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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

on December 16, 2006
As a teenager reading these novels I was doing my best to read them in order. I was doing a pretty good job at it too, until I reached Matthew Jones' Bad Therapy, which opened with just the Doctor and Chris Cwej. Where was Roz Forrester, the other Adjudicator companion? Dead, as it turns out. Oh. Frantically I checked back to see if I had missed something in the last book I read. I hadn't. I scoured the bookstores for the missing link book and found no success (I don't remember if this book was listed in the list of novels in the first few pages and I'm too lazy to go look through my copy) not realizing that the book hadn't been released just yet. When it did come out, it came out after the Virgin New Adventures line was dead and gone and thus it was sort of shuffled out and then disappeared, unable to be reprinted. So I missed it completely and was only able to acquire it through a recent mad rush of purchasing. It's probably the rarest of the New Adventures (the last several are pretty rare actually) and as such this is the first chance for me to read it after ten years or so. I was a little worried at first reading it because it's the climax of the "Psi Powers" storyline, a thread that ran through several novels and a bit on the complicated side but I got the gist of it fairly quickly. This book is one of the longer ones in the series, rumor has it that it was even longer but had to be cut short due to a hard drive failure on the part of original author Ben Aaronovitch, leading to Kate Orman stepping in to help him finish it. Their styles do mesh pretty well, better than you'd expect. The plot seems to concern the Doctor and company putting an end to the Brotherhood of people with psi powers who are trying to use a Nexus of realities to remake the universe into one more of their liking. In the meantime the Earth Empire is entering a rather messy period where the Empress is killed and houses are aligning to decide who gets to stand with the new Emperor, whoever that is. The plot is decently complex but a bit fractured at the same time, verging on space opera at times and having very much a widescreen feel. The scattered vistas and crazy ideas are probably the product of Aaronovitch's original plot, which is the type of thing he was known for, while the smaller character moments are more Orman's forte, especially the set pieces. The plot hangs together well but by not giving any real focus to any one of the many elements making it up, it gives the book a bit of a fragmented feel . . . you have moments with N-forms and old Gallifreyan technology sitting next to people with psionic powers and maybe a longer novel would have helped to iron that out, but I'm not sure. Where the book really scores is atmosphere and mood, rarely do Doctor Who novels feel this weary and doomladen, the novel opens with Roz' funeral (where the Doctor has a heart attack, in one of the starkest and most poignant scenes involving the character) and it goes from there. Everyone gets great moments, from Chris to the Doctor to the Forrester family, and it manages to overcome the at times confusing plot. Roz comes into her own here, not that she hadn't before, but she makes a case for being the companion closest to the Doctor in attitude, for being able to do the same things that he does without becoming squeamish. Their relationship is sketched out nicely and while I think he was close to Roz and Chris, you can see that the loss of Roz (in a very well done moment) hits him harder than you'd expect. One thing I always liked about the New Adventures was that gritty complex feel, and the Doctor here is calculating and whimsical, old and mirthful, with the kind of nuances that make you wish all these people had been writing the TV episodes (actually Aaronovtich wrote "Remembrance of the Daleks" and "Battlefield"). It feels like a novel and it feels like good SF and at the same time it has that distinctly British feel that only Doctor Who novels at the time had. We'll never know how the novel should have turned out, but what we have is this and I think that's good enough, all things considered.
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VINE VOICEon April 12, 2004
Everyone reading this review doubtless already knows the story of how two names came to be on the spine of SO VILE A SIN. I have nothing to add to the tale other than to relate that I always picture Kate Orman coming to the rescue as a Doctor Who version of Harvey Keitel as the tuxedoed Winston Wolf in PULP FICTION. ("You're sending the Orman? Rebecca, mother-editor, that's all you needed to say!")
Vastly different images come to mind when I think about the past works of Aaronovitch and Orman. Saying "Kate Orman novel" to me conjures up thoughts of many heartbreakingly touching character moments strung together in a tight plot. "Ben Aaronovitch novel" makes me think of solar system-sized transit mechanics, solar system-sized civilizations, and armies dropping big things out of orbit onto the heads of other armies. However, these caricatures of mine do both authors a disservice, as each has his or her particular strengths and weaknesses. A fan of their previous individual work, I was extremely curious as to how their styles would mesh. Although it's perhaps a little unfair of me to judge this as a true collaboration, given the circumstances behind the pairing.
The combination of their two distinct styles is very interesting. Some of my favorite moments in Orman's novels have been when she concentrates on illustrating a single setting, such as the human colonies in SLEEPY and THE YEAR OF INTELLIGENT TIGERS. Here, she does much the same thing, only instead of confining herself to one place, she has several of Ben's Really Big settings to populate. The first hundred pages are spent warping from one gorgeous setting to the next. Although these are great locations (and superbly brought to life) I kept wondering when the story was going to settle down and get started. (My thought processes: "Wow! This is a great location; now the story will start here! [A few dozen pages later.] Wow! This is another great location! Now the story will start here! [Even more pages later.] Ooh, an even more interesting location... with robots and hardware! Now the story will surely begin here!")
The impression that this gave me was (and I am likely completely wrong in this evaluation, but it's how it felt to this reader) that it was a struggle to get all of these great individual pieces into the final manuscript. More thought may have gone into determining how to flesh out each of these components with little time available to figure out how they fit together and whether they were all really needed in the first place. It's not that all these things jar with each other, more than they just don't quite mesh smoothly.
I think the biggest problem is that there's just too much going on. Indeed, I was surprised when I got to the end and realized that the Ormanovitch managed to fit everything I had just read into a mere 312 pages. We aren't given the chance to really dwell on anything, and this is a pity because there's a lot of great stuff going on. This is why I find it difficult to be too critical of the content; it's the structure that doesn't seem to work. The character of Vincenzi, to take an example, is given quite a bit of build-up, but then just seems to fade. On the other hand, the galactic politicking is mentioned early, but so casually that the later power struggles seem to come out of nowhere. Roz's death (no spoiler this -- it's mentioned on the first page) is indeed haunting, epic and powerful. But while the sacrifice itself engages on the emotional level, the actual events leading up to it seem somewhat cold and detached.
Before I sign off, I should point out that despite the paragraphs I've spent complaining (I find it strangely easier to analyze flaws than to praise successes), I ultimately did enjoy reading this. In addition to the aforementioned settings, the characters are fantastic. I enjoyed seeing Roz interacting with her family, even if their motivations baffled me. The plot, although wandering and disjointed, is ultimately satisfying. The development of the book's alien races and the future history that builds upon what we saw in ORIGINAL SIN are also both a lot of fun.
Given the circumstances surrounding the publication of this novel, it's almost ludicrous to suggest "oh, if only they'd had more time to iron out the problems", because, obviously time was not a luxury available. But, oh, if only they'd had more time to iron out the problems. Although it suffers from some flaws, I can't help but love a lot of the pieces that make up this novel. At times it touches brilliance, which is exactly what we would expect from a book with those two names on the cover.
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on December 15, 2000
This is the last novel in the 'Psi Powers' series in the New Adventures. Due to Ben Aaronovitch's hard drive crashing, it also proved to be the last NA, since publication was delayed. And what an ending! In many ways, although rescued by Kate Orman, 'So Vile a Sin' is typical Aaronovitch Doctor Who. The story is vast and huge, involving elements left behind from the Time Lord war with the Great Vampires, to the 30th century conflict between various factions in the Terran empire (home to Roz and Cwej). Manipulating everyone is a particularly nasty bunch... Because this novel comprises so many elements (from previous NAs too), it can get a bit confusing in places. Especially when the Doctor fills the ill-effects of a 'probability intercession' . This involves thousands of Doctors being created throughout time and space, each one having made a different decision than the current incumbent (i.e. like one who took Salamander's place as dictator of Earth). A multitude of Doctors is confusing enough, but the action also takes place over what seems to be a vast number of places. But the novel is never less than very entertaining. You read on, confident that these puzzles will be resolved. There are nice touches, like the inclusion of the Unitatus soldiers, but there are also irritations. The Doctor kills the Empress of the Galaxy just because she asks him to. This killing, which is later, absurdly, swept under the carpet - the Doctor could have been accused of 'treason' for not doing so - is quite reminiscent of the destruction of Skaro, but without the big guilt trip. If there's one reason for preferring Terrance Dicks, it's that his version of the Doctor doesn't do this sort of thing. A large part of the novel is also quite derivative, stealing a lot of the style of Frank Herbert's work. 'Dune' had Dukes and the Landsraad, 'So Vile a Sin' has Dukes and the Landsknetche. Still, 'Dune' could hardly be described as 'original', as it also derives from a great number of other texts, knowingly employed. The 'Dune' element seems to be continuing in the current strand of novels (i.e. 'Dead Romance'), where Chris seems to be turning into another Duncan Idaho, and maybe Babylon 5 has influenced too. This is the novel where Roz snuffs it. This may be one huge spoiler (it certainly ruined Roz's day), but the book has been out for two years, and is now out of print. This does make the end a bit mawkish though. Bernice Summerfield seems to lose all character in her diary entries, and the Doctor has a rather embarrassing heart attack at the funeral (all leading to 'Lungbarrow', I suppose). All in all, it's a glorious piece of space opera , in the style of Iain M. Banks (yes, another influence!). But it still proves that great fiction can be crafted from the deviations of derivations. In this, 'So Vile a Sin' is typically Doctor Who at its (his) best.
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on November 3, 2002
This was supposed to be the "It" novel of 1996. The Virgin "Doctor Who" New Adventures had been given their death sentence, a victim of the US TV movie which regenerated the Doctor. The NAs promptly adjusted by crafting together a series of novels which brought the 7th Doctor right up to death's door, while closing out the storylines and themes of 60 well-received books. _So Vile A Sin_ had the task of writing out companion Roz Forrester and sealing the NAs' version of "future history" with an ironic little bow.
So what happened? The novel died. A victim of author Ben Aaronovitch's ambitions and the much ballyhooed "hard-drive crash" that torched the original publication date. Four subsequent Roz-free books hit the market, and indeed the Virgin license had technically expired, by the time a restored "Sin", now written by Kate Orman, hit the shelves, sans the "Doctor Who" logo.
It remains to this day hard to judge just how good "So Vile" is. Orman and Aaronovitch have vastly different styles, but they essentially write to the same purpose. Their "joint" novel takes us to the ends of the Earth Empire in the late 30th century, from the moons of Jupiter to the planets of the distant sun Agammemnon, from the Time Lords' darkest secrets to the death of Doctor Who. And yet, for all that travel, we barely see a thing.
Properly set up at 400 pages as intended, this book may indeed have been a wonderful epic. Instead, it feels more like a string of disjointed episodes. Many characters are introduced in a sprawling, harshly-written prologue that must have been written by Aaronovitch (drenched with military speak, cultural annotations, and a too-long history of 30th century prostitution -- "Doctor Who" was originally a kids' series). However, the chess pieces fade in and out for hundreds of pages at a time, and their role in the grand finale is unclear until you read the book at least twice.
And then there's Roz. Clearly this was meant to be her apotheosis. The book's third and final segment shows how the honorable yet disgraced 30th century cop is torn between her sister's Imperial ambitions and Doctor's unique sense of justice ("You might be asked to choose sides. Do you want my advice? Don't."). We learn of her family's history, and rise to nobility. Roz has hard decisions to make, and her exit from the series is heroic and boneheaded all at once.
Where's the problem? Well... Roz *had* no character, for the 18 or so novels before this one. News of her death was well-known to fandom, long before her first adventure belatedly hit US bookshelves. If all of her books had been like this, her finale may have been grandly moving. Instead, there's a bit of an "eh" to it. Ben Aaronovitch clearly understood her better than anyone, but he only wrote for her twice. Kate, in his place, merely ramps up some aimless sexual tension between her and the much younger Chris Cwej. There's a very muted family tragedy that I'd completely forgotten about, again probably due to missing text.
Surprisingly, the psi-powers element of SVAS is well done, even as the preceding stories in the psi-powers arc were among the worst the NAs gave us. The book's first great scene (all the way along on page 111) shows the root cause of psychic powers in the Universe, and there's a great mini-speech by the Doctor later on about how Time Lords came to be. These are grand visual moments, what DW always did best.
Other things of note: old companion Bernice Summerfield's return for Roz's funeral; Roz's young 30th century clone; and the "alternate" Doctors accidentally released by the book's psi-powered bad guys, the Brotherhood. But in the end, it's a space opera, with lots of cramped spaceships and dark tunnels and claustrophic marketplaces. In this one instance, less was not more, and the best version of "So Vile A Sin" probably still resonates in Ben Aaronovitch's head. Or on his computer.
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on October 10, 1997
This is without a doubt one of the best in the series, it's breathtaking. The story moves along with enough speed to keep you interested, but also gives you a deep look into the characters personalities, especially roz's, which the book focuses on. The story line is well thought out and presented superbly. It focuses on Roz's and her family but also her relationship with her companions and her strong moralistic views, which by the way end up getting her killed. It takes her character to many different dimensions which many of the other books failed to do, thinking of her and Chris as mere replacements for Benny and Ace. Kate and Ben really managed to make this character shine in her final moments. Be warned though that if your not careful your room will be turned into niagra falls in no time! The main plot Focuses on the last of the psi power stories with the Doctor trying in vain to finish the brotherhood for good, but as usual has no idea what is involved ( or at least it appears so). While Chris is his usual energetic self, Roz focuses on her future as well as her past. I personally have read a large majority of these books and definetely recommend this one as a must!
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