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First Novel Jitters

By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Wednesday 26 July 2023
Rating:   4

Christopher Bulis had been primarily an illustrator before he tried writing a novel. Shadowmind is his first novel, and it displays many novice novelist errors. Bulis would go on to write much better Doctor Who novels. His "thing" was to set Doctor Who into various science fiction sub-genres. For his first novel, the sub-genre was military science fiction of the David Drake, Jerry Pournelle, and Robert Heinlein variety. Therefore, this novel feels strangely out of place in the Doctor Who universe. It is as if Bulis desperately wanted to get the Doctor to wear military gear, and has contrived the whole novel to reach that end. The story is rather thin. Doctor 7, Benny, and Ace travel to planet Tairngire to give Ace a birthday gift. She has a good time for a day or so, then spots someone in need. This someone turns out to be a duplicate of an actual person, operated by a furry critter. Before they know it, our heroes are now the center of some kind of conspiracy of duplicates. The Doctor easily worms his way into the Tairngire government to help them battle the duplicates, or the critters that run the duplicates, and then we are off into space war. The duplicates steal the TARDIS, so that provides the motivation for our heroes to join the space war. Bulis makes many rookie errors. He introduces characters, gets the reader to like them, then once their function is over, kills them off in ways that do not really add to the story. He introduces too many characters early in the novel, doing things that identify their characteristics, but otherwise do not contribute to the plot. The motivations for getting The Doctor and crew involved are thin and selfish, which he tries to elide. The stakes of the plot just are not strong enough. Try as he might to stay within the bounds of physical laws, his space battles are still conceived more like air battles, based on "maneuverability." And there is too much "gosh, wow" over military hardware for my taste. One good aspect of this novel is that Bulis avoids cramming his novel with winks and nods to Doctor Who fans. There are very few references to other Doctor Who stories. Fans of military sf might like Shadowmind, but it really did not work for me.

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