Thursday, 9 April 2015

SEASONS OF WAR: Tales From A Time War - ed. Declan May (2015) PART 10

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

Quite a few of the stories in this book are pretty large scale, with whole planets under threat and entire armies wiped out.  That's an unavoidable consequence of putting together a large amount of stories about a War which spans all of space and time, but even so, it's a pleasure now and then to come across something slightly more small-scale (in a good way).  'Storage Wars' by Paul Driscoll manages to be both at once, which is the best combination of all, if you ask me.  Small scale, as the title suggests, in that this is a tale about something found in a Totters Lane junkyard and sold on a trashy bit of daytime tv schedule filler.  Small too in that the Doctor at this point in his life is living as a near tramp in central London, apparently taking a break from the War.  Small, finally, in the sense that the whole story revolves around a payment of a  mere six grand and possession of a child's toy, not millions of pounds or billions of mazumas or whatever.  But there's also a grandeur in here, with the genocide of one species reversed and the Doctor rejecting a weapon against the Daleks because it would require that genocide to work.  There's paradox too, most obviously in Ruby's desire to weaponise something tiny in order to destroy something huge, but also in the War Doctor - in spite of his name - choosing beauty over destruction.  And finally, there's some really nasty stuff, as befits a book about a war - burned corpses and unmarked graves and human nature shown to be less than the ideal.  A lovely story composed of layer upon layer of meaning, and an impressive achievement all round.

There's a point in John Davies' 'The Postman' in which the author intertwines several disaprate time lines into one action-packed sequence.  It works pretty successfully, and serves as a micro-version of the story as a whole, but it also marks the point at which Davies cuts the legs from under the reader and what seemed on the surface, at the beginning, to be a fairly jolly, at times humorous, story becomes something black as hell.  It's not the first story in this collection to be comfortable with the grim, but - more even than Daniel Wealands - this is brutal, brutal stuff.  It's hard to say much withut giving thigns away, but remember that the postman of the title is one of the type who deliver black edged telegrams to waiting mothers and fathers and you get the idea.  Might just be me, but I found this enormously moving and the timey-wimey sequence painfully sad.  As with every other story, this is well-written, cleverly plotted and entirely affecting.

If I'm honest, I'm not sure how I feel about 'the Thief of All Ways' by Elliot Thorpe.   For the first time in the book - even allowing for the grimness of elements of the previous story - it feels like this is not in anyway the Doctor I know and love.  This guy is an unknown now, sacrificing lives without really looking for an alternative, and then expecting the victims to thank him later.  It's deliberate, of course, and the author does indeed have the victim say 'thank you' and then acknowledge that in some way what the Doctor is being 'forced' to do is the 'right' thing - "The Daleks would have used me in ways I can’t even imagine. That’s a more horrifying thought than this...and it means I can at least do something right." she says at one point - but I found the former in particular a lot less believable as a sentiment than the"No! Wait! Please!" she cries out when the time actually comes.  It's hard to deny the maturity of this writing though - noble self-sacrifice is a lot easier when it doesn't look as though it'll be required, and panic when the moment comes is a perfectly normal human reaction.  But the 'thank you' at the end is, I think, a mis-step - more of a way of quickly re-humanising this callous, killer Doctor than a genuinely plausible reaction from someone who's just been murdered, effectively (and the entire story, of course, comes just a heartbeat after Paul Driscoll's very different take on the Doctor and his willingness to compromise his core values).  Like I said, I'm a bit conflicted about this one, but it did make me think and sometimes there's no greater praise you can give a story. to buy the ebook.  There's a paperback (and reviews of the next few stories) yet to come..

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