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After wading manfully through this (mostly challenging) series of original Bernice Summerfield novels, I have finally found a half-decent one. Lively and engaging throughout, Benny is squarely at the heart of the story, and is ably assisted by well-drawn accomplices – and there isn’t too much sci-fi jargon either. Despite the revamp of book covers which began with the previous novel in the series – Another Girl, Another Planet – in order to make them more appealing to a wider Sci-fi readership, the stories are written in very much the same vein as they have been since they went from being the further adventures of The Doctor, to Benny Summerfield solo outings: Benny drinks too much; is drawn to inappropriate people; makes other poor lifestyle choices; and is inexplicably (still) drawn to her buffoonish ex-husband Jason Kane, who makes another unwelcome appearance here. However, the difference with Parkin's latest novel is that Bernice appears to be having a ball; and the lively tone and fast-moving narrative never feels bogged down by cliché or tiresome authorial indulgence. A pair of roguish comedy sidekicks are a welcome addition to the roster of characters this series has introduced so far, and the book ends in such a way as to give me cause for optimism when approaching the remaining seven publications in the series.
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on 2 June 2000
The thing is, this book is one elaborate extended metaphor. The authors grew up around the Harrogate area and - lo and behold - Mars is turned into a planet-sized OAP centre paid for by holding party conferences, university junkets and the like. Everyone wears beige. By recycling Parkin's MA thesis on the University Novel (you know, Lodge, Davies, Bradbury) and spoofing the 90s Mars blockbusters they were going to have to be pretty sure-footed. For the first two-thirds of the book they get away with it, then it turns into BUGS. This means that they get twice as far into a 280-page Benny book than any of their predecessors in the range before dropping the ball. The main problem is their motivation is frustration at other writers' cliches, especially the kneejerk assumption in most of the New Adventures that multinational corporations are automatically bad and that war criminals do bad things because, well, because they're evil. A worthy ambition, but they get as far as Benny's rather abrupt realisation that the nice old dear she's befriended is the most hated person in the planet's history (and no-one else spotted her?) before the dumb 'Mission Impossible' sub-plot goes into overdrive. The main reason this book is to be given a chance is quite simply because it should have been the last time anyone used Jason Kane as the initiator of the plot. This dull character has finally been exposed as a bit of a tosser and the perennial question of why Our Heroine bothers with him has been settled: he's loaded. Apart from that it suffers from the familiar N/A faults of being written in a hurry and no effort on the part of writer(s) or Virgin to take the plot and give it a good kicking into shape. Still, not nearly as self-indulgently shoddy as Kate Orman's effort.
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on 14 November 1999
This book begins with a fascinating account of the planet Mars' future history and our heroine is gently introduced to a basic whodunnit plot. However around the middle of the book things start to feel stretched. It's as if the authors will do anything to fill space and avoid puncturing the pregnant sense of mystery. This includes the sudden appearance of Benny's estranged husband and a chapter entirely devoted to the sexual tension of their reconciliation. The net effect is to disrupt the previous foundation laying and destroy any respect the reader had for Bernice or the authors.
Then on page 165 the big secret is just blurted out. The plot at this point is akin to the large rubber band Wiley Coyote walks back in straining and waiting for the roadrunner. Just like Wiley the plot then lurches forward at incredible speed, slams into a canyon wall and misses the bird. The climax of the novel is jarring and just plain feels wrong. It's as if Parkin and Clapham want a James Bond showdown with the villains but are too post-modern to care to do so. This book not only contains bad sex it is also the equivalent reading experience.
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