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Cat's Cradle: Warhead

By Andrew Cartmel

Book review by Clinton Spencer

'We are poisoning the planet we live on. For decades we've known the dangers and for decades we have insisted on doing nothing. Now our information gatherers bring us the inevitable news. We are reaching the point of no return.' - Matthew O'Hara, p.73

Warhead is absolutely brilliant! It is a novel set in a time I find fascinating - the near future; all too near, as the back cover blurb puts it.

The story looks at how the Earth's environment is collapsing as industrial companies take over. The scary aspect is that no-one gives a damn if you can't breathe the air or walk on the grass.

Cartmel focuses on one company, the Butler Institute, set to destroy the whole of mankind due to the mad genius who runs it - Matthew O'Hara, a man who believes he is a machine.

O'Hara has to be the best character in the book. Cartmel writes for him so well that it is possible to think of him' as real and understand his actions. His conversations with Stephanie and Mulwray were truly fascinating and had me locked into the book. Even his 'It's sadly too late' talk with his wife sent a chill down my spine.

As Jon Preddle pointed out in his review, the Doctor becomes a powerful person, but unlike Jon I enjoyed the idea of the Doctor only being there to 'fit the pieces together' - that is, until Chapter 19 when everything falls apart on a major scale! In fact, for the first half of the book, the Doctor seems to be a 'death angel' in that a few pages after he leaves, the person he has just visited ends up dead - usually in a violent way!

Ace is handled well too. Free of the Doctor's charge (for a large part of the book she is in Turkey), she matures well and has the situation under her control. This is the Ace I'd like to see more of.

Warhead is filled with many other well written characters, such as Vincent - his trips down memory lane are fascinating; Brodie - even if he only appears in seven pages! - Stephanie - sleek, cool and dangerous; and Justine - a weird person if ever there was one. In fact, all the characters in Warhead are excellent.

Within the setting of the novel Cartmel can justify using bad language and a touch of nakedness, although he seems to have caught the 'we've got to have at least three naked Ace scenes' syndrome - as evidenced by that infamous bathroom scene.

Cartmel's style of writing allows you to visualise everything, but still gives the opportunity to add in more details. The final showdown between the foes is played out almost as if it's on television.

The end of Warhead made me smile, laugh, cry and think hard, all within just a few pages. When I finished reading I was happy and satisfied. Everything fits together nicely, and the novel is wrapped up in a stylish fashion.

The book is an all round good Doctor Who story and probably my favourite of The New Adventures. Buy Warhead and read it. Give it a chance - it may be slightly different to the usual Doctor Who adventure, but it's far more 'real'.

Book review by Adam Moffitt

To go from one extreme to the other is a pretty sad experience. Whereas Time's Crucible was brilliant, Warhead was utter garbage. I found the plot disjointed, unattractive and definitely uncompromising. The whole theme of pollution reaching the point of no return is a well-worn message that almost warrants cliché status.

The characters in the book are an interesting bunch - for some reason Cartmel finds it necessary to fill us in on every aspect of their lives, including their hopes, dreams, despairs and losses and then after a thirty page analysis discards them with gay abandon! Boring to say the least.

The person who 'claims' to be the Doctor seems like some manipulative weirdo, not at all like the enigmatic fellow we've all come to love.

'Ace' was a poor understudy indeed. In one scene she refers to Vincent as an 'ugly little creep', and Justine reminds her that looks are only skin-deep, and that the real person is within. Now, does this sound like the Ace who sticks up for Manisha because of her skin colour? To me, Ace doesn't seem to like the sort of person who judges by appearance - making this comment seem totally out of character.

In this same scene, Ace tells Justine that she is a superstitious fool for believing in magic, demons and witchcraft. Justine insulted, responds by challenging Ace's view of reality, questioning her beliefs about the Doctor. Ace then physically attacks Justine, yelling 'Shut up, shut up!' Once again this seems totally out of character - would Ace really beat up a girl just because her beliefs had been questioned? Once again, Cartmel gets it wrong.

I consider Warhead to be the worst New Adventures novel to date. I have no reservations about giving it a four out ten.

Book review by Jessica Ihimaera-Smiler

Whoa, we're on a roll here, two good New Adventures books in a row! Yes, Warhead is good. Very good. Big on plot this time, not much character development so it was a real change. Well, not developing the characters of the Doctor and Ace anyway. There didn't seem to be much of any emotion in this book. It was rather bland, and at least the Doctor plays the role he was made for - the director. Yes, the Doctor knew what was going on the whole time and was back to his old manipulating ways. The other characters were completely confused and didn't ask the Doctor too many questions. And if they did, they got ignored.

A bit over the top on violence and killing I thought, but it added to the grim future that was painted. A different flavour from Time's Crucible but still enjoyable; let's hope Witch Mark can keep up the pace!

Book review by Christopher Owen

According to the initial New Adventures guidelines events were not supposed to be seen from the Doctor's point of view. Peter Darvill-Evans believes that since the Doctor is an alien, how are we supposed to know how his mind works?

Of all the New Adventures writers, Andrew Cartmel has taken this directive the most literally. The Doctor is not just mysterious; he's positively inscrutable. By marked contrast, virtually every other character in the book is developed in intimate detail, as flashbacks reveal their lives in the world that Cartmel has created.

The book begins with a long sequence of incidents. Whilst it has become increasingly popular among science fiction writers to cut back and forth between two or more seemingly unrelated groups, Cartmel takes each incident, develops it, concludes it and then moves onto the next image in the kaleidoscope. From a prologue in some unnamed wilderness location to the hospital bed of Shreela (last seen in Survival), to a decaying inner city library, Cartmel slowly builds a full and convincing world picture. But while the reader is told exactly where they are, time references are deliberately ambiguous. The Doctor appears briefly, fulfils some esoteric task, ten leaves as suddenly as he has appeared.

Eighty pages later we finally meet Ace, but the reader's hopes of further enlightenment are dashed. We learn that she is recruiting a group of Kurdish mercenaries in Turkey to launch an attack on a Cypriot island. But why, we ask desperately. To retrieve an object - what object? Ah, that would be telling.

Despite the mysteries that Cartmel builds into the plot, Warhead is refreshingly solid after the convoluted machinations of Revelation and Time's Crucible. While these are both outstanding pieces of fiction, it makes a welcome change to read something less cerebral. The skill which Cartmel brings to the New Adventures is a carefully developed, solid, believable world filled with human characters. More than any other New Adventures writer so far, he takes time to flesh out the motivations, hopes and fears of his characters. Even the minor characters are given complete backgrounds, which fill out and complement the history that Cartmel has created.

In the midst of this world the Doctor is an enigma. He seems like a vague and shadowy puppeteer manipulating events, with the other characters merely pawns in his game. In the case of Warhead I don't think it detracts from the storyline simply because he stays in the background so much.

While Warhead's plot lacks the complexity of Time's Crucible or the originality of Revelation, I found it a satisfying book to read because of the craftmanship Cartmel shows in creating both his characters and setting. Especially after two essentially vague and cryptic books, it was nice to read something with a solid feel of reality to it. To the New Adventures: more of the same! (Only different...)

This item appeared in TSV 30 (September 1992).

Index nodes: Cat's Cradle: Warhead