Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Retrospective: Dave Stone

(Originally posted to the Doctor Who Ratings Guide on April 13, 2003.)

Every once in a while, when reading and writing reviews of any sort, it becomes clear that there is no "Everyman" reviewer. Everyone brings their own personal quirks and preferences to the judgement of a creative work. Frequently, this doesn't matter because the work in question is either so self-evidently good or so self-evidently bad that a consensus can be reached... but every once in a while, you get an author who divides opinion sharply, and who cannot be categorized. Dave Stone (Sky Pirates!, Death and Diplomacy, Burning Heart, Ship of Fools, Oblivion, The Mary-Sue Extrusion, Return to the Fractured Planet, Heart of TARDIS, The Slow Empire, The Infernal Nexus, Citadel of Dreams) is one such an author, and I for my part have to pin my colors to the wall at this point and stand on one side or the other of the "love him or hate him" line.

For me, it's adoration. Dave Stone is one of my favorite authors for Doctor Who and its spin-offs, and it's not because I'm unaware of his flaws as an author; it's simply because I don't care about them. Yes, he recycles character names, characters, place names, places, races, jokes, and in a few notorious incidents entire passages of text simply because he likes them (and if I'd included his Judge Dredd novels in this retrospective this trend would be even more pronounced). Yes, he does dwell obsessively on a single theme and has made a whole career out of variations on it. Yes, his writing style does come off as a mix of Douglas Adams, Clive Barker, and a maddened thesaurus. Yes, he does veer back and forth between groan-worthy, shaggy-dog jokes and visceral, shocking body-horror sequences. Yes, yes, yes, and yes to all that as well. Everything you hear about Dave Stone, personally or professionally, is very probably true. But I don't care.

For one thing, I think he's funny. Humor is one of those incredibly personal things, and it's really not possible for me to either say why I find Stone's writing funny, or why other people don't. But when Stone features "great detective" Emil Dupont explaining away the murders in Ship of Fools as the work of limbo-dancing midgets, I laugh. When he includes, at the end of The Infernal Nexus, the porno-movie synopsis of that novel, it's funny to me. His style is digressive and expansive, and tends towards footnotes, parenthetical comments, and irrelevant appendices... and yet, he's all the funnier for it.

For another, I do find his central obsession interesting. Stone dwells in all his novels, to a greater or lesser extent, on how we shape the world we live in through our perception of it -- not in any sort of magical, "what we don't want to happen doesn't happen" sense, but just in the way that things that we don't like, we ignore if we can just as thoroughly as if they don't exist... and how contact with those things that are "non-existent" in that sense can drive you just as crazy as an injection of LSD. This idea is large enough to fuel any number of stories, from the cartoony world of the System in Sky Pirates! all the way to Hokesh, the city of his most recent work Citadel of Dreams, and still bear fruit.

Third, I think he's got a good sense of character. It's easy to forget that his first novel, Sky Pirates!, was in fact the first novel about Roz and Chris not written by their creator, Andy Lane -- and he does an excellent job of capturing them as real people, both in that book and in his follow-up. His Bernice Summerfield vies with Justin Richards and her creator, Paul Cornell, for the title of "definitive", and more than that, he seems to have a nice general sense that people are more fuzzy-minded, morally ambiguous, and generally contrary than the dictates of fiction normally allow for.

And fourth, he's contributed some excellent material to the Doctor Who universe. He gave us the Sloathes, which have propagated through his books under various names and provided much enjoyment for us pretend-move monkey-hominid things. And, of course, he gave Benny her fiancee, husband, ex-husband, lover, straight man, and general bete noir, Jason Peter Kane. Jason is probably his best-realized character, and one of Stone's amazing achievements is to give the reader the sense that Jason is off doing interesting, novel-worthy things on his own while we're off following Bernice.

So, in short, yes, I am looking forward to another Dave Stone novel, should we get one, and yes, I'm well aware that many others aren't. But me, I'm a Dave Stone fan, and I don't care who knows it.

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