Wednesday, 1 April 2015

SEASONS OF WAR: Tales From A Time War - ed. Declan May (2015) PART 7

[Seasons of War is a charity Doctor Who short story collection, edited by Declan May, with all proceeds going to the Cauldwell Children charity.  It's a long book, with a lot of stories, so I'll be reviewing it in chunks of 4-6 stories at a time over the next week or so...]

A few years back I picked up Nick Mellish’s self-published short story collection on Lulu, and was pleasantly surprised by the very individual prose voice he turned out to have.   In the intervening years, Mellish has improved as a writer (not that he was a bad one before), but that gift of unusual phrasing has clearly stuck with him – lines of dialogue like ‘Princess in blue, run with me
’, and sentences like ‘it would catch me, stun me, and either kill me or take me off to the camps where I would work until death, and even then they would probably find a job for my soul’ are sprinkled across the pages of ‘Making Endings’ to its great benefit. The story itself is also very well done – just when you think it’s one thing, it turns out to be another, and then a slightly different other still, and then it’s all done, and I found myself at the end feeling both happy and sad, just like a really good story always does.  Suddenly I find myself wondering where my copy of that Lulu collection might be…
‘The Book of the Dead’ by David Carrington sees the return of Jenny Shirt (who, frankly, I’m starting to think of as a tv companion I’d somehow managed to forget about – and if that’s not a pleasingly ironic piece of post-modern shenanigans in a book about the War Doctor then I don’t know what is).  This is good, as she’s a splendid character, with more personality than all but the very best tv assistants, but better still is the idea – introduced early on – of a library inside a majestic oak tree.  That, let us be clear, is the sort of image to win over the heart of this particular bibliophile reviewer!  Packed with splendidly wild ideas and images – I especially liked the proposed plant Daleks – this is good, solid Doctor Who writing, of the sort that the Big Finish Short Trips collections used to do, at their very best.  
On the surface, it’d be very easy – and very simplistic – to see ‘Driftwood’ by Simon Brett as something too similar to the tv episodes ‘Into the Dalek’ and ‘Dalek’, featuring as it does a Dalek apparently turned into something else, something less Dalek-y.  But that’d be wrong – this Dalek, Azrael as the non-Daleks call him, is more than just a prisoner or an enemy.  Named after the Muslim Angel of Death, I was unexpectedly reminded of Dante’s Satan, trapped deep in the ice at the centre of Hell, or even Milton’s deceiving, poetic devil – and if that seems pretentious, well even if it is, it’s no less true for all that.  As the story progresses, little clues build up, pointing the reader in one interesting direction, only for Brett to surprise every one (well, me anyway!) by carrying out a sneaky, and damn clever, side step at the last moment. Another high point in an altogether stellar collection… to buy the ebook.  There's a paperback (and reviews of the next few stories) yet to come...

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