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Aug 12, 2007

Frontier Worlds

Frontierworlds There’s nothing more annoying than when one of these novels is quite an enjoyable read, has a few good ideas but doesn’t quite hold together much as an experience.  Perhaps a lot of Doctor Who in any media could be described that way, but the main problem with Frontier Worlds is that in the end it’s a bit boring and not a patch on its possible inspiration, The Invasion of the Krynoids or The Krynoid Invasion (Seeds of Doom).  Not necessarily a chore to read, just the kind of book in which you’re forever checking to see how many pages there are left to read.

The back of book blurb essentially tells you everything you need to know about the story.  It’s another human-style race on some alien world with a corporation doing to some not very nice things, in this case in the area of genetics trying to use plants to prolong their lifecycle.  Having landed on the world before the text of the novel begins, the Doctor, Fitz and Compassion set about working out what the problem is and how they should deal with it. 

It’s The Big Combo substituting the atom bomb for GM crops.

Author Peter Anghelides, is essentially playing some Chinatown-style genre games mixing the spy game with elements of hard-boiled neo-noir and an environmental thriller.  It’s The Big Combo substituting the contemporary thematic issue of the atom bomb for GM crops.  By keeping the story relatively thin, the author is able to concentrate instead on character and particular Compassion and Fitz.  The Doctor recedes into the background as the two companions (by the time lord’s design) spend most of the book together, either as they infiltrate one of the corporations pretending to be siblings or on the run through the wilderness to a top secret facility. 

The majority of the book is told from the first person perspective of the Fitz and we’re giving great chunks of insight into his childhood and how he feels after being brought back from being genetically photocopied for all those years on the remote.  This material is richly layered, replete with pop culture references mostly related to the disguises that he and Compassion have adopted of Frank and Nancy Sinatra.  Fitz spends most of his time quoting lines from Frank’s songs and film roles and wearing the hat -- which is usually at both extremes of endearing and annoying.

The relationship is not unlike Kirk and Spock from Star Trek

We also get to hear what he really thinks of Compassion who as they spend a hundred odd pages in the wilderness is also fleshed out considerably.  The relationship is not unlike Kirk and Spock from Star Trek.  Fitz is hot-blooded and passionate whereas Compassion is cold-blooded and logical.  Fitz gets into a relationship with a local girl but won’t simply leave her because ‘it wouldn’t be right’ -- but Compassion can see that he should just walk away, even without telling her because it is effecting the mission and their safety.

Their two-handers are the best scenes in the book as Fitz is continually trying to get the measure of her, and she is forever surprising him.  She certainly looks down on him -- and everyone else including the Doctor and one scene in which she lives up to her name is later revealed to be an example of her telling Fitz exactly what he needed to hear at that moment so that he would calm down and continue with the plan -- she didn’t really mean the words.  After an initially shaky start Compassion is turning into a rather unique creation (at least for the Whoniverse -- just how did she survive being hurled through a windscreen?) and I look forward to seeing how she develops.

Compassion is turning into a rather unique creation

It’s just a shame that the whole novel isn’t written with Fitz’s words.  The author skips out whenever he needs to tell the parts of the story which isn’t in the cockney’s eye line -- then altogether towards the end and although some of those sections are fitfully enjoyable -- the best is a conversation the Doctor has with a robot in which none of his usual tricks manage to out think the android -- none of them seem to sparkle in quite the same way as when Mr. Kreiner is the storyteller. 

It's just all a bit perfunctory (a bit like this review).  The main villain of the peace, Sempiter, doesn't do anything all that unexpected as the story progresses -- having pumped some of the alien plant into his system it slowly saps his will and physically transforms him and he becomes psychotic and how often have we seen that before?  When in the end the Doctor appears to saves the day it has a whiff of the kind of deus ex machina that the new series is criticized for.  About the only surprise is that he's not entirely being a hero and his solution is a selection of the best of the available evils.

It's just all a bit perfunctory (a bit like this review).

In the end, because there isn’t an awful lot of story, because the goals are never defined too clearly and because the story tends to meander more than it needs to, Frontier Worlds doesn’t really hold together and you’re left with a feeling of having read some very good writing, of having witnessed some very well written scenes, of having a better idea of who Compassion and Fitz are and how they relate to the Doctor (she’s a cat, he’s a dog) but overall not being particularly satisfied.  Ho hum.

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