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11 November 2015 @ 06:48 pm
The Coming of the Terraphiles by Michael Morcock  
I've read very little Morcock, Elric of Melnibone when I was a teenager (about which I remember virtually nothing) and his Dancers at the End of Time sequence more recently which I thought was interesting but flawed, particularly when it was trying to evoke early 20th century comedies of manners. However he is, by some margin, the most famous novelist to turn his hand to a full-length Doctor Who novel (though I have no doubt that Neil Gaiman will get around to it eventually). So it was with interest and anticipation that I picked up The Coming of the Terraphiles.

To be fair, I really enjoyed the first five pages, a gloriously over-the-top piece of purple world-building written in the voice of an omniscient narrator which is a refreshing change in any modern fiction, let alone TV tie-in fare.

After that it all comes crashing down rather. The prose is occasionally lovely, but more often it is clunky and distressingly prone to the long info-dump. There are some interesting ideas about linked multiverses but the story seems far more interested in the Terraphiles, a bunch of (ill-informed) enthusiasts for Earth's history (with names like Bingo Locksley and Flapper Banning-Cannon) engaged in a complex tournament that might as well be cricket which becomes entwined with the activities of a mysterious hat thief. As such it is retreading a lot of the ground from Dancers at the End of Time - the imperfect recall of history married with pastiche of a certain kind of Englishness associated with the early 20th century. The problem is this particular kind of Englishness has been well-pastiched already by the likes of Wodehouse and Wilde who were both (arguably) better writers than Moorcock and contemporaries of the culture they are pastiching. In the hands of a 21st century novelist the exercise seems a little pointless. I also, for whatever reason, don't find Moorcock's style of pastiche particularly amusing - all these segments just felt laboured and wooden to me, though I'll allow that may be a matter of taste.

Dancers at the End of Time, was playing with a range of ideas such as the contrast between repression and hedonism and the extent to which imperfect recall of history is self-imposed. I still felt the early 20th century bits were laboured and flat but it was at least possible to see the role they were playing in the wider story and themes. Here the pastiche seems to serve no purpose beyond providing a backdrop for the universe threatening activities of General Frank/Freddie Force and his Antimatter Men which draws on the opposition between order and chaos (a favourite theme of Moorcock's). Or rather the heavy-handed pastiche is the story and the plot line dealing with order and chaos is a backdrop. General Frank/Freddie Force and the Antimatter Men only appear once in person and are eventually defeated off-screen by characters playing little other part in the story, one can't help feeling that Moorcock wasn't really all that interested in them, or their threat.

The characterisation of Amy Pond is also pretty dire. Here she's a plucky but largely passive companion, occasionally teasing but never challenging the Doctor, let alone anyone else. However given the book's publication date is 2010 (the year of Amy's debut), I'm going to assume that Moorcock had very little information to go on. The Doctor's characterisation is better, but I think there is enough similarly between Matt Smith and David Tennant's portrayals to make him seem more distinctive. While understandable, a Tardis crew consisting of a generic fast-talking Doctor and an unrecognisable companion, didn't exactly help matters.

A massive disappointment.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/177694.html.
 
 
 
philmophlegm: Eternal Championphilmophlegm on November 11th, 2015 07:36 pm (UTC)
I actually have a signed first edition of this. (As you can probably guess from the userpic, I might be more of a Moorcock fan than you, although I still have plenty of his books to look forward to.)

But I can't disagree with your review. Mediocre by the standards of Doctor Who novels and by the standards of Michael Moorcock novels.

I'm not sure about MM being "by some margin" the most famous novelist to write a Doctor Who novel. Go into a Waterstones and you might struggle to find more than one or two of his works, but I bet you'll find plenty of Stephen Baxter's and Alastair Reynolds's.
louisedennislouisedennis on November 12th, 2015 08:52 am (UTC)
I'm not sure about MM being "by some margin" the most famous novelist to write a Doctor Who novel.

You could be correct. I suspect I'm being biased here by my age and social group. I recall Moorcock being quite a byword among the people I know who were interested in SF when I was a teenager, and I notice his works and characters getting referenced a lot in genre fiction and fan fiction. I'm much less aware of Baxter and Reynolds just as a part of the background noise of fandom, but that doesn't mean that they aren't more famous in terms of the wider public and book sales.
philmophlegm: Elricphilmophlegm on November 12th, 2015 11:11 am (UTC)
Moorcock was writing fantasy in the late 60s and 70s when not many other people were, so he's definitely one of the big name writers for people who were getting into D&D in the late 70s and 80s.

But I don't seem him being namechecked now by younger SF and Fantasy fans, whereas Alastair Reynolds is probably up there with Peter F. Hamilton and Iain M. Banks as the major British SF authors while Stephen Baxter co-wrote several books with Terry Pratchett (which is about as mainstream as you can get while still writing science fiction). Amazon describes Baxter as "the pre-eminent SF author of his generation".

Moorcock has probably suffered in fannish awareness terms since moving away from writing lots of pulpy SF and fantasy to writing highbrow lit stuff like Mother London and the Colonel Pyat series, and not writing very much of it. Still popular among roleplayers though, just not as much as he was, so classic Stormbringer or Hawkmoon RPG material still fetches a decent price:
http://www.shopontheborderlands.co.uk/cat/stormbringer-hawkmoon-elric/
shivver13: Ten with kittenshivver13 on November 12th, 2015 01:13 am (UTC)
We have a copy of this book, but I've never read it. My husband is (was) a Moorcock fan from when he was a teenager, and I believe he's read all of the Eternal Champion stories as well as a number of other his works. So, he was eager to get a Moorcock DW novel.

He never finished it.

If I remember correctly, he said that he hated the writing style, and that the story itself was uninteresting, and he gave up on it rather early (probably not even 1/4 of the way in). He then also admitted that the other Moorcock books have not aged well, by which he might very well mean that as he (my husband) matured, he no longer found them to be good or interesting. He has fond memories of the characters and the stories, but he no longer finds actually reading them to be enjoyable.

I'm very sorry that neither you nor him were able to enjoy the novel.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on November 12th, 2015 08:56 am (UTC)
I thought Dancers at the End of Time had a lot going for it though I was left still a little bemused by Moorcock's status as a giant of the genre after reading it. I certainly didn't feel it was a waste of my time though.

This... this I mostly thought was rubbish... and, you know, I've read every single Dr Who novel and novelisation written up until about 2008 (give or take a couple of the Telos hardbacks), plus a large proportion of the tie-in off-shoots like Bernice Summerfield, Faction Paradox, Iris Wildthyme and City of the Saved. My tolerance for mediocre Who writing is pretty high.
philmophlegm: Eternal Championphilmophlegm on November 12th, 2015 11:12 am (UTC)
I've read the first Dancers at the End of Time book, and I don't think it's one of his best. My favourite of the ones I've read is 'The Warhound and the World's Pain' (fantasy set during the Thirty Years War).