Miles, Lawrence -- Dead Romance

So here I am at the prehistoric roots of Faction Paradox. This book is from 1999. It comes from the Virgin New Adventures line, at a point where they had lost the license to write "Doctor Who" books, but before Lawrence Miles leaped off into his own idiosyncratic "Faction Paradox" line. So it's... quasi-almost-canonical but not semi-heterocanonical?

But still idiosyncratic, of course.

London, 1970 -- the Autumn of Love, as it were, with Charles Manson ranting in prison about the End of Days. Druggie-hipster-wisekid Christine Summerfield (note last name) is arrested in London for being stoned out of her gourd. The police soon decide they have more important fish to fry, with a serial-murderer suspect being dragged in. Christine ducks out the back... and immediately runs into an actual murderer, who possibly grows wings and flies away.

That's the least strange occurence of her week.

(The previous suspect is named Chris Cwej, by the way. Note this name too. Regular readers of the New Adventures line will recognize him. I recognized him from the Book of the War; he's one of the few characters to cross over directly from "official" books to the "what the hell is Miles up to" books.)

Dead Romance is a mad dash through concentric apocalypses. It's very dark, and it works very well. If you were wondering -- you probably weren't, if you read these books in publication order, but I was wondering -- whether Miles's jazzy snarky narration in This Town... was a fluke: it isn't. He can pull this off repeatably. Or at least he could a decade ago. This is a first-person retrospective story, rather than the three-strand omniscient narration of This Town... -- but it's got the same compulsively readable energy.

The drive comes from those apocalypses -- casually mentioned by Christine Summerfield, writing notes to herself in the rubble of civilization. (Some civilization.) The book, in fact, has what I have called the "incompetent narrator", the next step beyond the unreliable narrator. (Though Christine is also unreliable; she warns us of this straight off.) I'm not saying Miles is a Gene Wolfe, but he tackles Wolfe's trick: a story told hopelessly out of order, by a character who can't be bothered to build up tension or conceal upcoming twists -- but which artlessly manages to reveal what you need to know, when you need to know it, for maximum narrative momentum. It's a hell of a trick, is what I'm saying. Miles pulls it off.

He also pulls off his trademark sense of fantastical-cum-existential horror. Monsters are not giant tentacled scaly things; they're ruptures of reality, redefinitions of the known into the monstrous. Oh, you may get a night-black wing blotting out the stars, but it's also a core leak in the universe's operating system. An army marches in, but they have no interest in exterminating humanity, only in changing the conditions of its existence.

I said This Town... was not fanfic, in this sense: it is entirely appreciatable by a reader who does not know or care about Doctor Who and who will still not know or care about Doctor Who after enjoying the book. (This is not the only definition of fanfic, but it's the one I'm using right now.)

Can I say the same of Dead Romance? Yes, I think so -- mostly. (Even though this book appears in a sequence that started out as Doctor Who novels.)

The shadow of the Doctor lies more heavily on Dead Romance, and I suspect it will be stronger for Who fans. The Doctor does not appear directly. He's a story told to Christine by Cwej; a distorted story, the evil scientist who kidnaps people in his time machine and twists their minds. The idea that Cwej's memory itself has been twisted is quite explicit. And yet one of the book's strengths is the portrait of Cwej, a programmed agent of the Time Lords -- hating the Doctor, but nonetheless indelibly shaped by the Doctor. A monster, trying to imitate a hero that he can't even remember accurately.

(Assuming, of course, that the Doctor is still a hero. You want to believe that this book is in-continuity enough for that. And yet -- it's all about how far an "official" continuity can get from canon. I doubt that Cwej -- not originally Miles's character -- was introduced as a monster. The utter destruction of the Earth is another tipoff.)

There is no happy ending. I truly don't know where Miles intended to take this storyline; by the time it reaches The Book of the War it's changed (again) beyond recognition. I am assured that no single trope of Dead Romance is really consistent with any other Who or post-Who storyline. And yet -- so what. This book must have knocked 1999-era Who fans on their asses. It still works. Good for the author.

A set of books in the weirdest Doctor Who fanfic series ever. I have just barely started the first one, so cannot yet report anything.

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