ANACHROPHOBIA by Jonathan Morris

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Brilliant title. And the Maigret-alike cover is gorgeous. But we were sadly let down by the rest.

We haven't caught up with Festival of Death yet, but we've heard very good things about it, so we were looking forward to Anachrophobia. But we were disappointed to find a book sadly unoriginal in some areas and just plain wrong-headed in others. It's a high-concept novel that stands or falls on a couple of ideas. If you like 'em, you'll love this book. We didn't.

First if all, using time as a weapon of war is not only unoriginal, it's not even original in Doctor Who. The slowed-down and sped-up time zones are lifted verbatim from The Time Monster, and the idea of sending someone back in time to affect the course of a war is straight from Day Of The Daleks.

Then there's the whole concept of war waged for reasons of economics. This is presented in a breathless, how-could-they-be-so-awful way which naively overlooks the fact that that's exactly what's behind a fair proportion of wars anyway. Gulf War, anyone? Same with the idea that a life has a price. How terrible, what a way to think, etc etc, except that that's what's happening right here and now. They somehow work out the value of one life (in New Zealand, it's apparently a million dollars), then use that figure to make decisions about road improvements and that kind of stuff. So as a metaphor, Morris's war is pretty impotent.

Then there's the basis for the war, which is that war is profitable. Um, no. It's true that war stimulates manufacturing and all, but also costs a bloody fortune to wage. Armaments and troop movements cost money and produce no profit, and most countries end up deeply in the red. Hence the term "war debt". As this concept underpins a large proportion of the book, if you don't buy it you're just going to find the whole thing annoying.

Action in the novel is in the main strictly routine. Base under siege, running up and down corridors, supporting characters you can't tell apart. The Maigret cover turns out not to be metaphorical after all, which is again disappointingly obvious, and the life forms it refers to while imaginatively presented never make sufficient sense to really convince. Sapphire and Steel did the concept a lot more effectively.

The TARDIS crew are variable. The Doctor's solution to what's happening at the base struck us as remarkably unDoctorly, but apart from that he's pretty well presented. Anji's good - her relationship with the Doctor is one of the book's highlights - but Fitz often sounds unconvincing.

The twist at the end is genuinely surprising, but only in part, as the character it involves's real nature is immediately obvious from the first appearance. What the character's up to is the surprise, but unfortunately worked to make us feel that everything we'd been through to that point was utterly redundant.

Oh, yeah, and BBC copyediters: the past tense of spin is spun. Not bloody span.

If you've never read or seen any other science fiction or you've never thought much about the nature of war, you'll find this engrossing. If not, skip it.

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