Oh dear. You know, I wanted to like this.
You can tell this book's been edited by Peter Darvill-Evans. It might as well have his name on the inside cover. It's like an awesomely clever but cruel pastiche of his early NAs, brimming with every cliche that hobbled fandom's perception of the Virgin books long after they stopped being true. It doesn't contain the Doctor, but even that's true to form. The only difference is that it's longer.
Boy, is it longer. Time dilates to make its 470 pages feel like a thousand. Yes, even that old familiar pain of "please God end it soon" has been recreated.
This book is bad, bad, bad. Disappearing up its own arse with confusing quantum metaphysics, it loses all credibility on the mundane plane but doesn't even offer us anything particularly thought-provoking in the ideas. At long last Trevor Hoyle has provided concrete proof of something we barbarians have long suspected - that gratuitously confusing books really are using their own artiness to cover up slipshod craftsmanship in all other departments.
The first thing to say about this book is that you can tell it's been written by a man. Every woman is big-breasted and precious few of those mammary glands are left unpawed by the end. There's rape, casual rape and still more rape. None of the violence has any real emotional base. Can you say "exploitative", boys and girls? It's the kind of thing you'll find in trashy pulp novels belonging to a sad loner who's dogeared the pages for easy reference when he wants a wank.
In fact sexual inadequacy seems to be a minor theme of the book, albeit perhaps accidentally. It seems to be a condition affecting most of the male characters.
What about those characters? Are they well-drawn? Nope. The villains are interesting, and the book's best bits come when Trevor Hoyle starts being nasty about American TV evangelists. That's fun and lively. Unfortunately the good guys are cardboard, the worst of the lot being the hero. I've just read 470 pages about this guy, but he still doesn't add up to more than a cipher.
The plot is dumb, disjointed and contains holes. There's an evil conspiracy that has planned for centuries to take over the world... but even when the hero's flat on his back and completely helpless, they never send in the heavies. An efficient twelve-man team of big bastards with guns could have sorted out their problems once and for all... but no, they send in various incompetent women for doomed assassination attempts. One at a time, naturally. Even when our hero's done something that should have earned him twenty years inside (or perhaps the electric chair) he doesn't become the subject of a police manhunt.
Some bits just don't convince. A character can be a great con artist in one scene, then horribly unconvincing a few pages later. Why did the evil conspiracy choose such a complete loser as their instrument of destruction?
Finally we have the book's technobabble, which is about reincarnation and possible universes and stuff. That's not a spoiler, since it's on the back cover. Does this maintain interest? Nope. Its main consequence is to give our hero an annoying tendency to worry about things that can't have any bearing on his real problems.
This book is long, not only in pages. It doesn't feel like a great epic, just a rather dull and confusing story that doesn't even have the grace to end when you want it to. I've read worse, but I've read nothing that I'm less likely to reread.
It's a particular shame, because I knew I was going to buy two of the three Virgin World books and I chose this one first because of the interesting-sounding blurb on the back. It sounds like it's going to be a cool story, and it's not. I haven't given up yet. I'll read the other book I've bought and see what that's like. However I rather fear that for quite a few people, this will be their first and last Virgin World.