Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Coming of the Terraphiles

When I first heard that Michael Moorcock was writing a Doctor Who novel, my immediate response was, why? I mean this is Michael Freaking Moorcock, creator of fantasy icon Elric of Melnibone, author of something like 80 books, short listed for the Whitbread Prize. Why would he be writing a media tie-in book?
The short answer is, he wasn't. The BBC didn't want a Doctor Who book by Michael Moorcock. They wanted a Michael Moorcock novel that featured the Doctor. Well, they got it. In spades.
Imagine, if you will, that P.G. Wodehouse had written for Amazing Stories instead of The Strand. Then throw in some Space Pirates, a country house mystery farce, and a few British Schoolboy stories. Add The Doctor and the lovely Amy Pond, and then mix all that with elements of Moorcock's Multiverse, including Law and Chaos, the Second Aether series, The Cosmic Balance, the nefarious captain Quelch, and more insider references than you can shake a sonic screwdriver at. Oh yeah, and the entire universe is in peril. It is the Doctor, after all.
The book begins with some of Moorcock's more beautiful and lyrical writing as he describes the arrival of space pirate Captain Cornelius, in his ship the Paine, above the planet Venice. A few pages later, you're in the TARDIS with the Doctor and Amy as the Doctor intercepts a badly garbled transmission. It seems that "Someone 's messing with the normal rules of the energy flow. Time and space are all over the place. quite literally, I mean. Growing increasingly unstable." Imagine Matt Smith spewing that line. Moorcock manages to get Smith's Doctor to the page, despite the fact that he had limited access to the series as he was writing the novel. The new season hadn't been broadcast when he began writing and he was only able to see a couple of episodes a bit later.
The Doctor and Amy end up traveling to the far future where a group of history re-enactors , known as the terraphiles because they revere old earth, are involved in a series of games. The winner of the games gets the fabled Arrow of Law, an object that the Doctor realizes he must have to save the day. The ever resourceful Time Lord pulls a few strings to get himself on one of the sporting teams and we're off. Deprived by circumstances of the TARDIS, the Doctor must take a rambling path to the planet Miggea, (Another insider reference.) traveling on an old "nuker" style space craft, a space faring cruise liner, and eventually on one of the ships of the Second Aether. The Second Aether( or Ether) is the space between the worlds of the multiverse, between Law and Chaos, life and death, love and hate, matter and antimatter. It's Explained in greater detail in books like Blood, Fabulous Harbours, and The War Amongst the Angels, and touched on in many other Moorcock books, including the DC Comics series Michael Moorcock's Multiverse.
As I said, this is a Michael Moorcock book that features the Doctor, and I did wonder as I read, if people less familiar with Moorcock's work might have some trouble following this one. Ultimately the book stands alone, but if you know a lot about Moorcock's other books, you're going to get a lot of references that someone only steeped in Doctor Who is going to miss. I've seen a few other reviewers complain about the book's somewhat leisurely pace, but I think that's part of the way Moorcock approached this one. It gives the author the chance to visit some fun SF tropes like the wonderfully realized spaceport of Desiree. No stranger to SF, Moorcock supplies robots, ray guns, spaceships of all kinds, and aliens of every type.
Moorcock's fans won't find many references to his other pet theme, The Eternal Champion in The Coming of the Terraphiles, but there are one or two. Nobody shows up with a cursed black rune-sword. (Though that would have been really cool!) I suppose one might make a case that the Doctor is the EC in this one, and after all, who better than an eternal man? Does that Make Amy Moonglum? She does have red hair.
Anyway, I had a lot of fun with The Coming of the Terraphiles. It wasn't exactly what I was expecting, but then that's what I've learned to expect from Michael Moorcock.

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