Oh Dear. Women. Not Really My Field. (The Shadows of Avalon)

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I’ll Explain Later

We went skip-happy again. No The Taking of Planet Five (12th best), Frontier Worlds (29th), or Parallel 59 (54th). The Shadows of Avalon is Paul Cornell’s one contribution to the Eighth Doctor Adventures. Mostly it’s a book about Celtic mythology, grief, and the Brigadier. A little bit it’s a book that does a huge plot twist in the novel line as Compassion turns out to be the first of the living TARDISes we met in Alien Bodies and Romana turns a bit evil. Unfortunately it’s a bit wonky. Lars Pearson mourns giving Paul Cornell his first bad review. Vanessa Bishop calls it “less self-indulgent than Paul’s later work for Virgin” but mostly finds time to keep bashing Interference. It’s only at 31st in the rankings, which is strikingly low for Paul Cornell.

——
It’s February of 2000. Gabrielle is at number one with “Rise,” which lasts two weeks before Oasis debuts at number one with “Go Let It Out,” which is unseated a week later by All Saints with “Pure Shores.” R.E.M., Shania Twain, Christina Aguilera, Aqua, Britney Spears, and… OK, I just need to admit, we’re miles outside any part of British music I know a thing about. So I’m just picking band names that amuse me now. Scanty Sandwich, Lyte Funkie Ones, Sash!, Joey Negro, and Ian Brown also chart. Ian Brown’s name doesn’t amuse me, but the song title “Dolphins Were Monkeys” does, so it goes on the list too.

In news, since we left off, Pervez Musharraf successfully executed a coup d’etat in Pakistan, narrowly avoiding dying in a plane crash, which was actually the other alternative. The Catholic Church and Lutherans resolved their theological dispute over salvation. A horrific train crash took place at Ladbroke Grove, killing thirty-one people and prompting major reforms in rail safety in the UK. Gary Glitter was jailed for downloading child pornography, and both the Millennium Dome and the London Eye opened. Also, the odometer rolled over without the world ending, unless you happened to be a Pyrenean Ibex, in which case you went extinct when your last surviving member had a tree fall on her. While in the month this book came out Peanuts ends its run in newspapers.

And in books, The Shadows of Avalon. So there’s an elephant in the room with this book that I’ll spend most of the post on, but I want to set up some other bits first, mostly because everybody focuses on the ending of this book. And while I want to say my piece there, especially as it’s the bit that feeds into the larger narrative best, I want to give the book the repsect of its own terms as well.

This is, by Cornell’s own admission, a book he wrote because he was strapped for cash. It is, as a result, the weakest Paul Cornell novel by some margin. In some ways this is surprising: the continually passionate Eighth Doctor, who absolutely sings in Orman and Blum’s hands, seems similarly tailor-made for Cornell’s frockery. But Cornell ends up having trouble with it. The reason for this is simple: this is not a particularly frockish book. Cornell has said that he was not in a particularly good place when he wrote it, and specifically that the Brigadier’s intense grief throughout the book was autobiographical. So we have him off the comedic kick he’d been on since Happy Endings and into something altogether darker. And unfortunately, the Eighth Doctor doesn’t support this at all, and the result feels surprisingly like “generic Doctor.”

The Brigadier, on the other hand, is marvelous. The Brigadier has always been a bit of a hobby horse for Cornell, part, presumably, of his larger concerns and interactions with the Pertwee era. Typically he’s engaged in redemptive readings, which make sense - for all Cornell’s leftism, he is a profoundly conservative writer inasmuch as he has always been actively concerned with traditional visions of England. He wants to rescue these visions from their political failings, and he’s very honest about what those failings are, but his focus on small English villages, the Church of England, Celtic mythology, panto, and the days before World War I all point towards a desire to, in essence, perform redemptive readings on those concepts. So the Brigadier, who he’s previously redeemed for The Silurians and turned into a Zen military master, gets a different form of redemption here.

It’s possible, if you want, to argue that the Brigadier’s grief is a bit repetitive over the novel. Equally, however, grief is a bit repetitive, and honest depictions of it seem worth doing. The Brigadier is unequivocally the portion of this book that works, and it’s tremendously effective. It’s the arc-related stuff: Compassion, Fritz, and, yes, the Doctor that Cornell doesn’t seem to have time for, but on the other hand, as we’ve said, he’s writing it for the money. It’s his weakest book, but still ultimately worthwhile.

All of which brings us around to the elephant in the room, in which we return once again to the endlessly fascinating topic of Lawrence Miles. A theme lurking in the background for a while now has been the fact that Lawrence Miles has what might charitably be called a… prickly relationship with a lot of other people in the world of Doctor Who. Really a lot of them. Actually, it’s largely easier to count the ones he still gets on with, but that list’s a few years out of date, so, you know. There’s no realistic chance of going into every one of his feuds, or even into most of them, so since we’re here, let’s pick one of the best documented ones: his feud with Paul Cornell.

Researching this required some digging for interviews. Occasional black masses over the Internet Wayback Machine. You know how it is. So since I am not assuming that all of my readership just knows the details of this feud off the top of their heads, let me just reproduce some quotes from each side.

Paul Cornell, on Lawrence Miles:

In the days of the NAs, none of the authors would comment on each others' work in public. I still think doing so is ugly. Lawrence and I have been at odds for some time, and I wish we weren't, because I remember when he was quite sweet to everyone, and I think he's a great writer. He seems to think I object to his politics, but I'm still not clear what those are, and, well, I just don't! I wince when he slags off other authors. It's just wrong to do that. What makes it worse is, he seems to pick only on those who get the same degree of, or more, critical acclaim than him. I also hate the concept that, in a shared world line, he doesn't like other authors, even editors who've been kind enough to commission him, using his ideas. And I feel a terrible sense of vulnerability and nausea on his behalf when he attacks publishers and editors who have, in the most ordinary way, turned down his work. Because he'll really come to regret that. 
At the last Tavern, he approached me kindly, and, feeling really pleased that we were getting on now, I apologised for a couple of old slights and tried to find out what his political beliefs were, and why he felt we were fighting over them. We didn't get very far with that, but he asked if he could use Bernice in his forthcoming BBC novel. I said yes straight away, because a mutual friend had told me that Lawrence was looking for an excuse to talk to me that night, and I thought it was charming to be asked, and I really wanted to see what he'd do with her. He warned me about the forthcoming web site interview, and said that the only insult he'd flung in my direction was that I'd 'got a fat arse'. I laughed and said that if that was the worst there was, then he could rest assured that everything was fine now. 
And yet, when it's put up, there it is, all the same old stuff. As if he doesn't actually know how to be kind to people any more. Or as if he was only nice to me that night to get what he wanted. So now I'm afraid I've said no to the Bernice thing. Because I believe in forgiveness, but not in putting pearls before swine. 
There's only one point I want to address directly: he says that in one of my SFX columns, I refer to Who fandom as a 'squabbling pit' (that's the actual quote, I think he dressed it up a bit). Well, I do. And it is. I don't think anyone would argue with that. I especially don't see how someone who's squabbling while he argues can argue with that. But Who fandom is also deeply beautiful, and I'm part of it, and I love it. And I've said that on many occasions too. But he doesn't mention those. And now, I just don't want to see him, hear from him, or have him anywhere near my life anymore. I want to get on with everyone, I see no value or cachet in having feuds with anyone. So, unfortunately, if he approaches me nicely again, I may well get suckered again. But I quite like being like that.

Lawrence Miles, on Paul Cornell:

Q:Why did Paul Cornell make a statement like that? What was the context?
A: Oh, it was all to do with the ending of SHADOWS OF AVALON. Stephen Cole wanted something very dark and operatic, with the Time Lords trying to... violate the reborn Compassion, but Paul wouldn't play it that way. He said his beloved audience would hate it, because they preferred feel-good fiction. Bollocks. What the Doctor Who readers don't like, what they react badly to, is mass slaughter. Jim Mortimore isn't particularly well-liked as a writer, despite the obvious talent there, because he takes a historical viewpoint. Individuals aren't important, the way he does things, so there are characters getting killed off left, right and centre. And that's not a very Doctor Who kind of attitude. Real human tragedy, on the other hand, works very well. But Paul refused to acknowledge that, and it's one of the reasons why THE SHADOWS OF AVALON is such a mess, I think. It's this vast operatic story, but he keeps copping out to give the audience touchy-feely feel-good moments… 
Q:Paul Cornell's criticism of you was that you'd broken the Doctor Who writer's code by criticizing other writers. Fair, do you think?
A: Fair. But I don't remember signing any official agreement when Virgin signed me up. Nobody told me about this "code". The thing is... I've got a reputation as one of the most arrogant people in the whole of fandom, and it's kind of funny. If you want to know what "arrogant" means, my God... you make a criticism of Gary Russell or Paul Cornell or someone, they never forget and they never forgive you for it. The word "bitch" isn't big enough for what these people do. And you should hear the abuse I've had over the last couple of years. But unlike 90% of the other writers, it doesn't really bother me. I still hang around with people who've been completely insulting. The problem is, I don't have a sense of diplomacy, that's all. I don't have any tact. The other writers bitch about each other behind their backs, whereas I just come out and say what I think. That's the problem Paul has with me, I think. Oh, and I don't have tits. 
Q: ...?
A: I’ve tried to be nice to him. I've always tried. But if he can't shag you, he's just not interested. The only sure-fire way to get on that man's good side is by having XX chromosomes. He's never had any patience with me at all. That was the really funny thing about that interview he did, where he started slagging me off. He said the politics in INTERFERENCE reminded him of a "seventeen-year-old virgin". It was just so telling, because what he's actually saying there, when it comes down to it, is: "I'm wiser than you are because I've shagged more birds." I mean, fair enough, he probably has had sex with more people than I have. His exploits are far more legendary than mine. I just thought that was a very funny attitude, coming from someone who calls me a misogynist. 
Q: Why does he think you're a misogynist?
A: Because of my fanzine. The one I give out at the Tavern. I keep taking the piss out of Kate Orman, so in Shagger Cornell's world that means I hate women. It's the way things work on his planet. All right, let's get down to basics here. We're talking about a man who spends his life acting like a caring, sharing new man just so he can get into the pants of as many women as possible. And this isn't just me being bitter, some of Paul's own friends told me this about him even before I'd met the man. In a court of law, the character witnesses would be lined up around the building three-deep. And I'm a misogynist for having a go at Kate Orman. This is getting really perosnal now, isn't it? Maybe we should go back to focusing on Krotons.

I do this, to be perfectly honest, to stack the deck preposterously from the start. Because with those two dueling quotes there’s no sane way that I’m going to side with Miles. Because holy shit. Where do we even begin? I mean, I’m willing to set aside the sheer viciousness of the personal attacks for the sake of the argument. And, you know, let’s be fair. These are ten-year-old quotes, and we shouldn’t hold the Lawrence Miles of today responsible for them when we can, you know, get mad at him for photoshopping Karen Gillan with the face of a blow-up sex doll instead.

So let’s look at the specific point of argument as it relates to The Shadows of Avalon. To recap, the end of The Shadows of Avalon was set to resolve this whole arc about Compassion by turning her into the progenitor of the sentient TARDISes seen in Alien Bodies. Fine. Lawrence Miles wanted this plot to resolve with Romana authorizing the rape and forcible breeding of Compassion. Paul Cornell wanted… not that. And Lawrence Miles’s problem with this is that Cornell wanted a happy ending. This is… hm. How to put this.

To think that the problem Paul Cornell had with that plot was that it was an unhappy ending is the most searingly, brutally tone-deaf and brain-dead thing I have had the misfortune of dealing with on this blog since… well, probably since the last time I exploded in mild rage at a bit of plotting involving rape. The reason not to do it isn’t that it’s tragic. It’s that having Romana authorize sending someone to a fucking rape camp is the most staggeringly awful idea I have ever heard and would make it impossible to watch virtually the entire Graham Williams era without just throwing up in your mouth every time she talks because Jesus Fucking Christ no.

Which brings us around to the claim that Paul Cornell “spends his life acting like a caring, sharing new man just so he can get into the pants of as many women as possible.” Which… well, OK, first of all, let’s make a basic distinction here. The categories “committed feminist” and “person who enjoys sleeping with women” are in no way mutually exclusive. Second of all, let’s note that when we say that Paul Cornell “spends his life” doing this we do, in fact, mean that he has a long career dotted with numerous occasions where he has vocally taken feminist stances. Most recently, and in a move that surely did little good for his career in a practical sense, he’s started refusing to sit on panels at conventions that don’t have equitable gender representation. This is hardly an isolated incident. So yes, he does spend his life acting like, well, I’d use the term feminist instead of “caring, sharing new man.” Which is perhaps a reasonable piece of evidence that he is one.

Certainly, and this is a significant point, he doesn’t spend his life writing stories in which the Time Lords turn into gang rapists. And Miles isn’t wrong to assume that this is why Cornell is having sex with more people than he is, because, you know, in general a decently effective way to get along with women is to not be cavalier about the prospect of them getting raped. But as this is the same Lawrence Miles who describes Take Back the Night as a “right-wing, pro-morality vigilante movement” that “has been responsible for acts of chronic violence against anyone - male or female - who stands in its way,” so, you know, I guess that ship sailed.

Which is to say that for all that the “seventeen-year-old virgin” comment Miles bristles at is a bit of a non-sequitur, it’s not an entirely irrelevant one - a point that harkens back to what we were talking about back with The Curse of Fatal Death, and what we’ll talk about again at the end of the month. Which is that there is a viciously misogynistic streak within cult fandom that needed to be curbed. And that misogyny was not so much ideological misogyny as a misogyny born of a peculiar pathology of awkwardness and social isolation. Miles’s lines are part and parcel of the same logic that complains about women putting men in the “friend zone,” that complains that women don’t like “nice guys” like the person complaining, and, in general, a logic that tacitly assumes that women have an obligation to sleep with men who want it. Even Miles’s defenders fall into tediously familiar traps, saying that this sort of thing is just Miles’s sense of humor, a line that will be bitterly familiar for anyone who’s argued against rape culture. (And is it still going on in fandom? At the time of writing the most recent post on the Missing Episodes thread of GallifreyBase consists of someone musing on how they want to see Nicola Bryant naked.)

Which, as I noted last time we talked about this, is something Cornell apparently has personal experience with. And so yes, the “seventeen-year-old virgin” crack was a low blow, though certainly not even remotely low by Miles’s own standards, but it got at something important: Interference showed a vision of the world characteristic of an antisocial autodidact who has spent more time thinking about the world than actually looking at it and listening to it.

In this regard the connections to libertarianism and chaos magic that I drew a while ago continue to apply. In every case there’s a problem of, if you will, stupidity that’s carefully calibrated to appeal to smart people. It’s a peculiarly intelligent screw-up. But it’s a pernicious one that’s intimately connected to why geek culture fosters environments where we come a hair’s breath from having Romana the Rapist. And it really is notable that Doctor Who had a sufficient built-in defense to nip this in the bud, at least in this instance. Cornell was absolutely right to veto Miles’s plot direction and refuse to put it in his book. And while the book still doesn’t quite work as such, there’s no serious way to argue that it isn’t better than it would have been if it were “the one where Romana has the Time Lords gang rape Compassion.”

Which is also to say that for all that we’re going to have… concerns with The Ancestor Cell on Monday, and for all that some of those concerns are going to be the foolishness of having anyone but Miles write the book, equally, at this point, a few months out from this, sacking Miles from control over this story arc wasn’t just appropriate, it was absolutely necessary.

Comments

JohnB 4 years, 10 months ago

Hmmm.

Maybe I'm missing something here, but if Miles is being truthful -

"Stephen Cole wanted something very dark and operatic, with the Time Lords trying to... violate the reborn Compassion" then follows that it is tragedy on the individual scale Miles feels is more Dr. Who thus the comparison to Mortimer's style - I can't see how one can jump from that viewpoint to Miles wanting Romana ordering Compassion gang-raped/used as a breeding machine.

It's a truly horrific concept; a book written based on Cole's suggestion would surely be about stopping the Time Lords' depravity?

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Daibhid C 4 years, 10 months ago

"when we can, you know, get mad at him for photoshopping Karen Gillan with the face of a blow-up sex doll instead."

What? I mean ... what? Seriously? Jeez...

On another note, just a heads-up that this is the second article where you call Fitz "Fritz".

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J Mairs 4 years, 10 months ago

"I can't see how one can jump from that viewpoint to Miles wanting Romana ordering Compassion gang-raped/used as a breeding machine."

To be fair though, this is the version of events that seems to be picked up by The Book of the War.

...but on the other hand, the Faction Paradox world makes it explicit the exact train of thought that leads to "Time Lords "gang-rape" Compassion": They're not human - and consider themselves so far above us that we are animals - something which recently came up in Dead Romance. The fact that Male TARDISES (I feel the plural of Tardis should be Tardi, for some reason) are referred to as "Bulls" or the "Breeding Stock" really drives this point home.

Is this significantly different from Shockeye attempting to eat Peri? There's plenty of fiction in which mankind is treated by Aliens as it treats animals - it seems only naturally that Miles would want this pushed to it's logical conclusion.

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Prole Hole 4 years, 10 months ago

Just a little side-note but a great shame that we skipped The Taking Of Planet 5, I would have been very interested to read what the (naturally smart, well-informed and intelligent) commenters here had to say about it. I personally find it an incredibly dense, sometimes difficult but ultimately completely fascinating text (indeed, in some ways it's the anti-Interference, or at the very least a fascinating parallel with it). it is, at the very least, a huge mark above a good 75% of the EDAs published prior to it. So if someone wants to weigh on it, please do, I'd really love to hear what you all have to say about it. I know I'm a noob round these parts and I don't comment on every article, but I read them all, including comments, and hugely enjoy the debates that go on here.

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Andrew Hickey 4 years, 10 months ago

Just one point, but the quote says "Oh, it was all to do with the ending of SHADOWS OF AVALON. Stephen Cole wanted something very dark and operatic, with the Time Lords trying to... violate the reborn Compassion, but Paul wouldn't play it that way."

Cole, not Miles. And Cole was the one who remained in control of the story arc and even co-wrote The Ancestor Cell, which makes your conclusion not work.

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Andrew Hickey 4 years, 10 months ago

"Is this significantly different from Shockeye attempting to eat Peri?"

Until there are as few people who have been raped as there are people who have survived cannibal attacks, I'd say yes.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 10 months ago

Except that Miles spends the entire interview backing Cole and agreeing that his ending should have gone in. Also, I trimmed a question out of that interview so as not to have the post be half quote, but now that you point it out, it does implicate Miles more. It read:

Q:Is there a personal agenda here, though? How much of the Compassion plot was your idea?

A: Pretty much all of it. You know how Paul turned on me recently in that interview he did? I thought that was bloody typical. I gave him the one interesting plot element in AVALON, and I didn't even get proper credit for it. Without the Compassion thing, it would've just been a shite book about faeries. As it was, it was a shite book about faeries with a horribly botched ending, but at least it was an improvement.

Which further stresses that whatever Cole wanted here, it was also what Miles wanted and thought. ("I gave him the one interesting plot element.")

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Andrew Hickey 4 years, 10 months ago

Oh, I'm not saying that Miles didn't want that too, just that if Cole, as editor, was pushing for that ending, and we assume the ending was bad (I agree, it sounds godawful, but I don't have the proper context for how it was intended to play out), then taking the story away from Miles (a hugely talented writer, whatever one thinks of him as a person) and having Cole (a... *not* hugely talented writer) take over doesn't have the benefit you ascribe to it.

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Aaron 4 years, 10 months ago

It is a shame you're probably skipping The Fall of Yqantine if this is the direction you want to go with this book. Because that one will be forever known as "the one in which the Doctor rapes Compassion for her own good," a book that is so completely bereft of good taste it makes me angry thinking of it. It looks as though Stephen Cole forced the author to put that rape into the book, and so it's more likely Stephen Cole's preoccupation with this sort of thing than any particular author.

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J Mairs 4 years, 10 months ago

Well that's good. At least it's only a question of numbers.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 10 months ago

Less numbers than "one is a widespread real world phenomenon with horrific consequences and the other isn't." I mean, cannibal attacks certainly happen but they're not what you'd call a major and pressing concern for a lot of people.

Whereas people actually do get raped. With terrifying frequency.

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Wm Keith 4 years, 10 months ago

I've just skimmed through Yqantine. Yuk. "You are forgiven, Doctor...but you mustn't interfere with my systems without telling me."

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Phil 4 years, 10 months ago

"it seems only naturally that Miles would want this pushed to it's logical conclusion"

I was going to say that this is Miles' major failing, that he thinks up an 'interesting' idea, and refuses to compromise on it no matter what the implications or how many people he upsets. Which, ironically, is basically the charge he levelled at Gatiss over The Unquiet Dead

But then I thought about it, and it's always gender stuff, isn't it? Miles' biggest failing is that he's just totally blind to gender issues, doesn't really understand feminism, and assumes that because he doesn't 'hate women' he's incapable of misogyny. It's a giant ethical (or aesthetic, if you prefer) blind spot that he seems totally uninterested in addressing.

I love his writing, but he makes it very difficult sometimes.

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Andrew Hickey 4 years, 10 months ago

Phil -- quite. I think more, actually, he's blind to a whole range of issues to do with personal interaction, of which gender issues are definitely one. I *don't* think he's the kind of loathsome 'nice guy' geek misogynist that Phil S talks about in the main post, but there have been a number of occasions when his blog has made me think "Oh no... please don't say that... don't you see how that sounds?" and want to pound my head on my desk.

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Steven Clubb 4 years, 10 months ago

"there have been a number of occasions when his blog has made me think "Oh no... please don't say that... don't you see how that sounds?" and want to pound my head on my desk."

Just about everyone has those moments, but when people steadfastly refuse to learn from those moments is when it says something about them.

I happen to follow such antics of a particular writer/artist who is known for putting his foot in his mouth, who has on numerous occasions alienated his own die-hard fans, and who simply cannot admit that maybe, just maybe, his comments were in some way inappropriate.

By contrast, we have someone like Harlen Elison who is an ass. He knows he's an ass. He's aware of the power of his words and actions, and, every so often, he's stands humble in front of his critics and says "what I did/said was completely unacceptable and I deserve every ounce of criticism I get".

If you want to speak bluntly, you have to be able to accept you're not going to be well-loved for it.

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Andrew Hickey 4 years, 10 months ago

Would that artist's initials be J.B. by any chance? ;)

Personally, I'm a Dave Sim fan, so I find Miles' flaws easy to overlook by comparison.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 10 months ago

Though even Ellison turned out to have limits to what he could get away with - the Connie Willis incident seemed to me, at least, to deal pretty permanent damage to his reputation. Of course, the fact that he berated Willis for not defending him for groping her probably didn't help him there.

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SpaceSquid 4 years, 10 months ago

@Phil

"I was going to say that this is Miles' major failing, that he thinks up an 'interesting' idea, and refuses to compromise on it no matter what the implications or how many people he upsets. Which, ironically, is basically the charge he levelled at Gatiss over The Unquiet Dead"

From my recollections (and I realise I'm now proffering an aside to aside), that's not really what Miles was objecting too about Unquiet Dead. His objection was that Rose treated the Gelth as unpleasant and unwelcome because they're method of existence offended her own view of how things should work. That's an exceptionally unpleasant attitude to have, and it certainly isn't justified simply because in the case under discussion that the people you're villifying actually do turn out to be villains.

Miles argued the episode didn't do enough (or in his view, anything at all) to make it clear that Rose wasn't right to be xenephobic just because the aliens she met later proved to be hostile. Indeed, Miles argued the Doctor explicitly admitted she was right and he was wrong.

Having not seen the episode since it was first broadcast, I've no idea how accurate or otherwise that assessment is. But that's certainly what Miles has said was the reason he was so enraged by the episode.

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SpaceSquid 4 years, 10 months ago

That's the only Eighth Doctor book I've ever read, because copies were being given away free as a promotion for something or other at the time. Inspired move, BBC books!

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Tom Watts 4 years, 10 months ago

Nothing necessarily wrong with a bit of punkish tactlessness and anger. It's not as if feminists haven't often enough misread and misunderstood books and films - sometimes causing long lasting critical damage. The 1981 film Voice Over recently released by the BFI comes to mind. Also I can't help feeling that this blog and its comments' frequent resort to expressions of jarring wrongness and banging the head on the desk are... well, psychopathologizing Miles and his work, almost as if you were guying him for a reaction.

On the subject of stupid philosophies for intelligent people, the Social Workers Party is tearing itself to pieces right at this point over the investigation of a rape allegation and allegations of an institutional culture of sexual corruption. On the other hand, defenders of the CC do have a point when they see this fracture as undermining the Leninst concept of a revolutionary party - in favour of fragmented, competing identity factions. The point is that a grubby and self-serving argument may represent an important insight, partly because of its selective blindness. An SWP member and cultural critic wrote a brief Marxist defence of the Gor novels of John Norman, in his book Art Class & Cleavage. It took me to Slave Girls of Gor, which I got about a quarter of the way through.

The sex doll comparison was unreasonable and offensive, but no less telling for that. Much of Miles criticism reads as if written in a random note font, harking forward to time when none of us have to be so precious about things.

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jane 4 years, 10 months ago

I'm so glad I haven't read any of these books. Come to think of it, I'm so glad I wasn't a part of fandom at the time. Also, just because Cole wanted a rape doesn't mean Walters should have gone along with it, nor does it get Miles off the hook.

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Steven Clubb 4 years, 10 months ago

Sim strikes me as someone with an untreated mental illness. He sees connections that don't exist and firmly believes they do (not unlike Nash in A Beautiful Mind... the real guy). Guys like Miles and JB strike me as people who never quite figured out the rules. They can't understand what makes their comments inappropriate.

And Ellison's reputation was harmed by that, although he at least seems to understand what he did was wrong. In any event, he, like Tom Baker, are aware they're frequently outside the lines. They just don't care a lot of the time.

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Andrew Hickey 4 years, 10 months ago

Oh absolutely. Sim spent some time on a psychiatric ward as a young man, and says himself that he never actually changed his mind about the ideas that got him diagnosed as schizophrenic, just learned to hide them. And then he spent a decade smoking as much dope as humanly possible -- the man's quite clearly psychotic (I mean that in a technical, not pejorative, sense).

I suspect Miles' inability to figure out the rules stems from his autism -- something I have a great deal of sympathy for, as I have Asperger's myself, though I'm far better at that stuff than he appears to be.

That's not, though, to psychopathologise him or his work. He talks freely about his actual, diagnosed, mental illnesses on his blog and Twitter, but I think they're the least interesting thing about him. I regularly want to bash my head in frustration about things a *lot* of people I generally admire but who occasionally say stupid things say and do. I find about 90% of Miles' blogged writing to be absolutely fascinating, even when I disagree, and the other 10% makes me say "Oh God... *really*?", but I could say the same about a lot of other bloggers, too. (And I'm sure some or most of my readers could say it of me).

His properly-published writing, in whatever medium, seems to consist only of the fascinating 90%.

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Aaron 4 years, 10 months ago

Yeah, isn't it nice how Compassion forgives the Doctor for raping her at the end, and the book is structured around the idea that the Doctor was in the right? The best Doctor Who books are the ones that characterise the Doctor as a rapist and then make sure that everyone agrees he did it for the right reasons in the end.

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Phil 4 years, 10 months ago

@SpaceSquid

"Miles argued the episode didn't do enough (or in his view, anything at all) to make it clear that Rose wasn't right to be xenephobic just because the aliens she met later proved to be hostile. Indeed, Miles argued the Doctor explicitly admitted she was right and he was wrong."

That's what I remember the argument being as well. What I meant was that Miles blamed the lapse on Gatiss being more interested in creating horror than he was in creating something not openly offensive. Which I think is similar to Miles' own behaviour some of the time.

Sorry, I should have made it more clear what I was actually talking about. Or maybe saved it for when the blog gets to 2005.

@Andrew

"I *don't* think he's the kind of loathsome 'nice guy' geek misogynist that Phil S talks about in the main post"

Oh absolutely. He doesn't come out with problematic things because he's actively being a misogynist, it's because he's not interested enough in catching himself when he falls into it accidentally. And it's sad, because if he did think about the things he said a little more, he might have alienated less people and written more books. Or maybe not, I don't know enough about him as a person.

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spoilersbelow 4 years, 10 months ago

I've gotta be honest here, I have no idea in what proper context "President Romana orders the Time Lords to rape Compassion repeatedly so they can breed sentient time ships to win the War" could be turned into a good, interesting, or satisfying story. On paper it does seem like one of those late night "edgy and interesting moral dilemma" kinda situations ("what if the only way to save the universe was to rape an innocent person?") if you don't think about it too much, but really? When you actually sit down to write "Beloved character turns into a total monster so we can..." what exactly? We irredeemably ruin Romana as a character, and where does this leave Compassion? It's a Peter Davison/Colin Baker ending: horrible thing happens to someone, and no one can ever mention it again because it would derail the show and cause the characters to stop adventuring, and thus hangs overhead horribly as you try to forget about it. The 6th Doctor's hands around Peri's throat for all intents and purposes killed Doctor Who. How much worse this would be? (And then you'd get all those horrible the guys on the internet saying that it was okay because it was a woman authorizing it, and that it was for the greater good because the War must be won, and all those other terrible rationalizations...)

There are many stories that should be and need to be told about survivors of rape, but I doubt Doctor Who's future fantasy war against the evil space Voo Doo people is the right context for them, and this story element in particular seems egregious and disrespectful to the actual victims and survivors. Delivering it with the outraged tone of "I gave him the one interesting plot element in AVALON, and I didn't even get proper credit for it. Without the Compassion thing, it would've just been a shite book about faeries" just makes it look even worse, and doesn't lend itself to thinking it would be written about with the gravity and respect that a topic as serious as rape deserves had Miles been handed the keys. If Paul "The 7th Doctor in a Concentration Camp" Cornell thought this was a horrible idea and in bad taste, it probably was.

(Leaving out that this whole moral dilemma was already handled much better and more tastefully back in 1973 by by Ursula K. LeGuin in "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" (coincidentally enough rewritten into the 11th Doctor episode "The Beast Below").)

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Phil 4 years, 10 months ago

Oops, missed a bit off the end.

"His properly-published writing, in whatever medium, seems to consist only of the fascinating 90%."

Wholly agreed. I think that's probably because he thinks his fiction through in a way he doesn't for interviews or blog posts.

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jane 4 years, 10 months ago

I've gotta be honest here, I have no idea in what proper context "President Romana orders the Time Lords to rape Compassion repeatedly so they can breed sentient time ships to win the War" could be turned into a good, interesting, or satisfying story.

Hmm, let's take a look under the hood. First, we completely screw over the one Companion who became a "Doctor" in her own right -- which is to say, the only woman who became the Doctor's equal. Then, we couple it with the ultimate rape fantasy: the one survivor who will always forgive.

Nope, sorry, this is vile. And that's not even getting into the metaphorical implications for the violation of the practice of compassion. This isn't a good story, it's an outlet for misogyny.

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jane 4 years, 10 months ago

The more I think about it, the more it sickens me.

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Wm Keith 4 years, 10 months ago

Yqantine is an incredible book.

Although we are told "The words
‘violation’ and ‘rape’ swam through Fitz’s mind", what Fitz actually says to the Doctor is: "The Randomiser's really buggered her up, you know".

And the forgiveness" scene ends with Fitz reflecting that his home is now "this Goth wet dream called Compassion".

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jane 4 years, 10 months ago

If this is ultimately Cole's doing, I don't want to read any of his stuff, ever. And actually, considering Big Finish employs him, it doesn't reflect well on them, either.

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Andrew Hickey 4 years, 10 months ago

I don't recall any sexual violence in any of the Big Finish work I've heard by Cole, though a few of his plays I don't remember at all (his stuff isn't the most wonderful). Haven't read many of his novels, but they didn't seem especially bad in that respect either. I think Cole as editor may have had worse instincts than Cole as writer.

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Arkadin 4 years, 10 months ago

There's quite a lot of Big FInish material out there, and I haven't listened to most of it, but I can't imagine this sort of thing happening in a BF story. Both because it in some ways skews more traditional than the novels, both for better and worse (there's not as much of a "gay agenda" there compared to the novels and the current TV show, and they did after all think that bringing back Prison in Space was a remotely good idea) and because there are actual actors involved. It's hard to see Lalla Ward agreeing to something like that. (By all accounts, the Gallifrey audios have made a very good use of Lady President Romana, there's a pretty substantial female fandom for them over on Tumblr.)

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Arkadin 4 years, 10 months ago

I missed that book back when I was first reading them. That's definitely for the best. It's amazing how in the reviews i've seen no one at the time seems to have talked about the whole rape aspect, even though it's right there in the text. These days, discussion of feminist and social justice issues in fandom are inescapable right now, but it's not so long ago this wasn't the case.

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Arkadin 4 years, 10 months ago

"Context" is the last refuge of scoundrels.

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jane 4 years, 10 months ago

It sounds more and more like Revenge of the Anoraks. Not only do they defile the moral center of the show (is it because compassion requires empathy, which they don't understand? or just not care to practice?) but it's carried out by the most "romantic" of Doctors.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 10 months ago

Going back a bit, I think the difference between this and Shockeye trying to eat Peri is that one is a one-story villain and the other is Romana. Not even "the Time Lords" as a generalized group, but frankly the most awesome Time Lord we've seen, and yes, that includes our starring role.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 10 months ago

Also, in terms of ethical blind spots, I note that Brother Manjuele in Alien Bodies was... kind of a racist caricature. ^^;

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Steven Clubb 4 years, 10 months ago

For whatever reason I find Mission To Magnus much more sexist than Prison In Space. At least with PiS they knew they crossed the line and there'd a sense of a warts and all look at the show. MtM happened well after the Feminist movement, would almost have certainly aired, and was proudly novelized. It doesn't have good sense to be ashamed of its horribly patronizing casting women as shrill harpies who just need a good seeing to in an ending which basically promises to rape them.

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JohnB 4 years, 10 months ago

"Stephen Cole wanted something very dark and operatic, with the Time Lords trying to... violate the reborn Compassion"

This to me looks like the idea was that the Time Lords intent was to rape a newborn (reborn). It's that horrible. And indeed, that's what they wanted to use Compassion for - an object. That the Doctor does something so profoundly wrong and wicked in the following book shows the intention was likely editorial.

I cannot think Miles would have allowed that; the story is about the horrific prospect, the jeopardy of the stakes being so high and the Time Lords so very Terrible. Considering other works I've read by Miles. Interestingly, 'Erasing Sherlock' by Kelly Hale also deals with horrific intended abuse which actually occurs.

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jane 4 years, 10 months ago

@Andrew -- "I suspect Miles' inability to figure out the rules stems from his autism -- something I have a great deal of sympathy for, as I have Asperger's myself, though I'm far better at that stuff than he appears to be."

It's not a case of "rules" though -- it's a case of actively feeling what others would feel. And if the ability to feel and empathize is compromised, if there's some kind of limitation at the level of emotional response, no wonder he had it in for Compassion.


@Phil -- "He doesn't come out with problematic things because he's actively being a misogynist, it's because he's not interested enough in catching himself when he falls into it accidentally."

Subconscious misogyny is still misogyny. The lack of interest in catching himself bespeaks to a lack of concern about others' experiences. Isn't this the root of sociopathy?

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Arkadin 4 years, 10 months ago

"Newborn porn!" Oh dear God, it's Doctor Who as A Serbian Film. Thank goodness this version of Doctor Who burned out so spectacularly.

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jane 4 years, 10 months ago

@Tom Watts -- "On the subject of stupid philosophies for intelligent people, the Social Workers Party is tearing itself to pieces right at this point over the investigation of a rape allegation and allegations of an institutional culture of sexual corruption. On the other hand, defenders of the CC do have a point when they see this fracture as undermining the Leninst concept of a revolutionary party - in favour of fragmented, competing identity factions. The point is that a grubby and self-serving argument may represent an important insight, partly because of its selective blindness."

As far as I can tell, they wield power no differently than any other group of would-be revolutionaries. Central committees? It seems there's no questioning of the role of authority itself. No wonder it's such a small, insignificant splinter in political discourse.

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Andrew Hickey 4 years, 10 months ago

"It's not a case of "rules" though -- it's a case of actively feeling what others would feel. And if the ability to feel and empathize is compromised, if there's some kind of limitation at the level of emotional response, no wonder he had it in for Compassion."

There is no such limitation to the ability to feel and empathise with Asperger's and other autism spectrum conditions, and it's a myth that there is.

There is a partial inability to tell what effect one's behaviour is having on other people, but it's a very different thing from a lack of empathy. Autistic people care about the feelings of others, and feel very deeply when they realise they've caused offence or pain, but they're not always very good at telling when that is.

A lot of social interaction *is* about rules, and not following those rules *can* cause offence, and many autistic people *do* have difficulty with those rules. There are times and places when some statements are appropriate, and times and places when they're not. Most people have little or no difficulty telling when that is -- the rules are internalised -- but people with autism have incredible difficulty doing so.

As an example, a relative of mine went to a funeral and said "Cheer up! You look like someone has died!", as a joke, because he wanted to break the gloom a little. That's just something that you don't do, but he had no intention whatsoever of causing upset or offence -- he was trying to make people laugh. It wasn't that he didn't care, but that he didn't know what the proper behaviour in that situation was.

(Please note that I am actually demonstrating empathy here by realising that you made that statement out of ignorance, even though you're going around propounding harmful, incorrect stereotypes about a minority group. However, the claim that autistic people lack empathy is a profoundly dehumanising one -- see http://www.autismandempathy.com/?page_id=1537 and also http://bradhicks.livejournal.com/454817.html )

Also, you have no evidence that Miles "had it in for Compassion". In fact there's rather a lot of evidence that he didn't. In The Book Of The War, which Miles edited and largely wrote, Compassion becomes mother to the race of humanoid TARDISes not by the rape that Cole apparently intended, but after coming to an agreement with the Time Lords.

The implication in the Compassion entry in The Book Of The War is precisely that of Miles' statement -- "the Time Lords *trying to*... violate the reborn Compassion,". Not doing so, but trying to. To quote from The Book Of The War:

"She was quite aware of her importance as a new form of cross-breed, yet had her own concerns, being fiercely protective of her own internal dimensional mass and unwilling to participate in the Houses' planned force-breeding project".

In other words, they *wanted* to 'violate' her, but didn't. It's made very clear that she considered the Time Lords a minor nuisance, unable to harm her, and that she's far more powerful than them. Later on, she willingly bargains with them so both sides get what they want, but on her terms, not theirs, and she pretty much humiliates the Time Lord President in doing so. She's also literally the *only* character in the entire book who really understands what's really going on, and one of a very small number who come across as decent people.

In Of The City Of The Saved, also edited by Miles, Compassion is, in two different incarnations, both the main protagonist of the story and (SPOILER) a goddess who saves the whole of humanity.

Compassion also appears as a major character in two of the Faction Paradox audio plays, again without any sign that Miles "had it in for" her.

If Miles 'had it in for' the character (a character he created in the first place), surely he would have done something about it in the books he wrote and edited or the audio dramas he wrote?

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jane 4 years, 10 months ago

@ Andrew: "There is no such limitation to the ability to feel and empathise with Asperger's and other autism spectrum conditions, and it's a myth that there is.

There is a partial inability to tell what effect one's behaviour is having on other people, but it's a very different thing from a lack of empathy."


Ah, we're into semantics. I'd say that the inability to tell (or predict) the effect of one's behavior is a function of the breakdown of empathy. Mind you, it's a failure all of us will experience, because empathy relies on imagination, on putting ourselves into someone else's shoes and feeling what they would feel -- but of course, there's no one way to know someone else's subjectivity. I suspect we're using different notion of the term "empathy" here, it's not just caring for the feelings of others, although that's a big component.

"A lot of social interaction *is* about rules, and not following those rules *can* cause offence, and many autistic people *do* have difficulty with those rules...

As an example, a relative of mine went to a funeral and said 'Cheer up! You look like someone has died!', as a joke, because he wanted to break the gloom a little."


I wouldn't say that this is a case of "rules" -- rather, it perfectly demonstrates a failure of empathy, from the choice of wording to the desire to "break the gloom" in the first place, as if the process of grieving wasn't fully understood or appreciated. Sure, it's well-motivated, wanting to see someone happy rather than sad, but that seems more "rules-based" than genuinely empathic. A genuinely empathic response is to participate in the grieving itself, to actually feel it.

"Also, you have no evidence that Miles 'had it in for Compassion.' In fact there's rather a lot of evidence that he didn't..."

Good to know there's plenty of evidence to the contrary, or that he's in some way recanted this position. Like I said, I'm not familiar with this era at all -- and based on what I've heard about Yqantine, I could very well be talking about Cole.

Then again, given the context of the interview Sandifer posted, and Miles' defense of the plot point -- especially the notion that Romana would be authorizing it -- I'm still inclined to think there was some antipathy towards the process of "compassion" in the first place, not to mention some deep-rooted misogyny.


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Andrew Hickey 4 years, 10 months ago

"I wouldn't say that this is a case of "rules" -- rather, it perfectly demonstrates a failure of empathy, from the choice of wording to the desire to "break the gloom" in the first place, as if the process of grieving wasn't fully understood or appreciated. Sure, it's well-motivated, wanting to see someone happy rather than sad, but that seems more "rules-based" than genuinely empathic. A genuinely empathic response is to participate in the grieving itself, to actually feel it. "

*sigh*

Please, please, please read through some of the Autism And Empathy site I linked above. I get that you don't actually understand just how horribly dehumanising you are being, by assuming that just because someone's reaction to grief is different from the norm that that means they're not feeling anything, but it is literally taking more energy I have right now not to (virtually) just scream at you. I know it's not deliberate, but this conflation of different behaviour with inability to understand the process of grieving is horribly, horribly offensive and ableist, and I don't have the mental energy right now -- I'm horribly unwell and not explaining myself very well (and nor is this the place) to educate you on the matter.

I apologise if the above is upsetting or offensive -- and that's a genuine apology, not an internet fauxpology. I'm really not well enough to word this properly. But please, look through http://autismandempathy.com

"I'm still inclined to think there was some antipathy towards the process of "compassion" in the first place,"

If you had read Miles' work, you'd realise that the character was originally nicknamed "Compassion" sarcastically, as she showed so little compassion to others. Miles also doesn't say anything about Romana in his interview, and nor does he ever write about her in any of his fiction. I can't remember off the top of my head whether Romana had been established as President of Gallifrey in the EDAs prior to The Shadows Of Avalon, but I think this might have been the first time in the BBC books it was mentioned. Certainly in the version of 'history' Miles had control over, the President who eventually had dealings with Compassion was a thinly-veiled version of the Master.

You're making a *lot* of assumptions about Miles' thinking, based on very, very little evidence.

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Arkadin 4 years, 10 months ago

Another thing: Miles says a lot of strange things in that interview, but one thing that we need to unpack is the use of "tragedy." I'm not really sure how to actually define it, but it shouldn't be the way it's used here. Tragedy has to proceed from the characters and the situation in an organic way. This, by contrast, isn't really Compassion's story. It might be the beginning of Compassion's story--though it's a story that far too many women across various media have been put through--but in the ending as given, she doesn't have any agency at all. It's not about her in any meaningful sense, anyone could have been put through it. (I do remember thinking Compassion was an interestingly realized character at the time, though I can't remember a thing about her now besides her being turned into a TARDIS.) It's not Romana's tragedy, either--it's impossible to see how Romana's character could have evolved to a point where she would do this. It's an example of the kind of bad writing that plagues "mature" "deconstructions" of genre literature, where characters do things because it's shocking rather than because it fits. (I could name a million superhero stories like that.)

The thing is, is a sharp contrast to Miles's own better work. Dead Romance really was a tragedy. It has very similar themes--a woman who's violated and used as a pawn by higher powers, a former companion who takes horrific actions in the name of the Time Lords--but it's actually built around the characters. Christine isn't just someone who has bad things happen to her--for her, that's just the beginning of the story, and the book is about the struggle to establish herself as a "real" person. Cwej's turn is also motivated by his fundamental character--he's been brainwashed by the Time Lords, but he's already someone with military training that can be turned to that purpose, and he's not nearly as strong-willed as Romana is.

Another thing "tragedy" is that he's using it the same way headlines do, as "a bad thing that happens to someone." If there's one thing that Miles hates, and really wants you to know it, it's sensationalist media. But he's using it in the exact same reductive way. It's the curse of a certain kind of left-wing/progressive intellectual/activist--they have a strong vision of what they're against, but they don't know what they're for--what their vision of the good is. So they wind up mirroring the same oppressive structures they're fighting against.

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Arkadin 4 years, 10 months ago

This also reminds me of certain things that bothered me about Dead Romance itself, the passage where Miles takes a potshot at Orman's Walking to Babylon:

"I keep thinking about all those Barbara Cartland novels Lady Diamond used to read (although she hid them inside copies of the Spiritualist Journal, natch). Full of shy, good-hearted, blushing Victorian gentlemen, making nervous passes at noble and free-minded heroines. Never mind the fact that Victorian gentlemen were nothing but misogyny and VD, never mind the fact that they spent most of their time beating up their wives and hanging around male brothels. You get the same shit told to you over and over, the same old stabs at rewriting history, whether the stories are set in the French Revolution or ancient Babylon."

Not only is the direct reference to Orman's work rather petty, the point he's arguing here is facile and simplistic. He's replacing one set of illusions--a romantic view of the past--with the other--a completely brutal view of the past--rather than admitting that, you know, people are complciated. And this actually contradicts a lot of what makes Dead Romance work. The really awful thing about Cwej isn't just what he does, but that he's trying to do good in a framework that's fundamentally horrific. It's hard not to think of conscientious white people like Thomas Jefferson in the days when slavery was legal speaking out against the evils of slavery while still owning and using slaves or, for that matter, our own dependence on economic systems that are based on the misery and degradation of people throughout the world. And it works so well because Miles, uncharacteristically, does not hammer the point home directly. So once again, Miles's philosophy of writing actually works against his best instincts as a writer.

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Arkadin 4 years, 10 months ago

Addendum: even if Miles intended that President to be the Master, it was Romana who was President in the actual book, and it was the ending where Romana would have had Compassion raped that he defended as "tragic."

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Arkadin 4 years, 10 months ago

I have very fond, if vague, memories of this book and would have liked to see it examined as well. Maybe the book version?

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Arkadin 4 years, 10 months ago

I think more of an examination of Fitz's character would be nice, given that it seems to be the main legacy of the 8DAs in fandom. He's still very fondly remembered, to the point of getting his own audio story, and I've seen a number of people who got into fandom long after the 8DAs have faded into oblivion who ship Eight/Fitz. (I've noticed that Dr. Sandifer and I, in spite of being around the same age, move in very different circles of fandom--I had no idea Gallifrey Base was even still around and would perhaps have preferred to remain blissfully ignorant.)

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jane 4 years, 10 months ago

Like I said, only going on what I've picked up here. Sandifer says, "Lawrence Miles wanted this plot to resolve with Romana authorizing the rape and forcible breeding of Compassion." If you've got evidence to the contrary, I'd love to see it!

Also, Compassion was named ironically? Why hasn't there been any discussion about this?

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Arkadin 4 years, 10 months ago

"Typically he’s engaged in redemptive readings, which make sense - for all Cornell’s leftism, he is a profoundly conservative writer inasmuch as he has always been actively concerned with traditional visions of England."

And this is definitely true of Cornell's later work in comics as well. In Captain Britain and MI:13, he makes Captain Britain the symbol of an inclusive British identity where a Muslim woman can wield the sword Excalibur, basically using him in a similar way to the Brigadier. Knight and Squire is all about the role English traditions can play in the generally America-centric superhero genre.

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ireactions 4 years, 10 months ago

Regarding THE FALL OF YQUATINE, Nick Walters responded to the rape accusations, saying: "I'm glad "The Fall of Yquatine" started off a debate, and pleased to see people go into such analysis of the story. To put the record straight, yes, I intended for the Doctor's violation of Compassion to be shocking. The act of a desperate man. I fully stand by that and intended it as a comparision to what the Time Lords would do if they caught Compassion, and of Vargeld's treatment of Arielle - one of the themes of the book is male insensitivity. Unfortunately, the complex and loaded plot did not give me time to explore this theme in as much detail as I would have liked. What I wish I had done differently is the Doctor and Compassion's relationship at the end - true enough, she had reason to kill him and perhaps I should have made more of this instead of tying things up. But that's the trouble when writing for a series... you can't take things too far or you mess it up for the next story in the line."

So, yes, he did mean to make the Doctor a rapist and completely in the wrong, but he didn't handle it as well as he would have liked in the resolution.

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Phil 4 years, 10 months ago

I remember liking it, though I think it was weakened by having two writers, one of whom was clearly a better prose stylist than the other (I have no idea which one was which, though I tend to assume the bits I liked were by Bucher-Jones, as I've enjoyed other work by him as well. Ghost Devices, his Benny NA, is possibly the hardest I've ever laughed at a Doctor Who book).

Pretty much all of the really good ideas were recycled for The Book of the War, though. Apart from the museum of inaccuracies, which is great.

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ireactions 4 years, 10 months ago

His comment was here: http://nitcentral.philfarrand.com/discus/messages/1135/12372.html

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Wm Keith 4 years, 10 months ago

Andrew: on empathy: thank you.

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Andrew Hickey 4 years, 10 months ago

Jane, you're jumping from "writer A thinks that an editor's suggestion for a plot point, which sounds horribly offensive when stated in one-sentence form, is better than writer B's replacement plot point" to "writer A hates the very concept of compassion, and it is perfectly fair for me to insist he has no empathy even though this is an ableist slur against him". This is simply not a justifiable inference based on what you actually know.

And there's been no discussion about how Compassion got her name because it's utterly unimportant.

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Andrew Hickey 4 years, 10 months ago

No problem. I'm trying very hard not to derail the whole thread with that stuff, but I can't let that sort of dehumanising bigotry stand.

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Wm Keith 4 years, 10 months ago

I disagree here: Names are utterly important. And a descriptive name like Compassion is obviously intended to be important, whether or not the person doing the naming intended the name sarcastically or otherwise.

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Andrew Hickey 4 years, 10 months ago

Wm -- the name and how she got it is very important to the character, but the character has not even been discussed yet, at all, and it's pretty much irrelevant to any of the discussions that have taken place on the blog. It's like asking, for example, why we haven't been discussing the whole Fitz/Kode/Kreiner thing from Interference (to put that in as non-spoilery a way as possible). You could certainly have a good, interesting conversation like that, but it doesn't really follow on from any of the things that the blog posts on Interference talked about.

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encyclops 4 years, 10 months ago

I'd like to contribute to the discussion (had a whole comment written out, then deleted it) but it's such a minefield that I just don't feel comfortable saying much. Here's what I feel OK adding:

* Marie the TARDIS was one of the most interesting (not unproblematic, just interesting) ideas in Alien Bodies and it's dismaying to learn where that idea led.

* Nothing I've read or heard about Romana's life post-Warrior's Gate, including and especially the idea that she would become Lord President, has seemed anything but a sad diminishment of my favorite companion.

* It's going to be a lot harder to read the Lawrence Miles books I have left (Dead Romance, Down, Adventuress, Book of the War) after reading this essay and the subsequent comments. Then again, I can still read Bret Easton Ellis, so maybe I can handle anything.

* Is this book really worse than Goth Opera? Because I finally finished it and boy, was it a dreadful read. I liked Love and War and Human Nature, and Father's Day was OK, but yeeeesh.

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Dr. Happypants 4 years, 10 months ago

@jane: I've read all of Miles' books, and based on what I've seen, I think that when Miles refers to/defends the "plot point" he contributed to "Shadows", he means specifically the idea of Compassion turning into a human TARDIS, *not* the Character Derailment of Romana (who is not brought into the Faction Paradox spinoff universe at all, except I think maybe in an oblique mention of how she is definitely not part of this vision of the War). As Andrew points out, when Miles returns to this stuff in the FP spinoffs, Gallifrey is ruled by the Master.

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Arkadin 4 years, 10 months ago

The worst thing I've ever read from Cornell is Soldier Zero, a comic done in collaboration with Stan Lee, as part of a Boom Studios line of interlinked superhero works co-created by Stan Lee and a group of modern creators. The basic premise was strong--a disabled veteran who gets a powerful suit of alien amor, which in practice amounts to Cornell taking the attentiveness to the lives of marginalized groups, while at the same time avoiding obvious "relevant" plots that he's made a point of pursuing throught his comics to the signature Marvel trope of disabled superhero. (As a person with a disability, though it's mental rather than physical, I generally like the way Silver Age Marvel handles it a lot. Ben Grimm is one of the characters I like and identify with the most in all of fiction. But Cornell could have taken it in all kinds of interesting directions.) The problem was he was trying to write in a movie script style--which was the house style for this project, I guess--and that really doesn't suit him well. As a result, it didn't feel like it really had room to breateh--funny how "decompression" often makes comics feel more cramped and claustrophobic. He wrote in a similar "widescreen" style in Captain Britain and MI:13, but there he was allowed to be more eccentric and "frock"-y, working in the kind of gun/frock synthesis that underlies the new series at its best. Why couldn't he have been allowed to write it in a style with more wit and vivacity--something more Stan Lee?

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Ununnilium 4 years, 10 months ago

The "not Compassion's story" thing is a really important point. The biggest problem with the use of rape in fiction is that it's so often used to spur someone other than the rape victim to action, doubly making them an object.

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Dr. Happypants 4 years, 10 months ago

Romana becoming the President of the Time Lords was from the Virgin NAs; I think Dicks tried to revert it back to Flavia again in "The Eight Doctors", and Miles was one of the few authors who tried to separate the BBC books from Virgin continuity with his bottles. I don't know for sure one way or the other, and I could very well be wrong, but unless there's more info in one of his bizarre and disturbing interviews, I don't think Miles himself intended Romana to feature in his War storyline (which was definitely far more under Cole's control than his own; am I misremembering, or did Miles never intend the War to be a running storyline at all in the EDAs?)...

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Dr. Happypants 4 years, 10 months ago

Andrew: I found your contribution very enlightening. Thank you, and best wishes.

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Ross 4 years, 10 months ago

Nothing I've read or heard about Romana's life post-Warrior's Gate, including and especially the idea that she would become Lord President, has seemed anything but a sad diminishment of my favorite companion.

One of the few things I really like about the Big Finish adaptation of Shada is that reinterpreting the Romana of that story as the Lord President off on one last adventure with her ex works really really well.

(Whereas trying to shove McGann into a story that is *so* Tom Baker just does not work. Sketchy and frequently inconsistent as McGann's Doctor might be, the one thing I can comfortably and certainly assert about the eighth Doctor is "He's not Tom Baker)

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Andrew Hickey 4 years, 10 months ago

No, thank *you*.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 10 months ago

To jump in a bit, because I don't think "dehumanising bigotry" is quite fair to Jane...

I think you and Jane are talking past each other a bit. The point she is making, I think, is that there's not a functional difference between "failure to understand the social rules that other people have internalized" and "failure to understand what people who have internalized the social rules are feeling." The LiveJournal post you linked to is instructive in this regard - the problem identified there is the casual conflation of two definitions of empathy. It's not that one of the definitions doesn't hold.

Now, I'll readily agree that the existence of this conflation makes the entire rhetoric of "lack of empathy" suspect and destructive. And I am thusly wary of Jane's attempt to extrapolate into "Miles doesn't care about Compassion" in the general case for exactly that reason - even though I suspect the play on meaning she's going for with "compassion" is closer to "the actual lived experience of people for whom the social rules are internalized" than to "the fact that other people have feelings."

For me the point where the argument you and Jane are having really runs aground is in the decision to psychopathologize Miles in the first place, which is something I have little interest in. I'm much more interested in psychopathologizing his books. I don't think what Jane is saying is terribly different from what I'm saying when I say "Interference showed a vision of the world characteristic of an antisocial autodidact who has spent more time thinking about the world than actually looking at it and listening to it." Except that I'm ultimately interested in Interference there, not the author, except inasmuch as the author can be mined for supporting evidence for claims about Interference.

Which is to say that I'm terribly uninterested in pathologizing the individual. I had no idea Miles was on the autism spectrum until you mentioned it. I don't find the point particularly interesting one way or another. I'm interested in pathologizing the larger culture, but I find pathologizing individuals both uninteresting and, given my lack of qualifications, ill-advised.

I mean, it's a narrow line, and I'm well aware that I've crossed it in the past and will cross it in the future (as in, on Friday), but I think it's an important line to know where you are in relation to.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 10 months ago

Knight and Squire went a little too far into the "tell don't show" area with this, with a bunch of characters making remarks about how great British culture is. But Captain Britain and MI-13 hit the sweet spot. (Of course, K&S's use of the Joker is lovely, so there's that.)

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Ununnilium 4 years, 10 months ago

...ugh. That explanation really illustrates the problem: He intended it to be shocking... and didn't really deal with it beyond that. IMHO, if you don't have space to deal with a loaded topic properly, DON'T PUT IT IN YOUR BOOK.

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Andrew Hickey 4 years, 10 months ago

Yeah, Dicks had both Flavia and (if I remember that godawful book right) a redeemed Borusa as Time Lord President.
I'm also absolutely certain that Miles has said that he didn't intend the War to be a running storyline. I think Compassion and her transformation into a TARDIS is the only thing that he actually specifically intended to be an ongoing thing, as opposed to just something he threw into his own books.
I get the impression that Miles doesn't like when people follow up his ideas any more than he likes it when they ignore them...

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Andrew Hickey 4 years, 10 months ago

"To jump in a bit, because I don't think "dehumanising bigotry" is quite fair to Jane..."

I think it's entirely fair. She's perpetrating horrifically damaging stereotypes about a minority group.

"The point she is making, I think, is that there's not a functional difference between "failure to understand the social rules that other people have internalized" and "failure to understand what people who have internalized the social rules are feeling.""

She's saying things like "A genuinely empathic response is to participate in the grieving itself, to actually feel it." -- which is to deny that the person I was talking about was feeling grief at all. Which is a fucking horrific accusation to make against anyone, and is exactly the sort of rhetoric that's used by eliminationist groups who want to see autism 'cured'.

"For me the point where the argument you and Jane are having really runs aground is in the decision to psychopathologize Miles in the first place,"

Agreed, and I hold my hand up there for starting down that path, though I was only mentioning it as an aside to an aside in the subthread about Byrne, Sim, Ellison and so on and their behaviour, and certainly didn't want it to derail things the way it did.

"I'm much more interested in psychopathologizing his books. I don't think what Jane is saying is terribly different from what I'm saying when I say "Interference showed a vision of the world characteristic of an antisocial autodidact who has spent more time thinking about the world than actually looking at it and listening to it." Except that I'm ultimately interested in Interference there, not the author"

Which is a huge, huge difference. You're judging a book, she's judging a human being. And you're judging the book on the basis of having actually read it, whereas she's judging the human being based on a couple of lines from an interview.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 10 months ago

What Dr. S said.

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Ununnilium 4 years, 10 months ago

"Nothing I've read or heard about Romana's life post-Warrior's Gate, including and especially the idea that she would become Lord President, has seemed anything but a sad diminishment of my favorite companion."

Yes. >:/ Pretty much entirely this, and I think speaks to something we were talking about before - how the boringness of Gallifreyan culture is a shackle on any character associated with it.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 10 months ago

I'm not entirely sure Jane is judging the human being, though I'll grant her phrasing leaves it ambiguous. I admit that part of this is that I quite like Jane and admire her analysis and am thus strongly inclined to give her redemptive readings, but nevertheless, I think one presents itself here.

The key issue, I suspect, is on what she means by "the grieving itself." Specifically, whether she's talking about grief in general or the specific act of grieving being experienced by the other person. I suspect, due both to having followed Jane's commentary fairly extensively here and elsewhere and to the use of the definite article, that she does in fact mean the latter. That is, she's not talking about feeling grief, but about being able to reconstruct internally the specific grief felt by a specific person. Her discussion of subjectivity in the same comment you're quoting points in this direction as well.

Again, I think the Brad Hicks piece you linked to highlights the root problem here, which is that words with slippery meanings whereby they can suddenly turn from talking about a specific process of psychological mirroring into being an attack on the fundamental humanity of someone are deeply unhelpful because even precise uses of them can be co-opted into attacks with relative ease.

But I'm pretty confident that Jane is doing just that: saying things that can readily be co-opted into attacks, as opposed to making them. Now, I'll be the first to play the "intent doesn't matter" card in the social justice debate, and I agree, her phrasing is poor because it can be so easily co-opted or misread.

But I think "dehumanising bigotry" is, as a phrase to use, one that lends itself to being misread as psychopatholgizing Jane as opposed to highlighting the hazardous consequences of her phrasing.

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Arkadin 4 years, 10 months ago

Yeah, I was tempted to describe it as "auto-Anglophilia."

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Arkadin 4 years, 10 months ago

And as of the last "season," from what I can tell, the Gallifrey audios have basically destroyed Gallifrey and rewritten history to get around that. Or something.

How many times has Gallifrey been destroyed now?

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Andrew Hickey 4 years, 10 months ago

"I suspect, due both to having followed Jane's commentary fairly extensively here and elsewhere and to the use of the definite article, that she does in fact mean the latter. That is, she's not talking about feeling grief, but about being able to reconstruct internally the specific grief felt by a specific person."

Except that autistic people can, actually, do the latter. It's not a matter of being misread or misinterpreted, the claims she's making are factually wrong.

And I'm frankly astonished, given your normal concern for social justice, that when you see someone perpetrating harmful stereotypes about a minority group, your first impulse is to defend, not that minority group, but the person making the attacks. Because of course, it's far worse to tell someone they're saying bigoted things than it is actually to say those things. I was conciliatory *as hell* with Jane in my early responses to her, and she simply ignored or dismissed my points.

I'm honestly utterly appalled that you would choose to defend those comments. Intent -- even if I were convinced of Jane's good intent, which, frankly, I'm not, given how readily she seems to be jumping to completely unwarranted conclusions about books she's not read and people she doesn't know -- isn't magic, and the things she was saying *are* bigoted and *do* dehumanise an already-marginalised group of people.

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encyclops 4 years, 10 months ago

Ross, I can see how you might feel that way without myself liking anything about it except Lalla Ward reprising her role. :)

And I TOTALLY agree about McGann not belonging in that story at all. Props to him for stepping into the breach (...I guess? what's the story there -- did Baker just refuse to do it?) but those lines BELONG to Baker.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 10 months ago

I think you'll find that I didn't defend the comments. Or, if I did, it was a spectacularly shit defense, given that I called them "deeply unhelpful" and "poor."

I did defend Jane. This is because I consider her, and you, for that matter, friends, and I am inclined to stick up for friends' personal integrity.

As for the issue of accuracy, I think I must be misunderstanding your point, or visa versa. I'll shoot you an e-mail, as I don't want to derail further.

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Philip Sandifer 4 years, 10 months ago

I mean, if you want me to be more specific, I think Jane stepped in it and used phrasings that are routinely used to support destructive and actively harmful policies and viewpoints. And that in her rush of attraction for a play on the word "compassion" she ended up using some deeply offensive language.

Is this sufficient condemnation that I can now add that I would be shocked and dismayed if Jane were an eliminationist, and that I think she, you, and I are all, in fact, making the exact same basic point?

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jane 4 years, 10 months ago

@Andrew: Thank you for the very interesting links to the material highlighting the problems of conflating autism with the struggle to empathize; I am humbled. Having no personal relationships with anyone who's autistic, I really had no idea, and I apologize for propagating this particular myth. Both the neurology and experience of autism are a lot more complicated than I realized.

This gives me a lot to think about regarding how I go about empathizing. It's mostly a subconscious process for me; it's not something I think about consciously (whereas processing "rules" is something I see as a deliberate intention) but something that happens automatically. And the thing about my empathy is that it often fails me. I don't always read how people are feeling, nor is my ability to predict the impact of my actions anything close to perfect.

And that's not counting the times when I've acted purely out of self-interest -- the times when I've been immoral, and simply disregarded the experiences of others out of my own (egoistic) needs. Yup, these are two different kinds of "empathic failure" I can cop to, and they look very different. They're not unrelated -- both have to do with not grasping the experiences of others -- but I can see how it comes across as capricious to conflate them.

Anyways, this is part and parcel of what it means to be human! We fuck up. Every single of one of us fucks up. Some more spectacularly than others, but still. So I disagree with the notion that "empathy makes us human." Sorry. I've seen empathy practiced by dogs, and cats, and weasels; this is not what makes us human. There is no "essence" to being human as far as I'm concerned -- I don't believe in essences.

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Sean Daugherty 4 years, 10 months ago

I'm not sure discussion of feminist and social justice issues was so alien to fandom, even at the time. Much of the 8DAs, after all, went over like a lead balloon.

I mentioned earlier how this is really the only period of the run that I have any real fondness for. It's the only time the series ever seems to have a semi-coherent editorial direction, and the only time it ever really tries for the sort of consistency of theme that marked the best of the Virgin New Adventures. The problem, I think, is two-fold.

First of all, the theme it's going for is basically a dead end: every single regular character gets put through the wringer in increasingly dark ways, starting with Sam back in Unnatural History, Fitz in Interference, Compassion in this book (and, really, continuing through to The Ancestor Cell), and the Doctor throughout (culminating in the conclusion to The Ancestor Cell, which carries through to the conclusion of the range). It is, to use the term, "dark and operatic"... but it's also hard to see what the point of it all is. Fitz/Kode/Kreiner never really gets much payoff, Compassion just barely avoids being mishandled so badly with the attempted rape metaphor that it would have turned the whole series toxic, and the effect of the Doctor post-Ancestor Cell basically caused me to lose interest in the series altogether. It's, as someone else said, the worst problems of the Eric Saward era played up to an absurd degree. In the end, it suffers badly from angst and horror overload, and, particularly in hindsight, it doesn't work for Doctor Who (I'm not sure it would work for anything, actually).

The other problem are the writers themselves. There are certainly some very good books in here: Unnatural History is one of my favorites, as is The Banquo Legacy and Frontier Worlds (though I admit I've never enjoyed the oft-lauded The Taking of Planet Five). But I think what's really missing is (for want of a better term) the "frock" perspective. Orman and Blum basically exit the series for some time after Unnatural History, and the only real respite is Cornell's book. Which, as Phil S. points out, is probably the least frockish work he's ever done. Even the good books in here suffer from the same sort of heavy-handed dreariness that, while it's effective in small doses, gets wearisome after a while. It was the sort of problem the New Adventures more or less avoided: as unpleasant as I found some of the storylines in that range (the extended period where Ace and the Doctor were at each other's throats in particular), there were at least lighter moments amidst the gloom. Here, it's like an entire range of books by Jim Mortimore....

I'm being harsh, especially since, as I said, this is my favorite era of the 8DAs, and I do actually enjoy much of it. But just because it's the only point at which the range bothers to show the slightest bit of ambition doesn't mean it's without flaws.

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jane 4 years, 10 months ago

RE: "Compassion"

I'd love to discuss Compassion's arc, both from her perspective as a character and as a metaphor, especially since Sandifer brought up the use of metaphor in his Buffy entry as a way of pointing towards the future of the show. I'm kind of surprised our host hasn't touched on this yet, considering how important compassion is (supposed to be) to the Doctor's character.

And, going by what I've read here, it's entirely appropriate to consider the metaphorical implications of Compassion's arc. Becoming a "human TARDIS" and eventually a goddess who saves humanity? Yeah, absolutely!

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Sean Daugherty 4 years, 10 months ago

For what it's worth, Stephen Cole has written a number of audios for Big Finish's Gallifrey series, and he's done reasonably well by Romana in those.

In general, Cole is... not awful as a writer. He's not spectacular, either. But he did co-write (with Paul Magrs) one of my favorite Big Finish audios (The Wormery), and he's actually produced some quite good short stories, too. Looking over his bibliography, the only works of his I'd rate particularly highly are co-authored (the novel The Shadow in the Glass, coauthored by Justin Richards, is another). Which makes me suspect that he may be another John Nathan-Turner: he can do a decent job, but only when he's got someone to work with who doesn't actively encourage his worst instincts. For JNT, Eric Saward seemed to bring out the worst in him. For Cole, Lawrence Miles seems to have done likewise.

There aren't any books of his I'd rank as terrible (even the oft-maligned The Ancestor Cell is at least readable). But he doesn't really stand out, either. And his tenure as editor of the books has it's share of problems, to put it mildly.

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T. Hartwell 4 years, 10 months ago

I've always felt the best thing to do for Romana was make her stay and E-Space and basically become that universe's version of the Doctor.

Which is why I so dislike the idea of her as the President of Gallifrey- totally unfitting to the anarchic spirit she inherits from her travels.

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Aaron 4 years, 10 months ago

An entire range by Jim Mortimore would be depressing sure, but at least it would be interesting and well written. The problem with the EDAs, even at this point, was that they were just so boring. Pick up any book not written by Blorman, Miles, Magrs, and to be charitable Leonard and it's exactly 280 pages of bland. Look at Parallel 59, aptly named because it's the 59th book in the run to watch bland rebels overthrow some bland government with bland guns and bland explosions. The really mindblowingly thing about Fall of Yqantine isn't even that it disgustingly deals with the Doctor as rapist; it's that, even while doing something as offensive as that, it still manages to put you to sleep!

There are good points in the range, sure, but I think Cole's vision for the series, like Nick Brigg's current direction with Big Finish, is just frustratingly disinterested with doing anything ambitious. The point of the EDAs was to get out 280 pages of Doctor Who each month, nothing more, nothing less. And that's what they did.

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Sean Daugherty 4 years, 10 months ago

I still feel that Compassion is one of the more interesting ideas, and companions, the novels have ever produced. Even if, it seems, it's as much in spite of editorial direction as because of it. There are exceptions, of course (The Fall of Yquatine being one of the worst), but she's interesting both as a concept and as a character. What stood out for me at the time was that her attitude was markedly different from the other companions we'd seen in the 8DAs up until this point. Both Sam and Fitz (and I do like Fitz) were overly deferential to the Doctor. Compassion's attitude was more of a throwback, IMO, to the more independent-minded companions of the New Adventures, like Ace, Benny, and Roz. Which made her a better foil to both the Doctor and Fitz.

Which is not to defend the rape metaphor Stephen Cole seems to have intended for her. But it's mostly avoided: Paul Cornell basically just refuses to deal with it, and it only plays a significant role in Nick Walters's The Fall of Yquatine thereafter. Compassion gets put through the wringer beyond that, but not really any worse than the other regulars, and not in as tasteless a way.

I don't know what to tell you about Mad Larry, other than that this is a problem I've struggled with since at least 2005 or so, when it became quite clear in his new series reviews how... unhinged he could become. That he was at the least complicit in some of the more questionable editorial decisions of the 8DA isn't all that surprising. But he's still a good author, and generally I've not had too much trouble separating his fiction from, well, everything else he writes and says. That's not to say that there aren't some problematic elements there, but he does strike me as being a bit more thoughtful and controlled when he's writing fiction versus non-fiction.

As for Romana, I disliked the idea of bringing her out of E-Space back in Blood Harvest/Goth Opera (was that Cornell's or Dicks's idea? I've always attributed it to the latter, because it strikes me as the same sort of do-over he did with Borusa in The Eight Doctors, but I've no idea who actually came up with the idea....). And I still think it's an obnoxiously fannish, continuity-obsessive decision. But I have liked many of the stories we got out of it. Even this one, at least in theory: the idea of a Romana whose role as Lord President brings her into direct conflict with the Doctor is a good one, I think, even if it ultimately pushed the envelope too far into making her an unsympathetic figure.

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Aaron 4 years, 10 months ago

Vanishing Point is pretty terrible, as is Parallel 59. Ancestor Cell has good points, but drops the ball so many other places it's really hard to call even adequate.

...I was going to malign Cole more, but just now in looking up his bibliography I discovered he's wrote a series of kids books about Cows, with titles like "World War Moo," "The Extermoonators," and "The Moomy's Curse," and I can't say mean things about someone whose brought books like that into the world. His heart is clearly in the right place, even if I don't especially like his writing.

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Sean Daugherty 4 years, 10 months ago

Vanishing Point is actually the first 8DA I skipped, mainly out of my profound dislike of Anji as a character (though, looking back, I actually really liked EarthWorld, the book immediately preceding it). I only read sporadically from then until the end of the range. I dipped in for Year of Intelligent Tigers, The City of the Dead, The Adventuress of Henrietta Street, History 101, and The Gallifrey Chronicles when they were released, and caught up on a few more years later. There are still a good number I've never cracked open, though.

And I honestly can't remember anything about Parallel 59, which really sums up much of my opinion of Stephen Cole's work. Neither good enough nor bad enough to leave much of an impression.

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Sean Daugherty 4 years, 10 months ago

I've never been a fan of Jim Mortimore. He's a decent writer of prose, but he's got an obnoxious combination of long-windedness and utter disinterest in any sort of personal characterization alternately bores and horrifies me. After Eternity Weeps (possibly my least favorite of the New Adventures), I decided I'd had enough. I wound up picking up Beltempest, more or less by accident, and it was just more of the same. He's a repetitive and unappealing author, IMO.

I can't disagree about the problems surrounding the EDAs, though there were some diamonds in the rough, I think. As I say, I quite enjoyed Frontier Worlds and The Banquo Legacy, and Autumn Mist was one of David McIntee's better books. And while I'm not as well-read with the latter portion of the range (post-Escape Velocity), there were some pretty good ones in there, too. On the whole, though, it is shocking, in retrospect, how little I remember about so many of these books. Take away the two or three major story arcs, and there'd be even less to speak about.

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jane 4 years, 10 months ago

Goodness gracious, I *did* step in it! And then spread it around. I'll try to be as clear as I can in describing exactly how much shit I stirred up, and how I got to that point.

First, I was really incensed. Furious. I have a history with rape, and to read "Lawrence Miles wanted this plot to resolve with Romana authorizing the rape and forcible breeding of Compassion" -- that just set me off. What the fuck? Who the fuck comes up with a shitbomb like that?

And "Romana" is a crucial part of that sentence, because last I heard Romana was one our heroes, working in particular to rectify travesties of social justice. It's very different if it's not Romana, because then we're just in the territory of villainous awful tropes best avoided (though I'm not opposed to depicting Time Lord society as villainous.)

However, for a writer to invoke a heroine in that mess sounds an awful lot like a desire to justify rape itself, or at least some kind of rape fantasy. To make it worse, the rape is of "Compassion," which bespeaks a hatred of empathy, of compassion -- the very thing that informs us that rape is wrong!

It was then suggested (in a comment further on down, but earlier in the day) that Cole came up with this idea, which Phil subsequently refuted. Now sure, Miles didn't run with the Romana part of it in the end, which is to his credit, while Cole got his "Compassion rape" in the following book, which is fairly damning -- if you place primacy on metaphor when it comes to literature, like I do.

Nonetheless, I see no evidence that Miles ever thought the plot point was problematic -- let alone how it was problematic -- regardless of where Romana fits into the picture. Problematic in terms of how a lot of us readers would respond to it, and what kind of treatment would be necessary to even go there in the first place.

So, context.

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jane 4 years, 10 months ago

(continued)

All this was running through my head when Andrew said Miles was autistic (of which I'd heard only the routinely disseminated information about "empathy") and suddenly everything seemed to "click" -- I put it out there that the author "had it in for Compassion," thinking it was his way to express his frustration with having to deal with the process of empathy, and being doubly frustrated that people like Cornell had a sex life, while he (presumably) didn't.

My big screw-up was not reading Andrew's links right away. I continued to follow my own line of thought, completely unaware of how the "capacity" to empathize (the deeply human bit of *feeling*) had been conflated with the "process" of empathizing -- which involves a lot of social cues, yes, as well as understanding where people are in the moment and how they're likely to react -- and how that conflation is deeply problematic in the ways eloquently elucidated by Cohen-Rottenberg, et al. A very important distinction I didn't fully appreciate, for which I apologize.

(((Frankly, though, the example of the joke at the funeral didn't help; if anything, it only confirmed my previous misunderstanding. My reaction to the situation described in the anecdote it was emotional, it didn't come out of any "rules" that I can think of, it came out of my intuition.

Briefly, I remembered my own times of grief, and how in that context the joke would completely backfire - not only would it intensify my suffering, it would suggest my grief wasn't fit to witness in the first place, as if there was something wrong with grieving itself. I then saw an image of someone else -- my mother, specifically -- going through what I'd just imagined for myself, and that filled me with horror. All of this came to me in about a second, without conscious thought.

This is what I mean when I talk about the "process" of empathy. It's only thinking about it backwards that I would even conceive of this being something I'd have learnt as a "rule." I imagine, however, that Andrew's relative was completely empathic -- which is to say, horrified -- upon realizing the impact of his joke: this is the "capacity" of empathy, which is not the same thing as the aforementioned "process.")))

In short, yes, I agree we need better language to differentiate these very different modes of feeling. I don't think "social rules" accurately describes what I call "process" but obviously saying this is "empathy" is much more pernicious. I'd love to help find a more precise (and kind) way of talking about all this. I don't think autism needs to be "cured" or "eliminated" -- if anything, this has all shown me how crucial it is to understanding how we "do empathy" in the first place, and how many different ways it can be done.

So a big thanks to Andrew.

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jane 4 years, 10 months ago

(continued)

The thing is, and this is ironic given how the comments have gone today, I think Miles' autism potentially paints him in a better light, because he wouldn't be able to fully predict how deeply offensive the construction of the plot point would be; furthermore, I can construe the metaphorical hatred of "compassion" as a frustration with being told that he fails to be compassionate when that's not entirely the case, without it necessarily being a frustration with unfulfilled rape fantasies.

This doesn't, however, rule out that both Miles and Cole are *also* dealing with the issues of misogyny. It's still not clear to me who thought up "raping Compassion" in the first place, let alone the Romana justification, though it certainly looks like Cole is implicated either way just by looking at how Walters' book turns out. Even if it's motivated by trying to be "dramatic," there's a big problem in not examining the underlying connotations of the particulars of how it all plays out.

Furthermore, in all the stuff I've read of Miles, not once have I heard any remorse or regret for the impact of his actions. Maybe it's out there -- I hope so, as at this point I'm more inclined to say this isn't autism (at least as it's described at the sites Andrew recommended) but rather an ego run rampant, disavowed of any responsibility.

For me the point where the argument you and Jane are having really runs aground is in the decision to psychopathologize Miles in the first place, which is something I have little interest in. I'm much more interested in psychopathologizing his books.

Phil, I love your stuff, and I'm very grateful for your defense of me, but the entire construction of the "Oh dear" post is at least as oriented towards hanging Miles out to dry as it is his work. There's the huge bit of his feud with Cornell, his failure to relate to others, photoshopping Karen Gillan, linking his opinions on Take Back The Night to the misogyny that comes out of awkwardness and social isolation -- it was very easy to "go there."

You state flat out that the elephant is Miles himself, that he's an endlessly fascinating topic; you admit to "stacking the deck" and conclude that his sacking was both appropriate and necessary. And I wouldn't even argue with the choice to go into any of that -- in fact, I fully laud airing out the laundry when it comes to exposing the problems underlying this cult's fandom, because it seems integral to understanding what eventually appears under the title "Doctor Who" -- but to suggest this is an example of having "little interest" in psychopathologizing Miles seems a little bit sly to me, even if you've technically avoided any sort of clinical diagnosis beyond pointing at a general pattern of misogyny.

I don't think I'd be saying so if this entry was more devoted to discussing Compassion herself and the implications of her arc than all the backstory of Miles' shortcomings when it's come to his failed social interactions.

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SpaceSquid 4 years, 10 months ago

@Phil

Ah, I getcha now. Thanks for the clarification.

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Andrew Hickey 4 years, 10 months ago

Jane, thank you for taking my comments so well. I got frustrated because I thought you were ignoring them, rather than just taking time to digest them. We all fuck up and say things that hurt oppressed groups we're not part of at times, but you've been more gracious than most about correcting your error. I think you probably still have more to learn before you will be able to talk about autism without messing up, but you won't mess up in that particular way again.

Apology accepted, and if you think I overreacted I gladly apologise in turn. I'm sure neither of us were thinking particularly well, since both were dealing with hugely emotional issues (rape in your case, anti-autistic rhetoric in the other).

I tend to agree with what you're saying about this post -- it does seem far more about Miles as a person than about the work, and this is one of the things that set me off a bit. Some of the things Miles says on his blog (and in interviews when he used to do them) are deeply problematic, but a lot also get, frankly, completely misinterpreted by people (not in this case, but in the general pattern of people reading Miles). I think, frankly, there's an element of bullying involved in people's reaction to Miles -- "let's all pick on the unpopular kid, so we can show we're not like *those* nerds", which sets me off in all sorts of ways.

I don't think this post is an example of that, but a lot of the reaction to him is, and this came close enough to that ground that I felt very defensive, for someone I don't know but who seems to me more sinned against than sinning.

(cont)

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Andrew Hickey 4 years, 10 months ago

(As an example of where my views of Miles and most people's differ, look at the bit in Cornell's quote, where he says "What makes it worse is, he seems to pick only on those who get the same degree of, or more, critical acclaim than him."

Cornell seems to think that's jealousy, and maybe it is -- Cornell knows Miles far better, after all -- but to me that 'reads' as not wanting to be a bully. It's fair enough to take the big boys down a peg or two, but it's not right to pick on someone smaller than you. It's Miles picking on people his own size, or those he thinks can take it. At least as I see it. That's certainly how I would behave.)

I couldn't care less, myself, about his disagreements with other writers. Cornell said this in the Tavern so Miles said that in an interview so Orman said the other in rec.arts.doctor-who in 1999 seems much less relevant to me than those people's actual writing.

So I have a tendency to play down the problematic stuff Miles says, which is mostly not what I would think of as misogyny but rather just plain everyday sexism, if that's a distinction that makes sense. It mostly amounts to a handful of laddish remarks and childish jokes that are, yes, unpleasant, but frankly if we're looking for sexism in geek "culture" I could point to several hundred worse examples without having to think very hard. I can tolerate that because I think that a lot of the time Miles is one of the most perceptive critics out there.

And more importantly, that stuff is never, *ever* in his actual work. I've read or listened to everything he's written, and I can't think of a single example of sexualised violence, other than possibly some of what happens to Christine in Dead Romance -- and that's a book that is in many ways *about* violation, and definitely doesn't take the subject lightly. Other than that the only problematic thing I can think of in any of his work are the gynoids in Christmas On A Rational Planet -- his first novel, and one he now disowns.

And that's fairly remarkable, because *all* his works that don't actually have "Doctor Who" on the cover have female protagonists -- Benny in Down and the sky-Silurian audio I can't remember the name of, Christine in Dead Romance, Inana and Horror in This Town..., Justine and Eliza in the twelve Faction Paradox audios. For a male genre writer to do that and *not* go for the easy thrill of a rape plotline is, unfortunately, so rare as to be worthy of comment.

Phil, I got your email, but unfortunately simply don't have the mental/physical energy for the explanation you ask for, except to say that Temple Grandin is not considered by most autistic people to be particularly good at describing our own lived experiences. If you read through specifically some of Rachel Cohen-Rotenberg's pieces on autism and empathy you'll get a better understanding of my position. Sorry to be so unhelpful, but I'm currently off work ill with two different chronic health conditions, which make it difficult for me to think coherently (as the rest of this comment shows).

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Steven Clubb 4 years, 10 months ago

"Agreed, and I hold my hand up there for starting down that path, though I was only mentioning it as an aside to an aside in the subthread about Byrne, Sim, Ellison and so on and their behaviour, and certainly didn't want it to derail things the way it did."

As I quietly watched in horror as a big ol' fight started because of the digression I helped start.

Although I do think it's interesting to watch *how* people react to stepping in such a mess. It's fairly pointless to psychoanalyze their motives (which can stem from any number of reasons), but some folks (like Miles & Byrne) do tend to have this habit of intellectualizing away their mistakes and shifting the blame to the offended party.

Such as Miles insisting that it's his "politics" that caused Cornell and others to take offense at his comments, not that he's being needlessly rude and making his point horribly. I find people like this are much harder to take than a knowingly rude bastard like Ellison.

While Sim's ever-increasing disconnect from reality just makes me sad.

And, thankfully, this particular fight ends up being a minor blow-up between a few reasonable people not quite communicating their points as well as perhaps they could, realizing that, and taking steps to better define their point and make amends for inadvertently offending.

Again, showing how people react to accidentally stepping it reveals quite a bit about the kind of people they are.

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Steven Clubb 4 years, 10 months ago

"I think, frankly, there's an element of bullying involved in people's reaction to Miles -- "let's all pick on the unpopular kid, so we can show we're not like *those* nerds", which sets me off in all sorts of ways."

Perhaps, but he's got the kind of personality that leads to getting stuffed into lockers. The unpopular kid is often unpopular for a valid reason.

The first time I ever stumbled across an interview of his, I absolutely loathed him. In previous posts, I've talked about how I hate, hate, hate people who ascribe motives to people who disagree with them.

Not like the quoted bit above which suggests a possible motive for *some* people, which allows for people to have other, completely valid motivations. But an attempt to dismiss any opposing opinion by essentially dehumanizing the people who hold it.

Part of my problem with Miles (the personality) is he veers toward that in his desire to intellectualize away people's criticism of him which veers a bit too close to this particular pet peeve of mine.

Beyond this, I do find him a potentially interesting intellect and really enjoyed one of the two novels of his I've read so far. I kind of dig that someone like him was playing around with Doctor Who, even though I roll my eyes at his unrealistic expectations he had for the reaction to his stories.

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Andrew Hickey 4 years, 10 months ago

I agree that unpopular people are often unpopular for reasons. Whether those reasons are actually valid rather depends if you are the bully or the bullied -- but either way I'll always side with the kid getting stuffed into the locker over the one doing the stuffing. I think the phrasing "the kind of personality that leads to getting stuffed into lockers" is a rather unfortunate piece of victim-blaming, personally...

I agree, though about the attempting to assign motivations to other people -- I think that's consistently the most annoying thing about Miles' blogging to me. I can excuse it slightly though by the fact that for the most part he's talking about people he's known for years or decades (though his assessment of the character of, say, Cornell doesn't fit at all with that of the people I know who know him, who pretty much uniformly say he's a great bloke).

I also don't *quite* think it's as simple as him wanting to intellectualise away criticism of himself -- in many ways he's his own harshest critic. The stuff he's said that's most along those lines has tended to be trying to work out why other writers make what he considers artistically bad choices, rather than why they disagree with him or dislike him.

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jane 4 years, 10 months ago

@Andrew: "Jane, thank you for taking my comments so well. I got frustrated because I thought you were ignoring them, rather than just taking time to digest them."

I wasn't completely ignoring your comments (I was taking plenty of time to refute them!) but I was ignoring the links you posted, which I regularly ignore in the heat of the moment. Also, I completely missed that you have Aspergers' yourself -- that was sloppiness on my part. So your frustration is completely understandable, and even justified.

But you didn't help your cause. Coupling your *sigh* with the charge of being "horribly dehumanizing" made me much less inclined to take you seriously at all. Worse, it seemed to belittle where I was coming from regarding the "rape of Compassion" and how that ties to rape culture at large. All of which I took as some kind of "defense" for how rape culture gets perpetuated in the first place -- blaming the victim.


"We all fuck up and say things that hurt oppressed groups we're not part of at times, but you've been more gracious than most about correcting your error. I think you probably still have more to learn before you will be able to talk about autism without messing up, but you won't mess up in that particular way again."

This, I suspect, is not coming across as you intend. Or maybe you do intend. I find it very condescending, and I'm not going to respond well.

Anne Corwin's essay, for example, makes two distinctions of empathy, 1) and 2), which I've described as "process" and "capacity" above. What she misses or fails to acknowledge in her first definition is a component of the second, namely that that the socially contextual processes of reading and learning by imitation are felt. They are interpreted emotionally -- "empathically" -- at least for me, and I suspect by most nonautistic people in general.

This is probably why the notion of "empathy deficit" is used to describe autism. As Cohen-Rotterberg says (rightly in the context of the big picture) this has terrible consequences, given the semantic differences between empathy(1) and empathy(2), but it's not like empathy(1) is completely unrelated to empathy(2) -- in fact, it completely depends on the latter to "work."

I agree it's necessary to point out that the gross mistake of conflating the struggle with empathy(1) as an indication that empathy(2) is lacking, but I don't think attacking someone as being "horribly dehumanizing" over a commonly (and reasonably) held semantic understanding is exactly the best tactical strategy -- though maybe I'm wrong about this, since it obviously worked on me, albeit with significant emotional distress.

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Iain Coleman 4 years, 10 months ago

While I don't know Cornell, I've met him and interviewed him, and he always came across to me as a decent chap. Certainly it is hard to reconcile the Cornell I've met with the character Miles describes.

However some time last year there was a whole internet-fandom thing about so-called "Nice Guys" and creepy behaviour and so on, I think beginning with something on John Scalzi's blog. In the midst of that, Cornell made some comments on Twitter about how he used to be that sort of guy until some friends set him straight.

So it is possible that what Miles said about Cornell is a valid, if uncharitable, description of what Cornell used to be like as a younger man, even if it doesn't fit Cornell nowadays.

(It is also, of course, quite possible that Miles's description is baseless and unkind.)

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jane 4 years, 10 months ago

@Andrew: "I agree that unpopular people are often unpopular for reasons. Whether those reasons are actually valid rather depends if you are the bully or the bullied -- but either way I'll always side with the kid getting stuffed into the locker over the one doing the stuffing."

The thing is, Miles is being just as much a bully as anyone else in this mess, in part because he never seems to admit or take responsibility for his impact on other people. And you seem to get how hurtful his rhetoric can be, so it's not like the kinds of responses he elicits are unreasonable.

Again, if there's evidence that he actually cares about how people respond to what he writes -- something that isn't wrapped up in intellectually justifying his initial position (which is just assuaging his own ego) but demonstrates an understanding that he screwed up and should adopt a different rhetoric -- I'd love to see it, because I'd much prefer to take him more charitably than I am right now.

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Andrew Hickey 4 years, 10 months ago

I'm not going to explain this very well, so bear with me. I'm trying to be reasonable here, but I'm really not in the best state to do this, partly because I'm unwell anyway, but also partly because spending the best part of two days combatting harmful stereotypes about a group you're a member of is an emotionally draining thing, and I'm actually in tears writing this. If my tone is off, I apologise in advance. I am attempting to put this as reasonably and politely as I possibly can.

First, I'm sorry that I came off as condescending -- that definitely wasn't my intention.

But you're still operating under a misconception, and it's one that's a bit more difficult to clear up, but it's what I meant when I said there was stuff you didn't understand. (And this is one of the things I didn't want to get into in Phil's email...)

It's this -- you think autistic people have a problem reading other people. (This is a commonly held belief, thanks to the nonsense about mirror neurons that later proved incorrect). They don't. They have a problem reading other *non-autistic* people. And it is *EXACTLY THE SAME PROBLEM THAT NON-AUTISTIC PEOPLE HAVE IN READING AUTISTIC PEOPLE*. To say that autistic people have an empathy problem is roughly like saying that Icelandic people have a language problem, because they don't speak English.

The difference is, autistic people have to live in a world where it's considered absolutely reasonable to expect them to do all the work overcoming this 'language barrier'. When a neurotypical person doesn't pick up on the emotions of an autistic person, it's the autistic person's fault, because she 'has flat affect' or 'is unexpressive' or 'is using the wrong tone'. But when the autistic person doesn't pick up on the emotions of the neurotypical person, that's the autistic person's fault as well, for 'not being empathetic'.

It's a double standard. There's a reason we talk about 'body language', and autistic people really are speaking a different one to everyone else. The difference is we have to make a constant, conscious effort to 'speak' the language of the majority, who in turn feel free to belittle us for speaking with a slight accent.

(cont)

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Andrew Hickey 4 years, 10 months ago

And the problem isn't that we don't feel the signals that people are sending out. Rather it seems to be that we feel *all* of them, and have difficulty sorting out just those signals that other people respond to, so where most people might look at a smiling person and pick up "she's happy", we get that plus the tiny overtones of "she's slightly uncomfortable and just remembered something" -- and those are just as loud, so we might respond to all of them equally. For more on this, see http://www.autismandempathy.com/?p=9 . Cohen-Rottenberg's experience here mirrors my own pretty much exactly, especially with her problems being specifically those to do with *visual* communication. Many of us do have specific problems picking up on visual signals, problems we don't have with auditory ones. But that isn't a problem with empathy, any more than blindness is.

(As an aside, my wife is one of the few neurotypical people I know who can communicate as well with autistic people as we can with each other. I suspect this has something to do with her having been born blind and only having limited vision now, so having the same reliance on non-visual cues).

In general, it seems like neurotypical people are "shouting" their emotions, so loudly that all we hear is noise, not the words, while in contrast autistic people are speaking them too quietly for neurotypical people to hear.

As for whether saying what you said was horribly dehumanising being a good tactic -- maybe, or maybe not. But it is the truth -- and it being a widely held belief makes it worse, not better.

I've been avoiding this example, because it could quite easily severely upset Phil, and I don't want to do that, but it's precisely because it's so upsetting that it makes the point. The Sandy Hook shooter has been described in the media as having Asperger's. I don't know if he did or not.

But that meant that when I was visiting my in-laws over Christmas, there were many times when I had to sit there with them, listening to "news" reports claiming that that evil bastard had killed those children "because he had Asperger's and so had no empathy". I had to sit with people who have trusted me to behave decently towards their only daughter, while they were being told by the TV that I was the kind of person who would commit acts whose horror I can't even begin to conceive of. There were reports at the time of autistic kids being bullied even more than they normally are, and treated as pariahs in their schools, because of this.

It is entirely understandable that you held (and hold) misconceptions about the nature of autism, and this is why I apologised for the way I put it. But just because something's an honest mistake does not make it any less harmful.

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Steven Clubb 4 years, 10 months ago

"I think the phrasing "the kind of personality that leads to getting stuffed into lockers" is a rather unfortunate piece of victim-blaming, personally..."

Some victims of bullying are attempted bullies themselves. The problem with some intelligent people is they like to lord it over other people, delighting in making other people feel stupid.

I run into this sort form time to time and almost without fail they'll complain about being bullied in school, completely unaware of their own bullying behavior.

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Andrew Hickey 4 years, 10 months ago

I'm going to provide a few more links here, and then I'm going to have to back out of this part of the discussion altogether. But if you still believe that 'lack of empathy' has *ANYTHING* to do with autistic-spectrum conditions at all, then read these:

http://www.autismandempathy.com/?page_id=1578
http://www.autismandempathy.com/?p=232
http://www.autismandempathy.com/?p=410
http://www.talkingbrains.org/2011/12/why-autism-has-nothing-to-do-with.html

They say what I've been trying to say, rather better than I can say it.

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Andrew Hickey 4 years, 10 months ago

Oh, one final, semi-related thing -- I apologise, utterly and completely, for giving the impression that I wished to defend rape culture. That wasn't my intention at all, but 'intent isn't magic' cuts both ways.

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jane 4 years, 10 months ago

@Andrew: "you think autistic people have a problem reading other people. (This is a commonly held belief, thanks to the nonsense about mirror neurons that later proved incorrect). They don't. They have a problem reading other *non-autistic* people."

AACK!

This is exactly correct. And it's conversely true that I don't know how to read people who aren't like me, but I've been assuming that "reading" is something universal when it's not. Being "alltistic" I've conflated my process of normative "reading" with the empathy that accompanies it, all under the rubric of "empathy," without actually being empathic towards different ways of feeling and how that impacts the ability to read (and hence empathize) in the first place.

I'm sorry, very very sorry. I was out of line, and I didn't even realize *how* until now. I deeply appreciate your patience with me. Once I'm done crying, maybe we can have some virtual ice cream together? Assuming you're not lactose-intolerant. ;)

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Andrew Hickey 4 years, 10 months ago

Thank you for the apology, but it's really not all that necessary. We were both upset and talking at cross-purposes, and that happens. And *everyone* makes offensive comments about some marginalised group or other at some time -- I shudder now to think of the transphobic remarks I made in my teens, before I knew anyone who was openly trans. The important thing is how we react to it being pointed out, and you've reacted in exactly the right way. So no harm done in the end, no need for an apology. But thank you.

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matt 4 years, 10 months ago

"This is, by Cornell’s own admission, a book he wrote because he was strapped for cash. It is, as a result, the weakest Paul Cornell novel by some margin."

"Cornell has said that he was not in a particularly good place when he wrote it, and specifically that the Brigadier’s intense grief throughout the book was autobiographical."

I finished Avalon two nights ago -- not because I knew it would be discussed here, but because I've been working through what Wikipedia listed as novels that dealt with Faction Paradox. I began with Interference, because I'd heard so much about it, and now I've just started The Ancestor Cell.

And the remark about it being Cornell's weakest novel took me completely by surprise. It's been many years since I read them, but I remember being fascinated by his debut and then less-than-impressed with most of his followup work. My collection, which was culled about ten years ago, features only Revelation and Goth Opera.

The prose was wonderful, and his portrayal of the Brigadier was masterful. That it was autobiographical comes as no shock. Yet, at the same time, I hadn't considered the fact that the Doctor IS completely generic. The rest of the text was strong enough that the weakness of the Doctor went unnoticed.

Then, last night, I started The Ancestor Cell -- I was going to start it soon, but since it's Monday's entry I'll be sure to it by then.

The contrast though... the prose is TERRIBLE. If I didn't already know the magnitude of the book -- having skimmed I, Who several years ago and having enjoyed The Gallifrey Chronicles -- then I wouldn't even bother to finish it.

Which is to say, I look forward to Monday's entry. And my impression from the first few chapters is that I hope you eviscerate it... but I'll be finishing it tomorrow and regardless of what I think I'll be open to seeing something deeper. If something deeper can be found.

And I'm someone else who's surprised by the absence of The Taking of Planet 5. Hoping that it will be in the book.

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elvwood 4 years, 10 months ago

I must say this post + commentary has been the least pleasant reading experience of the blog so far, but made worthwhile by the way Andrew and Jane have handled their, um, would you call it a misunderstanding? Whatever, well done both of you - and thanks for modelling how such things can be handled on the Internet!

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Andrew Hickey 4 years, 10 months ago

Thank you. I'm actually not at all sure I handled my end of things particularly well, but I'm glad I've not come across to others as badly as I do to myself reading back.

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jane 4 years, 10 months ago

Thanks -- yeah, this was a tough one. Not easy confronting my own privilege. (Andrew, you were fine.)

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Spacewarp 4 years, 10 months ago

@Andrew. Your links are fascinating and I confess I had only accepted the standard litany of Autism as a "condition" involving a difficulty in communication with "normal" people. But what you seem to be saying is that it isn't a condition, or a disability, it's merely a difference. Is that right?

Also it would appear that because it is a...call it a "state of being"...that applies to a minority of the human population, it has therefore been characterised and labeled as a disability by the majority. Would I be right in assuming that if the everyone in the world became "Autistic", then there would be no such thing as Autism and everyone would get on fine? The only conflict comes about because of the way these two different "types" of human fail to understand each-other?

I shall continue to read your links today.

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Andrew Hickey 4 years, 10 months ago

I really don't want to get into this any more but... it's a bit of both.
There are definitely *actually disabling* aspects to autism -- people with autism have profound problems dealing with various sensory things that neurotypical people do, and many people with the most extreme version of autism's communication differences do find it difficult (though not impossible) to communicate even with other autistic people (it's not a homogeneous group).

It's also genetically linked to, and comorbid with, a whole other bunch of things which definitely *are* disabling, so for example in my case I'm dyspraxic ('clumsy child syndrome' -- it means I have very little fine motor co-ordination), depressive, have migraines, asthma, psoriasis and digestion problems, fairly poor short-term memory, sleep problems and less executive function ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Executive_functions ) than other people. Some of these coincide with autism spectrum disorders so often that you might as well consider them symptoms of it, and all of them are linked.

(Some other often-comorbid symptoms I don't have include ADD, epilepsy and dyslexia).

I, personally, don't consider myself disabled by these things -- they make it more difficult for me to function in normal society, but not horrendously so. I have to be careful about what foods I eat or what clothes I wear because of sensory stuff, and have to go out of my way on the way to work, crossing the road, because the smell from the perfume and soap shops is overpowering, and I'm chronically late for work because of the executive function thing, but that's about the size of it.

But I'm what people call 'high-functioning', and I can't speak for everyone -- I know there are autistic people who do feel profoundly disabled by the condition, whereas I can essentially "pass". *FOR ME*, Asperger's itself doesn't noticeably disable me more than, say, being left-handed would, even in the world we live in now, and it has concomitant benefits which to me outweigh the downsides -- autistic people have a different way of thinking to neurotypical people, and I'm glad I think that way.

But I'm not going to claim that it doesn't disable some people, or that it wouldn't disable some people even were everyone to be autistic. Those links are to people with Asperger's, which is what I have, what Miles has, and is the mildest form of autism there is, the one that is least-disabling in current society. People with Asperger's are disproportionately represented among autism advocates on the net, because we're more able to make the arguments.

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matt 4 years, 10 months ago

A book with such fantastic potential, even if it did turn Faction Paradox into a villain du jour. Such a shame that it was so poorly written.

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Stephen Jeffers 4 years, 10 months ago

I feel a lot of people here are guilty of playing the man, not the ball.

I have no idea if Lawrence Miles is autistic or, if he is, where he is on the spectrum. I don't understand why it matters, or why we can't analyze the quality of the ideas he contributed to the range, or his prose style, without coming up with a diagnosis of the author.

The 'forced breeding' thing is just a terrible idea. Not because it's unpleasant, but because it's ... adolescent. For all his blither about how the Time Lords used to be so much better before they got names, Lawrence set up a story where Romana's plan has all the moral nuance of tying the girl to the railway tracks. A sort of stupid SF moral dilemma that's exactly as 'clever' as those Voyager episodes where it turns out holograms have feelings, too, but with added sexcrime.

Avalon represents a good author tackling another author's bad idea for a terrible character. Not quite as expertly as Lloyd Rose getting Sabbath right, or Lance Parkin fixing Grandfather Paradox/The Ancestor Cell in a single sentence, but it's up there.

Cornell, Orman, Rose and Parkin are just ... better than Miles at this writing thing. Exhibit A is the list Cornell gives Compassion. Exhibit B: the Sabbath paragraph from Trading Futures, where he's sailing a ship on the Sea of Tranquility. Both expose that Miles doesn't have complicated ideas, they're usually just muddled ones. I think it's worth discussing how it becomes a running theme just how silly Compassion and Sabbath are.

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BerserkRL 4 years, 9 months ago

but of course, there's no one way to know someone else's subjectivity

Isn't such a claim self-disabling?

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BerserkRL 4 years, 9 months ago

1973 by by Ursula K. LeGuin in "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" (coincidentally enough rewritten into the 11th Doctor episode "The Beast Below").)

Dostoyevsky got there first in Karamazov.

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neroden@gmail 4 years ago

Miles's sexist tendencies were on full, and embarassing, display in his first book, "Christmas on a Rational Planet". Interesting to see that he didn't get better in the intervening books.

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neroden@gmail 4 years ago

" The really awful thing about Cwej isn't just what he does, but that he's trying to do good in a framework that's fundamentally horrific. It's hard not to think of conscientious white people like Thomas Jefferson in the days when slavery was legal speaking out against the evils of slavery while still owning and using slaves or"

Best explanation of a good reading of Dead Romance I've seen.

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neroden@gmail 4 years ago

Steven Cole wrote an awful lot of "range needs a book this month, no working manuscript, fill it in" books for the 8th Dr. series, while editor. Not surprising that they're not memorable.

I guess Stephen Cole's most memorable Doctor Who story was written under the name of Tara Samms, if that's really his pseudonym. "Glass" is kind of a dark meditation on how the Doctor claims to fix things for people, but doesn't really. (As well as being an obscure sequel to Shada.)

It looks this may *also* have a fill-in due to not commissioning enough stories (!!!) but it works better.

Stephen Cole was a very funny MC at the Gallifrey cabarets -- he told ancient, worn-out jokes, but they always got a laugh.

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neroden@gmail 4 years ago

The problem with Mortimore is not so much the lack of characterization as the routine and gratuitous mass murders. He seems to follow the principle of "Plotting problem? Kill everyone." I forget which book takes this to the extreme -- oh yes, it's Parasite.

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neroden@gmail 4 years ago

I have no idea what Cole could possibly have been thinking here. Temporary insanity caused by burnout? It's not characteristic for his other work, especially if "Glass" is really his.

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neroden@gmail 4 years ago

I can't remember Ghost Devices, but I remember thinking positive thoughts about it. I'll have to reread it.

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Dave 3 years, 4 months ago

In those interviews, Cornell comes across as a nice guy - and it says on Wikipedia that he's a Christian. Yet Miles says he's a womanizer. I would like to think Cornell isn't, as that would hardly be Christian, but who can say?

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