Dreamstone Moon.

Books  Sometimes its difficult to find a fresh way of reviewing one of these books. There are only so many times you can describe your love or dislike of the prose, the setting, whether Sam or the Doctor are in character, if you were gripped or not; if the experience was a good one, bad one, indifferent one, or something you'd just want to forget. You want whatever you're writing to be interesting, exciting, impressive or at the very least interesting. What's attractive about Paul Leonard's book is that it made me feel. It made me think. It didn't make me want to actually try and intellectualise. It's a book which feeds back on personal investment for reasons which are probably, and wierdly, nothing to do with the qualities of the plot.

For the first time, in a long time, whilst reading a Doctor Who novel, I actually began to think about who I am, where I am, and what that means. This isn't some post thirtysomething birthday existential crisis ... I don't think. I don't think it would have been prompted just as easily by a pop song, a play or a film. I think that just sometimes you'll find yourself on a train, on a bus, waiting in a university foyer, thumbing pages of just another Doctor Who novel and somewhere along the line the narrative takes a back seat to how you feel about what you're reading.

I think the question this book is asking is: If someone doesn't call you for a few months if it means that they're waiting for you to call them, and if you don't call them, if it's because you think they don't want to see you any more, and that if you do call them whether you could stand the idea of them making excuses not to see you. Or if that's just obviously paranoia and they've lost your number. Not that there is a real world example.

The Big Dumb Object this time is the titular moon, a giant crystal form, which broken down can effect people's dreams for good and ill. It's innevitably being greedily mined and a group protestors are trying to stop their work. But obviously something sinister is happening and it's up to the Doctor and Sam to find out what that is and stop it. Interestingly, for a change, it doesn't seem to be concious decision on their part. They just happen to be in the situation and solving the mystery is a means to and end -- being together again.

It's a story about green issues, man's inhumanity to the universe, and allows us to see Sam's beliefs in something more than the abstract terms we're used to. She joins the environmentalists, despite some chemistry with Daniel from the other side, simply because without the Doctor, they're closest to who she is, and predictably she's the only human in the group. We initally meet almost all of the characters in the novel through her point of view and without the Doctor around, it's as though she's keen to find a replacement. There's some excellent characterisation in the tentacled Krakanite Aloisse or later the artist Anton, but neither quite fulfills the role which highlights the Doctor's absense from her life, in much the way that her disappearance from Legacy of the Daleks heightened our appreciation of the support she provides for him.

The book isn't post modern enough not to feature the timelord. He's there, but it's very much in a secondary role. He's forever bumping into people Sam's already been around, but oddly, at times, he doesn't seem too concerned to see her again and then at others desperate. He's dragged about by all in sundry, his forward momentum controlled. Which isn't to say he doesn't save the day. My favourite line, if you'll pardon the spoiler, happens at the very end with "After a while the Doctor realised that he'd just killed a man with the force of an argument. It wasn't a very pleasant thought."

One of my favourite films is Serendipity. John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale meet over a glove in Bloomingdales in New York, fall for each other then leave it up to fate as to whether they will see each other again. Throughout the film they come very close, absently passing each other in cars, on golf driving ranges and at weddings. It's idiosyncratic, infuriating but also intelligent and it seems to have been unfairly forgotten. This book is just like that.

The Doctor and Sam are in the narrative but apart. I've mentioned before that it's a really bad idea to keep these characters out of the same scenes because its only in those moments that the prose flies. This is still true. But for the same reasons that Serendipity works, because of those infuriating near misses, Dreamstone Moon is surprising. Cleverly they come close to being together but are kept apart not just by crowds or comm systems, but more importantly their attitudes to one another. The Doctor wonders by the end if he shouldn't just let Sam go off and see the universe alone now and stop meddling, just at the time she decides that she can't speak to him, even though she knows he's alive..

Hopefully their reunion in the next book Seeing I doesn't wait until the last page...

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