on 8 January 2004
The Joy Device is a Bernice Summerfield novel by Justin Richards, who is one of the masters of the Dr. Who genre books. Most of the Bernice books have been extremely funny, even when they're being serious. This one is played just for laughs, though, and Richards plays it up like a gem. Being the penultimate book in the range, I guess Richards felt that he had to go for it all. While the joke does go on a bit too long, it's still a hilarious book.
I've always been a big fan of Bernice, both with the Dr. Who books as well as her solo adventures. It's sad to think that this is the next-to-last one published by Virgin. Richards delivers a wonderful book, though, full of the trademark humour and strong writing that he's famous for. The situation Bernice finds herself in (though she sometimes doesn't realize it) is almost too crazy to believe, with events happening all around her but she is unaware of them (thanks to some timely intervention by her friends). There's a laugh on almost every page, whether it's Jason's (her ex-husband) attempt to keep a purse-snatcher from bothering her or Jason trying to make sure she doesn't sleep with Dent, or many other zany situations. Richards doesn't make the jokes too obvious, and he has the perfect cast of characters to cover them all.
First, there's Bernice and Dent. Bernice is Bernice, often sarcastic and just in need of a breather. Dent is an adventurer, and Richards really fooled me on whether or not he is the man he claims to be. He is mystified by what's happening (or, in this case, not happening) and the holiday he promised Bernice is turning to mind-numbing boredom. Every time things start to go the way he's expecting them to, they all of a sudden reverse themselves. While he is not a funny character, his reactions are almost the straight man to everything that is happening, and he does a wonderful job at it.
Then there's Jason and Clarence. Clarence is an angel (or passes for one, anyway) who is very innocent. He's not used to all this skullduggery, and Jason gets him involved in a lot of it. He's wonderful, fake moustache and all. But it's Jason who steals the show, constantly coming up with impromptu plans to get in the way of disaster happening to Bernice, and making sure that she doesn't know that he's been involved. He's the one who always ends up in danger, and he handles it with aplomb. He hasn't changed a whole lot from previous Bernice books, as he's still incredibly possessive of Bernice but knows that if he expresses it publicly, she'll rip his equipment off. At the beginning of the book, they're still arguing like they did when they were married, with neither side allowing the other any leeway. Jason and the others can't allow Bernice to know they don't want her to go, mainly because the reason they don't want her to go is because she may find that she likes it out there. Being the person put in charge of making sure she doesn't, Jason is a pleasure to read about.
The villains of the piece are typical comedy villains. Ruthless to an extent to make things dangerous, but mostly comic characters where there is no violence to be had. They threaten everybody, and there is some gunplay. Overall, though, there's not a lot new about them. They aren't one-dimensional, but they aren't exactly full-blooded.
There are a couple of problems with the book, but they don't detract enough for me to lower my rating of the book. First, the joke does go on too long. I didn't realize when I started the book that the joke *was* the book. I thought it was just an aspect of it, but no. It was fine until the conclusion, when Jason was desperately trying to keep Bernice and Dent apart. By this time, I was tired of it and found the whole sequence annoying (though taken by themselves, the scenes were wonderful).
Secondly, there is a bit of a logic problem, something that I don't usually associate with Richards, even in a comedy. Bernice is finding the whole thing boring, but there is a running battle in the hotel with the bad guys trying to get the prism, shooting up the place and everything. While Bernice is under the effect of the Prism, there is no indication that it affects her memories of what happened. Sure, she's under its spell when she calls the whole thing "a misunderstanding," but then when she's no longer under it's effects, she still calls the Rim boring and says that nothing happens. I'm sorry, but even if it is a "misunderstanding," being shot at and having explosions go off all around you doesn't sound like nothing happening. I found Bernice's blasé attitude toward the whole thing at the end a little mystifying.
Still, this is a wonderful book. It's funny and reads very quickly. Other than it's setting, it's not even really science fiction, so don't avoid it if sci-fi turns you off. It's an adventure, through and through. And did I say it's funny?