FC

"Finn Clark"

13/06/2004 3:52 PM

Read-a-thon 137: Death and Diplomacy (NO SPOILERS)

NO SPOILERS

Death and Diplomacy, by Dave Stone
The 49th Virgin NA, published in April 1996
Starring the 7th Doctor, Benny, Chris, Roz & Jason
ISBN 0-426-20468-9

That was kinda dull. I wasn't particularly excited by Death and Diplomacy
back in 1996, but the intervening years have done it no favours. I'm
normally a Dave Stone fan, but I think this must be my least favourite
Who-related novel of his (not counting Citadel of Dreams).

The story is boring. The TARDIS crew get split into three completely
disconnected groups, each with its own plotline that doesn't affect anything
else. Benny, Chris and Roz do nothing that could possibly matter, but even
the Doctor's peace conference is dull. The Dakhaari, the Czhans and the
Saloi might go to war! Well, gee. Their leaders are respectively Ravla,
Koth and, uh... whatsisface. Yup, it's that thrilling. They're
bog-standard Dave Stone characters with little we haven't seen done better
elsewhere, with the usual sex, drugs and offbeat anarchist-flavoured
sentimentality.

The most memorable bit of the book in 1996 was the relationship between
Benny and Jason, the man she would marry in Happy Endings. In fairness,
this is well done. [I still don't like Jason as much as Guy de Carnac from
Sanctuary, but that's my problem.] Only during the Jason-Benny plot strand
does this book feel grounded and potentially interesting. Unfortunately
it's basically a bunch of Jason-Benny scenes and in subsequent years that
got done to death in books, audios and Big Finish anthologies. It's not
Dave Stone's fault, but these days the only decent bits of Death and
Diplomacy feel *old*. By my count Jason has appeared in 10000000000 books
and had sex and/or argued with Benny so often that interference patterns
from the standing wave of their raised voices were responsible for the
burning of the library at Alexandria, the destruction of the ozone layer and
the vapourisation of the Crab Nebula. Or does it just feel that way?

Chris and Roz are shunted off into... you know, I just finished reading
this book and I can't remember. I think they dress up as soldiers or
something. It's that memorable.

There's a Pinky and the Brain gag that only registered because I remembered
noticing it last time. Pop culture references... wow, what a good idea.
Not. Admittedly I laughed once or twice, but as the author's note points
out, this isn't a gag book like Sky Pirates!. Instead it's a "comedy".
Note the inverted commas. Dave Stone explains that comedies don't have to
be funny, which is a good thing or else this book would have puzzed me
exceedingly.

I'm not wild about the title, either. It's clearly meant to be reminiscent
of Jane Austen, but I'm unconvinced. Sense is the opposite of Sensibility.
Pride could be seen as the mirror-image of Prejudice (black pride and white
prejudice; that kind of thing). So what do Death and Diplomacy have to do
with each other? Okay, maybe it kinda works in the context of a peace
conference if you're prepared to squint, but to me they feel like two words
that got chosen for alliteration and a good number of syllables.

It's set in 2011, despite what you might have read in Lance's 1996 History
of the Universe. Apparently the synopsis said this book would be set in
"the present day", but according to the published text (p123), 1996 was
fifteen years ago.

The regulars are well done, for what it's worth. Dave Stone's 7th Doctor is
always fun, though I preferred him in Sky Pirates!. (In fairness there's
some entertaining TARDIS characterisation which goes beyond anything you'll
have seen in any other novel.) Benny is lumbered with Jason. Roz and
Chris... uh, do something or other, though they're quite enjoyable to read
about anyway.

As the follow-up to Sky Pirates!, this book was okay. Not amazing, but
readable. However it loses a lot and becomes almost pedestrian if, like me,
you've read enough Dave Stone books to make your eyeballs bleed. He clearly
loves writing for this TARDIS crew and does it well, but the book around
them didn't do much for me. (Though having said that, it might work better
if you're rereading it for the first time instead of rereading it like me.
There's good stuff in here, albeit worn smooth for long-time readers through
familiarity.)

I don't necessarily demand a plot from my Dave Stone books (e.g. I loved
Heart of TARDIS), but I like at least the illusion of one. If I start to
feel that what I'm reading is pointless, I get twitchy. Apparently this
novel is the middle book of a trilogy with Sky Pirates! and Oblivion, but
since I've never been able to spot the links I couldn't really care less
about that. This isn't a bad book, but it's below-par Dave Stone that may
have aged more badly than anything else in Doctor Who (not excluding the
seventies haircuts and hippy chick costumes from the TV series). A
disappointment, sadly.

Finn Clark.