‘Dreams of Empire’

RICHARDS, Justin. Dreams of Empire. 1998.

‘On a barren asteroid, the once-mighty Haddron Empire is on the brink of collapse, torn apart by civil war. The one man who might have saved it languishes in prison, his enemies planning his death and his friends plotting his escape.’

BBC Books – The Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Collection (2013)

BBC Books – The Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Collection (2013)

With the long wait for the new season of Doctor Who one has to find ways to get input from the Whoniverse other than the Christmas special and the —too short— spin-off Class [By the way: Matteusz, the gay Polish character. What’s not to love? Well, probably the wrong spelling of the name, as it should be Mateusz.]

Back to the book, Justin Richards succeeded in capturing the essence of the second Doctor era. Those who have watched the black and white episodes will see the characters move in their minds and hear their voices as if it were one of the lost episodes.

However, this is not one of those stories only for fans of the show. Anyone who’s never even heard of Doctor Who can enjoy it, since there’s neither complex time travelling nor references to the Whoniverse apart from the —mandatory— presence of the Doctor and his two companions.

Dreams of Empire is the story of a political conflict that could easily become a military one. The game of chess is present throughout the book both explicitly and implicitly as metaphors. It is not by chance, for strategy is key to the plot. Moreover, the Doctor is not the saviour he’s nowadays, but just a moderate aid to the characters who actually own the story, which is more entertaining and believable.

To sum up, read it, it’s a good one.

‘In the Country of Last Things’

AUSTER, Paul. In the Country of Last Things. 1987.

‘This is the story of Anna Blume and her journey to find her lost brother, William, in the unnamed City. Like the City itself, however, it is a journey that is doomed, and so all that is left is Anna’s written account of what happened.’

Faber and Faber’s 2005 edition

Faber and Faber’s 2005 edition

A decade ago a friend joined me on a trip to the bookshop and recommended to buy something by Paul Auster. And I did. Only, I hadn’t opened it until this year. As the synopsis on the back cover says, this is a story of a hopeless enterprise in a hopeless place with little to no expectations of success.

From the very first page, the narrator describes the struggling life in the decaying City. At first, I was under the impression that it was an over-dramatic analysis of any city. As I read on and learned new facts, I realised it was the depiction of a specific post-apocalyptic City isolated from the rest of the world. It didn’t look like the happy-ending type of books—and I loved that.

A strong point of the book is that Auster keeps it real—within the fiction—and doesn’t try to explain everything. The reader never gets to know what happened to the City to start with or what the fate of different characters is after they separate from the main character, or even Anna’s own future. The novel is the letter she wrote and it can only tell what she knew and experienced until the moment she wrote the last line.

It also contains lots of food for thought. Isolated post-apocalyptic cities where people are trapped and lead miserable lives while the rest of the uncaring world remains the same are not that fictional after all.

‘The Colour of Magic’

PRATCHETT, Terry. The Colour of Magic. 1983.

‘On a world supported on the back of a giant turtle (sex unknown), a gleeful, explosive, wickedly eccentric expedition sets out. There’s an avaricious but inept wizard, a naive tourist whose luggage moves on hundreds of little legs, dragons who only exist if you believe in them, and of course THE EDGE of the planet…’

Corgi Book's edition

Corgi Book’s edition

Having read and enjoyed Making Money, which was neither the first Discworld novel nor even the first of Moist von Lipwig saga; it was about time I read The Colour of Magic, the very first Discworld novel. Although the publishing order is not relevant to follow the plot of the individual books, it surely provides the background to better understand references in the books and the Discworld universe.

This novel sets the starting point for a well known collection offering the basic details on how Discworld works and the common knowledge of its inhabitants. It also introduces a style that mixes fantasy with our contemporary reality and somehow uses humorous fantasy to depict real-life issues—as I said almost four years ago.

Some argue that The Colour of Magic is not the best book by Terry Pratchett. It doesn’t need to be. After all, it’s the first of many and you’d expect him to develop and improve that particular style with time—otherwise readers would complain about a decrease of quality.

Finally, this book is divided in several shorter stories, all of them following the previous one and, nevertheless, very different from it in many aspects. And the plot is simple enough not to scare away the average reader, but not as simple as to bore hardcore geeks. This and all the aforementioned make it a great novel that could be either a nice one-off or the gate to a huge new universe.

‘Ten Little Aliens’

COLE, Stephen. Ten Little Aliens. 2002.

‘Deep in the heart of a hollowed-out moon the First Doctor finds a chilling secret: ten alien corpses, frozen in time at the moment of their death. […] But is the same force that killed them still lurking in the dark? And what are its plans for the people of Earth?’

BBC Books – The Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Collection (2013)

BBC Books – The Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Collection (2013)

It’s been a year since I last reviewed a Doctor Who novel. But after reading some new Doctors, I’ve gone back to the beginning, to the first regeneration of the time lord (again, it’s just a species; I’m not using capital letters).

Although the original TV show was a bit slow and had a low budget–if any–, the book format allows the mind to give it the right pace and imagine unlimited details. It’s also nice to enjoy new stories with classic characters.

Satisfied as I may sound, there were two bits I didn’t enjoy that much. Firstly, the author decided to add some pages with the background of the ten characters in this story. I’m sure it was a great document for him while writing, but the reader can’t absorb that amount of information in chapter one.

Also, there’s this part close to the end that resembles a Choose Your Own Adventure. It is an effective way to convey the confusion the characters are experiencing. However, at that point of the story I don’t want to be confused and have to check all pages several times to make sure I’m not missing anything.

What struck me as a surprise was the very graphic details about some deaths. I wouldn’t expect explicit violence in Doctor Who, a family show. But again, this is a different format, one that kids won’t explore yet.

The book as whole–in spite of the two annoying bits–is ok. On the other side, it lacks interest if you’re not into Doctor Who.

‘The Gates’

CONNOLLY, John. The Gates. 2009.

‘[…] only Samuel’s dog, Boswell, truly understands him. Oh, and as if things couldn’t get any worse, Samuel’s neighbours, led by the villainous Mrs Abernathy, are trying to open the gates of hell. […] Now the fate of humanity lies in the hands of one small boy, an even smaller dog, and a very unlucky demon named Nurd…’

Hodder & Stoughton’s edition, 2010

Hodder & Stoughton’s edition, 2010

Yes, the summary on the back cover is pretty much the whole plot. With any other tiny detail it could be considered a proper spoiler. On the other side, this book is not about the story, but the style. Despite the image on its cover, this is a humour novel with little horror in it. Expect something on the lines of Beetlejuice or The Nightmare before Christmas.

Surprisingly enough, there’s even some physics included. Connolly resolved to treat the travelling between Earth and hell as a proper black hole/wormhole crossing between universes. Thus there are particle accelerators and scientists trying to make sense of it. However, although Connolly consulted experts, books and articles on the matter, he did ignore some facts for the sake of literature and put it in a plain way. So don’t let physics put you off.

Going back to judging by its cover, you’d think the book is not worth your time or money. I did. But since it was a present, I gave it a try; which I don’t regret. On the contrary, there’s a subtitle on the same cover reading Samuel Johnson Versus The Devil: Round 1, and I might even try to find and read round 2. Apparently, there are three so far.

‘The Catcher in the Rye’

SALINGER, J. D. The Catcher in the Rye. 1945-1946.

‘ ’

Penguin Books' edition, 1994

Penguin Books’ minimalist edition

You may or may not have noticed—depending on whether you have eyes or not—that there’s no extract from the back cover synopsis in this post. The reason is that there’s none. Maybe it’s because a classic this popular doesn’t need an introduction. Unless you’re an ignorant like me.

I’d always pictured a cheesy love story or a thriller on agricultural lands. I couldn’t be more wrong. The novel is about a kid who gets expelled from school and goes back home at the end of the year. More precisely, the book only covers his trip back home, therefore a few days. And it’s told in first person by Holden Cauldfield, the kid himself.

This is probably the key feature of The Catcher in the Rye. Holden is actually telling someone the story. He uses a colloquial language with repetition, hesitation, deviation, fillers and vagueness. Holden is also not an average boy. It’s obvious that his brain doesn’t work as most people’s. I guess nowadays he’d be diagnosed with ADHD or something of the sort.

If you’re looking for a different narrative style, something uncomplicated, natural and beyond introduction-body-and-conclusion, this is definitely a great choice.