The Space Age
|ISBN||0 563 53800 7|
|Synopsis: This is the city. These are the enlightened and content people. These are their robot servitors, their food pills and personal rocket ships. This is a civilisation at peace with Martians and Venusians alike. This is Earth. This is the year 2000 AD. Welcome to the Space Age.|
A Review by Finn Clark 7/6/00
Well, that was a load of rubbish, wasn't it?
In fairness I should start off by mentioning the things I liked about The Space Age. The Doctor gets a good speech on page 212. Compassion is interesting for a few pages. I liked one of the supporting characters. There's some stuff in the final chapters that resonates nicely with the 8DA arc story. Um, that's it.
We've always known that Steve Lyons has talent. His debut, Conundrum, was hilarious and a delight, while since then he's jumped through more hoops than a prize-winning circus seal. Only Simon Messingham has created a more varied body of work. The books of Lyons have been funny, moving, tragic and deeply moralistic, not to mention occasionally unreadable. Head Games and Time of Your Life brought me out in hives, but I'd sooner reread even those than The Space Age. Whatever the flaws of those earlier two books, at least they weren't boring.
It's rather startling to realise that The Taking of Planet 5 came out seven months ago, because I can hardly remember a thing about the books since then. Admittedly there's been some superlative character stuff. Fitz has worked well, Compassion has been exceptional and The Shadows of Avalon was a beautiful renaissance for the Brigadier. But the stories? Not a thing. And they said things had changed.
I remember lots of testosterone, wasted on cardboard planets we've never seen before and will never see again. Grizzled paranoiacs shoot people, ignore all sane advice and obsess about their blood-feuds to the point where I want to kill them myself. Stupid people live and innocents die.
Which brings us to The Space Age.
The back cover blurb is amazing. All that stuff about a fifties view of the year 2000 really fired my imagination and got me wondering how Steve Lyons would dissect this alternate future before reconciling it with the real one. The good news is that the setting is probably the best thing about this book. The city is seamless and silvered (of course), the transit tubes work by anti-gravity and the computers have big flashing lights and ticker-tape. It's as retro as hell and great to visualise. Admittedly it's also fairly minimal, living comfortably in my imagination as three or four sets and an afternoon of OB filming, but it works.
Unfortunately the characters populating this world really didn't work for me. Firstly, they're mods and rockers from 1965. Great. What's that? I started this book having not a clue about these long-forgotten British tribes and ended it in similar confusion. I think the rockers wear leather, but I could be wrong about that. I've no idea what the mods wear, or indeed how they differ from the rockers. Probably Steve Lyons's next book will be about thirteenth-century power struggles between the Guelfs and the Ghilbellines and we'll be expected to know in advance who they are too. Better get out your history books, folks.
But I could have forgiven this if they were interesting. They're not. They're morons. The mods hate the rockers and vice-versa. They've been fighting so long that they're almost forgotten why they started in the first place (hint: it wasn't a particularly convincing reason). If they weren't so annoying, it would almost be funny. At least in last month's Coldheart everyone wanted to kill each other because of disgusting genetic mutations. Yes, it's another planet the size of Central Park, populated by two indistinguishable factions pointlessly at war with each other! Gee, we've never seen that before.
No, I tell a lie. One character has enough balls to go off and do their own thing. That cheered me up and gave me a grand total of one cast member I didn't want to see boiled in oil.
But what of the regulars? Compassion is great as always... when she's given something to do. For the most part this is the story of Fitz (who's okay) and the Doctor (ditto), which is only connected with the arc in a few musings towards the end. They're good musings, but I've generally found the Compassion story arc more interesting than the stories she appears in. For once we have a character whose story is going somewhere. She's underused here and I missed her.
Naturally there's a Big Secret Behind Everything. Wondering about that was vaguely interesting for a chapter or two, but I went back to sleep when the truth was revealed. There's also a shocking implausibility and a dreadful resolution. Things get philosophical towards the end, which I liked, but I'd have been happier if the theme of those last few chapters had appeared earlier. It's a good theme, easily capable of sustaining a complete book. I suspect that was the plan.
So there you have it, another blink-and-you'll-forget-it 8DA. However I think the long-promised upturn in quality is about to arrive. Next month's is The Banquo Legacy (good word of mouth), to be followed by The Ancestor Cell (supposedly a show-stopper) and the reign of Justin Richards.
Lance Parkin has been suggesting that people skip all the books until The Burning and start again from there. That sounds like good advice to me.
A Review by Sean Gaffney 13/6/00
Another month, another 8DA. I've gotten into the arc recently, and don't think I've given out a bad mark since I started reading them again back with Interference.
We're almost to the end of the Compassion Arc, and things are really gearing up. After the jarring realization Compassion experienced in Coldheart, this book really focuses on how she's coping with her new changes, and whether she really can even deal with being human anymore. At the end, she's almost entirely catatonic as a human, relating to things almost entirely on the TARDIS plane. This should lead nicely into Steve Lyons' The Space Age...
Hm? What's that? This is The Space Age? Rebecca's book was cancelled?
Oh. Hm. Well, that explains the jarring thud of an opening Doctor scene... and the total lack of Compassion in this book... however, other things don't explain away as easily.
PLOT: Really, really straightforward. I mean, everything is laid out, and it's pretty much exactly as you expect it to be, right down to the end. This is the anti-Justin Richards book...
THE DOCTOR: Cheerful, ebullient, and just a tad desperate... no problems here. Perhaps a bit too taken with speechmaking, but since that fits with the rest of the book...
FITZ: Fitz really fills the companion role here, even though he does get to do a little bit of "Space Captain" stuff, it's clear he's in over his head, and he spends most of the book being locked up, escaping, running around, getting captured, escaping again, learning vital bits of plot, etc.
COMPASSION: Virtually absent, but gets a couple of good lines. To us hardcore Compassion fans, however, it's a tragedy. Especially since...
OTHERS: Made of the finest quality cardboard. None of these characters ever manage to rise above the two-dimensional stereotypes they're meant to be. Alec, Rick, Davey, Gillian... none of them have any sort of surprises inside of them. Even Sandra's 'big surprise' is more of an 'Oh. OK.' Incredibly disappointing, especially from Steve Lyons.
VILLAIN: Rick, really. The Makers exist to be weird and above us all, and manage to be talked out of their malevolence by Compassion in perhaps one of the most anticlimactic endings to a Who story ever. And Rick... Rick froths. A lot.
STYLE: Earnest. Everyone's so TERRIBLY earnest. The Doctor, Alec, Gillian, Vince and Deborah... hell, even FITZ is serious. I like serious books, but this goes beyond that into oppressive. Which is odd, as the book reads very quickly. Coldheart read slow as molasses, but had some magically funny and cute passages that made me smile. I rarely, if ever smiled during The Space Age.
OVERALL: I love some of Steve's books. Hell, I love Head Games and Time of Your Life. But this was just a slog all the way through. I didn't care about anyone, not even the Eighth Doctor and company. And about 90 percent of the speeches could go without any change. Just... bleah. Hopefully an abberation, from both author and line.
The Space Rage by Robert Smith? 29/6/00
Fantastic! Superb, witty, clever and it draws you in expertly. It's well-written, it's got exactly the right tone and best of all you can read it over and over again.
But that's enough about the back cover blurb...
The Space Age is an odd book. I'm aware that the back cover blurb is often the last thing written, but this one is so fantastic (and fits in so well with the backstory that for once it's required reading) that the actual novel can't help but be a disappointment.
Mods and Rockers? Sixties gangs fighting it out? Leather jackets and bikes in an alien environment, which serve to evoke memories of the absolute worst of Blake's Seven? Oi, Lyons, no.
Like many others, I'm sure, I'd have absolutely loved to have read the book that the back cover blurb promised. An enlightened civilisation in the futuristic city in the year 2000 that everyone knew we'd have. Neighbourly relations with Martian and Venusians. The harnessing of static electricity. There's a fantastic novel in that, just itching to get out. So what happened here?
When Steve Lyons has a point to make, he really likes to go all out. You can accuse The Final Sanction of many things (and I have), but at least it didn't let up on the unrelenting moral posturing. The Witch Hunters and Salvation are similarly single-minded about the points they're trying to make, albeit in their own way. This book is no different, with its examination of the cycle of violence and adolescent needs to simultaneously fit in and be noticed. Taken on those terms, it's quite interesting, with a lot to say about the futility of violence and the futility of being male. It's just a shame that those terms are fundamentally less interesting than just about everything else the book lets us glimpse, but steadfastly refuses to let us visit.
I dunno, looking at Lyons' recent BBC output, you'd think he'd had a religious experience or something, so stern and serious are his sermons. Of all the people you want to grab hold of and yell "lighten up, willya?", the author of The Completely Useless Encyclopedia shouldn't be one of them.
It's a real shame that Compassion gets arbitrarily sidelined, in the great tradition of K9's batteries running low when it looks like he might be a bit too useful. Since Deborah is pretty tokenistic and Sandra is far less than she should be (and both are shunted into a mothering/nurturing role), this becomes very macho and male. Which gets rather boring after a while, IMO. Only Gillian manages to work at all, but she's still not nearly as developed as Alec or Dick or even Davey.
The Doctor and Fitz are reasonably well characterised, though. And, at last, fifteen books later, we finally have a short description of what Fitz looks like. I think I can forgive this book a large proportion of its faults for that alone. It's a tragedy that Compassion is completely absent for so long, though. She's by far the most interesting thing about the books these days. I can understand wanting to reduce her potential a bit, but the way it's done here is just lazy. It's the author deciding that the plot doesn't need her until act three, so he has her standing still for a while. Huh? There's some suggestion that this is due to the Maker's presence, but we don't get explicit confirmation of that and I think we really need it.
Furthermore, the plains-dwellers are easily far more interesting than the mods or the rockers and their intial scene clearly signposts their important and their return later on... yet they're in a grand total of two scenes, the second of which involves them standing around at the end of the book, having mysteriously guessed the resolution! This is lame, Steve. You have a book with three elements of varying degrees of potential (the city, Compassion, the plains dwellers) and you do almost nothing with any of them! I mean, I'm all for you setting yourself a challenge, but this is ridiculous.
Alec's story does manage to be interesting, although it's something of a slog to get there. The ending, in particular, is quite good. Rick's is a lot less interesting and even the soap-opera revelation doesn't make anything more interesting (and the most interesting potential revelation of all is left hanging for a while and then casually denied a bit later!) I still think it's a bit odd that Rick should have retained such vivid memories from the time before he left, including his reading material, the relationship to his family, etc... since he was only three years old at the time!
When Compassion finally enters the story, she gets to sit around holding hands with the Maker and foretelling the future... which has absolutely zero effect on anything at all (including the reader's interest). This amazing ability is used to, erm, tell Fitz that some people will be coming in a few minutes. And that's about it. Another incredibly interesting idea, another total abandonment of any interesting developments it might lend. At least the book is consistent...
What use is made of the setting is great. The servo-robots and the Brain are great, with just the right level of sixties cheesiness to make them work. We don't see nearly enough of it, of course, but what little is there is done well. Rick's inventions are quite fun and staggeringly limited in scope... although once again the suggestion that he has total recall of events before he was three hurts the plot immensely. It would have been better, I think, to have had him bring some comics along, so they could have been his only reading material from the life before and he could have been obsessed with creating the machines displayed therein. I think that would have worked even better with the clumsy "We fought because we didn't have any entertainment" theme that gets hammered on to the end. Oh well.
Ultimately, I enjoyed The Space Age, despite being foiled at almost every turn by the author's steadfast refusal to entertain me. I don't know if that was a subtle part of the theme, a stubborn self-imposed challenge or just incompetence, but none of those cases makes it worthwhile. There's some reasonable stuff in what we did get, although the entire book is a disappointment for the potential it could have had, but didn't. Over and over again.
The Who V The Rolling Stones by Robert Thomas 12/10/00
As has already been said the best thing about this book is the back cover blurb. At the time this came out I was considering avoiding the EDA's for a bit. The only thing that changed my mind was the blurb and two words on the front - Steve Lyons. " Hmmm, this must be good." Me thinks.
When I finished the book I have to say that I enjoyed it. Although the alarm bells started ringing on the opening pages when I realised that this would not be the story that I was expecting. What I got was Mods V Rockers in the future. Cool.
I must state that this book's biggest problem is that Steve Lyons does not seem to know what a mod is. For those of you who don't know they wear suits always, are clean, ride scooters - with loads of mirrors that are flashy but slow and like mod music like The Who, The Jam and the Kinks. Rockers however wear leather, ride motor bikes, covered in hair gel and like music like Gene Pitney, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. Mods hate Rockers and Rockers hate Mods, that's all you need to know. By the way for a good Mod and Rocker film I recommend Quadrophenia.
Now back to business.
The plot of the story is the mystery of how these two youth cults got to the city in the year 2000 (their future) and how to get them back, as the city oxygen supply is running out. This is a great mystery and the solution involves a great twist that is related to the arc, one that the Doctor doesn't appear to notice. It seems that only I have noticed this twist as I have already pointed it out to two people.
I have to say the story is both original and good but the strength of this book is the characterisation. One reason I think that the EDA's has not been a good range is the absence of Steve Lyons. Craig Hinton, Mark Gatis, Perry and Tucker, Topping and Day could liven this range up and do no end of good.
The Doctor is McGann right down to every last detail. Easily excited and caring as always.
Fitz, he has his best moments here. His interplay with the Mods and Rockers (from his own era) is great.
Compassion, also at her best. She is not the seven of nine clone seen in other books. Her new nature is explored throughout the book. Her absence in the first half is not out of place as she has suffered from a lot of overuse.
Rick was a great villain. Nice to see the exploring of how his mind works since he is insane.
Sandra starts of as one character and changes into another character throughout the book. A lesson on character development to us all.
Alec, sadly a bit lifeless. Understood due to the position he is in. But you could see what would happen to him miles off.
Davey, very well explored considering he doesn't appear much.
Gillian, her interplay with the Doctor is nice. Didn't like her myself but don't think I was supposed to.
All the other characters are a bit dull so I wont go into detail. Mainly cos I cant remember any.
So to sum up nice idea and nice book. It's not bad, but it hovers around above average. The main problem I had was that the Mods were painted as the more evil of the cults. It's an improvement over Final Sanction, which, let's face it, was average. But Lyons returns to form and cements himself as one of my favourite authors. Although if you are non European I wouldn't recommend it as you probably don't know what Mods and Rockers are.
A Review by John Seavey 31/10/00
Very sharply written, a lot of interesting ideas, a cool wrap-up, and a nicely made, if slightly preachy, moral point. Best of the recent books, and the only one I really, really liked.
This one was gorgeous. Reminiscent of an old Star Trek episode in all the right ways, but not in all the wrong ones; the idea of these people carrying on a minor teenage feud into blood and death, simply because there was nothing else to do out there was well-handled. The idea of the "space-age" world was great, fitting right into all those old pulp stories that we all know about, and Compassion is wonderfully done. Let me repeat that, because it bears repeating. Compassion is wonderfully done. This is the first book where I got a real sense that yes, this is a person who has become a living TARDIS, and it wowed me. One minor gripe: Sandra's big revelation that she was Rick's mother really didn't contribute much to the plot, and fell very flat to me.
A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 25/10/01
Where did The Space Age go wrong? The premise to the book is fascinating. It has several interesting things to say about maturing and the nature of conflict. It even has a very good characterization of the Doctor. So why was it such a chore to read?
From reading the back cover, one can tell that the setting of this book will be captivating. It promises the flying cars and jetpacks that the future as seen from the 50s predicted. It's the Year 2000 AD and mankind has an advanced civilization with hot and cold running robots and computers so that every single human need is taken care of. The life of the each person can be spent in the pursuit of pleasure with none of the dirty work that everyday life in the present affords us. Unfortunately after delivering this wonderful setup to the story, Steve Lyons does nothing with it. After reading the book in its entirety, I can say that the story doesn't touch a fraction of the potential that it had going in to it. With only a few alterations, the book could have been set almost anywhere.
The inhabitants of this Future City are all natives of an English town in 1965. Somehow they were taken from their proper location and placed in this luxurious city. Virtually everyone that was taken was a member of one of two 60s gangs, the mods and the rockers. This sets up the middle of section of the book in which various people do very little else than beat the living daylights out of each other (and during the slow moments, they make elaborate plans about how they will next beat the living daylights out of each other). It's extremely tedious, and unfortunately, this sort of boring runaround makes up almost the entire book. Although I suspect this was done on purpose, it was difficult to read about the two groups, as they were virtually indistinguishable, so it was very hard to keep track of which side was which.
There are a few nice sections. Compassion is barely featured in the book, but the little pieces that we do get are extremely well written. Also, there is some fairly interesting stuff about growing up and moving on. The problem is that this theme is spread so thin that it almost isn't worth the effort - a shame this wasn't really followed up on.
In short, the beginning of book is super, the ending of the book is quite good, but the middle hundred and fifty odd pages or so are mind numbingly boring. It's extremely frustrating to read as one can almost taste the excellent story that's down here begging to get out. The sections that follow the end of hostilities reach excellence and it's really a shame that they didn't occur about fifty pages earlier.
A Review by Brett Walther 22/12/03
Rarely do I come away from a Doctor Who book with very little to say about it.
One of the only other times I've ever felt so indifferent about Doctor Who was after watching The Power of Kroll. Five minutes after it was over, I had virtually no recollection of what I'd just experienced.
Likewise, The Space Age has left virtually no impression on me whatsoever. The memory of it is already fading, so I'd better get this down quickly.
The central conflict between two factions of 1960s gangs uprooted to an alien planet in the future gets pretty dull surprisingly quickly, and even at 237 pages, the book tends to drag. I think it's the mindless aggression and macho posturing of the "mods" and "rockers" that I find tiresome. Then again, the members of the gangs are pretty indistinguishable from each other; their sole character trait being a deep hatred for the opposing gang.
I know that the whole point of portraying the gang war in this manner is to convey the utter pointlessness of the conflict, but it's not very involving for the reader.
It doesn't help that writer Steve Lyons abandons any descriptions of the futuristic city setting after Fitz's initial exploration. Then again, I suppose there's only so much to say about a place that's no more than a sterile shell, so maybe this is intentional.
It's a shame that not more is made of Fitz's relationship with the gang members. I mean, he shares much in common with them -- they're all from 1960s England, anyhow -- but as usual, the writer seems to have forgotten Fitz's origins and this opportunity to flesh out one or two of the gang members through a bond with our dear Fitzie goes unfulfilled.
It's also a bit of a shock to go back to the characterization of the Doctor before his merciful transformation in The Burning. His inane grinning in the face of serious situations becomes a trifle irritating, and reminded me of how much more... Doctor-ish... he's really become since the memory-wipe.
Having said that, the initial mystery is one that captured my imagination. What are these people doing on this world, anyway? It's never a question that this isn't really Earth, but the notion of S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders transported to a futuristic setting holds a great deal of promise.
I also thought that Compassion was used quite well throughout the book. Although she certainly doesn't get much to do, the role that she plays as moderator between the humans and the race of alien Makers is pivotal, and makes good use of her new transdimensional "senses".
Even with its myriad flaws, The Space Age cannot be classified as a truly offensive novel (one need only read my review of Grimm Reality to discover what meets that criteria). It doesn't annoy or bore to any serious degree, and it's a fairly quick read. Rather, one gets the sense that an okay story could have been better.
A Review by Steve White 30/10/16
The Space Age is an Eighth Doctor novel by Steve Lyons and acts as a standalone story in the Compassion arc. Lyons has a gift for writing past Doctor stories, with his 1st and 2nd Doctor novels remaining true to the TV era they came from. How would his first foray into the new Doctor go?
The main plot of The Space Age revolves around a group of teenagers from 1965 encountering an alien who then transports them to a space-age city. Once there, the mod and rocker gangs divided and now they live in a dying city but are more concerned with warring with each other. It's a neat idea, but it really doesn't work well at all, and I was hard pressed to imagine being taken out of time and only caring about gang warfare. There are no real story twists; as such, it comes across as dull in places.
The Doctor is done very well, proving Lyons' perfect portrayals of the 1st and 2nd Doctor's was no fluke. Companionwise, however, Lyons has let himself down. Fitz has his moments, but the slightly heroic version from Coldheart is long gone, and we have the more pathetic version instead. Compassion is absent pretty much throughout the first half, which, considering this is her arc, doesn't go down too well, especially as she's more interesting than ever since her transformation. Even when she does reappear, she's more distant than usual and very cryptic, so it hardly seems worth having her about.
As mentioned previously, the mods-and-rockers theme is a good one, but it's totally unbelievable. A group of young adults get transported to a new space age city and all they care about is being a mod or a rocker? They'd be more concerned about how they got there surely? The three main gangbangers, Alec, Sandra and Rick, are done well, with a decent backstory to tie them together, which is odd for a Steve Lyons novel, but the rest all pale into nothingness.
The Space Age isn't a bad novel, but neither is it a great one. After a slow burn, things do get better, and you are left with a decent story, but it's in no way a must read.