Top critical review
on 25 July 2016
There are several intriguing concepts within this novel from an alien species that consumes planets to a self-sufficient artificial environment run by AI. They should be though provoking, but somehow they’re not. Not enough effort has gone into exploring or evaluating these ideas. It feels like the author had scope to look at such things as how humans interact with their environment and attempt to assert control over it or the moral aspects of utilising artificial intelligence and what it means for humankind. This doesn’t really happen though and such things bubble in the background to no effect, unfortunately. Instead what is left becomes a rather limp story where various elements fail to coalesce into something satisfying.
The book’s locale is essentially its most interesting aspect. Just as the Voracious Craw taps into giant monster movies, the automated home utilises the idea of a possessed haunted house, but, of course, while providing it with a science fiction technology based explanation. Naming the artificial intelligence that controls the house after a mythical household spirit helps to enforce this atmosphere. As does the manifestation as a green flame; although why it should exert this effect is not adequately explained.
Having the threat come from three areas; the mad scientist, the demonic artificial intelligence and the mindless, all consuming beast; gives the plot plenty to play with but, once again, the novel doesn’t really capitalise on this set up. If more was made of the nature of humankind’s interaction and relationship with machines then the confrontation between Tiermann and his creation would have been more meaningful and dramatic, instead of being somewhat farcical.
The Voracious Craw is effectively a giant worm creature that roams the cosmos consuming planets. Supposedly, with its overly ominous title, it is intended to be the main threat of the story. However, it is all a bit of a disappointment. For the vast bulk of the novel it is used simply as threat that lurks in the background, serving as a plot device to inspire the events of the book. By the resolution of these events the Craw is defeated so easily that it devalues any threat it earlier posed. Also, if it can be overcome such a simple way why did the Doctor not think of it and act earlier. It makes the whole scenario of the novel feel a little pointless.
The Tenth Doctor receives a reasonable characterisation but that of Martha is fairly weak. The problem being that Martha doesn’t really have a lot to do in the story apart from hang around waiting for the Doctor to save the day. In this way her portrayal becomes quite limited. There is a scene where Solin has a crush on her that seems to have potential to expand Martha’s role. It has connotations with Martha’s own crush on the Doctor and, perhaps, some nice comparisons could have been explored. It is not really optimised, however, and seems to be soon forgotten to all intents and purposes, making the reader question why it was included in the first place. It feels like the remains of a redundant subplot.