Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

12 February, 2013

A Sixie Omnibus

When I met Kate Orman last fall at Chicago TARDIS, I was compelled to ask her if the references to Rush and Yes in this book were digs at progheads or if she enjoyed the music. I was pleased to discover that she too loves prog. Indeed, she was very friendly, as was her husband Jonathan Blum, and a joy to chat with and listen to at various panel discussions. Thankfully I can also report that Blue Box is a very fun read. The Past Doctor Adventures have been pretty kind to Sixie.

Blue Box plays with DW convention by having the story told by Chick Peters, a journalist. The book begins in late 1982 – about a year after the main events of the story take place – with Peters sneaking onto the grounds of Bainbridge Hospital in Virginia. There he spies Sarah Swan, a hacker who was recently at the top of her game but now is confined to giving a thousand yard stare from a wheelchair.

Peters then goes back and tells the story of how Swan ended up in her condition and that involves The Doctor, Peri, and some alien artifacts. Oh, and a lot of hacking. The Doctor has Peri contact a young hacker named Bob Salmon to recruit him to the cause which ends up being the theft of an alien device from Swan. There's a lot of cloak and dagger here and I'm told that Orman researched UNIX hacking on Usenet before writing the book so the scenes of Swan and The Doctor battling it out on keyboards is realistic instead of the usual stuff in fiction it takes the click of single button to bypass the most stringent security.

Having the story told from Peters' perspective instead of a generic third person works really well here. It gives Sixie something of the mysteriousness that his successor had in his novels. The Doctor is not always present but you know he's off somewhere scheming and he holds some stuff back. It's not that he's being manipulative in a bad way, but more that the narrator is not omniscient. It felt refreshing to have The Doctor give less explanations for everything or at least give them at much less regular intervals.

The return of Sabalom Glitz! And Frobisher too! The story opens with a bit of intergalactic larceny a la Mission Impossible as Jack Chance and his gang steal a Veltrochni artifact. We are then introduced to a couple of hit men, Sha'ol and Karthakh, whose next job is to kill The Doctor. Meanwhile our heroes are attending the premiere of Star Wars back in May 1977. After reading this far, I knew I was in for an entertaining romp.

Sha'ol and Karthakh somehow materialize inside the TARDIS but The Doctor is able to send them back from whence they came. They should never have been able to get in in the first place so The Doctor follows their time signature to the planet Vandor Prime. He and Frobisher meet up with Glitz and Dibber who are up to their old nefarious ways. They all run into trouble and, in order to extricate themselves from the long arm of the law, are recruited to reassemble Chance's team and steal the Veltrochni artifact, which is now in Vandorian possession, and return it to the Veltrochni who are on the war path.

McIntee spins a very fun tale here. There is political intrigue in the halls of Vandorian government, the Ogrons are running around causing trouble, an artifact is in need of being re-stolen, and all the while The Doctor is trying to figure out how those hit men got their hands on some extremely advanced technology – technology that only the Time Lords would have. As the Veltrochni and Vandorians find themselves poised on the brink of war, there are some asides in which Karthakh, a Veltrochni, ponders his relationship with Sha'ol, a Tzun. The two races do not exactly have a history of cordial relations. These bits of introspection aren't preachy and fit nicely into the story. They provided a little change of pace amongst all the other warring, conniving factions.

Apparently The Shadow in the Glass was a hastily written replacement for Instruments of Darkness which Gary Russell couldn't get done on schedule. While Mission Impractical threw in some seriousness, it was mostly good fun. This book, however, is pretty much all doom and gloom. It's not oppressive, mind you, but there is no shape-shifting penguin or Sabalom Glitz here for a bit of levity.

In the spring of 1944 the R.A.F. shoots down a mysterious object in the skies over Dorset and it lands in the village of Turelhampton. Less than a year later the Russians are taking Berlin and overrun Hitler's bunker. Curiously enough, they find a group of Tibetans dressed there in German uniforms who have committed suicide.

Back in the present – the books was published in 2001 – the army still keeps watch over Turelhampton. A reporter named Claire Aldwych, who works for the Conspiracy Channel, investigates the crash site and even gets some footage on video. They're discovered and flee. Claire gets away with the tape while her cameraman stays behind. The acting commander at Turelhampton calls in UNIT to find Claire and retrieve the tape which shows some mysterious imps.

Luckily for the reader, UNIT means the Brigadier who is retired here but brought on to help. He, in turn, calls The Doctor. It's a nice match. Lethbridge-Stewart keeps his friend on track when The Doctor gets all techobabbley. There's also a cult and it appears that Der Führer is alive and well. I liked how the book brought the occult into the picture along with the Nazis. Claire is a stand-in companion as we have The Doctor traveling alone here and she proves extremely capable.

I really enjoyed this adventure as it had a rather dark tone and it kept you guessing for a long time instead of giving the game away earlier and having a large chunk of the book being devoted to The Doctor simply racing against time to stop the bad guy. I appreciated the suspense. Plus the scene where The Doctor and the Brigadier meet Hitler was rather amusing.

I have only one gripe. In the process of trying to determine if Hitler could have really escaped Berlin ahead of the Russians, the Brigadier goes to Russia to investigate their archives. Claire plants a small camera in his briefcase since she is not allowed to accompany him. As I read it, I was completely flummoxed as to how the camera transmitted images from Russia to the UK. I kept asking myself, "How is she watching that in real time?"

Despite this, The Shadow in the Glass was another fine outing for Sixie.

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|| Palmer, 4:02 PM


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