purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (books)
I first met* Richard Salter when he tried to organise an Internet coordinated Dr Who short story collection for the emerging Decalog series published by Virgin. There's been a lot of water under the bridge since then and the idea of using Internet coordination to put together a short story collection no longer seems remotely radical. Richard has been writing and editing Doctor Who short fiction ever since and has had several stories published in other Short Trips collections. This is the first time he's got to edit professionally though. Fortunately, it's a good'un, probably the most successful of the Short Trips collections that I own.

I mentioned in my review of Short Trips: The Quality of Leadership the way I felt the theme there had unfortunately managed to ambush the collection. In this case it's possibly the choice of a nicely abstract theme, "Transmissions", loosely tied to the idea of modes of communication, that has encouraged the writers to rise above the normal Short Trips level of trying to write a mini episode of the parent show. In fact I'd go so far as to say every single piece in this collection is a genuine short story rather than a long story told short.

spoiler free story by story break down under the cut )

*in the Internet sense of "exchanged emails with". I've never actually met Richard. He was called the Happy Halibut back then, a moniker he seems to have subsequently abandoned in preference to his own name. Thus flying in face of all Internet trends.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (books)
On the face of it "the Quality of Leadership" seems like a good idea for a Doctor Who short story collection. After all "Rebels vs. Dictators" is a fairly standard Dr Who theme so there should be plenty of scope. However two fundamental shortcomings rapidly become obvious in Short Trips: The Quality of Leadership edited by Keith R. A. Candido and both basically boil down to the fact that you shouldn't really attempt to write "The Doctor meets a great leader" as a short story (or possibly at all). The lives of great leaders tend firstly to be epic (not easy to convey in a short story) and secondly said great leader tends to be the key protagonist (leaving the Doctor kicking his heals on the sidelines). The first four stories in the collection all suffer badly from these problems and some well respected Star Trek tie-in authors* fall foul of them. One Fateful Knight by Peter David is "The Doctor meets King Arthur", The Slave War by Una McCormack is "the Doctor('s companions) meet Spartacus", Goths and Robbers by Diane Duane is "the Doctor meets Theodoric" and Good Queen, Bad Queen, I Queen, You Queen by Terri Osborne is "the Doctor meets Boudicca". Of these Diane Duane's is probably the best since she choses to focus on two points in Theodoric's life, one of them formative and, although the Doctor is largely reactive at least he appears to have a central role in the story. Osborne's is easily the worst and left me wondering if (s)he'd watched Doctor Who since she grew up or was just working from hazy memory. As well as displaying the (rather bizarre) belief that the average Iceni wouldn't be able to tell the difference between Boudicca and Romana in a wig (they're the same height, don't you know!) I just found it very hard to believe that any Doctor, let alone the fourth, would consider the only option out of any situation was encouraging his companion to start an ultimately futile war and lead hundreds of people to their death, especially when there was no evidence that anyone was interfering to pervert the natural course of history in the first place.

After this inauspicious start the collection picks up somewhat. In The Price of Conviction ("the Doctor meets Luther") Richard C. White at least manages to hinge the drama around Luther's ideals and have the Doctor and Susan involved in averting a plot to bring about Luther's early assassination. God Send Me Well to Keep by Linnea Dodson (AKA [livejournal.com profile] neadods) is the first to really break the mold. It's still a "Doctor meets..." formula ("the Doctor meets Henry VIII") but Dodson's under no illusions about Henry's exemplary character and focuses the drama around a small piece of court politics. The Doctor and Nyssa are still, sadly, largely reactive, but at least she isn't trying to cram an epic drama into 20 pages and the didactism which has, so far, been rather heavily on display is here focused on conveying a sense of period detail and politics rather than a 1066 and All That Good King/Bad King simplicity.

We then (finally) get off Earth for two stories Peaceable Kingdom by Steven Savile and Rock Star by Robert T. Jeschonek. The first of which is really rather good and really focuses on the issue of Leadership for the first time as well as the way in which cultures can trap leaders into particular thought processes. On a Pedestal ("the Doctor meets William Wallace") by Kathleen O. David briefly dips back to the format of the earlier stories though, as with all the better ones, David focuses on a single formative incident rather than trying to encompass the sweep of Wallace's life. Clean-up on Aisle Two by James Swallow is probably the most ambitious story in the collection, tackling the issue of leadership from the point-of-view of a supermarket manager but it is marred by a rather pat ending. The collection closes with The Spindle of Necessity by Allyn Gibson ("the Doctor meets Plato") which gains marks for an inventive format and big SF-nal ideas but ultimately failed to really grab me.

There's a throwaway framing story by De Candido and John S. Drew but it doesn't really mesh well with the stories in between and seems, ultimately, a little pointless since too few of them actually focus on the qualities of leadership as opposed to meeting great leaders.

Ultimately this collection seems like a wasted opportunity with a potentially interesting theme too often sacrificed to didactism and an attempt to teach you all about X in twenty pages. There are some nice stories in there but none that got me really excited.

* I say "well-respected" on the grounds that I've heard of them even though I've never read a Trek tie-in novel.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (books)
The Jadepagoda mailing list had a long and agonised debate a few years back, before new Who came along and changed everything. The debate went something along the lines of "Who fans will buy any old tat with the logo on, therefore BBC books publish any old tat. If we, as Who fans, only bought the books by the authors we actually like then possibly the quality might improve and even if it didn't we wouldn't have wasted money on books we knew in advance that we wouldn't like." While I recognised the validity of this argument I couldn't quite bear the idea of not being able to say "I have every Doctor Who novel and novelisation on my bookshelf". However, I eventually, with much indecision, decided I didn't need every officially published Doctor Who Short Story on my bookshelves, especially since the "Short Trips" collections by which these were primarily published were generally rather dull and inispiring. So, with much pride, I heroically cancelled my subscription. But then I began to hear rumblings, also on Jadepagoda, that "Short Trips: Time Signature" was actually rather good. And, mostly, it is.

More including mild spoilers, though nothing I hadn't guessed after the end of the third story, under the cut )


purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)

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