The Also People

There are, dear readers, an elite group of very special Doctor Who books that come along very occasionally, and that force you to reassess all other Doctor Who books in relation to them. They are the lynchpins by which all the other books are judged. This elite group can be divided into two types of book. The first - like, say, War of the Daleks, Divided Loyalties, Winner Takes All and Terrance Dicks' entire output of recent years - are so bad that they represent the very arse end of Who fiction ("...but at least it wasn't as bad as..."). The second - like, say, Alien Bodies, Timewyrm: Revelation, The Infinity Doctors and Blood Heat - open your eyes to the soaring heights and dazzling vistas that Doctor Who stories can reach, and it is these books that show you another glimpse of exactly what it was, that indefinable magic, that certain je-ne-sais-quoi, that first attracted you to Doctor Who in the first place.

The Also People is one of this very special elite group.

I knew before I picked this book up that it had a certain reputation amongst fans of the NAs for being a pretty good novel. What I wasn't prepared for was just how good it was.

The plot concerns the Doctor, Benny, Chris and Roz taking a holiday on the WorldSphere, a shell-type Dyson sphere (Google is your friend!) populated by trillions of people (called, umm, the People) and trillions of intelligent machines (called the Also People, because they are also regarded as people even though they are machines because they are intelligent). The People and the Also People live side-by-side in a delightfully described society that is variously socialistic, anarchic, hedonistic and extremely likeable. The People are also sufficiently technologically advanced to have a non-aggression pact with the Time Lords (something that offers a bit of spice and background to the story but that Aaronovitch wisely prevents from becoming a significant plot device). For example, their WorldSphere is run by a computer called God, which really does have a brain the size of a planet and yet manages to not be depressed at all, and has a nice line in dry one-liners (when asked why it was against a recent war, God responds that it was less that he's a pacifist, more that he's a very big target!).

The Doctor and his companions go to a party in the Sphere where it is revealed that a drone (an Also Person) has been very recently murdered. Exactly how this could have happened when murder is practically unheard of on the WorldSphere, and with God constantly monitoring everything, is what takes up the bulk of the novel. The Doctor, Benny, Roz and Chris are of course suspects; but because of the totally deregulated way in which the WorldSphere society functions, rather than being immediately locked up and treated with suspicion as they would be in most Who stories under these circumstances, they are welcome to wander about conducting their own investigations without hindrance, until things come to a satisfying conclusion with the Doctor getting the murderer at the end (and the explanation of how the murder of a military drone with enough shielding to withstand a twenty-kiloton nuclear detonation could happen without anyone in this technological utopia noticing is both elegant and works wonderfully within the confines of the story).

It is a struggle to begin to put into words exactly what it is that makes this novel so utterly superb. The plot sounds slight; it's a whodunit in a society so advanced that murder shouldn't be possible, which is in its way something of a macguffin to hang an otherwise lightweight story on. However the whole thing is done so charmingly and cleverly that it's impossible not to be drawn in. I defy anyone to not find at least one thing in this book that they like, even if it's only one of God's one-liners or one of the concepts of the People's civilisation or technology. Throw in a return appearance of Transit's Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart and a truly engaging supporting cast of People and Also People and the whole thing gels magnificently. Aaronovitch weaves the many threads of this story into an elegant tapestry, of which the main murder plot is only just one thread amongst many. None of the threads could carry the novel on its own, but put them all together in the right way and you end up with something truly special indeed.

The Also People is remarkable. I read it immediately after reading Original Sin and even though I greatly enjoyed that book, it was obvious by the time I was only halfway through The Also People that it blew the earlier novel away. In fact I would go on to say that not only is The Also People the best New Adventure ever written - fighting off stiff competition from the likes of Paul Cornell, Marc Platt, Kate Orman and Lance Parkin - but it is surely a contender for The Best Original Doctor Who Novel Of All Time. Anyone remember that episode of Top Gear in which Jeremy Clarkson said that in a way he regretted having driven the Bugatti Veyron 16.4 supercar, since no other car he would ever drive could possibly be as good? Well, it might be an exaggeration to say that I felt the same way about The Also People - that having now read it I know that I will never again read a Doctor Who book this good - but only a very slight one (and if the BBC keeps on churning out new series novels of the same quality as it has been for the past year then it won't be an exaggeration at all).

I can think of no higher praise for the book than this: it is well-known that The Also People's People draw heavily on the Culture, a galaxy-spanning, pseudo-anarchic, AI-ruled, enormously advanced civilisation featured in many of the novels of Iain M Banks. After reading The Also People I bought and read all the Culture novels published to date, reasoning that they must be something to check out if The Also People was so heavily influenced by them - and although they are all very enjoyable, I can honestly say that I have not enjoyed any of the Culture novels as much as I enjoyed The Also People. It really is that good a book. It will divide your entire life as a Doctor Who novel fan into "the part before I read The Also People" and "the part after I read The Also People". My advice to you all is simple - READ IT.


Review by Valedictorian


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