The best New Adventure I have ever read.
Despite a few niggles that only bother you after you have finished this is a fabulous book, complicated, involved and highly engaging. It’s a massive 340 pages long but I whizzed through it in two days, despite its numerous plot threads and huge cast it is a effortlessly readable book, superbly characterised and layered with twists.
The combination of Andy Lane and Jim Mortimore is enough to get me excited without picking up the damn book! Lets face facts, Lane is the BEST writer the NAs had and Mortimore, despite the odd book of inconceivable awfulness has a better hit rate than most and when he hits, he HITS. This book is a mix of their best characteristics, Lane’s eyes for believable characters and adult material mixed with Mortimore’s ability to pepper his books with hard SF ideas and blood pumping action…add to the mix both writers superb prose style and you have a intelligent and thoughtful story, nourishingly written.
Have the seventh Doctor, Ace and Bernice ever been better written for? Well, Benny maybe who is sidetracked to make way for the explosive Doctor/Ace relationship, which is going through its roughest patch ever. I loathe Ace, so many books forget she is a character and write her as a walking bad mood with a gun but Lucifer Rising manages to salvage the rubbish return she had in Deceit by exposing their ill feeling towards each other and pushing Ace further from the Doctor’s manipulative grasp than ever. Their relationship is integrated into the book superbly and paves the way for a phenomenal twist halfway through when it transpires she is working for the enemy and has manoeuvred the Doctor into this situation on purpose, manipulating him the way she perceives his chess moves with his companions. Lane/Mortimore create a believable, mixed up character in Ace, allowing the reader to sympathise with her confliction between IMC and the Doctor and even include a brilliant flashback to Love and War that forces the two characters to deal with their unspoken ill feeling.
What a Doctor! Had the seventh Doctor been written this well in every book I wouldn’t bitch about him so much!!! Rather than this awe-inspiring figure of knowledge this a return to the frantically improvising Doctor of old, albeit with a few tricks up his sleeve. He is written with a great sense of humour too, spotlighting McCoy’s joyous moments on screen, collecting pins, relishing the chance to explore and basking in the wonder of the Lucifer system. Whilst it should seem totally jarring having the Doctor deal with the emotional issues of his companions, it works a treat, the Doctor desperate to get through to Ace and convince her he loves her and always does what he does for the best. When the Doctor asks Bernice and Ace to trust him at the climax and melt into each other to stabilise the Morphic Controls there is a bond between them that is rarely felt in subsequent books.
The scenes between Bernice and Ace sizzle with tension, when she shoves a gun in Benny’s face you have to wonder how they will ever be friends again. “Why do you hate me Bernice?” “I don’t hate you Ace, I hate what you’ve become.”
The Lucifer system is a wildly imaginative SF setting worthy of the great Lawrence Miles. The writers wisely inform the reader of the entire set up early on in a scene between three characters arguing about funding and progress in the Lucifer system. It gives the writers the chance to explore the system in more depth than the average Doctor Who book and still leave lots of mysteries to solve throughout the story. The crux of a good story is a healthy dose of fascinating mysteries…Where are the Angels on Lucifer? What is the purpose of the Mushroom chamber? Who built the Bridge between the Moloch and Belial? Who is the saboteur intent on bringing the mission down?…and this story as you can see is packed with them.
I can see more of Mortimore’s hand in the weirder science-fiction imagery but balanced with Lane’s sense of pace and character it doesn’t jar as much as usual. You’ve gotta love the scenes on Moloch with the interior dense jungle growing up the planet walls or the depths of gaseous atmosphere penetrated by Paula’s starpod, liquid clouds and floating angels. I’m not a great love of hard SF stories when they jettison character in favour of ideas (anyone read Iain M. Banks?) but the balance here is just right, seeing the alien worlds from a very human perspective allows us appreciate its beauty and terror.
A huge criticism I have read above is that the characters are just there to be killed rather than powering the book. Have you read the book? I mean seriously? The characters are vital to the twisty turny plot and each one is explored with more depth than you would imagine this sort of book would be capable of. A twisted love triangle between Cheryl, Sam and Paula affords the book some human drama, especially when Cheryl gets the opportunity to confront the killer of both her lovers (oh and it provides a shocking moment when Ace finally snaps and turns on the Doctor). The touching relationship between Miles and his daughter Paula is dealt with sensitively and thoroughly, amazingly so considering Paula dies in the first scene. Alex Bannen is just the sort of arrogant, selfish character that populates Doctor Who books, hindering the Doctor and yet a touching twist about his wife and son changes your perspective of him halfway through (and his instability provides the action-charged climax). I loved Adjudicator Bishop and his mind games with the Doctor, each thinking they have the upper hand. When they eventually work together the true saboteur doesn’t stand a chance. Christine the eternal psychologist provides much comedy and drama, especially when dealing with her hatred of her mother. Miles and Piper share an unspoken affection for each other that causes a lot of trouble considering where Piper’s allegiances lie…
…its excellent how the characters all intertwine with each other, there’s a lot of relationships to deal with whilst unravelling the mysteries of the Lucifer system but the writers never lose track of any of them and manage to keep on surprising us with their quirks and twists.
An atmosphere of doom pervades the book; we are never allowed to forget the characters are trespassing on alien soil and that the non-invitation can be revoked at any point. When the Bridge starts to bed and warp, sending the Lift spiralling and killing several characters it is clear this is a precarious situation before the bastards from IMC arrive. The pace of the book is superb too, blood pumping action never out of sight, a twist (be it of character or plot or both!) fulfilling its obligatory appearance every twenty pages or so and all the plot threads building in tension towards the emotionally charged climax.
It wouldn’t be me if I didn’t mention the few nitpicks I had, especially finicky because I enjoyed the experience of reading the book so much. Annoyingly you never actually discover anything about the society of the Angels aside from their religious beliefs (which is covered a bit too quickly, nobody saying how they actually KNOW the heaven/hell situation) and the fact they transcended themselves into ethereal beings. Why did they do this? Did the Angels build the Morphic Device? If not…then who? Whilst most of the questions raised are answered well these few are left strangely forgotten.
Plus the first two hundred pages are the best of the book, before IMC arrive I was enraptured in the atmosphere and mystery of the book but suddenly we were in definite Doctor Who territory with brutish thus pushing our heroes around. The last fifty pages make up for this lull; the turbo charged ending leaving me frantically turning each page.
And what’s with all the totally pointless continuity references? Thank God we got rid of those in the latter EDAs…
And I actually laughed out loud at the pair of fucks on page 257…oi Lane and Mortimore…it aint funny and it aint clever!
An astonishing piece of work and much needed by the New Adventures, only two books reaching anywhere near this standard in the previous thirteen. It is a perfect example of everything going right for the NAs, a fascinating setting, a shocking plot, solid characters, brilliant use of the regulars and a distinctive and engaging prose style.
I cannot think of a single NA I have loved so much.
Lucifer Rising is one of the lesser-regarded NAs, but I've always liked it. I was impressed back in 1993 and ten years later I still enjoyed it second time around. It's very Mortimore-ish in places, but I'm a fan of Jim's work so that wasn't a problem for me.
Firstly it's the nearest Doctor Who has come to hard SF, more akin to Allen Steele than Harry Harrison. The only other serious competitors for this title are Parasite, Suns of Caresh and maybe even Transit, but Lucifer Rising leaves them all in the dust. It has hard astrophysics, event horizons, Roche Limits, Dyson spheres, a big unknowable Artefact (like Parasite) and more. The back cover points out Andy Lane's physics degree (though it doesn't mention Jim Mortimore's love of Native American mythology). The worldbuilding on display here is astonishing, far more impressive than the ideas of Big Concept books like The Infinity Doctors or Sometime Never... by being more specific and less of a handwave. We have moons connected by a monofilament bridge. We have Angels flying in the metallic atmosphere of a gas giant called Lucifer. And everything's honestly presented as real science, instead of being tossed off with a misremembered New Scientist headline and some made-up technobabble.
Of course hard SF novels often don't have much of a plot. It's the "idea as hero" notion, as unpacked by Kingsley Amis. Lucifer Rising eventually departs from this convention, but for the first 200 pages (out of 346) the only story developments are murder mystery ones. This isn't an action-adventure story but a Russian doll of intellectual puzzles. You're invited to *think* your way through what's going on. I found the environment fascinating in itself, keeping my attention fixed despite the absence of the usual gunfights and space chases, but if you can't stand hard SF then you'll probably be bored silly. However the chief villain, Legion, is high-concept weirdness and one of the most interesting aliens the books have produced to date.
Even such a book needs characters, though, and fortunately Lane & Mortimore oblige. The crew of the Eden project are convincing enough, with odd chunks of backstory slipped in when you don't expect 'em. [With Miles Engardo, it's very odd backstory.] The TARDIS crew are fine - even New Ace, whose psycho bitchness is part of the story for once instead of just a background annoyance. She's hard to like as a person, but at least she's actually going somewhere. However the Doctor in particular gets some nice moments  and I didn't even mind the infamous "Welcome to hell, Legion" scene. After all the angsting that led up to it, I couldn't see it as an Arnie one-liner... in fact I have more of a problem with the preceding moral philosophy.
 - "The Doctor smiled. There was something faintly out of control about that smile."
There's an ugly slab of fanwank, which for laughs I'll blame on Andy Lane. We get the Grand Order of Oberon, Adjudicators, the Hydrax, zyton seven fused with hymetusite, zelanite, Panorama Chemicals, IMC, more IMC, Kroagnon, vraxoin, the Macra, the honorifics Trau and Krau... it's all here and more. (As an aside, this book seems to assume that Caves of Androzani was a 22nd century story, giving everyone extended lifespans and calling each other Krau and Trau, but everyone else has ignored 'em and dated it to the 29th century instead.)
Future history... sheep are extinct thanks to the Ozone Purge of 2016 (p100), as are sparrows (p320). America's economy collapsed in 2146, leading to food riots (p158) that we saw in more detail in the prologue to Parasite. There's also mention of the Thousand Day War from Transit, here simply referred to as the "Martian invasion" circa 2090.
Lucifer Rising becomes more conventionally Whoish two-thirds of the way through, with IMC soldiers and Legion as the bad guys. I was almost disappointed, though I'm sure many people breathed a sigh of relief. However to my delight the book has a Mortimore ending, except for being mostly comprehensible (apart from the Berniceacedoctor bit). This is a long book but it kept me reading happily. Critics have accused it of having a body count instead of a plot, but by Mortimore's standards it's downright restrained and I was happy to enjoy it for what it was. Hard SF in Doctor Who. Who'd'a thunk it?