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By Steve Lyons

Book review by David Lawrence

Bit of an odd one this. The book within a book is a great concept, but unfortunately it is too drawn-out to be thoroughly effective.

Whereas some stories could work equally well if not better on television, Conundrum could only ever be a book. It is very disconcerting for the reader to be so deliberately separated from the action.

Felicity Scoones suggested in TSV 37 that Conundrum might be better suited to a short story and I'm inclined to agree, not because it is uninteresting but because by chapter four I'd already guessed where the TARDIS crew is. For the remainder of the book I was continually waiting for revelations and thinking, 'Yes, come on. we know what's going on, get on with it!'

I loved the Doctor's meeting with the Writer; the inclusion of John and Gillian had me in hysterics (if only Abslom Daak could have been explained away as part of the writer's creation rather than having him turn up in a 'real' story). The homage to the history of Doctor Who is very witty and cleverly done, although I suspect some fans may be offended by the implications of Ace finding New Adventures novels in the Land of Fiction. The surreal nature of some of the ideas here surpasses even Revelation.

So far each of the Alternative Universe books has been a sequel of sorts to a previous story: Doctor Who and the Silurians, Shada, The Aztecs and now The Mind Robber. What will No Future 'follow', I wonder?

Book review by Chris Girdler

I was hardly expecting the appearance of John and Gillian to be a highlight of Conundrum but Steve Lyons has offered a late April Fools day joke in the form of this self-indulgent tiresome novel. It uses the alternative dimension set up quite well but, like Blood Heat, it does so at the expense of a decent story.

It has its moments: Ace's admission about her feelings for the Doctor and her anger at Benny for revealing them to him made for some fine characterisation. The only decent character in Arandale Keep was Norman Powers, the ex-superhero. More than once he is built up as if he has reclaimed his extraordinary powers but then falls flat on his face.

Sadly most of the characters are bland, clichéd and uninteresting - sure you can blame the writer from the Land of Fiction (a very convenient narrative device) but a book filled with characters you can't relate to or don't believe in hardly makes for a gripping read. The dreary parody of the Famous Five has been done many times and often quite funnier. I won't even mention the religious freak or the psychic who make little more than cameo appearances because they contribute nothing to the 'plot'.

In the Doctor's own words Conundrum is 'predictable, improbable and rather contrived'. When the story runs out of what little steam it has, Dalek look-alikes and flying New Adventure novels are thrown in. There's little wrong with Lyons' writing ability or structuring but this book just didn't appeal to me. However, judging by Craig Hinton's gushing review in DWM (better than The Left-Handed Hummingbird?), it does appear to have its followers. Just be warned that you may need a videotape of The Mind Robber at the ready as an antidote.

Book review by Jamas Enright

It wasn't so much the plot that kept this book going as the style. I worked out where they were and who was the killer about halfway though, but that didn't stop me from wanting to read on and see how the Doctor dealt with the situation.

The plot elements (the Adventure Kids, the White Knight and Doctor Nemesis, etc) were such good parodies of their genres, that they made the book that much more interesting rather than simplistic (especially with the inclusion of John and Gillian).

Using the first person to indicate insights into the Writer's mind was what made Conundrum so intriguing. Having most of the text in normal third-person narration, then including one or two sentences in the first, make the reader wonder just what is going on, and determined to find out. Even though the final answer becomes apparent, the 'audience knows, but the characters don't' aspect still keeps the interest up.

The characterisations were so clichéd they were brilliant, and made the counterpoints of the Doctor, Ace and Bernice that much more real. The Writer, with his dramatic mood swings and human insights, is a wonderful foil for the Doctor; someone who knows more than the Doctor does, and doesn't like the Doctor's attempts at meddling in his affairs one little bit.

This book is very humorous and, although not absolutely dazzling, is worth reading for style alone.

Book review by David Ronayne

I always find it difficult to review a book (especially one like this with an incredibly huge 'sting' near the end), not knowing just how many other people have actually read it, as I'm always afraid I'll spoil the surprise for someone. So here is a brief attempt to review the book, whilst trying to give as little away about the plot as possible.

The book is absolutely brilliant. After the incredibly intense The Left-Handed Hummingbird I thought there was no way anyone could seriously attempt to top it; Thankfully, Steve Lyons didn't even try. After Kate Orman's complex plot spanning several fantastic locations, Conundrum provides a complex combination of plots involving an utterly fantastical set of characters, which lead to the greatest trek up the garden path since The Highest Science. Despite the almost ridiculous nature of some of the characters and situations (sometimes so utterly silly it's almost obvious what's happening), the book still makes compelling reading.

The main focal point of the novel is humour, bordering on farce. While some readers may find parts of this somewhat sinister (such as Ace's discorporation at the hands of the word association), when considering the tone of the rest of the novel, especially the self-conscious first person narrative, it seems to point to one huge wind-up.

All in all, it's a great book, not only for Doctor Who, but also for 'spotting the references'. One wonders how many copyright requests the publishers did (or didn't) send out. It must be admitted that TARDIS Tales had the Doctor running into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles first, and it's also turned my old Escape from Colditz board game into an instant collector's item.

This item appeared in TSV 39 (May 1994).

Index nodes: Conundrum