The Doctor Who Ratings Guide: By Fans, For Fans

Virgin Books
Ship of Fools
A Benny Adventure

Author Dave Stone Cover taken from the excellent Doctor Who books page
ISBN# 0 426 20510 3
Published 1997
Cover Jon Sullivan

Synopsis: Aboard a majestic cruise liner, Bernice finds that somebody is picking off the unlikely passengers one by one. Will Benny have to turn detective to get out alive?


Entertaining and Amusing by Robert Smith? 15/9/98

Ship of Fools is a very funny book. Dave Stone has clearly got his style down, balancing the often outrageous humour against thought-provoking commentary of human (and alien) nature and a fluidity of prose that makes his denseness of plot easier to follow. Not to everyone's tastes, perhaps, but for anyone with a sense of humour there's probably something worthwhile in here.

One of the interesting things about Ship of Fools is just how much it parodies the rest of the New Adventure range, both current and past. There are sly hints referring to the Doctor and Bernice's reluctance to think about him too much, as well as a marvellous take on the situation surrounding The Pit early on in the book (with an extra level of enjoyment for rec.arts.drwho regulars).

In fact, there are so many little pieces of joy for rec.arts.drwho readers that I'm at a bit of a loss wondering what non-net folk will make of this. In its favour, however, is the fact that this is a delightful parody of the propensity of many authors to include their friends, usually as extras who are killed off. Ship of Fools takes this to appropriately ridiculous extremes and will hopefully signal the end of this rather dubious practice (well, we live in hope).

Bernice is magnificent as always with a Dave Stone novel. She's a little too willing to reach for the bottle, but in every other aspect Dave has her down absolutely perfectly. Never does her dialogue feel forced or silly, and she's more than able to carry an entire book on her own, with only two brief cameos from supporting characters in the new NA line.

Despite the humour, the plot, characters and story are extremely well thought out. There are parodies of mystery novels, especially Agatha Christie, but with some clever twists. However, I did think some of the character names were a little too similar to their sources. A little subtlety may not have gone astray here. And even with all the silliness going on, there's a well thought out mystery plot or three going on that is neatly tied up by the end.

The only real problems I had with the book were the four interludes. These ground the rest of the story to a complete and absolute halt, especially when their contribution wasn't so great. I normally have no problems with a story going off in a different direction midway through, but these bits weren't funny, weren't particularly clever, and just fundamentally weren't entertaining. The two sets of two could easily have been condensed into a single interlude each and some more work done to make them either more amusing or more clever. They turn a 10/10 book into a 9/10, unfortunately.

Ship of Fools is an entertaining and occasionally thought-provoking read, especially for rec.arts.drwho readers. It's another strong entry in the Bernice line, which is proving itself quite successful and versatile.

A Review by Sean Gaffney 12/10/99

WARNING: this is a review of Ship of Fools, with all that that entails. There could be several things said within the confines of this review that might possibly offend the author and cause him to post all sorts of scabrous comments about my reviewing talent (or lack thereof), my genetic history and my gratuitous use of the word 'fnerk'. Heads may, in fact, roll.

Probably not, though, as I adored this book.

Well, where should we start? This is another one of those books that has been eagerly awaited for a LONG time. It was Late September of 1996 that Dave first mentioned that he was horribly murdering people, and who wanted to be done in? Thus, there exists a certain kind of anticipation, along with a bit of trepidation. After all, when including the names of about 30-40 radwers, it's impossible to be subtle about it. Could Dave carry off the subtlety necessary?

Of course not, but it doesn't really matter. This is a Dave Stone book, which means it's written with a sort of joyous shamelessness. Almost every single bad joke and in-reference is done well, and for the few that aren't - well, there'll be another one in a paragraph or two.

The specifics:

PLOT: Jeez Louise. This plot is impressive, bringing back things that you'd completely forgotten about, throwing red herrings about with the glee of a mad Scotsman, and then slapping you in the face as you realise what's really going on. Appendix II, for example, actually had my mouth drop open. Seriously.

BENNY: Sorry, Matt. I've read Beyond the Sun and she's done well there, but this is most definitely Bernice Summerfield - bloody buggery bollocks and all. This is the Bernice that we've fallen in love with while reading the NAs. Drinks like a fish, but not to a point where we begin to pity her (yeah, Mortimore). Moreover, bon mots are just pouring out of her mouth. Marvellous.

OTHERS: The detectives, who at first seem to be cartoons, and then later prove far more interesting, are hilarious. Then of course there are all of the victims of our killer (including myself, and a big thankyouthankyouthankyou to Dave), which for the most part do not jar, though working the phrase 'random companion' into the book without jarring proved impossible even for Dave. I also love the Cat's Paw, and wonder if we might see more of her.

VILLAINS: Well, the ARVIS was OTT, but at least it was designed to be that way. I must confess that I kinda guessed its role, but since Dave surprised me so many other times, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and say that we were supposed to get this. And Krytell was utterly loathable from the start. You cheered at the end of the book.

STYLE: Even if all the above were awful, this book would still win people over by the sheer joy with which it is written. There have been books where I've noted that the writer must have had fun putting it on the page, but never one where I've wanted to be there, watching Dave's mind skip along gleefully, writing the next bit. This book has been crafted. (Well, they all have, but you know what I mean.)

OVERALL: Boy, it's been a while since I've had the occasion to write a review like this. But this book just blew me away, to the point where I'm kicking myself for putting it off for this long. I do believe I'll move straight on to Down (and I've had Down so long, it looks like Up to me). This book was addictive.


Now: buy me a drink you bastard.

A Review by Rob Matthews 8/5/03

Ahh, now this is the Dave Stone I fell in love with. None of the torpor of Slow Empire, the grim endlessness of Sky Pirates! or the slight schonkiness of Oblivion, just that distinctive mix of chuckles, plot twists and general mercurial madness which I've come to expect from him despite having never really seen said distinctive mix come together entirely satisfactorily.

Until I found this book, anyway.

Upon finishing it, I scanned the above reviews to see what other readers had thought. No offence meant to those reviewers, but it's lucky I hadn't checked them out before picking it up or I might not have bothered (okay that's just a lie, I would have read it anyway). No, it's just that previous reviews have emphasised how packed Ship of Fools is with in-jokes. And while I'm sure it probably is, it'd be shame not to mention that it has a quite a generous smattering of out-jokes too. And, odd as it sounds to put the word 'subtle' next to 'Dave Stone', he must have crafted these references of his in pretty discreetly, since I never once felt the need to consult the rec.arts.drwho archives to find out what he was on about (as a matter of fact, I have absolutely no clue what the bloody hell this rec.arts thing is or if they even have archives). Don't get me wrong, I'm sure there's an extra level of enjoyment to be had there - but the, er, default level of enjoyment is pretty hardy too.

The book sells itself as a kind of 'murder on a moving vehicle'-type comic mystery - along the lines, it would seem, of a couple of my favourite-ish cosy-night-in-front-of-the-TV movies (The Lady Vanishes in particular, and the Rathbone/Bruce Holmes pic Terror By Night), or, terms of the Whoniverse, Terror of the Vervoids. Ahum.

But Dave Stone's craftier than the sledgehammer sketchwriter he pretends to be, and he works particularly well within this milieu because it gives him something nice and flimsy to kick against. Plus the general readability of the book is helped immensely by the fact that he gets Benny just right - so much so, in fact, that I didn't even think about her portrayal while reading it, and it's only just occured to me now. I think any of the Benny books could begin more or less the way this one does - Hangover, check. Mysterious archaeological item, check. Departure from Dellah, yup. Which is a good thing, because we're not punched straightaway in the face by Dave Stone weirdness or stacks of intimidating rambley footnotes. The conventions of the murder-mystery setup are busted soon enough, once they've been drained of their parody-value (there's some funny spoofing of Murder She Wrote-type serials, and a predictably useless 'Master Detective'). But the book is in aiming higher than it pretends, and it's impressive how comfily it hooks us in the opening chapters. Very few thing here are what they seem, and the plot that eventually transpires is as genuinely interesting and thought-provoking as those in Sky Pirates! and Oblivion without us readers having to contend with a treacherous path of enormous grisly lulls or interludes with characters we're not bothered about to get there. This, in other words, is an unqualified success.

Stone's a fascinating conceptual writer, something that's often overlooked because he's also working very hard to make us laugh. But as just one example the ARVID is a really interesting creation, and a lot of what's in this book prefigures similiar identity-related stuff that Lawrence Miles would later do in Dead Romance. If anything the wryly splenetic tone (an odd combination, I'll grant you) makes certain scenes somehow more startling. And Jason, who's fortunately not in enough of the book to spoil it, is given one particularly shocking scene that might appear more consistent with the tone of a Mick Lewis novel or that of Damaged Goods - except for the fact that Stone has a particular talent for shifting between frivolous daftness and utter bleakness without any sense of discord, and it slots naturally into his narrative.

Dave's enjoyment of messing about with kitsch/pulp narrative (with regards to events befalling Sandford Groke and Kali Di Bane) also begs some comparison with the later Who work of Paul Magrs. These scenes of course lack Magrs' lightness of touch - Magrs' work is essentially very brittle -, but in a more mucular, sweaty kind of way they're in much the same vein, fulfillng a similiar function as pretext for pisstake. Though naturally a Dave Stone pisstake follows its own unique logic.

All in all, a recommended read. Don't move mountains to find a copy, but if one comes your way, snap it up.

A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 20/5/03

After a semester that was far more work-intensive that I had been expecting, my brain demanded something fun and relaxing. Scanning my vast piles of unread books, I searched for something suitable, my eyes finally coming upon the next Benny novel that I had yet to peruse. Looking at the author's name on the cover, I hesitated. Would this be the Dave Stone who wrote the entertaining and enjoyable The Slow Empire, or would it be the turgid and self-indulgent Dave Stone who thrust Heart Of TARDIS onto an unsuspecting world? I decided to take a gamble.

Thankfully, I found Ship Of Fools to be a fun and entertaining adventure that played to Dave Stone's strengths rather than falling back on his more annoying authorial habits. It's an insane murder-mystery; most of the action takes place on a single location. An infamous jewel thief (known only as "the Cat's Paw") and Benny are both onboard the same intergalactic starship. When passengers begin dying in a host of bizarre ways, it's up to Benny to drink as much as possible, and to solve the mystery, if she can get around to it. This would be the sort of thing that Agatha Christie would write if someone removed all of her blood and replaced it with LSD.

The various cliches and stereotypes that we expect from these sorts of whodunits are all brought out and lovingly mocked. The most amusing of these are the various "great detectives" who all happen to be onboard the ship, and will be very familiar to fans of mystery novels, television shows and movies. While some of the jokes seem to tire by the end, the majority are at least amusing. The pacing is fast enough so that even the jokes that fall with a clunk aren't dwelt upon for too long.

I found the mystery aspects of the story to be genuinely unpredictable. It's virtually impossible to figure out which diversions are actual clues, and which ones are just a result of the author being slightly mad. Expecting Ship Of Fools to follow the conventions of the genre is a pointless task. I recommend just reading it as an entertaining adventure, and then being occasionally amused by the jaunts into the mystery story.

It's an odd, but enjoyable book that moves from over-the-top cartoon violence into occasional bleakness and then back again. But for all of Dave Stone's madness, the plot has method to it. It's not always quite as funny as it's trying to be, but it did get me to laugh out loud a couple of times. Recommended as a fluffy piece of fun with a solid enough center.

A Review by Finn Clark 30/9/04

Dave Stone's lightest, most joyful book to date. (There's a comic strip of the same name from DWW 23-24 starring Cyberleader Kroton and that's great too, but for now I'm talking about Stone.)

Ship of Fools is utterly Stone-ish, but somehow feels fresher than usual by not really being about anything at all. It avoids his usual themes of incomprehensible alien-ness and occasional extreme brutality. In fact it pretty much avoids having themes. It's simply a happy Agatha Christie romp aboard the Titanian Queen, kinda like the Bulis's Tempest except that Stone remembers to be entertaining. It has great slabs of parody, but nothing that you're expected to take with any great seriousness.

The author's note sets the tone. Namechecks will follow in ghastly profusion, enough to derail any other novel, but here it doesn't matter. Suitably forewarned, I gritted my teeth and managed to take 'em in the intended bubbly spirit. They're just part of the festivities.

Besides, Dave Stone at his best (as he often is here) really is funny and clever. His one-track-mind sexual obsessions are less funny than he thinks they are, but some of his similes are wonderful. The technobabble of ARVID is nifty. The mystery aspect, to my slight surprise, is presented honestly and is open to reader analysis, as in a good Agatha Christie. Admittedly the joke of Sandford Groke and Throat was done better by Stephen Marley in Managra, but it's a good enough joke to bear repetition.

Even the parody versions of Charlie Chan, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot are thoroughly entertaining. I'd expected them to be excruciating, though in fairness much of my actual reaction might have been simple relief at not getting a Sherlock Holmes pisstake. Those got written into the ground by the world and his dog circa 1920. The nearest thing I have to a complaint is the line on p109 where Dave Stone seems to have forgotten that his characters can't see the words on the page. "Prekodravac," says Prekodravac. "How do you pronounce that?" Benny replies, when you'd think she'd be asking how it's spelled.

There's a continuity nugget in this book, albeit a retroactively-established one that has nothing to do with Dave Stone. When creating Compassion (aka. Laura Tobin) for Interference, Lawrence Miles seems to have gone looking for the most obscure continuity reference imaginable... and here he found it. Check out Alison Tobin, as seen on p124 and named on p151, who apparently hates her sister Laura. (Lawrence's physical description of Compassion isn't a million miles away from Dave Stone's description of Alison, incidentally, though Laura is slimmer.)

I've never read a Dave Stone novel I didn't like (he says, carefully crafting that phrase to exclude his Citadel of Dreams novella). However I had a ball with Ship of Fools, possibly even more so on the reread than I did first time. Benny is as effervescent as ever in Stone's hands, with the author's affection for the character shining from the page. This book is a whodunnit with a strong plot, but also an excuse for Dave Stone to do his usual 250-page stand-up comedy routine. You can't go wrong! Herein are funny jokes, deliberately daft characters, creative story situations and comedy deaths. What more could a reader want?