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DARK PROGENY by Steve Emmerson
We were lukewarm about Steve Emmerson's first effort for the EDA line Casualties Of War, so we approached Dark Progeny with caution. To our surprise, it turned out to be a lot more readable than Casualties Of War. Although we're not entirely sure why.
There's no doubt that it's a book with a number of flaws. For a start, there's basically no plot at all. Anji spends most of the book in a coma, and she's not missing a thing. The second half of the book is a classic runaround, with all and sundry tripping hither and thither with enormous amounts of energy, but they're actually doing bugger all.
Anji, for example, after finally struggling up from her hospital bed dashes about trying to find the Doctor. She has quite a torrid time, but considering that she keeps missing him it's all just a wee bit pointless. Fitz, too, after spending a large chunk of the book entombed in a big pile of mud, whiles away the rest of the time in an escape-recapture loop that's totally divorced from what passes for the plot. You'd almost suspect that Emmerson had an idea for a book, converted into a Who novel by surgically implanting the Doctor, but then found he had two leftover companions on his hands that he didn't have a clue what to do with. Nasty.
Dark Progeny's other big problem is its lack of originality. The dark-eyed, three-fingered aliens are such a cliche that Emmerson must have been trying to make some sort of point, but damned if we know what it is. The city-machines are also well-trodden SF ground, as is the Big Revelation at the end as to exactly what's going on with the planet. Very disappointing.
Characterisation is Dark Progeny's strongest point, although even that's a bit dodgy. Veta goes through a rather too startling transformation from grief-stricken depressive to Action Woman, and Foley's all-too-obvious thawing towards the Doctor had us yawning. Given Bains's cheerful attempted murder with his, er, chopper, we weren't entirely convinced by his portrayal as a good guy, and while the book's other (unforgivably cliched and pointless) Big Revelation might justify that, the extremes of his character meant it never really hung together. And Tyran(t)? Colonel Peron? He's definitely having a laugh.
Nonetheless, the characters in the main succeeded despite themselves in being a lot more interesting than we're used to seeing in the EDAs. We're suckers for good characters, and while the characters here never reached their full potential, they were enough to keep us entertained notwithstanding the book's weak points.
And the writing? In Casualties Of War, Emmerson was a gold medallist in extreme prose, smacking the reader in the face at every turn. And although he gets better later on, he starts off here in a very similar way. Here are some gems:
"..those six immeasurable months..." Well, they're not actually immeasurable, are they? To be precise, there are six of 'em.
"... had not inspired in Fitz a very great deal of what might be termed 'confidence'." What a bizarre way of putting it. There's nothing particularly quotation mark-worthy of confidence, is there?
"...his dark curls violent..." Look out! He's got a curl!
"... and the room was filled with a screaming baby." Enormobaby!
And our favourite, a repeat from Casualties of War: "She'd watch Joe's chin whirling uncertainly around the bottom of his face, then see him looking at her with a dazed expression." With his chin making like a windmill, we're not surprised the poor man was dazed.
It's got a lot wrong with it. But it's sneakily kind of likeable all the same. Give the man a plot and a few original ideas, and next time he might actually turn out something pretty decent.