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 Sovereign Hand by Paul Gilbert

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An epic adventure of High Fantasy and High Stakes; deserves a place next to Pratchett or Goodkind.

Set amidst a backdrop of steam and coal smoke, high magic and complicated politics; the bustling metropolis of Thorn faces an impending evil and only a group of five heroes, summoned by fate, can stop the cataclysm. The sovereign hand is a masterful work of depth and breadth. Paul Gilbert has created a deep backstory and a rich world, often seen lacking in most fiction, that is on par with Game of Thrones or Sword of Truth. Various races and species co-exist in a noisy city rife with politics and crime and culture, and it is from these crowded streets that our five heroes are chosen by fate to become The Sovereign Hand; a select group of individuals trained to fight against evil.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable book filled with many classic D&D or Pratchettesque tropes; goblins, kobolds, lizard-men, minotaurs, wizards, priests and thieves. Some of these elements are severely under-used, and other’s feel out of place and forced; the book starts with the integration of the Taurean peoples and the end of conflict, and this idea is followed for many chapters before being completely abandoned. It has little-to-no bearing on the plot and is more of a distraction than a neccessary part of the book; in fact the first half of the book (particularly the first quarter) is so heavy on uneccessary world-building and exposition that it was difficult to become emotionally connected to the world or the characters; I had no clue what was going on or who the story was talking about. The language was overdone in the first half as well – obscure allusions and similes that don’t work and just leave the reader confused and distracted. The raw talent of Gilbert is buried and drowned beneath the verbose excess; this is one of the most over-written books I have ever read.

However, once into the second half of the book things began to pick up. Suddenly there was a clear plot; I knew who characters were, they had clear goals and even, eventually, an antagonist. By this point, however, I had had little investment into the characters, so motivations were vague and confusing and important elements of the book seemed to spontaneously erupt onto the pages, leaving me lost and confused. The climax was excellent – though there were unanswered questions and unfinished plot-points which left the ending of the book feeling flat and unsatisfying, with an unfinished feel.

This is Paul Gilbert’s first book and shows incredible potential to be a top-shelf competitor in major bookstores in the future. Hopefully the next book will be more tightly written and won’t meander as aimlessly as The Sovereign Hand often did, leaving the reader feeling lost and wondering if the author knew where his book was going. 7 / 10 stars.

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The Chain by Antony Millen

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A dystopian scavenger hunt that takes you across the world and brings you back cynical and rebellious.

In The Chain we are introduced to a cynical story of near-futurism where everyone is watching everyone all the time. Governments cease to function as they once did as the online world both transcends and negates borders. As Lukan and Topia travel the world they see first-hand the impact of the global network upon small communities; on local customs and mythologies and even dialects. Through the digital corporatocracy society is slowly being eroded and dissolved and replaced by a mainstream connectivist culture. There are some brilliant ideas in this book that have much relevance for today’s world and the direction we are headed. The Chain deals with themes of technology vs freedom of speech, preservation of culture, knowledge vs censorship and the impact of technology upon small communities and cultures.

Despite having some brilliant ideas, this book ultimately doesn’t deliver on the fundamentals. The characters motivations are weak, vague or sometimes forced, and in the boys journey they encounter very little, if any, real conflict until towards the climax. The reader is told of the global police state, and of the constant monitoring, censoring and dictation of social media, yet this predominantly remains an unseen world. In a heavily regulated and controlled society the boys manage to, very easily, travel across the world, walk through cities, discover allies almost immediately upon arrival of a new country, and engage with communities of “off-liners”. The boys experiences contrast the given expectation of the world. The government agents are lenient and barely do more than stand around in the shadows, watching but remaining inactive. Right from the start of the book, Millen misses an opportunity to present the totalitarian forces as anything but indifferent. Even Lukan and Topia’s motivations are lackluster. This, coupled with the lack of imminent danger or threat to the boys throughout the book, leaves their journey feeling flat and, overall, dissatisfaying. If the characters lack a solid emotional drive or investment then so do the readers.

But, despite the lack of genuine emotion, implied or inherent, the book is still an enjoyable read. Millen presents a very interesting and poignant look at the future and introduces some fascinating new concepts, while taking existing concepts and giving them a refreshing makeover. Everyone loves to compare dystopian fiction to Orwell’s 1984, but The Chain is more comfortable in the company of the likes of Le Guin’s The Dispossessed. A sometimes-thought provoking read with moderate cyberpunk elements: 6/10.

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Squid’s Grief by D.K. Mok

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A fast-paced thriller filled with humor, intrigue and palpable smoke-screens.

Set in the near future, Squids Grief is a crime thriller with some cyberpunk elements. Squid is a thief with morals who has ‘one last job’ before she goes clean, but everything goes wrong when she finds Grief, a man with no memories, inside the boot of a car she steals. Meanwhile, the gangs are in upheaval as they are restructured and gang-war begins to break out and Police officer Casey is trying to tackle the rising gang violence in the city of Baltus; but the harder she fights, the more intricate the web of corruption ensnaring the city and it’s officials becomes.

D.K. Mok’s third novel, Squid’s Grief is thoughtfully written; fast-paced with excellent action and consistent humor throughout, it also manages to deal with strong themes without being preachy. Both villains and heroes are seeking new beginnings; the gangs, the police department, Casey, Squid, Grief and even the city itself – everyone is seeking a figurative rebirth and a fresh start. The secondary theme of redemption is also strong in this book. Both heroes and villains alike are three dimensional characters full of regret and desire; they are well written, likable characters who all walk in that moral grey zone. There is no clear-cut good or bad. Everyone is a hero, or a villain, to someone depending on their situation or point of view.

The thriller aspect of the story was well done. I fell for many of the distractions and got distracted by the smokescreens and I was wholly surprised by the twists as they appeared. In all, this was a very enjoyable read that I recommend to anyone that enjoys the show Gotham or authors like John le Carre or Lee Child. 8/10.

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The Observers by C. R. Downing

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A buddy-cop comedy of errors in the tradition of Douglas Adams or J. D. Crayne. This is what happens when a science teacher writes fiction. Not to be confused with Damon Knight’s ‘The Observers’.

The Observers explores complex scientific themes; should science and technology advance simply for the sake of progress? Who should be in control? Who does ownership of information really belong to? These themes are explored through our two main characters, Mxpan and Zerpall. Mollusc-like telepathic beings, Glieseians have made themselves technological overseers that monitor species technological development and intervene as necessary. The Observers is a comedic buddy-cop novel about two investigators, one being the by-the-book professional, and the other being a fun-loving take-it-as-it-comes kind of guy.

Despite interesting and well-written characters the book falls flat, however, with its setting and plot. There are three major plot lines in this book. Each is contextually irrelevant to the other and the book feels like three short stories were stuck together and as it progresses it begins to feel disconnected. The story is forgettable and the major plots lack satisfying conclusions, leaving you feeling underwhelmed.

Downing is a teacher of science, and his knowledge and love for technology and biology clearly show, but he has missed some major opportunities. As with the forgettable plot, so are the settings equally uninteresting. Different alien worlds and civilizations are treated almost indifferently – despite well developed characters downing has forgotten to characterize the worlds or environments, and with the vague story this lends to the feeling of staleness throughout the book.

However, this is a comedy book and the humour is well written: timing is everything in comedy, and Downing delivers witty punch-lines and well-paced gags that carry the reader through an often drawn-out experience. The banter between Mxpan and Zerpall is delightful and Zerpall’s child-like innocence is often laugh-out-loud material. If Downing had given even a fraction of the attention he gave his characters to the settings and plot, this book could have been a monumental entry to the genre, placing him with the likes of Heinlein or Asprin. 5/10.

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Ad Infinitum by William Fripp

71j6qqjmpllWilliam Fripp has created a dark universe that blends the style of Stephen King with the cosmic nihilism of Lovecraft. The idea is intriguing and the imagery is superb. Fripp has written characters that are engaging and has crafted a villain that grips you by the throat and refuses to let you go until the book is finished.

Ad Infinitum is a retelling of the basic core mythos of Christianity; where instead of Christ or Angels we have the Sojourners. They are an ancient entity that seeds life across the universe – until the one known as The Other becomes a dark and twisted force of evil.

Through thousands of years of reincarnations the Sojourners have watched and subtly guided life on Earth; and for thousands of years, so has The Other. But now it has found it does not need to be reborn, but can pass between bodies at the moment of death. With this knowledge it starts killing its way through humanity, leapfrogging between bodies. Soon, its destination is in sight and once it is in Washington it will have enough influence over the course of mankind that it will set the world aflame.

William Fripp has written a multi-layered and complex story with colorful characters. Like a spiritual superhero origin story, individuals discover and learn how to use their latent psychic abilities in the war against evil, complete with melodramatic backstories and tragic love stories.

Ad Infinitum boils down to a selection of main characters: Kimberly Holly who must survive the physical and spiritual assault of being hostage to The Other; Aaron Stiles, a college graduate who’s sudden development of strange and powerful abilities find him medicated and isolated in a mental health institution; Detective Anne Richards, investigating the gruesome murders which are somehow all connected, and Indirah Singh and Mwele Botu – two powerful incarnations of Sojourners who are connected to everyone and involved in everything, who are fighting against time to save teach Aaron to control his abilities, help Detective Richards find Kimberly before she is killed by The Other, and confront the ancient enemy and defeat him.

William Fripp doesn’t leave you time to catch your breath as he takes you for a ride through a world where entities that birthed stories of Angels and Demons walk among us, and where the human soul is the most powerful force in the universe. Ad infinitum is his first published book and can be bought from Amazon here. He has also written a sequel called Ad Perpetuam, which can also be bought from Amazon.

I give Ad Infinitum 4/5.

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Star Trek: The Klingon Gambit by Robert E. Vardeman

cvr9780743412100_9780743412100_hrSet during the original five-year mission (and according the star date placing it roughly towards the end of the second season) this book reads like a classic Star Trek episode. That can be a good or a bad thing depending on your tastes, as Star Trek is one of those franchises that proves to polarize it’s fans and non-fans.

When a Vulcan science ship is found completely intact but all the crew dead, and no traces of toxins or foul play, the Enterprise investigates what has happened. Meanwhile, on the planet below, an archaeologist finds the traces of a long lost civilization and a Klingon warship orbits above, threatening the Enterprise.

Whatever has been unearthed on the planet below is affecting Human, Vulcan and Klingon alike. The crews of both ships start acting up, making illogical and poor decisions, and it is up to Kirk and the Enterprise to maintain the fragile truce despite the Klingon’s best attempts to subvert peace.

Gambit is a mystery space opera. There is little action and to be fair, the mystery element gets overlooked often. But, that been said, it is a solid character-driven story. The conflicts arising in this book are from the way the characters are all being individually affected by the planet below, and this presents some very entertaining tension and drama and often some humor.

Unfortunately, what lets this book down is Vardemans inability to write about minorities or women without objectifying them or forcing stereotypes on them. The scenes of what are supposed to be sexual tension come off as awkward, and the mystery takes a back seat, only to be revived towards the end of the book with an anticlimactic resolution.

Gambit is not a boring book, by any means, and thankfully is a short read, so it’s pacing is quite adequate. There was one surprise twist, which I won’t spoil here, that is a really original idea, but as far as plot twists go it was mostly predictable. The most surprising element of the big reveal caught me completely off guard, however, in what was a fantastic concept that could easily have been fleshed out into a more significant role.

I am not a Star Trek fan, and I don’t know if this helps or hinders the book. I recognize a lot of references and archetypes from the films or occasional tv shows I have seen, but I had no expectations of what the book was when I went in. Also, not having any previous attachments to the characters allowed me to enjoy the story more freely without questioning characterizations or story elements which may be contrary to the official canon. Nonetheless it was an enjoyable story which felt relatively true to the series and I would recommend to both fans alike and unalike.

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