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Cat's Cradle: Warhead

af Andrew Cartmel

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2144129,210 (3.1)1

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With the roundabout dumbness of the Doctor's absurdly elaborate plans here, I thought he was going to reveal himself to be the Master or something. ( )
  princemuchao | Jun 4, 2014 |
Well, this is the second of the Cat's Cradle trilogy, and I have only vague memories of what actually tied these novels together. The Timewyrm series were tied together with the Timewyrm (and ended up being cyclical with the end of the series coinciding with the beginning) and I suspected that these were tied together as well but I simply cannot remember what the relevance of the Cat's Cradle was (and I suspect that it has nothing to do with the book of the same name by Kurt Vonnegut).
This book is set in the near future where everything goes to hell in regards to Earth. It is very dark and gritty and in a way different to what a lot of fans would normally expect from Doctor Who. Many of the episodes are very light hearted, high-science fiction with the occasional commentary, but in general it was mostly for entertainment purposes. In fact, I found it difficult to see if there was really any indepth commentary within any of the Doctor Who stories of the past. However, come the novels, this begins to change.
Environmentalism is something that I care about. While there is a debate over the legitimacy of global warming, this debate seems to push a lot of the other issues to the background, such as poisoning the air and water supplies. I have known people who go out of their way to bombard us with anti-global warming propaganda, however refuse to listen to any other aspect of the argument. Me, I try to steer away from the global warming debate as there are other, more serious, things that we need to confront and I will go over some of them briefly (at least to the extent that they relate to this book).
One I have mentioned about is of particular concern to me and that is poisoning the air and water supplies. It is a proven fact that toxic chemicals that are pumped into the atmosphere do not bode well for people living in the proximity of the factory. In fact, in a lot of cases (but not all), toxic chemicals do not rise, but they fall. Take mustard gas for instance. The most dangerous aspect of mustard gas during World War I was that it was heavier than air, so it will fall into craters and trenches where people would be sheltering. This is not taking into account the amount of damage it would do to one's respiratory system.
The poisoning of water supplies is also a serious concern. Just like pumping toxic smoke into the atmosphere, dumping toxic chemicals into the rivers, or even on the ground where it can sink and become mixed with the ground water, is just as, or more, damaging. We need both air and water to survive, but whereas toxic air can slowly kill us (and it is interesting to note the rise in cancer throughout the 20th Century) toxic water can be even worse. Consider what will happen if all of our water supplies become poisoned. All of the sudden, not only will we have nothing to drink, but we will also have great difficulties growing things.
This is where the rise of the mega-corporations come into play. There is only one thing that they care about and that is profit. If it is too expensive to properly dispose of waste, then they automatically go the cheaper way. Sure enough wealthy people can get around the problem of poisoned water, but those of us who are stuck on limited wages simply get stuffed around. Where as in the past (I remember) we could easily, and cheaply, get our hands on clean drinking water, that has changed a lot. I remember a time when the corner store did not stock drinking water in their fridges, but as our natural water supplies become more toxic, bottled water becomes more popular, and in the end it could be argued that it is more beneficial for corporations to poison natural water supplies as it means that they can then charge more for clean, drinkable, bottled water (unless, of course, you have a water tank, like my parents). ( )
  David.Alfred.Sarkies | Apr 26, 2014 |

I was rather impressed by this Doctor Who novel in the New Adventures series. The Seventh Doctor and Ace get caught up in the nasty machinations of a near-future biotech firm, variously in the US, London and a small island near Istanbul. Cartmel is a very good descriptive writer, both in terms of establishing the physical setting and in terms of getting inside the heads of Ace and the other characters. The Istanbul chapters in particular had some memorable set-pieces. As often happens, it wasn't clear that the bad guys' conspiracy made sense (and even less clear how the Doctor had got involved in stopping it; or for that matter where the cat's cradle of the title comes into it) but I very much enjoyed the ride. Possibly the first really adult Doctor Who novel. ( )
  nwhyte | Feb 12, 2010 |
This is one of the Doctor Who "New Adventures" series, which came out in the 1990s while the show was off the air. I was very impressed with these at the time; on the whole, they were astonishingly sophisticated for books based on a TV show, and often surprisingly well-written. Being a starving college student, though, I wasn't able to purchase all of them back then, so when I found a bunch of them in a used bookstore a few years ago I took the opportunity to fill in some of the gaps in my collection. Only, the state of my To-Read Pile being what it is, it's taken me until now to start in on them.

This particular novel has a sort of Cyberpunk Lite setting, featuring environmental degradation, urban decay, evil corporations, and a dependence on computer technology that's... well, that's actually rather less than it turned out to be in reality. Reading near-future SF that was written in the early 90s is always kind of interesting that way. In any case, it all somehow manages to feel slightly less cliche than I was expecting.

The main distinguishing feature of the story is the fact that it's told mostly in bits and pieces through the eyes of various secondary characters, none of whom has a clear view of the big picture. Meanwhile, the Doctor, whom one might normally expect to be center stage, flits in and out in a shadowy fashion, obviously setting up some plan the details of which are not fully clear until the end. I kept going back and forth on whether I felt this worked or not, but in the end I think it does make the plot much more interesting than it would be otherwise, if only because it helps distract from the fact that said plan may be implausibly over-elaborate and that it ultimately features a resolution that's a little too pat. One can maybe argue about whether all the details of the scheme, which frequently involve a fairly high level of violence, are entirely in-character for the Doctor, even in what is unquestionably his most manipulative incarnation. But since it's often not entirely clear what's part of the plan and what's not, it's a bit hard to say for sure. I do, however, rather approve of this portrayal of the Doctor as a mysterious, powerful (though far from infallible), and slightly scary figure. He really is all of those things, and it's a good thing to be reminded of that once in a while. ( )
  bragan | Jul 30, 2009 |
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