purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (books)
Since I now officially only purchase Dr Who related books that look promising I would appear to have missed an important part of the Bernice Summerfield story. In fact, I was always missing important parts of the Bernice Summerfield story since I never listened to her audio adventures. I purchased Nobody's Children (which is another book consisting of three linked novellas) almost entirely because it had the names Kate Orman, Jonathan Blum and Philip Purser-Hallard on the author list (which, as a team, are a hard to beat combination). I was, needless to say, expecting great things.

So I'm a little disappointed. Firstly, this book is irritating to someone who doesn't have the complete back story. It's not confusing, there's nothing I needed to know and didn't but still I was kind of "the Draconians have invaded? when? why? how?" not to mention I am completely lost about what is happening with Benny's boss, Braxiatel. Last time I looked he'd mysteriously vanished for reasons largely unclear but which apparently had something to do with trying to turn her ex-husband, Jason, into a Cyberman. Now he's back, only "different" and completely off-stage for the whole novel except at the very end when four mutually contradictory viewpoints are offered for his take on the events - I suspect these were supposed to be significant of something but without the other pieces of the jigsaw they were just a "you what?" moment and thus a bad way to end.

Anyway the good points. You have three author's all with a strong grasp of character, plot and theme. These authors are working closely enough together to make this feel like one novel not three loosely linked novellas. You can see the skill in evidence, in particular, in scenes where Benny and Jason argue. These are normally distinctly tiresome in the hands of most authors but are used here to good effect. The High point of the relationship comes in Purser-Hallard's Nursery Politics when Benny is tearing a strip off Jason for endangering himself and he reveals that he had some sperm frozen "as a precaution" beforehand.

"Which is when she blows her top, and the conversation takes something of a tangent."

And yes, this novel is all about children and our responsibility both to our own and to other people's.

Orman's novella All Mimsey were the Borogroves, the first in the sequence, is the weakest of the three. A fairly generic tale of infiltration and espionage enlivened by a distinctive and affecting first-person narration by a shape-shifting alien sponge anxious to rescue his/her children. Blum's The Loyal Left-Hand is a taught novella built around a Draconian female right of passage with a clear focus and a unity of structure. If anything this novella loses by its connection to the over-arching structure since it seems to lose its way a bit once an evil shape-shifting alien sponge intrudes upon the action. Purser-Hallard's offering plays around with multiple viewpoints and narrative voices weaving a story of diplomatic intrigue. It's more inventive than Blum's novella but could probably have used a full novel length (diplomatic intrigue tends to look a bit simplistic in under 100 pages).

They are all strong stories but, in the end, I felt they were more constrained than anything else by the need to link together and my general weariness with Bernice Summerfield in general, and the Benny/Jason dynamic in particular didn't help to make this the great reading experience it occasionally looked like it might be. Nobody's Children is probably one of the strongest Benny novels/novella collections out there but, if my reaction is anything to go by, it's not a good jumping on point for the range.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (books)
Another day another Doctor Who spin-off. Not Bernice Summerfield this time but Iris Wildthyme. Iris, well Iris is both easy and difficult to describe. She's a disreputable woman of uncertain age with a penchant for gold lamé who drinks like a fish and smokes like a chimney. She travels through space and time in a double-decker bus which is smaller on the inside than on the outside and takes irresponsibility to a level that makes the Doctor look like a straight-laced puritan. More importantly she began her literary career entirely separate from Doctor Who in Paul Magrs' magic realist novel, Marked for Life (which I've not read so I'm taking this on trust), but was later integrated into his Who novels and was used to comment upon the Doctor as a kind of non-evil but entirely irresponsible anti-Doctor. These Who novels were nearly always commentaries upon or pastiches of story-telling forms of one sort or another.

The background is important because, in conceiving a series of Iris Wildthyme short stories, someone obviously had to decide what an Iris story was when there was no Doctor present for her to react against. Somewhere along the line it seems to have been decided that, where the Doctor has adventures in time and space, Iris Wildthyme has adventures in story-telling so the collection predominantly serves us up a selection of pastiches and "Iris meets an author" stories. While many of these are very good they all began to get a little samey after a bit which made Craig Hinton's Came to Believe one of the stand-out stories in the collection. It's one of the "Iris meets an author" stories but Hinton appears to have been drawing more heavily on the magic realist tradition than on the literary pastiche idea. Its an, in many ways mundane, tale of an alcoholic journalist in his first couple of days at a rehab clinic. This stay enlivened by the magical presence of this eccentric woman called Iris. It made me think that a collection of magic realist stories about Iris would have been better and more interesting that the set of story-telling stories that we get, however good some of them may have been. I was all ready to write this review about how Hinton's story was the highlight of the book when Jonathan Blum's The Evil Little Mother and the Tragic Old Bat snuck in right at the end and stole all the honours with an intelligent, gripping and heart-wrenching take on Medea which nevertheless managed to include all the compulsory Iris meddles irresponsibly and gets completely legless parts.

Honourable mention also goes to Philip Purser-Hallard's Minions of the Moon which is best described as Science Fiction as Shakespeare would have written it had he been writing short prose-form stories instead of long verse-form plays. Sadly Purser-Hallard sets up his story and then seems to lose interest in it, stopping it all rather abruptly.

Frankly these three stories alone make the collection worth the cover price. None of the other stories are bad, though some are a little heavy handed in their humour (Lance Parkin's The Mancunian Candidate Narnia pastiche (or more accurately critique) and Jacqueline Rayner's Iris and Irregularity) and others are simply rather slight (Justin Richard's Most Horrid Most Haunted pastiche, Jake Elliot's The Sleuth Slayers which appears to be a cross between an Agatha Christie/Sherlock Holmes pastiche and an Avengers Tribute and Kate Orman's Rough Magic - the only story in the collection whose link to story-telling of one sort or another wasn't clear to me. Either I've not read the works that inspired it or Orman is attempting something entirely different from the rest of the authors in the collection. Whichever, I didn't find much to sink my teeth into in this tale of magical goings on in a holiday resort in the space-time vortex).

Altogether though, this is a superior effort on the Big Finish Short Story Anthology front.


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