Sunday, May 15, 2022

The Dragon Reborn by: Robert Jordan: Trauma and Egwene al'Vere, Part 3 (Chapters 21 to 23)


“Egwene stepped out of the silver arch cold and stiff with anger.  She wanted the iciness of anger to counter the searing of memory.  Her body remembered burning, but other memories scored and scorched more deeply.  Anger cold as death.  “Is that all there is for me?” she demanded. “To abandon him again and again.  To betray him, fail him, again and again.  Is that what there is for me?”” – The Dragon Reborn, p. 266


In The Great Hunt, the sequence for Nynaeve’s Accepted Test was a perfect example of exploring her character and trajectory for where the rest of the series will be taking her.  That was an interesting sequence as it importantly took place before being lured out of the White Tower by Liandrin and sold into slavery.  While Nynaeve was not as traumatized, it becomes apparent that the trauma is reflective on the Accepted test when Egwene is tested.  The Accepted Test is already a traumatic experience, causing the candidates to face their past, the present, and what may be all through potential versions of what has happened or what will happen.  Jordan has threaded seeds in the past novel of the potential way events could be played out, essentially futureproofing the idea that characters have plot armor because all of the choices and events which could lead to ruin or success.  This is an Egwene who is already traumatized, while she is informed of the possibility of being a Dreamer and entering a mysterious world of dreams.  This is something which will be discussed further on when the explanations come in the book as the chapter only introduces the idea of a world of dreams and Egwene getting a ter’angreal of her own to use, meant to assist her in entering the dreaming with dangers if she were injured (Verin has a scar from being hurt in the world of dreams.


The Accepted Test for Egwene is perhaps more traumatic than Nynaeve’s, simply because Egwene already has trauma she is attempting to deal with.  Her reaction to being told that she is going to be tested, unexpectedly immediately after leaving Verin’s study is “Tonight?  Already?  But I am half-asleep, Aes Sedai, and dirty, and. . . . I thought I would have days yet.  To get ready.  To prepare.” – The Dragon Reborn, p. 244.  She is not prepared for what the test could be and Nynaeve did not tell her as she was not allowed to know what the tests would be.  She has the option to not attempt the test and have two more chances, but once she begins the test she must see it through to completion or die.  The death aspect is possible, “The way back will come only once” – The Great Hunt/The Dragon Reborn is a mantra repeated by Sheriam before each portion of the test implying that if she doesn’t take the way back she will remain in whatever world, fantasy or reality, she sees.  Sheriam describes the worlds thusly “The answer is, no one knows.  It has been speculated that perhaps some of those who do not come back chose to stay because they found a happier place, and lived out their lives there…If it is real, and they stayed from choice, then I hope the lives they live are far from happy.  I have no sympathy for any who run form their responsibilities.” – The Dragon Reborn, p. 251.  While Sheriam’s harshness serves to inspire Egwene to keep going (this is after she has gone through the first arch and first vision), it is also an important note that she can be tempted, the first vision is tempting and reflects on opportunities past.


The first vision, like Nynaeve’s, is a reflection of the past, though in a different way.  It is an alternate future in Emond’s Field where she and Rand are married, have a daughter, and everything seems peaceful.  Of course, this is something which does not, nor could it, last.  Rand has had headaches and mysterious circumstances, clearly being because he is the Dragon Reborn.  Egwene also doesn’t know she can channel and is afraid if someone finds out that she can mysteriously bring people back from the brink of death.  They also have a daughter, all representing things that Egwene wanted at some point, but something that has already come to something she does not want.  While this does not end in violence, it does end with her turning her back on her lover and child, rejecting something that she cannot have.  Rand has already become the Dragon Reborn, and she can no longer have him.  It is not weaved into the pattern of the Wheel of Time.


The second is a reflection of the present.  Egwene is Aes Sedai, with a Great Serpent Ring on her finger, and Rand is pinned under the beam of the palace at Caemlyn, going mad.  This Rand is aware of his madness and cries out to Egwene “The dagger…Here.  In the heart.  Kill me.” – The Dragon Reborn, p. 253.  He is also afraid of this: ““They can turn me, Egwene.” His breathing was so tortured she wished she could weep.  “If they take me –the Myrddraal – the Dreadlords – They can turn me to the Shadow.  If madness has me, I cannot fight me.  I won’t know what they are doing till it is too late.  If there is even a spark of life left when they find me they can still do it.  Please, Egwene.  For the love of the Light, kill me.”” – The Dragon Reborn, p. 254.  This is something that is confirmed that could happen, if a Myrddraal and thirteen channelers link they can force someone away from the Light and to the Shadow, something that only frightens Egwene more.  Egwene is forced to leave him, under a beam, given over to the Shadow.


The final vision is of what is to come.  What Egwene hopes to achieve as an Aes Sedai and what the Pattern may have in store for her.  She is the Amyrlin Seat, raised from the Green Ajah at a time where the Dragon Reborn has declared himself.  Rand has declared himself and has been captured by the Red Ajah and brought to the Tower to be gentled.  She refuses to give the order and Elaida takes her own faction of Red Ajah to do so while Egwene is then captured by the Black Ajah and the fear is put into her that she will be turned to the Shadow.  Elaida is explicitly Black Ajah in this vision, however, it is important to note that it is not the ‘real’ world.  This is a potential future at least partially brought on by Egwene’s own thoughts and especially biases.  Elaida may be vicious and actively hostile to the idea of the Dragon Reborn, but she has not shown any signs of being a Black Ajah, or even believing the Black Ajah exist.  And of course the vision ends with Egwene abandoning Rand one final time, with the angreal also malfunctioning, something that Alanna apologizes for as she believes it is her fault.


Elaida, Alanna, and Sheriam are all potential candidates for Black Ajah in the minds of Egwene, Elayne, and Nynaeve when they discuss the events of the evening after Egwene and Elayne’s Accepted tests.  Jordan includes no details of Elayne’s test, but the way she is written after it becomes clear that she is also traumatized by the experience, almost more so than Nynaeve.  They have all gone through trauma and this trauma brings them further into the Tower and further on the path that the Wheel of Time wishes them to be on.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

The Dresden Files: Turn Coat by: Jim Butcher


Despite it taking me over six months to continue The Dresden Files, Jim Butcher’s series almost could have ended with Small Favor.  Sure, there would still have been a lot of loose threads, but it is one of the novels which felt like it could have been an ending, especially in retrospect with Turn Coat is the novel where not so much everything changes, but enough changes that it becomes clear Butcher has somewhere to go.  The twelfth book in the series is literally titled Changes but it’s Turn Coat where there is a preparation for changes that are coming.  There is an establishment of an evil counterpart to the White Council that everybody denies exists, a counter Council created at the very end by Dresden to prepare for the war, and an intentional lull in any of the magical hostilities between the various parties.  Everything in the book feels like an intentional buildup and almost a slight piece of ‘filler’ but filler that still moves the characters forward and makes the actual plot feel like there is meaning.  Turn Coat mainly means to resolve some of the tension between Harry Dresden and Morgan, the Warden who had been watching him like a hawk since the beginning of the series, only increased with Dresden taking on Molly Carpenter as an apprentice.  The inciting incident is Morgan appearing at Harry’s apartment, accused of murder due to being over the body with a knife, being shot, and asking for help.  That is the mystery at the heart of Turn Coat and as a mystery despite the length of the novel this is one of Butcher’s more focused mysteries.


The Dresden Files has had an issue with taking the mystery elements post-Dead Beat and letting them meander just a bit to facilitate the bigger world, but with Turn Coat what really helps is that the elements outside of the mystery are directly tied to the mystery.  Directly tying things together brings this focus to proceedings that makes the mystery work, even though this may be one of the weaker mysteries.  The reader can fairly easily tell where things will be going and who the actual perpetrator, the titular Turn Coat, will turn out to be.  There is one very good twist at the climax about how the actual murder took place and that actually takes several characters in different directions.  This is essentially a breather of a novel where we are taking the time to get into who the characters are.  Morgan especially gets time to examine exactly what makes him kick and work more than the rather two-dimensional character of earlier novels who just had a purpose to serve.  Morgan is incredibly human, motivated by a sense of justice and an adherence to laws, but still an understanding of the flaws within the laws of the Council.  He goes to Harry for help, a man who he doesn’t trust and would happily have taken down had this been the past.  His last actions of the novel are keeping a breaking of the laws secret from the Council, taking it to his grave because of the grown respect for Harry.


Now some of this doesn’t work perfectly, there are a few characters who don’t quite work as well, mainly due to age.  Mainly these are two of the non-white characters who feel a bit too much like Butcher is drawing on stereotypes, unintentionally, to craft characters.  It isn’t the worst it could be and is better than some of the ways at least one of these characters has been used in the past to move away from the stereotypes.  This is also a novel built around being almost a step back and breather from a lot of the larger supernatural goings on making it almost one that anyone could really be picking up as their first in the series, though I wouldn’t recommend it.  It’s intentional in bringing a lot of disparate plot threads together really well, especially involving the threads of Molly Carpenter and her temptation to use magic on other people, the werewolves who have been working as protectors and have the opportunity to grow into adults in this novel, and some minor appearances of Butters as well as Harry’s pixie army that he is the lord over.  A lot of these make the tone of Turn Coat not be so much as weird, but as having at least a little levity when things get dark.  The big magical threat at the heart of the book is a skinwalker, a creature that comes from certain Native American sources that Butcher at least attempts to make his own instead of just dragging from the spiritual beliefs of a marginalized group.  It’s a terrifying monster and used really effectively, but it still feels like it hasn’t really aged the best.


Overall, Turn Coat while having some flaws mainly due to the time it is being written as it’s over a decade old at this point and Butcher still can improve as an author, is yet another novel that continues the high streak of brilliance in The Dresden Files.  Things are moving into place and it immediately put me back on reading the series as I wish to continue almost immediately.  The pace is punchy and the mystery is really well written and Butcher continues to impress with how interesting all of his characters have become, despite some time jumps chronicled in short stories.  9/10.

Friday, May 13, 2022

The Twin Dilemma by: Eric Saward


The Twin Dilemma was written by Eric Saward, based on the television story of the same name by Anthony Steven.  It was the 103rd story to be novelized by Target Books.


This is a weird novelization.  The Twin Dilemma is essentially in the fandom the ‘worst’ Doctor Who story according to many of the polls.  It closed the 21st series which was the last series to be produced without insane production issues and well on the way to the 1989 cancellation (and just a year before the 1985 hiatus).  The budget was running out as it almost always did for the final serial in a given season, The Caves of Androzani immediately before it was hailed as nothing short of brilliant, and Anthony Steven (a television veteran who had never worked on Doctor Who) gave increasingly insane excuses as to why scripting the story was taking so long (he claimed his typewriter literally exploded at one point).  So the chance for a novelization means that there was an opportunity to improve things, especially since it was novelized by script editor Eric Saward.  However, there are a lot of problems, a lot inherent to the original story, and some due to Eric Saward’s writing style and opinions on this particular era find there way into the novelization.  The Twin Dilemma takes so much time to get through the first two episodes of the four part serial it is honestly astonishing that the rest of the plot even makes it to the page.  I can only theorize that Saward had no idea how to improve the stuff after the second episode so he just rushed through it and gave a very weak ending.


It’s almost weaker due to certain aspects of the characterization.  Peri especially has the already weak television characterization taken down a notch as the trauma which is dropped immediately after it happens, is only reinforced.  Saward includes several scenes from her perspective, including the scene where she is strangled by the Doctor, and that trauma is lasting.  It is framed as a good thing that she refuses to leave and almost implied the Doctor wouldn’t let her leave even if she asked.  Saward is trying to make the Sixth Doctor an outright villain and upping all of his outbursts and problematic qualities simply because Saward did not like the fact that Colin Baker was cast in the role and he left the show on bad terms, which would have begun at this point (this was published in March 1986).  This distaste permeates the novel as the Doctor’s appearances are also scaled back so his lack of appearances only serve to highlight when he does appear how badly he is written.  The one thing improving The Twin Dilemma outside of not being restricted by poor production values is that the twins themselves are intentionally written as insufferable, to the point that there are whole added sections with their father that how his life is now so much better with the twins being kidnapped, including the first few chapters being devoted to how terrible they make this man’s life.


Overall, The Twin Dilemma may improve things slightly from the television story, but it is still telling a story that is fundamentally weak.  There doesn’t actually seem to be any attempt to make the characters any more interesting, and Eric Saward clearly dislikes writing for these characters and this era.  It goes against what he thinks Doctor Who is.  3/10.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

City of Death by: James Goss


City of Death was written by James Goss, based on the television story of the same name by Douglas Adams from an idea by David Fisher.  It was the 166th story to be novelized by BBC Books.


In adapting a television story to a full-length novel for BBC Books, authors have a variety of options.  James Goss took the time to do more than just transcribing the dialogue and actions of the television story City of Death which would have left the novelization quite short, especially as the story builds on the location footage of Paris being used without much dialogue as there is an extended chase sequence back to the TARDIS.  The way this is adapted is the pinnacle of Goss’s style and flair for making something visual translate to prose, by adding in several interludes with the characters who appear for only one scene: the artist who paints Romana, the tour guide at the Louvre, and the patrons played by John Cleese and Eleanor Bron all get to have small interludes which weave their way throughout the novel.  This even begins in the added prologue where Goss adds backstory between the opening scenes of the story on Hermann, Duggan, and the Countess with a small lead in for the Doctor in the TARDIS which are all things that didn’t need to be there yet they add so much character and flair to separate itself from the television story.  The advantage is being taken of making Paris feel like the City of Death as it’s essentially a character on its own, the city is alive and has a life of its own with active areas at night next to areas that are dead.


The one element of the plot added to increase the comic absurdity inherent in Adams’ script was the fact that Scaroth didn’t realize he was an alien until the end of episode one cliffhanger, something on television that only is there because that’s what Doctor Who does.  This isn’t a bad thing, but when writing it Goss had already committed to getting inside the character’s head, so he couldn’t just have the Count rip his face off for no reason.  He is explored by Goss as someone who has been attempting to act human but never realizing that he is not human so the uncanny valley of the character.  The idea is that he is an art collector who is doing the whole Mona Lisa heist to ensure that the funding for his time travel experiments can continue, something that gets the Doctor and Romana involved.  While they succeed as they do on television, a minor change is making it explicit that Romana being brought in to help on the time travel experiments so the plans can be brought forward.  There is also a lot more explicit disconnect between the Count and Kerensky, who here is shown to die from his perspective where the book takes a turn into black comedy for three pages before going back to the normal tone.  There’s also this weird moment added where the Doctor implies that Kerensky’s work will actually be remembered, but that might be another Kerensky which is just another aspect of humor injected into the story.


Goss should also be praised for not attempting to make City of Death the same length as Gareth Roberts’ novelization of Shada.  As this is an adaptation of a four part story, it doesn’t need to be over four hundred pages, yet still clocks in at around three hundred pages.  This doesn’t actually bring the story down at all as Goss’s prose grabs the reader from the first page and doesn’t let go.  There isn’t an attempt to imitate Douglas Adams’ style as Roberts’ homaging tendencies.  The famous lines are all there, but Goss allows City of Death to have his own mark on the story without changing any of the events.  Goss isn’t trying to improve anything as the story is already thought of as one of Doctor Who’s best stories anyway, indeed it is the story with the most viewers on broadcast (partially due to other channels being off air at the time). It makes the novelization work and perhaps be the perfect tribute to the story and the original author even if it had more time to be written than the original televised story.  10/10.

Doctor Who and the Creature from the Pit by: David Fisher


Doctor Who and the Creature from the Pit was written by David Fisher, based on his television story The Creature from the Pit.  It was the 63rd story to be novelized by Target Books.


The Creature from the Pit is not a good story on television.  The first produced for Season 17 there were several production problems, enough to stop Christopher Barry from ever working on the show again.  Lalla Ward famously hated her costume and the fact she was written for Mary Tamm’s Romana and the creature itself is phallic.  David Fisher is an author who has a hand at improving his scripts when novelizing them as evident in Doctor Who and the Leisure Hive, so there was a chance Doctor Who and the Creature from the Pit could have fared well, and in some aspects it does.  The novelization is very much a punchy adventure where a lot of the televised story ends up dragging as Fisher’s style of writing is very comedic which fits the types of stories he wrote and this era of the show.  It’s also very short, the paperback only coming in at 121 pages, so there isn’t much time to be wasted.  There is tightening of the adaptation of Part Four which is where the televised story ran out of any real steam into just two chapters, though one of those chapters feels quite long.  There’s also some inner life of characters revealed that we’re missing on television allowing for more humor to be added into proceedings.


So, if there are a lot of improvements, why doesn’t Doctor Who and the Creature from the Pit manage to stick the landing and turn a bad story good?  Well, mainly because the premise behind the story doesn’t actually have a whole lot going for it.  The plot is all about an ambassador being captured for years and eventually being saved by the Doctor while a planet’s evil ruler is overturned.  While this is a story which has been done before in other stories, here the setting and characters could have made everything work, but it feels like Fisher’s plot just goes through the motions of a Doctor Who story.  It’s also apparent that even in the novelization Romana’s part is meant for Mary Tamm and K9 somehow has even less to do with the plot here despite having quite a large part on television.  The creature doesn’t feel like its own character and there’s even a loss of the camp appeal of some of the performances which helped.


Overall, Doctor Who and the Creature from the Pit manages to improve on some things while other things get lost in translation from screen to page.  While David Fisher has a fun writing style, the story at the heart of the novel isn’t one with a whole lot of merit and ends up leaving the reader feeling kind of empty with how ‘meh’ it turns out to be.  The audiobook has the advantage of being read by Tom Baker, but even that doesn’t help matters too much.  5/10.

Monday, May 9, 2022

The Rescue by: Ian Marter


The Rescue was written by Ian Marter, based on the television story of the same name by David Whitaker.  It was the 127th story to be novelized by Target Books.


The fact that several First and Second Doctor serials weren’t adapted until the 1980s means that when they were adapted, some of the stories were approaching 20 years from original airing and generally repeat viewings hadn’t happened.  There was also a high chance that the archive was missing these serials so authors may not have had visual references for drawing the story.  The Rescue is one such novel where while the archival status was there, author Ian Marter was tasked with adapting a two episode serial in a full-length Target novel.  The Rescue on television is a story that works because it is simple: the Doctor and company land on a planet where an orphaned girl is terrorized by an alien, there’s a twist, the Doctor saves the day and the orphan joins the TARDIS in its travels.  That isn’t actually a lot and writer David Whitaker knew it, it served its purpose and entertained for less than an hour, not overstaying its welcome.  This mean that Ian Marter had to ensure that the novelization doesn’t overstay its welcome and somehow he managed to do that while expanding things to work as a full length novel.


In becoming a full-length novel, The Rescue easily could have diverged from the television story with rearranging of events to drag things out, but Marter doesn’t do that.  Instead of stretching events, new events of the novel are inserted in the narrative in a way that reflects a lot of the ways the world had changed from 1965’s original airing.  Much of David Whitaker’s dialogue remains in tact, but here there is almost more of it just to ensure that the Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and newcomer Vicki are all given some time to shine.  The climax on television is just the Doctor facing off against Bennett and then escaping with Ian, Barbara, and Vicki in tow, while in the novel Ian, Barbara, and Vicki have their own plot trying to find the Doctor in parallel.  The Doctor is also less of an action hero in the novel, with Bennett physically overpowering him, but the Doctor’s cunning gets to the bottom of why Bennett would murder the crew but not just kill Vicki.  The sequences in the caves really create a bond between the three companions that wasn’t quite there in the original version, especially after Barbara kills Sandy the Sand Beast and Vicki forgives her after a quick conversation.  While that happens in the novel, there is an undercurrent of tension which resolves when they are in the caves together and it lifts completely when Vicki joins the TARDIS.


Marter also does a brilliant trick in adding in extra worldbuilding about the futuristic setting, the planet Dido, and the people of Dido.  The actual rescue ship have scenes which essentially bookend the novel, creating characters that are all complete Marter originals.  They are essentially the 1980s idea of what an astronaut will be, with added patronization to the child Vicki, and condescension to the new member of the team which ends up being a lot of fun.  There’s even a point where the TARDIS nearly crashes the ship and the novel ends with a report on the mysterious findings of wreckage and death on Dido.  The people of Dido also don’t just appear right at the end of the story, but interact with the character much earlier, even if they are just observers.  There is also an added danger of the planet entering a cycle that already kills off most of the population which rebuilds itself once the planet reaches a certain position in the galaxy.  It’s why life evolved the way it did and while there isn’t really a scientific basis, it’s still a lot of fun for Marter to explore.


Overall, The Rescue adapts a little story perfectly into a novelization that expands a story without dragging it down in minutia.  The characters are given more focus and the small cast allows so much insight into what makes them work and takes some of the lacking elements of the serial and brings them into an almost modernization.  10//10.

Friday, May 6, 2022

The Dragon Reborn by: Robert Jordan: Solving the Mat Problem, Part 1 (Chapter 19 to 20)


[Mat] drew his sword, raised it high.  “Forward the Heart Guard!” He dug his heels in, and his mount leaped down the slope.  Behind him, hooves thundered in the charge.  “Forward!” He was the first to strike into the Trollocs, his sword rising and falling, his bannerman close behind.  “For the honor of the Red Eagle!”  The Heart Guard pounded into the gas between the spearmen, smashing the tide, hurling it back.  “The Red Eagle!”  Half-human faces snarled at him, oddly curved swords sought him, but he cut his way ever deeper.  Win or die.  “Manetheren!”  Mat’s hand trembled as he raised it to his forehead.  “Los Valdor Cuebiyari,” he muttered.  He was almost sure he knew what it meant—“Forward the Heart Guard,” or maybe “The Heart Guard will advance” –-but that could not be.  Moiraine had told him a few words of the Old Tongue, nd those were all he knew of it.  The rest might as well be magpie chatter.” – The Dragon Reborn, p. 216-217.


Sometimes when writing The Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan would switch perspectives far too quickly once the point of view characters expanded.  This is one of those times, as The Dragon Reborn has finally gotten to the point where Mat Cauthon can enter the narrative, but only covering two short chapters before going back to the girls.  There easily could have been a third chapter from Mat’s perspective here to even things out, but that chapter will come later and won’t be discussed until later with two other Egwene chapters.  These chapters may be brief, but there is a lot done here to make Mat work as a character and begin his ascent to actually being a functional character.  It cannot be understated that the fact that he hasn’t yet had a point of view chapter in The Eye of the World or The Great Hunt meant that we only got perspective from how others view him, and while he had character, it was static and brought down because of the curse of the dagger.  Now the dagger’s curse may not fully be gone, it is revealed that Siuan intends to keep him in the Tower as he still might need more Healing, but now that it is effectively gone and we get something in his head we know what he can think.  He works through his surroundings and comes to the proper conclusion that he is in the White Tower, the lair of the Aes Sedai, and while eating food left for him.  They talk circles around him when Siuan visits as he already has it in his head that they want to use him, planted by Lanfear who finds her way to his room first, describing him as being pulled by the Aes Sedai and herself as not one of the pitiful Darkfriends, only loyal to one, heavily implied to be Rand.


It is interesting that Lanfear has her own agenda, giving the reader the first real glimpse that the Forsaken do not have cohesion between them.  Lanfear is a rogue element trying to push another rogue element to her own ends.  Mat has essentially become a rogue element, being motivated by not being manipulated by others and carving a path for himself.  He immediately tries to leave, and while he is stopped he is still determined to find a way out, somehow.  This drive and independence creates the start of a character enhanced by what the Healing has done to him.  While it is not explained here, the quote at the beginning of this essay comes from the vision Mat has as he is waking, all in the Old Tongue translated into English, visions of fighting in the Trolloc Wars, something that he remembers fighting in despite not being alive when those wars happened.  He has a keener sense of things and immediately goes to the idea that this is all madness and he will have nothing to do with Aes Sedai, learning that his father and Tam al’Thor came to the Tower after them.  He is pushing himself away to his own ends, those ends just getting out of the Tower as fast as possible, possibly just heading home.  Now the Pattern will not have it, he has already blown the Horn of Valere and even he knows that it shouldn’t fall into the hands of the Dark One, but he has a purpose and a goal.  The Mat Problem stemmed from being passive, and now he can no longer be passive.  It’s not solved, but it is being worked on.