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Persistence of Memory by Winona Kent

September 23, 2013 Leave a comment

Persistence of Memory_CVR_LRG

Long ago, when I ran a slush pile, there were unfortunate moments when I knew after the first page the book wasn’t going to be good enough to even think about saving. It’s sad to make such snap judgements but, when the command of English is tenuous, the plot is only possible savior and the lack of coherence in the language usually means the plot is not going to stand up. It’s therefore disconcerting to report that I almost didn’t bother to read beyond the first page of this book but eventually read it to the end. In this case, it’s not to much that the words are actually wrongly selected. It’s just that, in context, they don’t make quite the sense the author obviously intended. However, having decided the judgement of the small press should be trusted, I persisted. There are some distinct linguistic oddities in the pages that follow, but the meaning communicated becomes more clear as we progress.

 

Persistence of Memory by Winona Kent (Fable Press, 2013) offers us a time travel story which, in a sense, parallels Lost in Austen. By one of these magical manipulations of physics, we have an exchange of two women across time. Both are widows and, to the casual observer, physically identical. One explanation of the phenomenon might therefore be that the minds of the two women are exchanged. This would bring the book more in line with classics like Bid Time Return by Richard Matheson which deal with time travel as more a mental than a physical process. Naturally, the woman who comes forward is rather confused by the modern world but adapts remarkably quickly, while our doughty modern woman, armed with a little knowledge of what has gone before, finds it relatively easy to fit into the past (once she’s found the privy, of course). Even her mobile phone fits in, readjusting its local time to 1825 — that’s some smart phone, lady! And it also gets a signal from the local landmark tree which persists into the future. This gives her a mechanism for co-ordinating the effort to keep history on its designated path. Or, if you want to get technical about it, the knowledgeable woman from the future must avoid changing history and thus, courtesy of the grandfather paradox, prevent herself from returning. The only problem is to decide what history is to be preserved. As you can imagine, not that much day-to-day detailed has travelled the almost two-hundred years into the future. There’s just the broadest outline and even that’s a little fuzzy around the edges.

 

We’re therefore invited to see the book as a form of mystery novel in which our sleuth from the future has to understand precisely what’s required in the past and then nudge events in the right direction to get the desired results. Unfortunately, a sequence of crimes is committed including murder, arson (both punishable by the death penalty), robbery, fraud and failing to invent a workable water closet. This range forces the plot to vary quite widely from the need to establish who’s who in the family tree to the alarming prospect that the future has been changed by the murder. At this point, I need to dispel any assumption you might have that the plot works in a strictly logical way. For it all to come out right, there has to be some major cheating (or if you want to be scientific about it, some major anomalies have to be introduced into the tachyon stream). Yes, there’s some cod science floating around which doesn’t particularly impress. The tree as a network broadcast tower is also a really bad idea. As an outsider, I can confidently say the book would have been immeasurably better if events were left as a near-death experience including a major hallucination about time travel. When the poisoned tree fell down, the key document could have turned up to resolve matters and leave everything ambiguous. Having actual time travel with real-time cellphone conversations across two-hundred years denies everything science fiction is supposed to be. It turns the book into a romance-tinged fantasy and denies it any chance of real success.

 

Putting everything together, Persistence of Memory is a short novel, i.e. slightly more than 76,000 words* and although it’s obviously intended as an SFnal time travel piece, it’s really a fantasy with a romance element and written in rather wooden prose. In my opinion, there’s a good story waiting to be told but the editorial service from the small press let the author down. Anyone with any knowledge of science fiction would have understood the major problems with the plot. The prose should also have been rescued by proper editing.

 

* I’m indebted to the author for giving me the actual word count. I had estimated this as novella length and have amended the text.

 

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

 

Necessary Evil by Ian Tregillis

July 15, 2013 4 comments

Necessary Evil Ian Tregillis

To get any value out of this concluding volume in the Milkweed Triptych, you should have read the first two books in order. I can say without fear of contradiction you will not understand a lot of what happens without knowing what has gone before. Ironically, the same applies to this review. I’m not going to repeat the discussions set out in the first two reviews. I’m going to focus on this book.

In Bitter Seeds, the first book by Ian Tregillis, the question is what the precog has foreseen. The Coldest War answers this question and tell us what she proposes to do about it. This leaves us with Necessary Evil (Tor, 2013) which allows us to watch how her grand design works out. From the outset, we’ve been considering whether any of these alternate timelines is deterministic. The presentation has suggested only one person has free will. Given the breadth and depth of her ability to foresee the future and pick which timeline to follow, the precog has been charting her path through the decades. In a multiverse, every decision point branches, casting off alternate realities but, up to this point, everything has worked out exactly as she has foreseen. Indeed, what she’s achieved is breathtaking. Given the scale of what she wanted to avoid, she’s had to work backwards from the one route to salvation and examine all the decision points to see how she can get there. In so doing, she’s been reviewing a potentially infinite number of alternate histories, seeking out the key moments and identifying the people she needs to influence into acting or not acting. Of course, I could invert this and say her fate was set when she was born. She was always going to arrive at the point representing the end of book two. She merely had the illusion of free will.

This would suggest others might have free will or that no-one ever has free will. But if that were the case, the very idea of a multiverse would be a paradox. If no-one ever has free will, there can be no alternate timelines. There could only be the one timeline that everyone is predestined to follow. This leads me to major problems with the plot. If this book deals with an alternate history timeline, the two people who are sent to this 1940 are from outside this timeline’s cause and effect. What has happened to them in their own timeline remains because it has already happened. It cannot be undone when the cause does not occur in the new timeline. Yet Ian Tregillis wants to play fast and loose with this issue. In this book’s timeline, the man who should survive to send them back in 1963 dies in 1941, yet the older Marsh remains in this timeline. But when the younger Marsh does not suffer the leg injury, the travelling Marsh’s leg is cured. You think that’s bad? Well here comes the nail in the coffin. In this timeline, there are two versions of Marsh but only one precog. If we have an older and a younger Marsh, why do we only have one young precog? What happened to the older version of the precog when being transported back? It’s this lack of attention to the logic of the plot that completely spoils the effect.

Ian Tregillis

Ian Tregillis

So putting that to one side, what are the consequences when the precog is to some extent able to reset the clock? In theory, this new timeline should unfold according to the master plan. The younger version will guide events to avoid the catastrophe she has foreseen in all the other timelines. This timeline will survive. Except, of course, there’s one small change. Up to this point, she’s been the only one with an overview of time. Now there’s a second person and he understands both the strengths and weaknesses of the precog. So he can share the precog’s desire to avoid the looming catastrophe, but not be prepared to pay the same price to achieve it. More importantly he can also work backwards and understand what would need to happen to ensure the safety of those he cares about. Ah, so now we come to the heart of the Triptych. From page one of Bitter Seeds, we’ve been watching how individuals have reacted when they learn the price to pay to get the results they want. At a national level, governments at war cannot be concerned about the individual. They are fighting for the majority of their citizens and if that means sacrificing the few, that’s a price worth paying. At the other end of the scale, the individual wants to survive but may be prepared to sacrifice him or herself if the price is right. So a loving father might sacrifice himself to save his child, a spy threatened with capture might commit suicide to avoid betraying his country.

Of course, this is talking about sacrifice in physical terms but individuals may also sacrifice their principles if that’s necessary to save themselves or others. Hence, the title of the book. History shows us that some people have fought with honour, maintaining their personal integrity and protecting the reputation of their country for fair play. History also shows how often those who play fair are beaten by those who ignore the rules of chivalry and play to win regardless of the cost. It’s been a sad theme to see how often the honest are surprised by the extent of the dishonesty around them and how easily that dishonesty can strike them down. So an individual who recognises the full extent of all the risks may well be put to the choice. When there are dishonourable options, will the decider pick the least evil or do what’s necessary to win?

You’ll have to read the book to see how it works out but, as you might expect, it’s not clear cut. When we all know exactly what price has to be paid for ultimate success, there’s a certain degree of irony in how the final element of the price is collected. Perhaps that’s how fate actually works. If there’s a sine qua non and several people are aware of it, it doesn’t matter who fulfills the condition so long as the precondition is met, i.e. the necessary evil occurs.

This leaves me with an issue I referred to in the first review but it grows significantly worse in this book. Let’s start with the practicality of life described as Britain in 1940. Early on, our hero from the future needs some local cash so he gets on a bus with some future bank notes in his wallet. The idea that a bus conductor could change a five pound note is absurd. Ignoring the physical difference in the size and colour of the future note which would be spotted immediately, the average annual pay in the UK in 1940 was about £200. So even on the busiest routes, no conductor would collect and keep more than £5 in loose change. That’s 1,200 pennies except the average bus fare around that time was a hapenny (i.e. £5 = 2,800 coins). So the conductor would be weighed down with farthings and hapennies, perhaps some thrupenny bits and sixpences, and the occasional shilling. During quiet times, the conductors used to bag the excess loose coinage and either lock it in a cabinet in the stairwell or give it to the driver for safe keeping in the front cab. Even if this conductor had enough to give change for more than one’s weeks pay, consider how long it would take to count out more than one thousand coins and how much they would weigh. This is symptomatic of a cavalier attitude towards all things British, particularly its language. I know and appreciate that this is a book written by an American for the American market, but it’s aggravating that the vocabulary and vernacular attributed to British and German characters comes out as modern American English. Scattering one or two British colloquialisms does not make this book even remotely realistic. Oh but wait. This is fiction so it doesn’t have to be credible.

I was really looking forward to reading Necessary Evil but the reality has proved a major letdown. Once you set out to write a time travel or multiverse story, there are rules to be followed. This happened in the construction of the first two books. It’s such a shame the rules were mostly thrown away in this concluding volume. If I’d known it was going to be this bad, I would never have paid for my own copy.

For reviews of the first two in the series, see Bitter Seeds and The Coldest War. There’s also a free-standing Something More Than Night

The Shape Stealer by Lee Carroll

The Shape Stealer

There are times I wish I was an expert in everything. That way, when I come across something unexpected in a work of fiction, I would know just how fictional it is. In this case, I’m happily reading an uncomfortable blend of science fiction and fantasy, and come across a plan to destabilise the world’s economy by creating a bubble in the value of gold and then puncturing it. The book describes this as a pump and dump plan but, if my understanding is correct, it would be almost impossible to apply this to a commodity such as gold. In the real world, the early months of 2009 saw the price of gold at $800 per ounce, but once we came to the autumn of 2011, it had risen to more than $1,900. This was a bubble, i.e. the price did not reflect the economic law of supply and demand. Consequently, optimistic investors were saying there was no upward limit for the price. Trying to pump a commodity trending upward is never going to have a major effect. If there’s an unexpected spike, there will be a price correction and then the underlying trend will resume. Now we’re heading back down in value, i.e. the bubble is deflating and, so far, the world’s economy has not collapsed. So it seems to me that the plan to wreck the world being advocated by the forces of evil in this book is doomed to fail without any action being required from the forces of good. They could just sit back and laugh as evil’s plan failed.

All of which brings me to this quite extraordinary collision between science fiction and fantasy. The Shape Stealer by Lee Carroll (pseudonymous team of Carol Goodman and Lee Slonimsky) (Tor, 2013) is the third in the Black Swan Rising trilogy dealing with the “love” between Garet and Will. As in all books now posing under the urban fantasy label, this must be one of these agonising relationships. She’s one of these protector figures (save the Earth!) and he’s a vampire (save me from myself!). Obviously they are made for each other but, as is always the case, there are problems (no! really? well, do tell). This problem is certainly different.

Carol Goodman and Lee Slonimsky

Carol Goodman and Lee Slonimsky

In the last book, our happy couple travelled back in time and met up with his younger self (two vampires to love are better than one). When two returned to our time, she came back with the “young” version and not the “old” one she loves (Holy cow, Batman, that’s some mistake coming back with the lusty “young” one rather than the jaded tired “old” one). This left the “old” one the chance to carry on “living” so, for the second time of asking, he exists through the four-hundred plus years to the present so the two versions of himself can be together again with the woman they love. Notice the potential for paradox here. If the “young” one travels forward in time and so doesn’t do everything he previously did as he lived through time, that rather changes the past in a big way. Indeed, when reliving the four-hundred years, the old vampire in love dedicates his existence to good, avoiding the feasting on humans as much as possible, and generally being a nice guy (Garet has really been working her mojo on this vampire). This means absolutely everything about the past gets messed up by all that good.

Sitting in the middle of all this absurdity are different interested parties. There’s a group of temporal guardians whose job it is to keep the cause and effect sufficiently in check so that any changes to the past make only minor changes to the present (ignoring the butterfly effect for these purposes). To achieve this, they sit outside current time with exhaustive records of their “past”. Whenever anything changes, one of the ledgers drops off its shelf in the library and they can quickly see what’s changed and decide whether to fix it. This temporal limbo is also used by the fey as they pass through from Earth to their “home” land (and back which is why there’s a time loss when they take humans for a visit). There’s also a dissident group of time travellers who are called Malefactors (kinda mediaeval name for the bad guys) and generally make a nuisance of themselves by squeezing themselves through the dimensions into our time like toothpaste out of a tube. All these time guardians and warring Malefactors have some very nifty technology including some advanced weaponry (presumably brought back from the future). And, finally, there’s Dr John Dee and a shapeshifting “monster” from ancient Babylon who just want to take over the world and run it their way. So, summing this up, Dr Dee and the fairies (led by Oberon) travel through time by using magic. The chrononauts have time portals and can use clockwork devices built into watches (how original) to move through time and also space (TARDIS watches are cool).

Now there are times when absurdity is a good thing, e.g. using reductio ad absurdum in a philosophical debate or as a form of mocking mirror to reality. In electing to write about time travel, authors should be applying the established rules so, through its failure, this book is what we must politely call a time fantasy where none of it makes any sense as mathematics, physics, philosophy or logic would require. This could have been a good mechanism for mocking the trope of time travel. Once you get into the question of paradox and then have to address the possibility of paraconsistency where a proposition may be simultaneously true and false, there’s great potential for humour. But this book is plodding and dull. It’s intended as a soppy romance where our heroine gets to love two versions of her imperfect man in a world dominated by magic, i.e. a world where events are completely arbitrary and fairies can teach the vampire how to rearrange his molecules in real time to avoid being injured when bullets pass through him (sorry, I mean the vampire can rearrange his molecules so that the bullets pass through him without injuring him). Instant self-repair would be absurd, right? Particularly if he was shot in the head and had to stop thinking for a moment.

So if you’re heavily into urban fantasy and have absolutely no interest in anything that makes any sense, The Shape Stealer is for you. But if, like me, you prefer there to be an underlying logic and order to a plot, you should wave your wand in a way that will send all the copies of this book back in time so it was never written and cannot now be purchased from secondhand book dealers around the world (paradoxes rule!).

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi by Mark Hodder

June 21, 2013 2 comments

Secret Abdu El Yezdi by Mark Hodder

There’s real skill required to write a series. Far more than most people realise. Let’s say the author has signed a three-book deal. That ties him or her to the agreed formula which, in most cases, will be both a group of characters and a particular setting. So, for example, Miss Marple lives in St Mary Mead and, although she’s wont to travel around a little, the basis of her investigative style is drawn from her observation of life in the village. That way, even when she’s on holiday in the West Indies, she can remember what the butcher did to the baker’s assistant that so upset the candlestick maker. In other words, there’s a core magic formula that, after the first few books, turned the remainder into must-haves for the loyal fans. To depart from this formula is to lose the fans. But to do nothing more than repeat the formula will also lose the fans through boredom. There has to be development to keep the core ideas interesting. Hence even Miss Marple must go on holiday.

So, after a highly successful opening set of three, we’re back with The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi by Mark Hodder (Pyr, 2013) which is the first in a new three-book deal featuring Sir Richard Burton and Algernon Charles Swinburne in a steampunk version of Victorian England which, appropriately enough, began with the assassination of Queen Victoria. If you’re proposing to derail readers into an alternate history, killing off the titular queen for the age is the best possible starting point. The magic of the first book lies in its exuberance. There’s not a page goes by without some new idea or sly joke. As debut novels go, The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack is one of the best. However, in this moment of heady success, there’s a problem. Once you’ve described the setting and cracked all your best jokes, you have to find something new to write about. Fortunately, the plot of The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man is terrific and kept everything moving along nicely even though the repetition of some of the jokes was wearing very thin towards the end. This led us into Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon which opened the door into some very interesting and more serious possibilities. As I said during that review, “. . .an inventive mind could devise a way into a different future. It will be interesting to see whether Pyr offers us the chance to see it unfold.” So my thanks to Pyr for renewing the book deal. This proves to be a particularly ingenious way of developing the plot.

Mark Hodder anonymous in Spain

Mark Hodder anonymous in Spain

Notice my reference to the plot. All the humour that characterised the first in the series has gone. This is altogether darker with the death of an important character, albeit not one we see too often. We’re nevertheless aware of this individual’s significance throughout. The key to understanding just how ingenious the plot lies in the need for all time travel books to follow strict logic. With the death of Queen Victoria in the first novel being caused by a time traveller, we’ve been following the cause and effect of the different changes in history as they occur. At the end of the last book, the situation had grown more complex as a new player entered the game and tried to destabilise the new version of history. With that threat defeated, Burton was left. . . Well that always was the question. Just where was Burton left?

At this point, I’m going to get a little vague because I don’t want to spoil your enjoyment of this book. I emphasise that this is a direct continuation of the last trilogy and, although you might enjoy this as a standalone, you will not appreciate just how good it is unless you’ve read the other three in order. This is a serial, not a series of standalones in the same place with the same characters. This time, we’re into Bram Stoker land (appropriately young Bram is a character) with the arrival of a vampire-like force by sea. This time, the ship crashes on to the rocks of Anglesey during a terrible storm with the captain lashed to the wheel and all the crew and passengers (bar one, of course) dead on arrival. This gives us a broad supernatural framework on which to build our multiverse plot. Yes, that’s right. All the messing around in time has been multiplying the branches except there’s one common feature. Sooner or later, there’s a major war. Those of you with some grasp of history will recall our First World War occupied the years 1914 to 1918. In different timelines, this conflict comes at different times but it always happens. However, in this timeline, under the guidance of Abdu El Yezdi, the British have been moving towards a political rapprochement with Germany, therefore making war less inevitable. So the big questions for Burton are to identify Abdu El Yezdi, to explain how he has been giving such good advice, and to find him — sadly this fount of wisdom has stopped transmitting thereby leaving the British government up a creek wondering where their paddle has gone.

We still have some of the steampunk but most of the more extravagant technological innovation has gone in this timeline. There’s also slightly less political discussion, leaving more time for this rather pleasing blend of Victorian/Edwardian style adventure to be updated for modern sensibilities. Putting all this together, The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi is a wonderful continuation of the earlier trilogy, i.e. you really should have read the others in order before coming to this.

Once again the jacket artwork by Jon Sullivan is magnificent.

For reviews of the other four books, see:
The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack
The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man
The Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon
The Return of the Discontinued Man
There are also two standalones called:
A Red Sun Also Rises
Sexton Blake and the Silent Thunder Caper.

And for those who enjoy a little nostalgia, the website run by Mark Hodder celebrating Sexton Blake is worth a visit.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

Midnight in Paris (2011)

March 22, 2013 3 comments

Midnight_in_Paris_Poster

As always, let’s begin with a little idle speculation. Suppose we have time travel on demand. Just as we can now pay a subscription and watch the latest movies online, suppose a no doubt larger fee would enable us to go wherever we want in time. What would we use it for? As it is, I can buy a ticket and fly to Europe, rent a car and enjoy the local food and wines but, being an old guy and a natural skinflint, I hoard my money and stay home. I suspect my reaction to the opportunity to travel in time would be equally negative. Do I really want to risk all those diseases they had back then for which I have no natural immunity? And then there’s the language, the money and the food. I’ve no confidence the Latin I learned in school will come back to me if I’m lost in Rome and want to find a good place to eat. I know Doctor Who has this nice convention that everyone, everywhere and everywhen speaks standard English and always offers free food that does not give the Tardis crew gastroenteritis with all the vomiting and diarrhoea, but I don’t have the Time Lord’s scriptwriters to keep me safe. I’m thinking it would all be better if we could just be content with what we have now.

Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams and Michael Sheen in the now

Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams and Michael Sheen in the now

 

Midnight in Paris (2011) is a flawed but nevertheless rather pleasing film written and directed by Woody Allen who, I must confess, has proved a somewhat hit and miss director over the decades. When he’s hot, he produces something magical. But, over his entire career, I think he’s missed the target more often than not. This is not to say the films I consider misses are all total failures. It’s just we seem not to share the same aesthetics when it comes to beauty in film-making. What makes it all the more surprising that I should like this film is the presence of Owen Wilson in the lead. This is the first film in which I actually like his performance — probably because he’s not so obviously trying to be funny. Anyway, he plays Gil Pender, a screenwriter with left wing tendencies (by US standards), wondering whether he has it in him to write the next great American novel. He hitches a ride to Paris with his fiancé’s family and we’re immediately expected to see them as the family from Hell. John (Kurt Fuller) is a stereotypical wealthy GOP ideologue, Helen (Mimi Kennedy) is the ultimate materialist who only sees dollar signs when she considers what she finds important, and the prospective mate, Inez (Rachel McAdams) — it’s not at all clear what our hero would ever have seen in her as a person. No matter how great she may be in bed (and this is by no means certain), this is not a person up with which you would want to put for any length of time. To complete the set of ghastly characters, a friend of Inez turns up. He’s Paul (Michael Sheen), one of these pedantic twits who can hold forth with apparent expertise on everything he encounters. The fact he’s making most of it up is just one of his more endearing qualities.

 

OK so the plot dynamic is simple to state. From the outset, it’s obvious our hero should find an excuse to avoid marrying this woman (and into her family). The only question is how he will talk himself into making the break. The device adopted is that, whether in reality or his imagination, he travels back in time and discusses his draft novel and his social problems with the cream of the Parisienne art community of the 1920s. A part of the fun of the film is spotting who gets dragged into view and, once he overcomes his surprise, how he relates to all these luminaries. The most important from our point of view are Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) and Adriana (Marion Cotillard), mistress to Pablo Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo). It’s not a spoiler to confirm that, as you would want in a romantic fantasy, he makes the right decisions. Suggesting the trips in time are real, our hero finds an old book with an inscription by Adriana. This leads to a nice moment when Inez almost catches him stealing some earrings to give Adriana as a present.

Marion Cotillard, Owen Wilson and Corey Stoll in the then

Marion Cotillard, Owen Wilson and Corey Stoll in the then

 

I think the fundamental problem with the film is that it’s too simplistic. The main characters are actually heavy-handed caricatures without any real depth. Gil is self-effacingly diffident except when it comes to arguing politics with his prospective in-laws. Hence, the argument is out of character. He would either be assertive on a range of subjects all the time or he would be predominantly passive to keep the peace with his prospective family, i.e. we see the political argument only to make a black-and-white point about the incompatibility of the man and the family. Further, I don’t really believe he would have become one of Hollywood’s top scriptwriters, always in demand. He lacks that aura of confidence he would need to sell a script to sceptical producers. Worse, given the way he speaks to people, I’m not sure he would write the sentences quoted from the text of the book. No matter who or when he speaks, he never seems to have a profound thought in his head, yet his book is aspiring to say profound things about nostalgia. Finally, the film itself is somewhat superficial on the grass is always greener in an earlier time trope. That we time hop twice to make the point adds redundancy (as does the fate of the private detective).

 

Yet despite these cavils, I found the experience of sitting through Midnight in Paris quite enjoyable. The opening travelogue introduction is too long but, once we get started, we move along at a brisk pace and get where we need to go without breaking sweat. In saying this, I’m not just praising the professionalism with which the package is put together. That’s a given with a Woody Allen film. The notion of time travel for the purpose of reflection and self-analysis is rather elegant. I just wish it had been left more ambiguously, i.e. without the inscription suggesting the experience is real. I prefer to retain the possibility he fantasises the experiences of time travel while moderately drunk, critiques his own book and works out he should not marry Inez. But, as it stands, it has just enough to make it a good film.

 

Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 17 to end

December 31, 2012 Leave a comment

Dr Jin

Thankfully there’s not long to go with Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012), but that doesn’t stop our intrepid team of scriptwriters from going down with melodrama of Titanic proportions on display. Dr. Jin-Hyuk (Song Seung-Heon) is spending more of his time clutching his head and passing out. Sadly this does not also induce unconsciousness in us and the rest of the cast carry the show until he revives. Lee Ha-Weung (Lee Beom-Soo) and the Dowager Queen (Jeong Hye-Seon) have installed King Gojong (Lee Hyung-Suk) on the throne, but are now disputing the appointment of high-ranking officials based on merit or clan allegiance. To break up this alliance, the increasingly unsympathetic Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong) is working as a double, if not triple, agent for his father Kim Byung-Hee (Kim Eung-Soo). This means deceiving Hong Young-Whee (Jin Lee-Han) based on their supposed continuing friendship. Hong Young-Rae (Park Min-Young) is training as a surgeon and goes to assist Dr Jin deliver a breech baby by Caesarian section. This doesn’t leave many medical operations to attempt. Remember Dr Jin has already drained a blister on a big toe — after that, what mountain is left to climb? So now we come into the final piece of history that will lead to war. We arbitrarily find ourselves in 1866 with the suppression of Catholicism firmly on the agenda. Dr Jin saves the life of Father Félix-Claire Ridel. Unfortunately Kim Byung-Hee produces a situation in which it’s impossible for Lee Ha-Weung to ignore the anti-Catholic law so we now wait for the retaliatory French raid on Ganghwa Island. The headaches are growing more severe but I still can’t manage to lose consciousness. No wait! A young boy is injured. He could die. Why is Dr Jin flickering in and out of existence. It’s his great, great grandfather! Come on Hong Young-Rae, prove you’re a worthy successor to Dr Jin and save that boy! Oh, wonderful. Now we have to watch another three episodes.

Dr. Jin-Hyuk (Song Seung-Heon) refusing to disappear

Dr. Jin-Hyuk (Song Seung-Heon) refusing to disappear

Well the mutual blackmail attempts continue as the French decide whether to send gunships. Unable to stand any more pain, Choon-Hong (Lee So-Yeon) throws herself in front of Dr Jin and takes a sword thrust meant for him. For the first time in this series, his attempt at open-heart surgery fails to save a life. Before she dies, she tell Dr Jin that Min Ah, the modern lover, is already dead. I have my tenses wrong there. . . .will have been dead by the time he gets back (if he does, that is). Quite how she knows this is a bit baffling but, armed with this information, he goes to throw himself off a cliff. Sadly Hong Young-Rae stops him. So now the useless Kim Dae-Gyun (Kim Myeong-Su) deceives himself into believing he has a brain and betrays his father. Daddy Kim finally sees he can do no more and commits suicide. This leaves the loyal bastard alone, sobbing his heart out, thinking there’s nothing left to live for — after twenty hours of watching, I understand the feeling. We then cut to the battlefield with the French using canon to win the day while Hong Young-Rae tries to patch up the wounded. The tediously dramatic climax in Joseon limps across the screen. Kim Kyung-Tak makes a half-hearted attempt to assassinate Lee Ha-Weung. When that fails, he agrees to lead Dr Jin through French lines to rescue Hong Young-Rae who, naturally refuses to leave. She’s a doctor and she’s not going to abandon her patients. At the end of a lot of fighting, Kim Kyung-Tak is dead and Hong Young-Rae is seriously wounded. After performing emergency surgery to remove shrapnel, Dr Jin also receives a fatal wound, falls off the wall surrounding the fort they are defending, and wakes up in a modern hospital bed. He has a single strip of bandage around his forehead. This is supposed to signal he’s had brain surgery to remove a foetus-like growth from his skull. How they managed to do the surgery without shaving his head and having him on full life-support is puzzling. Anyway, he leaps out of his bed, runs through the hospital and finds Yoo Mi-Na who flatlines. There’s drama as Dr Jin shouts for “epi” and then braces with the paddles to fight for her life. Fortunately, in Joseon, Hong Young-Rae opens her eyes as the anaesthetic wear off. This triggers a miraculous recovery in our time and cheers from the other hospital staff. Dr Jin has triumphed again.

Dr Jin with bandage and Yoo Mi-Na (Park Min-Young)

Dr Jin with bandage and Yoo Mi-Na (Park Min-Young)

It’s always difficult to draw comparisons. In spirit, the series could be rerunning the same ideas as in Lest Darkness Fall by L Sprague de Camp where a graduate student of history travels back to Rome just before the start of the Dark Ages. The question is whether to intervene to preserve Rome. Or this could be a version of the set-up in To Your Scattered Bodies Go in the Riverworld series by Philip José Farmer where this return to a reconstructed past is a kind of moral experiment run by unspecified intelligences to see whether humanity is ethical or fit to be the rulers of the universe as in Transit by Edmund Cooper (cf Seahorse in the Sky where passengers in an aeroplane wake up in coffins).

Hong Young-Whee (Jin Lee-Han)  and Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong)

Hong Young-Whee (Jin Lee-Han) and Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong)

Is it all just a dream? Perhaps most infamously, Dallas ran an entire season which turned out to be Pam dreaming. This could be going on either in Yoo Mi-Na’s head after her surgery or in Dr Jin’s head after his surgery. Except in the first episode, in flashback, and at the end we get to see Choon Hong, and the doctor who wakes Dr Jin says he was found some distance away from the hospital and hands him the ring found in his “strange clothes”. We’re therefore supposed to think he’s actually travelled. Closer to this series, perhaps we should remember X-Files: Series 6, Episode 3. Triangle where Mulder travels to 1939 and then wakes up in hospital with the bruise on his cheek. Similarly, MacGyver: Season 5, Episode 12. Serenity where he travels to the Wild West and wakes up with the knife.

In this I note the actual mechanism for transmission in either direction seems to be death. In the first episode, Dr Jin falls off the roof of the hospital. To return, he has to be stabbed in the gut and fall off a high wall. This might characterise the experience as Limbo as in the TV series Lost. Or it could be a loop as in By His Bootstraps by Robert Heinlein where Bob Wilson iterates through the time gate until he emerges a free man or something. In the first episode of this series, we meet a man covered in bandages. The tumour is removed from his head and he’s later on the roof of the hospital. Perhaps this is Dr Jin ending one of his loops and, when the current Dr Jin falls off the roof, this is the next iteration. That would explain why no-one at the end recalls the man in bandages. More to the point, it explains why Dr Jin gives instructions to the young version of Choon-Hong. Despite his protestations of love and fidelity to Yoo Mi-Na, he expects to go round the loop at least once more.

Put all this together and Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin turns out to be easily the worst piece of Korean drama I’ve seen so far. It not only fails as science fiction, it’s also woeful, by-the-numbers sageuk with only one sequence even remotely reaching a standard of acceptability. This is definitely not recommended.

For reviews of the other episodes, see:
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) thoughts on the first four episodes
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 5 to 8
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 9 to 12
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 13 to 16

Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 13 to 16

December 27, 2012 Leave a comment

Dr Jin

Well, as we accelerate into the second half of Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012), everyone is plotting now. Royal Doctor, Yoo Hong-Pil (Kim Il-Woo) continues the plan with Kim Byung-Hee (Kim Eung-Soo) to kill King Cheoljong (Kim Byeong-Se) and blame Dr. Jin-Hyuk (Song Seung-Heon). But it all requires careful timing. The clan need to move their nominee into position as heir before the latest puppet dies. Working the other side of the fence, Lee Ha-Weung (Lee Beom-Soo) plots with the Dowager Queen (Jeong Hye-Seon) to line up the boy who will become King Gojong (Lee Hyung-Suk). This is proving difficult but he does literally hit the jackpot and manages to get Kim Dae-Gyun (Kim Myeong-Su) exiled for trading with Westerners. That gold finally came in useful.

Lee Ha-Weung (Lee Beom-Soo) and Dr Jin (Song Seung-Heon)

Lee Ha-Weung (Lee Beom-Soo) and Dr Jin (Song Seung-Heon)

Choon-Hong (Lee So-Yeon) and Dr Jin finally manage to convince Hong Young-Rae (Park Min-Young) that it’s her destiny to marry Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong) so she’s really miserable while the young lover manages the first smile we’ve seen out of him for hours of screen time. Not surprisingly, Hong Young-Whee (Jin Lee-Han) walks back into the picture with vague explanations of how he managed to survive and who helped. He’s currently hiding out with Choon Hong. Which just leaves us with all the doctoring. To fire up the excitement, the King decides he has acute appendicitis and rolls around in agony. This would normally be a quick and easy operation, but Dr Jin discovers his patient is anaemic. So he throws together a blueprint for a centrifuge and before you can say, “Blood typing for Dummies”, he’s discovered that Lee Ha-Weung is the right type to act as live donor. There’s just one problem. Lee Ha-Weung wants the King to die so his son can become King. Dr Jin gets all disappointed that this great man should want him to kill the King. This produces the irony that Kim Byung-Hee and Dr Jin insist the surgery should go ahead. Saving the King comes first. They can argue about the succession later. Anyway, as the script requires, it all works out well because, when the King wakes up and, wait for it, feels as if he’s cured, he’s so overjoyed he says the young boy can be adopted by the Dowager Queen which puts him on track to succeed. Kim Byung-Hee barely flickers. He thinks he’s got lots of time to persuade the King to actually nominate someone else as the heir.

Choon-Hong (Lee So-Yeon) and Hong Young-Rae (Park Min-Young)

Choon-Hong (Lee So-Yeon) and Hong Young-Rae (Park Min-Young)

This leave us with two points of interest. Choon-Hong proves she’s a genuine time traveller by showing Dr Jin the Rubik’s cube he gave her in the hospital as she recovered from brain surgery. If she can go back and forth, so can he. Hong Young-Rae is now dreaming of Yoo Mi-Na, her future self, and to prove the entire thing is all going to require the maximum melodrama to work out, she’s also diagnosed with breast cancer. I have visions of script meetings where they discussed whether Dr Jin could search the countryside for meteors and hope to find enough radioactive material to give radiotherapy. This idea was, of course, dismissed. The risk of him finding Kryptonite was too great. Then comes the operation. Should he save the girl? He cuts. The pain in his head explodes. Lights flash before his eyes. He’s changing the future (again) but this time with the Universe telling him he’s doing the wrong thing. My head hurts too. The future is fighting back. “Don’t save the woman!” it shouts. So the naturally stubborn Dr Jin oversees the operation and her life is saved. He’s the irresistible force and the Universe had better look out. So to prove everything is now up for grabs, Kim Byung-Hee orders the worthless Kim Kyung-Tak to kill Lee Ha-Weung. He shoots. The man falls. Has the future really been changed?

Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong) fated to be one of life's losers

Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong) fated to be one of life’s losers

Frankly I can’t say I care. Dr Jin has been blundering around in the past saving everyone and changing history beyond all recognition since the series began, even introducing blood transfusion and making his own stethoscope out of bamboo. He saved hundreds in a cholera outbreak. Are we to assume this had no effect on the future because most of the people saved were slaves and peasants? It’s absurd this script makes everything turn on saving the yangban Kim Byung-Hee. In a science fiction plot, Dr Jin has completely wrecked the past and no matter what he might try to correct things, he’s doomed to fail. Except this is a historical fantasy with chronic romantic pretensions so one of the two versions of this woman, Hong Young-Rae or Yoo Mi-Na, will presumably get her man (or perhaps they both will). I’ve given up caring. However, just to bring us up to date (ha!), the latest explanation of this time travel ability depends on a particular mutation in the brain — step aside Time Lord in your TARDIS, this is a job for X-Woman Kate Pryde, i.e. the adult Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat. This explains both Choon-Hong’s physical travel and the visions of the future or past. However, she now informs us the downside of this mutation is that it becomes the site of a tumour if what the mutant does pushes either end of the transfer out of balance. So the foetus-like growth Dr Jin removed in the first episode was the organ permitting travel but grown life-threatening. Choon Hong tells Dr Jin he’s only got days left before he too dies. His headaches grow more frequent and disabling. Even so, he saves Lee Ha-Weung who, when the King dies without changing the implicit nomination of the boy destined become King Gojong, blackmails Kim Byung-Hee into permitting his son to be named heir. Progress of a kind is maintained as Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) lurches towards the end for which will bring us all a merciful release from these terrible flashing lights and headache-inducing pictures on the screen.

For reviews of the other episodes, see:
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) thoughts on the first four episodes
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 5 to 8
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 9 to 12
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 17 to end

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