Loving the Alien
Mike Tucker & Robert Perry
This is an atrocious book. If you want a review, that's it. If you want to know why it's so bad, read on past the spoiler space...
Not only did Mike Tucker and Robert Perry choose to give Ace a different surname in their books than in the New Adventures, they have now written an entire book to explain the contradiction they caused. Along the way, Ace gets pregnant by the actor James Dean, shot dead and then re-appears as a sixty foot woman. No, I'm not making this up.
It's often a bad sign when authors feel a need to proffer a sequel to an earlier book of theirs that the rest of us have forgotten. Does anyone remember getting to the end of "Illegal Alien" and thinking, "Heavens, this book desperately needs a sequel!" Well, if you did, it's here. Tucker and Perry do their damnedest to give the impression that George Limb, the villain in both books, is one of the Doctor's greatest ever foes, but having the Doctor saying Limb is one of his greatest ever foes is not half as persuasive as a convincing story that demonstrates Limb's genius... which we don't get here.
"Loving the Alien" has the most preposterous, needlessly convoluted and ill-considered story in a Who novel for a long time, a feat given some of the nonsense published this year. If I'm not damning with faint praise, Tucker and Perry's prose has improved greatly since the likes of "Matrix", yet their storytelling is mired in the same problems: intricate but pointless stories built on shock value and continuity references. The plot circumlocutions force Tucker and Perry into clumsy expositional passages (the one beginning chapter 9 being particularly painful) and implausible coincidences (the Doctor finding Rita on p. 230 stands out). The story is for the sake of a story: there is none of the thematic base we saw in the previous 7th Doctor/Ace PDA "Heritage".
The book begins promisingly enough. In the early chapters, each time I picked "Loving the Alien" up, the characterisation of the Doctor and Ace would draw me in, but every time the story would push me away again. However, by page 95, the whole thing had ceased to maintain any dramatic tension, it was all so silly. Let's consider some of the nonsense that ensues.
Character motivation is all over the place, driven by the demands of the story. Collins in chapter 8 and O'Brien in chapter 9 are bizarrely trusting of the Doctor. There is little sense of why Ace should fall in love with Jimmy (James Dean from a parallel universeódon't ask me why), although there are some touching scenes between them. What Jimmy feels for Ace is a mystery: he's happy to get a tattoo to show their eternal love and happy the next day to beat her to a bloody pulp as he's thought all along that she's a Communist spy. And why is Jimmy so incompetent as not to tell Limb that McBride is in the Cyber-gorillas' cage, thus facilitating McBride's escape on p. 142? "Cyber-gorillas," you might well ask. Yes, Cyber-gorillas.
The real James Dean died in a car crash. Jimmy in "Loving the Alien" was spared that fate, but dies in a car crash heroically trying to save the universe at the end of the book, which is a nice symbolism, but his character motivation is that we discover the dead Ace was pregnant with his daughter. Tucker and Perry seem to just throw ideas in willy-nilly. For starters, Tucker and Perry need some sex education: Ace was shot only hours after intercourse, whereas conception only happens later. Jimmy's sperm may have been swimming in the right direction, but Ace cannot have been pregnant when shot. Reproductive biology aside, the drama is terrible. The whole pregnancy thing just appears out of nowhere and is then forgotten straight after.
However, the big, big problem in "Loving the Alien" is with parallel universes, which is funny because the big problem in the 8DAs at the moment is with parallel universes. Parallel universe stories are hard to do right: why did Justin Richards think it was a good idea to commission a parallel universe PDA in the middle of a bunch of parallel universe 8DAs? I wish I lived in a parallel universe where BBC Books never commissioned parallel universe stories.
It seems especially careless for the Doctor to espouse a metaphysics of parallel universes on p. 111 of "Loving the Alien" that is entirely at odds with that in "Time Zero" through to "Reckless Engineering" (and many an earlier 8DA too, e.g. "Genocide").
Killing companions is old hat and rarely offers more than shock value. I hope forthcoming books stay clear of this tactic for a long while... oh dear, I've just read the blurb for "Wolfbane"...
Ace... o, Ace, what did you do to deserve so many deaths devoid of drama
or pathos. "Ground Zero" was bad enough, but here Ace gets shot dead midway
through the book in a scene that would have more weight if it wasn't preceded
by gibberish. The Doctor has her corpse at the beginning of the book, tying
in with the end of "Prime Time", and the book does begin with a certain
sense of foreboding as we wonder what will happen to Ace and how Tucker
and Perry are going to solve the conundrum. The answer: random nonsense.
Giant ants (from a parallel universe with a different scale, you see) crop
up mysteriously throughout the book. An invasion of giant ants in the middle
of a fight scene between the invading Cyber-augmented Imperial troops and
the plucky British defenders gets quite exciting... and then a giant Ace
(proportional to the giant ants, you see) turns up and rescues the good
guys. That's it. Kill one Ace, get another. Fortunately the giant Ace
shrinks back to normal size (you know, because) and the Doctor explains: 'She remembers everything - or she thinks she does. As far as she's concerned, nothing has happened. She is Ace. The only Ace. To all intents and purposes she is the same Ace that she was before, barring one or two small details. She doesn't have a tattoo saying "Ace and Jimmy" on her back, she doesn't like peas and she has trouble remembering what her correct surname is...'
Lance Parkin wrote a whole book, "The Infinity Doctors", about why alternate timelines are dramatically unsatisfying. Weren't Tucker and Perry paying attention? How much more can you undermine any drama if you just get a copy of someone when they die and everything's alright. As far as I can make out from the text, giant Ace is an Ace from a parallel universe and our Ace is still dead. Presumably some poor parallel Doctor is distraught at having lost Ace now!
It seems Mike Tucker, at least at some point, intended for the explanation to be that our Ace was somehow split into two timelines, one of whom gets shot and the other doesn't. It's this second Ace who then re-appears at the end, so it's not a parallel universe Ace, but really is our Ace, sort of... No, I don't understand it either and I can see nothing to that effect in the finished novel.
"Loving the Alien" has a developed theory of fate, that Limb cannot escape his (to become Cyberneticised) however much he tries to alter history. And the Doctor's solution? To encourage him to commit suicide. (Why that should work when nothing else does is unclear.) Not quite what I would call a Doctor-ish approach, 'never cruel nor cowardly'. This idea of fate, tying in also with Jimmy's fate to die in a car crash, has potential but is of course contradicted by Ace being alive at the end of the book and also rather robs the drama of free will. The Doctor also seems relatively unconcerned for fate of the parallel universe on p. 268, quite casual about how they'll cope with a nuclear strike and a fate of all turning into Cybermen.
The desire to have Ace's surname to be Gale, the name planned but never used on the TV series (if I've remembered that correctly), rather than McShane, as in the New Adventures, always seemed pointless and petty. Tucker and Perry seem to want to make Ace their own, to control this era of Who. And they do a damn fine Ace and 7th Doc, but they have picked some tough competition. They could have picked on Liz Shaw and then all they would need to do is write a better book than "The Wages of Sin", but instead they go up against the likes of Aaronovitch, Cartmel and Cornell. Mike, Robert, if you are out there, you ain't coming close. "Loving the Alien" is all overly familiar too: British Rocket Group, altered timelines, people abusing left over Cyber-technology, distrust between the Doctor and Ace. This territory has been covered thoroughly already, most of it's in "No Future"!
Tucker and Perry do have some good ideas of their own. At least they
give us an interesting alternative timeline, much better than the one in
"The Domino Effect". There is some good imagery here. The Cyber-gorillas
are chilling and there is a nice contrast when someone in the Cyber-augmented
parallel London calls the non-augmented 'monkeys'. Those sections set in
the augmented London in chapters 17-19 are among the best in the book.
There is some good writing, but there
is also some awful writing. It is not just the story that has problems. Look at how the Doctor changes his mind on p. 147-9. Utter cliché. Compare and contrast with how a similar theme was developed in "Heritage".
Another terrible example. Dr Hark accompanies the Doctor to St Thomas' hospital on p. 166, the Doctor taciturn. Hark drops him off on p. 167. Having literally just left Hark's company, on p. 168, the Doctor runs around desperate to talk to Hark, only to be told he won't return for an hour or so. Further down that same page, minutes later, Hark is back. Why? What is the point of any of that?
A strong grasp of Ace and the 7th Doctor, some good ideas and imagery... The ingredients are there, but with an overblown story, Tucker and Perry have overreached themselves. And all for the want of a bad "Wizard of Oz" reference.
Henry Potts, 25 May 2003; revised 9 Apr 2006
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