Friday, November 21, 2014

Book Review - George Mann's Paradox Lost

Paradox Lost by George Mann
Published by: BBC Books
Publication Date: June 23rd, 2011
Format: Hardcover, 256 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Rory, Amy and The Doctor have once again ended up where they didn't intend to go. They have landed in London in 2789, not the Rambalian Cluster. There there is a team dragging a thousand year old automaton out of the Thames. An automaton that recognizes The Doctor and gives him a warning that The Squall, a dangerous race of monsters that feed off psychic energy and destroy whole planets, are coming. Using his sonic screwdriver, The Doctor finds that he must go back to 1910 to fend off the invasion of The Squall. But seeing as the tear in time needed to bring about the Earth's destruction has two ends, he sends Amy and Rory to look for a Proffesor Gradius, who started the damage here in 2789. 

Working the case from both ends Rory and Amy get the help of Professor Gradius's assistant, an automaton that Amy affectionately names Arven, while The Doctor teams up with the only man in Edwardian London who seems concerned about the rash of recent unexplained deaths, a Professor Angelchrist. Their timelines going the consistency of noodle soup, one might wonder if all this wouldn't have happened if they had left well enough alone. But The Doctor and Amy aren't ones to let mysteries remain unsolved and monsters left undefeated.

Now I'm not saying I'm the biggest Doctor Who fan out there. I mean, I haven't watched every single episode, after all some episodes are lost.... But besides all the DVD sets and VHS tapes, posters, gadgets, and scarves, I do have several bookshelves filled to capacity just with Doctor Who books to give you an idea of how my addiction has spread over the years. You can see my old Tom Baker paperbacks sharing shelf space with the newer line of books with the 9th, 10th, and 11th Doctor, as well as some Torchwood books thrown in for good measure. There's also the infamous set of books released for the fiftieth anniversary last year. Why infamous? Because while they look darn pretty sitting there on my shelf, some of the books selected are pure dreck. Taking all eleven doctors, the average star rating was less then 2.5. The psychic toll it took on me to actually finish those books was painful and almost made me not want to pick up another Doctor Who book ever again.

Needless to say the experiment of last year has left me with one clear talent, and that's to distinguish a good Doctor Who book. You read enough of the bad you get to know the good, and Paradox Lost is good. One clear reason it works is that George understands the show. While he does little things that make a fangirl sqwee, like referencing past regenerations and putting in the "in" jokes, it's the bigger things he really nails. Meaning George gets the characters voices as depicted by the actors. It's not just that I am allowing a certain suspension of disbelief in order to enjoy the book, oh no, while you are reading it you can see the action unfolding before you just as if it was an actual episode. There is Amy Pond, there is Rory, and there is 11, Matt Smith in all his goofy glory. George nailed these characters! The dialogue, the description of their actions, the book whizzed by as fast as if it was a forty minute episode instead of a two-hundred page book.

What really makes the story work though is that George uses Rory as our entre into the action. If in recent years there is one companion who is universally loved and who everyone wanted to stay, it has to be Rory, hands down. I spent much time thinking of ways in how the show could just ditch Amy and have Rory be the main companion. Alas, that wasn't to be. But because Rory is so loved and relatable he makes the perfect conduit for us, the readers. By seeing the action of the story through his eyes we become a part of the story in a way that I don't think the show is ever able to do.

We see Rory's world, Amy and The Doctor, in a clearer way that totally just expands on what we know from the show. Plus, unlike Amy and The Doctor, Rory actually is more of an everyman, he has fears, he has loves, and danger and daring do aren't just a way to spend the afternoon! George counters Rory's POV with that of Angelchrist. Thus balancing the more knowledgeable with the more naive. Angelchrist is the character to relate to if you knew nothing about Doctor Who. He's there to ask the questions that the trio wouldn't ask as well as to be the link to the current time period, aka 1910. The switching between the two makes the story stay fresh but also provides different insights, resulting in a well balanced book.

But as I have been working my way through George's oeuvre, I can not forget to mention that yes, indeed, this book ties into his greater universe. Angelchrist himself has shown up in the Newbury and Hobbes books as well as the short stories. In fact in the short stories there are a few nudges and winks to this very book and the adventures that Angelchrist shared with The Doctor. Not to mention a certain Arven.... But what I really liked was a subtler reference, the blink and you miss it because it's only mentioned twice.... What you might be saying is this reference? It's a reference to where Arven was made... a certain company that may have been up to some truly nasty things with an "Affinty Bridge." Yes George's work stands on it's own. Yes you will enjoy it whatever you pick up, but for the fans in it for the long haul... well, there's just so much more to find! George knows how to thank his long suffering fans (I mean seriously, get me The Revenant Express now, it's painful waiting).


Thanks for your review, which has certainly made me want to check our the book.

I followed keenly your reviews of the 50th anniversary rereleases last year. Despite my enthusiasm for Doctor Who books, I also had troubles with the books in the past, particularly the New Adventures of 1993 and in 1997-1998, at the end of their run. The latter books put me off so badly that I abandoned Doctor Who books (and the programme in general) until around 2004.

I think that BBC books are doing a generally good job with the books these days (surely connected to the the fact that fewer books are being published with regard to 1995-2005?), but I admit to disappointment with the selection for the 50th anniversary, monster and history collections. Of the twenty seven books released or to be released, I have or plan to read only five: the two by Gatiss, Aaronovitch's - sorry! -, Abnett's and Cornell's. Some Magrs and Orman would have been appreciated!

I did see that there are also reasons for some good books of the past cannot be republished: I recently read an interview with Jacqueline Rayner noting that some subplot of a New Aventure that she is adapting for Big Finish had to be excised to conform to (new series) BBC rules, which surely means that a sizeable chunk of old books are not suitable for rerelease (I guess that, e.g., Transit and The Left-Handed Hummingbird cannot currently be republished...).

Oh, I should look into that excising, because that sounds interesting and could probably account for their selection... and yes, Magrs please!

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