KB

Keith Brookes

04/07/2003 8:59 PM

Who books VS Normal books

We've all done it. After a night reading a particularily cracking novel,
we've slapped the book, shoved it away on a shelf and declared 'that was the
best Who book I've ever read!'

But, really, what does that mean? In a world where there are books by
people like Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, Mary Shelley, etc etc, can anyone
really say with a clear conscience that a Doctor Who book was 'the best book
they ever read'?

Doctor Who books seem to inhabit a strange little world where the normal
rules don't apply. A publisher could possibly see when a certain book was
going to painfully tank, and could pull the plug if needed. It seems that
DW editors can't do that. Other than Campaign, I've never heard of a DW
book that had the plug pulled on it because the editor thought it was too
terrible to continue. Could it be that DW is in such a rush to get the book
featuring the same warmed over characters out to the grumbling masses, half
of who it seems aren't even bothering anymore, that they don't worry about
the quality?

Let's take a non-Who perspective on this. My father is the kind of person
who'd enjoy putting on classical music and reading A Tale of Two Cities,
then telling you all about it in the morning. During our trip to Mexico, he
found himself without anything to read, and asked to read one of my DW books
that he felt had an interesting premise. The only problem was that this
book was 'Imperial Moon'. So he read it in about two hours, and gave it
back to me with a one word review - 'terrible'. Nevertheless, he was still
without anything to read, and asked to read another, so I gave him another
book I'd already read -- 'The King of Terror'. The next day the prognosis
got worse. It was, in fact, 'the worst book he ever read'. I'm glad he
didn't ask for another, because the other one I had for him to read was
Timewyrm: Apocalypse...

This means nothing, I hear you say. Those books are all generally looked
down upon by fandom, so he simply caught a bad few. But months earlier, I
let him read another book that he felt had an interesting premise, one which
he finally said was 'faily alright, tried to cut away too much like a TV
show, though'. This book was the generally highly praised first of one
Lance Parkin, AKA 'Just War'.

That led me to this line of thinking. Are we more willing to accept crap
books under the Doctor Who label than we are in other places? Just where
does 'the best Who book' that you've ever read rate when your favorite
non-Who books are taken into consideration?

Keith


This topic has 8 replies

kK

[email protected] (Keith Hood)

in reply to Keith Brookes on 04/07/2003 8:59 PM

05/07/2003 1:47 AM

>From: Keith Brookes [email protected]
>Date: 7/5/03 3:59 AM GMT Daylight Time
>Message-id: <[email protected]>
>
>We've all done it. After a night reading a particularily cracking novel,
>we've slapped the book, shoved it away on a shelf and declared 'that was the
>best Who book I've ever read!'
>

Don't you mean "that was the best Who novel I've ever read"? Some of the
non-fiction ones have been rather well done, compared to others in the genre.
Not that I've ever actually done what you said above anyway!

>But, really, what does that mean? In a world where there are books by
>people like Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, Mary Shelley, etc etc, can anyone
>really say with a clear conscience that a Doctor Who book was 'the best book
>they ever read'?
>

You're mixing up books and novels again. I can't stand Dickens. Hugo is OK.
Mary Wollestonecraft-Shelley is only famous for Frankenstein (but it is a darn
fine novel IMO). Have you ever read her mother - Mary Wollestonecraft - on the
rights of women?

Anyway, everybody has different ideas on what makes a good book so you can't
really compare. I'd have to say that the best book I ever read was "Bury My
Heart at Wounded Knee". What made it good, apart from the content, was the
context in which it was read (i.e. the social and historical context I read it
in). If I'd read it at any other time it probably wouldn't have affected me so
much.

>Doctor Who books seem to inhabit a strange little world where the normal
>rules don't apply. A publisher could possibly see when a certain book was
>going to painfully tank, and could pull the plug if needed. It seems that
>DW editors can't do that. Other than Campaign, I've never heard of a DW
>book that had the plug pulled on it because the editor thought it was too
>terrible to continue. Could it be that DW is in such a rush to get the book
>featuring the same warmed over characters out to the grumbling masses, half
>of who it seems aren't even bothering anymore, that they don't worry about
>the quality?
>

I can assure you there's probably more crap fiction out there in the
non-Whoniverse, percentage-wise.

Look at it from the reader's perspective - you buy a book to read it. You're
attracted by the blurb (mostly). Until you actually start reading it you don't
know whether you'll like it or not - you merely have an expectation. True for
Who. True for non-Who.

>Let's take a non-Who perspective on this. My father is the kind of person
>who'd enjoy putting on classical music and reading A Tale of Two Cities,
>then telling you all about it in the morning. During our trip to Mexico, he
>found himself without anything to read, and asked to read one of my DW books
>that he felt had an interesting premise. The only problem was that this
>book was 'Imperial Moon'. So he read it in about two hours, and gave it
>back to me with a one word review - 'terrible'. Nevertheless, he was still
>without anything to read, and asked to read another, so I gave him another
>book I'd already read -- 'The King of Terror'. The next day the prognosis
>got worse. It was, in fact, 'the worst book he ever read'. I'm glad he
>didn't ask for another, because the other one I had for him to read was
>Timewyrm: Apocalypse...
>
>This means nothing, I hear you say. Those books are all generally looked
>down upon by fandom, so he simply caught a bad few. But months earlier, I
>let him read another book that he felt had an interesting premise, one which
>he finally said was 'faily alright, tried to cut away too much like a TV
>show, though'. This book was the generally highly praised first of one
>Lance Parkin, AKA 'Just War'.
>

That's irrelevant. Some people like the books you've mentioned, some people
don't. The question is why did you choose the books you did? Did you like them?
Why not choose according to what you know your father likes? Would one of the
historical novels not have been a better choice?

>That led me to this line of thinking. Are we more willing to accept crap
>books under the Doctor Who label than we are in other places? Just where
>does 'the best Who book' that you've ever read rate when your favorite
>non-Who books are taken into consideration?

Well what was your father's knowledge of Doctor Who before he read the books?
They are basically fan fiction so a lot of set up situations for introducing
the characters don't really apply. There's an underlying assumption you already
know something about the Whoniverse before you start. (Even more so today with
all these so-called 'epic' story arcs in the 8th Doctor range.)

Keith



Associate, Society for Editors and Proofreaders
Member, Society of Indexers

MH

Martin Hoscik

in reply to Keith Brookes on 04/07/2003 8:59 PM

06/07/2003 12:51 AM



[email protected] wrote:



> Editors generally try to avoid pulling the plug on books which have

> already had their advance paid in the real world as well.

>

> If there's a difference in the Who world, it's probably just the familiar

> one of lack of time. There are quite a few books where having an extra

> three months for someone to rework it could have done it no end of good.



That's why I thik that we'd be better with slightly less books per year

(which I grant we've got with the range cuts) so that there was trhe

time to get it right or find a replacement.



Even one per month is a lot - there's not many ongoing book ranges which

produce such a volume that i can think of.



I just wonder if maybe the books could be even better if we had - say -

8 per year.



<runs for hard hat>



--

------------------------

Martin Hoscik

www.mayorwatch.org.uk

www.ukgovernment.org

------------------------



.

Jd

JerryD

in reply to Keith Brookes on 04/07/2003 8:59 PM

05/07/2003 7:32 AM


>
> That led me to this line of thinking. Are we more willing to accept crap
> books under the Doctor Who label than we are in other places? Just where
> does 'the best Who book' that you've ever read rate when your favorite
> non-Who books are taken into consideration?
>


Interesting Post, Keith...
the only book that would probably fit into my top 50, or top 100 or
whichever, and that's a 'franchise' book set in a shared universe
would probably be the first of the 'Wild Cards' series, edited by George
R. R. Martin. as far as the WHO books go though, there's a handful I
really think transcend their niche, per se. my favorite 4 or 5 of the
WHO books, however---'Falls the Shadow', 'Also People', I think would be
less enjoyable for me if they WEREN'T Doctor Who, despite the fact that
they don't necessarily require a lot of knowledge of the WHOniverse.
(Ironically, one of my other fave. books, THE DYING DAYS, is one I see
as a great capper/bridge to the series.)


TC

Tan Coul

in reply to Keith Brookes on 04/07/2003 8:59 PM

07/07/2003 4:04 PM

On Fri, 4 Jul 2003 20:59:56 CST, Keith Brookes <[email protected]>
wrote:


>
>That led me to this line of thinking. Are we more willing to accept crap
>books under the Doctor Who label than we are in other places? Just where
>does 'the best Who book' that you've ever read rate when your favorite
>non-Who books are taken into consideration?

It's always puzzled me a bit that we are so keen to decry our own
genre writing - after reading more than a few S*** T***, Buffy, B5 etc
'novels' I'd say that the Who franchise, in whatever guise, ranks
pretty much at the top of its own league. Comparisons to novels
written in weekly serialisation format 150 years ago would of course
be hard to make, but FWIW I always found Dickens to be a bloody awful
novelist, in the sense that his texts were so dense that reading more
than a few dozen pages at a time was a major chore - in periodical
form, of course, that suits perfectly, and the ideas are utterly
brilliant, but given a choice between reading Time's Crucible or Tale
of Two Cities I'd pick up the Platt every time.

But I'd still rather read Diana Wynne-Jones than any of them, TC and
Sky Pirates! aside...
--
www.oscartelos.co.uk
The best Chester Zoo photo website ever made by a cat (probably.)
Last updated March 13th 2003

KB

Keith Brookes

in reply to Keith Brookes on 04/07/2003 8:59 PM

06/07/2003 12:19 AM


"Keith Hood" <[email protected]> wrote in message
news:[email protected]
> >From: Keith Brookes [email protected]
> >Date: 7/5/03 3:59 AM GMT Daylight Time
> >Message-id: <[email protected]>
> >
<snip>
>
> That's irrelevant. Some people like the books you've mentioned, some
people
> don't. The question is why did you choose the books you did?

Because in Edmonton, Who books are scarce and you take what you can get.

>Did you like them?

Imperial Moon, no. King of Terror...somewhat.

> Why not choose according to what you know your father likes? Would one of
the
> historical novels not have been a better choice?

I would've, but the books I had for the trip were those two, Return to the
Fractured Planet, Oh No It Isn't, Beyond the Sun, Adventuress of Henrietta
Street, Camera Obscura and Superior Beings. And I wasn't letting him have a
book I hadn't read. He messes with the spines something terrible.:-P

<snip?
>
> Well what was your father's knowledge of Doctor Who before he read the
books?

My father had seen the original transmission of the first episode, and had
watched it up until about the Pertwee era, when he joined the Grenadiers.
He also had a Doctor Who glow in the dark shirt that he bought during a
showing of The Five Doctors/Snakedance (the tape of which I have), and he
and I would watch the DWs I'd buy together. Later I found he watched it for
some bizarre fascination with the crapness, but that's just par for the
course.:-)

Keith

kK

[email protected] (Keith Hood)

in reply to Keith Brookes on 06/07/2003 12:19 AM

06/07/2003 1:05 AM

>From: Keith Brookes [email protected]
>Date: 7/6/03 7:19 AM GMT Daylight Time
>Message-id: <[email protected]>
>
>
>"Keith Hood" <[email protected]> wrote in message
>news:[email protected]

>> Why not choose according to what you know your father likes? Would one of
>the
>> historical novels not have been a better choice?
>
>I would've, but the books I had for the trip were those two, Return to the
>Fractured Planet, Oh No It Isn't, Beyond the Sun, Adventuress of Henrietta
>Street, Camera Obscura and Superior Beings. And I wasn't letting him have a
>book I hadn't read. He messes with the spines something terrible.:-P

Ah, I see your problem. It's a pity you hadn't read 'Oh No It Isn't' or 'Beyond
the Sun'.

Keith

Associate, Society for Editors and Proofreaders
Member, Society of Indexers

j

in reply to Keith Brookes on 04/07/2003 8:59 PM

05/07/2003 7:21 PM

In article <[email protected]>,
Keith Hood <[email protected]> wrote:
>From: Keith Brookes [email protected]
>>But, really, what does that mean? In a world where there are books by
>>people like Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, Mary Shelley, etc etc, can anyone
>>really say with a clear conscience that a Doctor Who book was 'the best book
>>they ever read'?

That sort of comparison always strikes me as not being very meaningful --
Jeanette Winterson isn't as good as Dickens at doing what Dickens is
trying to do, but she's a hell of a lot better than Dickens at what
Jeanette Winterson is trying to do. That's why I don't have one "best
book I've ever read".

OK, maybe "The Dark Is Rising" by Susan Cooper.

Or "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory".

>>Doctor Who books seem to inhabit a strange little world where the normal
>>rules don't apply. A publisher could possibly see when a certain book was
>>going to painfully tank, and could pull the plug if needed. It seems that
>>DW editors can't do that.

Editors generally try to avoid pulling the plug on books which have
already had their advance paid in the real world as well.

If there's a difference in the Who world, it's probably just the familiar
one of lack of time. There are quite a few books where having an extra
three months for someone to rework it could have done it no end of good.
Series fiction generally doesn't have that luxury, any more than series TV
does.

>>Could it be that DW is in such a rush to get the book
>>featuring the same warmed over characters out to the grumbling masses, half
>>of who it seems aren't even bothering anymore, that they don't worry about
>>the quality?

As Who fans, we should know that it's entirely possible to worry about the
quality to a ridiculous degree while still being stuck working under tight
constraints of time and money...

>Well what was your father's knowledge of Doctor Who before he read the books?
>They are basically fan fiction so a lot of set up situations for introducing
>the characters don't really apply. There's an underlying assumption you already
>know something about the Whoniverse before you start. (Even more so today with
>all these so-called 'epic' story arcs in the 8th Doctor range.)

Actually, I think quite the reverse is true -- books from "The Burning"
onward have generally made a concerted effort to *avoid* assuming any Who
knowledge, and to carefully introduce anything from the TARDIS on up.
(The current colliding-timelines storyline is probably the most
interdependent one they've done in years, but it's the exception rather
than the rule.) Even before then, many of the books (especially mine and
Kate's from about "Return" onwards) make a point of introducing the
characters and their situation in such a way that people who've never
read/seen a Who story before can "get" who they are and what they're up
to.

In many ways, there's more emphasis on making the concepts accessible to
new readers than there was in the TV show -- from about 1972 through 1980
you'll look in vain for anything which explains directly that the big
white room is inside the small blue box!

Regards,
Jon Blum

j

in reply to Keith Brookes on 04/07/2003 8:59 PM

06/07/2003 2:52 AM

In article <[email protected]>,
Martin Hoscik <[email protected]> wrote:
>> If there's a difference in the Who world, it's probably just the familiar
>> one of lack of time. There are quite a few books where having an extra
>> three months for someone to rework it could have done it no end of good.

>That's why I thik that we'd be better with slightly less books per year
>(which I grant we've got with the range cuts) so that there was trhe
>time to get it right or find a replacement.

Unfortunately, the Beeb doesn't work like that, and neither did Virgin (or
the industry in general) -- doing fewer books didn't mean that they gave
the editors more time to spend on each book. Instead, they gave them the
same amount of time per book, and other things to work on in the remaining
time. (Just like season 23 -- doing fewer episodes in a year didn't mean
they actually got any more time to rehearse and shoot the ones they did.)

The only thing which *has* given the books more time is when the Beeb
agrees to commission books further in advance -- that doesn't give the
editor any more time himself, but it can give the writer more time to do
rewrites. This happened when Justin took over, and there's just been
another extension for the batch of books which are currently being
commissioned (running up through late 2004)...

Regards,
Jon Blum


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