The Last Resort
|ISBN||0 563 48605 8|
|Synopsis: Good Times Inc. promised a new tourist experience, with hotels in every major period of human history - but that kind of arrogance comes with a price, and it's a price the Doctor doesn't want to pay. As aliens conquer an alternative Earth, Anji and Fitz race to find out how to stop Good Times without stopping time itself - but they find that events are out of control; they can't even save each other.|
It's Campaign, but crap! by Finn Clark 4/6/03
Heavens to Betsy, we must be in the middle of the worst stretch of books ever. I know that's been a sad fanboy whinge since the dawn of time, but right now I'm mulling over low points like the '93 NAs or the '98 8DAs and I'm deciding that they're preferable. Might we actually be lucky that readers can't find these books in bookshops? Not only have the D-list authors been slithering out from under their stones en masse, but even those folks for whom I had some slight expectation (Messingham, Leonard) seem to have been chewing lumps of lead and licking windows since we last heard from them .
 - Blue Box was okay, though.
In fairness, I suppose The Last Resort isn't entirely Paul Leonard's fault. It's part of the Second Alternate Universe Arc, so we shouldn't be surprised that it sucks. However I can't help thinking of two other books: (a) the same author's Genocide, which would fit into this arc beautifully except for being, y'know, good, and (b) Campaign. The Last Resort is dedicated to Jim Mortimore, which is heartwarming but also very, very appropriate. I can't go into detail because of spoilers, but had this book been written by Mortimore we'd have been sending it back to the shop as a cheap knock-off of himself and jeez, can't the man write something he hasn't written before?
We have an timehopping non-plot with deliberate continuity errors. We have a pre-Roman civilisation (Campaign had Alexander the Great, The Last Resort has Ancient Egypt), but also contemporary stuff and a sprinkling of prehistory. We have stuff I can't talk about. And, above all, we have death. Damn, is there death! Some of this is genuinely shocking and it's pretty much what kept me reading. I hadn't a clue about the plot and after a while I didn't care, but you can't avoid the death. It's memorable, I'll give it that.
Again in this arc we have a technobabble ending without proper closure (grrrr), though at least this time there was a human cost and sacrifice involved. I can actually imagine some people really appreciating this book... if one overlooks the plot which doesn't so much have threads as dead, tangled knots, then there's a powerful high concept behind what's going on. Campaign did it first with a different rationale, but this does a good job of giving weight and meaning to what would otherwise have been random meaninglessness. It's better in that respect than So Vile A Sin, for instance.
I suppose had I never read Campaign then I might almost have been impressed by this. But damn, it's a mess! I suspect that the plot doubles back on itself as with Festival of Death, but you're actively discouraged from putting in the required effort to make those connections. Anji and Fitz are hard to like here, though two sympathetic original characters (Jack and Iyeeye) help to compensate for that. And most importantly this book doesn't have what Campaign had in spades - style. The telling is bald, with precious little evocation of whatever timezone our heroes may happen to be stuck in. (Admittedly the burger franchise style operation of Good Times Inc. makes that an important point of the story, but as a reader I find it hard to care about the loss of something that wasn't there in the first place.) Oh, and the Doctor's missing for half the book.
DISCLAIMER: to help everyone put this review in perspective, I also hated Time's Crucible and Citadel of Dreams. Some readers seem to like strange-but-confusing stories in which nothing meaningful happens and everything's random... but personally I loathe 'em, so if you disagree with me about those two aforementioned books then you'll probably disagree with me about this too. In its favour The Last Resort kept me reading easily despite everything and had emotional weight at the end.
Sabbath is back, as we're told on the back cover, and is actually pretty good. He's menacing and dangerous again, though it's harder than ever to distinguish his agenda from the Doctor's. We're told often that he's untrustworthy, but it's hard to be worried about his presence when the plot's so blatantly not about traditional hero vs. villain conflicts. However at least he's no longer the Ainley Master. It's as if his last few books never happened. There's no word of his last catastrophic defeat or how he escaped alive, not even an "I'm indestructible, the universe knows that", so reading The Last Resort is like stepping into a parallel universe where The Infinity Race et al were never published. It's a good feeling.
There's no comedy, unless you count Anji's brief socialist awakening. ("Capitalism is evil! Why didn't I see it before?") I suppose this is better than Paul Leonard's Pertwee MAs, which instantly erased themselves from my brain, but otherwise I think it's comfortably his worst Who book.
A Review by Henry Potts 21/7/03
I'm not quite sure what to make of The Last Resort. Some quarters billed it as the saviour of the Alternate Universe arc. It's not that, but it does move the arc on and is the first book that seems to benefit from this wider context. Leonard gives us a clear narrative through a complex tale of temporal hi-jinks and his strong imagery avoids the pitfalls of yet more techno-babble, but the book does not have the strengths of The Turing Test and its implications for the arc are strange.
The Last Resort offers up a story of temporal strangeness as the dire predictions of recent 8DAs come true. The format is striking, but not that unusual in traditional science fiction. The Last Resort is a lot of Philip K. Dick, with maybe a touch of "Tom Strong", but Leonard writes it well for the most part. There are some touching scenes, some striking imagery, an amusing twist around the Others (perhaps an obscure joke on the explanation of the Enemy in The Ancestor Cell too?). However, the book is unoriginal in places and becomes clumsy in its execution. The anti-globalisation stance is delivered like a sledgehammer and undermines any characterisation of Anji, echoing a similar political naïveté in Genocide. Fitz and the Doctor fare little better, mere ciphers for the plot. It is the Doctor's passivity that lingers as a bitter aftertaste after the enjoyment of the book.
Leonard dedicates the book to Jim Mortimore and appears to have inherited Mortimore's obsession with death.
The solution to the multiplication of time lines centres around the death of duplicate people, although there is no obvious reason why that should solve anything. You can set up many a time paradox without conscious beings having to be involved. A dead duplicate Fitz is just as much of a paradox as a live one.
The Last Resort also seems to prove Sabbath right. The Doctor gives up on his idea of saving people and his last ditch attempt to salvage one life seems to doom the entire universe all over in the epilogue. Is that how the 8DAs want to present the Doctor? A bumbling fool who avoids responsibility for destroying his planet and whose subsequent behaviour will destroy the universe? Or will a subsequent 8DA have a twist whereby the Doctor redeems himself and proves Sabbath wrong? I am perturbed, but at least I want to know what happens next, which hasn't been true for several months!
Mind blowing! by Joe Ford 10/9/03
First a few home truths... I received this book only five days ago and I've already read it twice! The first time I read it I was ready to proclaim it the worst EDA in ages, at least since Grimm Reality and maybe as far back as The Slow Empire. It was disjointed, nonsensical and reader alienating. Given my status as EDA boot licker I thought I would immediately give the book a second go, take it a bit slower, really concentrate... and d'you know what? It's a great read, the book was never at fault, oh no, your reviewer was.
When Justin proclaimed that this book was going to be "wild!" I was sceptical but I take it all back, Paul Leonard has achieved something wonderful... he has managed to push a Doctor Who book to the absolute limits of the imagination. The end of the universe? Yep. Companions dead? Yep. The Doctor killed? Oh yes. This book dares to go so far for a good while I doubted the EDA's could dig their way out of this one.
Do the EDA's and Big Finish discuss their schedules or something... I swear they must because this has more than a little in common with Creatures of Beauty when it comes to narrative structure. COB was complicated sure but at least that was just following one story, The Last Resort follows several tales and characters, they weave around each other apparantly in an improvised fashion when in fact they are skilfully wrapped up (or looped back to another plot at the begining) at the end. Confused? You will be but half the fun of this book is to figure out who you are following and how their plots add up. The book opens with several intruiging mysteries... why is Anji pretending she doesn't know Fitz? Why is Sabbath helping out so much? Where the hell is the Doctor? that aren't answered until the book's conclusion. Paul Leonard said he had to draw a spreadsheet to figure out the twisting plots and I can understand how... assembling this book must have been no easy task.
Alternative realities. Love 'em or hate 'em they have plagued the book range for the past three or four months. I feel they have been dealt with quite imaginatively (except the convoluted plot heavy Loving the Alien last month) for the most part but the idea is used here to the most extreme effect possible. Some of the imagery Paul dares to use is extremely humorous and memorable... McDonalds in Ancient Eygypt, plush hotels in the Wild West, robot dinosaurs in the desert... this story is all about the dangers of Time Travel resulting in the absence of the Laws of Time.
It dares to take characters from worlds that should not exist, Jack and Iyeeye, and make them central characters. Leonard does a fine job of making them full blooded and smypathetic, just trying to stay alive in a impossible situation. Much of the book is told from their point of view and it validates their timelines much more than Totterdon from Reckless Engineering and the fascist Empire from The Domino Effect. What I loved about these two was how they were only just on the verge of understanding what was going on themselves (just like the reader) and so have much of the plot explained to them (therefore us!). And they were painted with shades of grey, both could be unlikable and unpredictable, willing to switch sides on Fitz and Anji at tricky moments. They more than make up for the loss of the Doctor in the first half of the book.
What's that? The Doctor's missing in action? Yep. And it's another reason the story jars so much at first but it really gives top companions Fitz and Anji a chance to shine on their own. Never, EVER have I been so impressed that the Doctor's friends survived their latest ordeal, what these two are put through in this book surpasses anything any other companion has had to put up with. It touches on a fascinating subject... if you had to die to save the universe would you sacrifice yourself voluntarily? The passages where these two deal with this issue are stunningly thoughtful. Anji has a number of striking passages where she explains the destructive situation for what it really is. Trust her to tell it how it is, something that makes her so compelling to read for.
The first two thirds of the book threaten to turn away the casual reader but they are really only set up for the stunning last third which is reward enough for any novel. The last fifty pages contains some of the most imaginative and gripping reading for any Doctor Who book I have ever read. As the universe shifts about and only the Doctor and co can see it and the thousands of TARDISes appear in the desert (see the the cover) and "I think time and space just fell apart" (see the back cover) the book pulses with energy and shocking imagery. The death toll for the book is incalculable but the conclusion dares to have the Doctor lose over and over again.
And hey... Sabbath wins! Scary or what? His predictions in Time Zero have come true and his presence in the book is extremely welcome, no longer a sinister mastermind hiding in the shadows he is now humanity's last, best hope for survival. How the hell did that happen? He makes an impressive showing here and I would welcome more visits from this arrogant sod. His solution to save the universe is terrifying but understandable.
But what of the Doctor? What has happened to this man? Our hero, once champion of time now reduced to this... a desperate, dangerous man, willing to sacrifice whoever to save the universe. A risky undertaking to make the hero so damn questionably likable... is this the ultimate expression of the amnesiac Doctor? How the hell will he cope with his actions when (and if) he gets his memories back?
If I had a problem with this book it would be that it ends far, far too quickly, it doesn't take the time to wrap up the plot threads or even explain some of them. With such a crowded TARDIS I hope all the superflous characters don't just disapear before the begining of Timeless or I shall be very upset. We don't get to see if this story has any kind of fallout, I just hope it does... vague explanations that everything is alright doesn't do a story justice.
The Last Resort is the best alternative reality story yet, it dares to do something daring with the concept and plays around with the main characters in ways I could never have forseen. An inconclusive ending is the only real dampener on an otherwise gripping read.
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 16/11/03
Keen to carry on the alternate arc after the impressive Reckless Engineering, I was intrigued by The Last Resort. Paul Leonard, author of the excellent Turing Test, could be a great writer. The many TARDISs on the cover looked intriguing. Looked like this was to be a complex one, but I felt in the mood to give it the attention.
After 50 pages or so I was less struck on the book. A chap called Jack kept turning up, getting killed, and turning up again. Then he became a Pharoah, and my head started hurting. When Fitz and Anji started to appear as different versions of themselves, I became even more confused. After 100 pages the Doctor still hadn't turned up, and I felt I hadn't a hope in hell chance of discovering what all this alternative universes stuff was all about.
I could see how this was related to the loss of the Time Lords - nobody to regulate the time lanes etc etc - but does it have to be all so complicated? I'm sure all this is rather clever, and it all fits together - but I couldn't work it out! Even when the revelations come thick and fast at the end I didn't get it - definitely one for multiple reads - but I don't fancy trying that again.
For the record the Doctor turns up about half way in, but half the book's gone by then for goodness sake. I hark back to my irritation in previous reviews about this sort of thing - it says DOCTOR WHO on the cover - he should be the star!
I do really like Fitz and Anji though, but not at the expense of the 8th Doctor - who is far and away a better character. Having Fitz and Anji go down one road, then go down another, and wonder which is the right one, but apparently they all are possibilities!?!?!? I got well confused as to who was who and what was what. I was prepared to give this book some decent time though, but re-reading passages just didn't help, I became more mixed up.
To be honest this scanning back isn't my favourite thing to do. Means you basically have to read the book twice to make sense of the thing, but I had given it a good go. I was confronted at every turn by a mass of confusing alternative realities. I quite liked the idea of Good Times Inc - but this organization faded into the background as the book progressed. To have MacDonalds and Photo Booths in Ancient Egypt was a wacky but potentially brilliant idea. Trouble was it provoked a messy synopsis of differing timelines. I just couldn't grasp the structure of the whole thing. How were pyramids, coffee plantations, stone circles, Martian aliens and Kowaczski's time machine connected?
Through all this confusion it was good to see Sabbath back, and in this mass of diverging personalities for each character, it's refreshing to see one Sabbath - a truly unique creation. Trix shows promise based on her shadowy presence here. Nice to see her out in the open, so to speak.
The regulars are usually interesting here too, but the countless versions of each lessens them individually. When the scene on the cover does turn up (well into the book by the way), it is one of the highlights of the whole escapade. This scene (aliens and all), Sabbath, Trix and the regulars are the best things I can recommend about this book.
But overall the story just was too confusing and mixed up for my tastes. After it I longed for a traditional, linear, Doctor Who story with a beginning, middle and end - some monsters would be nice too. I'm afraid for this book it has to be a thumbs down from this reviewer, but I'm sure Timeless will be better. 5/10
A Review by Rob Matthews 19/3/04
An opening quotation:
'We are apes, a group that almost went extinct fifteen million years ago, in competition with the better-designed monkeys. We are primates, a group of mammals that almost went extinct forty-five million years ago in competition with the better-designed rodents. We are synapsid tetrapods, a group of reptiles that almost went extinct 200 million years ago in competition with the better-designed dinsoaurs. We are descended from limbed fishes, which almost went extinct 360 million years ago in competition with the better-designed ray-finned fishes. We are chordates, a phylum that survived the Cambrian era 500 million years ago by the skin of its teeth in competition with the brilliantly successful arthropods. Our ecological success came against humbling odds.'That's not a quote from Paul Leonard's The Last Resort, by the way; rather it's from Matt Ridley's fascinating popular science book Genome. But fear not, I didn't get meself so bored by The Last Resort that I've decided to talk about a completely different book instead. I just find it a passage that nicely summarises the gist of the vision Leonard seems to be trying to get across with this novel - the success of life, our lives, against the massive odds of the universe in general. The sheer unlikelihood, the precariousness of it.
Oh very well, I'll also quote something from The Last Resort itself to illustrate the flipside:
'How could you explain to an Egyptian princeling used to a society where most people grubbed a fairly miserable living off the land that a huge gorgeously coloured city full of people enjoying themselves could nonetheless be the fount of all evil? Especially when none of them actually wanted to hurt anyone. She didn't doubt that ninety per cent of them would have voted against a war, of any sort, whoever they were fighting, repelled by the horror of innocent lives being lost; yet the system that was supported by their greed and shortsightedness was destroying every human being in every culture in their history, and with it everything that existed forever, with no coming back.'Obviously pretty close to home - I notice Finn Clark had a bit of a chuckle at Anji's moment of realisation that capitalism's really quite bad - but the passage is as good an indicator as any that Leonard's out to render a particular vision with this book - going back to that admirable aim of science fiction, traceable right back to HG Wells, of the using the SF form as social commentary. This is cool, because in Who fandom we can tend to get a bit bogged down in mythos as an end in itself, and certain authors (Craig 'quintillion' Hinton leaps to mind) often make just such a mistake - writing Doctor Who just for the sake of Doctor Who, an approach which IMO misses the point, since Doctor Who is a storytelling vehicle and writing Doctor Who that's just there to be Doctor Who is like keeping that vehicle safely parked in its garage. For me all the authors in the range worth reading are the ones who can put their foot down on the damn accelerator, take a step back from just writing a 'Doctor Who novel' and set their own terms.
In this case Paul Leonard, along with several other authors, has been handed the task of keeping a 'buggered Time' arc going. Now, if you write something like that as just a piece of a story arc, just as an 'Oh no, time's gone wrong!' shock effect sustained to novel length, all you'll end up with is... The Domino Effect. But if you come at it laterally, and think of it in terms of a wider vision, one which actually has a relevance beyond the fallout from the death of a made-up planet called 'Gallifrey' from a cheesy old SF show, what you get is The Last Resort. Not the most perfect novel ever written, but a novel nonetheless, rather than some perfunctory placeholder like the aforementioned Domino Effect - a book whose prime error, I reckon, was making the assumption that as Doctor Who fans we're automatically going to be interested in a disintegrating Whoniverse; and so didn't work hard enough to engage us.
Sorry to keep harping on about visions here, but if I could sum up Paul Leonard's in just one word I think 'precarious' would be the one I'd choose. On one level it's informed by a sort of pure, raw metaphysical terror - a humble, astonished disbelief that this everyday world we live in, with people we love, and Starbucks on the corner, and The Office on TV, and carpets and bus stations and PG Wodehouse and teddy bears and ironing boards and visits to the pub, could be here at all. And thus the converse, the fear of how easily it could all be gone. The terrible fear that we just aren't good enough to deserve existence at all. Paul Cornell took this same variety of self-doubt as his theme for The Shadow of the Scourge. On a societal level you could maybe argue that this same feeling of unworthiness-to-exist is what gave rise to the religious concept of original sin.
On a less abstract level, Leonard's novel is about how we frankly are living these lives of ours despite unimaginably enormous odds against it, and how we frankly are destroying them through greed, shortsightedness and apathy. Leonard's exploited, frayed and slowly dying universe is our own exploited, frayed and slowly dying world. The hostility of the natural world, once kept at bay by the construction of society and civilisation, is now exacerbated by our own exploitation of that world - the temporal chaos of The Last Resort an SF analogue of global warming and pollution, Good Times Inc representing every money-grabbing, exploitin' pollutin' big business which promises quick and easy satisfaction in the short term and shrugs off the enormous problems they're creating for the world around them in the long term. The fact that Leonard manages not even to particularly dwell on this, just to take it as the backbone of his novel before the story per se even really begins, is impressive.
It may however also seem derivative, to some. I summed up Leonard's vision in one word as 'precarious'. I should acknowledge that you could also sum it up in two words as 'Jim Mortimore'.
Is that a bad thing really? I don't know. If I hadn't read The Turing Test and didn't already know that Leonard was a bloody good author in his own right, I might have been a bit more dismissive of this book as Mortimore-lite, just a pretty good imitation of the real thing. Since I do know Paul is a bloody good author, I'm more willing to shrug off the similiarity. Leonard doesn't need to nick anyone's ideas. Quite why he appears to be doing it here is a question I can't answer, but I think the poor bloke has found himself in the same position as Lloyd Rose with Camera Obscura and Jonathan Morris with Anachrophobia - having to follow up an extraordinarily impressive previous novel. And while The Last Resort is no Turing Test, while it's still so reminiscent of Jim Mortimore that you might feel Leonard is misusing his own individual talents, it's still at the upper end of the quality scale as Who books go.
And if you think about it, wasn't The Turing Test itself set in three different realities? That uncrossable chasm of subjectivity between one man and the next, and the next? Perhaps there's a stronger link there than is immediately evident.
Well, obviously Leonard's flair for characterisation carries across too. When Finn Clark criticises these alt-universe stories as difficult to care about because they're not ahem, 'real', I can see what he means all right, but I think Paul manages to address that here. The book is narrated mostly from the points of view of Jack and Iyeeye, two characters from universes which, from the perspective of our ostensible heroes, 'shouldn't' exist. One of the strongest emotional hits I took from this was Iyeeye's dawning realisation that although she felt for a while that Anji and Fitz were friends and allies, ultimately she was going to end up on her own. And if you take it as read that there's a general theme running through the book of the haves blithely making life difficult for the have-nots, what's interesting is how much the Doctor, in wanting to restore the universe that's his and where he feels comfortable, is in a way showing the very same selfishness - preserving the temporal staus quo for the lucky few. Time's Champion is now the defender of the dimensional bourgeoise! We're left in no doubt that he has no choice and that he's trying to prevent the end of bloody everything, but he's still a much less sympathetic character than Jack and Iyeeye; he can't avoid getting his hands dirty, but dirty they are.
Sabbath works really well too - best I've seen him so far, in fact; constantly teetering across the imaginary line that divides 'amoral' from 'evil' (imaginary because amorality is in a practical sense evil anyway), keeping Fitz and us wondering as to his actions, and making the Doctor look silly and ineffectual. He's literally the only one holding it together... Strong characterisation is a particulary important factor in making a 'concept' book accessible - and sorry to keep getting at The Domino Effect, but what made that unsuccessful for me was the cookie-cutter characters. Finn suggests they're difficult to care about because they're not part of the 'real' Whoniverse, but I think the fact that they're crap and unengaging is what really prevents us getting over the alt-reality thing, getting emotionally involved with them and thus the story. Whereas with The Last Resort we feel for Iyeeye and Jack, the sci-fi crisis has a human face and so we actually give a damn.
The 'puzzle' nature of the book is confusing alright. I saw where some bits linked up, couldn't follow the thread with others - and once you have a billion TARDISes clustering on the undersides of spaceships and Fitzes dying left, right and centre, it's probably best to just give up on trying to keep track. I just like the terrifying vertiginous sense of a universe so close to being flushed it's already in the u-bend; the feeling - superbly evoked - that it really could come to an end any time now. The Good Times board meeting loaded with what might be termed continuity errors is pretty trippy, but there's a scary sense that the wilder the variations on this basic scenario, the less likely it becomes that our reality can be reclaimed - if everyone at the meeting suddenly turned into talking ray-finned fishes, all those years of evolution would be undone and you'd never get humanity back. Certainly there's a 'flat' feel to each time and place described - Ancient Egypt for example -, but that's entirely appropriate. Surely the point is that the individuality of each time and place is being eroded, and everywhere's becoming the same; like in the real world, a McDonalds on every corner, even the corners of Ancient Babylon.
The Last Resort is an impressive book, I reckon; slightly reminiscent of another Doctor Who author who's a little bit better at this sort of thing, not as excellent as Leonard's previous Who novel, but a well crafted and refreshingly considered approach to an episode in a story arc - and because of that, one which is elevated from mere 'arc' status.
Two out of Five by Jamas Enright 8/04
You know what I think? (And, to be honest, you're about to find out whether you want to or not.) I think Paul Leonard was given this filler story to write (and, let's face it, it is a filler story), and I think that as I can't see any other reason for the creation of this pile of rubbish.
That said, Paul Leonard then clearly decided that for him to write this, he needed an angle to get into the story, and so decided to do this by introducing two new characters and write as much of the story from their perspective so as to not reveal that there's very little story here. Unfortunately that does mean that the reader has very little on which to understand what's going on, and thus spends most of the book going 'eh?'.
Because, frankly, the story just doesn't make that much sense. Here we are, universes and time lines collapsing around us, so obviously the best way to present this is by having no coherent story structure. I'm as ready as the next person to follow multi-temporal reverse causal loops, but they have to work in the first place. We are presented with more than just one Anji, Fitz and the Doctor (not to mention Jack and Iyeeye), but I can handle that, even though it seems to come as a big surprise to the time travelling experienced companions, and we are also presented with events out of sequence, which again I can handle. But what Paul Leonard seems to do here is change what events cause what so that not only do we not find out what the real cause of an event was, nor do we find out if the event really was caused at all!
Ahem. Anyway, suffice to say the story is more mixed that a packet of peanuts.
So what of the characters? So what of them? The joy (???) of differing time lines is that any inconsistencies of characterisations can be put down to alternative realities, and we definitely encounter many different versions of all the characters. And there's certainly many different characterisations! But Anji did come across as uniformly annoyed, and Fitz was uniformly useless as a person, so there are some continuing characteristics to rely upon. The Doctor makes a very late appearance, another trick to make the book seem more clever than it really is, but all it does is make it seem that we will soon be subjected to a story where none of the people in it encounter the Doctor or the companions!
The two new point of view characters Paul Leonard introduce are Jack and Iyeeye (I'd like to know how to pronounce that), who really demonstrate their plot point potential. I'm also thinking that the Doctor has picked up some new companions by the end, but I'm not sure as the disjointed nature of it all is rather more than confusing. (And just what is the deal with Tee Ex? I think I missed something there.)
So, confused by this rather rambling review then? Well, just think how I felt reading The Last Resort!
I think rhyme and reason just fell apart by Andrew McCaffrey 13/8/04
I'm actually shocked by how much I disliked The Last Resort. Paul Leonard is an author I have a lot of time for. I found something to enjoy in all of his previous NAs/EDAs (yes, even Dreamstone Moon which is almost universally loathed). Yet outside the first few chapters, I didn't enjoy any of it. There's just not much here to like. Stuff happens. None of it to people we're interested in. Then more stuff happens. Not much of it makes sense. Then the book ends. Readers are left, scratching their heads, wondering why on Earth this book exists. Maybe it doesn't. Maybe I imagined it. Once the scars heal and the memory fades, I doubt I'll ever have any reason to want to go back and prove that this book really was published.
There's a strong beginning to the story. We actually have a plot that fits comfortably into the on-going story-arc; without the Time Lords to enforce the Laws Of Time, dangerous and destructive time travel is appearing. "Destructive", because of the havoc inadvertently unleashed upon the cosmos. Alternative universes are springing up with each instance of time travel (at least, that's what the book says, although unexplained exceptions are made). Any time traveler changing history is now responsible for the existence of two time-streams -- the first being his original time-stream (the unmolested chain of events that led to his time travel), the second being the altered, new time-stream (the new and improved version which may in fact be a paradox). The book's most successful moments involve the comedy potential of having all manner of modern-day icons turning up in human history.
The biggest problem with this book is that it's obvious by about page fifty that this state of affairs can't remain true and there's clearly going to be a reset of one sort or another before the book closes. "But", I hear some of you saying, "Surely what's important is the journey itself, not necessarily what we arrive at." And usually I would agree with that sentiment. But this journey itself is technobabble-laden nonsense. Most of it probably makes logical sense, but it's difficult to care about any of it. We're told that Sabbath's nonsensical plan to fix everything will work, but we aren't told why or given any information that would let us figure it out.
We're told that alternative universes are popping up every time someone (off-screen) makes a change to history. So, how often is this occurring? How many time-streams are created during the first, say, one hundred pages? Does each inconsistency point to a newer history? Are there new universes created without immediately noticeable effects? Are new universes being created with every chapter? Every scene? Every page? Every sentence? As far as I can tell, each of these could be true, but we aren't told why or given any information that would let us figure it out.
So, given that the majority of the book is simply extended padding, is there anything worth reading in the bulk of pages that makes up The Last Resort? Sadly, no. In the past, Leonard has done a reasonably good job of presenting solid characterization. At times, he's done astonishingly well on this point. But not here. His characters simply cannot overcome the "plot" that they're mired in. The only exception is a bright spot in the character of Iyeeye. Leonard is playing to his strengths here. I found her thoughts while in her own environment to be engrossing. The problem is that the story is far too splintered for a deep character like this. She's stuck in something that is impossible to care about and unfortunately the effect is to dull any interest she may have brought.
One of the advantages to creating a whole bunch of identical duplicates is that it allows the author opportunity to kill off characters as many times as he likes without having to bother creating new ones. Oh boy. But yet, maybe seeing exactly how a beloved character may choose to sacrifice himself in one reality would give us further insight into the still-living character in another time-line. It's a nice idea... that only happens once (Anji's journal). The literally thousands of other deaths are just pointless. In the MST3k episode "Time Chasers", a movie which shares the same philosophy of time travel as this novel, one copy of our bespectacled, big-chinned, hockey-haired hero is blown away. "Don't worry, folks", mocks one of the robots wearily, "This movie's got a spare." Oh, you wouldn't believe the amount of times I thought of that line during The Last Resort.
The plot eventually turns back on itself. Maybe. Something inexplicable that occurs near the beginning finally gets a time-travely explanation towards the end although I'm not convinced that the link-up actually matters. It would be more impressive if there was any reason to care by that point or any reason to believe that they were all part of the same universe or time-line or whatever. So something matches up. So what? It's been mere days since I read the book and I'm already struggling to remember why key plot points took place. This novel is the poster child for demonstrating that a convoluted plot is no replacement for a complex one. A complex plot is one in which multiple layers are carefully interweaved -- characterization, plot and tone all work together to enhance the author's chosen themes. A convoluted plot is one in which weird stuff happens just because the author says so. It may all make sense by the end, but it might not. And you might not even be able to tell anyway.
I have absolutely no problem with a storyline that requires me to give it a lot of thought. But I balk when that extra thinking leads only to the discovery of plot-holes, inconsistencies and sloppiness. This is not Paul Leonard's finest hour.
A Review by John Seavey 19/10/04
My feelings on The Last Resort almost perfectly mirror my feelings on the entire current arc in general -- even though, empirically, I'm aware of a lot of flaws in it, and even though it's confusing and I can't sum up the plot, I'm still enjoying it because of the atmosphere of palpable doom that permeates the whole thing.
To be honest, I'm not even sure if the book needs spoilers, because there's not much of a plot. The whole thing is really more of a mood piece, a walking talking demonstration of the sorry state reality's been left in by the events of the previous books. Time travel is common-place; alternates and duplicates are popping up left, right, and center; even the Doctor and the TARDIS aren't immune, with a climax that involves thousands of TARDISes colliding with each other. Reality's about as solid at this point as cheese curds, and the novel conveys this wonderfully with every page and every scene.
Unfortunately, with no solid reality anymore, and very little causality, the novel doesn't make any sense. I don't know what caused it, I don't know what solved it or even if it's solved, and I couldn't summarize the actual plot at gunpoint. It's a bit like Campaign in that regard, except that it doesn't turn out all to be a big video game.
Ultimately, I liked the book, but I can't honestly defend it. It is what it is... if you liked it, I agree, but if you didn't, I understand why.
Diminshing returns by Robert Smith? 13/11/04
Paul Leonard should stick to writing like Paul Leonard.
The first half -- the parts without the Doctor -- are really effective. It's a shame really, as this could have made an excellent Doctorless EDA. There's some really good writing here, both in establishing the corporate tourism gone mad settings and also the time manipulations. The multiple Chapter Two's are excellent. There are subtle differences between each, making it worth the effort.
There's some nice mystery set up, with Anji's being forced to deny knowing Fitz nicely sowed for later on. Unlike later events, all the stuff here works, because we're made to care. Thousands of TARDIS materialisations, with countless deaths of the Doctor et al are all well and good, but they're not enough on their own. This is a post Lawrence Miles Whoniverse, so big ideas simply aren't going to cut it on their own any more (and with all the titles being pop songs, this feels like a throwback in more ways than one). What we get in the first half is characterisation and a way to connect to the characters. Anji witnessing a hundred Fitzs dying doesn't resonate nearly as well as the feeling of hurt Fitz gets when she pretends not to know him.
The guest characters are quite impressive, even though there are only three of note. Jack works much better than he probably should, while Iyeeye is fantastic. The world as seen through her eyes is effective, without being overdone. We, or Anji, would probably figure out what the Others were right away, but keeping them at one step removed via Iyeeye's frame of reference means that the revelation of their true nature is much more effective.
We don't get to know Aaron Kowaczski nearly as well, but using him as the linchpin of stability in the corporate future is quite effective. The board meeting scene is goofy but fun, although the Doctor, Fitz and Anji's escape is a bit silly. If people are already turning into birds, it seems a bit late to worry about Egypt. And running into the Daleks and Cybermen along the way is just silly.
In fact, the whole final third of the book is just insane, and not in a good way. Don't get me wrong, I love Jim Mortimore. Campaign is one of my all time favourite Doctor Who books and just about everything the man's ever written is fantastic, even when I didn't really get it, like Sword of Forever. The secret, I think, is that Jimbo is playing on such a vast stage that his individual scenes are actually more important, so he writes them with an intensity rarely seen elsewhere. Often the big picture is so scrambled as to be meaningless, but the individual moments have such richness to them that you don't notice the forest, for concentrating on the trees.
But, a bit like people who think they can dance like Peter Garrett from Midnight Oil, only Jim Mortimore can do Jim Mortimore and no one else should even try. Paul Leonard is usually more of a solid writer, taking his time to develop a realistic alien world and society. And, while his writing can be very good at times, as it is in places here, he just doesn't have the breathless intensity that Mortimore has. Indeed, the only time Leonard's books move with any kind of speed is his endings, which are usually so rushed as to be meaningless. The Last Resort is basically one big Paul Leonard ending.
By the time thousands of TARDISes materialise underneath the alien spaceship and possibly collapse into a sun, we've lost all reason to care. Which is a shame, because the ideas here are decent ones and could have produced an excellent book, with a little more restraint. Most of it fits together afterwards when you think about it, but you can only get away with this sort of thing when you actually engage us in the first place.
Speaking of which, the cover is appallingly misleading. I can forgive the lack of TARDISes on the underside of the spaceship, as that's clearly a stylistic decision. But what's with the pyramids? This event clearly happens in ancient Egypt, not the present day, so why is the smooth finish from the pyramids missing then as well?
That said, the actual showdown with the Martians is excellent. The manner of their evolution is a fabulous SF big idea and actually makes the book more contained that it seems. The Doctor's solution when overriding Sabbath is also effective. It's actually a shame the book didn't end there, as that was a nice place to round off. Sadly, for some reason Leonard can't allow his endings to have any sort of resolution, so instead we get the epilogue, which is no help at all. Why? No, really, why?
Okay, so on page 61 Iyeeye is clearly from an alien planet. The moon is huge, it has rings and it's blue-green. But on page 252 the Martians say that they took people from Earth like Iyeeye, clearly implying that she's either from Earth or Mars. On page 107 we get this gem: "She forced herself to slow the car down, made a left turn as soon as she could." And then, just two paragraphs later: "'We turned right,' she said, 'So we're on the same side of Jumpsville as the TARDIS.'" Huh? Oh, and how come Sabbath freely enters the TARDIS on page 253, despite being unable to do so in Camera Obscura? Okay, time and space are going into fibrillation at this point, but you'd think there could have been some acknowledgement of it.
The Last Resort has some of the best and some of the worst aspects of this arc and the EDAs in general. There's some intense writing and huge ideas. On the downside, there's also some intense writing and huge ideas. This would probably have worked significantly better, and with minimal changes, as a standalone book, which I think is a pretty hefty strike against the arc of stupidity we're currently in. This should be its showpiece -- indeed, it probably is -- but the problems here, while not insurmountable, simply haven't been surmounted. This could have been a great book in the hands of an author with a bit more restraint. Like, oh I dunno, Paul Leonard...