book review: Sam_Storyteller — Condition of Release

Another long piece of Whoniverse fanfic from Sam_Storyteller/Sam Starbuck/Copperbadge. This one’s about 40k words long, i.e. short novel length, and uses those words to great effect. Sam has taken the “Doomsday” and “Cyberwoman” material, and linked it with some of the things we’re shown about the classic Cybermen in the Hartnell and Troughton eras. The result is a story that takes Torchwood season 1, drops in one small fact a second or two after the credits roll in Cyberwoman, and makes you see parts of that season in a whole new light. It’s beautifully written, with characterisations that build on and deepen what we get in canon. But this is more than good characterisation. There’s a solid story here, one that would make a good tie-in novel.

The small fact is that Ianto wasn’t physically converted, but *was* subject to direct mind control by Lisa’s Cyber personality. With her death, the conscious control is gone, but that doesn’t mean Ianto’s free. Jack’s interrogated more than one person who’s survived an encounter with the Cybermen, he’s heard enough about their methods to recognise what he’s seeing, and he’s not giving up Ianto without a fight.

It’s not quite compatible with canon for me, because it doesn’t quite mesh with the scene towards the end of Cyberwoman where Ianto is pleading with Lisa to remember who she is. But it makes a great deal of sense in the context of what we’ve been shown canonically about Cybermen over the years, both the original Mondas Cybermen of classic Who and the parallel universe Cybermen of new Who. This is an excellent piece of work, tying together elements of classic Who, new Who and Torchwood in a satisfying way.

Posted in five parts, plus author’s notes on the canon material used, part 1 here. Sam’s own description:
Rating: PG-13; R in the final chapter
Summary: Jack has studied the Cybermen for forty years, and he’s damned if he’ll let one take any of his people away from him without a fight.

Agatha Christie — Peril At End House (abridged audiobook)

Read by Hugh Fraser
ISBN 978-0230747371 (also 978-1405088626)

Abridged by Kati Nicholl, 3 CD set, running time approx 3 hours

Poirot has retired, and is taking his leisure in a seaside town, determined not to take on any new cases. But when a pretty young woman by the nickname of Nick tells him about a series of near-fatal accidents that have befallen her, he cannot resist temptation. The accidents are clearly not accidents, and the young lady must be protected. He is determined to unmask the killer before one of the accidents proves fatal. Alas, the killer strikes again — but strikes down Nick’s cousin, who had the misfortune to be wearing Nick’s distinctive wrap. Now Poirot’spersonal pride is at stake, and there is still Nick to protect…

Red herrings and side plots abound, but Poirot gets there in the end. It’s a beautifully constructed book, with the answer right in front of the reader from early in the book, concealed by some artful misdirection. The audiobook is read by Hugh Fraser. who plays Hastings in the tv series. Fraser is generally a good reader, but I found his portrayal of Poirot rather off-putting. He uses a very strong accent that in comparison with Suchet’s performance sounds like an overplayed stereotype. Of course, part of the problem here is that Suchet *is* Poirot for me, and anything else would sound wrong — and my subconscious attention is drawn to it because Hastings sounds right.

In spite of which, I enjoyed this 3 CD set a lot. The story has been abridged well, and I enjoy listening to Hugh Fraser. I happened to pick this up in The Works for four pounds, and think that it was superb value for money at that price. List price is 13 pounds, although the online shops are listing it for less. I might think twice about paying full price for others in the series because of my issue with Fraser’s portrayal of Poirot, but I wouldn’t have considered it a waste of money. One minor point with the cheap version offered in The Works — it’s a very simple case with only one spindle for the 3 CDs, so you have to lift the first discs out to get at the later discs, with an additional risk of scratching one eventually. It’s also available in download.

at Play.com
at the Book Depository

Book review: Sam Storyteller — Your Face Is Turned (Torchwood fanfic)

This is a slightly unusual entry in the book log — it’s fanfic. But it’s novel-length, and it’s very good, and as far as I’m concerned it belongs in the book log.

A while back Sam Storyteller posted a Whoniverse short story about Jack Harkness, I Were The Heavens, Rating: PG for language, Summary: A sixteen-year-old boy from Boeshane is going to win the war. The Time Agency has a vested interest in children like him — and so does the Admiral of the Fleet.

Now he’s posted a novel-length story about what happened next. And it’s set both just after that short story — and just before Children of Earth. But this is no simple fix-it fic. This is a carefully crafted consideration of time paradoxes, and the potential for damaging your own past/future. It’s difficult to discuss it in much detail without heading into spoiler territory, but suffice it to say that Jack Harkness’s convoluted timeline gives a distant future Jack a pressing reason to pull Ianto Jones into the 51st century — and it’s nothing to do with saving Ianto from an untimely death in the 21st century. Jack not only barely remembers Ianto, but to preserve the timeline will have to put Ianto back where he got him from once the job is done…

You’ll need to have at least some familiarity with the Torchwood universe to follow this story, but it’s a fine example of how good fanfic can be in the right hands.

Your Face Is Turned — part 1 of 9
Sam’s description:
Rating: R (more sex than you can shake a dick — a stick! I mean a stick! More sex than you can shake a stick at.)
Summary: Lo Boeshane has a promising career ahead of him as he enters his first year of Fleet Officer Training, but the war is still with him and life at Quantico Station can be difficult. Meanwhile, Ianto Jones is just trying to figure out why the Doctor kidnapped him to the fifty-first century and why Jack abandoned him at a school for the Fleet’s military elite. He suspects it may have something to do with Lo, but his attempts to help the troubled young veteran may damage his own timestream beyond repair.

book log — March 2010

Read in March:

12) Shamini Flint — Inspector Singh Investigates: A Most Peculiar Malaysian Mystery (reviewed on 14 March)
13) Ruth Rendell — Portobello (reviewed on 20 March)
14) Dan Abnett — Torchwood: Border Princes (reviewed on 1 April)
15) WJ Burley — Wycliffe and the Beales
16) WJ Burley — Wycliffe and the Last Rites
17) WJ Burley — Wycliffe and the Three Toed Pussy
18) WJ Burley — Wycliffe and the Guilt-Edged Alibi

and started but haven’t finished yet: WJ Burley — Wycliffe and the Redhead.

I’ll try to get the Wycliffe books reviewed over the next couple of weeks, but I’m busy so I’m not promising anything. Generally good, but there’s a nasty touch of homophobia in Three Toed Pussy (the oldest of the books) which is likely to be off-putting to many of those who read my posts.

Book review: Dan Abnett — Torchwood: Border Princes

It’s first season (pre-Countrycide, and probably pre-Cyberwoman), and Team Torchwood are doing their usual thing — but they have an extra member. James has recently joined the team, he fits in very well, and he’s conducting a romance with Gwen — not just a stress relief affair, but an actual romance that leads Gwen to think about how to finish gently with Rhys. He is, in short, a classic Mary-Sue figure for the first half of the book.

Since this is in series 1 continuity and thus we’re going to have a reset button pressed by the end of the book, it’s obvious from page one that there’s more to it than that. But the book’s more than just the unfolding story of who James really is and what he’s doing in Torchwood. This book does a nice job of showing the day to day work of Torchwood, and how it can often be a lot of little things, some tying together and others not. There is a definite main storyline, but there are other small stories entangled with that, and it’s not always clear to the reader which is which until it becomes clear to the characters. It does make the book feel a little choppy in places, but not in a bad way.

It’s competently written, there are some interesting ideas in it that develop aspects of the Torchwood universe, and I am particularly taken with the secondary character of Mr Dine. He’s an excellent study of a non-human character who is trying to blend in, and who understands humans just well enough to recognise how very limited his understanding is. He reminded me a lot of the character of Death in Pratchett’s Discworld.

But…

I’d have liked this book a lot more if I’d read it when it first came out, rather than after seeing all of series 1 to 3. It treats Rhys as a nuisance that Gwen stays with purely out of habit, rather than a man she loves but is tempted to stray from. This is just about compatible with series 1, but even in series 1 it’s pretty clear that Gwen’s affair with Owen is about the stresses of the job and the stress that puts on her relationship with Rhys, rather than because she actively wants rid of Rhys. The book portrays James as being the incentive Gwen needs to get on with ditching Rhys. While the eventual explanation for the presence of James might cover this, I don’t get the impression that this was the author’s intention. And for me this jars very badly with the Rhys/Gwen relationship as portrayed later in the series.

I suspect this is a reflection of the planned direction of the series at the time the writing brief was put together for the first trilogy of books (Rhys was originally supposed to be killed off in series 1), so I wouldn’t consider it to be bad writing, just something that I personally didn’t like.

The book focuses very strongly on James, Gwen, and Jack, with Owen and Toshiko getting less attention and Ianto being hardly present — again, reflecting the show over the first few episodes.

I felt that the other two books in the first trilogy were accessible to readers who weren’t already familiar with Torchwood, but I think this one would be much more difficult for someone new to the universe — and perhaps pointless, given that much of the story is about the reader’s understanding that James should not be there. If you’ve never seen Torchwood and want to pick up a book to see what the fuss is about, this isn’t the one to start with.

In spite of my criticisms, I’m glad I read it. It’s just not the one I’d pick up first for a re-read.

The book is also avilable in an (abridged?) audiobook read by Eve Myles, which I haven’t heard.

LibraryThing entry
Play (print)
Play (audiobook)
The Book Depository (print)
The Book Depository (audiobook)