|ISBN||0 563 48603 1|
|Synopsis: The history of Earth has been splintered, each splinter vying to become the prime reality. The Doctor has a plan to ensure that the correct version of history prevails - but it means breaking every law of Time along the way.|
A Review by Finn Clark 28/5/03
I've decided I don't like alt-universe stories in Doctor Who. I always opposed them in theory as weakening the drama of an ongoing time-travel series, but despite enjoying some Batman Elseworlds I've decided that I don't seem to like them in practice either. They're dull. Sit back and think... how many interesting parallel universes can you name? There are two main kinds: (a) fascists rule the world, (b) post-apocalypse setting where the humans carry spears and have the intellectual level of a barbecued hedgehog. There's the odd exception, e.g. Final Genesis (DWM 203-206), but generally we've seen it all before and it wasn't that great the first time.
Reckless Engineering is by Nick Walters, an author who despite being a Cole-era newbie is clearly not without talent. It could have been great, but unfortunately its alternate universe drags it down. It has a clever plot. (No ending whatsoever, which is a problem, but plenty of convoluted stuff en route.) It has Isambard Kingdom Brunel. But unfortunately it's lumbered itself with that dreary old Post-Apocalypse Setting, from which an interesting character has never yet sprung. Gottlieb comes nearest. I kinda liked him. But the others... Father Cluny, Aboetta, Robin, Malahyde and the rest were just bleah.
Mind you, at least it's better than The Domino Effect. There's timehopping, mystery and strange causal links. You want to learn what's going on, instead of merely wanting it all to end. What happens to Fitz is imaginative, while I liked the way in which everything looks as if it's being explained at the halfway mark before things spin off in a completely different direction. The Doctor's priorities are interesting and slightly scary too.
The book's tone is odd. It's generally as humourless as Nick Walters' previous BBC Books, but every so often a funny bit would spring up from nowhere and make me laugh. My favourite joke was to do with Fitz's bedroom, but there were a surprising number of such moments for a book that basically gives the impression of being po-faced.
Not all of the plot twists made sense, mind you. The Doctor is pretty damn stupid in Chapter 19. What did he hope to achieve? Whatever happened, he would have always had to go back still further and his actions at that point could easily have made things worse. And then there's the dire ending. A bunch of stuff happens, then it's all over! Huh? What happened to the climactic drama? The courage! The danger! Any kind of resolution that isn't a technobabble handwave! And there isn't even proper closure, thanks to a dangling plot teaser that I presume they're following up in The Last Resort or Timeless. (On reflection I think it links back to Time Zero, but I couldn't swear to it.)
However despite all these problems, I kinda liked Reckless Engineering. Its setting is dull, its characters are dull and its ending is atrocious, but... um, actually that doesn't sound good, does it? But seriously, the plot generally managed to juggle enough surprises and unanswered questions to keep me reading. The prose has a bit more texture than The Infinity Race and The Domino Effect (i.e. it has some) and at least there's more to the plot than "Oooh Gasp An Alternate Universe". It certainly isn't a masterpiece, but I'm glad I read it.
Distorted history by Joe Ford 23/6/03
I'll let you in to a little secret. I am not a big Nick Walters fan, his books represent the mediocre side of Doctor Who fiction. Even though Dominion and The Fall of Yquatine were both entertaining novels they were hampered by a clunky prose style and some fatal character mistakes. Even worse was Superior Beings, a mish-mash of trad and rad that used Peri in a most irritating fashion. No, to say I was expecting little of Reckless Engineering would be an understatement. Unfortunately, to start repeating myself ad nauseum here, in the spanking new EDA universe under Justin Richards Mr Walters has leaped forward in quality and delivered something truly special. Shockingly this is my favourite EDA since Camera Obscura and it easily surpassing any PDA in a good while (despite the charms of last month's Blue Box).
Why is it so good? Well I must say the brilliant cover wore my cynicism down before I had even read a single line. Its such a striking image I was immediately eager to read out how Brunel with a skull face and a whole bunch of chains would fit into the plot. The last EDA, the much underrated Domino Effect left the range on a dizzying cliff-hanger and this book leaps in from there. With its intriguing opening chapter I was ready to be impressed.
And impressed I was by the instant horror of the setting was opened out for me. I've never been to Bristol but I have a fair idea of what it must look like now, if it had been through a time slip and decayed to death that is. It's a wonderful, vivid setting that throws untold horrors at the characters. Immediately introduced to the horrific cannibal children that live in the wild this is clearly a very dangerous place to visit.
The EDA's have made a very smart move. By creating the diverging dimensions in Time Zero each story since has had a chance to be strikingly original and dangerous reading. With the concept of the constantly shifting to a new version of the earth the stories are almost self perpetuating. All you need is a good imagination and some intelligence. Fortunately Nick Walters is more than up to the task and creates a nightmarish spin on our world. I know a lot of people will say "well it's not our earth so who cares" but the very idea that this could be "our earth" before the story is out gives each tale an extremely threatening feel.
The middle of the book is full of exposition and explanations and it is good thing they come quite early because it allows for a lot of fun to be had in the last third as the Doctor attempts to make sure this history never, ever takes place. The book is very well crafted in that the setting is first revealed, then explained and then leaves room for some fun narrative tricks in the conclusion. It helps that the reasons this Earth came to be is so compelling, Malahyde's tale is extremely interesting and plays out in the last third with some delightfully quirky twists.
That's not to say it's all talk, there are some intimately well drawn characters here and some so-good-you-can-see-it action sequences. I especially liked the touching love story between Robin and Aboetta, this sort of unrequited love story is the sort that really tugs at the heartstrings and its conclusion in particular is wrenching. Gottlieb is another very engaging character, to be honest with you I was never very sure of his motives so it kept the story flowing with a nice sense of ambiguity. Who the hell can the TARDIS crew trust in this fucked up world?
Not even each other it seems as things go from bad to worse for the once inseparable team. Two months ago it was Anji's turn to get rebellious and this time it's Fitz's. It is more shocking when it comes from Fitz, the Doctor's rock in this troubled times and the amnesiac Time Lord is as mortified as I was when Fitz's frustrations start spilling out. I'm not at all surprised at this, Fitz has had it rough for many a book now and this kind of development was long overdue. It is expertly woven into the story so that both sides have a good argument (What right do you have to wipe out a whole reality? is on the back cover) and this sort of tension keeps things fresh and interesting. I was shocked to discover this writerproof team have already had 22 stories together and instead of running out of steam they just seem to be driving the stories in new and unpredictable ways. Mind you the series itself has had such a positive creative upswing in recent years it was bound to rub off on the regulars. And who would have ever thought Fitz thought that way about Anji? Things could get very interesting now...
Brunel is a historical character I had little or no knowledge about so it was fun to learn more about him. His involvement was in turns dramatic and hysterical as he is confronted by so many incredible sights. Indeed the last few chapters with characters from all over time meeting it really does capture that wonderful sense of screwball imagination the series was so famed for. The stakes are high but that doesn't stop Brunel pointing out the utter absurdities of the situation, Benny style! Needless to say he is a great character, bold, brave and in your face. Very entertaining.
I loved the violence too, a story needs to feel dangerous to work and scenes of cannibalistic children attacking in hordes were the stuff of nightmares, brilliantly written. Anji's underwater adventures is page turning stuff and the escape from the green sea cave scene was breathtaking, a return of the that vicious Doctor who was close to fading away. He's still got the edge folks...
Nick Walters has truly polished up his writing style because this had none of the chatty attitude of his previous works. Oh, there was some hysterical point of view stuff but it felt much more controlled and stylish, more a talented storyteller provoking his audience rather than the "ooh shall I tell you a story" style of Superior Beings. As I said his opening chapters are especially strong with some forceful imagery and graphic scenes that will linger in the memory.
The ending will be hugely controversial depending on your view of the TV Movie. I thought it worked well although seemed a bit easy after all the drama but some people will loathe it. I just know it. Let's put it this way, it doesn't harm a cracking novel and provides a good sense of closure. And a downbeat result leaves your heart broken.
Plus there are the after effects on Fitz which judging by that painfully emotional last sequence will linger for some time. Could be some real heartbreak round the corner folks. With only one book to go before Timeless I feel things might be heading for some serious fireworks...
I can't wait...
Despite my initial reservations Reckless Engineering was a
superb feast of a novel, gorgeously written, dramatic and involving. I
should learn not to be so judgemental in the future.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing...especially when it comes to Doctor Who fiction. You can never truly gauge a book on your first reading, or at least I can't, I always like to give a book a couple of reads as usually im so stoked by a book that I fail to see its faults or am so bored by it that I miss out on the hidden strengths. I claimed Reckless Engineering was a "feast of a novel", praised the prose and it's setting. This time I wasn't hungry for an EDA like I was the first time I read this, that two month gap really does leave me desperate to dive into the latest in the 8th Doctor's saga. This time I could review the book in a calmer, more rational manner.
It's not as good as (the criminally underated) Domino Effect or The Last Resort and it has the unfortunate position of being smack bang in the middle of a run of alternative universe stories. That means it either has to be extremely powerful or have some serious consequences. Unfortunately it achieves neither of these, what it does though and more effectively than Domino and Last Resort is show how much fun you can have with the alt universe idea.
For a start, of four alt universe stories so far, this does the best job of painting the picture of the consequences of another reality pushing ours out of the way. Life after the Cleansing is harsh and desperate, with much of the population gone and viscous cannabilistic children on the loose, we get to see first hand how badly the human race copes with this terrible catastrophe (or as Fitz so thoughtfully puts it how WELL we coped with such a disaster). Nick Walters obviously had a lot of fun painting this post apocalyptic world, taking a few well known landmarks in Bristol and setting the main action around them so we understand without a shadow of a doubt that this is "our" world. It's a horrible place to live and easily the most dangerous of the four so far.
Oddly Walters abandons his action adventure story halfway through and pushes the book into a screwball time travelling race against time. Suddenly we're popping back in time, abducting people, meeting famous engineers, getting trapped in alien universes, losing companions, trying to stop the same people meeting each other... it all becomes very complicated and exciting. Whilst Brunel's keenly felt presence is welcome it is shame he is introduced when the story has abandoned its characters in favour of plot. Brunel is asked to accept a thousand absurd concepts in the last third of the book and somewhat unrealistically he doesn't go insane!
Problems I noticed this time:
Robin is seriously pathetic, if I were Fitz I wouldn't want to be his friend. He's a whining love sick fool who drags the book down when he turns up.
The ending is very poor. The last ten pages are totally scrambled, so many characters and concepts, so many points of view... it becomes very confusing and all of a sudden the Doctor pulls a hey presto and it's over. A shame because Walters balances some good twists and turns in the las third but it just fails to mesh at the climax.
The Totterdown sequences are a little dull, hats off to Finn Clark who noticed this first. I don't blame Aboetta for wanting to leave such a boring home town.
Things that stood out:
The Doctor, his reaction to Fitz's doubts are heartbreaking. His assault on Gottlieb to escape the alien universe is shocking. Although he spends most of the book being a little more quiet than he has of late, that viscous streak of his still emerges in the unlikliest of places. Its one of the best characteristics to have come from the COE arc.
The Wildren attacks are fast paced, well written and scary. The attack seen from Anji's POV was page turning stuff.
The explanation heavy middle chapters are a lot more exciting than you would imagine. Malahyde's story is well established by the opening chapters to have his complicated story make a lot of sense.
The Doctor and Brunel have some great rapport. The dialogue sparkles between them.
The last scene which promises much but isn't followed up enough in The Last Resort.
So it is still a healthy balance of pros over cons but not quite as spectacular as I first thought. I will put in another word for the prose though which was fulsome and kept things readable even when they were less than desirable. Not a weak book by any standards, just a bit hit and miss. Maybe one more draft would have made this the "feast" of a novel I first claimed it was!
"Reckless Plotting" more like by Henry Potts 9/7/03
Imagine a combination of Genocide, The Domino Effect and The Palace of the Red Sun. Why?, might be your immediate answer. If you want to combine three Who books, why on Earth would you pick those three? Well, that's a question only Nick Walters can answer for Reckless Engineering features the main plot of The Domino Effect, a b-plot based on Genocide and a maguffin from The Palace of the Red Sun.
However, Reckless Engineering doesn't just borrow from earlier Who books. An alternative universe, post-Apocalyptic world, only children survived... all cliches in science fiction. Walters even steals from HG Wells' "The Time Machine". To be fair, that is a deliberate pastiche, but if you want proper Wells pastiche read Stephen Baxter's "The Time Ships".
The recycling of ideas is bad enough, but what really hurts is the horrendous plotting. Everything that happens is contrived to move our characters and events on, little arises out of the character interactions. Huge chunks of the story go nowhere, mere space fillers. The worst example is chapters 16 to 23, which could be excised with ease: pp. 157 to 240 just go in one big loop. Why is the word count so high when the actual story is so thin?
I rather like the cover, but it has nothing to do with the story. Brunel is about the only character who does not die. Brunel is, of course, another in a long line of historical cameo pseudo-companions who do not seem to have any purpose. You could excise him from the book with no difficulty too.
As for the technobabble... as I've said before, it's a bad idea to base your plots around incomprehensible and arbitrary theories about how timelines work. There's a lot of handwaving, some obvious nonsense, all tedious to read. Numerous bits of technobabble are introduced to produce convenient effects. (So why doesn't the timeline normally make people forget about the TARDIS?) And at the heart of it all, the plot is that there is an alternate universe which the Doctor has to undo, so exactly the same plot as we just had in The Domino Effect. I think it was Finn Clark who made the point that it is hard to get emotionally attached to a book when you know everyone in it (aside from the TARDIS crew) are going to be wiped from existence at the end.
The core feature of Fitz's character has long been, by editorial diktat no less, his faith and trust in the Doctor, so why do we see him now suspicious of the Doctor? Such a shift has potential as a significant character development, but we don't get that in Reckless Engineering either: instead we don't know whether Fitz has changed his mind because of how he feels or because his memory has been altered by the time lines. Great idea, of course, to mess with Fitz's memories: what an original idea! It's not like it's been done before... oh, apart from Interference... and EarthWorld... and Revolution Man for that matter. Is there anything credible left to this character's brain?
And p. 265 has Fitz lovingly remembering songs which post-date when he left Earth yet again.
Why does Reckless Engineering suddenly feature the secretive, manipulative, Time's Champion, 7th Doctor? Any particular reason to make the 8th Doctor so uncaring of individual human lives after you've spent two and a half years establishing him as something else?
OK, so does Reckless Engineering have any good points? The prose isn't bad. There is some occasional nice scene setting. And there is one fantastically funny line on p. 236. And Trix makes an appearance, which would be more exciting if she was actually an interesting character in the first place.
Nick Walters was a good writer once: Dry Pilgrimage was an interesting half-a-debut, Dominion was an absorbing tale. The Fall of Yquatine had a huge problem at the centre of its story, but was otherwise enjoyable. So what's happened since? Superior Beings was tedious, Reckless Engineering a disaster. And as for the 8DAs in general... what went so wrong?
Two out of Five by Jamas Enright 28/10/03
Just what is the deal with these things? The TARDIS crew arrived, and it's an alternative reality. Fine, okay, so the Doctor is compelled to go back and fix it. But is all we are going to get from the Eighth Doctor line an endless repetition of this idea, because as a whole it's already starting to bore me now. (Although speaking of alternative realities, is there one where Gallifrey exists again? And why haven't any of the other Doctors encountered one... oh gods, I've just had an unfortunate flash of insight that sees some author using this screw up to explain the Inferno universe...)
The story is interesting in itself. What if (sounding like a BF Unbound now) every living species but human children were wiped out? Nick Walters plays this out to some interesting conclusions, especially when it comes to choice of dinner meals. This is pretty much a fantasy story which happens to also be 2003 Earth. However, as a Doctor Who alternative reality it's fairly dull. Been there, seen that, can we have the next one please?
The story telling itself takes a very piecemeal approach to presenting this world to us. Most of the story can be gathered just from the chapter headings. 'Across the bridge,' 'The Assault,' 'The Outlaws'... we are told what to expect, and that's exactly what we get. Not exactly building up suspense here.
(And, as a mathematician, I'd just like to moan about the time differences here. One hour to one day does not equate to 5 years to 160 years. If it was really supposed to work, it is possible to get it consistent.)
Time to look at the characters. These are the people we are supposed to care about when the Doctor wants to wipe out their timeline. We have Aboetta, selfish woman. We have Robin, selfish man. We have Father Gottlieb (and would these names really survive that long, even if they survived at all?), an irritating man. Frankly, I can hardly wait to be rid of them.
And there's Jared Malahyde, gentleman of his day... and another annoying twit. Moaning and whinging about how he destroyed humanity... Sigh, get over yourself! As for Isambard Kingdom Brunel, I get the feeling that he's supposed to be exciting for us readers, but I was as into that as other people have been into the phreaking of Blue Box (as in: not). Still, we get a potted history of his achievements, so I can fake caring.
Anji's main role here seems to be to provide a viewpoint into the lifestyle of Franz Gottlieb, outlaw. Certainly, she's otherwise gotten out of the way wherever possible, so it isn't like she's got a chance to do anything else. Fitz gets mentally screwed up yet again, but that doesn't bother me. Frankly, they could kill Fitz off, and I wouldn't mind.
As for the Doctor... what did he do again? I really want to know. Either he's running away from people, or he's doing something so secretive I can't even remember if it ever gets explained. Just what was that ending all about? Something amazing happened (I guess), but not enough to leave any impressions in my mind.
So, Reckless Engineering. Some interesting bits in it, but on the whole, can we try this again, but this time with something worth reading about?
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 14/11/03
With only 5 new 8th Doctor BBC Books issued in 2003, the general opinion is that the running arc of alternative universes has lost its way. Not for me, I have saved the latest 3 books back, and beginning with Reckless Engineering I plan to read up to Emotional Chemistry one after the other.
I have tried to avoid reviews covering this set of books therefore, but you can't help but pick up on some things (the general opinion stated above for example). This book seemed to be not as well received as some others. I had never read a Nick Walters book before, but I think I have missed out big time - and that gives you the first indication of how impressive I thought this book was.
For one thing it only took me 4 days to read, and those were work days too. A BBC book tends to take me at least a week usually, and that's over weekends. I was riveted to the adventures of the 8th Dr, Fitz and Anji - totally riveted.
The whole concept of an alternative Earth fascinates me. When done as well as this, we really have one of the stand out books of the range. As the TARDIS lands in alternative Bristol (somewhere I have never been, but now fancy going) Walters gives us a Mad Max style environment. With the Wideren loose in the wastes, ready to pounce for dinner, this is a savage world. The Totterdown community is wonderfully brought to life, and we really care about Aboetta, Robin, Gottlieb and company.
The mysterious island that Malahyde has created in this world just is itching to be explored, and Malahyde an understated presence throughout the tale. Brunel is though the star. He's everywhere in the book, largely because of the Bristol setting and his industrial legacy. When he does appear in the narrative, the book is able to maintain the excellence of the first two-thirds. Brunel livens up the last third of the book no end - his introduction perfectly handled. One of the main reasons for the book's success is the Brunel inspiration throughout.
This TARDIS team has been with us a long time now, I know they are about to break up. That saddens me, because it really has been one of the best. I was almost as interested in the exploits of Anji and Fitz, as I was the exploits of the Doctor. Has there ever been a companion that fitted so effortlessly into the DW world than Fitz Kreiner?
The story had me hooked from the beginning. This pushing forward time 40 years in 40 seconds, and creating this alternative Earth - it's just a brilliant concept. Much more radical than the previous alternative Earth in Domino Effect, but just as well done. It's this superb idea that pushes the story along, but it is the descriptions of the new Bristol, and Malahydes retreat, that enrich the book. I don't claim to understand all the paradoxes, but like Brunel I got most of it - and that was sufficient.
Also effective are the scenes aboard the TARDIS. So many writers just use the Doctor's craft as a gate to new worlds, but the TARDIS is something to be explored too. It's integral to the story, and one of the best treatments of the spaceship I have read in any book.
Reckless Engineering then was a great read from start to finish. I was fascinated throughout. I fully recommend it as one of the best. 9/10
A Review by John Seavey 17/6/04
I'd actually been girding my loins for a fairly awful experience before I started Reckless Engineering; coming, as it did, on the heels of The Infinity Race and The Domino Effect, both of which were a bit sub-par, and having already garnered some bad reviews, I expected it to be pretty bad.
It wasn't. Sure, I did have problems with it -- the alternate reality that the Doctor and companions visit is highly implausible, which does detract a bit from the story, and it does borrow a lot of themes and ideas from Blood Heat, the "first" alternative reality novel of the Who Novel Era, but it's an engaging read that continues to up the stakes in the current story arc.
Before I go any further, I feel I must get the implausibility of the alternate reality off my chest. The Cleansing occurs in 1843, a temporal acceleration effect that kills 95% of the population, and all surface animals (and, it's implied, most surface plant life.) All that's left is some subterranean animals, some trees, and those few animals and humans who a) had long lifespans, and b) were early on in those lifespans. 160 years later, humanity has built itself back up to a medieval level of existence.
I'm sorry, I just don't buy this. We're talking about a mass extinction the likes of which hasn't been seen in 65 million years, at the least. The five percent of humanity that remains are all, mentally at least, under the age of fifteen -- in no shape to try to eke out a living in a world where the vast majority of the food supply has just died out (no animals at all, save perhaps turtles, moles, and elephants.) Without insect life to carry pollen, plant life would diminish rapidly. I don't believe the human race could survive this -- I think it'd be a few million years before something evolved similar to us, but we as a species would be rendered extinct.
So, that said, the author has decided to cheat. Humanity survives, and now the Doctor has to wipe out this timeline. Fitz, as it turns out, is being absorbed into the timeline as history changes to make this the dominant reality, and everyone's starting to get highly edgy towards the Doctor's seemingly callous attitude towards the human scale of problems when working with whole universes. Oh, and Trix is hiding in the TARDIS making tuna sandwiches. So how does it all play out?
Not bad. There's some nice character work -- Fitz gets annoying at first, until you realize he's being affected by the reality alterations. The villains of the piece are interesting, even if they don't get much screen time. The Wildren, cannibalistic humans (who, again, don't make sense -- if they're cannibals, why don't they eat each other? Why do they continue to pursue the Doctor and Fitz, who've shown themselves capable of fighting back, when some of their own kind are conveniently dead and unable to fight back?) ...the Wildren do have a certain chilling menace. The prose is decent, and the story is clear-cut and moves quickly. On the whole, it's not nearly as bad as it's been portrayed. Mind you, I'm not going to nominate it for "Best EDA" any time soon, but I do think it's gotten some undeserved venom.
A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 27/6/04
I've read the argument stating science fiction stories have fewer interesting people in them because the author must spend so much extra time setting up their alien and/or futuristic worlds, they have less time to spend developing believable characters. I'm not sure I agree that this is a necessary or inherent failing in science fiction, although I must admit it does successfully describe a phenomena that occurs with some regularity. And I think the heuristic it expresses goes double for alternative universe stories. The author must not only evoke the real-world historical and physical setting, but he or she must also spend time meticulously explaining how, why and in what way it differs from our own Earth, leaving even less time for the story's characters. This may explain how Nick Walters could present us with a very detailed look at an alternative Bristol, 2003, yet populate it entirely with cardboard.
I found much to enjoy in Reckless Engineering, but character development was not one of those pleasures. I wouldn't have minded so much (I'm perfectly capable of appreciating a plot-intensive story which exists at the expense of character), except that the book kept making half-assed efforts at injecting life into these people. There's a bizarre love-triangle subplot handled so clumsily that I wondered why the author bothered including it. The supporting characters are uniformly bland, with the sole exception of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. IKB is, of course, a historical figure, although one which I don't know a lot about, so I'm unsure how faithful this portrayal is. However, he works well here; the grumpy engineer is exactly what the story needed.
Despite not caring much for the characters, I found myself racing through the book's second half much faster than I expected. The reason for this was that I was completely engrossed in the plot and shot through it intent on finding out what was coming next. The TARDIS crew has landed in an alternative, post-apocalyptic 21st century, where the last remains of humanity have been slowly rebuilding their world for the past hundred and sixty years. There's a lone mansion that seems to hold the key to the mystery of how history became corrupted, and there's apparent alien influence in that situation. There's a hell of a lot going on, and while it's generally presented very well, I felt the ending was a bit short. Careful reading and going back to reread earlier passages suggested to me that everything necessary was actually there, it was just a bit rushed. It could have benefited from an extra ten or so pages, hopefully without unduly disturbing the pacing.
Another thing I enjoyed was the fact that we are not shying away from the consequences of the Doctor's actions. Putting the timeline (or space-time continuum or whatever it is) back to its proper state means having to wipe out these alternatives that are springing up. Remember how this was hand-waved in the final few pages of Blood Heat, way back in the New Adventure days? Thankfully, we are getting a little more discussion concerning these side effects of the alternative universe arc than we did the last time. Walters puts the argument in favor of fixing the universe in the mouth of the Doctor (as it should be), while leaving the "what about...?" and "doesn't that mean...?" questions for Fitz to ask. This arrangement seems to work quite well. The audience realizes that the Doctor may be ultimately correct in his assessment, but that doesn't stop us from thinking the same questions that occur to Fitz, and it's only right that the book should address them in this way. I quite like how Walters handled this.
There are some wonderful descriptive passages detailing how Bristol has changed in this alternative timeline. Walters wipes out a huge percentage of the world's population in the 19th Century, and then flashes forward to the 21st to see what the world would look like after that amount of time had passed. He spends a lot of time mapping out this universe, describing what the population has become and how the physical world has decayed. And he balances out these lovingly written pieces of very effective prose with violent scenes that are almost cartoonish in their banality. I think this strange counterpoint sums up my opinion of the book as a whole: stunningly great in some places, but truly painful in others.
I liked Nick Walter's prose style, something I don't remember being particularly tickled by in his previous books. I was taken by his ability to create a genuinely oppressive and depressive atmosphere, and then to momentarily break the mood with a clever joke. Not to give away any punch lines, but I loved the bit near the end about the poet who isn't famous.
Despite some fairly serious problems, I did ultimately enjoy Reckless Engineering The pacing is just right. We leave events just before they can become tedious. For example, the storyline concerning the settlements is relegated to the sidelines in the book's second half (prior to it become stale) and the plot then becomes a series of time-travel hops. Since so much of the book's successes revolve around its plot, I wonder if I'll care for it as much the second time I read it when I'll already know how things unfold. Perhaps it won't be a book with much longevity, but it's a bit too soon for me to make that judgment. On my first reading though, I thought it was a pretty decent book.
Feckless Engineering by Robert Smith? 10/7/04
Reckless Engineering is the best EDA since Time Zero.
I feel like my review should stop there, because that's exactly the kind of damning with faint praise that this book deserves. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed some of Reckless Engineering well enough. It's got an intriguing setup, with a nicely unfolding mystery of how all this came to be and a couple of really excellent set pieces. The author has clearly put a lot of thought into the setup and it shows nicely. If this were a PDA, it'd be fine.
Unfortunately, as an EDA, it needs to be a whole lot better than "fine". The only thing it really has going for it in this regard is that, to my everlasting surprise, Sabbath isn't in it. Well, okay, it would only work as an alternate universe story and unlike the last two novels, the alternate universe part doesn't feel tacked on. But at this point what the novels really need is a "wow" book, not yet another mediocre one. It's on the better side of mediocre than the last couple, but that's not really saying all that much.
One of Nick Walters' strengths has been that he actually gives some serious thought to the situations his books have found themselves in. Fall of Yquatine did fabulous things with Compassion-as-TARDIS, setting the bar far too high for anyone else to follow. Reckless Engineering has put a lot of thought into its alternate universe setup and that really gives the book its strongest asset. It really is fabulous, especially for the way it unfolds slowly. It's a little convenient that everyone in Totterdown is prohibited from discussing Year Nought, but I can forgive that as a plot necessity.
However, I don't necessarily buy Walters' claim that everyone who was over the age of ten conveniently dropped dead from the shock. Twenty year olds would only be sixty, which isn't really that old. I'd accept that they might not have survived for particularly long in the ensuing chaos, but I think the setup might have been a bit more believable without this. You've also got to believe that a world inherited by ten year olds can survive on a subsistence diet alone. That's a really tough sell, given that the event happened in July. Are we seriously expected to believe that a bunch of ten year olds managed to organise themselves together in order to sow and reap crops well enough that they made it through the first winter, just four months later? Having some of the older people survive might have mitigated this a bit.
The characters aren't much to write home about, but throughout the first half they complement the plot well enough. The chapter that ends with Anji's "dinner" is edge-of-the-seat stuff. I think that was the book's highlight for me, the point at which everything seemed to have coalesced. Sadly it occurs about a third of the way through the book.
Reckless Engineering's greatest strength is also its weakest point. The time shenanigans at the beginning work, precisely because they're not treated flippantly. Real thought has gone into the effects that such a scenario would have and the slow unfolding of the mystery, along with Malahyde's house, works really well. Unfortunately, the second half seems to be consist entirely of flitting about from location to location in the TARDIS. The TARDIS makes nine materialisations in this book. Nine. The Doctor doesn't even leave it for one of them, he just waits inside until Anji slumps against the doors.
Okay, I did like the fact that the reason why the events of Year Nought only lasted as short a time as they did was because the Doctor came back and stopped the machine. And it's perhaps fortunate that he also picked up Isambard Kingdom Brunel along the way, given that he's the only original character who works in this book. It feels odd that he doesn't appear until relatively late in the novel, though. I appreciate what was happening with Fitz, but everything else about the novel gave me no reason whatsoever to care about this world. Given the hard work that went into the setup, that's a real shame.
Part of me wonders if Walters isn't doing a bit of recycling. The dying Eternium felt a lot like the dying world in Dominion. And the "shock moment" of the Doctor inadvertently killing Gottlieb reminded me a lot of the Doctor forcibly installing the randomiser in Fall of Yquatine.
The multiple Malahydes seems more confusing than intriguing. Not to me, I followed it well enough, but the author seemed to be having a few problems. On page 235, there's a young Malahyde inside the TARDIS watching a screen, the older one's at Ashton Court... and apparently there's another one outside the TARDIS, in Totterdown. This last one is actually supposed to be Brunel, but if the author can't keep track of his own characters, he probably shouldn't be writing for multiple versions of the same one.
I laughed at the TARDIS winding time backwards though. Between this and Dominion, I suspect Nick Walters may just be the only EDA author to have actually watched the telemovie. Whether this is a good thing or not, is an exercise left to the reader. I assume "Natasha" - who apparently lives inside the TARDIS and took the younger Malahyde somewhere - is going to get some sort of explanation in an upcoming book. Well, I live in hope. The problem with this sort of thing is that I've lost all faith in the books' ability to follow up the intriguing bits of obvious-forward-continuity-except-when-no-one-bothers-to-deal-with-them that they keep throwing our way. Trading Futures, I'm looking at you.
Oh yeah, and what's with Totterdown's timezone? It's Year 151 on page 23, but on page 220 the Doctor says Fitz elected to stay in Year 160. It's not just a typo, because it's Year 160 again on page 226. This can't be accounted for by time passing differently in Malahyde's house - unless the Doctor spent four months looking at the Utopian Engine, which doesn't seem all that likely. Oh, and "Wildren" is a stupid word. "Wild" may rhyme with "child", but "child" and "children" have a completely different sound.
Reckless Engineering is an excellent book... that's buried somewhere deep beneath the alternate universe arc it's lumbered with. With characters we cared about and a plot that didn't keep jumping sideways every other chapter in the second half, this could have shone. As it is, it's a mildly entertaining movie of the week.
A Review by Donald McCarthy 15/8/04
This book was excellent. The plot was great, the characterization was great as was the prose. An excellent addition to the EDAs. Now let me get down to the specifics.
The Doctor's characterization was the best out of all of the characters. I could hear McGann saying almost every line that the Doctor says. Fitz was also outstanding as you can really feel that he is angry at the Doctor for his actions. The arguing between Fitz and the Doctor is very well done and one of the highlights of the book.
Speaking of characters the secondary characters were all gripping and I felt like I could identify with them. Aboetta and Jared stand out the most but I have to say I took a liking to Brunel, also.
The plot was an old idea with a new spin. The prologue with the young girl chasing the pigeons was great and I shivered as it ended. The after-effects of the disaster in this book are also very interesting. Specifically the Wildren. The Wildren were scary but tragic figures and I could see how one could both hate them or pity them.
If you're an Anji fan you won't get as much of her in this book but I didn't really miss her myself as I felt the others made up for her lack of time. And let's face it: Anji's never been that important to the stories as of late.
Now we come to the conclusion. Without giving out spoilers I have to say that the ending wasn't what I had hoped for. It left a bit to be desired. Thankfully the rest of the book more than made up for it. A good ol' 9/10.