by Simon A Forward
"Emotional Chemistry" reminded me of a Virgin New Adventure: there's that same epic scale, multiple plot strands, worldbuilding around obscure continuity references, mature themes around relationships and sex (or, at least, lustful thoughts), companions at odds with the Doctor and hints of mystery around the Doctor's background. You could imagine "Emotional Chemistry" as an NA, but you would have to tweak the structure: the first 50 pages would have been in the Napoleonic era or 50th century Russia with nary a mention of the TARDIS crew and the Doctor himself wouldn't turn up until past p. 100...
I think I would have preferred that structure. Instead, "Emotional Chemistry" flits between four or five concurrent plot strands throughout the book: one short scene after another. This matches the relentless pace, the story brimming with action. At times that works: there are some sequences—like the journey from the Kremlin—where we switch between perspectives of characters involved in an effective manner. However, overall, I felt the pacing was too monotonic. The intrinsic ebbs and flows of the story felt, at times, sacrificed to the constant action. I longed for more time—notably in the introduction and in Moscow after the French invasion—for a bit of space to appreciate the atmosphere. Perhaps Forward was reacting against his more sedate pacing in "Drift" and "Shell Shock", but I felt both those offered enjoyable reflective passages, concentrating on character and motive.
What "Emotional Chemistry" does achieve—unlike many a Virgin NA—is a coherent story. There is a solid structure to the story, with multiple plot threads tying up in a way some equally epic Who stories fail to do. (It even manages to tie in a thread from "Eater of Wasps" along the way.) Yet, I often felt dissatisfied by events. Many loose ends just get killed off to little purpose while other characters struggle to stand out (Tatyana notably). While the multiple threads converged elegantly, they often seemed redundant.
However, I should not exaggerate my quibbles with the book. The breadth of the tale is welcome and Forward economically establishes a strong sense of his (historical and SF) contexts. His prose and use of striking similes are also strong, although the more flowery prose sometimes jarred with the pacing. Forward isn't afraid of having a distinctive writing style and nor does he duck certain ongoing issues in the 8DAs, like the Doctor's memory. This is easily one of the better BBC Books this year and, together with "Timeless", suggest perhaps that the 8DAs are getting back on track... shame then that we only get two more 8DAs in the next six months!
"Emotional Chemistry" has the rigour that Forward's first novel, "Drift", lacked, yet I think I found "Drift" more pleasing. However, "Shell Shock" remains Forward's stand out work for me, a much underrated piece.
Henry Potts, 10 Nov 2003
Originally posted to the Jade Pagoda mailing list.
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