Friday, 20 February 2015

SEASONS OF WAR: Tales From A Time War - ed. Declan May (2015) PART 5

[Seasons of War is a charity Doctor Who short story collection, edited by Declan May, with all proceeds going to the Caudwell 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…]

It’s no surprise, given the comparatively little we see on screen of the War Doctor and his own description of himself, that most authors in this collection have opted to portray a dark and troubled figure, either a flint-hard soldier with the greater good always in mind, or a weary old soldier, longing for the end of the fighting.  Lance Parkin, predictably, chooses a different path altogether, and shows us a War Doctor who remains recognisably ‘our’ Doctor, a cunning trickster choosing the most sensible path, even if that means very slightly helping the Dalek war effort.  It’s a clever inversion of expectation – the reader gets to the end of the story, thinking Parkin hasn’t brought his A game (‘of course it must be a trick – we know how these types of stories go!’) and then has the carpet swept from under him and the expected twist turns out to be a straighten after all, and the better for it.  A nice switch in tone, just as the reader thinks he could do with a change from all these piles of bodies.

Like Christopher Bryant earlier on, Sami Kelish is a name new to me, but one I’m very keen to see again.  A complete change of pace from even Lance Parkin’s story, ‘Gardening’ does exactly what it says on the tin.  A quiet, small story of one woman and her garden, this is beautifully written (reminiscent, for me, of Mags Halliday’s lovely writing style), with what is probably the most three dimensional character in the book so far.  Kelish’s War Doctor falls somewhere between young street fighter and weary veteran, but – as with Parkin’s story – I really was ready for a gentler, less cold-blooded hero for a story or two.  Kudos to the editor for providing this brief oasis, and to the author for crafting so engaging a heroine.

Having said that, I’m inclined, if I’m being honest, to both criticise and praise the editorial work on the next story up, ‘Sleepwalking to Paradise’ by Dan Barrett.  Which is not to say that the story is poor – anything but.  It’s impressively layered and plotted, with several competing stands of action, at least two clever twists, and an ending which left me making an actual noise of surprise and pleasure at the author’s cleverness in staying true to the character, rather than providing a pat and easy ending.  Editor Declan May deserves credit then both for allowing the story to take up the space it requires (it’s quite a long tale) and for using this story at the edges of the War to gently slide the reader back into the conflict after two more pastoral stories.  Where I might perhaps quibble a little is that, following on from a story called and about gardening, the last thousand words of this story are very similar in tone to much of that story, as a character describes her garden using pretty similar phrases in each.  A very minor quibble, in truth, which swapping Parkin and Kelish’s stories round n the running order would fix in a trice (if it needs fixing at all – it may be I’m enjoying this anthology so much that I’m now looking for things to moan about, in order to keep my curmudgeonly reputation intact!) to buy the ebook.  There's a paperback (and reviews of the next few stories) yet to come...

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