Tuesday, June 29, 2021

False Value, by Ben Aaronovitch

What a delight to be back in the world of Rivers of London, two years after I read the novella October Man and little more than that since the last novel, Lies Sleeping. This new one starts with the dread prospect that our hero Peter Grant has left the police force and gone into IT - but inevitably things aren't quite what they seem.

The plot involves the threat posed by 3D printing when baddies can make their own guns, and the threat of drones. This is all about IT getting out of hand and taking us into uncharted waters. On top of that, it looks like Peter's new bosses are developing some kind of artificial intelligence...

As usual, what follows is a fast-paced, engaging thriller full of quick wit and telling detail. Peter is surrounded by an ever-growing coterie, as more and more people are brought in on the secret that there is magic in the world. It's a considerable skill to make so many characters distinct and memorable, and despite it being two years since I was last in this story, it's like picking up with good friends - as if no time has passed at all. 

Many of the previous books have been part of a larger story which reached something of a conclusion in the last one, so False Value feels refreshingly new and standalone - for all there are threads to be picked up down the line. And how satisfying to finally learn what happened to Nightingale and the other British wizards during the war. Yes, that's the very word right there. The book is exciting, smart and fun, perfectly executed to leave the reader sated.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Doctor Who Magazine #566

There is quite a lot of me in the new issue of Doctor Who Magazine:

FIRST BASE sees clever Gav Rymill recreate the studio sets of another missing episode, this time Episode 4 of The Tenth Planet (1966). Me and Rhys Williams write the accompanying text, detailing how the clever production team ensured that the departure of William Hartnell was not the death of Doctor Who...

BEAUTY AND HORROR is about the Radio 3 Afternoon Concert of TV music that included the first performance of cues from Richard Rodney Bennett's score for The Aztecs since 1964. I spoke to presented Matthew Sweet and percussionist Alasdair Malloy.

COMING SOON... includes a two-page feature on my forthcoming audiobook Scourge of the Cybermen, with producer David Richardson explaining how the range came about and me wittering on about what inspired my story.

SUFFICIENT DATA boasts another infographic by Ben Morris and written by me, this time on the theme of apples seen on mentioned in the whole history of Doctor Who. "That might be fun," I thought when I first suggested it. And then went slightly loopy researching it all...

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Scourge blurb

Doctor Who and the Scourge of the Cybermen, the six-hour audiobook written by me and read by Jon Culshaw, is out next month. Here's the blurb:

In the depths of the ocean on an alien world, there’s a city run by scientists. The Doctor is only too eager to help them find new ways to counter pollution and produce entirely clean energy - research that he says will benefit the whole galaxy. But others have recognised the value of the sea base, and their interest is not so benign…

Left to her own devices, Sarah Jane Smith conducts her own investigation. The lights on the base keep flickering, which back home on Earth was the first sign that her bathroom was leaking. Out here in the depths of the alien sea, it’s the first indication of a looming disaster.

Patiently, implacably, the Cybermen are determined to conquer the base and its resources. That includes all the men, women and children who live there.

As the Doctor once again battles his old enemies, Sarah rallies the trapped and terrified people. Then, to her horror, she realises that the Cybermen have used cold logic to predict exactly what the humans will do in order to survive...

This enhanced audiobook features specially composed music and sound effects. This adventure takes place between the TV stories Death to the Daleks and The Monster of Peladon.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

A Thousand Ships, by Natalie Haynes

"This was never the story of one woman, or two. It was the story of all of them. A war does not ignore half the people whose lives it touches. So why do we?" (p. 339)

I've taken my time over this excellent retelling of the Trojan War from the perspective of the women involved, not least because it's at times a gruelling read, full of cruelty and loss.  There's a sequence in which Andromache begs for the life of her baby son, Astyanax, who the Greeks fear will grow up wishing vengeance for the death of his father Hector. Andromache ventures one means after another by which to avoid her baby being hurled from the walls of the city - she will bring him up with no knowledge of his history, or to hate his late father, or she will kill him herself - all to no avail. Or there's Iphigenia. Or Cassandra. Or the dignity of Penelope when, even after the war is over, her husband fails to come home.

There are so many women and perspectives we cover a great deal of ground, piecing together the war, its causes and aftermath, as the Greek survivors stagger home to their various fates. Haynes says some of this is based on surviving ancient texts, some her own invention, and having enjoyed it as a novel I'd now like to reread it as historiography, with extensive footnotes on sources. 

It's also interesting to read this relatively soon after Pat Barker's The Silence of the Girls, which did something similar but largely from one female gaze. Here, we're in the heads of goddesses, royals and servants - in some cases royals who are then enslaved. It all adds to the richness of the story, and the overpowering sense of horror in what befalls these myriad people.

As Haynes says in her afterword, we tend to think of the Age of Heroes as referring to men, but the women are no less heroic. She makes a good argument against claims that heroes must fight, given that Achilles is no less a hero for spending most of the Trojan War in a sulk. It's got me thinking about the way stories are framed and told more widely. So often the domestic and the epic are treated as if they're opposites; Haynes ably demonstrates how they intertwine. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Vortex 148

Among the treats in the latest issue of Big Finish's free in-house magazine Vortex there is "Metal Strain", a feature on my forthcoming Doctor Who audiobook Scourge of the Cybermen - interviewing me, producer David Richardson and reader Jon Culshaw. I seem to have been quite enthused when I spoke to editor Kenny Smith:

"It was brilliant [ to write for the Cybermen]! I’ve written Daleks, Sontarans, Ogrons and even Vardans but was keen to do Cybermen because the TV episode Earthshock made such an impression on me as a kid. I watched The Invasion on DVD, as that was their last appearance before my story, and then listened to the audiobook of Ian Marter’s novelisation. I also re-read David Banks’s book Cybermen for a sense of the lore around them. But as I say, the main thing was that vivid description of them in [the prologue of] Doctor Who and the Cybermen. Knowing that Nick [Briggs] would be voicing them also helped, as I knew he’d make them authentic.”

Sunday, June 06, 2021

Boy in the Tower, by Polly Ho-Yen

My nine year-old son recommended this as an audiobook for a long drive, having been set it as a class reading book in both his school in south London last year and then his new school when we moved up north. He was amazed to discover that it's from 2015, so not written during - and about - lockdown, and I can see why. It also predates the Grenfell fire but feels like a comment on that, too.

It's told by schoolboy Ade, who does the shopping and chores for his agoraphobic mum, who just wants to sleep all day in their high-rise flat in south London. We follow Ade's struggles at school, his friends and enemies. It's all very well observed by Ho-Yen, a former teacher.

And then there's something else - a local building collapses, then another... and then more, sometimes with people inside. Bit by bit, the recognisable, identifiable world of school and shops is taken over by a crisis right out of John Wyndham. By midway, Ade is trapped in his high rise, which is itself under threat, and the rest of the book is taken up with his efforts to survive in the scary new normal that is now.

The prose style is straight forward but full of telling detail and strong emotion, with Ade having to navigate the traumatised but persevering grown-ups. There are some terrifying, vivid scenes such as when Ade ventures out beyond the safety of the block. I also liked the more subtle stuff: Ade sometimes doesn't quite understand what he has witnessed but we do - such as when, towards the end, we learn the cause of his mum's condition.

Really, what makes this so compelling is not the nightmare world conjured but the effort of people to look out for one another in the midst of awful crisis. The sort of book to linger in your thoughts and dreams long afterward, haunting a whole generation.