Warlords of Utopia

by Lance Parkin

Mad Norwegian Press, 2004

Parkin's "The Gallifrey Chronicles" very much has the Doctor as the central character. If we look at the Time Hunter novellas, they have a similar structure, but with Honoré and Emily taking the lead roles. The Time Hunter novellas are very like Dr Who in form. I don't mean that they're just a clone like BBV's The Stranger and Miss Brown. Honoré and Emily have distinct characters and the tone of the series is equally its own, more adult than Dr Who and owing more to horror. There are touches which are as much Sapphire & Steel as Dr Who. Yet there is a commonality with Dr Who, Time Hunter is still an adventure series involving time travellers and you can see how readily many Dr Who proposals could have been converted to Time Hunter stories (as we know happened with "The Clockwork Woman").

Faction Paradox, however, offers something very different. While "The Book of the War" is rooted in the fictional universe of Dr Who (or, rather, some Dr Who books), all the Faction Paradox books are telling a different sort of story. "The Book of the War", "Of the City of the Saved..." and "Warlords of Utopia", and we could retroactively include "Dead Romance" here too, feel like novels (well, a very experimental novel in the case of "The Book of the War") rather than episodes. They tell complete stories, often life stories, which happen all to be touched by this War in Heaven. "This Town Will Never Let Us Go" seems like the oddity of the series, which is odd for a book by the editor: it kind of fits here too, not so much as a life story, but still narrating a significant event in a character's life as it intersects with the War. (Looking ahead, "Erasing Sherlock Holmes" will fit right in, although I wonder whether "Warring States" will offer something more akin to the Faction Paradox audios.)

(The complaint about the War arc in the 8DAs was that it promised, nay demanded, but could never deliver a satisfactory resolution—so we got "The Ancestor Cell" instead. Yet the Faction Paradox novel series works very well as a set of stories that all connect to the War, but leave the War firmly in the background, part of the scenery rather than being a story requiring resolving.)

As such, the Faction Paradox books have, in some ways, achieved what Virgin sought but never quite managed with its post-Who series (Virgin Worlds and the Benny New Adventures). The Faction Paradox books, more than any other Dr Who spin-off, have shaken off the vestiges of Dr Who. Oh, there are still Time Lords (obviously not called that) in "Warlords of Utopia", but here are four books that I feel stand apart.

And I love them. They feel to me like the New Adventures have grown up. Dr Who is back on TV as a child-friendly programme, appealing to children, as many fans feel it should, but the Faction Paradox books offer that element of the New Adventures that went outside familiar Dr Who, a science fiction series bursting with ideas, using a common background and showcasing new talent. They're not going to appeal to everyone, but I am happy to recommend the Faction Paradox books and sad that so few people read them.

Reflecting that, "Warlords of Utopia" is the most novelistic work I've read by Lance. Like Faction Paradox itself, the idea—all the worlds where Rome never fell fight all the worlds where the Nazis defeated Britain—may seem geeky, but it actually offers great potential. "Warlords of Utopia" is the life story of one man, Marcus Americanius Scriptor. It is a powerful tale of a man secure in himself and in his identity colliding with a world (or worlds) that very much are not. As Lance writes a heroic Doctor, so he makes Scriptor a resolute hero, someone unlike the characters we get from Miles (see "This Town Will Never Let Us Go"), someone who finds the Milesian world of politicking distasteful. Yet, Lance is clever enough that the reader can see that Scriptor is not quite so simple a figure to our eyes, even pulling a magnificent trick on the reader at one point as Roman sensibilities clash with our own.

As with "Of the City of the Saved..." and much science fiction in general, alternate worlds can give us new views of our own. This is a subtle work, an epic war story, but with much observation along the way. It is also a very witty book: I am sure I did not see many of the jokes, although the Monty Python ones are hard to miss.

I hope to see more Dr Who stories from Lance. (I watched "Bad Wolf" this evening and it's the sort of Dr Who episode I'd expect Lance to write—complete with (super)heroic Doctor!) However, "Warlords of Utopia" is Lance not writing a Dr Who story, but a story that is great entirely in its own right. It is akin to Cornell's "Something More" (better written I'd say). Availability issues notwithstanding, go get yourself a copy of "Warlords of Utopia" today and I want to read another novel from Lance more than another Dr Who story.

Henry Potts, 2005; revised 19 Nov 2005

Originally posted to the Jade Pagoda mailing list.

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