Monday, July 15, 2013

Dreams of Empire by Justin Richards

Well, here it is, the second of the two Doctor Who 50th Anniversary novels I’ll be reviewing for this site. If you’re not familiar with the good Doctor, check out my summary on Beautiful Chaos; otherwise, here’s the one sentence review for Dreams of Empire: it was really--surprisingly--good.

Beautiful Chaos, while it did capture the feel of NuWho fairly well, was a pretty by the numbers affair. The plot was unsurprising, the prose was utilitarian, and the science was... unique, to say the least. That’s not to say it wasn’t enjoyable, but for someone who wasn’t a fan of the series, I don’t think it would hold much appeal.

Dreams of Empire, on the other hand, could have functioned, with a fairly minor rewrite and one large plot shift, as a solid science fiction story if the Doctor wasn’t involved at all. I’m no hardcore sci-fi nerd--I think I missed that boat by panning both Neuromancer and Snow Crash--but I am a fan of well-told, well-written stories. On that count, Dreams succeeded beautifully.

Set mostly on a space station on the outer reaches of the Republic of Haddron, an interstellar kingdom in decline, the story’s events are set into motion by a political intrigue, an interstellar civil war initiated by one Hans Kesar, one the nation’s top generals. His rebellion is put down within the first twenty pages by Milton Trayx, another general and one of Keser’s closest friend, and is moved to the aforementioned outpost to prevent his assassination, thus preventing his becoming a martyr and weakening the empire further. The Doctor and his companions arrive on the outpost just in time to welcome a military vessel that seems intent on finishing the job of killing Kesar, but there are more complex machinations afoot.

I don’t want to go too deeply into the plot, because there are a number of wonderful twists throughout the story, most of which I didn’t see coming, but even from the summary above, it’s clear that this, unlike Beautiful Chaos, isn’t a (sort of)man vs. alien story. In fact, more time is spent in back-alley skullduggery that is spent in combat, until the last 20 pages or so. Maybe readers picking up a Doctor Who novel don’t want a science fiction reimagining of Caeser/Brutus but I was glad to get it.

As for the Doctor himself, this is the second Doctor, as portrayed by Patrick Troughten, and very few of his serials still exist. As a result, I’ve seen only one of them, and can’t entirely vouch for his characterization here. From what I do know, however, it seemed accurate--Number Two is a court jester with a dark, analytical side, a hero who often seems to simply bumble into the solution to the problems he comes into contact with, and that tone is well-captured here. The characterization of Jamie, a young Scot from the 1800s who’s always ready for a fight, is great here too, and lends the book a lot of its frequently understated humor.

Aside from circumstances like this tour, I don’t read much genre fiction because most of it is trash. I think the highest praise I can give Dreams of Empire is that, if more pulp was this well-done, I’d read a lot more of it.


Anonymous said...

"if more pulp was this well-done, I’d read a lot more of it." That is certainly saying something!

I've only seen a bit of the classic Doctor Who but I have seen a bit of Jamie and I would certainly enjoy reading about his escapes!

Thanks for being on the tour.

Irene Jennings said...

This book strides away from the normal Troughton-esqe monster story and goes for a political type story instead. I found the book quite bland for at least the first half of the book, but you should stick with it as the pace and excitement greatly increases after the first half with the arrival of the VETACS (robot super warriors). Just approach this book as a no-brainer and you should find, at least, a little bit of enjoyment out of it.

Irene (Bankruptcy Attorney Chicago)

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Unknown said...

Justin Richard's Doctor Who books usually allow for fantastic reads, with the kind of plots you can just about imagine happening in the show. So it's a shame, then, that Dreams Of Empire isn't quite as good as his other books.

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