Tuesday, June 23, 2020

#StayAtHome: Three Classic Doctor Who Novels


I read three more Doctor Who novels in the last couple weeks. The first of these was Brian Hayles novelization of the Third Doctor episode, Doctor Who and the Curse of Peladon. This classic adventure is set on Peladon (also the name of the young monarch) and presents a feudal world with an important mineral resource considering its future. The monarch needs to decide whether to join the Federation, an interstellar polity that includes Earth, the Mars of the reptilian Ice Warriors, Alpha Centauri (a green, single-eyed, multitentacled, hermaphroditic alien), and Arcturus (a pulpy, spidery little thing in a life support vehicle).

It's my favorite Doctor Who episode, and Brian Hayles' novel doesn't disappoint, providing a sense of the interior life of our characters. He also introduced a few inventions of his own, including Alpha Centauri's color changing according to their moods.


Next up was Terrance Dicks' novelization of the Third Doctor episode, Doctor Who and the Monster of Peladon. It is set 50 years after Curse. Peladon has been a member of the Federation for about 50 years, the Federation is at war with Galaxy Five, and Peladon is a critical supplier of the mineral trisilicate. The planet is ruled by Queen Thalira, but she is a monarch in name only; the real power is held by the chancellor, who is also the head of the temple of the royal beast-god Aggedor.

Aggedor has been manifesting as an apparition and disintegrating miners; this is bad for production. A rebellion is brewing, but there is also fear that someone else is manipulating things behind the (rock) curtain. (Hint: the villain is on the book cover.)

Dicks' terse style keeps the story moving, but doesn't add much that wasn't in the original story. No color changes for Alpha Centauri. Our big, green ambassador is also consistently referred to as a "he" which is jarring if you watched the original episode or read Hayles' novel.


The best read of the three was Ben Aaronovitch's Remembrance of the Daleks, which is the novelization of a Seventh Doctor episode. Aaronovitch is best known today for his Rivers of London urban police fantasy series, but this was his first novel ever. It is a humdinger, the best Doctor Who novel that I have read to date.

A number of years ago, I read Aaronovitch's later Doctor Who novel Transit, which is an original narrative rather than a novelization. Although rather notorious with Virgin Books for introducing the phrase "the taste of  semen" to the Doctor Who canon, Transit's story about interplanetary skatepunks piggybacking on a hyperspace tube system left me wondering "what is the point of all this?"

Not so, with Remembrance. This is an incredibly fast-paced story, in spite of being a bit longer than the traditional Doctor Who novelizations, featuring a factional struggle between the Renegade Daleks and the Imperial Daleks on Earth, on Remembrance Day weekend, in 1963.

There are some fun Easter eggs in the story, including the Dune-like imaginary references included in some chapter heads, inserting Bernard Quatermass into the Doctor Who universe, and the implication that one of the supporting characters was friends with Alan Turing during the Second World War.

Recommended.

See The Everwayan for more #StayAtHome entries.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Doctor Who And The Irish Question


Have any episodes of Doctor Who, or the books, comics, CDs, etc. dealt with the Irish Question, directly or indirectly? I can't think of any, but I'd love to hear from people who know of such episodes/media.

As an aside, many fans are quite fond of the UNIT characters from the 1970s, but UNIT itself: it's all to easy to imagine that this kind of paramilitary group was originally set-up as an anti-IRA death squad. Maybe they did that on the side; maybe their scientific advisor steered them onto a different path...

Sunday, July 14, 2019

"Anarchy in Amhor"

Source: https://library.ucf.edu/news/buffalo-soldiers-legacy-honor-value/

Last night, I ran the John Carter of Mars RPG for six players as part of our monthly Saturday Night Space Opera event; last night's games took place at the Source.  In my Barsoom, Red Revolution has broken out in the far northern city of Amhor. A couple of months ago, a mysterious band of blue clad "mercenaries and pirates" had overthrown the despised and feared Jeddak of Amhor, the cruel Jal Had. Following Jal Had's overthrow, the blue clad warriors had reportedly plunged Amhor into chaos. 

In the faraway Twin Cities of Helium, Princess Dejah Thoris had assembled a band of heroes to put the niece of Jal Had, a young female gladiator named Hadra Ja, on the throne of distant Amhor, winning the city as an ally of Helium. The amply-scarred Hadra Ja had made a name for herself as a capable warrior in the Arena of Lesser Helium. Our heroes agreed to help put her on the throne.

Our heroes soon found that they had their hands full. One character, Joseph Stands Alone, a Pueblo Indian, soon realized that Hadra Ja was almost entirely lacking in political instinct; she was a sword, and saw the sword as the solution to everything. He set out to begin her political education on the long flight to Amhor.

Once the PCs arrived at the city, a brave Okar and Joseph discovered the true nature of the blue clad mercenaries and pirates: they were two platoons of U.S. Army Cavalry! While the PCs didn't figure out all the background events, they soon learned that the 9th Cavalry Regiment, one of the all-African American Buffalo Soldiers regiments, had acted shortly after the overthrow of Jal Had to abolish slavery and execute slaveholders and slave merchants. The all-white 7th Cavalry Regiment's platoon, led by one Lt. Rice, used force of arms to try and stop the 9th. The 7th seized the palace, and allied with Red Martian mercenaries and the upper classes in the city, while the 9th went underground, stole a flying warship, and organized militias among the toiling masses and the former slaves.

The player characters ultimately allied themselves with the Buffalo Soldiers, and struck a deal with both the workers' militias inside the city, and a Green Martian horde that had been expelled from the city, to retake Amhor and put the young Hadra Ja on the throne.

The insurgents were successful. Hadra Ja has been installed as the new Jeddak of Amhor. She is supported by workers' militias, and has welcomed the Green Martian horde back into their Greentown enclave within the city. As for Lt. Rice, his whereabouts is unknown, as is the whereabouts of the warship seized by the 9th Cavalry Regiment. 

Amhor is once again at piece, albeit a fragile one perhaps, and Helium has a new ally in the distant north.

(Oh, and in the real world, the 7th didn't have a Lt. Rice, but it did have a Private named Edgar Rice Burroughs.)  

Friday, April 19, 2019

Mystifying Oracle

Mystifying Oracle ARU

I ordered an All Rolled Up (well, maybe TWO, one is still on the way) for my John Carter of Mars RPG dice.  I decided to order the Mystifying Oracle, because I often spent time with a cousin when we were young playing with her Ouija Board. It also fits into the whole psychic medium, theosophy zeitgeist of the John Carter era.

Here's what the ARU looks like loaded with dice, three dry erase pens, and three canisters of tokens:


Here's the flat view of the ARU with John Carter of Mars RPG character sheets:


Finally, here's a close up of the rule book and a character sheet. The PC is from another world, but not Earth. Can you guess from where this character hails?


Sunday, April 14, 2019

The U.S.S. Republic


As part of our monthly Saturday Night Space Opera event last night, I ran my second episodic adventure with the crew of the U.S.S. Republic, whose crew includes young Midshipman James T. Kirk, and his good friend Benjamin Finney. This adventure involved the rescue (?) / recovery (?) of a Discovery-class starship stuck in the negative energy barrier at the edge of the galaxy.

It was a fun adventure with a lot of surprises for the players - and for the GM - and a lot of laughs in the midst of space madness, sheer terror, and conspiracy! And Gorns.

The game was also an opportunity to use a couple of my prize props: the Star Trek: Discovery Eaglemoss models of the U.S.S. Enterprise and the U.S.S. Discovery. Both models are really gorgeous.

Thanks, as always, to Jay Mac Bride for organizing the event, providing the playmat and sheet protectors for the character sheets, and a special thanks also to Matt Towle for the lovely Rainbow Dice he gave me!

Thursday, January 31, 2019

An Unkindness of Ghosts


I'm a bit more than a third of the way through Rivers Solomon's An Unkindness of Ghosts, which isn't a horror story but instead a generation ship novel. I don't normally post a review until I have finished a book, but as someone who is a fan of generation ship stories, this one is doing something new.

New is a matter of some significance in generation ship narratives. The most prevalent themes in the fiction have been a ship that is lost, off course, or otherwise breaking down. Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora is a terrifyingly grim late exploration of the theme, wedding hard SF considerations and social SF themes smoothly - and depressingly. If Aurora's central argument is that crewed interstellar exploration is a Bad Idea, he sold me on that idea.

What Rivers Solomon does is even more interesting. Her generation ship has a racial hierarchy similar to the Jim Crow South. Resource scarcity is experienced according to the color line, with brutal consequences like heat reductions on the lower decks that lead to malnutrition and gangrene. One of the first scenes in the book involves an amputation.

The ship has physical problems as well, and no one on the lower decks seems to know where it is going. A third of the way into the novel, it seems more likely than not that the ship's engineering/physical problems are really social problems. Time will tell, but I don't see how we avoid that. 

I said at the beginning of the review that A River of Ghosts wasn't a horror story - but it is if you consider racism a horror.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Ball Lightning


I just finished Cixin Liu's Ball Lightning this morning; it was a fairly quick read, since I had just started the novel a week ago. While the book is in some ways a prequel to Remembrance of Earth's Past (i.e., The Three-Body Problem trilogy), featuring the first appearance of both the aliens and the physicist Ding Yi from the trilogy, the book's primary focus is on the scientific investigation of ball lightning, a poorly understood phenomenon.

Scientific research quickly morphs into weapons research. The physics in the novel uses and extends perhaps the most exotic hypothesis regarding the nature of ball lightning, the soliton hypothesis (shades of the physics in Liu's Death's End), and the experimenters have more than one brush with the uncanny as they explore the implications and applications of ball lightning. 

Now, I am wondering how long I'll have to wait to read another of Liu's novels in translation?