THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

The Psi Powers Series
Virgin Books
SLEEPY
Psi Powers Part Two

Author Kate Orman Cover taken from the excellent Broadsword home page
ISBN# 0 426 20465 4
Published 1996
Cover Mark Wilkinson

Synopsis: On the Yemayan colony world, a psi virus is sweeping through the colonists. The Doctor and Chris succumb to the virus, while Benny and Roz travel back in time to discover a brotherhood of telepaths who know rather more than they should about the Doctor...


Reviews

A Review by Sean Gaffney 24/8/99

Sleepy is Kate's third book, and very different in style from the other two, possibly because there is less at stake in the overall arc. All the characters are getting along, and there's no carry-over evil. It's just a normal New Adventure.

Plot: Pleasingly complex, plus tying in with the "psi" series, though only by using the powers. The virus is well thought out, and the only nit I have is that the cure being given to Benny and Roz is a bit deus- ex-machiny.

The Doctor - Marvellous. Tying in with Head Games, he's decided that no one's going to die, and watching his plan revolve around that is exciting. With Kate, you know that you needn't worry about the Doctor not being McCoy-ish.

Chris - Well-written, for the first time since The Also People. Chris is the hardest companion to sink my teeth into, but I got more of a sense of his personality here, plus he doesn't fall in love! Hooray!

Roz - Well characterized, and if she seems different from Warchild and Just War, they're by different authors. Still suffering from a nice whack of "they're not like us" xenophobia, but it's getting better.

Benny - Brilliant. She gets to be an archaeologist, she has several soul-searching moments about having children, and, though it's not in the text, according to the illustration she catches the bouquet. I'm really going to miss her.

Others - I kept waiting for people to die, in the time-honored tradition. They didn't. The wedding that I thought was doomed happened after all, and even the bad guys got to change their tune (Yellow was extremely well-written.) The reason I hated Infinite Requiem is that it killed the two people we cared about just to drive home its moral. In Sleepy the moral gets driven home without anyone needing to die. (Well, almost...add another rec.arts.drwhoer to the book list...I need to post more often, so I can get famous enough to be in a book. These reviews simply aren't cutting it.)

Things I loved:
Robot Roll Call
Fred Nurk (Yes, folks, it's me, Neddy!)
frocks vs. guns
Sontaran lightbulb joke
Spotting real people (Sarah Groenwagen's in there, too)

In conclusion: Well, you could have predicted this, really:

10/10


A Review by Shaun Lyon 2/9/99

It is a very popular thing on the Internet and online services to praise without condition a select group of Doctor Who writers who traditionally put out good material. Although I think she managed to capture the essence of the Doctor and Ace very well -- not to mention wrote one of the all-time greatest farewell sequences when Ace left the Doctor's company in her novel Set Piece -- I have never been that big of a fan of Kate Orman's books. Indeed, one of the most popular Who novels of all time, Orman's first, The Left-Handed Hummingbird, I found to be very much in the vein of the proverbial "fan wank," the, ahem, technical term for a story rife with in-jokes and/or fannish fantasy. (Those of you who read the New & Missing Adventures will understand "fan wank" in such books as Conundrum and Head Games quite well.)

That said, I'd like to say that I very much enjoyed Orman's latest, Sleepy, my vote for the best of Orman's three novels. Though Orman doesn't quite get the motif down on the Doctor, who spends far too much time in the novel doing the traditionally mysterious things but not saying terribly much, she manages to capture the companions beautifully. Bernice Summerfield has never been better, Chris Cwej is acting like the post-teen angst-ridden rookie cop he really is, and Roz Forrester... well, she's no-nonsense and never puts her foot in her mouth. It is a very rare thing when an author of the New Adventures can not only get down the characters of these companions -- who have never been seen on television -- but nail all three down quite well.

Sleepy is one of the books that ties into the current "psi-power" series via a single character named Madranagopal, working for something called the Brotherhood. It's mentioned in passing, of course, and only at the end does the Doctor call it a loose end (which you know means he'll tie it in later down the series). Madranagopal was one of the creators of an incredible artificial intelligence named GRUMPY, which, for all intents and purposes, developed a life of its own. Before they were able to shut it down, GRUMPY had escaped, sent its intelligence and memories all over the cosmos, and finally fled in a shuttle which was blown up over the surface of a distant planet called Yemaya and destroyed. Or was it?

GRUMPY, you see, had a plan, and that's where we start with the Doctor. He and his companions have arrived on Yemaya thirty years later, where a human colony has innocently found this world and settled as a new home. The book opens in the thick of the action -- the Doctor's mind has been invaded by a psi-virus, a little bug that's ravaging the colony and giving many of them psionic abilities like telepathy, telekinesis and, gasp, pyrotechnics. With the aid of several characters including a scientist duo (Byerley St. John and Cinnabar Flynn), a deaf researcher (Dr. Dot Smith-Smith) and a female couple (Zaniwe and Jenny, who are never explicitly defined as a lesbian pairing but nevertheless are a couple; I'm very pleased about the chances on this topic that the Doctor Who novels are taking), the Doctor and his companions are able to nail down several pertinent facts. One, the virus was genetically created and introduced through the vaccinations the colonists received. Two, someone or something is calling the psionically gifted -- including Chris -- into the forest. And three, if they don't stop the brigade of soldiers that have just arrived on Yemaya -- color-coded, unnamed, faceless soldiers led by a half-crazed visigoth called White -- this could all mean certain doom for the rest of humanity.

That's where the fun begins.

Toward the middle of this book, we start to get bogged down in a lot of stylish play-by-play, including several "dinner" scenes between the Doctor and White that don't reveal much information and instead almost lose the reader in unimportant detail. Nevertheless, whenever I seemed to be just reaching the point where I lost interest, there was another hook... a good thing for a writer, yet a place he or she should never visit. In this book, that hook was the Doctor's plan to send Benny and Roz back thirty years in the TARDIS to Dione, Saturn's moon, where the whole thing began. I can honestly say, I don't quite remember the reason why it happened, but that it was very important... and eventually, that part of the story played out with Roz and Benny kidnapped by Madranagopal and learning about the ultimate fate of GRUMPY.

Actually, the Roz/Benny sequences were a lot more interesting than the stuff back on Yemaya, which developed into nothing more than a lot of posturing on the part of the soldiers and the Doctor and fellow colonists, until everything was sorted into place when a third player entered the game (another ship, which arrives in the last quarter of the book). By then, the Doctor has discovered exactly what's going on and what it is that ties all of this together. I won't reveal the big hook at the end, but let's just say this: GRUMPY is obviously not dead, there's a reason why Chris has wanted to go into the forest, and everything comes together when the Doctor psychically contacts another artificial intelligence. An intelligence called SLEEPY....

The most fun in this book was the AI concepts, something that really hasn't been done in a Who tome before. The Doctor spends some significant time dealing with several AI creations that do a lot of his dirty work -- CONNECTICUT, WATCH OUT! and BAR B, three AI's that safeguard the colony. There's another one, LEONARDO, in orbit. Another, FLORANCE, that plays a very significant role. They develop personalities of their own throughout the novel, even though they're not featured all that much. What I really enjoyed was Orman's resorting to emoticons and shortcuts we computer users know so well... communication between AI's with @'s and &'s and little smiley-faces like :-) They've become as important to computer culture as the Internet itself. Sleepy becomes, by book end, a tribute to the Internet and the online community, especially in its depiction of how vast that "information superhighway" is in the future... and how easy it is for GRUMPY to proliferate itself into the universe.

It's not my favorite of the New Adventures, but it's by no means a dog. I found the writing to be consistently good, if not for the dips in attention span I suffered a few points along the way. I'd recommend it for the devious plotline and for the attention to detail on the companions more than anything else.


A Review by Finn Clark 3/12/01

Sleepy feels like Kate Orman on autopilot. It's a tad underwritten at times, going the Terrance Dicks route of dialogue rather than description. What's Yemaya 4 like? Don't ask me. Admittedly this means the book flows smoothly and pleasantly. It's not a densely written read.

This must be where I learned to hate the word "nice". Sleepy is soporifically nice. The back-in-time section is intriguing and there's someone called White who's a potential bastard in his own lazy, tired way. But mostly it's 255 pages of forgettable niceness, with so little urgency that the Doctor's even making side bets with one of those annoying anthropomorphic personifications that pissed me off throughout the Virgin run. Kate's interested in the gun vs. frock dichotomy (which even gets namechecked on page 250), about which I have opinions. Just because charmless gun-toting machismo has been way overdone in the Doctor Who novels, that doesn't mean its arbitrarily defined alternative of rainbows and fluffy bunnies is automatically a good thing.

Okay, it's good to have a change from guns, bombs and soldiers. But there's no menace. Sleepy is like a cloud of pink neutrinos, passing through your consciousness without leaving any discernable impression. It's not thrilling, scary, moving or dramatic... just nice.

I only read these books a week ago and already I can't remember what points I meant to make about Sleepy instead of Return of the Living Dad. Uhhh... oh yeah, I didn't enjoy reading a novel that retreads long-forgotten fan debates. When did anyone last argue about gun vs. frock? Sleepy and/or Return of the Living Dad self-consciously nail Kate's colours to the mast and IMO lose their bite in doing so.

Seen in these terms, White's more of an abstract concept than a character. He's the antithesis of the book's niceness, the embodiment of "Gun" who's set up for "Frock" to knock him down again. He's not threatening, but at least there's a theoretical chance of things happening when he's onstage and his psychological deconstruction is interesting.

You read this book; it's pleasant; you forget it.


A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 18/11/03

(Although no one will probably be interested in this little view into my reading habits, it was such a relief to read SLEEPY immediately after reading Neal Stephenson's Crytonomicon and Andrew Cartmel's Warchild. SLEEPY actually had strong female characters! What a joy! Not that SLEEPY is some kind of radical feminist manifesto or anything, but it was a much needed change of pace to see women characters as more than just a) items to be rescued and b) sperm-banks. Hallelujah.)

I liked SLEEPY. I didn't like it as much as I did The Left-Handed Hummingbird or Set Piece, but it has a lot going for it all the same. It seems to be the most straightforward of Kate Orman's first three NAs, and is much more focused on plot and story than on the intricate character explorations that were the highlights of those other two novels. While this made the book seem a little less special, it didn't detract from what is a good, solid, entertaining piece of science fiction.

I liked the way the book opens. Instead of having us first meet these Earth colonists and then going through the obligatory long introductions where the Doctor and companions are met with suspicion, locked up, escape, get locked up again, escape, and gradually gain the trust of the local rebels/leaders, etc., Orman forgoes the usual Doctor Who beginnings and launches us straight into the story. Yes, sometimes those slow introductions can be insightful and enjoyable, but there are times when one prefers to just get on with it. And since SLEEPY was so plot-oriented, I was happy to jump right into the middle of the action.

In any event, the story concerns an Earth colony, and in the spirit of those old Pertwee-era novelisations (I'm thinking specifically of The Doomsday Machine here), the explorers are looking to get away from the solar system and its overbearing governments/corporations. They've settled on what appears to be a hospitable planet and have hopes of raising a large community. But what the Doctor and company discover is an unknown virus that is suddenly activating strange psychic powers in whoever becomes infected. The community is understandably alarmed when a significant number of its membership can now read minds, levitate objects, or set things on fire just by thinking about it.

I mentioned that the story begins quickly. Well, it also moves quickly. The pace is smooth for the most part, but there also seemed to be places where it jerked ahead violently. It had the effect of keeping me on my toes, but I also found it a bit disorientating a times. I really had to pay attention to keep track of what was going on.

To be honest, I found most of the colonists to be a bit faceless. There's a fair amount of detail concerning each of them, but I just couldn't tell them apart without flipping back to reread the relevant sections. On the other hand, the commander of the company forces, Colonel White, was an intriguing and interesting villain.

I don't have a lot to say about this one really. I enjoyed it while I was reading it, but not too much struck me in any particular way. I think of SLEEPY as a good engaging read that isn't overly demanding. I'm glad that most of Kate Orman's books are more involved than this one, yet this works well as a relaxing change of pace.