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AMORALITY TALE by David Bishop
Now, we know gangster chic is (unfathomably) fashionable, but this is taking things altogether too far. Amorality Tale is set in the East End of the 1950s, and it's shooters rampant. Unfortunately, Bishop fails utterly to bring the setting to life.
The plot couldn't be tradder: evil aliens intent on conquering the Earth, with attendant running around and carnage. The aliens are the kind of thing an eight year old would dream up, complete with bolts of blue energy, and the conversations they have with the Doctor about the morality of what they're doing are so 500 Easy Justifications For Evil Meglomaniacs that they made us laugh out loud.
The bits about how the aliens treat their human captives contain some pretty tasteless Holocaust allusions that we only hope were accidental. And there are some nasty plot holes, too: if people are dying because the smog means no movement is possible, how is the bread factory still getting its product out?
Characterisation in Amorality Tale is at best wavering and at worst cardboard. The mob boss, Tommy, goes from totally evil hard bastard to quasi-hero and back again. Despite a lot of macho chat about how women are only good for one thing, he instantly accepts Sarah Jane, a total stranger, into his organisation and treats her, behind the boys' backs at least, as an equal. He's even painted as someone who at a different time and place Sarah would've fancied. As if. It doesn't help, either, when he uses anachronistic sayings like "X is toast". He's a major part of the book, and his inconsistency is therefore a big problem.
Other characters never rise above the level of caricature, like Xavier the fervent born-again priest and Brick the pigeon-fancying giant with the heart of gold. It's some of the point of a morality tale that characters are stereotypes, but that's not good enough: they've at least got to be interesting enough to hold the reader's attention.
The deja vu-ness of the plot and the simplisticness of the characters meant that we couldn't bring ourselves to care much about anything that happened to them. And worse, the Doctor seems only a bit player for much of the book. Although given the number of cliched bouts of Venusian aikido he indulges in when he does appear, perhaps that was a blessing in disguise.
Sarah Jane's probably the most palatable character here, but she has so little of any real use to do that she's utterly wasted. Her major function appears to be to helpfully underline the little lessons the book has to teach us as they come along by saying them out loud. Argh.
It's the ultimate trad PDA: standard plot, standard aliens, tissue-thin characters. If that strikes you as a good thing, you'll probably like it.