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Relative Dementias

Doctor Who: The BBC Past Doctor Adventures #49
Dave Roy

Mark Michalowski has written a very good first book that's marred only by trying to pack too much into the story and some dodgy character motivations. All in all, though, it's a very interesting story.

The Doctor and Ace stop in 2012 to pick up the Doctor's mail. There are a couple of interesting pieces, though, and it sends them back in time to Scotland in 1982 to help an old friend. Unfortunately, that old friend is missing, and the search leads to Greystairs, an Alzheimer's clinic. There, some of the patients seem to be responding very well to treatments to restore their memories. However, some memories can be dangerous, not only to the patients, but to others.

In the course of the story, many questions are asked. Why is the Doctor being so secretive about his actions before they arrive in Scotland? What are the strange disappearances that have taken place locally? Who is stalking them as they explore the area? Just what is Michael's secret, and why won't he talk to Ace? What does he have against the Doctor?

The book comes complete with weird time-travel activities, a manipulative Seventh Doctor and Ace, who is a tough young woman, slightly out of her element, but determined to do the best she can in the situation. I've always found this team to be an interesting one, even more so in the books than in the TV series. She's well-served in this book, taking on a large portion of the action. It's a good thing that Michalowski writes her so well.

The other characters aren't served quite as well, though. The minor characters are fairly forgettable, especially the patients at the clinic. I found it hard to tell them apart sometimes, and when the ultimate revelation about what's going on happens, I still couldn't tell the difference. Claire, the barmaid, is a little better, but she's also fairly one-note. There's an attraction between her and Michael, but it's only mentioned in passing and nothing is ever made of it.

In fact, that sort of thing is one of the problems with the book. Too much is mentioned and then never developed. There's a murder at Greystairs that the Doctor discovers, but it's never mentioned again. Sure, the murderer gets his/her comeuppance, but only because of what happens in the plot. It has nothing to do with bringing the murderer to justice. It just sort of hangs there and is never mentioned again.

Then there's a conflict between Ace and the Doctor that grows out of nowhere. The reason for it, though stated at the time the problem happens, has no preamble whatsoever and I was actually surprised that all of a sudden, these two characters are fighting. Why? Supposedly, the Doctor has broken a promise that we've never seen him make, so it comes completely out of left field.

The final thing I want to address about character is Michael, and his motivation. He goes through most of the book hiding his real reason for being in the area, and hiding why he's so antagonistic toward the Doctor. When he ultimately reveals it, I was left with a skeptical feeling. I just didn't believe it. I won't reveal what the problem is here, but I will say that I can see no way that events would happen as he says they did. It's just not logical. People don't act the way he describes them. To me, it brought his whole characterization to a crashing halt.

The story itself is fascinating, though. There are a lot of twists and turns, and the ending is a mad dash to the finish line with a wonderfully Doctorish solution to the problem. The only problem is that it's a little too packed. While the book plods a little bit in the middle, the end is so full that the reader doesn't have time to take a breath. There's revelation after revelation hitting the reader in the face. The author has said that he cut a huge amount from his manuscript to fit the required word count, and it shows. The time travel antics were interesting (I won't say who's involved in them, because the revelation of that is actually part of the fun of the book) and I didn't find them confusing at all.

This past Doctor adventure is definitely worth picking up, especially if you're a fan of the Seventh Doctor/Ace partnership. With the exception of the conflict at the end, they are characterized beautifully. It's well-written, and most of all it's fun.

Lawrence Conquest

Over exposure can be a terrible thing - just ask Ace. Initially praised for bringing a new dynamic to the role of companion, the character has been spread so thinly over innumerable post-cancellation adventures that a lot of fans are now sick of the sight of her. The Doctors manipulation of Ace was taken to its logical conclusion by the New Adventures, before the misguided attempt to reintroduce her as a hardened mercenary space-bitch. Even Big Finish seems on the verge of a major character reboot by dropping the outdated and immature street-cred trappings of the 80's. So its all the more surprising that Mark Michalowski has managed to simultaneously capture the character of the more innocent TV Ace while adding enough depth to prevent this novel from being a simple re-run of previous adventures.

Relative Dementias starts well, with the Doctors collection of mail from a forwarding service for aliens and time travellers leading him into a missing persons case centred on an Alzheimer's clinic in Scotland. As usual, the Doctor appears to know more than he's prepared to tell Ace, and this withholding of information helps to keep the opening mysterious in the extreme. Immediately noticeable is the ease with which Michalowski nails the characters of both the Doctor and Ace; the regulars have never sounded in finer form, and every line resonates in the mind of the reader as though read by McCoy or Aldred. Most of the other characters are functional but rather less distinctive, and with a fairly large cast it would have been helpful to have had a few more descriptive passages to cement the various characters appearances in the readers mind on first appearance; characters suddenly revealed to be black, or with a moustache, a hundred pages after first appearing is just asking for a clash with the readers necessarily self created image.

The majority of the novel centres on the clinic of Greystairs. With missing patients and staff, suspicious treatments, secrets in the basement and mysterious figures in the attic, this is a ripe setting for Who, though the ease with which various characters break in and sneak around is a little unbelievable. After an excellent first hundred pages however, there is a definite sense of disappointment when the reasons for these mysterious goings on are traced back to the usual aliens in the basement. With the enjoyable building of tension and mystery it's a real shame that the core of the story is such a well-worn cliché as boring aliens with static pistols and pulse rifles who want to take over the planet. Things are not helped by the addition of a few off-duty UNIT personnel, who serve only to push the story back into men in rubber suits territory. The authors intention seems to have been to add realism to the UNIT troops with one of these disposable heroes confrontation with the Doctor, but accounts of Ogron assaults gone wrong merely bring to mind the ridiculousness of the "I've lost a lot of good mates in action" speech from the spoof UNIT recruitment film. A nice idea, but a touch heavy-handed in execution.

Luckily, just as things appear to be going pear-shaped, Michalowski ties everything up in a breathless twisty time-travel denouement, which manages to neatly subvert the expected Doctor and Ace relationship. As such the novel ends on a high note, and it's easy to forgive any earlier failings. While the basic ideas behind Relative Dementias are standard Who fare, the standard of writing raises the novel to a higher standard. Who'd have thought it? There's life in the Seventh Doctor and Ace yet...

Chad Knueppe

Spoilers galore!

   'It'd be a lot easier to take you and all this time travel business seriously if you actually looked like an alien,' she said.
   'Rather than just the man who runs the Perivale hardware store?' he completed her thought for her and threw her a mock offended look. He reached into his jacket pocket.
   'And if you pull out those bloody spoons, I'll slap you.'
   He withdrew his hand, slowly, empty.
   'And it's hard to remember that you know more about this time travelly stuff than I do; webs of time, paradoxes. All that head-screw stuff.'
   'I'm not infallible, Ace, whatever you think I think. Almost, but not quite. Ten centuries of time travel gives you a nose for these things. It's not that I don't trust you. It's that I don't trust me. I don't trust me to tell you the things that I think you ought to know. I need to keep the bigger picture in sight. It's too easy to get so close to the trees that you can't see the wood - only to watch the whole forest go up in flames because you forgot to put out the camp fire.'
   Ace stared at him. 'You haven't got a clue what you're talking about, have you?'

Concerned with weird happenings at the Graystairs Alzheimer's clinic where her mother is being treated, Dr. Joyce Brunner of UNIT has contacted the Doctor by postcard send to a P.O. Box. She trusts that her white haired friend with the strange yellow car is the best chance she has at uncovering the secrets of missing people and animals at the facilities that seems to have Alzheimer's nearly cured. She is suspicious of the squirrel eyed man who comes calling, a mysterious stranger who claims to be her Doctor. This new incarnation, with his assistant Ace, begin to investigate the scene, a mystery where something non-human seems to be drinking ammonium sulphate, and where patients, and local pets, have gone missing.

The novel begins with a vivid description of a character adorned in a Fleshsuit, the saggy fleshiness of which generates an element of alien-ness about our humanity that seems allegorical to the alien-ness suffered through Alzheimer's. The Doctor discovers the creation of these Fleshsuits, designed by Fleshsmiths, who took animals and made human disguises by manipulating their flesh. The Doctor uncovers that the aliens are Annarene, squishy orange beings with knobbly exo-skeletons and a bumpy forehead that looked like split peas. He believes them to be a part of the Annarene Protectorate, a military force seeking to police their empire and track down the war criminal Sooal. But when they aren't satisfied with just his capture, the Doctor begins to uncover a deeper plot, and perhaps an agenda that will bring the entire universe under the power of mad, militant Annarene. Everyone turns out to be pawns in a manipulative chess game, allegences and power positions not what they seemed.

Joyce's concern initially brings the Doctor to Graystairs. While Joyce is herself a compelling character, her son's character arc is somewhat more rewarding. Michael Ashworth, son to both Doctor Joyce Brunner and General Terrance Ashworth, has a long history connected to UNIT. Now, for personal reasons, he has betrayed that heritage and has gone AWOL from UNIT. His connections earned him ridicule. He was often alienated for his defense of his mother's friend, the Doctor, as the Time Lord is not revered as much as feared and, often, hated by most UNIT personnel. Yes, he has saved the Earth from invasion many times, but in his wake hundreds, perhaps thousands, have died. And these dead left behind friends and family in the ranks of UNIT, causing Michael's support of the Doctor to be much more than a mere burden. He was marked, driven to run away. When he finally meets the Doctor his conflict becomes one of the novel's greatest achievements, and a nice selling point. Torn between his past torment and his duty to work with the Doctor, Michael is a character worth remembering.

The book is rich with interesting and multi-level characters, the fascist murderer Sooal providing a complex villain. Sooal is a war criminal hunted by the Annarene Protectorate. Some time previous, the Tulkan War Council was captured before making a decisive strike against the Protectorate. On his way to penal incarceration where he would have his memory erased, Sooal stole a ship and fled to Earth where he began experimenting with the memory of Alzheimer's patients, nearly finding a cure to satisfy his own needs. Suffering from pre-mature aging, he is motivated by the simple desire to save his own life. When the Doctor uncovers that that Sooal has been manipulated by a greater evil, does that make him completely accountable for his crimes? Is the Doctor so sympathetic to this ends that he will help this villain, betraying the many to aid the one? Or, is the Doctor's agenda one of taking down this rogue element, regardless of his empathetic motivation? The Doctor must weigh the ramifications, realizing that he must chose between Alzheimer's at and earlier era than when it eventually healed, or letting history maintain its course. It's a subplot that is nicely played out as the reader, with the Doctor, must chose where his allegience lies regarding Sooal.

Relative Dementias offers a complexly rich and memorable depiction of the Seventh Doctor, one that nicely accentuates his Virgin novels persona. The Doctor enjoys a Scottish breakfast eats vegetarian haggis, as he is mostly vegetarian, though falls in with local cuisine at times to blend into the confidence of native customs. He people watches from a tea shop, feigning reading a booked called The Cassandra Experience. His gaze is inquisitive, studying body language and eavesdropping on conversations, the mad puppeteer attempting to examine the toys he is meant to play with. He actively badgers Ace on many occasions, calling her out with teases and discouragement without actually repressing or punishing her. For instance, he asks her to remind him of the drinking age in a bar when she's sloshing down alcohol. In the course of the novel, his mind in invaded by metallic tendrils, Gallifreyan nightmares taking away his mind to near the point of total mental collapse. He makes connections easily, linking the search for the mysterious Stacy Chambers to the alien Stasis Chamber. Michael punches Doctor and makes him confront the consequences of his actions, but he still manages to manipulate the entire situation, and sacrifices two beings, Connie and Justine, for his own desired outcome. He also prefers cats to dogs.

Unimpressed with 2012, a future that offers nothing of the "futuristic", Ace is happy to follow the Doctor into a new mystery, even one that takes the two into the bleakness of a nowhere Scottish town searching after mind criminals. Ace is unusually free with info, affording Michael with a lot of truths within moments of their meeting. She is so open that she unwittingly gives away future plot points to the enemy, forgetting where she is in the context of the chronology of her adventures versus actual historical time. She is the perfect military strategist, using transmats, returning against the odds to save others, standing off against the enemy, thinking fast to escape, surviving the bends under water in a space suit, knowing the truth of an old couple intuitively, making alliegences, and rescuing the Doctor. The Seventh Doctor and Ace, even minus Bernice, still prove to be one of the most effective teams in the history of the canon.

One of the book's more interesting minor characters is Countess Gallowglass, who resides in an unseen alley in London behind an aversion field. It is she who collects the Doctor's mail, and from whom he receives the postcard from Joyce refering to the mystery of Graystairs. Gallowglass is a delightful character, one that seems to leap into these pages from some sort of fanciful Harry Potter type realm. At the end of the book the Doctor leaves a Landine shape-shifter with her in the form of a cat, which he prefers to dogs. Alas, makes you consider the Cat Who Walks Through Time, doesn't it? There is quite a familiarity surrounding Gallowglass. I can't seem to recall whether she has appeared prior to this occasion. If indeed she is a contribution to the franchise by Michalowski, she is certainly is a welcome addition and I hope to meet her again in the pages of Doctor Who.

Newcomer Mark Michalowski plunges into Doctor Who fiction with a dark tale of personal tragedy. The real monster of the book is the tragic decline of the mind that comes with old age. This novel explores the real life impact of Alzheimer's disease upon those suffering the malady, and the way in which family and friends are affected. Some are a bot cautious, considering this personal issue to be far too serious and too delicate a topic to be handled in a series that also featured over the top villains and monsters. But Doctor Who has grown up in it's novel form, and this book is not only innovative, it's long overdue. Michalowski finds the proper voice for both his Seventh Doctor and Ace, playing the Virgin incarnations to the maximum. The Doctor and Ace constantly banter and challenge one another, with memorable dialogue worthy of the Virgin era. Michalowski has fun playing against other BBC Books and authors, having Gallowglass warn the Doctor not to be around on "Independence Day" and enlightening the readership that Tucker's "Gale" is Dorothy McShane's middle name. The Doctor even references the McGann movie, mentioning that he remembers the time Puccini had that terrible cold. The bleak Scottish locale nicely enhances the bleak tone of the book, generating a visual world that musters Curse of Fenric tone and setting, mirrored by the horrors of the human mind as faced with a tragedy so hard hitting as Alzheimer's disease. This novel has an emotional impact and confronts a deeply human issue with the proper maturity and dignity. Relative Dementias might well become a mainstream success in that if tackles such universal issues, but it's dialogue and character interplay provide a well crafted book that seems to have been a reader's choice. It's almost as if the fans of the Seventh Doctor's Catrmel era and Virgin days had themselves hand crafted most of the scenes.

Joe Curreri

Before I tell how good Mark Michalowski's Relative Dementias really is; that if you only read one Seventh Doctor and Ace PDA novel published by the BBC in your lifetime (as this was the case for me) then it had better be this one, I'm going to instantly distract you with an annoyingly unfunny story which begins something like this:

Minutes before departing on a week-long excursion to New York City, nearly 100 pages into Relative Dementias, I accidentally left my copy on my boyfriend's kitchen table (often the place where I devour my Doctor Who novels religiously while he cooks at the stove, snickering about how I'm a Who addict). In a mad dash out the door, I forgot to pick it up and thus had to face the prospects of going without a Doctor Who novel for the week. Hungry to read Chapter Six, I scoured the bookstores along Broadway for another copy of RD (no luck) and had to settle for, of all things, The Adventuress of Henrietta Street. Now don't get me wrong, TAOHS is a worthwhile and seemingly intellectual read of textbook literature but truth be told: once I'd gotten home from Manhattan, TAOHS was quickly abandoned on my boyfriend's kitchen table for my long-missed copy of Relative Dementias.

And the wait was well worth it.

So here's the scoop, and this late after its release what I have to say may be nothing new but... Relative Dementias is probably the best 7th Doctor PDA published by the BBC to date - particularly if you're also a fan of the New Adventures novels. As observed elsewhere, Mr. Michalowski's characterizations of the Seventh Doctor and Ace are top-notch and picture-perfectly reminiscent of Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred's television performances right through to The Curse of Fenric.

But take note: Relative Dementias is also compassionately nostalgic of the dutifully-manipulative and emotionally wounded natures of the Seventh Doctor and Ace as we know them in the New Adventures prior to Ace's departure in Paul Cornell's earliest tearjerker, Love and War. Almost a foreshadow of things to come, RD reads like the missing link between the television show and the NA's, offering the more cynical Doctor Who fan a more rational, sensibly paced transition of the Doctor and Ace's relationship from light-hearted and charming to heavy-handed and gritty. For this reason alone, RD stands out from the previous Seventh Doctor PDAs for effectively and convincingly bridging the rift between these vastly different mediums to create something truly magical.

The emotionally-charged sensibilities of the supporting cast turned up a notch by the strange goings-on surrounding Graystairs clinic as seen here are compellingly written and ably considered. Michalowski's observations about the effects and consequences of Alzheimer's Disease are poignantly true and tragic, peppered as they are tactfully throughout the novel. Also rewarding are some canon-esque sequences narrating one family's attempts to crawl out from under the forever-haunting legacy of UNIT. Equally endearing for their individual relationships to the Doctor and Ace, Joyce Brunner and her son Michael could easily have made wonderful additions to the TARDIS crew (particularly Joyce) but matters of family and honor keep these good folks grounded in the UK while the Doctor and Ace travel off to other worlds together but alone leaving we, the readers, to gently wonder what if.

Of course no novel (or its reviewer, for that matter) is ever 100% perfect and Relative Dementias has a casual flaw that some readers may/may not notice. Almost every Doctor Who novel requires a subplot, usually requiring said the starring Doctor and companion to split off on different threads running currently to one another. Perhaps unconsciously, RD tends to put one thread on hold as the other one makes progress - for example: here's Ace pulled along through a chapter bobbing aimlessly in the sea while the Doctor stalks the villains in Graystairs; or the Doctor mentally incapacitated and drueling into his lap for another chapter while Ace traipses around the Orkneys with a band of brothers avoiding an alien stalker. Its not to say these subplots aren't interesting because they are but its frustrating to have one stall to a frustrating halt while the other dashes across 5 or 10 pages to catch up the storyline. Thankfully, Ace spares us an episode of the spoons which we're obligingly grateful for yet quietly glad to see are still somewhere in the Doctor's pocket.

That said, the collective sequences are well-written and enthusiastically paced. The references to Simon Forward's deliciously sensual Drift are another reward to the regular reader of the Doctor Who novels, inviting us to trust our rational senses with this author as he breaks new ground in the soils of continuity.

So hurry up, Mark Michalowski: your fans want another Doctor Who novel. Pronto.

And for those who still haven't read Relative Dementias, get your butt down to your local booksellers now and buy a copy. Pronto.

Special Note: This review is dedicated to the lovely and always amiable Madame President. Mum's the reason why, but with luck she'll approve of the `how.'

Jeremy Daw

'Do Time Lords get Alzheimer's disease?' asked Ace.
'Oh, we get far worse things than that, Ace. The dementias that plague us are much, much darker.'

This is undoubtedly one of the more misleading quotes to be placed on the back cover of a Doctor Who novel. If Mark Michalowski's debut effort had actually featured demented Time Lords in a remote Scottish setting, it may not have been a better novel but it would have saved me from waiting for half the book before I realised they weren't going to show up. That the novel turns out to be about a fairly average 'aliens-looking-for-a-secret-cache-of-superweapons' plot only serves to heighten the disappointment. This is not to say that the story is without its twists and turns, nor that it is poorly written. In fact, Michalowski's writing is one of the many delightful things about Relative Dementias. But let's start with that plot...

The novel starts off with a well-executed introduction - a rambling monologue directed at a voiceless new resident at Graystairs, the nursing home in Dumfries that can apparently cure Alzheimer's disease. It's an assured and clever piece of writing, the speaker occasionally lapsing into that patronising tone that seems inevitable when younger people deal with the elderly. The first half of the book is concerned with building up the sense of mystery around Graystairs. People have been disappearing; one of the residents, Eddie, has run off; the genius behind the revolutionary (and apparently successful) treatment offered by the home is a diminutive albino recluse who cries uncontrollably while listening to La Traviata. The Doctor's involvement is on a more personal level. Summoned to Graystairs in 1982 by a postcard from an old friend at UNIT, the Doctor decides to investigate, aided by the slightly mellower Ace.

A number of characters are introduced effectively, as are a number of potential threats and mysteries. There's the staff at Graystairs, of course, but also an odd old couple with a blue-eyed dog. And what about the strange dome-like structure hidden beneath the sea just off the Orkneys? In the second half of the book, these threads are tied up - often in unexpected ways - and the whole thing is a generally entertaining read. All the characters have a convincing rationale for what they do and the last few chapters of the book are genuinely exciting page-turners.

In addition, Michalowski's writing is generally of a high standard. Characterisation is a particular strength and his portrayal of the regulars reproduces the warmth and occasional discomfort of their on-screen relationship, without quite descending into the tedious overstated angst of the worst of the New Adventures. Particular mention, however, must go to Michalowski's spirited attempt to drag the grittier aspects of UNIT life kicking and screaming into the light. The relationship between Michael, a young soldier AWOL from UNIT, and his mother, a UNIT physicist, is handled with a touching attention to detail and Michalowski gives Michael an uncomfortably plausible reason for hating the Doctor. It's all a million miles away from the cosy UNIT family of the Pertwee era.

'It's The Wizard of Oz all over again... It's either all a big con, or it's magic. I haven't decided which yet.'

Mmmm... Indeed. Despite the very positive things I've had to say so far, I can't help but be assailed by a feeling of 'what's-the-point'? The Doctor still appears to have everything worked out, although perhaps not quite to the extent of Curse of Fenric or Love and War. Ace has some success in turning the tables on the Doctor, resulting in some effective 'time meddling' of her own. But all this has been done before - both more effectively and on a grander scale. Ace's saving of the Doctor in No Future is perhaps the most outrageous reversal of the roles of Doctor and companion in the series' history. Ace's dabbling in time intervention in Relative Dementias seems tame by comparison. As does the overall story. By the end of the novel, despite the quality of the writing that lifts it above many of its peers, you're still left with 'just' another adventure - nothing too earth-shattering, nothing too uncomfortable or challenging. It's almost a New Adventure 'lite', bleached of the NAs' frequent ability to shock and their occasional sense of danger by nostalgia and over-familiarity.

'Nothing wrong with that,' you say, and you are, of course, right. Maybe I'm just expecting too much from my Doctor Who novels nowadays. Maybe there's only so much you can do with the Seventh Doctor and Ace combo. Perhaps all the avenues have been well and truly exhausted. Or maybe, just maybe, those mad demented Time Lords would have made a difference after all...

Robert Smith?

In brief: A snappy little first novel.

I didn't really have high hopes that this would be any good. The author's short story in The Dead Men Diaries didn't inspire confidence and the back cover blurb is pretty lacklustre. But I really, really enjoyed Relative Dementias. It's a great little PDA, doing everything the line does best and then some.

The biggest surprise is that this is a first novel. It's a surprisingly mature book, with very few first time mistakes. It's got some nicely written passages, with none of the clunkiness that's sometimes associated with first time novels. It also plays with the reader's expectations in a way that first timers usually can't pull off. Colour me officially impressed.

The book's plot really drives this story, but it does it extremely well. The Doctor collecting his mail seems like one of those tacked-on things we often see in PDAs, but here it's given some real weight, due to the double Ace thing. At first I thought we were seeing the time travelling New Ace from the NAs, but it's much cleverer than that. Everything is set up nicely, but more importantly the explanations are nicely given so it doesn't feel like a cheat. We're not talking Festival of Death complexity here, but the author still manages to chart a somewhat perilous course with aplomb.

The only thing that didn't really work for me was the UNIT connection, which felt tacked on. I like the fact that we've never met Joyce or Michael before (or even his father, as far as I know). However, it still seems weird to have Michael Ashworth meeting the seventh Doctor and punching his lights out. This worked when it was Peri in Bad Therapy, but feels profoundly wrong here. I'm also not quite sure what happened to Bernard. He seemed to be quite important early on, but he just vanishes into obscurity later on. There's also an interminably long gap between the first and second appearances of John and Alexander, which is a shame, since their subplot turns out to be fairly important. However, these things are still pretty minor nitpicks, so I'm a happy camper.

UNIT dating gets another twist here, with the third Doctor running around UNIT HQ contemporaneously (in 1982, putting this second to Paradise of Death for late Pertwee dating). Having four different alien species running around is quite fun, partly because it only really appears towards the end. The double Ace subplot really shouldn't work as well as it does, but it spices up the middle section of the book magnificently, which would otherwise drag. I like that it's clearly stated that this is a one time only trick, as well. And I have to admit, I was utterly fooled by the Doctor's trick at the end, which is quite brilliant. Relative Dementias is that rarest of things - a Doctor Who book whose ending actually holds together satisfactorily.

There's a reference to Drift (the next PDA) that's quite cute, but sadly spoiled for having it thrown at us no less than three times. The other mysterious flashback is really intriguing, though. I have absolutely no idea what this is referring to and no idea where this is going. I hope it's heading somewhere (and soon, hopefully). I've always liked the idea of PDA story arcs, although I'll freely admit that I'm just guessing that this is what that is. Oh, and the moving of Ace's "Gale" surname to her middle name is done with considerable panache.

All in all, Relative Dementias is great stuff. It's very nicely self-contained, in all the best ways, without feeling inconsequential. There are some really nice twists to a plot that's already working well and very few things that go even slightly wrong. Michalowski is going to be an author to watch.