THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Lucifer Rising
Virgin Books
Parasite

Author Jim Mortimore Cover taken from the excellent Broadsword home page
ISBN# 0 426 20425 5
Published 1994
Cover Paul Campbell

Synopsis: The Artefact is a world turned inside out. Low gravity causes enormous floating forests, bizarre lifeforms and terrible secrets. An expedition to explore the artefact has gone horribly wrong, Ace and Bernice find themselves facing nature at its most deadly and the Doctor comes face to face with his own mortality...


Reviews


A quick review by Graham Keeling 10/6/99

I recently read this book, along with a few other Virgin New Adventures, in my Easter break from university. I have to say that I enjoyed it greatly and finished reading it within two days.

I've seen reviews that have absolutely ripped this title to shreds - even the novels ranking page has it three places from the bottom of their league.

I feel this is just not justified. The story-line, for a start, kept me guessing almost right to the end. When the answers came, it was one of the most inspired concepts in a Doctor Who novel that I've ever read. Also, there were many scenes that actually made my skin crawl, which is something that I haven't experienced in Doctor Who for a long time. However, I never got the feeling that the violence or horror was ever 'gratuitous', as it was used in a way that let the story unfold.

Looking at where the book didn't work for me - the sequence near the very end (where Ace is stranded and has to survive like the Parasite the story is about) seemed slightly unnecessary, but was handled well. Also, the sections in the Monkey city to do with a grey field converting the DNA structure of things that touched it was slightly confusing, but passed over quickly.

One of the main criticisms people have is that Jim's style of writing is over-descriptive and that this novel is just far too long, but the descriptive text is what makes this book what it is - Mortimore has done an amazing job of bringing to life what is a completely alien environment and did a fantastic job in transporting me away there. I really could imagine what it would be like the sort of zero gravity environment described here.


Parasite Revisited by Jason A. Miller 15/9/99

Ah, naivete. In June 1995, I was happy to write: "I don't get the fuss, I don't believe the hype. This is one really gripping, effective book." I had just finished Jim Mortimore's Parasite, only moments before, and I had been drawn into its world. I'd known of the controversy the book generated, but I wasn't bothered by the violence, the sheer dystopia of it all.

Until, of course, the next morning, when I realized, "Hmm, that wasn't as good as I thought it was." That morning-after feeling has persisted with me to this day, and it's tainted my reaction to almost every subsequent Mortimore novel.

In the wake of what can only now be described as euphoria at having survived it all, I said: "I will proclaim now that Jim Mortimore is well on his way to becoming a better writer than Stephen King, for he's gotten his characters, emotions, and dialogue under a firm grip in this, his third book."

Looking back, that seems a generous, if extraordinarily silly, thing to say. No mistake -- Mortimore is still one of the better practicing DW novelists out there, and his subsequent novels have been (slightly) better than Parasite. But he's treading water, really. Because the shocked reactions that Mortimore's new books elicit are all of the same type of shock. "How can he do that? Why does he do that?" As Peter Noone didn't say, "Third verse, same as the first."

The next novel, Eternity Weeps also made controversy. Like Parasite, it was grim and nasty and spared no-one (it was also more tightly plotted). But this time, the controversy seemed hollow -- the book was gruesome past the point of being worthy, and it's since been almost forgotten. By the time Beltempest rolled around, the grim formula had gone stale -- we already know that an entire ecosystem (planet, planet, solar system) will perish offscreen. Eye of Heaven is clear winner in the Mortimore sweepstakes, perhaps because it steered clear of the sheer overweening size of the above books.

"[T]here's no real villain in this story. I like the construction of the Artifact [...], and the Monkeys work quite well. As per Mortimore's standards, excellent dialogue.  A seven/ten. Better than most of the 1994 NA offerings, certainly coming in at the top half. Not as good as Blood Heat [...]," was my final assessment after putting the book aside. But for the purpose of retrospection, I have not had the urge to read it again.


"Compund fracture, lots of blood, probably very painful. Some infection. Treatable" The tone of the whole book really by Ed Swatland 17/6/01

Parasite isn’t popular in fan circles. It came third-to-last in the DWM magazine awards and in the same position on the Novels Rankings Page. However it was a book that I really wanted to read, so when I started it I was aware about what to expect. A grim, unpleasant slog of a book. I was delighted to discover it wasn’t a slog at all. It was unpleasant, and grim but after it’s first 100 pages I couldn’t put the book down. It actually moved at quite a fast pace. It’s the kind of book that doesn’t start well, then picks you up by the bollocks and won’t let you go. Like The Shadows of Avalon. Now, the first 100 pages were a bit tedious. Jim Mortimore obviously wanted to establish the Artifact as a whole and slowly introduce the characters. A shame he didn’t do it very well. I thought the Artifact made a superb setting, but with such a bizarre setting as it was (totally unique in the NA’s) it actually needed 30 pages to describe it.

The horrible things that occur in this book are not censored. The characters struggles to survive at all costs are rather brutal and disturbing: this is not a book for the faint-hearted. The author pulls no stops in showing the vile horror that occurs here. I know many found these things distasteful (Parasite has been described as using ‘gratuitous’ horror and violence) but they are necessary for the author to establish a sense of realism that is crucial for the success of the book. I think the book is a success in what it pulls down. The whole plot is very complex, but surprisingly understandable. And, of course there’s no real ‘villain’ to speak of. In a sense the Artifact is the villain, Mark Bannen is really just a bit twisted. If the name Mark Bannen doesn’t ring any bells, then I strongly suggest you read Lucifer Rising before this. If you have read it, then you will understand straight away who Bannen is. A very clever twist indeed.

The characters were very vivid, credit to the author who can weave such good characters into such a complicated setting. They all seemed real, except for Mr. Whiney Bastard Drew. He didn’t engage my interest whatsoever, and only provided a foil for Ace half way through the book. Ah, yes. Ace. She and the Doctor and Benny went through hell in this book, no I mean it. Benny got her arm almost eating by a squid, then got internal bleeding, then parasitized. It’s much worse than my simple description. Then there’s the political aspect that the author manages to weave into the main storyline. Well, not exactly political. The book found a way to include it, to make it relevant, despite the fact that the action of the novel takes place entirely within the Artifact. That was clever but not to my taste. I’m not one for political Doctor Who stories.

Parasite didn’t really have any flaws. The author presented the story well, in a way I really liked. The Monkey city was a nice aspect, unfortunately some of the goriest stuff happened there. The novel was very bleak though, it dampened my enjoyment a bit. You need a bit of humour in a book like this. There are a couple of jokes, mostly from Bernice, but overall it’s one hell of a grim book. The Doctor was too dark, no humour. Of course, a book like this requires humour to lift the grim storyline. And surprisingly I didn’t really miss the humour. Because of its complex plot, it probably deserves a second reading, but the main idea of the book is amazing, before ending with the most grim final pages I’ve ever read. It’ll be no surprise to you that everyone dies (except the regulars) and that’s to be expected in a book like this. In won’t leave you grinning from ear to ear, but you’ll come away knowing you’ve just read a damn good book.

So, despite the fact that the book succeeds in presenting a strong story through strong writing and mostly firm characters, its sheer bleakness was a turn-off. But the book did succeed in portraying something Doctor Who had never seen before and made it really good. I recommend Parasite to those who haven’t been through this bleakness yet. Go and find it, it's worth it, honestly. And not at all bad, so don’t be put off by negative reviews!

8/10


A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 7/4/03

Aaaaaaaaaaargh, eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrgggg, haaaaaarrraaaaack, blaaaaaaaaaaaargh!!!

Okay, well, now that I've got that out of my system, I'm going to attempt to explain my reaction to Parasite. On second thoughts, I may have gotten it right the first time just by screaming incoherently.

Parasite is a hard science-fiction story punctuated by people in pain, in agony, and generally not having a pleasant time of it. It takes place in a gigantic structure called "the Artifact", large enough to house entire moons. It's a zero-gee environment, populated by floating forests, detached mountains, and space-monkeys. The first hundred pages or so are spent just describing and exploring the grand entity, and I found this section to be utterly absorbing. Mortimore obviously spent a lot of time and energy in coming up with this setting, and I think that investment really paid off. The plot is virtually at a standstill while the foundations are being laid, but the world-building itself is excellent.

Unfortunately, pieces start falling off at about the halfway point. It becomes too weighty and bloated for its own good; plot threads that had carefully been developed during the beginning and middle sections are promptly dropped, never to appear again. Many of the items mentioned on the back cover fizzle out long before the resolution of the book. The preview tells us about "a solar system on the brink of civil war", but I'm really not sure why this is important. By the end, some of the large scale of the story comes quite a way towards redeeming the book. The revelations concerning the gigantic Artifact are genuinely fascinating. But to use a metaphor: the bottom of the ladder is basically secure; the top of it is similarly sound; however, it's the middle rungs that appear dangerously rickety, and unable to support the weight of the whole.

Mortimore creates a lot of interesting characters in this, one suspects purely for the sake of killing them off in a variety of gruesome ways. I liked many of the secondary characters, especially the strange semi-corporeal character named Midnight, who, unfortunately, I kept visualizing as Strong Sad of Home Star Runner fame (www.homestarrunner.com). Not all of them are constructed well, but those that are become quite interesting. The downside to the writing in general was that as soon as Mortimore started torturing his characters (and he starts early), my interest in them began to wane. Putting people through the wringer can be a great way of increasing the tension, but doing it too much makes the narrative monotonous. (And you know the characters are in a lot of pain, because when we see their internal monologues, their grammar starts to break down and they construct extremely long run-on sentences like this one describing their pain, what their pain feels like, what horrors they're experiencing, and, oh, how bad it hurts, and generally repeating how much it hurts, it hurts, oh, it hurts, and the pain, and the agony, and the hurting, oh, my toes, and the pain, oh, oh, and then a bunch of dashes are put in to break up the - agony since the creation of the universe - pain that everyone is going through. If that sentence irritated you, then you may want to read selected portions of Parasite with your eyes closed.)

And there are lots of little flaws that crop up throughout this book. Characters make strange leaps of logic, or appear suddenly in places without any indication as to how they got there. There's an example near the beginning of the book. Ace and Benny have left the Doctor and the TARDIS behind in a jungle, and they float away towards a distant mountain. Through a series of misadventures, Benny is injured and left on the mountain while Ace races back to the jungle hoping to obtain some medicine from the TARDIS. Meanwhile, the Doctor is still in the jungle, running very quickly away from some alien menace that presumably wants to eat him. While Benny is awaiting Ace's return, the Doctor suddenly appears on the mountain with no explanation as to what happened in the jungle, how he got to the mountain, how he knew she was there, how he managed to pass Ace without seeing her, etc. Now, is this by itself a major flaw? No, I can easily imagine a set of circumstances to get the Doctor from point A to point B. But it's indicative of the book in general. There's too many of these little quirks and illogical progressions. Grand ideas, but sloppy in execution.

There's a inadvertently accurate summary of Parasite on page 289: "[Benny] had vague memories of panic, of fear, of horror, of great gulping sadness of which, when she looked back on them later, not very many seemed to make a great deal of sense." I wouldn't be as hard on the book as Benny's summary would indicate, but it's not far off from the truth. I can't say that I liked Parasite exactly, but I think I feel safe saying that I appreciated some of the Big Ideas that Mortimore was throwing around. He was thinking big, and I can definitely respect that. He may not have hit everything he was aiming at, but the things that he was successful at here left me very impressed. It's a pity that the entire book doesn't feel very cohesive. It has a rushed flavor to it, which may point to the possibility of the book being better if Mortimore and the editors had taken more care. There is a hell of a lot of potential here, but only about half of it is fulfilled.


A Review by Finn Clark 7/5/04

It's been said that if Lucifer Rising was Jim Mortimore's tribute to Larry Niven, then Parasite is his tribute to Arthur C. Clarke. Like Lucifer Rising, it's an Artefact story. A whopping unknowable alien unknown appears in the solar system and our heroes spend a whole book just trying to decide what makes it tick. That's it. That's the whole story. That's the kind of thing Clarke loved to do, sacrificing everything else in a novel for the sake of a sense of wonder. When it works, it's awesome. Many people hated Parasite, but I thought it was astonishing.

Quite apart from anything else, you'll get Mortimore being Mortimore. That won't be to everyone's taste, but me, I'll always queue up for that. The Artefact is flesh-shreddingly hostile, often in gross ways that'll make you worry about Jim's brain, but it's a weird and beautiful world. The cover painting doesn't do it justice. If you want to visit a land of wonder and have your skin crawl in a hundred different directions, read this book. Consider this: there's a cannibalism motif, but it's the most mundane bit of the novel since we've seen similar material elsewhere in Beltempest and Venusian Lullaby.

Virgin forced Jim to include a villain, but you can tell it's a last-minute addition. People are almost irrelevant in a story this big. We want to know how the Artefact works and whether it'll eat the solar system. (In a Mortimore novel, that's very possible.) Though having said that, the baddie doesn't detract from anything until the end and I liked the Elysium backstory behind his presence. It's just background, but it's fun background. It's always nice to see futuristic worldbuilding in Who a bit more sophisticated than three actors and a BBC corridor.

The TARDIS crew are fine, though the Doctor disappears for large chunks of the book. I suppose an Artefact story like this wouldn't give much opportunity for juicy Doctorish scenes, but that's something of a Mortimore trademark. None of his solo NAs gave the Doctor much screen time. There's a theme of change - everything is changing, from the characters to their environment. By then Ace's departure in Set Piece was only two books away, while there's even apparent foreshadowing for the TVM. The Doctor seems to brood about an impending regeneration. (Was it around this point that Virgin hoped to do a story arc with a temporary regeneration, in which McCoy would briefly become David Troughton?)

Side-note for continuity hounds: this book takes place in the 25th century (p140, p165).

If you're familiar with Artefact stories, this one subverts the cliches. Normally they're the work of higher beings beyond our understanding, yadda yadda, but this one is... no, I'll let you find out for yourselves. This book probably contains more bio-pain, ickiness and gross twists than all the other Virgin NAs put together. If your storytelling preferences are for fluffy fun instead of alien environment hard SF, run away! This book is Mortimore-ish right down to its itty-bitty flesh-shredding microbes and as uncompromising as hell. That's why I love it.


I've Got You Under My Skin by Joe Briggs-Ritchie 14/6/07

Practically every review that I'd seen of this novel said that it was awful and should be avoided like the plague. After having read it, I really can't see what all the vitriol was about. Parasite isn't perfect, it doesn't make full use of its potential but it's a perfectly entertaining read. I suppose if you didn't enjoy it then its considerable length would've made it even more of a painful experience. But Mortimore hits all the right buttons as far as I'm concerned. It's a wonderfully disgusting, fleshy, organic novel that takes great delight in putting its characters through the wringer. It's written in Mortimore's usual style so if you're a fan of his other novels, you won't be disappointed.

When I say his usual style I mean big, huge concepts, huge living creatures and lots of pain and suffering. Blood Heat, Lucifer Rising and Beltempest were all written on an epic scale and this is no different. Lucifer Rising was a great book. Beltempest was quite enjoyable but I've found that it's better in retrospect than while you're actually reading it.

Parasite is probably closest to Beltempest and also has a religious theme running through it. In fact, Parasite seems to offer musings on the nature of pain, much like Falls The Shadow although here it's done in a much more organic, less abstract way. Terrible, horrible things happens and there is lots of suffering. The very title of the book should tell you a lot. There is a constant theme of parasitization running through it and it's sometimes physical as well as metaphorical. Ace has parasite burrow out of her skin as well as infest her eyes. The monkeys grow horrible worm-like parasites inside them and the same thing happens to Ace and Bernice. It plays on a basic human fear of being destroyed or eaten from the inside. Falling victim to any kind of alien monstrosity is one thing but when it's actually killing you from within, that's something else entirely.

The Artifact is a unique environment and at times, it's hard to actually comprehend it or even get your head around the sheer size of it. Mortimore always thinks big, whether it be in terms of physical environment or body count and he doesn't disappoint here. He was aiming for the same kind of thing with Beltempest but it was perhaps too short to do justice to the kind of scope of scope he was trying to achieve. Parasite has a substantial length, therefore he has no problems making the reader believe the enormity of things, although I have to admit, the lack of gravity was quite tiresome to read about after a while. It means that Mortimore has to waste time describing the pros and cons of physical movement in a zero gravity environment. A lot of the time, the characters can't simply move several paces on foot. They have to prat about shifting their weight and potential, blah blah blah... This is one thing that I could have done without.

The Doctor isn't really in this one very much, it's more of a novel for Ace and Bernice. Bernice is well written but then she always seems to be. Ace is also much less annoying than she usually is. I make no secret of the fact that a lot of the time I don't like Ace in the NAs. She bears very little resemblance to Sophie Aldred's wonderful portrayal of the character as is all the worse for it as far I'm concerned. Still, she's leaving soon...

The supporting characters aren't really very interesting. The book may have sped along much more quickly if they had all been wiped out near the start. OK, so it would have drastically reduced the dialogue and as a result we would probably have been left with scenes resembling Ace's painfully boring Turkish interlude in Cat's Cradle: Warhead, but there you go. Drew is absolutely hopeless, I was hoping and praying that Mortimore would kill him off in some monstrously horrible way. Gail isn't really much better. There is something quite irritating about her that I can't really put my finger on. The Builders were an interesting concept and I especially liked the part were they almost cook Bernice with microwave radiation.

All in all, nowhere near as bad as its reputation would suggest. Not perfect by any means, but it certainly doesn't deserve the slamming it regularly receives.