PARALLEL 59 by Natalie Dallaire and Stephen Cole

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Seriously flawed but strangely readable.

Parallel 59 somehow manages to pull off quite the conjuring trick. There's so much about it that's substandard - most importantly, the Doctor is dreadful, spouting totally unbelievable dialogue, doing such utterly unDoctorly things as sitting meekly waiting for his enemies to catch up with him and generally acting like an idiot. It's a flashback to some of the worst of the early EDA's.

Fitz's bits, while the best part of the book, still disappoint in their shallowness after the emotional impact of Frontier Worlds. And the secondary characters are just horrible, with not an interesting or consistent personality between them.

The rampant paranoia seems both overly convenient and deadly dull. The Haltiel appearing at the end seem awfully reverse deus ex machina. And the nude scene? Gack. (Why do they do this? It's just like the early EDAs where Sam kept appearing in a wet T-shirt and yet nothing was ever made of it. And not only was this gratuitous, it was inconsistent. One moment Compassion's all maidenly modesty, the next, it appears, she couldn't care less.) But despite all this, we found it hard to put down. And in the end, that counts for a lot.

Of course, Parallel 59's not all bad. The Matrixesque aspects of Mechta are if slightly unoriginal very intriguing, and Mechta itself is a well thought out and fascinating "world". The terrorists Compassion hooks up with are an unlikely bunch, but the action fair cracks along, which makes it easier to get past the cliched fates of the characters falling by the wayside. (It also makes it easier to swallow the notion that the Doctor's captors would keep giving him confidential information, whether he's in a position to use it or not. As if.)

Compassion is well drawn and believable, along the lines of Frontier Worlds. And amidst the welter of interchangeable characters, we really liked Narkompros's hypochondria, particularly when it ended up serving a plot function. There are the bones of a likable book here, and with fewer unlikely plot devices and a lot more attention to character, it could have been a cracker.

The 59th parallel on earth runs through northern Scotland. Significant? God knows.

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