by Tara Samms (Steve Cole)
If "Frayed" is the weakest Telos novella of the year to date, I say that only in the context of what I think has been a stunning year's output. "Frayed" is an atmospheric and intriguing novella which I much enjoyed, let down by some flaws in the plotting—more on that later.
With "Frayed" and "Timeless", Steve Cole has come to be an author whose work I anticipate keenly, a long way from the early disappointments of "The Ancestor Cell" and "Parallel 59". (I'm not quite certain what purpose the pseudonym of Tara Samms serves, but whatever.) In some ways, "Frayed" picks up on similar themes to Cole's earlier work: there are many similarities to "Ten Little Aliens" and one could also compare "Parallel 59" and "Vanishing Point". The taut atmosphere of some of the Samms short story work also comes through.
Setting the story before "An Unearthly Child" (and before "Time and Relative") was an interesting choice which works surprisingly well. It's not done as a gimmick, but works as a good setting for the tale. The first Doctor and Susan work as the reluctant heroes of the story, while the other characters felt realistic and intriguing. The scenario was also interesting. What worked less well for me—more now as a nagging complaint as I look back on the book than when I was actually reading it—was Cole's use of all these themes. He doesn't manage to bring together the setting, the threat and the characters—they remain independent elements of the book. Characters were well-developed when the narrator's attention was on them, but their individual character developments get lost as the story moves on.
The ending is particularly weak and illustrates the book's problems, the story stopping and the Doctor and Susan slipping away at a convenient moment. Events come to a conclusion, but it's one rather lacking in drama. The story resolves, but the lack of resolution of the story's themes left me rather empty. The journey was more enjoyable than the destination.
Henry Potts, 5 Jan 2004
Originally posted to the Jade Pagoda mailing list.
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