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The Left-Handed Hummingbird

By Kate Orman

Book review by Chris Girdler

The Left-Handed Hummingbird is a kaleidoscope of locations and time zones bound together by a frightening psychological threat. I was a little apprehensive that the space-hopping would emulate the bland contrived style of The Keys of Marinus or The Chase, but each individual segment is wonderfully written and greatly researched.

It uses the familiar Seventh Doctor concept of 'what-the-hell's-going-on?' but all is explained as past events occur in the second half of the book. By meeting up with the older version of Cristián first the Doctor is forced to pick up the pieces of the puzzle in a backwards fashion - it sounds complex (and it is) but it works remarkably well. The routine New Adventure neologisms are less than impressive; I cringed every time someone said 'crukking'; an all-too obvious replacement for a well known expletive.

Whilst the Doctor and Ace get into the crux of things in Tenochtitlan, Bernice researches into Aztec history in modern day Mexico. This rather predictable treatment of her character lasts only until the Blue influences her to do some facial reconstruction with a frying pan.

Violent acts such as this are not uncommon in Hummingbird; unlike the rather childish divisions of 'goodies' and 'baddies' that taint so many past stories, Orman blurs the distinction between victims and victors. Of course the Blue/Huitzilin is used as an excuse for the violent acts, but there is still a subtle suggestion of the individual's capacity for evil or violent acts. This ties in perfectly with the tougher, meaner Ace, whose treatment is at its strongest in this book. Particularly effective was the Interlude in which Ace attacks the Doctor, told in a first person narrative.

As with Nightshade and Iceberg, the mostly manipulative Doctor is vulnerable and weak, struggling to fight his enemy in a near-death scenario. The mysterious alien quality is brilliantly executed. The near-death experiences are countless for the main characters - it's a tense rollercoaster ride in which danger lurks everywhere, even in their own minds.

Finally there's the use of drugs. Why this is considered controversial is beyond me - not once does Orman endorse the illegal substances in question. The hippies get blitzed by Huitzilin, Cristián goes insane and the Doctor is reduced to his lowest point following the Happening, in which they go tripping. If that's glamourising drugs then I'm John Lennon.

The first of what will hopefully be many more New Adventure novels by female writers is an undeniable triumph. The narrative is refreshing, the Aztec insights intriguing and the climax unforgettable. All proof that the previously untapped potential of Australasian writers is a greater threat to the strict Englishness of Doctor Who than any flaky Americanization rumours can be.

Book review by David Lawrence

I've had high expectations of this book since reading Kate Orman's article in TSV 35. I wasn't disappointed.

Despite ties with The Aztecs, a magnificent Hartnell story, Hummingbird is one of those sequels where not having seen or read its 'predecessor' does not hinder ones' understanding of the story.

The portrait presented of Mexico City is a little removed from the dirt and poverty etched in my memory of the place, but as with all the locations in the novel it is enthralling. The Doctor and Ace's visit to 1487 is given credibility by Orman's attention to detail and knowledge of the period.

The violence in the novel is not glorified but is quite horrific in its starkness. Scenes of Benny killing Fitzgerald, Ace slaughtering Aztecs and the Doctor murdering and devouring for Huitzilin leave the reader feeling just a wee bit disturbed. But there are other violent scenes, such as when Ace breaks Macbeth's nose, which leave the reader immensely satisfied!

My one complaint is with the claim that Mark Chapman was a Beatles fan (he wasn't) and that John Lennon said that they were more popular than Christ (he didn't). So many stories accounting for Chapman's assassination of Lennon exist that it is difficult to discern the truth. Huitzilin using Chapman to kill Lennon to generate mass grief is a great idea and has a lot of credibility.

We've already been given proof that Doctor Who exists in the Star Trek universe and now we have proof that the reverse is true - which episode are Benny and Cristián watching on page 25, Kate?

Book review by Jamas Enright

This is the third in the 'alternative universe' series, which has the Doctor's past being altered. With this book, I don't see exactly what part was altered. He never had anything to do with Huitzilin, so how is this 'alternative universe' created from the Doctor's past?

Apart from that one problem (which only occurred to me afterwards), this is a riveting and entertaining novel. Kate Orman's style of writing, especially the exceptionally 'weird' parts is strange enough to suit the situation.

The retro-temporal meetings (A meets B, then goes back it time and meets an earlier B) is handled very well, Cristián is aware of the dangers and refuses to give away too much information, and Macbeth doesn't give away anything helpful.

As far as characterisations go, the Doctor, Ace and Bernice are very much as previously established; the manipulative stranger, the soldier, and the helpful archaeologist. Cristián and Macbeth are very believable, and the Aztecs come across very well (showing what proper research can do).

This item appeared in TSV 39 (May 1994).

Index nodes: The Left-Handed Hummingbird