BBC Books
The Slow Empire

Author Dave Stone Cover image
ISBN 0 563 53845 X
Published 2001

Synopsis: The Doctor, Anji and Fitz find themselves in an empire where the laws of physics are preposterous - nothing can travel faster than light and time travel is impossible.


A Review by Finn Clark 18/8/01

This review contains no penis. Er, spoilers.

Now that wasn't hard, was it? If you're going to get people excited about the 8DAs, just commission exciting writers. I'm sure many people were delighted to see Parkin and Orman in the recent line-up, but personally the one I'd been looking forward to was Stone.

I'm a Dave Stone fan. I really like his books, even the ones that everyone else seems to have panned (e.g. Oblivion). In fact, there hardly seems any point in me reviewing The Slow Empire. It's Stone. It's funky. Imagine for yourselves some long-winded reviewage that spends 2000 words saying the above at greater length. I don't even mind the godawful cover, though in fairness Black Sheep couldn't have had an easy job finding photoreference material for a Dave Stone novel. Should they have done a Scarlet Empress and created an ambiguously obscene image that could be a phallic celebration or a two-fingered salute? Well, maybe not.

The Slow Empire has more of a plot than Heart of TARDIS, though that wouldn't be hard. It's a relatively straightforward story, perhaps a little episodic but at least you won't have any trouble following what's going on. Personally I think I prefer my Dave Stone novels wound up to maximum Stone-ness and I found myself missing the dazzling bombardment of offbeat irrelevance he sometimes serves up. This book felt almost conventional. It's got some good lines and great jokes, but it's not quite the Unfettered Stone Experience. I imagine many will regard this as a good thing.

But this is also an 8DA, so we have those extra 8DA dimensions to consider. Dave Stone has always written wonderful Doctors, seeing them from his own unique viewpoint, so it had to be a good idea to unleash him upon the Eighth. The result is... okay. Rather than anything McGannish it's basically the generic Dave Stone Doctor with galloping amnesia and a wilful lack of control over himself, but by 8DA standards it's great stuff. Any longer-term concerns over the Eighth Doctor's character are not the fault of this book and have no place in this review.

My only real complaint is that the first twenty pages of In The Machine bored the arse off me. I'm sorry, after a few minutes of that kind of thing I stop caring. But on the plus side, all those typographical tricks really worked. Comic Sans MS is a great font (and there's more than that). The underlying ideas are funky and the concept of real slower-than-light physics in Who is brilliant - perhaps more so than it seems in the eventual book. Somehow I expected more to be made of it; maybe the TARDIS could make a return visit to the Empire some time?

Overall, this is a lot of fun while being close enough to a normal Doctor Who novel that it shouldn't scare off the fanboys. Personally I enjoyed it.

I Don't Get It by Robert Thomas 10/9/01

This is the equivalent of the age old description "its ok."

Got to be honest, I'm struggling to find anything else to say.

There are a lot of jokes in here, but not a lot of them seem to be funny.

The Doctor is............................................. well, The Doctor. Dave Stone doesn't struggle, although sneakily he puts a few lines in saying The Doctors personality is slipping to his past selves. Nothing to do with the story, just an excuse if he didn't get it right, which he does.

Fitz is alright although he doesn't get to do a lot.

Anji however is on fine form and continues to do well.

Others, a bloke who takes 10 words to say one, is Dave Stone doing a pastiche of himself? Feels like it. An alien whose kind have appeared before and are very funny. That's about it.

A fair bit happens in the TARDIS, which is good to see.

And there's a lot of convoluted plot although not enough happens. Easy to follow, and like I said its ok.

By the way, there's a cameo by you-know-who in a chapter that is designed to put the reader to sleep.

The Slow Read by Robert Smith? 9/12/01

The career of Dave Stone has encompassed the striking (Sky Pirates!), the magnificent (The Mary-Sue Extrusion), the hilarious (Ship of Fools), the disappointing (Heart of TARDIS) and the downright bad (Oblivion), but at least it was never boring. Until now, that is.

A collection of worlds without time travel and where nothing can go faster than the speed of light! An entire Empire in which to play! A cover featuring the Doctor surrounded by sperm! Footnotes! This is great stuff, yet almost nothing is done with it.

Okay, not quite. Usually I quite enjoy Dave Stone novels proper, but loath the tangential asides with a passion. Here, it's in reverse, because I thought the footnotes were the only decent part of the book. Sadly they total six pages. Jamon's prose is so thick and convoluted that Dave might as well have called these sections "A bit where I get to ramble about anything I want in my own authorial voice". The different font is nice, but when you're looking for nice things to say and you seize upon the font, you know you're looking at a train wreck of a novel, no matter how amusing some of the footnotes might be.

There are all sorts of ideas here that should be great, but aren't. The Ambassadorial Corps are always mysteriously right on the tail of our heroes. Except that they aren't really, as there's no sign of them on whole planets. Thakrash is an anagram of Shakrath (which is made even clearer by the anagraming of "On Shakrath"/"No Shakrath"), which loudly points to the clue that there's no Empire at all and all these events are actually taking place on the one planet, which is cleverly disguised as multiple planets and explains why the Ambassadors can travel between them so easily... except that's not it at all and the explanation we do get is a lot less interesting. The Empire consists of hundreds of worlds... but we get to see four of them, one of which is completely uninhabited. Beltempest, this ain't.

Fitz, Anji and Jamon inside the machine is great, for about two pages, but the whole thing runs to twenty pages of mind-numbing tedium. The Collector is very amusing when introduced... and then he's left in the TARDIS for no apparent reason, because he might have ended the In the Machine section before it got tedious for the reader and we couldn't have that, oh no.

And the traitor (or something) who's been leading them on a merry trail for half the book turns out to be... the Doctor himself! This is huge. This is monumental. No, wait, actually it's promptly forgotten about and nothing is made of it. Huh?

We're also told, about every two pages or so, that the Doctor's acting vastly out of character, that his previous selves are overwhelming his personality. And not only does this not ring that true -- the Doctor is only acting a bit out of character and he only occasionally sounds like his other selves -- almost nothing is made of it. Personally, I think this was a get-out-of-jail-free card, so that Dave couldn't be accused of mischaracterising the Doctor in a line notorious for having the Doctor act out of character or like his previous selves. It's like a poor man's version of the UNIT continuity get-out-of-jail-free card played in Heart of TARDIS.

Which is the fundamental problem, I think. Dave Stone was undoubtedly a great writer at one point, but he's recycling his own ideas here with a blatancy bordering on the cynical. He might as well have just sent us a note saying "Please send me seven quid because my garage needs repairs and for your trouble have a reread of my earlier books, the effect will be much the same" and saved us the bother. Dave got his second wind with The Mary-Sue Extrusion, but I think he lost it about two thirds of the way through Heart of TARDIS and this book only makes that painfully obvious.

There are some good bits towards the end, but it takes a lot of effort to get there. On the other hand, the footnotes really are fabulous, especially the one where Dave unashamedly breaks the fourth wall and addresses us directly. I did like "The Story So Far", but it's only a page long.

Overall, the biggest problem with The Slow Read is that it's not just boring, it's boring in a way we've seen before. With some authors that wouldn't be such a problem, but for Dave Stone it's fatal. This is the first real stumble in a while and it's not actually that terrible, but it's not particularly good either. Skip this one and you won't be any the worse for wear.

Three out of Five by Jamas Enright 2/1/02

The Slow Empire by Dave Stone is good.[1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8]

  1. It may be pointed out that this review may be considered a little on the brief side, but I maintain that it's veracity as a review is non-the-less still valid.
  2. I realise that some people might like a few more details here, such as the plot. The plot is entirely set pieces, with only the barest of links between them, which even Anji acknowledges. The narrative structure is of both first-person and third-person points-of-view although the Jamon sequences comes across as rather bombastic (which is entirely in keeping with his character anyway). I made a few guesses as to what was happening which turned out to be wrong, but nevertheless kept things interesting. The final revelation was something I never saw coming, because any precursors were presented in different formats from the mindset needed to see them for what they were. As a plot detail, I liked the point about the Empire being restricted to light-speed travel.
  3. Are the characters included in the summary of 'good'? Well, yes. Not so much the Doctor (whom I'll come back to in a moment), but Fitz and Anji were spot on, despite their supposed personality shifts. The Doctor is also undergoing these shifts, but it's hard to spot given that he's acting so manically even from the beginning of the novel. The other character of note is Jamon De La Roche, who came across as a mixture of Harry Mudd (from Star Trek) and Captain Cook. He is our view of the Empire from the inside, but I found him rather irritating mostly and always looked forward to his passages being over. Which isn't to say I wasn't amused when he was caught up in the machine.
  4. I'd like to see someone do a comparison of the Sloathes (from Sky Pirates!) and the Collectors (previously seen, as Dave Stone himself points out, in Heart of TARDIS). Reading the Collector reminded me so much of Sgloomi Po that I'm nearly tempted to read Sky Pirates! again. Nearly.
  5. One part of The Slow Empire I really liked (and which not at all influenced this review) was the use of endnotes. I always prefer footnotes myself so I can see which page has a note I should be aware of, but I managed to catch them all. My favourite one is no. 10.
  6. Is it all good? No, otherwise I would have said it was great. The nature of the set pieces, being so disjoint, was infuriating, in that it made the book seem more like a set of short stories more than a cohesive whole. And what exactly was the point of etching the face? That survived the trip, and yet it was implied (or maybe I just inferred) that the body was completely made anew and so needed to be etched before hand so the person would have pain they would remember and thus remember who they were. No other reason was explained for it, so it remained unclear.
  7. Be on the lookout for a scene that could come straight from Down (the Benny Adventure), and which certainly came to my mind when reading The Slow Empire.
  8. This note is just to reiterate that The Slow Empire, by Dave Stone, is good.

A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 29/1/02

The Slow Empire is a mostly enjoyable romp consisting of a collection of more or less standalone set pieces that only tie together at the very end. The plot connecting them is paper thin, and isn't all that enthralling, but what is recommended about this book is its great central concept and the irrelevant asides that take up most of its pages.

The basic concept behind the book is that the TARDIS has landed in a strange portion of space where traveling faster than the speed of light is impossible. In an Empire spanning multiple worlds and various star systems, this means that journeys between planets will literally take hundreds of years. It's an interesting twist to have the characters suddenly finding themselves stuck in an Einstein-ruled universe. All of Dave Stone's descriptions of this Empire at the beginning of the book are wonderful. Stone cleverly portrayed this section of space in the epic manner that it deserved, reminding me somewhat of the galaxy-spanning society that Isaac Asimov created in his Foundation series. Unfortunately, while the accounts at the start of the story paint a vast, sprawling and fairly out-of-touch galactic empire, they fade a bit as the protagonists start venturing out into the universe. The book is too short to give each planet a distinctive feeling, and the result is to end up with a handful of mostly faceless worlds that appear as though they're reusing the same sets with a slightly different colour of paint slapped on them. Still, the set up was very nice and depicted quite vividly.

I'm not quite sure what was going on with the Doctor in this one. The author goes out of his way to state that the Doctor is regressing into the lives of his previous selves, but I couldn't figure out what story reason this served. At first, I assumed that it was an excuse for poor characterization (although the Doctor is portrayed fairly well for most of the book). Upon reflection I wondered if there wasn't a comparison going on between the Seventh and Eighth Doctors. Certainly at the end of the book, the Doctor turns out to have been fairly manipulative throughout much of the story, but almost nothing is made of it. In fact, the ending of the story seems to mirror similar events at the climax of the previous story, Year Of The Intelligent Tigers, but is done here with so much less subtlety that the point lacks focus.

Where the book succeeds are the points in which the plot is turned off and the story veers wildly from one setting to another. Some might say that all this stuff is merely padding and that it doesn't affect the plot one jot (Anji would be one of those people, as she even remarks upon it during the course of the adventure). These people would be absolutely correct. But far from being a criticism of the book, this actually provides us with the more entertaining sections. Bad padding may be a terrible and boring thing to read, but the padding on display here is of a far higher quality than that. It's enjoyable and amusing.

Of course, not every aside and irrelevancy ends up as a positive aspect. There are several cases where Stone's excesses cause inward groaning. The awful similes and metaphors of previous books are back and at times they are quite distracting. Some of the prose tiptoes into the wrong side of pretentiousness causing much annoyance and rolling of eyes. As mentioned earlier, the plot really isn't all that interesting when said and done; the voyage itself is what is appealing, not the details behind it.

All over, this is an enjoyable tale that skimps a bit on the plot, but is still a lot of fun. The digressions and tangents work more often than they don't, resulting in a pleasant read. It's only a pity that at the end the plot comes back into play, as that section is far less interesting than the diversions that came before. The book isn't the deepest or most taxing thing that you'll ever encounter, but it's certainly amusing and a fun way to spend several hours.

The long winded road... by Joe Ford 12/11/02

If I had to give a quick summary of this book it would be two thrids good, one third crap. Harsh but true. They say never judge a book by its cover but in this case the inexplicably bad graphics tell us everything we need to know.

Actually no, im being a little unfair. The first half of the book has gotten me through the strenuous efforts of packing to move house. During this difficult time I needed something that would take my mind off things and entertain and amuse me. The first of half of The Slow Empire does this admirably.

Dave Stone and the Eigth Doctor... it sounds delicious doesn't it! In the past Dave has dazzled us with his ability to drag a non existant plot (Heart of TARDIS) out to novel length just by adding his own sparkling touch to the regulars and his gloriously OTT descriptions of everything. His never ending (and constantly surprising) vocabulary helps immeasurably. Dave Stone has a voice that everybody recognises (say his name to any Who book fan and they will either yip with glee or groan), he writes a particular kind of book (I'd call them screwball Who) much like Paul Margs (comic fantasy), Lloyd Rose (macabre horror) and Steve Lyons (simplistic entertainment). His take on the Eigth Doctor should be a hoot and a giggle... except it's not. Oh don't get me wrong the story is absurdly amusing enough in places but his version of the Eigth Doctor is nothing but a bland and boring caricature of his past selves. Justin Richards and his cronies did a lot of hard work taking apart the Doctor during the Earth arc to create a more interesting, less 'likable' incarnation and Stone reverts him back to the clowning, goofing, 'lovable' (vomit) cipher he was before. There are only so many times I can except the Doctor saying "oh so and so will never happen" and then it happens... once it was funny, twice it started to grate a little but it happens numerous times during this book to a point where I could tell you what was going to happen next. I know the Doctor is going through some regrssive therapy here but geez give the man a character! The two books surrounding this (Dark Progeny and Year of Intelligent Tigers) captured him perfectly so this jars the run a little.

Whatever he gets wrong with the Doctor however he seems to make up with Anji (or am I just so obsessed with her character I'll view anything she does as good?). She's truly on form here (oh c'mon she's on form most of the time) with her wry and sarcastic bites. I love how she analysies each situation she's in instead of just experiencing it... the first couple of scenes in the TARDIS in particular are fab. And her instant dislike of Jamon is brilliant and carries you through much of the plotless first half amicably.

Ahhh Jamon... what to say? Dave Stone talking to us directly through one of his characters? Nah, he gets to do that with the footnotes (brilliant, but more on that later). His eclectic dialogue is brilliantly funny and he is easily the best original character here. What made me laugh was how it would take him entire pages of description to get to one simple point (like his awe at the inside of the TARDIS or his incredibly long campfire story that could have edited down to about five sentences!). This is good way to pad out the book because the Jamon sequences are always a laugh (he reminded me of Captain Cook from Greatest Show in the Galaxy with all his stories of having visited here and there!) and this is one of Dave Stone's greatest skills, his little asides that have nothing to do with the main plot (plot?) but are vastly entertaining in themselves.

Let's face there isn't much of a plot, the Doctor and co visit one place or another, get into some mischief and leave. Hardly a thrill a minute is it? But there are small surprises like the excellent return of the Collectors (although I have to agree with Robert Smith? that his shoe-horning into the TARDIS is a fatal error on the part of the author) and the sudden leap into the Machine. And the footnotes are probably the funniest thing about the book, I think my favourite would have to be number 10 (just for ther image of them running through various places like oddball cartoon characters!) but his sly references to The Year of Intelligent Tigers and Heart of TARDIS are also worth a chuckle. He manages to break down the fourth wall (does that saying apply to books? How about rip down the front cover?) many times especially with his The Story So Far... which although amusing is a little childish (but then this is a Dave Stone book!).

In the Machine starts well but after three or so pages I starting yawning. C'mon, this is old stuff and not the literary genius that a lot of other reviewers make it out to be! Fitz's story is just plain dull and Anji's meeting with you know who not exactly memorable. Nope sorry, I'm not buying it. For a few minutes of joy at such a refreshing change of scenery I say yay but for ten minutes of absolute boredom I say nay!

The I was lost. Everything after that segment bored the pants off me. The fact that Stone tries to tie up the plot (where is the plot?) with some clever "Ah ha ha! Doctor we have been using you like a puppet on a string!" is an insult to the intelligence. To be frank I haven't read the last twenty pages so maybe there is some brilliant revelation in there that will win me over but I was so annoyed (and bored) I tossed it at the wall. This along with Alien Bodies and Unnatural History go down as the only books I couldn't finish first time around. And I am a very patient reader.

Still I hate to say it's a complete failure when I did enjoy most of it... I just can never forgive books that leave me with a sour aftertaste (like the recent Suns of Caresh). The Slow Empire is a sunny little book for its first two (plotless, sorry hate to keep pointing it out) thirds but then a raincloud throws shadows over the disapointing ending. Make of that disturbing metaphor what you will!

Supplement, 2/2/05:

Just imagine for a moment a conversation around a pub table. Steve Emmerson is there, so is Kate Orman, Trevor Baxendale got the round in and, of course, Justin Richards and Dave Stone are in attendance. Steve, Kate and Trevor have already been green lighted for writing new EDAs and are around to ensure a certain continuity between there books but Justin is in a black mood. The schedule is missing one book and he is desperate not to have spend three weeks filling it himself.

"Sigh" says Justin, "new to my position as editor and already I have come across a problem."

"Anything we can help you with?" asks Kate.

"Well, I need a schedule filler. I want something audacious, ground breaking, something that informs the readers of the EDAs that now the Doctor is off-Earth again his adventures will be exciting and unpredictable!"

"I'm writing you a book about talking Tigers!" Kate exclaims. "Plus if you're lucky I'll throw in an unrequited gay romance."

"I'm sure you'll do your usual sterling job but we already did that in The Turing Test" he remarks.

"How about a traditional Doctor Who story with all the trimmings?" Trevor pipes up with.

"Blimey Trev, that describes your last two books, we need something new!"

"This time I've got wasps and time travelling agents!" he enthuses.

"Hmm... sounds alright but what about my schedule filler?"

"I've got it!" cries Dave Stone, standing up and holding his pint aloft. "Given my previous excursions into a discombobulated land of quasi-illiterate fiction I could extradite myself from this entertaining social gathering, return to my furnishings and hammer out a reasonably lengthed piece of dogmatic scribblings which serves as an example of freshman into the worlds of Doctor Who by blatantly ignoring said rules of literature and failing to adhere to any form of entertainment a reader might expect!"

Justin, Kate, Trevor and Steve gasp with joint astonishment.

"You mean to tell me you are going to write a Doctor Who book that lacks any plot, any characters, any sense of coherence and is filled to the brim with witty asides that are written so languidly that one simple point like "I'll make the tea" will take seventeen pages to complete?" Justin asks.

"Absolutely. Indubitably. Without a drop of sweat breaking my skin!"

And so he did...

Groundbreaking, some could call it. Subtituational toilet paper others might say. My initial reaction to The Slow Empire sprang from my inexperience with his previous Doctor Who work. I was simply unaccustomed to his unique writing style and was so wound up by his beating around the bush I could not bring myself to finish the thing. Now here I am, two years older and wiser and desperate to read an EDA during the interminable three-month gap between November and February and so I feel compelled to go back and read those books that rubbed me up the wrong way the first time around and try again. Hope and Reckless Engineering went down but surprisingly The Slow Empire has gone up in my estimation. There are some issues with this book but there is one aspect that pretty much saves the day.

Issue number one: The Slow Empire has no plot. Okay every book has a plot but the yawning excuse for one that fills these pages is so miniscule you have to wonder why Stone even bothered. The plot is the Vortex Wraiths want to escape the horrid uggy-buggy that has set up shop in the vortex and find a way into our universe via the transition pylons of the Empire. The Doctor figures their plan and stops them by short-circuiting the TARDIS. The end. The book only bothers with this plot, I might point out, during the first twenty and last twenty pages. During the rest of novel we are treated to a sub plot of monumental unimportance where the Doctor treats his companions to a tour of a few of the Empire worlds just to keep them from getting bored. As Anji so astutely points out the information they gather from these trips could have been gathered in the safety of the TARDIS and in terms of the book could have taken up one page, maybe two and not the two hundred they actually occupy.

Groundbreaking or toilet paper... you decide?

Issue number two: The Slow Empire has no characters. Okay every book has characters but the ones that populate this book are pretty much dismissed. Even the regulars are treated to this disrespect, the Doctor, Fitz and Anji all affected by the bizarre science of the Empire and so are all acting way out of character as to be practically unrecognisable. The Doctor is all over the place; scatterbrained, ecstatic and acting like a total loon. Anji is suddenly the super bitch slag from hell who purposely winds people up, gets homicidally aggressive and screams like a big girl. And Fitz is surprisingly intelligent.


Compounding this issue is the only other character of note Jamon de la Rocas who would be worthy of note were he not just Stone implanted into his own book and given the opportunity to speak directly to his audience. Anybody else you might stumble across in this book is either killed horribly or skipped over in an instant as the book lurches to yet another destination. You could count the Collector, a supremely funny creation, but in all honesty how much meaningful characterisation can you get out of a slimy green blob with multiple appendages who has a love of piles of nice shiny things?

Groundbreaking or toilet paper... you decide?

Issue number three: The Slow Empire is the first novel in an arc that will stretch right the way through to Sometime Never... in 2004 (this book was published in 2001). It features the first sign of something going horribly wrong in the vortex since the Time Lords were eliminated by the Doctor. Something has set up shop in their absence and is frightening all the other Vortex dwellers away...

It is certainly an intriguing idea to hang a story around but the answers wouldn't be available for another three years. How many people had forgotten about this book come Sometime Never... which it references back to? Telling a story over several years of fiction is an audacious idea and the arc references in apparently standalone books would get much more frequent in 2002 (and dominate 2003).

Groundbreaking or toilet paper... you decide?

The English language... I love it. I was having an interesting discussion with Simon's mother a few weeks ago about how beautiful the English language can be. She disagreed and proceeded to mention every single word that is verbally the same but writing quite different. I suggested she read something by Paul Margs.

It is a glorious language and one that Dave Stone uses to its fullest potential. He constructs amazing sentences, some that will make you boggle at the sheer incomprehensibility of them and others that make you gasp at the imagination that has gone into them. As I have said, he can linger on one point for minutes of reading, exploring the idea in its entirety and leaving the reader flushed at the lengths he goes to get his point across. He comes out with bloody great words that even I, and I am under the impression that I have a superb grasp of the English language, fail to find any meaning in but once looked up make perfect, educational sense. He understands the power of language and how to construct it to create powerful images and breathtaking events. His is a masterful talent in this respect and I am insanely jealous.

And this is what The Slow Empire is. Not a book as such, where characters go on a journey and learn things about each other and reach a satisfactory conclusion, but a glorious expression of language. It betrays every facet of modern literature by refusing to play by the rules; I can fully understand why people were bored rigid by a story with no direction or characters. But for the exploration of words, this could be the best Doctor Who book yet.

Dave Stone gives the English language a hand job; it is as simple as that.

Groundbreaking or toilet paper... you decide?

A Review by Brett Walther 23/7/03

Dave Stone's The Slow Empire isn't really a novel. It has much more in common with the first of the Decalog series, in that it is a couple of short stories held together by the barest remnant of a plot. Having made that observation, I must now confess that I do not appreciate the short story format, and have never been impressed by any of the Decalogs, finding them highly uninteresting and (by nature) somewhat insignificant.

The TARDIS jumps from planet to planet within the realm of the Empire, and the events that unfold on each planet have little impact on the next, largely due to the fact that before anything can really be accomplished on each world, our time travellers simply scurry to the TARDIS and hop to their next destination. In each of these worlds, the TARDIS crew find (insert stifled gasp of shock and horror here) a population under the control of an oppressive dictatorship.

What makes things worse is the fact that the Doctor is constantly making vague references to something being wrong with the space in which the Empire exists. As one of the characters remarks in the conclusion, "It is better to show than to tell", and unfortunately, we are shown very little of this "sprained time" that characterizes the domain of the Empire. Ultimately, nothing is made of this poorly defined concept, and it has nothing to do with the main plot of a group of creatures inhabiting the Vortex escaping into real space/time by piggybacking on transmat beams.

The worst parts of the book are those written from the perspective of Jamon de la Rocas, the only supporting character to speak of. Stone's attempts to infuse humour through Jamon's overblown dialogue completely backfires, and plowing through his conversational style of narration is tough going. I know that his character is supposed to be pretentious, but this dialogue will have you wondering if Pip and Jane Baker were contracted out to write these bits.

There's also a bizarre character called the Collector, who exists only so that Stone can describe his movements "in a manner similar to a small meat explosion" and speak in a style frighteningly similar to JarJar Binks.

It's also disappointing to see that Anji has inherited Sam's irritating habit for sarcastic barbs at every opportunity. I loved what Jacqueline Rayner did with Anji's character in the marvellous EarthWorld, and it's a shame to see how just a few books later, she's become an echo of everything we hated about Sam.

Fitz, who, when written well, can make even the weakest EDA readable, is virtually non-existent. The only time he features at all is in a cliched and inconsequential "dream sequence" which unfortunately goes on for far too long and brings the book crashing to a halt.

The brain dead conclusion is entirely unforgivable, with the TARDIS incomprehensibly making everything "blow up". You know how it goes: for no reason, despite the lack of flammable materials, everything just catches fire and conveniently disappears -- the monsters, their human puppets, their headquarters, etc. What's worse is that afterwards, we're simply told by Anji that things on the worlds of the Empire are now "better", but we don't return to any of the planets the Doctor and company have visited to see if things have indeed improved for the oppressed citizens. (Not that we really care at this point anyways.)

Furthermore, unresolved issues abound in the final pages. As Fitz himself asks, what happened to the billions of Vortex Wraiths that were trying to escape from the Vortex? What is preventing them from tearing into the TARDIS all over again? Most urgently, what is forcing the Wraiths from their natural habitat in the Vortex in the first place? Perhaps these threads are meant to be resolved in future EDA's, but the lack of resolution in The Slow Empire reeks of sloppy writing.

A complete mess.


Digital Lit by Mike Heinrich 20/10/05

I finished The Slow Empire a couple of months back and, taking a bit of time to think about it and reading the viewpoints of the other reviews on this sight, I've come to an inescapable conclusion.

I think most people missed the essential point of this book.

This is a book that's fundamentally about the difference between analogue and digital structure. And how that structure affects the story. And what the implications are for storytelling (A primarily 'analogue' concept) in an increasingly digital world. And the way that the medium inevitably affects the message. But more of this in a moment.

There are two separate thrusts in this book that thematically compliment each other quite nicely. First there's the role the book needs to play in the ongoing story arc that more or less starts moving here. That is to say, the big bad vortex thingummys who are inexplicably NOT one of the twenty to thirty types of thingummy that we'd already seen living in the vortex at some point (not that I'm calling for more continuity or - God forbid - a reappearance of Kronos or the Swimmers from Taking of Planet 5. I'm just sayin' - Man it's got to be getting crowded in there.) Anyway, the Big Bad Vortex Thingummys are being frightened out of the vortex by something (one presumes) bigger and badder than they are. What could it be? Well, it doesn't matter at this point. This book exists in terms of the ongoing arc solely to introduce the concept that there's something odd and frightening happening to the vortex. Tune in next novel to find out more. (Or not, as it turns out. But I'm drifting from the point here.)

That's what The Slow Empire needs to achieve in terms of the BBC books ongoing 'story arc'. And it achieves it very nicely, all things considered. Something scary happening to the vortex. Check and check.

The second thrust is the one that Dave Stone seems primarily interested in. It's the exploration of what it means to storytelling if we live in a world that has moved away from analogue structure.

And let me explain what the hell I'm talking about before I go any further.

Back in the day, if one were the sort of lad that wanted to purchase a collection of popular music (or, 'album', if you will) You would purchase that collection of music on a record, after which you would put the needle on at the beginning (these 'records' used to be placed on 'turntables' and read by a 'needle'. Ask your parents to explain) and you would listen straight through, one song following the other in the proscribed order that the band had chosen for you to listen to them. Sure, it was possible to set the needle down at some other point in the record, but to be honest it was kind of a fiddling business and you quite frequently ended up scratching the record or miscounting the number of bands and playing the wrong song and honestly, it was just much easier to listen to them in the order they were packaged and be done with it.

After this we moved to 8 track tapes: a big chunky plastic affair that required an actual act of God in order to change the order in which the songs were played. The tracks were bunched into little subgroups and you could switch over from one subgroup to another, but you would then be at exactly the same spot in THAT subgroup that you were in the first one, so you kind of had to learn that Track 6 starts roughly halfway through the third note of the bridge on track 2 in the previous grouping so if you kind of waited for the exact note of that bridge and flipped the subgrouping you could be assured that you would have missed the right spot and you were in fact halfway through the first verse of the song you wanted to hear. Again, at the end of the day it was easier to just accept that Pink Floyd's 'The Final Cut' (for example) was always going to begin with The Postwar Dream and end with Two Suns in the Sunset and personal taste be damned.

When we then switched over to cassette tapes (thus necessitating the purchase of the aforementioned 'The Final Cut' for the THIRD time) it was a little more flexible, but still involved a lot of tedious blind forwarding and rewinding in the hopes of finding the song you wanted to listen to.

This is relevant because the fact that the sequence of tracks was completely inflexible inevitably influenced the way that the music was structured. One thing followed the other in the exact proscribed order and it was safe to arrange things so that Two Suns in the Sunset only REALLY made thematic sense after you'd heard Not Now, John, because of course you would have just heard Not Now, John. How the hell else were you going to get around to hearing Two Suns.?

Thirty minutes into your listening experience, you were always going to be listening to track six. The amount of time you'd been listening would always be analogous to the amount of music from the beginning of the album to where you were in the album at that point. Hence, 'analogue tape'.

One thing builds on another and follows another and a pattern emerges. (Or, you listen to twelve songs that have nothing to do with each other in the exact same order over and over again. It really depends on whether or not you enjoy concept albums.)

Which is exactly how storytelling works.

Plotting depends on one thing following another in a proscribed order so that you can see how the events affect the character development and how the character development affects the plot. It's how things have worked for so long that no one ever even thinks to question that it's an essential part of storytelling.

The problem of course being that we eventually discovered CDs.

Suddenly, we all discovered that it WAS perfectly possible to listen to Two Suns in the Sunset without ever hearing a note of Not Now, John. We had access to all tracks instantly, and it altered forever after our viewpoint towards the structure of recorded music. All tracks were equally accessible, therefore all tracks had no particular relationship to one another. Instead of being tracks one, two, three, etc., they were now essentially all track one.

It was flexible, faster, allowed for personal choice in your interaction with the music, and forever doomed the 'concept album' (which is either a good or bad thing, depending on your point of view.)

And at long last I start to get to the point. This new understanding of how it was possible to interact with popular media began to seep into all forms of media. We no longer had to sit through a thirty minute news program to see the one item we're interested in. We can go online and find the relevant information, or just Tivo the part we're interested in, or whatever. The point is, we now expect equal and immediate access to all parts of the media simultaneously. That's just the way the world is going.

But what does that mean to storytelling? A craft that by its very nature demands an analogue approach to how it presents itself. First this happens, then this, then this, then conclusion.

What happens when we can access the conclusion right off the bat? Would we?

For the last few years, films and television have begun playing with this new digital approach to media. The movie 'Memento' basically relies on the novelty of approaching storytelling in a nonlinear way. And then there's that split screen episode of Coupling that I keep hearing about.

In many ways it's inevitable that this viewpoint will start finding its way into books in new and interesting ways. And this is what Dave Stone was getting at, as far as I can tell.

In terms of theme we start with Jamon, who's the embodiment of analogue story structure. The storyteller has complete control over the pace of the story told. And Jamon basically demands that the reader think 'Oh for God's sake, get to the point. If only there was some way that I could control how I get this information, it could go so much faster.'

And don't forget, we're in a section of space that demands we obey the laws of physics. That is to say, a journey must be taken sequentially at a painstakingly slow pace rather that just jumping back and forth in the timeline and instantly accessing whatever destination we may want to get to at that particular moment. Like, say for example, every other story that's included the TARDIS.

Also, the basic premise of the book is a new system (The Vortex thingummys, who presumably have access to all times and places equally) attempting to overthrow an old system (the Slow Empire, where you have to obey analogue structure)

And if you think that I'm pulling this out of the air, let's not overlook the fact that the book has endnotes. Which all but require that you read page 242 in between pages 14 and 15. Structurally the book is pushing us to think of storytelling from a more digital perspective. (The most amusing example of this being Endnote 10, which basically says "I'm skipping ahead a couple of tracks. If you're the sort of person who insists on hearing all the tracks in the original order, imagine that THIS is what happens in between.")

Throughout the book there are countless examples of words, sentences, and even in some cases whole paragraphs being repeated wholesale from other sections of the book, accenting the digital nature of the structure. (And as a side note: This is why the planet's names are anagrams. What is an anagram but packets of information (letters) being rearranged into a different order from the way in which we expect them to be? It's the theme of the book echoed in miniature. As another side note, the repeated insistence of the Doctor regressing through his previous selves has nothing whatsoever to do with Dave Stone trying to cover a sketchy portrayal of the Eighth Doctor. It has everything to do with repeating again the motif of data taken out of sequence, yet still remaining just as valid as if it had been read in the sequence originally written.)

Most tellingly, this book is set at the perfect place for this theme to be explored. The old Doctor Who paradigm was effectively killed off with Gallifrey, reinvented, and now a new paradigm is still in the early stages of being established. It seems to me that Dave Stone is basically saying, 'Hell. If we're scrapping everything and building fresh why not REALLY do it and go so far as to dismantle the very structure that we're used to seeing these stories told in."

Which brings us neatly to the plot. As many of the above reviews point out, the Doctor and crew go through a series of events that don't really fit together properly in any kind of sequential logic. Any one of them could have come before the other. There are ties between them, but nothing that would really insist a hierarchy of what sequence that they have to happen. In fact, only the Doctor seems to insist that there's any kind of 'sequence' of events going on.

A quick word on characters before I continue with that thought. It's interesting to me that Fitz, who comes from a pre-digital period, has his sections of In The Machine told in the past tense. As if he was subconsciously insisting that events must have a sequence, and so was doing the only thing he could think of to make damn sure that his story happened sequentially. And not only did he set it in the past tense but he also made doubly sure and put it in the style of 'History'. Meanwhile, Anji seems to adapt well to the concept of digitalization and in many places her account in that same chapter is all about the intake and adaptation of and to new information. Jamon meanwhile repeats the same data over and over again like a track set on repeat. Which is one of the options available in a digital viewpoint, after all.

Now, back to the previous thought, and here's the real point. The Doctor hasn't betrayed them at the end. He hasn't been lying to them, he hasn't been manipulating them, nor has he REALLY been manipulated. What the Doctor is actually guilty of is simply trying to work through the events in a linear manner when he clearly doesn't have to. He's trying to live as if one thing builds on another which builds on another which leads to a conclusion and they just overwhelmingly don't. He's guilty, in short, of trying to have a Doctor Who adventure. When all he really needed to do was jump to the end bit, take care of that, and be done with the situation.

It's Anji, coming from our time, a time of digital viewpoint towards media, who points out the glaringly obvious. That he could have just skipped to the end and saved them all a lot of bother.

And this is the essential question that the book is interested in exploring. Is it possible to tell a story through digital storytelling methods? And if so, what does that story look like? When we lose the analogue thinking behind traditional Who structure, what all else do we really lose? And are those things that we're willing to give up?

Is it possible to tell a story through digital storytelling methods? It's a valid question.

Even if - as seems to be the case from the above reviews - most readers respond, 'No.'

Personally, I loved the exploration of the issue. Even if I'm the only one who saw it that way.