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3.0 out of 5 stars
3.0 out of 5 stars

on 16 June 2003
Due to a variety of reasons, I found myself with a long gap between the publication of this book and my eventual perusal. During that pause, Internet opinion had pretty much decided that THE INFINITY RACE was a hugely disappointing clunker at the end of what had been a breathtaking and fantastic year for the Eighth Doctor Adventures. So, when I did start reading this book, it was with some slight trepidation. At first, it appeared that my anxiety was misplaced. The beginning drew me in, tempted my appetite and consistently impressed me; I couldn't fathom why it was receiving such negative press. But by the time I got to the end, I found that the book had fizzled somewhat. While it's certainly not what I would consider terrible, it does seem to be lacking a certain something that would raise this book above the level of ordinary.
The story opens with an invitation of sorts left over from the previous EDA (Justin Richards' TIME ZERO). Sabbath lures the Doctor and friends to one of the biggest races in the galaxy: a regatta situated on the ocean-planet Selonart (a name that I was certain was a joke or a reference to something else, but I have so far failed at figuring out what that is). These competitions reach a galaxy-wide audience, in part because of the strange properties present in the oceans of this world. The water is mostly frictionless and "light", and specially designed ships can travel on the seas at speeds unheard of on Earth.
The special attributes of the water on Selonart allow Simon Messingham to delve into some hard science-fiction concepts, though thankfully he doesn't dive in too deep. Messingham produces some good old-fashioned nautical adventuring without too much in the way of distracting technobabble. The opening sections that take place primarily on the yachts are genuinely thrilling and exciting. Messingham's skills of being able to construct a good horror sequence (which were on display on the underrated and creepy THE FACE-EATER) are put to good use in these portions, giving us some sharp and unsettling prose.
Many people have commented on the narrative voice(s) used in this book, usually saying that they found it distracting or unpleasant. My reaction was the complete opposite. I loved the actual process of reading this book. The jokes were funny, the action sequences executed smoothly, and the plot was laid out competently. But yet, I'm still not exactly sure why everything didn't seem to feel quite right by the end. I'd been drawn in to the narrative, but not into the rest of the story. I found the actual sentences and paragraphs to be deceptively adept at getting me to keep turning the pages. And I can't deny that the storyline of the book was similarly impressive and interesting. But somewhere along the line, Messingham lost my interest.
The characters are another aspect of this book that I can't say that I loved or hated. There's enough material present for me to want to keep reading about them, but there's not quite enough for me to say that they were three-dimensional characters in their own right. That said, the narrative first-person switches to Fitz and Anji's viewpoints were extremely well done. I really would like to see more of this sort of thing in the Doctor Who books. The companions are almost always designed to be our identification points, so it's nice to get inside their heads once in a while. Messingham does a terrific job at keeping the characters distinct, consistent and genuine. Even as I find myself growing weary of Fitz, books like this one make me want to see the current team go on together for a long time.
Ultimately, I can indeed say that I found THE INFINITY RACE to be a vaguely decent read. As in Messingham's previous EDA, his prose did a wonderful job of building tension within individual scenes. Unlike that book however, the whole just didn't quite hang together enough for me. Given all that I liked about this book, I really should have enjoyed the total experience more than I did -- but I didn't. And it's a shame, because there's much here to appreciate.
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on 23 September 2004
Alternate universes always have a strike against them from the very start, especially if it's a universe that's destined to either revert back to the normal universe our heroes inhabit or destined to be destroyed. Why should we care about these incidental characters that the author is inventing when what happens to them won't really matter that much? It's even more of a problem in a continuing series, because the "universe" the main characters inhabit is consistent from book to book, making the alternate universe even more disposable than it normally is. The Infinity Race is an alternate universe novel. The events of Time Zero have caused the universes to diverge, so this is not a spoiler. Messingham has succeeded in making a book with characters that we somewhat care about, though the fact that the main characters keep hammering home the alternate aspect of their location makes it hard at times. Thus, Messingham manages to squeeze a pretty good book out of the whole concept.
The planet Selonart. A world that's almost all ocean, crystal clear waters shining in the sunlight. It's also home of the Trans-Global Regatta, which is "the ultimate sporting event in the universe!" Multi-stellar corporations from all over the Earth Empire enter sailing ships into this race for interstellar prestige...and lots of money, of course. But the mysterious Sabbath has his own agenda for the race. One that may wreak havoc on the timelines. The water on Selonart has unusual properties of propulsion, but they also have other mysterious properties. The Selonart colonists seem to be greatly affected by them, so the corporations put them to use on their sailing ships. But Sabbath has other plans for them. The Doctor and his companions land on Selonart and must not only stop these plans, but figure out what they are, before it's too late. For the Doctor, and the rest of the universe.
The Infinity Race is told in an unusual format. There is the normal third-person narrative, but there are also alternate journal entries from Anji and Fitz telling their part of the story, with the occasional piece by Bloom, the main Selonart native character. The Bloom entries are interesting because we see the change that comes over him as events happen. His entries start out with very broken English, making them a little difficult to read. They slowly get better as time goes on and things come to a head. He's also the most interesting character in the entire book, and it's neat to see the transition he goes through. The other Selonart natives, however, aren't anywhere near as interesting and do more to illustrate Bloom's character than anything else.
Anji and Fitz get a lot of characterization through their entries, and it's probably the best these two characters have been written in quite a while. The entries reflect their personalities perfectly, with Fitz displaying bravado but admitting to himself when he's really scared of what's happening. Anji starts out lamenting being pulled from her normal life that she had tried to get back to in Time Zero, is never afraid to point out when the Doctor's being a git, and finally comes around as she decides that what they're doing is necessary. What's most interesting about her sections is when the Doctor asks her to stay behind and talk to the governor and find Fitz. When she can't do either one, her frustration screams off the page, and her fear when the riots start is almost palpable. Sometimes the breezy way they write is a little irritating, especially when they get self-referential. They talk about endless corridors and how the seemingly never-ending "capture, escape, capture again" sequence happens again. But overall, these sections were quite good.
The Doctor is his normal dynamic self, which is nice to see. His interactions with Sabbath are wonderful, with both men being well-characterized. Their dialogue crackles as they argue the merits of their respective positions. The Doctor is adamant that Sabbath's plan not only can't work, but will destroy everything. The only unfortunate thing in The Infinity Race is that Sabbath takes on a couple of bad Master habits (the Master is an old enemy of the Doctor's). He rants and he raves, and he has an ambiguous fate that looks really bad but isn't deadly enough that he won't come back sometime.
Other incidental characters are more hit and miss. The governor is way over the top, and while that may have been intentional, it didn't make him any less annoying. Some of the other characters are better, but they are perfunctorily killed off, without any real purpose, after they've been around for a while. Messingham also suffers from the "let's introduce a character and give him some character detail just so we can kill him off" syndrome. It's a cheat to wring a little bit more emotion out of the reader, and it annoys the heck out of me.
The more I liked some of the characters, though, the more that the constant references to alternate universes annoyed me. I was beginning to like a couple of them, and I didn't want them not to "matter." My mind wanted to prevent me from investing too much caring into them because they would ultimately disappear, even if they didn't actually "die." That's the sad part of the book. Ultimately, it was an enjoyable read, and I'm glad I did. Give it a shot.
David Roy
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VINE VOICEon 18 November 2002
There's a decent idea at the heart of this novel, but unfortunately its all but drowned out by wafer-thin characterisation and 'young adult' writing style. The expected Enlightenment clone fails to appear, with the yacht-race something of a misdirection, but in its place we have numerous other genre stereotypes and a distinct lack of originality.
With time and infinity in the balance things do start to look interesting in the novels final third, but the impact is lessened by over-familiarity of the subject matter due to the obsession over time in the most recent run of Eighth Doctor novels. Not the authors best by any means...
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