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The Also People

By Ben Aaronovitch

Book review by Paul Scoones

Transit, Ben Aaronovitch's previous novel, is popularly regarded as one of the worst of the New Adventures. Unfortunately that reputation is likely to prevent readers from bothering with Aaronovitch's second New Adventure, which is a shame as this book is so much better.

Doctor Who stories invariably cover the times of action or danger in the Doctor's travels. It is implied but rarely demonstrated that sometimes the TARDIS brings its passengers to a place of relative safety, where they can enjoy a brief respite from the usual frantic pace of their adventures. The Also People is a radical departure for the series, in that the story is essentially about the Doctor and his companions on holiday. There's a murder mystery to resolve, but this occupies much less of the book's nearly three hundred pages than would normally be the case. Although this sounds like a recipe for a tedious, over padded novel, The Also People is the most absorbing New Adventure that I have read in a long time.

The novel's greatest strength is in its character development. Aaronovitch has without a doubt provided the strongest interpretations yet of Chris Cwej and Roz Forrester. If you want to get inside the heads of these two people and find out what makes them tick, this is the book to read. Benny and the Doctor are similarly treated, but these two have at least been given solid examinations in previous novels. Over the course of the story Aaronovitch sets up various pairings both within the TARDIS crew and also with his own characters, and demonstrates how they relate to one another. Roz's scenes are most memorable of all.

The strange, slightly alien society in which the adventure takes place is heavily based on the 'Culture', a complex symbiosis of humans and artificial intelligence machines featured in the science fiction novels of my favourite author in any genre, Iain M. Banks. Some of the liveliest characters in Aaronovitch's book are machines, although they are for all intents and purposes 'also people'. It would be all too easy to accuse Aaronovitch of blatant plagiarism, however I believe that the novel instead pays homage to Iain Banks.

The Also People is an enthralling, character-driven story rich in detail and sumptuous in style. If you loved the novelisation of Remembrance of the Daleks and were disappointed by Transit, be sure to read this book.

This item appeared in TSV 46 (January 1996).

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