Friday, October 18, 2013

1st Doctor Book Review - Stephen Cole's Ten Little Aliens

Ten Little Aliens by Stephen Cole
Published by: BBC Books
Publication Date: August 22nd, 2002
Format: Paperback, 305 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Ten soldiers are sent to an asteroid. With their commander Haunt they are to participate in this final training exercise with the hopes of becoming part of the elite squad in humanities war against the Schirr. As soon as they get to their location things start to go wrong and one of their own goes missing. There is weird vegetation throughout the asteroid that has bioluminescence, as well as flea like bugs that are drawn to it. Chambers throughout have odd pillars and carvings with elaborate glass dangling from the center like free standing stained glass windows or chandeliers. When they stumble into what appears to be the nerve center of this odd asteroid they are in for another shock. Besides finding the leaders of the Schirr rebellion, DeCaster and the ten strong, apparently dead, they also come across an odd blue box. The Doctor is there with Ben, having already misplaced Polly. They are locked out of the TARDIS and are now face to face with soldiers who were not expecting to find anyone living out in this remote sector of space dangerously close to the Morphiean Empire.

Catastrophe soon strikes and the asteroid turns out to be a spaceship on course for the center of the Morpheian Empire, which would start a second war if humans were found breaching their boundaries. The asteroid also seems to be turning against the invaders. There are more disappearances, cave-ins, a few of the party start mutating, but most disturbing of all, the Schirr bodies start disappearing. It feels like they are being toyed with and The Doctor just needs to get his mind around what exactly is going on so that he can stop it before they all die or mutate into something entirely different. But The Doctor is an old man, can he keep up until he and his party can retreat to the safety of the TARDIS?

While I did enjoy Ten Little Aliens, there's a part of me, a rather big part, that says, while I enjoyed it, there was almost too much that annoyed me to actually recommend it to anyone. The book has a very Michael Crichton meets Battlestar Galactica vibe that takes awhile to actually get into and then, once you're fully immersed, does some seriously stupid things that alienate you, confuse you, and then just leave you happy the book has ended. The one thing I have to say is that thankfully the title of the book was deliberately a nod to Agatha Christie, which if it hadn't, would have seriously pissed me off and mystified me. But if you read the introduction, I don't quite get how Stephen Cole wrote this to be like a Christie mystery, but in space... just naming your chapters after Christie books and then having the bodies disappear versus pile up in a reverse of And Then There Were None... well, that's not really enough to categorize it as Christie related. And as for the "unreliable narrator," to quote Inigo Montoya "I do not think it means what you think it means." You need a first person narrator who has been concealing something from us, like in Christie's Endless Night, who turns out to be the villain. Someone we thought was good who turns out not to... well, that's just a plot twist used by almost everyone in fiction. If you want to see Doctor Who do Christie right, just watch the 10th's and Donna's episode "The Wasp and the Unicorn" and skip this author's delusions.

As for the worldbuilding... well... yeah, some things really hit the mark and some were so far off the mark there is no chance we even know where it landed. Characters. There are to many. Ten super soldiers, three from the Tardis, another ten Schirr, two killer robots, and countless other creatures... too much to handle, and this from someone who just read Stephen King's Under the Dome. I gave everyone nicknames, like pilot, geek, scary guy, cyborg, and moved on. Also, besides there being too many characters, they were all unlikable, each and every one. But how could I dislike The Doctor? Because he was irrelevant, a non-entity. He was almost unnecessary and old. He didn't need to be in this book at all, which mystified me, because, excuse me, Doctor Who book! As for the politics of this future world of Schirr and Morphieans... I really have no f'ing clue as to what's going on. The war/politics/genocide/creatures without bodies/dead creatures, was so badly explained that I am still a little mystified ever after The Doctor tried to break it down for me at the end. As for the environment of the asteroid, that was spot on, thumbs up. You did a good job of worldbuilding in the sense of the physical world. I could totally believe myself in dark tunnels with creepy plants and bugs, right on. I just wish Stephen Cole had taken this attention to detail with say, everything else in the book. As for the bad guys... well, these Morphieans constructs, whatever that means, basically, the big baby angels, the putti that liked to pull you to pieces... um, they could give the Weeping Angels a run for the money. Seriously scary. But then again, in the end, overshadowed by the book's failings.

But let me get to what destroyed this book, one full star just knocked right off. The "neural net." This is some kind of network that is a band you wear that connects all the soldiers together, to monitor each other and record their experiences for training purposes, or after The Doctor tinkers with it, so that everyone has access to everyone else's brain. The concept is understandable, but the execution is crap. Everyone starts referring to themselves as "we" so you have no real distinction between the vast overly abundant cast, and it makes everyone sound pompous. Though the nail in the coffin is the almost fifty pages wherein, not only are we stuck in the "neural net" of we's, but it's done as a "choose your own adventure!" Say what? You thought, as a writer, it would be fun? Really, justify this to me because it was just HORRID and pissed me off. Not only that, the writing suffered with bad prompts at the end of sections going: "I wonder what the Doctor is doing" or "Go see what Frog is up to" excuse me? I am not a seven year old who lives and breaths by these books. I never liked them then and I don't like them now. I hate that this book resorted to gimmickry and I am glad I'm done with it. Oh, and don't go on and on about the cover to the old edition in your intro, it makes you seem bitter that they gave it a cooler cover. I'm out, I've disconnected myself from the neural net, laters.


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