Doctor Who: The Mind of Evil by Terrance Dicks

doctor_who_the_mind_of_evilThe Third Doctor and his companion, Jo, visit Stangmoor prison where a Professor Kettering is using a device on criminals that, it is claimed, drains all evil and negative impulses from their minds. The machine is used on a prisoner named Barnham who, to the Doctor’s horror, is successfully pacified by being turned into a drooling imbecile. But as the Professor tests the machine a string of mysterious and impossible deaths occur in the prison, and when The Doctor approaches the machine he is psychically assaulted with manifestations of his greatest fear – all consuming fire. Nearby the first World Peace Conference is taking place where one of the delegates is acting strange and suspicious. It is revealed that she is being manipulated by The Master, Dr Who’s archnemesis, who it also turns out is the man who invented the machine.

At the prison a riot breaks out as a prisoner who was destined to be next for the machine takes over the prison, capturing Jo and eventually The Doctor. Upon hearing of this, The Master meets with this man and supplies him with weapons and attacks The Doctor with the machine, weakening him. He reveals that it actually contains a dangerous alien Mind Parasite that feeds off mental energies. But the parasite is growing too powerful for The Master to control and he must enlist the Doctor’s help to contain it.

The Master then enlists the prisoners as his army and uses them to capture a nerve gas missile that is being transported nearby – his plan, to launch the missile at the Peace Conference and start WWIII unless The Doctor gives him the component to his TARDIS back. It is discovered that Barnham, having no negative energies left in him, is now immune to the parasite. The Doctor uses Barnham to unleash the alien on The Master while The Doctor sets the missile to self-detonate, destroying the parasite at the same time. Unfortunately, amidst the anarchy and chaos that follows, The Master gets his component back and is able to escape, killing Barnham in the process.

This book is the novelization of six episodes from season eight, aired in 1971. The scripts were written by Terrance Dicks, who also wrote this novelization. This has allowed him to expand on the nature of the relationship between The Master and The Doctor more than what was able to be shown in the show. Unfortunately, because it is six episodes compacted into one short novel, some scenes transpire so rapidly that, what would have been an engaging serial on TV, turns into a rushed mess that jumps all over the place. That aside, it is a very enjoyable book. Having never seen any of the classic series of Dr Who I was intrigued by the concept of Dr Who being exiled to Earth as punishment, working as a Sherlock Holmes type character in a subtle role, as opposed to the hyper-intelligent superhero he has come to be known as in modern serials. An acceptable political drama, but mostly a very decent sci-fi thriller. The twists were predictable, but there were also some ploys in the book that caught me completely off guard, which is always satisfying to be outsmarted by an author. A strong Dr Who story that any fan or layman will surely enjoy.

The Day of The Triffids by John Wyndham

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When the carnivorous bio-engineered plants that can walk and communicate to each other, known as Triffids, are accidentally released into the wild they quickly begin breeding and spreading around the world, their spores born in the wind. They are farmed and harvested en masse for their valuable extracts, but when a mysterious meteor shower renders those who witness it blind, the Triffids are free to escape and breed more prolifically.

Bill Marsden is a biologist who specializes in Triffids. He is attacked by a Triffid while working and gets venom in his eyes. Exposure to immature venom in his youth have given him a resistance to the venom’s usual fatality and he is rushed to hospital. This is where the story begins. Bill wakes up in hospital, bandages over his eyes, and notices that the world is silent. He wanders through a crippled and chaotic London and learns that most of the world is blind; people are huddled in terror or crawling everywhere, calling out for their families. He quickly learns that it is dangerous to let people know he can see as the blind swarm him like drowning men scrabbling on a life-raft. He also quickly learns the harsh reality that he is unable to help anyone and that to survive he must leave everyone else to their fate. Bill befriends and becomes infatuated with a young woman, Josella, who can also see, and the two follow a beacon light on a hill and discover a small group of survivors who intend on setting up a colony in the countryside.

Like most apocalyptic fiction, this book is pretty standard fare – groups of gangs and raiders, slavers and militant types. Modern post apocalyptic fiction is considered to have first been published in 1826 by Mary Shelly in her novel The Last Man, in which a group of people struggle to survive in a plague-infected world. H. G. Wells re-invigorated the concept in the late 1800’s, but the genre rose to prominence after World War II, with the focus being on nuclear or bio-engineered cataclysms. Where Wyndham stands out is in the constant ominous overtones and the almost biblical images of the blind crawling, and eventually, rotting in the streets. The book does not take place after the apocalypse, it watches it painfully unfold and literally decay. Thematically, the major focus is in man’s meddling with nature and how ultimately nature will reclaim from humans. Gardens and countryside grow wild, streets are ruptured with weeds and shrubs and buildings crumble as plants rip through them.

And then, there are the Triffids. They almost come as a surprise – the book focuses so heavily on the destruction of civilization and on the journey of the protagonist, that you forget about these amazing creations. Until Bill sees Triffids Stalking him in the bushes. Attacking people in the streets. Eating their flesh. As their numbers increase the Triffids become a more and more significant threat. Similar to how in The Walking Dead the zombies are attracted to other groups of zombies, Triffids communicate and attract more Triffids. Soon the protagonists find themselves trapped in their countryside retreat, fighting at the walls and fences in a futile battle against a threat that is constantly and literally growing.

The Day of The Triffids is a complex apocalypse story set in an uncertain era of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, the dawn of The Space Age, the beginnings of a truly global market and burgeoning genetic sciences. All of these things have influences in the book, and most have a direct impact upon the story itself. Though aesthetically it is a science fiction survival story, at it’s heart it is a snapshot of post-war Britain; a social commentary of the concerns and fears of a generation that had just survived the greatest and most horrific war in the history of mankind. The war had shaken people’s faith in the world and the notion of peace and security, and these fears play out in the book on a global, tribal and personal level.

A thrilling and suspenseful survival story garnished with some truly creepy and terrifying moments. A classic novel that I highly recommend, and that truly deserves the title given it by Arthur C. Clarke of “an immortal story.”

StarTroopers: The Final Episode by Ged Maybury

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A children’s adventure tale with surprisingly complex characters and plot. Gripping to the end.

Spencer Sockitt is a huge fan of the science fiction franchise, StarTroopers, and is ecstatic to get to interview the author – Arthur Thorsen – for his school magazine. However, the author is not what he was expecting: he is a strange man who claims that, rather than writing fiction, he has visions of battles in far off space, and he is merely a vessel that writes these down. But Spencer uncovers a conspiracy: the evil Blitzoids are here on Earth and are manipulating Thorsen. They believe that he doesn’t have visions, but is in fact a legendary Imaginor – his words and thoughts and beliefs shape reality around him. The stories he writes become real, and the Blitzoids are dictating his latest novel in their favour. Spencer and his friend Rebecca find themselves embroiled in a galactic battle as the powerful Star Troopers try to overcome the evil Warlord Kruel and his Blitzoid army. But things are never black and white; the lines between good and bad become blurred. In war, good is always merely a point of view…

Those who are familiar with Maybury will know that he is a quirky and outlandish character, and this book fully encapsulates those ecclectic qualities of his. What starts off as typical children’s book fare, with over-the-top names and language to pander to the younger readers and quirky mannerisms to define characters, quickly descends into quite a thoughtful and action packed tale. It is a deeper tale than you realise, as the plot is developed and the story explored from both sides. Maybury presents children with a complex story; the main antagonist has a deep and complicated background and the protagonists are flawed, biased and must overcome their cultural and social conditioning to draw their own conclusions. Ultimately, the book reveals that there is no bad guy, or rather, when it comes to violence and war that there is no real good guy. The growing sense of ominousness comes to a full, complex and satisfying conclusion through investigation and politics. Maybury teaches children that violence and conflict only propagate more violence, and that the only true solution is through understanding and diplomacy. A message that most adults still have yet to learn.

Maybury is a New Zealand writer. New Zealand, being a British colony like so many other nations, has a past that is speckled with racial and cultural injustices. And even though New Zealand has been a nation to quickly embrace equality with women and the indigenous Maori having full voting rights by 1893 (irrespective of status). Despite this, there is still colourful debate and controversy surrounding the initial land purchases made of the Maori people by the British Government in the 1800’s. This can be a divisive issue for modern New Zealanders.

This history would seem to serve as inspiration for the villains backstory, and Maybury approaches the topic from a neutral point of view. He doesn’t favour any one side and presents both sides as being wrong (a bold and contrary stance to make on an important issue that affects the cultural heritage of both Maori and Europeans.)

The language is colourful and infused with plenty of sci-fi technobabble that will surely entertain and impress the younger reader. For the older reader it can be over-cooked and often unnecessary, but it is also used very deliberately as a colouring method for the universe he has created and gives it a depth and an age found in franchises like Star Wars, and this helps to ground and normalize the more fantastic elements that are introduced.

I was apprehensive about reading a children’s book featuring an alien race called ‘Blitzoids’, and also based on the artwork of the cover. Childrens fiction tends to pander too much to children, or it ignores them completely and forgets they are the target demographic. Maybury has successfully written a tale that treats the young readers with a bit more respect; he isn’t afraid to throw in large confusing words or complicated concepts: StarTroopers is both colourful entertainment and also an intellectual challenge for children. This is exactly how it should be. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and for lovers of children’s science fiction, or New Zealand fiction, I highly recommend StarTroopers.

The Dark Tower by C. S. Lewis

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An unexpectedly dark and unsettling tale of inter-dimensional travel, monstrous creatures and alternate realities. A powerful read that grips you right to the end.

C. S. Lewis is renowned worldwide for his children’s fantasy novels, especially the Chronicles of Narnia, but his less known works include a trilogy of science fiction novels plus an unfinished fourth (The Dark Tower.) An intended fourth entry to The Cosmic Trilogy, it was never finished or published. It was discovered among paperwork being destroyed after Lewis’ death by the lawyer of his estate and, despite evidence suggesting that segments of this work were read at the famous gatherings of The Inklings (a group of literary enthusiasts, including Tolkien, who were mostly associated with the University of Oxford who met and read excerpts and discussed fantasy and science fiction literature) there was controversy around the authenticity of the writings.

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Less well-known are C. S. Lewis’s science fiction novels.

It is estimated that this story was written in the early forties, predating his more famous fantasy works (and some elements from this story seem to make their way into the Chronicles of Narnia which wasn’t published until the early fifties.) The intriguing nature of this story is how it starts off with several scientists discussing the nature of time travel and ends up being a gothic-horror story about inter-dimensional travel.

One of the academics, Orfieu, discloses to his companions that, as time travel itself is impossible he has focused his research into simply viewing time, and has created a machine called the chronoscope. This device lets the men view a fixed but undisclosed place they call ‘The Othertime’. It is a dark and oppressive place, where The Stingingman (a man with a large, seeping horn growing through his skull) stabs volunteers in the stomach, injecting them with venom and transforming them into willing automaton-like slaves called Jerkies (because of their movements) who are laboring to complete construction of a great but dark tower.

Orfieu’s assistant, Scudamour, discovers with horror that he has an exact double in this Othertime, who as the story progresses, is imprisoned and mutates into the next Stingingman, replacing the previous one. One of the other academics observes that this incomplete building is actually a replica of the new Cambridge University Library, where the men are presently situated as they observe all this.

I shall leave any plot discussion here so to avoid spoiling the story. There are a few twists and a few genuinely unsettling moments. Stylistically, this story is unlike anything of Lewis’s that I have read, and this is also the basis as to why the authenticity is still debated by academics. The story is dark and uncomfortable to read – the setting is unidentifiable (possibly set in post-war time) but feels like it could be a Victorian gothic story, with the sense of growing dread and nihilism common in H. P. Lovecraft’s works. The characters, though underdeveloped due to the unfinished nature of the story, are suitably sympathetic with clear motivations.

I was thoroughly enjoying this story and was sorely disappointed when it came to an abrupt, unfinished end. The Dark Tower and Other Stories discusses the story in more depth, and pre-warns readers that it is missing sections and unfinished, but this does nothing to diminish the feeling of disappointment as such a gripping and dread-inducing tale is suddenly ended.

For fans of Lovecraft or C. S. Lewis or cosmic-horror in general, this story is a great look into the creative prowess of a man who could write for children and adults alike, a man who refused to be categorized as a genre writer.

Space: Above and Beyond #1 The Aliens Approach by Easton Royce

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A fast-paced and exciting read set in a complex multi-faceted future.

In the mid 21st century humans have begun to colonize other worlds. But mankind soon learns it is not alone when an unknown alien force destroys the settlement, and humans quickly finds itself in a race to defend the Earth and all of humanity against this new blood-thirsty foe.

Based on the failed TV series (despite winning 2 Emmy awards, a Saturn award, and being ranked by IGN in the top 50 sci-fi shows) this book is a teen novelization of the first episodes in the series. The story centers on three main characters – Nathan, Shane and Cooper. Nathan finds himself being sent to a different colony to his girlfriend, Kylen, and tries to sneak aboard her ship but is caught and is kicked out of the colonization program – now his only chance to be reunited is to join the Space Cavalry and hope he can find her. Shane, forced to watch her parents killed during the AI wars, enlisted, vowing to avenge her parents deaths; and Cooper is a synthetic, created in a test-tube in a lab and, as a member of a undesirable social class with little rights, finds himself punished for a crime he didn’t commit: being sentenced to the military.

Space: Above and Beyond follows these three as they are enlisted, train, and encounter the alien menace on their first mission on the surface of mars. The prose is sharp and well-paced, designed for a younger audience: it effectively leaves enough ambivalence in the description to let the younger reader imagine as much or as little as they want to, without either pandering to their age or being vague or obtuse. The plot, however, suffers from being rushed. Many episodes were written into this book and as a result sometimes it feels more like an extended training montage than a novel (and it is a short novel, at 138 pages and has a slightly larger than average type-face size). Novelizations are supposed to expand on the film or television source, but this book feels a little flat when it comes to characters, and though I have never seen the show, can surmise that it may actually be the superior product.

The over-all feel of the book, though, is something with spectacular potential: AI wars, racial tension, politics of war and hard core action – I would definitely read the rest of the books in this series to discover more about this universe. In terms of tone, it is similar to Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, Busby’s Star Rebel, or even Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. An entertaining teens book that can be enjoyed in several sessions by adults as well. Highly recommended to those who enjoy the aforementioned authors, or those who are fans of classic sci-fi franchises like Star Trek or Battletech, or series such as Firefly or Babylon 5.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.

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A classic book that, after sixty years, still has the magic to enthrall young and old alike in adventure rich in scope and sentiment.

When four children (Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy) are relocated from their home and sent to a large country estate during wartime in Britain, they find a large wardrobe in an empty room that, upon entering, takes them into the magical land of Narnia. It is a beautiful, snowy land inhabited by talking animals and mythical beasts. But they soon discover that the snow is a wintery curse cast by the evil White Witch who, in fear of an ancient prophecy which names the four children as the true Kings and Queens of Narnia, seduces Edmund and attempts to use him to betray his siblings. But she is too late, as the ancient and powerful lion Aslan, lord of Narnia, returns to the land, and her magic begins to fade and spring once more returns to Narnia. Her last chance now being a desperate and bloody battle to rid Narnia of Aslan and the children, lest she be killed or exiled.

The book is written in a clear style that speaks directly to a young audience without pandering to them or being condescending. The brisk prose uses powerful imagery in short bursts, preventing the reader from getting distracted from the plot or the characters. And the characters also well represent the different facets of a child’s personality – each one effectively giving the reader something different to relate to and associate with. And though the Christian imagery is both strong and recurring throughout the book, Lewis himself swore that this book is not allegorical at all, but merely a fairy tale to entertain children.

Perhaps most surprising is the violence and brutality of the book. The narrative is clearly for a very young audience and the violence is so under-used that when it suddenly appears it has real weight and tension to it. Edmund goes very quickly from being in the Witches favor to being mistreated; he has fulfilled his purpose to her and she has no real need of him. Where only a chapter previously he was being treated as important and special, the story declines quickly to a point where the Witch punches him in the face for speaking out of turn, and two chapters later we see her preparing to slit his throat in the forest; and of course, the culminating low point is seen when she tortures and mutilates Aslan before executing him only several more chapters after this.

The Chronicles of Narnia is Lewis’s seminal work, and that for which he is most well known. And like his contemporary, Tolkien with The Hobbit, his name is established in English speaking cultures around the world. Unlike Tolkien, who chose to focus on the journey and even used the world itself almost as a main character, Lewis uses Narnia as a springboard and he leaps between scenes to keep the pace brisk and exciting between action, accounting for the limited attention spans of children nicely.

Lewis clearly wrote for children, whereas Tolkien wrote for a wider demographic; stories set in Middle-Earth being deeper and more mature than those of Narnia. But perhaps this is the defining strength of Lewis’s work – Tolkien alienates the youngest readers, whereas Lewis is able not only entertain them, but to speak directly to them. Despite Tolkien’s clearly massive influence on the fantasy genre, it could be argued that Lewis is the more influential of the two – his work is enjoyed and appreciated earlier in life, and this in turn grows the interest which will later lead readers on to Middle Earth and beyond.

As a novel it is riddled with plot holes and flaws, but as a children’s book this is acceptable – the intended audience don’t need deep backstory or contexts to get enjoyment; if anything, the lack of over-writing makes this an exceptionally well written book. Despite being set during late the late Edwardian period the book has stood the test of time relatively well – though some colloquialisms and idiosyncrasies do exist which will date the book to modern readers.

A classic, and an instant favorite for many children, and a beloved memory for many adults: it is worth reading again to relive your youth, and even though there are countless film and TV adaptations, I think you will find that while reading this book you will not be limited to those visuals and will adequately incorporate your nostalgia with your imagination.

Survivors by Terry Nation

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A daunting vision of the apocalypse and a compelling journey of survival and struggle.

In a matter of a few weeks a virus has spread across the entire planet, killing off almost all of the human population. The remaining survivors are in a silent world with no electricity or society or infrastructure. They form together communities and try to outlast the chaos as the world begins to fall into disrepair; scavenging, evading raiders and gangs and even surviving each other’s own madness and paranoia and panic. But foodstuffs are running low in the towns, and winter is coming. Now, those who once lived in luxury and convenience must return to the fundamentals and learn to farm and hunt and fish and build. The human race must struggle to survive against the weather, nature, and the human race itself.

Survivors is a novelization of the cult 70’s post-apocalyptic TV series of the same name. Penned by Terry Nation. Terry Nation was an accomplished British Screen Writer who wrote for over thirty television series; his biggest contributions being to Survivors (38 episodes,) Blake’s 7 (52 episodes,) and most notably, Dr Who (70 episodes,) where he is the accredited inventor of Daleks. This book is a unique experience as most novelizations are contracted to genre-authors to interpret a script: Survivors is novelized by the scriptwriter, and as such, offers some fantastic insights into the intentions of the TV series that any other author could not have achieved.

Lauded as a visual story teller when it comes to screenplays, his narrative becomes somewhat over-written in places which can be limiting to the imagination. This is important as the theme of survival should be one every reader can personally relate to: the fear of being cold and hungry and vulnerable; and unless a detail is especially important to the plot, most should be left somewhat vague to allow the reader to imagine themselves in the place of the antagonists and be more intimately immersed in the story.

But aside from this minor knit-pick, and despite being a TV serial novelization, this book is an excellent read. It is imaginative and daunting, and in a genre of over-the-top apocalyptic scenarios, it is a refreshingly restrained vision of humanity and it’s struggle to survive. Most characters are relatable and are sympathetic, while secondary characters can sometimes be two-dimensional and clearly written as a TV plot device. Their plight is intriguing and, unlike a lot of apocalyptic stories, there is no symbolic savior in the guise of army or fortified township or the like – there is only the slow decay of the world: time moves on and buildings, roads and even social conventions and moral boundaries begin to fall apart.

A fantastic read, as it is a great precursor to the popularization of post-apocalyptic stories that are so common today. Though some argue the genre is pessimistic, it is actually one of the more optimistic settings for a story. We live in a world filled with untruths and trivialities – in the end days we become equalized. Every person is important because every action they take has real and clear consequences; everything one does is for the greater good of ones self and for mankind. This comes through clear in Terry Nation’s book: the old way of life is left behind and the new way must be learned, and though it is a road filled with struggles, ultimately it is a journey of hope and inspiration. An apocalyptic drama highly recommended to anyone who enjoyed Z for Zachariah, No Blade of Grass, Day of The Triffids.