a topic which is actually FOLLOWED UP (gasp!) in The Medusa Effect.
CWEJ: I'll admit that Cwej has never been my favorite companion, but he really comes into his own here. Terrance totally succeeds in presenting us with a Chris who is fully grown up, if not totally removed of his guilt. And, as is a Cwej tradition, he shags the girl (though we don't know if he gets her pregnant and then abandons her).
GARSHAK: Reminded me quite a lot of Vimes from Terry Pratchett books, which isn't surprising as the character is a Bogart archetype. Gets lots of first-person action, cool fight scenes...in fact, Garshak exists to be COOL in this book. And he succeeds.
VILLAINS: Rather indistinct, actually. The mob boss is rather unthreatening, especially after we meet Lucifer, who's a lot better at looking the part. Then there's the guy at the end, but he's mostly there to be a villain, he isn't actually one. Therefore, the villain in this piece is probably The Project as a concept - interesting.
OTHERS: Sara - gotta agree with whoever said that Terrance can't write women very well. She exists for Chris to schtup. Lucifer was great, and I'd love to see him and Benny team up again.
STYLE: Terrance style. Simple, direct, a tad overstated at times. Very Pertwee-era. But as I said, it makes a wonderful change of pace for this series.
THE ENDING: Ah, yes, the ending. A couple of people have already mentioned to me that I wouldn't care for it. Um, sorry, but it didn't really bother me. I admit it would have worked a lot better if Bernice's reaction to the kid's death had been expanded on, but I can understand where she was coming from. I don't think the Bernice of the Who NA's would have done this. But this is the Bernice who's been through Dragons' Wrath intrigue, and Beyond the Sun and Down emotional torture. I'll buy it. Besides, as we see in April, the battle may be over, but the war isn't.
OVERALL: This is not a 10 sort of book. It's not original enough, and Benny isn't captured well enough. But I'm going to give it an eight. It was a quick, fast, fun read, had a lovely Chris Cwej, and was, despite the ending, an emotional breather.
Snuggle up... by Joe Ford 29/11/03
When I was younger I used to adore the Target novels. I used to get my Ma to read me a chapter or two before I went to bed (right up until I was fourteen! What a baby!) and I used to snuggle up to the pillow and lose myself in those exciting adventures. Armies of Daleks, reptiles beneath the surface, monsters rising from the Thames... my mind was full of such wonders before I finally dropped off. But I was never scared, maybe it was because my mum was with me or because I knew they were just stories or maybe it was because master story crafter Terrance Dicks had such a simple way of telling the story...
I have to say this book is a tad overrated and not just on the Ratings Guide: DWM, SFX and such like all gave it glowing reviews. Don't get me wrong it is quite enjoyable but is hardly substantial enough to be considered anything more than a bit of fluffy fun. It's not hysterically funny or unrelentingly grim, it's just a quick, snappily written thriller with some fun moments. I tell you what this book feels like, like the series taking a breath with something safe before engaging in some meatier stuff.
Only Terrance Dicks can get away with the multitude of novelist crimes he commits here, most of them you can ignore because the book moves so damn quick you don't even realise they're there. The book begins with a flashback to an earlier book, Shakedown and introduces Chris and Roz. Immediately we're supposed to know who they are because there is no information given at all. A huge stumble for an occasional reader of the NAs. But that's by the by worse mistakes skip by, there are several deaths in the book that are practically ignored and the body count heaps up so high that by the end I was shrugging as more people were cut down. I know this is a fun-gangster type book but it is so complacent about death it even has Benny raise a glass as her rival at St Oscar's is blown to pieces. Since when was she a blood thirsty sadist?
Another huge problem is Benny herself. Terrance writes her as a brave, mouthy drunk... pretty accurate really but that's all he writes her as. What about the compassionate, thoughtful and intelligent side to Bernice. This is clearly written by a man who doesn't understand women all that much, Benny is only around to provide the odd witty quip, pull out her lipstick blaster (admittedly very cool) and give the final villain-defeating speech. Aside from that she shops, threatens a few people and acts like a right bloke. All this would be okay in a Doctor Who book but this is Benny's series and she deserves a bit more depth. An earlier scene with Benny sitting in her luxurious office longing for the days when she was scrimping a living on backwater planets uncovering artefacts and such like rings very true and I thought she would be in safe hands. Unfortunately as soon as the plot takes over Benny is just decoration.
There now I've moaned a bit I can rejoice in the good things about Mean Streets. This is certainly not a boring book, in fact it was so fast paced I finished it in less than three hours. Each chapter has a wonderful Doctor Who type cliff-hanger that leaves you eager to keep reading. The action comes thick and fast and it's all pretty cool. You can see what Terrance has in mind, loads of gang fights and clever weaponry, lots of weird aliens and macho talk. All very snappy. So many of the action scenes are hysterically unbelievable I was chuckling away in the comic book feel of it. In fact this book would make a marvellous comic book film, gangsters who talk the talk and lonely Private Dicks who takes on entire gangs.
I loved Megacity... I mean I LOVED it. This is clearly where Terrance puts much of his passion, if you look carefully his prose is a lot richer when he's describing the settings like he has spent a long time picturing it. The cover is damn gorgeous, the main reason I picked this up before some of the others and Dicks captures the grimy, hard hitting mean streets perfectly. It's smoky and industrial, violent and dangerous... it's very much a place you wouldn't want to visit but love to read about.
Cherish his characterisation of Garshak, the intelligent Ogron who has take a career dive from Chief of Police to lowly Private Detective. These sequences, brilliantly written in first person absolutely make the book. They are atmospheric and witty and give a fresh perspective on the situation. Garshak makes an intriguing companion for Benny and Chris, proving adept at using his muscle and his brain. It's fun because the book never specifies whether he is truly a good guy or not, he is just trying to earn a living and if that means doing the decent thing so be it, if it don't, that's okay too. I loved his fight with the pack of Wolverines, walking into their lair was very brave and very stupid.
Chris makes a fine return even if he has unconvincingly 'grown up'. I'm not sure if the death of a close friend would have this much of an effect on you, it would rattle you sure, make you see the nastier side of the universe but change your entire character? Dunno 'bout that. Chris was always a bit of a loser, despite his gorgeous looks and muscle power, he was hopelessly drawn to the girls and always got himself into trouble. Here he is mature, serious, downright confident with himself and I have to say I think I preferred the old Chris, inconsistent though he was he was always a bit of a laugh. Chris here is fun, trying to restrain Benny's overactive mouth but he is a bit po-faced, a bit too serious.
As for the ending? Erm, no. 200 odd pages build up for this? The answers in The Medusa Effect were similarly disappointing but that was the one flaw in otherwise terrifying, engaging work... the sudden swing from criminal drug pushing to corporation genetics lacks any credibility. And the final 'revelation' to what the Project actually is screams of anti climax. A shame because the book was coasting along nicely with its cartoon violence and sporadic moments of cool, it was a shame the ending couldn't beef up the book a bit.
The prose? It's Terrance so it's brilliantly readable without being taxing in any way. You can read a chapter in a few minutes, this work is concise and vivid and about as deep as a puddle. I love Terrance's style, his prose and plot always balance, both disturbingly simple but effortlessly taking you back to that childhood dream of the Target novels. This is written for children which makes the body count all the more disturbing, such viscous moments written in such an adolescent style.
It's still the most exciting thing I've read from Terrance Dicks even with the links to Shakedown and Blood Harvest (gangster town!), both of those books were just as readable but this has a slick style all of its own. The zippy plot and cracking dialogue helps, the only trouble is the book is part of series that it really doesn't belong in.
Although I have to say I only picked this up so I could read it quickly before Emotional Chemistry arrived, a few hours of shallow, silly Terrance before I move on to the really good stuff...
A Review by Jamie Beckwith 14/5/14
I'd wanted to read this for years as it was a semi-sequel to Shakedown and taking place in the post-Doctor New Adventures starring Bernice Summerfield as the lead. Through persistence with eBay, I finally got hold of a copy and managed to read the whole thing whilst in a doctor's waiting room.
Alas, I was massively disappointed. The story sees Bernice and Chris return to Megarra to investigate the sinister Project, a crime Chris and Roz has stumbled over on their first visit whilst chasing the serial killer but hadn't had the time to look in to. Following Roz's death, Chris feels he owes it to her memory to find out what's going on. Unlike Shakedown, where it was "Las Vegas in Space", Terrance Dicks has decided he much prefers "Prohibition Chicago in Space". To that end, although Garshak makes a return appearance as the main guest character, he has been completely retooled as a run-of-the-mill private eye, albeit one who has the strength to lift other beings by the throat at the same time and lob them some distance. Although Garshak is given a backstory to explain why he is no longer Chief of Police and a line weakly justifying why his whole character is different (he's deliberately basing himself on those old Chicago gumshoes from movies he's seen from Old Earth), it rather defeats the point of bringing him back at all as everything that made him unique and interesting has gone. This Garshak still engages the reader, but only just and there's no extra sparkle that really keeps you hooked.
The story itself is quite pedestrian and the Project never really turns out to be anything that interesting. Admittedly, I fell for a lot of the red herrings (I really thought that the arboretum that one of the anti-hero protagonists had in their penthouse apartment was going to be the source of the other red-herring drugs), but the trick of a good detective novel is not to leave the reader feeling cheated at the end and for them to feel that if they'd paid enough attention themselves they could've solved it. As it turns out, there was no real connection between the actual reality of the Project and what Bernice et al thought they were investigating. The novel is wrapped up very abruptly in about three pages with a very limp scene where the finally exposed villain is outvoted on his villainy by a Board of Directors with a twinge of conscience.