Death and Diplomacy
A Benny Adventure
|ISBN#||0 426 20522 7|
|Synopsis: The fabric of the universe is being torn apart. Colliding realities cause Bernice to meet up with some old friends... and one in particular who shouldn't be there at all.|
A Bad Hollywood Sequel by Robert Smith? 20/9/98
I never thought I'd say this about a Dave Stone book, but Oblivion's greatest problem is that it's just plain dull. Like the author's introduction, the whole book feels forced and painful, as though the author were trying desperately to be clever and funny and failing spectacularly.
Part of the problem is the characters. Bernice and Jason have been in the same room before and managed to remain relatively civil, even if they weren't exactly friends. However here we have to be put through constant bickering between the two, that's no fun for anyone (especially the reader). Benny doesn't come across too well from this, but Jason suffers horribly.
This illustrates a key point about Oblivion: it simply isn't any fun. There are some jokes, but they mostly seem to fall flat or worse, are presented as just gibberish for its own sake, like someone at a party saying "Purple Pineapple Hats" for no reason and expecting his audience to titter dutifully.
Chris is much the same, as is Sgloomi, but it's a real shame about Roz. I can understand wanting to do something different with the character, but the early Roz just isn't anywhere near as engaging as the older Roz from the NA's. Indeed, this seems to be recognised within the text, as her character has to be artificially adjusted to become closer to the one we're familiar with. I'm really not sure why: it would have been simplicity itself to have Roz simply an alternative one from a dimension where she did survive.
The plot, such as it is, is okay, if far too simplistic for my liking. The interludes with the supporting cast from Sky Pirates! are awful. Like Ship of Fools, Dave doesn't seem to know when these things are boring the reader stiff.
Speaking of the Sky Pirates! stuff... unfortunately Oblivion feels like it's supposed to be Sky Pirates II: The Return. This is unfortunate because it just can't compete with the power of the original; if (like me) you loved that book, you'll probably be disappointed with Oblivion, because it tries to replicate the successes there and fails. However, if you were annoyed by Sky Pirates! you'll probably be even more annoyed by Oblivion, since it has all the irritating bits and none of the sheer glory of the original.
It's not all bad, however. I did like the aliens on the world where we first saw Bernice and I liked the Big Sneaky Trick at the end (and it sure is sneaky!). There are also some really nasty bits in the alternatives of some of the regulars, especially Bernice and Jason. In fact, if the book had concentrated far more on exploring the alternatives to characters we already know and love (Benny, Chris, Roz, Sgloomi) as opposed to ones we don't particularly care for (Nathan, Leeta, Kiru) it might have been a lot more involving. Sadly, it didn't.
A Review by Sean Gaffney 22/11/99
I probably shouldn't have read this as quickly as I did. It's the sort of book that begs to be reread in order to fully get the gist of it. But oh well...
I'll tell you, I just ate through this book. It has fairly short chapters, so it's designed to be read in short gulps over a lengthy period. But for some reason, I just couldn't stop reading the thing. That is a good sign. ^_^
PLOT: Actually, when you think back on it, everything seems fairly cut and dry. At the time of reading, though, the plot seems to be INCREDIBLY weird and complex. The alternate world bits worked especially well, having a loose, unreal feeling to them that matched the reality.
BERNICE: Boy, she goes through the wringer here, huh? Actually, she doesn't get as much to do as in the other Benny NAs, mostly because this is very much an ensemble novel. But what we see is excellent. Particularly her relationship with...
JASON: Nobody writes Jason better than Dave Stone. Period. And boy, is he well-done here. A few more glances back into the life he had as a child, some excellent scenes to show us all how cool and competent he can be, despite what Benny thinks. And we get some lovely explanations for Eternity Weeps, and a hint that somewhere along the line, these two WILL make up and get back together.
CHRIS: Chris has always fought against the stalwart young man persona, and he struggles against it here. Still, he gets to have some lovely angst, and I really like the comment about his hell being so obvious. ^_^
ROZ: Obviously, this is not going to be the same Roz that we know. However, she ends up carrying most of the action scenes, and saves the day, so that's OK. We get a nice impression of a more innocent Roz, not as cynical. I did think she warmed up to Sgloomi a little too quickly - but then, it is Sgloomi.
SGLOOMI: Absolutely wonderful. This is a more mature, serious Sgloomi. And the best lines still go to hir.
OTHERS: Nathan, Leetha, and Kiru made an excellent trio, and we can revel in the fact that they've managed to bond together so well. Bane was nicely creepy.
STYLE: Boy, this was an oddly written book. Like much of its plot, it tended to be fragmented. Yet, for some odd reason, that actually helped me go along with it at times. I never got lost. Well, not more lost than I was supposed to. At least with the style, not with the plot. Oh, heck, I got lost a LOT. But it was fun.
OTHER: This is perhaps Dave's most serious book. It's also hilarious. Figure that out.
OVERALL: Boy, this was cool. The sort of book that twists your head off, yet you enjoy it. And I loved the Benny/ Jason interplay. Does Jason appear anymore this year, do we know?
Oh, and it really helps if you've read Sky Pirates and Death and Diplomacy before this. As you would expect from the third book in a trilogy.
Anyway...I can't think of anything else to say but:
10/10. Stephen, please hire this man to write a book for the BBC and pay him lots of money.
A Review by Finn Clark 10/2/00
Before starting this book, I vaguely remembered reading indifferent reviews of it at the time. This is kinda weird as I think it's great.
Personally I wasn't so enthralled by Death and Diplomacy or Burning Heart. Both seemed to start, amble on for a bit and then stop. This however is a spectacular roiling armageddon of a story, in which you're never left in doubt that Big Things are going on. It's not just about universal destruction. It's bigger than that. It deals in parallel universes and whiplashing timelines, incidentally covering ground like that in Unnatural History and for me doing it a whole lot better. If you wanted, maybe you could also see it as being a trigger event for the creation of Lawrence's bottle universes. In retrospect, it's a far more important book than I suspect it looked at the time.
It rebuilds the old NA crew of Benny, Jason, Chris and Roz. For the first time in the post-Who NAs, the Virgin family is reunited and from here on the series never looked back. Chris had met Jason and Jason had met Benny, but here at last the whole gang's together. Eventually the family would include those other NA regulars, Braxiatel and Clarence, but for me what we get here is the definitive combination. It's still fresh enough for the edges not yet to have worn off. Jason and Benny really argue, instead of bickering stupidly like two of the Three Stooges. It's not safe and cosy. It has powerful nostalgia value, but it's a strong and vivid team in its own right.
Oblivion is, of course, about oblivion. To clarify, it's a book about death, destruction, dissolution and decay. Here I'd like to say a word in support of authors' introductions, which haven't had the best of press lately. In this one, Dave Stone gives us due warning what his book's about... and amazingly enough, he's right! Once my attention had been drawn in that direction, I found it fascinating. Every kind of death is here, death writ large. A thousand aspects of mortality are held up to a distorting mirror and reflected back to us, holding together what might otherwise have been a confusingly disparate first few chapters.
If it hadn't been for the author's introduction, I'd have probably missed that side of things. Maybe I wouldn't have, but I think I would. Thanks to the consideration of Dave Stone, you could say I knew how to read his book. No doubt purists would object to this, but myself I'd say it made my reading experience richer and more enjoyable.
But while we're on the subject, what's going on with this Clockwork Trilogy thing? If I were to read all three books in the trilogy, would there be any connections apart from the thematic? Obviously Oblivion reuses several characters from Dave's first Who book, but if that was a sufficient condition to define a trilogy then Deadfall, Mean Streets and Oblivion would be another one.
Back to Oblivion. I couldn't remember a bloody thing about Natha, Leetha and Kiru, but I don't think it mattered. The back cover told me all I needed to know. The plot is laughably simple, but this isn't a plot-driven book. It's about the characters and they're all great. There's some horrifically nasty stuff towards the end (heh heh) which I thought was really well done. IMO, a winner.