Eye of the Tyger
1-903889-24-3 (standard hardback)
1-903889-25-1 (deluxe hardback)
|Featuring||The Eighth Doctor|
A Review by Finn Clark 7/12/03
"Special slipcased edition"? What the hell's a special slipcased edition? Apparently it has the deluxe edition's Jim Burns frontispiece but also additional art plates by Andrew Skilleter, Walter Howarth and Fred Gambino, so presumably it costs half the kingdom and your daughter's hand in marriage. And you thought it was bad enough having to donate a kidney for Telos's deluxe editions...
There's something bafflingly simplistic about Eye of the Tyger. Its story is naive in an almost Nightdreamers-esque fashion, but there are also some quite sophisticated ideas on display - not to mention one interesting character. If I'd never read anything else by Paul McAuley I might think this was deliberate, but I had a not dissimilar reaction to his Arthur C. Clarke-winning novel, Fairyland. Not so much a story as a bunch of weird SF stuff. Looks like you don't pick up McAuley for his plotting.
In case you think I'm exaggerating... the story starts off in British India, circa 1921, with our hero facing the eponymous Tygers. You know the drill - stiff upper lips, cricket bats and imperial attitudes that Queen Victoria might have thought were a bit much. And then, two-fifths of the way through, the narrative lurches without warning to the distant future and never bothers to pop back and explain what was happening in 1921! What were the Tygers? What were they doing there? What connection did they have to the far-future stuff, or indeed to anything? Buggered if I know! I'm tempted to reread the dratted thing in search of all the explanations I didn't get first time round. You can't just leave stuff like that unanswered, can you? Can you?
At one point the Doctor even calculates odds of one in ten to the power of 3841 against something being a coincidence. Okay. Fair enough. I'm still waiting for the explanations. There's a handwave at the end that big powerful entities may have been influencing events, but this is not an SF book in which a hundred apparently impossible events come together with crystalline clarity. Instead it's more like The Scarlet Empress, in which Stuff Happens apparently more by authorial fiat than anything else. The main difference is that McAuley is working with hard SF rather than magic fantasy, but he's still aiming for the same eyeball-kicking sense of wonder in his readers.
If you're up for that, there's actually a lot to like here.
The ideas are nifty. The Tygers feel a bit familiar, possibly because of Kate Orman's last 8DA, but setting them in India 1921 is kinda fun. Then there's the far-future stuff, which is wacky. Doctor Who never usually worried about the ridiculously distant future, not often travelling more than a few centuries ahead for its games of space cowboys and indians. (A few stories set themselves further ahead, but it's usually some random round number like 3000 or 5000.) Even something like The Well-Mannered War uses its end-of-the-universe setting as a Whoish plot point rather than anything more intellectual or science-fictiony. The Ark, The Ark in Space, Frontios and The Infinity Doctors are pretty much the only exceptions, unless you count a few entries in The Book of the War.
Paul McAuley's love of SF high concepts lets him down in his TARDIS scenes. He's so enthralled by the whole idea that he forgets we've seen it done before, and better. Though in fairness if I'd never read any Doctor Who before, I'd have been enthralled by McAuley's lengthy, loving descriptions of the TARDIS (TVM version, even down to the record on the record player) and its offhand wonders.
However the book's best aspect is its companion-substitute, Lieutenant Edward Fyne. He's less of a stuffed shirt than many of his contemporaries, but he's still a creature of his time. Englishmen were born to rule over Johnny Foreigner and wars were made for winning. So far, so dull. Plenty of authors have bashed the Victorian era, most recently Andrew Cartmel earlier in the Telos novellas. However what Paul McAuley does that's so refreshing is never to sneer at the character or his mindset. Lieutenant Fyne is the book's narrator and as such there's something endearingly innocent about him, no matter how unreconstructed his attitudes. He knows nothing about science fiction! Instead of today's usual postmodern companion (e.g. the DWM strip's Izzy Somebody, dropping Star Trek references and complaining about the teleporters) we have here a pre-modern companion, pretty much clueless about everything but still trying to do the right thing. Eventually the Doctor's modern liberal viewpoint comes to feel more strange than Fyne's honest naivety.
For me, Fyne made the book's cavalier plotting work. It almost adds to the characterisation! This feels like a 1921 science fiction novel, authentic period steampunk without the sophistication we take for granted today. More than anything it reminded me of the science fiction of Edgar Allen Poe (though without the tortuous prose, thank God).
There's a four-page foreword by Neil Gaiman that would be cool even if you'd never heard of him. I spent much of this novella not quite knowing what I thought of it, but after some reflection I've decided I enjoyed it. It's a step back in time, of a kind we've never seen before (and I've probably been a bit harsh on the plotting, which may be eccentric but isn't completely non-existent). At the very least I enjoyed it more than the same author's Fairyland, which won the Arthur C. Clarke and John W. Campbell Awards. A bit of an oddity, but probably worth your time.
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 19/3/04
One of the aspects of the Telos novella range that I have really enjoyed has been the introductions. Asking prominent authors to write a few pages about Doctor Who is a terrific idea, and a tremendous lead-in to the novella itself. BBC Books could well learn from this, to enhance their range, and make it more attractive to the buyer.
Eye of the Tyger's introduction is the best, most interesting yet. It's by Neil Gaiman, writer the excellent Neverwhere and many comics. His reminisces about DW are wonderful, and when he raves about the upcoming novella, you can't help but look forward to reading it!
Unfortunately even though Neil Gaiman liked it, I did not. At 73 pages it is rather short, but maybe that's because I have just finished Fallen Gods. Personally I feel 100 pages is about right for novella length. However I don't feel I wanted more of this one anyway - so 73 pages is plenty!
The problem with Paul McAuley's story starts when the TARDIS leaves Earth, because I can find no fault at all with the opening 10-15 pages. After this superb opening though, when things get less interesting, the disappointment is more acute - because of the fine opening. If only they had stayed on Earth, and we had learnt more about Edward Fyne's youth. If only we had stayed in the Indian jungles, and been given a Hemmingway style travelogue. If only the 8th Doctor had interacted more with the people of this time.
But If Onlys are a bit pointless really. It is clear that the author wanted the crux of his story to be set away from the Earth, and the opening pages are only to introduce Fyne and therefore to emphasize the extent of his change later on. But there's the problem - that change story, with its setting in the Dyson Sphere spaceship, is so dull and massively disappointing for a range that is coming to its finish very soon afterwards.
As Neil Gaiman states in his introduction we open in a Kiplingesque India. Then are taken away to a Generation Starship. A strange werewolf tale then ensues, with echoes of DWM's comic strip Nature of the Beast prevalent. The minute we step away from Kipling's India, that's when we embark on the slippery slope of a boring story. Thankfully it doesn't go on too long though - this being a novella after all.
I couldn't help, on finishing the book, but go back to the beginning. I read the introduction again (it really is excellent). I read the first 12 or so pages - they were brilliant. But oh how things went so wrong after that. 5/10