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09 December 2008 @ 03:38 pm
Short Trips: Transmissions  
I first met* Richard Salter when he tried to organise an Internet coordinated Dr Who short story collection for the emerging Decalog series published by Virgin. There's been a lot of water under the bridge since then and the idea of using Internet coordination to put together a short story collection no longer seems remotely radical. Richard has been writing and editing Doctor Who short fiction ever since and has had several stories published in other Short Trips collections. This is the first time he's got to edit professionally though. Fortunately, it's a good'un, probably the most successful of the Short Trips collections that I own.

I mentioned in my review of Short Trips: The Quality of Leadership the way I felt the theme there had unfortunately managed to ambush the collection. In this case it's possibly the choice of a nicely abstract theme, "Transmissions", loosely tied to the idea of modes of communication, that has encouraged the writers to rise above the normal Short Trips level of trying to write a mini episode of the parent show. In fact I'd go so far as to say every single piece in this collection is a genuine short story rather than a long story told short.

Doctor Who and the Adaptations of Death by Graeme Burk is the weakest story in the collection. It's intended as a humourous piece riffing off the way Hollywood manipulates facts in the name of spectacle. Like most humour, if its not amusing you then there is little to appreciate and sadly this didn't amuse me a whole load.

I'm not going to say a lot about Policy to Invade by Ian Mond. In a lot of the reviews I read it was the runaway success of the collection and I also read mondyboy's blog so I knew quite a bit about his thinking when writing it. I think a lot of what makes it work is the form of the story and I already knew all about that so I wasn't surprised on encountering it. My advice would be to read it without reading anything about it first. It's a good story but I think it lost something because some of the surprise was spoiled.

Only Connect by Andy Lane is a nice story about the way the Doctor's endless interest in people and general quest for information allows him to subsequently solve problems but ultimately the story seemed to be struggling between being a piece of playful whimsy and something more serious and didn't quite manage to pull it all together.

Gudok by Mags L Halliday is essentially a character piece which forces Tegan and Turlough into each other's company on the trans-Siberian railway. It's a polished story, revelling in period character, but ultimately a little unsubstantial.

Generation Gap by Lou Anders is a more big SF idea type story wrapped in a murder mystery. It's not so successful as a murder mystery, but the central idea is a nice one.

Lonely by Richard Wright succeeded where Policy to Invade had failed by surprising with the form in which it was presented. I liked it a lot and, again, wished I'd not already known what to expect from Policy to Invade. What both these stories achieve is to manage to be very moving even while they are experimenting playfully with forms of storytelling.

Blue Road Dance by James Milton was my favourite story in the collection but I really love stuff that can marry startling and beautiful imagery with SF ideas and this one did that very well in a tale of dance as a form of time travel.

Tweaker by Dan Abnett was a bit throway, I felt. It would probably have been one of the more successful stories in another collection but here it seemed like a nice idea, a tale of evil hidden in vinyl records, but didn't really have the thematic depth a lot of the other stories were pulling off.

Link by Pete Kempshall was another big SF idea story which I felt was very like Generation Gap although I'd be hard pushed to put my finger on why, beyond the fact that both feature the Doctor and Sarah. I think both contain ideas that feel quite like classic SF in lots of ways. Of the two, I'd say this one is the stronger story.

Driftwood by Dale Smith was a tale of (mis)communication and exploitation between man and dolphin kind. It's a well-written story with several moving moments... I guess, as someone married to an evolutionary biologist, I just have relatively little time for theories of dolphin intelligence.

Methuselah by George Mann is a story of time travelling telepathic radio messages. Like Tweaker its a good self-contained short story but, also like Tweaker, it failed to really have the punch some of the other stories did.

I really want to like Nettles by Kelly Hale more than I do. It's beautifully and powerfully written but its one of the saddest stories I've read and I desperately wanted it to have a happier ending, which would have been impossible within the themes it was dealing with. It was also, perhaps, just a little bit too vague about the nature of the Doctor's plan for my liking.

Larkspur by Mark Stevens is a break-neck tale of temporal shenanigans which I enjoyed a lot although, at the end, I felt the actual threat was a bit of a MacGuffin.

See no Evil by Steve Lyons is a brave attempt at a story I've seen executed less successfully elsewhere, one of a society that edits out aspects it finds disturbing or distasteful. It almost worked here but my brain was still left full of unanswered questions about exactly how such a society would actually function...

iNtRUsioNs by Dave Hoskin is a creepy psychological horror story. I'm not a huge fan of horror but I could see this was a well written example.

Breadcrumbs by James Moran was the real coup of the collection. James Moran wrote Fires of Pompeii for the last season of Doctor Who which I much admired. I was therefore a little disappointed to discover this was a lightweight, essentially comedy, piece. There's nothing wrong with it and it is more successful in its humour than Doctor Who and the Adaptation of Death but I'd been hoping for something a little meatier.

Transmision Ends by Richard Salter is a sad story tieing the whole together, rather unnecessarily I thought. It's a lot more successful than the linking/framing stories in these collections often are but I couldn't help thinking it would have been a stronger story still if it hadn't felt the need to reference all the others. Several of the stories in the collection played out as tragedies of incompatible forms of communication and this was no exception.

*in the Internet sense of "exchanged emails with". I've never actually met Richard. He was called the Happy Halibut back then, a moniker he seems to have subsequently abandoned in preference to his own name. Thus flying in face of all Internet trends.
mondyboymondyboy on December 9th, 2008 11:28 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure who it was who said that Author Notes are a bit like a magician giving away his magic trick.

Anywho, thanks for the very thoughtful review.
louisedennis: bookslouisedennis on December 10th, 2008 11:11 am (UTC)
I think, particularly in this case, there was a sort of enjoyment to be had from discovering that the way of telling the story actually worked which was spoiled by reading the notes first. I liked it though it just wasn't clutching me by the throat. I particularly liked Rachel's part of the story, that was very movingly written.
(Anonymous) on December 26th, 2008 02:47 pm (UTC)
Thanks Louise
Thanks for the review, Louise. Glad you enjoyed the collection. I, er, think you did anyway :)

Richard (formerly of the Halibut)
louisedennis: bookslouisedennis on December 26th, 2008 09:03 pm (UTC)
Re: Thanks Louise
I liked it very much. Re-reading the above it comes across as a bit nit-picky which, I guess, is partly because I haven't quite worked out how one reviews a collection - compressing a normal here are the good points - here are the bad points review into three sentences seems to over-emphasize the bad, at least the way I do it, it does.

I still think Transmissions is head and shoulders above most of the other Short Trips.