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Reviews for Transit

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Not Nearly As Interesting As It Thinks

By:Martin Smith, England
Date:Wednesday 18 July 2007
Rating:   3

As often happens with Dr Who novels, Transit has a piece of technology as it's set-piece, around which all the characters, events and action occurs. In this case it's an interplanetary train system that bears many allusions to the London Underground.
We follow the Doctor, Benny, Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart and a variety of the maintenance workers for the system (the latter of whom have more than a passing resemblence to the sort of working class, left-wing characters often written as miners in the 70s) as they stop a parasite from abusing and destroying the system as it prepares to expand to other star systems.
Did I say we follow Benny? Well, that's stretching the truth somewhat. You see, Benny is barely in the book, which wouldn't be so bad if this wasn't her first book as a travelling companion. Instead the Doctor spends most of his time with (and thus the focus of the book is placed onto) Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart, a sort of (perhaps illegitimate) descendant of the Brigadier. She's not a terribly interesting character and all the time she's focused on is time spent not expanding upon the somewhat scant character of Benny, which is quite annoying as she's meant to be a main character. The "origin" of Kadiatu's lineage sullies the character of the Brig somewhat as well. It certainly doesn't fit with the character used in the Pertwee era and smacks of trying to retroactively make him controversial and more "interesting" to fit with the tone of the Virgin novels just because they can.
The "Stunnel" system itself is also amazingly uninteresting, lightened only by some mildly entertaining characters amongst the "floozies" (maintenance workers) such as Old Sam, and allusions to a war with the Ice Warriors a few years previous (which the Doctor actually fights in in Fear Itself).
Ultimately though, the nice touches here and there aren't enough to make Transit particularly interesting.

Not Sure What to Make of It

By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 20 February 2023
Rating:   7

The early brief on the Doctor Who New Adventures novels was that they were to be more "adult" than the TV series. This brief led to some controversial takes on Doctor Who, with writers sort of force-fitting Doctor Who into a cussin', sexin', fightin' kind of story, or vice versa. Eventually, the series settled into somewhat more "adult" than TV Doctor Who, but before that, we got novels like "Transit." Ben Aaronovitch, who had written two scripts for the TV series, the very good "Remembrance of the Daleks" and the very muddled "Battlefield," here goes in an entirely different direction. "Transit" is cyberpunk Doctor Who. That leads to quite a lot of cussin', a lot of sexin', and a gritty, grimy, everyone is miserable ambience that hangs on the whole thing like the anchor of a battleship. The premise, as far as I can tell, runs something like this: about one and a half centuries in the future, humanity will have developed a kind of interplanetary metro rail system similar to the London Underground, but with the "trains" running on quantum mechanical probabilities, which means that while the passenger feels a passage of time of minutes to hours between stations, the trains get from here to there in no time at all. The whole thing is run by a complicated AI system that, unknown to any of its operators, has crossed the threshold into some form of self-awareness. The humans are staging a grand opening of the new interstellar line, but "something" comes through that nearly destroys the Pluto station, unthinkingly turns all the spectators into blue goo, and takes over Benny. This something, I think, is a computer virus generated by the complexities of the total system once they added the interstellar line. The virus not only takes over Benny, but also several other people, most notably a gang who "surf" the train tunnels, turning them into maniacal killers for some unknown purpose.

One will have noticed by now that I say things like "I think" and "unknown" in this assessment, mostly because Aaronovitch works hard to keep nearly everything in this novel murky. The atmosphere is murky, the explanations are murky, the characters are murky. The experience is like reading a novel made entirely from innuendo, except for the descriptions of violence and sex, which are as plain and brightly lit as Aaronovitch can manage.

"Transit" is very much a cyberpunk novel, which makes it more strictly science fiction than most other Doctor Who novels or most post-1980 Doctor Who TV episodes. The cyberpunk aspects come through loud and hazy. Thus, the plot rests on questions of AI self-awareness and whether such a system could be "alive," and whether humans would be able to recognize a self-aware computer intelligence if they came across one. The world that Aaronovitch imagines is an almost entirely urban future, divided into enclaves of people ground down into perpetual poverty, organized almost entirely into gangs, and constantly hustling each other just for survival. No one has a happy, meaningful life. Everyone is "tough" and speaks in various kinds of street lingo and is technologically augmented in one way or another, but rarely to their own benefit. It is a grimy, miserable, mirthless world. And everyone in it uses drugs, alcohol, or computer-technological means for temporary escape from this miserable existence. Like so many cyberpunk novels, there is a big showdown in virtual reality at the end. These endings often do not work well because the authors do not have a good sense of what this virtual world would be like and how it would work.

As many readers of this novel have noted, Benny is hardly in it, at least not as herself. I suspect that Aaronovitch originally thought of this story with Ace in mind, then was told that a new companion was in, Ace was out, and so had to simply slot Benny into the Ace position. Thus, we do not really get a good sense of the new companion. As many readers have noted, the true companion of this novel is Aaronovitch's creation, Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart. It feels that Aaronovitch really wanted her rather than Benny to be the new companion.

On the one hand, one has to admire Aaronovitch for taking Doctor Who into cyberpunk territory more firmly than in the few attempts of the Doctor 7 run on TV. On the other hand, the needless difficulties that Aaronovitch has forced the reader to go through make the novel less appealing than it could have been.

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