Monday, July 16, 2007

"Are you my daddy?"

"She was all right as a one-off, but I wouldn't want her for a whole series." - The Lovely Jo, talking about Catherine Tate shortly after watching Doctor Who Christmas episode The Runaway Bride.

Alas, alas. Last week was awash with badness. Not only is Catherine Tate the new Who companion, not only did PM Gordon Brown react to a failed act of terrorism with a gross appeal to flag-waving jingoism, but Jekyll was delayed by a week for a concert that nobody watched. At least this week we had Jekyll back. We like this show. This week's episode was particularly full of Moffaty goodness, with cheeky nods to his Who successes The Empty Child (see above) and Blink (the pre-recorded character talking back).

The great thing about the show is that it seems to be one step ahead of where you'd expect. By which I mean that this week's cliffhanger ought to lead into the sort of thing I'd expect a series like this to pull in the final episode - the big showdown in the villains' lair. See also the previous episode, in which Mrs Jackman finds out that her husband is also Mr Hyde, the kind of thing I'd expect most series to save until the last or penultimate episode. Be interesting to see where it all ends up.

And so we enter the last two months before the wedding, a time of frenzy and mayhem. Blogging activity is likely to be reduced to a minimum. While I'm here, a couple of thoughts on the past month or so's reading.

G.K. Chesterton - The Man Who Was Thursday
Fantastic book, a real thought-provoker. And yet when you go a-Googling, there's not much online comment as to what it all means. It contains such clear religious/Biblical imagery (and Chesterton famously became a Catholic just after writing this) that it seems obvious to read Sunday as God (and the name's a bit of a giveaway too) and the book as some sort of statement of awe at an ineffable creator. However, in the edition I have the publishers have kindly included a fragment of an article in which Chesterton explicitly denies this interpretation, and points to the book's subtitle ("A Nightmare") as the key.
There are three solutions I can think of; I will be giving away the ending, so anyone who hasn't read the book and plans to may wish to look away now. Although to be frank, I'm of the opinion that any book that's ruined just by knowing how it ends hasn't got much going for it. The style, atmosphere, characters and ideas of this one ought to keep you reading even if you do know what's coming (and chances are you'll guess what's going on anyway).
1 - It's political. The whole idea of a central committee of anarchists is patently ridiculous (and the characters say as much), and sure enough it turns out they're all secret policemen. They've all been set up and set against each other by Sunday, who really is an agent of chaos, but is also the top secret policeman who recruited them all. The "Nightmare" here is that the man in charge has fabricated a phantom threat to civilised society to keep his underlings distracted while he himself gets up to who-knows-what and avoids all attempts to hold him accountable. Or am I imposing a contemporary reading on the text?
2 - It's kind of religious. The "Nightmare" here being that Sunday is revealed at the end not as a benign, knowable creator-father god but as a chaotic, capricious demiurge. Perhaps Chesterton wanted to paint a picture of everything he hoped God wasn't.
3 - It is religious, and Chesterton was lying when he said it wasn't. Well, you never know.

Alastair Reynolds - Chasm City
It's interesting to read an author's second novel only after you've read his other half dozen books. This certainly is as strong and as skilful a story as people say, but the dialogue has some serious issues. Far too much lengthy info-dumping, particularly from exactly the characters or in exactly the situations you'd least expect. It gets silly when one major character's father props himself up on his deathbed and gasps out an entire page of exposition. He did apparently then fall back, exhausted. I'll bet he did. Also a very prominent authorial tic for having characters say a sardonic "Oh,..." (e.g. "Oh, I'd heard the stories", or "Oh, that's what they'll tell you", that kind of thing). So many, it's hard not to notice. You even get a couple from a character who has to type his sentences into a voice synthesiser, which comes across as more than a little odd. Memo to self and invitation to others: check Reynolds' more recent novels and play "Spot the Oh", see if he still does this or not. I hadn't noticed it before, so probably not.
Still, it is a very good novel.

Russell Hoban - Pilgermann
Utterly disappointing. Both this and The Medusa Frequency come across as the author staring at a typewriter, trying to force a book out, and just writing around the same couple of scenes. Admittedly I gave up on Pilgermann halfway through, so I've no idea if it suddenly becomes brilliant. Starting to think Riddley Walker was a one-off, though.

Stop press: I've won a copy of Adam Roberts' latest novel! Yay!! This makes me a happy panda.


Matthew Kilburn said...

A few weeks later, and it's being reported that the first episode title released by the production office is Planet of the Ood. Will Donna be possessed by a resurgent Satan, and have red eyes to match her red hair?

John Toon said...

Blimey, I hadn't heard this. Sounds a bit... "Flash Gordon", I suppose. Still, it opens the way for a slew of "squids in" jokes.