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Doctor Who: Slow Empire Mass Market Paperback – 2 Jul 2001
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One thing that is certain is that Dave Stone books are an acquired taste. His style of writing is so unique within the field of Doctor Who that any new one bearing his name is either likely to incite cheers of joy or cause a stampede of people who can't avoid it quickly enough. No single author within the Doctor Who range can be as brilliant and inventive as Stone has been in his past books such as Death And Diplomacy, The Mary-Sue Extrusion or Heart Of TARDIS and then as unreadable as his books have been in Sky Pirates! or Return To The Fractured Planet. But for his second BBC novel, Dave Stone is on his top form.
The Slow Empire itself is a very enjoyable novel. Stone's unique style of writing shines through well making each page a joy to read. He's structured it by having two distinct narrative stances throughout the text, one in the traditional third person and the other using the first person perspective through the eyes of Mr. Jamon de la Rocas, who proves to be a very interesting character and it soon becomes obvious that Stone enjoyed greatly writing this extravagant character and his love of language shines through.
The characterisation of the three regulars is good, although because of certain spacial anomalies present within the area of space that The Slow Empire is set, their characters behave slightly differently to normal. The Doctor is even more unpredictable than he has been in recent books, Anji seems angrier than she normally does and Fitz is, well Fitz really but more so. Stone has always been strong with characterisation and The Slow Empire is no exception.
The Slow Empire bears the unique hallmarks of a Dave Stone novel. It's decidedly odd in places, but the strength of the story shines through. Stones writing is exceptionally good, and this makes The Slow Empire a wonderfully strange book to experience. Although it's plot may not be the strongest aspect of this book, with the combination of characterisation and wonderful writing it becomes a very enjoyable book. Stone's writing has always been laced with humour to some degree, and this is evident in The Slow Empire. Dave Stone's books though are generally an acquired taste, and those who have disliked his work before may not enjoy this book as it highlights very much Stone's unique style and writing flair. The book does have some weaknesses though. The ending seems a little rushed, but not enough to seriously undermine the book's quality. The Slow Empire is a highly inventive novel, which is thoroughly enjoyable and entirely recommended.
The story does run onto the next novel as the TARDIS crew are in a bit of a state at the start of Dark Progeny but missing this one doesn't make a big difference as far as the series is concerned.
In short don't bother.
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The basic concept behind the book is that the TARDIS has landed in a strange portion of space where traveling faster than the speed of light is impossible. In an Empire spanning multiple worlds and various star systems, this means that journeys between planets will literally take hundreds of years. It's an interesting twist to have the characters suddenly finding themselves stuck in an Einstein-ruled universe. All of Dave Stone's descriptions of this Empire at the beginning of the book are wonderful. Stone cleverly portrayed this section of space in the epic manner that it deserved, reminding me somewhat of the galaxy-spanning society that Isaac Asimov created in his Foundation series. Unfortunately, while the accounts at the start of the story paint a vast, sprawling and fairly out-of-touch galactic empire, they fade a bit as the protagonists start venturing out into the universe. The book is too short to give each planet a distinctive feeling, and the result is to end up with a handful of mostly faceless worlds that appear as though they're reusing the same sets with a slightly different colour of paint slapped on them. Still, the set up was very nice and depicted quite vividly.
I'm not quite sure what was going on with the Doctor in this one. The author goes out of his way to state that the Doctor is regressing into the lives of his previous selves, but I couldn't figure out what story reason this served. At first, I assumed that it was an excuse for poor characterization (although the Doctor is portrayed fairly well for most of the book). Upon reflection I wondered if there wasn't a comparison going on between the Seventh and Eighth Doctors. Certainly at the end of the book, the Doctor turns out to have been fairly manipulative throughout much of the story, but almost nothing is made of it. In fact, the ending of the story seems to mirror similar events at the climax of the previous story, THE YEAR OF INTELLIGENT TIGERS, but is done here with so much less subtlety that the point lacks focus.
Where the book succeeds are the points in which the plot is turned off and the story veers wildly from one setting to another. Some might say that all this stuff is merely padding and that it doesn't affect the plot one jot (Anji would be one of those people, as she even remarks upon it during the course of the adventure). These people would be absolutely correct. But far from being a criticism of the book, this actually provides us with the more entertaining sections. Bad padding may be a terrible and boring thing to read, but the padding on display here is of a far higher quality than that. It's enjoyable and amusing.
Of course, not every aside and irrelevancy ends up as a positive aspect. There are several cases where Stone's excesses cause inward groaning. The awful similes and metaphors of previous books are back and at times they are quite distracting. Some of the prose tiptoes into the wrong side of pretentiousness causing much annoyance and rolling of eyes. As mentioned earlier, the plot really isn't all that interesting when said and done; the voyage itself is what is appealing, not the details behind it.
All over, this is an enjoyable tale that skimps a bit on the plot, but is still a lot of fun. The digressions and tangents work more often than they don't, resulting in a pleasant read. It's only a pity that at the end the plot comes back into play, as that section is far less interesting than the diversions that came before. The book isn't the deepest or most taxing thing that you'll ever encounter, but it's certainly amusing and a fun way to spend several hours.