The Gods Storyline
Twilight of the Gods
A Benny Adventure
|Authors||Mark Clapham and Jon De Burgh Miller|
|ISBN||0 426 20536 7|
|Synopsis: It's the final showdown. Bernice and company have one last chance to save the day and destroy the gods forever... but that means returning to the most dangerous place in the universe. Benny's former home, the planet Dellah.|
A Review by Finn Clark 23/1/00
Several years ago, at the arse end of the Virgin licence, Christopher Bulis wrote a bad MA called Twilight of the Gods. Now, at what looks increasingly likely to be the arse end of all Virgin novels ever, Mark Clapham and Jon de Burgh Miller have written a disappointing NA which fate shall surely call Twilight of the Gods 2. Who are we to argue with fate?
It's not a bad book. It's vaguely amusing and even gets slightly apocalyptic towards the end, which is a pleasant surprise given the preceding 200 pages. Once you get past the clunky exposition-laden first chapter, it's a passable runaround.
But as the capstone to the earth-shaking Gods storyline, it's a failure.
Let's look back at the rest of the God squad. Where Angels Fear kick-started the arc in magnificently ambitious style, with not the least of its death and destruction being the flattening of St Oscar's. Two Dave Stone books gave us a healthy load of opinionated weirdness (not to mention a respectable body count) and Lawrence Miles gave us the apocalypse to end all apocalypses in Dead Romance. Justin Richards gave us a breather with the deceptive Tears of the Oracle and the out-and-out comedy The Joy Device.
We'd just had a good laugh with the last of those, setting things up nicely for the promised Big Dramatic Conclusion to Everything. As a stand-alone book, Twilight of the Gods 2 is okay. However reader expectations have been built up by the preceding NAs and what we've been given fails to deliver.
It feels like the Keystone Kops. Folks run around amiably and every so often suffer the indignity of a cliffhanger. Of course the latter is deliberate. The authors know that this is the last NA and so are teasing us with the knowledge that for once any or all of the Benny regulars might die. However the book's tone undercuts this. For the most part it's inoffensive adventure in Flash Gordon style, which sends its own message.
Little jokes and in-jokes provide further distraction. Maybe some people out there like that kind of thing. I don't. The cliffhangers soon became tedious and I turned the pages faster and faster. I suppose folks who've followed the NAs obsessively from their inception might find this book heart-stoppingly tense, but personally I think it leans a little too heavily on the presumption that its readers have that kind of emotional commitment.
But there's another reason why I think this should have been a weightier, more intense novel. It's the subject matter. These are GODS our heroes are up against! Lords of creation! Imagine yourself up against the God of the Old Testament; that's the sort of stakes our heroes should have been playing for. Something magnificently epic has been swept under the carpet. And quite apart from all that, there's the additional factor that religion is one of the most powerful forces in world history, a motivation that has toppled empires and swept continents. Here it's treated as a bit of a joke.
IMO religion is a bigger subject than this. Violently offensive atheists who spontaneously erupt into anti-religious rants are certainly annoying (and the books haven't been entirely free of that kind of thing) but at least in a perverse sort of way they're acknowledging the size of the question. I've never met a Christian even half as fanatical as such people. But Twilight of the Gods 2 paints such people as merely silly and misguided. They'd probably see sense if you could just sit them down with a nice cup of tea and half an hour's improving debate.
So we have the Awesome Apocalypse that isn't. Let's leave that aside. How does the novel tie in with the Benniverse?
Firstly, the regulars. The characterisation is okay (mostly) but this is Gormless Jason instead of one of the more competent versions from other books. Dave Stone has strong opinions on how other authors have (mis)-interpreted his character, but I noticed that even something as light and fluffy as last month's The Joy Device gave Jason a kind of hard-edged competence. There's none of that here. This Jason can barely tie his own bootlaces. You wonder exactly what Benny sees in him.
But what about the explanations? This is the last book in the series; surely it explains where the Gods came from, taking in every NA ever published and how this ties in with the meaning of life? Um... well, sort of. We learn who the Gods are, thus demonstrating again the truth of the Babylon 5 dictum: "it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive." It's a bit of an anticlimax, really. I'd better type a big < SPOILER SNIPPED > where I was going to discuss this book's relationship with Dead Romance, but suffice to say here that I wasn't too impressed with that either.
It isn't even much of an ending, as the number of plot threads left hanging could be woven into a rather nice rug.
So there you have it. I wish I could say nicer things about someone's first novel, but... well, sorry. Better luck next time. If you hadn't been writing the Last NA Ever (TM), I might even have been wrapping this up with not a little praise.
Twilight of the NAs by Robert Smith? 1/3/00
I'm a huge, huge fan of both the NAs as a whole and the Bernice NAs in particular. I thought the whole Gods storyline was magnificent, giving us some incredibly thought-provoking and interesting books. The NAs have been a part of my life for the past eight years. It's probably inevitable that the last book was always going to have much higher expectations than any reasonable book could live up to.
Nevertheless, I can't help but feel that Twilight of the Gods still disappoints more than it should, even under those circumstances.
The problem, fundamentally, is that it's just so average. Now, that's "average" when compared to the Benny NAs as a whole and the Gods storyline in particular, so it's still a pretty high standard in the grand scheme of things. Make no mistake, this is a good book, by any reasonable measure. But by the (probably unrealistic) measure that the rest of this line has set up, it's just sort of there. That's a shame, and not really fair.
Actually, what it reminded me most of was Where Angels Fear, in more ways than one. Not only does it wrap up the storyline started there, it reads very much like a direct sequel, virtually ignoring the books in between. Understandable enough, I suppose. WAF was similarly a book that was good enough for what it was, but should have been outstanding. It was frustrating, because the expectations led us to believe we were in for something magnificent and instead we just got something that was good.
Twilight has fewer obvious problems (for example, it's quite well written, where the prose of WAF constantly hampered the story) and wraps up a lot of things, like Maa'lon and the Sultan of Dellah, but it also doesn't have the sheer scope of WAF. It continues the thread started there, far more than any other book in the Gods storyline, many of which bore little relation to the storyline's starting point and some of which went out of their way to ignore other books in the arc.
It's not to say that Twilight of the Gods doesn't tie in to the other books in the arc. Indeed, all of them are acknowledged in cursory ways, from reminders of Benny's terminal disease and subsequent amnesia, to a mention of Christine and an amusing un-namecheck of the narrator from The Mary-Sue Extrusion and Return to the Fractured Planet. I like this, because it feels like the in-fighting between the books of Justin Richards and Dave Stone has been civilly resolved and none of the apparent contradictions from those books are left dangling.
As a story in its own right, it's quite good. It's a fun action tale, with enough threads woven to keep us entertained. That's part of the problem, though. This is a great little action thriller, but it's not the grand sweeping resolution I thought we'd be in for. I can't help but think that Tears of the Oracle would have made a much better conclusion -- which it almost did. I am glad that the conclusion of that novel, with a ship carrying the non-belief virus crashing on Dellah, was finally acknowledged and good use was made of it. However, what's incredibly frustrating is that the authors appear to be under the delusion that it was the B-Aaron that crashed into Dellah. Sorry guys, it wasn't. It was the J-Kibb. Check out page 273 of Tears of the Oracle (and it's clear that they're not the same ship from page 263 of that book). If you're going to tie up dangling continuity issues from previous books, it really, really helps to not mix up the fundamental characters (and we're now left without any idea of what really happened to the B-Aaron, a great character).
The regulars are quite good here. Braxiatel and Emile don't have much to do, but that isn't too much of a problem (and it is nice to see Emile again). Chris and Clarence get to pair up again, which works well enough. Benny and Jason also pair up, in more ways than one and I really like where this went. Benny's dream also tied into Burning Heart, something I thought everyone had forgotten about, as well as giving us great hope for the future by the novel's conclusion. The final fates of all four characters seem just right to me. I won't discuss them in any great detail, because they're worth getting to on your own, but I have no complaints.
I will say that I thought the book finished a little early, however. Like the book itself, the last chapter serves its purpose well enough, but I'd have liked something more, I suppose. It doesn't quite do the wrapping up of the NAs justice. But maybe my expectations are impossibly high.
The Gods' identity does make a lot of sense, but it still feels incredibly tacked on, rather than a surprise revelation at the end. It rewards long time book readers, true, but it still seems to come out of left field. I'd have preferred there to be some more hints throughout the book before Chris suddenly slapping his forehead and remembering on page 216. I do like it, though and it ties in very well with both the previous book and to Dead Romance. Despite Lawrence Miles' intentions, I think this fits in really well, given the nature of the villains, as revealed in their earlier appearance. I like this a lot (and I think I prefer this to Lawrence's clever, but ultimately mean-spirited, idea). Some more could have been done with them, but since they appear far too powerful, it might be for the best that it wasn't.
The final scene is great, though. I'm glad Wolsey was recognised, having been afraid for his fate -- or worse, that he'd just been forgotten about. The list of presents is also great, tying things back to Doctor Who, as they always needed to. The last two paragraphs still bring a lump to my throat.
Twilight of the Gods is an enjoyable romp. It does the job that it's supposed to do quite well, giving us an exciting action tale with a couple of deeper layers. I'd have like more depth and more sense of magnificence, but for what it is it works well enough. It has a tough job at the very end of a well-loved line of books whose quality sometimes varied, but on the whole maintained an incredible batting average in terms of quality and style. The New Adventures are over. And whatever this book lacks, I must say that it pleases me immensely that they went out with a book by a first-time author.