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28 September 2008 @ 08:42 pm
The Quality of Leadership  
On the face of it "the Quality of Leadership" seems like a good idea for a Doctor Who short story collection. After all "Rebels vs. Dictators" is a fairly standard Dr Who theme so there should be plenty of scope. However two fundamental shortcomings rapidly become obvious in Short Trips: The Quality of Leadership edited by Keith R. A. Candido and both basically boil down to the fact that you shouldn't really attempt to write "The Doctor meets a great leader" as a short story (or possibly at all). The lives of great leaders tend firstly to be epic (not easy to convey in a short story) and secondly said great leader tends to be the key protagonist (leaving the Doctor kicking his heals on the sidelines). The first four stories in the collection all suffer badly from these problems and some well respected Star Trek tie-in authors* fall foul of them. One Fateful Knight by Peter David is "The Doctor meets King Arthur", The Slave War by Una McCormack is "the Doctor('s companions) meet Spartacus", Goths and Robbers by Diane Duane is "the Doctor meets Theodoric" and Good Queen, Bad Queen, I Queen, You Queen by Terri Osborne is "the Doctor meets Boudicca". Of these Diane Duane's is probably the best since she choses to focus on two points in Theodoric's life, one of them formative and, although the Doctor is largely reactive at least he appears to have a central role in the story. Osborne's is easily the worst and left me wondering if (s)he'd watched Doctor Who since she grew up or was just working from hazy memory. As well as displaying the (rather bizarre) belief that the average Iceni wouldn't be able to tell the difference between Boudicca and Romana in a wig (they're the same height, don't you know!) I just found it very hard to believe that any Doctor, let alone the fourth, would consider the only option out of any situation was encouraging his companion to start an ultimately futile war and lead hundreds of people to their death, especially when there was no evidence that anyone was interfering to pervert the natural course of history in the first place.

After this inauspicious start the collection picks up somewhat. In The Price of Conviction ("the Doctor meets Luther") Richard C. White at least manages to hinge the drama around Luther's ideals and have the Doctor and Susan involved in averting a plot to bring about Luther's early assassination. God Send Me Well to Keep by Linnea Dodson (AKA neadods) is the first to really break the mold. It's still a "Doctor meets..." formula ("the Doctor meets Henry VIII") but Dodson's under no illusions about Henry's exemplary character and focuses the drama around a small piece of court politics. The Doctor and Nyssa are still, sadly, largely reactive, but at least she isn't trying to cram an epic drama into 20 pages and the didactism which has, so far, been rather heavily on display is here focused on conveying a sense of period detail and politics rather than a 1066 and All That Good King/Bad King simplicity.

We then (finally) get off Earth for two stories Peaceable Kingdom by Steven Savile and Rock Star by Robert T. Jeschonek. The first of which is really rather good and really focuses on the issue of Leadership for the first time as well as the way in which cultures can trap leaders into particular thought processes. On a Pedestal ("the Doctor meets William Wallace") by Kathleen O. David briefly dips back to the format of the earlier stories though, as with all the better ones, David focuses on a single formative incident rather than trying to encompass the sweep of Wallace's life. Clean-up on Aisle Two by James Swallow is probably the most ambitious story in the collection, tackling the issue of leadership from the point-of-view of a supermarket manager but it is marred by a rather pat ending. The collection closes with The Spindle of Necessity by Allyn Gibson ("the Doctor meets Plato") which gains marks for an inventive format and big SF-nal ideas but ultimately failed to really grab me.

There's a throwaway framing story by De Candido and John S. Drew but it doesn't really mesh well with the stories in between and seems, ultimately, a little pointless since too few of them actually focus on the qualities of leadership as opposed to meeting great leaders.

Ultimately this collection seems like a wasted opportunity with a potentially interesting theme too often sacrificed to didactism and an attempt to teach you all about X in twenty pages. There are some nice stories in there but none that got me really excited.

* I say "well-respected" on the grounds that I've heard of them even though I've never read a Trek tie-in novel.
Allyn Gibson: poohtiggerallyn on November 4th, 2008 07:47 pm (UTC)
Louise, thanks for the review of Quality. I'm sorry that my story didn't work for you. Given how, erm, wonky it is, I knew it wouldn't be to everyone's taste. Actually, I didn't expect anyone to like it, and I still haven't been able to convince my editor that I wasn't smoking industrial-grade hemp at the time. (I wasn't! I swear!) I wanted to write something different. I wanted to write something that I had fun with. I'm sorry that it came out a bit meh for you.
louisedennis: bookslouisedennis on November 5th, 2008 10:07 am (UTC)
Thanks for being so gracious about it. It's difficult to write a review of something that you found just a bit 'meh' since there isn't anything you can easily point to and say "This didn't work". In fact, IIRC, I had several complaints in the middle that things weren't making sense, but that the ending tied them all up and I was "OK, so it does all fit together." but somehow it still failed to catch the lightning in the bottle.