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HOPE by Mark Clapham
Desperately routine, Hope falls down on two major counts: an overfascination with the antagonist, and a failure of the imagination.
Let's start with the imagination bit. Hope is supposed to be set in the far future: the way far future, in the dying days of the universe. It's a great idea, one that Lance Parkin made very effective use of in The Infinity Doctors, and we were looking forward to seeing what Clapham made of it. The answer, unfortunately, is very little. Humans have evolved, as you'd expect, but only to the disappointing extent of having no hair and a nictating membrane. Yawn.
The environment, too, is incredibly unimaginative. We quite liked the idea of a city set on a planet utterly poisoned by pollution, but for a place set millions of years in the future, the technology is astonishingly contemporary. Remote controls, cables, satellite dishes - is this really the best they could do millions of years on? If Clapham had made it a few hundred years, it would have been a lot more believable. And capping off the failure of imagination is the unmistakable similarity to several Doctor Who television stories. You know the ones we mean.
Then there's the antagonist, Silver. Clapham clearly finds this character utterly fascinating: in fact, for a lot of the book he eclipses the Doctor. The trouble is, though, that while he has potential, he just doesn't live up to the hype. First of all, we've seen this kind of cyborg endless times before. And following on from this, Clapham makes a simple-minded equation between physical and political power. A quick namecheck of world leaders shows that when it comes to humans, strength isn't much of a predictor of power: Silver would have been better off having a substantial PR budget implanted.
Then there's the way Silver is handled. Clapham is at pains to paint him for most of the book as a non-villain: that's all very well, but it leaves the reader wondering why in that case he's taking up so much of the page count, especially at the expense of the Doctor. His dialogue is leaden, and his background is shovelled in via enormous and inelegant dollops of exposition. Then at the end, it all turns to custard when out comes yer bog-standard evil villain schtick, ripping down the complex character Clapham has been at such pains to construct.
The writing's also weak. Viewpoint falters, and the book's marred by a great deal of telling rather than showing, especially in the opening chapters. There's far too much recapping of events. Weird stuff happens, too. Why does the Doctor greet a young woman "breathlessly"? Why if the Endpointers see the TARDIS crew as the equivalent of chimpanzees do they treat them as equals? Why does Silver find the feeling of air on his brain disconcerting when the brain has no nerve endings? Why does Silver bother synthesising Dave when he has Fitz and Anji?
Characterisation is in the main undistinguished. Silver, as we said before, is too wobbly, the Doctor never rings true and Fitz is standard. Miraso is nicely done, even though we've seen her kind of character many times before. Hope does have one redeeming point: the handling of Anji's feelings about Dave. This is done sensitively, with a lot of psychological truth, and provides a much-needed and satisfying sense of closure. It also involves a very well done discussion with the Doctor about bringing back the dead, in which it's nice to see the Doctor's pronouncements actually being questioned. Last but not least, this plot thread provides us with the priceless line: "I have a hair of his, I keep it close to me".
Apart from the Anji stuff, though, we've seen it all before.