Friday, September 12, 2008

Shining in the Darkness

Shining Darkness is not quite as good as Mark Michalowski's previous NSA Wetworld but it's a close thing - and in any case Shining Darkness is still a good deal better than most of the soul-less and dull NSAs which came before it. Michalowski's prose tends to stay this side of lyrical, but that's clearly deliberate and no bad thing given the target audience. He's also already proven to be one of the NSA writers who can actually do comedy, and this novel is no less likely to raise a smile than his previous offerings.

Actually the humour really shines through with a particular highlight being Donna and Mesanth discussing humans, the solar system and the sun is brilliant - even if "our galaxy is miles away" makes Donna sound a little bit too thick, suggesting that Michalowski may have had the Runaway Bride Donna a little too much in mind (incidentally, I reckon this book should be placed early on in Donna's travels with the Doctor).

Slightly less subtly, the entire section concerning the Jaftee introduction to the Shining Darkess and the alien 'gods' is also very well done - the totally unexpected discovery that they're not stupid savages is funny, and worthy even of the late Douglas Adams (an obvious influence on the passage). Line after line made me laugh out loud ("Darkness, they muttered in awe, that Shone! Cool!", "High Priest of What We Believe Today", "Enchikka, loving the fact that there were lots of capitals", "Sacred Artefacts were just the dog's bollocks" etc.). This style of humour continues into the next section on the planet Junk, where giant gay robots squabble and bitch at one another and our two heroes, whilst the planetary administrator, 77141, comes across like Prosthetic Vogon Jeltz's less successful provincial cousin.

Away from the funny, the author is obviously keen to take a look at bigotry and prejudice and imo he hits a decent balance between making the point too subtle for younger readers and mere didacticism. In the main this involves Donna's changing attitude to robot life, but even here Michalowski manages to combine humour with just a hint of the more subversive: "Let him have his way and before you know it, we'll be on the scrap heap – literally – and these… these appliances,' he spat the word, 'will be doing our jobs for us." one of the giant robots says of what are basically other, smaller and faster robots.

If there's any real negative to the book, it might be that it's slightly too linear in plotting, moving rapidly from point a to point b to point c, with little of the digressions you would expect of a novel aimed at an older readership. That said, that's a criticism you could aim at virtually all of the NSAs and Shining Darkness turns it into virtue by acknowledging that the whole story is an extended chase and packing each location in that chase with interest and imagination. As linear(ish) novels go, this is a good 'un.

Other unconnected thoughts that peppered my brain while reading 'Shining Darkness':

- someone says the horribly bowdlerised word 'heckuva' early on - it's obviously because the BBC think either that all the readers are under 6 and so have to be protected from even the mildest of profanities, or think that all the readership is American and religious and so have to be protected from even the mildest of blasphemies, but either way it doesn't ring true. Luckily Michalowski's a good enough writer that he manages to subvert that by slipping in a joke about a prostitute only a few pages later.

- "a high speed collision between a truck and steel mill' is a brilliant description

- 'Earthers' vs 'humans' - well it made me laugh.

- I assumed in chapter 4 that Khnu em Llodis was to an anagram, cos that's what Who writers do. Twenty minutes with paper and pencil and the best I could come up with was 'uh, kill demons'? Hmm, maybe not...

- the Wirrn get a mention! ISTR that they're making their comeback either in an NSA or a BF audio or something, but I still squeed like the sad old fanboy I am when they appeared (given the setting of the Andromeda Galaxy, a mention of Drathro from the Mysterious Planet would also have been pretty cool)

Finally, I spotted the ending about a page before it was revealed. Which is just about as perfect an ending as you could want...

An excellent contribution to a series of extremely variable quality, Shining Darkness makes Mark Michalowski the first NSA author to turn in two good books. Recommended even if you've been otherwise disappointed with the range.

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2 Comments:

Blogger L.A.Dennis said...

I can't believe you spent 20 minutes trying to find that anagram. I've have spent, ooh, about 10 seconds and then assumed that someone would tell me in due course.

Sounds like I should buy the book though.

10:41 am  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

Well it was probably more like ten minutes, but yeah - in retrospect it does seem a little excessive :)

10:51 am  

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