EATER OF WASPS by Trevor Baxendale
"Does it bother you, coming back here so soon?"
Quote from other people, and you look learned and erudite. Start quoting from yourself, however, and you're in danger of disappearing up Uranus. Notwithstanding this, we don't feel we can do better for Eater of Wasps than quote from our review of Coldheart:
"...this is so trad that it doesn't contain a single spark of originality. And if you know the plot and the characters and the monsters and the moral dilemmas in advance, why bother to read it at all?"
Enough said, we feel. What, you want more? Oh, go on then.
There's no denying that Coldheart was a bad book, but at least it had in its favour its vaguely interesting setting. Eater of Wasps has no such saving grace: it's set in yer bog-standard, stock scenery, Devil's End-alike English village. Now, there may be some EDA readers who welcome the familiarity of the setting, soothed, perhaps, by the Whoish familiarity of it all. But we're not amongst 'em. If we wanted to keep reading the same thing over and over, we wouldn't keep lashing out hard-earned cash on new books, now would we?
And then there's the fact that we're back on twentieth century Earth yet again, right on the heels, what's more, of the Stuck on Earth arc. Weren't we just here two minutes ago? It certainly feels like it, and we weren't in any hurry to come back, either. Again, it's a disappointing pandering to the cosy end of the spectrum.
As for the major plot, it's dullerama. At least Baxendale has left behind the tidal wave of slime that slopped over his last two books, but in our book the wasps are no improvement. Take one English villager. Show a minor ewww moment as wasps attack and crawl inside his mouth. Now repeat. Repeat again. And again and again and again. The first wasp attack might be mildly effective, but every single other scene they're in is just a boring carbon copy. Not to mention that we've read enough alien possession stories to last us several regenerations.
Characterisation, too, is rubbish. We're obviously supposed to care about the villagers dropping right and left, but they're all such cliches that we couldn't care less. The worst offender in this regard is probably Miss Havers, the busybody spinster we've seen a million times before. (Incidentally, her wasp possession is obviously supposed to be a cunning plot twist, but it was so hamfistedly signposted that we were gobsmacked when it was revealed as a big surprise.) But none of the other villagers, from the town drunk to the timid vicar, are remotely original either.
The team from the far future are admittedly a bit of an improvement. Kala's the most interesting character in the book, and one we'd like to see again, although Baxendale makes her behave so stupidly in parts that we feel sorry for her. She's in charge of the team, isn't she? Then why is she negotiating with Jode? They're her decisions to make, not his, and given Kala's levelheadedness, her decision to appease Jode by arming the bomb doesn't seem remotely likely. We also suspect that had it been a man in charge of the team with a woman second, this "I had to buy time" business would never have arisen. It's also out of character for her to plead with the Doctor to detonate the bomb - it'd be far more likely that she'd just nip off and get on with it. And as for announcing her decision so that the Doctor can Venusian aikido her on the neck, we don't think so.
Jode, too, manages to rise in interestingness above the level of standard homicidal Who second, although his eventual fate's pretty much written all over him from the beginning. As for Fatboy, again, the fact that he's the bomb is obviously supposed to be a surprise, although Baxendale doesn't exactly do a lot to disguise it. (Note for the historically impaired: the two bombs detonated at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were named Little Boy and Fat Man.)
As for the regulars, they're mostly annoying. Baxendale's obviously doing his best to portray the "new" Doctor, but he has him swinging so violently between concern and indifference that he's totally unconvincing. Mysterious the new Doctor might be, but there's no logical reason why he'd be weeping over wasps and refusing to kill Rigby one minute, then urging his companions to kill someone the next. And his scrupulousness at not killing Rigby after he's set out to do that very thing is not only unbelievable, but fantastically irritating. It's an artificial device to drag the plot out to the requisite length, and it's horrible. Baxendale also fails to convince us that the Doctor's so charismatic that he can get from languishing in a prison cell to performing an official autopsy in one easy step. That kind of stuff seemed convincing enough in Talons, but Baxendale just doesn't do enough work to make it believable here. And the Doctor attacking Fatboy just before the four-minute mark, when he knows perfectly well that in another few seconds Fatboy won't be able to resist, is another wildly unlikely plot contrivance.
As for Fitz, despite the sickeningly flowery prose about "the two friends", he's redundant. Anji, too, is hardly any more necessary, which makes us wonder if this book was originally pitched for the Earth arc sans companions. Anji at least is slightly interesting, although she too is inconsistent, hardheaded and practical one minute and then, bizarrely, complaining to the Doctor the next about the fact that he tricked Rigby.
The story itself is predictable from go to whoa, padded with pointless action sequences like the ghastly sub-Bondian train roof chase. Someone gets possessed. More people get possessed. Lots of people die. Look out, they've got a bomb! In other words, business very much as usual.
And to add insult to injury, Baxendale just can't write. We hope he'll be spending some of his royalties on a how-to book or two, because God knows, he needs them. His viewpoint in particular is all over the place: one minute he's lecturing the reader as an omniscient narrator ("broken - that is, unhinged just forward of the trigger guard"), the next he's in Liam's head ("it was large and heavy..."), then in the very same sentence he's dashing out to describe Liam from the outside ("...in his small hand"). Who said that? It's the viewpoint mangling more than anything else that makes his prose so amateurish, but other things don't help either, such as his tendency to tell rather than show ("she was furious") and his overuse of exclamation marks and ellipses. As we've said before, these are real books with real cover prices. Is it too much to ask that they contain real writing?
Bad, bad, bad.
"Mano a mano"? In an English village in the 1930s? Yeah, right.
When Anji draws a fake moustache and eyebrows on Fitz, how come he can't tell what she's doing until he looks in a mirror?
"Doctor who?" Unforgivable.
Why is the Doctor faffing about creating some advanced psionic gun thingy then using it to stun the wasps? Wouldn't a can of flyspray be easier?