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Another Life

Another Life - Peter Anghelides “Nine lives has the Alien…”

… well six actually, but what’s the difference? Having read my way through all the Doctor Who novels I had available – five actually – I needed something to read for the remaining two weeks of the month until the new moth would renew my book budget. So I remembered having bought the first five Torchwood books as hardcovers a few years ago. Now I know that Torchwood is actually quite different from Doctor Who. Darker, grittier, more dystopian and certainly much more violent. Even though there where some quite dark episodes in the new Doctor Who series like “Utopia”, “The Sound of Drums” and “The Last of the Timelords”, but they were nothing in comparison to “Countrycide” for example. So, I knew what to expect with Torchwood and I still had problems to get through this book.

Writing/Storytelling: Maybe the writing was the problem. For more than half of the book it seemed an effort to read it. The pace was slow, meandering, never really getting to the point. Then there was so much subplot that never seemed to connect to the main plot. Having finished the book I now know this was all build-up for the climax, with Owen falling victim to the alien. But still, in many places this was too much. Like the whole Second Reality thing. While it was nice to show Tosh as the techno geek who can program almost everything, this could have been cut a lot shorter without losing something for the story. A little more pace and timing would have done the story good, because the idea was really good and promising.

The Point of View varies with a huge portion falling to Gwen and Owen. Maybe it was this to, what made the book difficult for me, since those two are not my favourite characters in the show. What was nice were the chapters with “you”-perspective. Even though, using it on Owen very early one while describing him playing Second Reality was more than just foreshadowing, it was a huge giveaway.

World/Worldbuilding: There is not much to say about the worldbuilding. The Whoniverse is well defined and the Torchwood part is either, so the question is more like “Is the world from the series recognisable?” I would say, yes, it is. Maybe it’s the deteriorating weather, the unnatural permanent rainstorm and darkness, but the world felt genuine. The story doesn’t add anything that would clash with the cannon, it just expands it in a few places like adding the aliens that I’ve never heard of in the TV series so far. But that was carefully done and totally in-world.

Hero/Heroine: With the Characters, the question is the same. Are they right? Do they feel right? Do they sound right? Well, they are and at the same time, they are not. They are recognisable all right, but they seemed slightly off. As if the author had to write them from script and had never been able to watch any off the episodes before he had to finish the book. But since the book is from 2007 and the series’ first run started late 2006, he should have been able to see at least a few episodes while writing the book.

The characters all feel kind of flat. Tosh, the techno geek, knowing everything, researching the rest, programming everything and anything, even some kind of “holodeck”. But there was nothing more to her. No real life, no feeling. Just like those figures in a shadow play, where you can see the outline, but nothing more. Same – worse even – with Ianto. He’s near to non-existent. Yeah, I know, that reflects how they treat him before “Cyberwoman”, just like the Hub’s own Butler, but still. It seemed even more extreme than in the series. Plus in the end I got the impression, the author diminishes him even more, in the way he described his interaction with Jack and Gwen in the aftermath of the events. It seems to be Gwen’s point of view, but he still comes over like a stupid little puppy, eager to please his masters. And Ianto is definitely anything but that.

Gwen and Owen are slightly better depicted, maybe because a big part of the story is told from their perspective, but they still don’t feel alive to me. Owen is just the snarky, often very cynical Doctor and Gwen is just the good Copper with the big heart, wanting to rescue everything and everyone, even the alien, that has controlled six people in turn, using them to its means, abandoning them to their deaths when he could no longer use them and making them murderer of at least two dozen people along the way.

But the greatest feat of all is that the book even manages to let Jack look flat. While I grant you, that it might be difficult and sometimes an effort to bring Jack as Barrowman plays him adequately to life on the pages of a book, there certainly is no excuse for him being this flat. He is a character with many facets, he can be caring and cruel at the same time, he often is in a very dark mood and very cynical and yet there have been occasions, when he shows the same eccentric happiness in face of dire situations the (10th) Doctor displays. But there is something underneath all that, that holds the character together, make him feel like a real person. And that bit is somehow absent in the book, along with his more caring side.

One might argue, that since the book is placed between the second and the fourth episode of the first season, the author had to be careful not to give away too much, but I think that doesn’t count. I’ve read many media tie-ins and many of them while written much later are placed within the early season of a series. None of the authors reverts back to the characterizations from early scripts, but build their stories on what the actors had established within the series.

Supporting Characters: Since the Torchwood character set already consists of five people, well mostly minus Ianto in this one – there is not much room for notable supporting characters. Especially with an antagonist like this one. The only character who’s getting a little more attention and is not immediately connected to the antagonist is Owen’s ex-girlfriend Megan Tegg, with whom he by chance meets up again. Owen tries to recruit her for Torchwood but as things go with him and woman usually, it all goes horribly wrong. She ends up first being a slave to the antagonist and then dead.

Antagonist: It is difficult to say something about the main antagonist here without giving too much of the story and its conclusion away. The ostensible antagonist, a guy from the nuclear power plant Blaidd Drwg near Cardiff, having stolen some nuclear fuel packs and killed several people with an inhuman hunger for human cerebrospinal fluid, is seemingly caught within the first few chapters but since this isn’t the end of the story and this is Torchwood, there has to be something more to is. And there is, but any more word would give away too much. And this part of the story was told and build-up really good, with adequate pacing and suspense, but sadly it was interrupted at all the wrong places.

Editing: Not much to say about the editing. I read the hardcover version from Random House and it was good. Some Typos, but nothing really distracting. I think it mostly was the slow pace in the first two thirds of the book that made me notice them at all. Had the book been more gripping, I don’t think I would have spot any.

Conclusion: So, what’s there to say about the book? It’s difficult. The story certainly was good, the premise interesting, the solution very “Torchwood”. But with this very slow meandering pace in the first two thirds and the ever so slightly “off-ness” of the characters, even the certainly good devised solution and it’s then finally good paced narration in the last third couldn’t restore the book in my eyes. It was good enough to make me want to read the next Torchwood book – especially since I know the authors vary – but it’s not nearly as good, as the first Doctor Who books. So, I would say 3 stars, which makes it an average read on my scale.