Review: Doctor Who Dark Horizons by Jenny T. Colgan

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“We need to reach out. We need to continue the line…”

On a windswept northern shore, the islanders believe the worst they have to fear is a Viking attack. Then the burning comes. Water will not stop it. It consumes everything in its path – yet the burned still speak.

The Doctor encounters a people under attack from a power they cannot possibly understand. They have no weapons, no strategy and no protection against a fire sent to engulf them all. The islanders must take on a ruthless alien force in a world without technology; but at least they have the Doctor on their side… Don’t they?

A thrilling adventure starring the Doctor, as played by Matt Smith.

I don’t often read TV tie-in fiction these days; this is not due to any snobbishness on my part – goodness knows I spent many hours reading endless Star Trek novels as a teenager – but more due to the towering and oppressive presence that is my TBR pile. So I was quite pleased to receive a copy of Jenny T. Colgan’s Dark Horizons, almost as a nostalgic step back to my younger self, scanning the library shelves for anything related to my favourite TV programmes. I would count myself as a fan of Doctor Who, swept back into it with everyone else in 2005, and Matt Smith is my favourite Doctor. There, I’ve said it. I have had my problems with some of the recent series, and those were mainly down to the running time; way too short, I felt, to really get some meat on the Doctor’s stories. Perhaps, I thought, a book will give him more breathing space.

And I was right. It feels like a real indulgence to read a Doctor Who story that really has room to spread out, time to let you get to know all the characters. Colgan does an excellent job of introducing you to them – the Viking raiders and the villagers scratching out a living on a remote piece of coast – before letting you get under their skin, and really come to care for them. I grew particularly fond of Freydis, a prickly, brave Viking princess fighting against the life she’s being thrown into, and Henrik, the young Viking lad who could so easily be a companion for the Doctor (and who thinks the TARDIS makes a terrible ship).

The star of the show for me (as ever) was Colgan’s Eleventh Doctor. He’s full of humour, and kindness, and slight exasperation with humanity, and his attempts to get the Vikings and the villagers to play nicely are as pleasing as you’d expect. There are flashes of the sterner Doctor as he tries desperately to reason with the alien entity causing chaos and death, alongside the Doctor’s willingness to put himself in danger for the sake of others. It was refreshing to see Eleven free from companions for a while too, demonstrating that he can carry a story perfectly well by himself, and there were plenty of little in-jokes and references for fans.

All in all Doctor Who: Dark Horizons is a satisfying romp of a Who novel, with a strong and utterly convincing Eleventh Doctor. I thoroughly enjoyed being immersed in the Whoniverse for longer than the usual forty minutes.

Win a Copy of Doctor Who: Dark Horizons by Jenny T. Colgan

Right, so you remember a little while ago I wrote a blog post about Doctor Who; specifically, how we needed more women writing it before the Doctor regenerated into a woman? It was, alarmingly, one of the most popular posts I’ve ever done.

Well, today sees the launch of Doctor Who: Dark Horizons by Jenny T. Colgan, an Eleventh Doctor story featuring Vikings, mysterious goings on, and the Doctor’s ongoing quest for a decent chess game and a reasonable cup of tea. Check out the blurb below:

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“We need to reach out. We need to continue the line…”

On a windswept northern shore, the islanders believe the worst they have to fear is a Viking attack. Then the burning comes. Water will not stop it. It consumes everything in its path – yet the burned still speak.

The Doctor encounters a people under attack from a power they cannot possibly understand. They have no weapons, no strategy and no protection against a fire sent to engulf them all. The islanders must take on a ruthless alien force in a world without technology; but at least they have the Doctor on their side… Don’t they?

I’m reading it myself at the moment – Dark Horizons is very fast paced and funny, and Colgan totally gets Eleven. It’s reminding me why he’s my favourite Doctor (review to follow on later!)

I have a copy of Dark Horizons to give away, and because I haven’t really done a competition on here before, there’s going to be two ways to win! Hooray! You can either find me on twitter (@sennydreadful) and retweet my Doctor Who competition tweet, or you can leave a comment on this blog. Tell me your favourite Doctor Who moment. The winner will be picked randomly tomorrow and I’ll pop it in the post to you! (UK only, I’m afraid)

So go go go!

Being a Geek, Being an Angry Geek, and Being a Tiresome Assclown

Gandm

You know, I am quite proud to be a geek. I grew up a geek, with my glasses and my Star Trek novelizations tucked under one arm, and yeah, I got bullied for it, but it didn’t stop me. And these days being labelled a geek isn’t the insult it once was – we rule the cinema listings and reading comics is cool now – and yes, I am proud to be a geek.

I see being a geek as being filled with enthusiasm for something. Loving a thing so much – loving a story, essentially – that you want to know all the details of it, that you spend time discussing it and pondering the history of that story and its future. You surround yourself with stuff that takes you to that story in an instant; this is why my desk currently features action figures of Garrus, Marcus Fenix, Duncan from Dragon Age, and The Chamberlain from The Dark Crystal. It’s why above my desk there is artwork from Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and the Discworld books.

I love being a geek, and I consider other geeks to be an extended family. My people, if you will.

Which is why I’m filled with dismay when fandom seems to tip over into trolling. Yes, we’ve all had our moments of being horribly disappointed with where the story you love is going. Anyone who knew me a few years ago knows all about my extreme upset over the end of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. I threw the book across the room, I wrote essays on how outraged I was. I had, in short, a tantrum of silly proportions. I didn’t like Prometheus either, and spent days afterwards listing all the many ways in which it didn’t make sense. But…

But at no point did I seek out the creators of those things to hurl abuse at them. Why not? Because that’s not what being a geek is about. If I can have a moment to be a little bit soft? Being a geek is about love, not hate.

There’s nothing wrong with being disappointed or even angry. Of course not. Rant about it all you like. Sometimes we get angry because we love something so much – my anger over the end of the Dark Tower was all about how much love I’d put into the series. But there is a line that once crossed means you are actually behaving like a pissy little child with poopy pants. A pissy little brat that enjoys bitching about something and spreading misery, more than they ever enjoyed the story. I didn’t spend secondary school being bullied for that to be part of being a geek, thank you very much.

So, you know what? To me, these people aren’t geeks. I take that label, the label that means so much to me, away from them, and instead give them the title of Tiresome Assclowns. Geekdom is better than that.

The Most Important Question in Geekdom :o

Today I must ask you the most important question in geekdom. Are you ready? Okay. Brace yourself.

Place the following science-fiction franchises in order of greatness:

Star Trek

Star Wars

Doctor Who

You might be able to guess my own preferences by the order in which I have already placed them, but here are some points to consider.

All three have been hugely influential to the field. All three have die-hard fans who are able to quote reams of dialogue, episode names, and inside leg measurements of lead actors. All three are pretty bloody brilliant, in my opinion.

All three have also had their dodgy moments. I grew up with the TNG crew and learnt to love the Original series of Star Trek, but gawd help me I am still to this day violently bored within minutes of most DS9 episodes, and I never felt like Enterprise was really Star Trek (Voyager is a sort of guilty pleasure; yes there was a lot of dreck but when it’s on I find myself strangely drawn to it…).

Star Wars- well, do I need to tell you where the crap set in? Jar Jar Binks and midichlorians and jedi moppets. The original trilogy gave us three of the best films ever made, and had an immeasurable impact on cinema and science-fiction in general. The prequels gave us boredom, disappointment and enough cringing to cause cramp.

As someone quite wise and possibly drunk pointed out to me a while ago, at its worst Doctor Who is a “bit silly”. At its best, it is some of the most thought provoking science-fiction we have on our telly. I don’t have the connection to Who that most fans will have, since I only saw two episodes of the McCoy Doctor growing up, and they scared the wotsits out of me, but I am a fan of the newer incarnations, which have done a fantastic job of creating future geeks in the children brave enough to watch it. Who has been going for so long that of course it has it’s weak moments, that for my mind largely involve female companions in questionable clothes running along bumpy quarries, and having witnessed the episode that is Delta and the Bannermen, I’m amazed anyone ever watched it again.

But yes. Three of the greats- I ask you, which is the greatest?

Alt Fiction 2010

So this weekend gone was Alt Fiction weekend, and a marvellous time was had by all.

I won’t say too much about it, because I suspect it has already been blogged to infinity and back by better bloggers than I, but I will just run down a few personal highlights.

This was the first “big” convention I’d been to, and I don’t think I could have chosen a better one to start with- it was well organised, with no huge geek pile-ups, and plenty of room for people to sit comfortably in all the talks, and there was a general relaxed atmosphere that added to the friendliness of the event. There was a cafe/bar on the ground floor that served as a great “Let’s have a bit of a rest here and oh, go and talk to so and so…” area, and we ended up spending a remarkably long day having quite a jolly old time.

Things I particularly enjoyed:

Pete Crowther (publisher and writer and apparently very lovely chap) introduced the con, and then appeared on many panels, and was immediately tremendously friendly and enthusiastic. I think I could have happily followed him from panel to panel all day and had a most informative and enjoyable time.

The Hack and Slash vs Sparkly Vampires panel, where Kari Spelling (fantasy author and fan of duels) described the Angry Boner Man character apparently very popular in Paranormal Romance. I had no idea about Angry Boner Man, but described in that way I suddenly am able to spot Angry Boner Man cropping up everywhere. So to speak.

The How to Get Published Panel, which featured lots of great advice from John Jarrold and Stephen Jones and others. It was both inspiring and vaguely terrifying, realising not just how much work was involved, but also how much luck is needed to get anywhere. I’m not sure if I was exhilarated or depressed coming out of that discussion, but I did feel like I had more of an idea of how the whole thing works. (Jon Weir was on the panel too, that nice young man from Gollancz, and I had that creeping feeling of “Oh no, I’m fairly sure I spoke to you before when I was quite drunk….”)

And then there was the general chatting and meeting of people that forms so much of these things, all of which was a delight. I was tremendously impressed by the lovely hair of Mark Charon Newton (the charming author of Nights of Villjamur) , and amazed that Simon Guerrier (writes lots of things, but most excitingly for me, Being Human books) remembered talking to me at a previous thingy (again, I was quite drunk). I met the lovely Alasdair Stuart (The Hub and Angry Robot Books) while I was rather over excitedly buying a copy of Black Static and had a groovy chat about short story writing. And I am pleased to tell you that Paul Cornell (Doctor Who, comics, Pulse… many many things) likes the name of this blog. So there you go.

A great weekend, and in truth, there were too many lovely moments to list them all here. But a big thank you to everyone who took the time to have a chat with me, and I hope to not be quite so painfully shy at the next one.

Fish Custard

(there may be one very mild possible spoiler in this- not as in plot but as in “funny thing that happened”- you have been warned!)

A rare thing is happening across the internet at the moment- the Doctor Who fandom is in a good mood.

I know, weird, isn’t it? I dabble in fandom a little, as I don’t seem to have the real dedication it takes to stick to one or the other (I did once, in my Star Trek TNG and X-Files days, and oh my, there was fanart, oh yes) so I tend to be an observer more than anything. One of the conclusions I have made over the years is that hands down, Dr Who fandom is the grumpiest out there. You can forget your Harry Potter shipping wars, the shitstorm over the Avatar casting (Airbenders, not smurfs), Doctor Who fans can create a boiling sea of hatred just over a logo, for goodness sake.

There are certain science-fiction forums where the Who thread is a sort of no go area for casual fans, and the podcasting politics is mindboggling. But, let’s be fair, I have always forgiven them this. After all, of most fandoms, Who fans have had the roughest of deals. It has an epic history, and being a tv programme about time travel, the continuity is a glorious migraine inducer. During the Sylvester McCoy years it was largely ignored (possibly with good reason) and just when it started to find it’s feet again, it was cancelled. Then there were the wilderness years, where fans kept the spirit of the show alive through their own enthusiasm for it, and never quite gave up hope that it would be back in one form or another. In all of geekdom, the Who fans deserve the greatest credit for utter dedication.

So on Saturday night, Matt Smith had his debut episode as the Doctor, and you know what? I don’t know of anyone who didn’t absolutely love it. Well, maybe there are a few out there who just really thoroughly enjoyed it, but largely the Who fandom is currently basking in a warm glow of decent story telling and witty writing, that they can all agree on. Almost. It’s a beautiful thing.

And if you need to ask, I loved it too. My patience has been stretched thin in the past by RTD’s boomy music, nonsensical plots and Jesus-esque Doctor, but both Matt Smith and the story of Eleventh Hour were a joy. We’re back to clever writing, a story that is both fun and scary, and a Doctor who is both bonkers and confident. And Smith does have very lovely hair.

(The only voice of whinging so far has been, surprise surprise, the Daily Mail, although I’m not sure their article on it counts as a review as such. It was largely about the HUGELY scandalous fact that Amy Pond is a kissagram, and wore a short skirt. SWEET JESUS WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?! There were also some eyebrows raised over Amy watching the Doctor get undressed, because god forbid anyone see a woman finding a man attractive… I mean, where will it end?! Certainly men have never been depicted as drooling over young girls, because that never happens… Honestly though, how sad that the Daily Mail (or more accurately, the readers of the Daily Mail) find the idea of a young woman with a sex drive so distressing. Yet again, I wish the Daily Crapfest would disappear up it’s own bumhole)

You deductive motherfucker, you.

Here then, is a blog about bits and pieces and things, and not about writing, for the time being.

I think I’ve figured out what makes The Wire so good*. I mean sort of aside from the acting and the wit and the sexy theme tune. It’s the complete and utter lack of any needless exposition. At no point do you find any characters sitting around discussing the plot or what has happened in the previous episodes, in a handy summary so you can catch up or refresh your tired brain. In fact, The Wire moves at such a zippy speed, and the characters are so realistic in their chatter that it’s actually a real bloody effort to keep up with what’s going on (I’ve heard of people watching it with the subtitles on, and to be honest I don’t blame them). The Wire, in fact, doesn’t care if you can keep up with it or not, it just tells its story at a breakneck speed and gets on with it. Or perhaps it actually credits you with the intelligence to figure it out; even if you didn’t quite figure out the significance of that scene, or catch on to who’s who just yet, it knows you’ll get there in the end, and that it’ll be a more exciting ride for all the complexities.
And that’s why it feels so different too. So much of our drama is so clearly signposted with exposition and foreshadowing that I’m surprised they don’t give out instructional guides with each programme. Taking an example at random *ahem* Doctor Who suffers from apparently being written for very tiny children much of the time. Alright, yes, kid’s programme, and I know comparing Doctor Who to The Wire makes absolutely no sense at all, but so often NuWho (hate that phrase) is written with a big pink crayon, with no acknowledgment of the intelligence of the viewer. Yes, kids are clever. Particularly the ones who watch Doctor Who. Perhaps it would be nice if Who surprised us with a plot that was difficult to understand because it was complex, and not because it just makes no bloody sense (the recent special being a case in point).

Anyway. I did not mean this to be a rant about Doctor Who. What I meant to say is; The Wire is excellent because it treats you like you have a brain, and more of that please.

*I am aware, by the way, that I am late to the Wire party and it’s been out years and so on. I don’t have proper telly, alright? ;p