Thursday, January 30, 2014

Doctor Who: Last of the Gaderene by Mark Gatiss

Doctor Who: Last of the Gaderene by Mark Gatiss
Doctor Who: Last of The Gaderene
by Mark Gatiss

Last of The Gaderene was first published in 2000, five years before the modern era of Doctor Who and ten years before Mark Gatiss increased his workload to include Sherlock. What I'm saying is: Mark Gatiss is a better writer now, but Last of The Gaderene is still a decent Doctor Who story.

Let's get the bad bits out of the way first — In 2000, there wasn't an adjective or adverb that Gatiss wasn't keen to overuse, and the ensuing descriptions and dialogue tags suffer from that bloat. Now, I'm not an “all adverbs are evil” sort of writer/editor, but there are only so many “seemingly” and “nodded confidently” type things I can look past without rolling my eyes. Also, if he could quit emphasizing at every turn that the female villain is fat, that would be great. Cheers.

There are too many characters crammed into the story as well. I know the Doctor is all about everyone being important, but I don't need to hear the personal story and interior monologue of (what seemingly seems like) a dozen villagers in order to care about the village. Some of these characters are important, yes, but not all of them need soliloquy time. We can still have them be useful to the plot through the eyes of someone else.

Still, Mark Gatiss' sense of fun and great love for the Doctor is what makes Last of The Gaderene so enjoyable, despite its flaws (and is also why Gatiss is one of my favorite writers for the TV episodes). Placing us firmly in the 1970s world of the Third Doctor, we catch the Time Lord after his exile on Earth is no longer in effect, but he's still very involved in UNIT. Jo Grant and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart are there too, and I'm quite fond of them both.

'My dear Brigadier,' said the Doctor, stretching back in his chair and folding his hands behind his head. 'Running errands is not my forte. If you want someone to pop round to see your old friends, I suggest you try the Women's Institute.' He put his feet up on the Brigadier's desk, the corners of his mouth turning up until a small smile. 'I believe they make excellent jam.' 
The Brigadier raised an eyebrow and shot a venomous look at the Doctor who had now closed his eyes, completing the look of indifference. 
He was glad the Doctor had returned, of course, and he was certainly looking back to his usual dapper self in an emerald-green smoking jacket, narrow black trousers, and bow tie. However, he was displaying his familiar contempt for the Brigadier's methods and seemed damedly disinclined to get back to work. Or, at least what the Brigadier regarded as work. 
'Perhaps if you could explain a bit more, sir,” said Jo helpfully. 
'Oh very well,' sighed Lethbridge-Stewart. He sat down and leant forward over the desk, crossing his hands in front of him. 'Alec Whistler is an old friend. He was a pilot during the war — ' 
'Which war?” said the Doctor, still with eyes closed. 
'Well, the last one, of course,' cried the Brigadier in exasperation. 
'Oh, yes. I lost track. You have so many.' The Doctor settled himself further into the chair.

The Doctor enjoys winding up the Brig, of course. Eventually though, he and Jo agree to visit the village of Culverton, where some very strange things have been happening. A decommissioned air base is now swarming with workers — foot soldiers, really — clad in identical black uniforms, operating trucks and other equipment at all hours, and all are smiling in a very unsettling way. People have been disappearing, and though no one know what to make of it, something is definitely wrong to any of the residents paying attention, including the aforementioned WWII vet, Whistler.

The Third Doctor is his usual bombastic self, ready to roll up his sleeves and dive into the mystery with his trademark curiosity. Though I'm only semi-familiar with Jon Pertwee's portrayal, it seemed like Gatiss got his (sometimes very patronizing) voice right, as well as the Brigadier and Jo. Jo is feeling like less of a subordinate and like more of a colleague to the Doctor, and the Brig is not as disbelieving as he once was (though he does still favor armed resolution over conversation).

The Doctor enlists some of the villagers to help him gather information, and there's a bit of a domesticity we don't often see with him — playing house guest.

The Doctor was halfway through a plate of scrambled eggs which he'd rustled up when Ted Bishop came downstairs, looking refreshed and better than he had in a long while, except for his hair which was sticking up at the back in a cowlick.

One doesn't see the Doctor eating, much less cooking, very often. He's around people eating plenty, but someone would have to refresh my memory as to how often we actually see him putting anything in his mouth (that he doesn't spit out again).

The level of tolerance one has for the Doctor's occasionally dismissive attitude and “Not now” comments depends on the fondness one has for the Third Doctor himself, and how one feels about semi-campy '70s television. It's not Shatner-levels of Staggered. Dramatic. Dialogue. but it's different from other Doctors' eras. And that's all right, in my viewing/reading.

After the Second Doctor's forced regeneration via the Time Lords, it would make sense that his character would be resistant to any authority other than his own (for he believes his interference throughout the universe to be in the right), and that restless fighting spirit would be amplified after his previous incarnation's silliness. (The silliness, of course, being a reaction to dying of old age on the first go. The current regeneration is always borne from the circumstances of its predecessor.)

One is unlikely to read Last of The Gaderene without already being a fan of Doctor Who, but I'm unsure of how it compares to other DW-novels, except in the case of the Eighth and Ninth Doctors' novels re-released for the 50th Anniversary, which I'll review soon. However, this Third Doctor story, despite its problems, feels very much in the spirit of Jon Pertwee's time on the show. It's interesting to see Mark Gatiss at an earlier writing stage, and it's to our viewing benefit that he's progressed so well. I still recommend Last of The Gaderene to fans of the show, and I'm hoping to further expand my knowledge of the Doctor's literary universe.

This review is part of Cannonball Read (now in its 6th year!), a challenge in which participants read and review books in the name of raising money for cancer charities. Do click through for more information.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Books I Read 2013: Part One (incl. Top 5 Favorites)

It's a little late into 2014 to be doing one of these posts, but I spent nearly the first two weeks of January in Disney World with a bunch of family, so here we are. In past years, I've run the stats of how I acquired the books, the gender of the author(s), and other matters, but this year I'm just going to list them somewhat in terms of how I enjoyed them. If you're really curious about how I acquired a book, just ask. And you can run the gender stats yourself this time. I read 100 books, so it should be pretty easy, though perhaps tedious.

Because 100 books is a shit-ton of books, I'll break my list in to a few posts. This is Part One.

(Read Part 2 here.)

Top 5 Favorite Books Published in 2013:

The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg (I only did a short review of this one because I got way behind on reviews this year, but this was covered far and wide. You don't need me to go on about it, I suppose. Just read it.)

My Education by Susan Choi (I still plan on reviewing this one because this book has received a bit of hate, and I was somewhat baffled by it because I loved the book.) Edited to add: Further thoughts about this book now appear on Persephone Magazine.

Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division by Peter Hook (Catch my review here.)

Still Writing by Dani Shapiro (I also intend to talk about this one more too, but in the meantime, here's what David Abrams has to say about it.) Edited to addFurther thoughts about this book now appear on Persephone Magazine.

Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My Appetites by Kate Christensen (The book I loved but never finished the last 30 pages because it had to go back to the library and I was going out of town. Will rectify that soon, I promise. Go read all of it now, please; it's outstanding.) Edited to addFurther thoughts about this book now appear on Persephone Magazine.

Two Favorite Stories that were not technically “books:”

Doctor Who: The Light at The End by Nicholas Briggs (Released for the show's 50th Anniversary, this Big Finish audio drama features Doctors Four through Eight, as well as snippets from One through Three. Past companions are involved. On headphones, it is beautiful, and it's a fantastic story.)

Doctor Who: Embrace The Darkness by Nicholas Briggs (Briggs is not the only Doctor Who Big Finish writer, but I think it's telling that my two favorite audio dramas I listened to this year were written by him. This one features Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor and the audio format really works here to make it an unsettling, spooky story.)

Other Excellent Books Read This Year:

Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's [Philosopher's] Stone by J.K. Rowling (I'm joining the rest of the world, finally.)
Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

Sandman Vol.2: The Doll's House by Neil Gaiman (Again, joining the rest of the world, finally.)
Sandman Vol. 3: Dream Country by Neil Gaiman

The Body's Question: Poems by Tracy K. Smith (Review here)

The Cows by Lydia Davis (Already sort of talked about this when I reviewed Electric Literature #2, but I bought the separate chapbook and enjoyed it all over again — this time with photos!)

Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel (My first foray into her work. I really want to read her other graphic novels now.)

Papercraft 2: Design and Art With Paper edited by Gestalten Verlag and Birga Meyer (Review here)

Tiny, Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life by Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed (Sugar is magic. Review here.)

Divergent by Veronica Roth (Perfect vacation reading, but I haven't read the following 2 books yet.)

Familiar by J. Robert Lennon (I really meant to review this one, and never got to it. Just take my word for it, and go read it. Spooky, ambiguous, yet very real. And I'll further embarrass J. Robert Lennon by saying he's a fox. *cough* What? Let's move on.)

More Baths, Less Talking (Stuff I've Been Reading #4) by Nick Hornby (I own all of these collections now, and this was one of the first volumes that I'd read a lot more of — or at least was familiar with —  the books he had.)

Stories For Boys: A Memoir by Gregory Martin (Involves Spokane, which made it extra-familiar for me. Review here.)

This Close: Stories by Jessica Francis Kane (Review here)

The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma (Honorable Mention for Favorite Books Published in 2013. Review here.)

Dora: A Headcase by Lidia Yuknavitch (I wanted to hug this book's face off. Review here.)

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh (Oh my god, the stories of Simple Dog and Helper Dog. This whole book is hilarious, and she expands many of the original posts from her site.)

Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes by Maria Konnikova (Really interesting stuff. Review here.)

Great Books Having to Do With Cats Because I Have Cat-Deficit Problems

Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation, and GPS Technology by Caroline Paul and Wendy MacNaughton (I already loved Wendy MacNaughton's illustrations, so to pair it with a cat subject? Sign me up. Touching, funny stuff.)

Simon's Cat vs. The World by Simon Tofield (Might have been the last cat-person on Earth to have never seen the YouTube videos until after I read this book. Review here.)

I Am Pusheen The Cat by Claire Belton (Loses a little something not being in .GIF form, but my son and I have read this together probably 10 times already.)

Did I Mention I Also Have Doctor Who Obsession Problems, particularly when it comes to Paul McGann? (...AKA Shut up, I don't have a problem, you have a problem.)

Doctor Who: Invaders From Mars by Mark Gatiss (I quite like War of the Worlds, so combining it into this story was fun)

Doctor Who: Storm Warning by Alan Barnes (My very first audio drama. It takes some acclimating to do that sort of active listening, but I've got the hang of it now.)

Doctor Who: Minuet in Hell by Gary Russell (This one includes Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart! Worth the price of admission, right there.)

Doctor Who: The Chimes of Midnight by Robert Sherman (One of the stronger Eighth Doctor adventures. Goes back to the ongoing Doctor theme of “I've never met anybody who wasn't important.”)

Doctor Who: Seasons of Fear by Paul Cornell (This one was funny, and ended on a cliffhanger.)

Doctor Who: The Stones of Venice by Paul Magrs (The first half was much more interesting than the second. The second more or less spelled out the ending, but there were still 15-20 minutes to get through. Good story, but not outstanding.)

Doctor Who: The Time of The Daleks by Justin Richards (It was good, but not great. Relevant in terms of the ongoing story arc with Charley, but certainly not my favorite out of those I've heard.)

Doctor Who: The Sword of Orion by Nicholas Briggs (Okay, a Nicholas Briggs one I was less crazy about. I think it's the Cybermen. I rarely get super-enthralled with Cybermen stories.)

The Doctor Who Character Encyclopedia by Jason Loboreik, Annabel Gibson, and Morey Laing (Kind of aimed more towards a younger reader, but still quite enjoyable and includes a good mix of classic and current Who characters, up until “The Snowmen.”)

Star Trek: The Next Generation / Doctor Who: Assimilation 2, Vol. 1 by Scott Tipton (Strikes me that the writer is a bigger fan of Star Trek than Doctor Who, and until I read the second volume, I'm unsure of this story just yet, but this is an amusing crossover graphic novel. Involves the Borg and those bloody Cybermen.)

Doctor Who: The Star Beast Saga #1 by Pat Mills and John Wagner (My 6-year-old son and I enjoyed reading this before bedtime several nights in a row. 1984's printing + a lot of text made some speech bubbles a strain to read, but this was still enjoyable, and I'm glad I stumbled across it in my local comic shop.)


Part 2 of my Books Read in 2013 will deal with other very good things I read that were not cat- or Doctor-related. Promise.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Girl Afraid by Ciarán West

Girl Afraid 
by Ciarán West

What makes Ciarán West's books interesting is how they confirm that “page-turner” is not just a cover blurb cliché. Even when one might have other things they should be doing, they can be done after “one more chapter.”

Girl Afraid centers around the kidnapping of Poppy Riley, daughter of a well-known actor, Tom, who is away filming. Poppy had been left in the care of Alice, her father's trusted assistant, and Magda, the girl's recently hired nanny. Alice wakes up to a phone call from a man who claims to know what happened, but first she must get out of the house and follow his directions — and off we go into a fast-paced story with multiple points of view, bit by bit discovering what has and what will happen.

The multiple points of view are from a whole host of characters — everyone from Alice, to Alice's ex-boyfriend Dylan, to Poppy herself, to several different men who want to do normally unspeakable things to the girl. (We'll get to that in a moment.) And several others. The only complaint I have for Girl Afraid is that sometimes the head-hopping could be hard to follow, especially with how the Kindle formatted the paragraph breaks, if the point-of-view change happened after a page-swipe. Perhaps an asterisk was in order to delineate the change.

Now, my brain is sometimes more foggy than your average attentive reader, so this might not be an issue for everyone. It's not exactly a case of too many characters — though Dylan's storyline added the least to the overall plot — but without another read through, I can't say what besides an asterisk would have made the POV shifts more clear to me.

Perhaps I needed to quit blowing through page-swipes and to slow down, but with the OMG-Factor set so high, I doubt most readers are taking a leisurely stroll through the book.

Now back to that phrase “normally unspeakable:” Often when it comes to the sexual abuse of children and pedophilia (pedophilia differentiated here as someone who enjoys the thought of underage sexual content, but has not necessarily committed the act), we hear about it secondhand. It's often from the person trying to stop it (Alice), or the investigating officer (don't trust the police in this story), or through the dramatic irony of the clueless character who hasn't yet realized what's going on (in this case, a man-for-hire called Bob).

Bob lit up a cigarette. There wasn't an ashtray; he had been flicking them into an old peanut packet he found in his coat. It wasn't the sort of place you could put ash on the floor, he thought. It was a beautiful house, and immaculately clean. He hadn't seen the outside. He had been working for their outfit for almost a year, but he knew little about who they were. He had never met the boss, or heard a name mentioned.  

A van had picked him up at eleven from outside The Crown. The text had said to get in the back when it came. He hadn't talked to the driver. No windows either, so he had no idea where they’d taken him. He was sure that that had been a deliberate thing. They were professional and discreet. He hadn't made many friends, but the money had been good. 

He had spoken to a Polish woman when he arrived. She had told him what to do. He was to sit outside the room at the table and watch the blue light. They’d given him a tray with some food and drink on it. When the blue light came on, he was supposed to unlock the door and bring it into the room. He wasn't to let the child see or hear him, and he shouldn't engage her in any way. He was in and out in quickly, when the time came. He heard her singing to herself in the toilet. Baa, Baa, Black Sheep, or something with a similar tune. He felt a pang of guilt as he let himself out. He was fond of kids, and always had been.

West takes us into the mind of not one, but several pedophile characters, each with a very different profession and history behind their interest in Poppy Riley. Yes, it's disturbing, and yes, we're not meant to like these characters, but that doesn't necessarily mean we shouldn't hear from them. We are all the more invested in Poppy's rescue this way, and certain aspects of the plot are most efficiently revealed when told through the voices of these awful characters.

But no, that doesn't mean that this book is for everyone. It is both physically and psychologically violent at times, and it's up to the reader to say if their discomfort outweighs their interest.

The box was full of clothes, and other things which were unfamiliar to Poppy: a small wooden paddle with three holes in it; a long silver object which she thought resembled a bullet, and the toothpaste tube which didn't say ‘toothpaste’ anywhere on it. Poppy held the silver thing in her fingers; it was big for a bullet. She thought it might be a tank bullet. She twisted the cap to see if she could look inside, but instead of coming off, it made a buzzing sound and began to shake. She dropped it in the box and it rolled around in there, making a noise against the wood like her father’s phone did when he got a call. She picked it up and twisted it again to turn it off. This time the lid came away, and inside she saw some batteries; one on top of the other, like in a flashlight. She put the lid back on carefully and put the thing away. 
It was mostly clothes in the box. Bras, knickers, tights; and a few things she recognised, but didn't know the names for. They looked like adult clothes to her, but they were so small, a child might have fit them. She held one of the bras up against her and giggled. She wondered would it be okay to try them on. She liked costumes and dressing up. And having something to do might take away her frightened feelings, the same way it took away bored ones. She sorted through the silky pants and stockings, choosing what to try on first. They felt nice to touch, so they’d probably feel even nicer when you had them on, she thought. 

Though the craft of the writing itself takes a few chapters to hit its stride, West keeps all his plot pieces moving together effortlessly. From the beginning, we're invested in Alice and Poppy's safety, and the story avoids Lifetime Movie over-dramatics. Perhaps what is most disturbing about Girl Afraid is how very real it all is. No one is a caricature, and the people who are interested in Poppy all appear “normal” to the public. That any person you see, no matter how put-together and successful they might seem, could be capable of terrible things is where some readers might find it too much to bear.

And it is scary. What Ciarán West has written is not exactly a thriller — it's a horror story. The monsters are here, and they're on TV, on sports teams, around the corner, and on the police force. Anywhere. No wonder some reviewers have been shocked.

In the same way readers moved past that shock to read Alissa Nutting's similarly-themed Tampa, I do hope people give Girl Afraid a look. In those uncomfortable places, we learn about our own character, and we learn how to process the shadows that we're normally all too keen to ignore.