4×04 The Time of the Angels: Part One of Two. A clue left in a museum in the far future brings the Doctor back into the orbit of the enigmatic River Song. This time, she’s chasing a Weeping Angel to the planet Alfava Metraxis. It should be a simple containment mission. After all, how hard could it be to find one angel statue in the last graveyard of the extinct Aplan race? But why has the Angel brought them here? And why do River’s soldier companions keep referring to her as “the prisoner”? And what’s in Sammy’s eye?
While I buy myself time to struggle through writing about the penultimate War of the Worlds II episode (Hey, you know what character we definitely need more of? Ethan Allen Ratkin), my daughter has undergone a sudden and exponential growth in her vocabulary. Here’s a partial dictionary of the words my daughter can now say:
- Awansy: Show me
- Baf: To bathe
- Side, Aside: Outside
- Quac: Canine.
- Fuff: The sound made by a Quac.
- Daisy: Grandma’s Quac.
- Caw: Any large herbivore, such as a cow or hippopotamus.
- Sue: An item of footwear
- My: More
- Mama: Food
- Mom: The sound made by a caw
- Eye: Any facial feature
- No: The eye in the center of the face
- Seep: Ovine
- Alma: A popular red muppet
- Bye: (Accompanied by a wave) Please for the love of God don’t leave me
- Uh-oh: I am about to throw something
- Rasha: Trash
- Aster: To climb a flight of steps
- Nigh-nigh: Farewell
- Fowl-foe: A flower
- Ha: Hot
- Coo: Cold
- Eat: Feed me.
- Baby: A baby
- Butt: Her posterior
- Wow: wow
Fun fact: The first draft of this week’s episode was titled “Prisoner of the Sun”
4×03 Twinkle, Twinkle: The Doctor wants to observe a rare coronal mass ejection from an unusual star when another ship nearly collides with the TARDIS, forcing it to crash land. The Doctor and Sammy find themselves in Heliopolis, an impossible city built on the surface of the star itself. With a damaged TARDIS and only forty minutes until the coronal mass collides with the city, can the Doctor and Sammy save Heliopolis, and themselves?
Y’all ready for some political intrigue? Too fucking bad, it’s War of the Worlds II. The good news is that some actual stuff happens in this part. The bad news is that it happens on Earth, with all that implies. Oh yes, we’re back to the world of Ronald Ratkin (the world’s first Trillionaire) and Tosh Rimbauch (Making America Great Again).
But we’re not quite done with space yet. The Tor make their final preparations to send Jessica back to Earth, and it’s time for her to play her hand too early and gloat about her success with no consequences. She explains the Tor’s plan back to them for our benefit: Orion-1, newly refitted with a warp drive, will return to Earth, announcing success in finding water and forging an alliance with the Martians, which will surely prompt a ticker-tape parade and banquet in their honor full of world leaders. The Tor will follow Orion as far as the moon, and hide behind it until everyone’s at the banquet, and then they’ll “make their move”. The nature of this move is not explained, nor, honestly, what this plan will accomplish. It might make sense if the Martian clones were meant to assassinate or kidnap the world leaders. But there’s no indication that this is their plan, and it’s hard to believe that the Martians themselves would even be capable of it. It’s hard to fathom how Jessica herself could attend this hypothetical banquet, or indeed not be arrested for piracy the second Orion landed.
I mean, the basic concept that Orion with its ersatz crew will keep humanity from just shooting the crap out of the Tor the moment they arrive is solid. We learn over the course of this conversation that the Tor have roughly similar weapons capabilities to Earth, and that a Tor ship can’t withstand multiple nuclear warheads. This is an interesting shift from the trend in other adaptations, where aliens are sufficiently advanced that the only times humanity can fight back are in adaptations where they’ve repurposed stolen alien technology. Here, the entirely home-grown technology of late-20th-century Earth is equal to that of the alien invaders — the Tor leader will shortly mention that the lack of lightspeed space travel is the only area in which humanity lags behind the Tor. And little though this production has to do with the 1938 radio play to which it is nominally a sequel, it’s not a radical inconsistency; the tripods of the radio play were vulnerable to heavy artillery provided you were fast enough to get in a killing shot before they rolled over you, so it’s reasonable to imagine that the Martians (and the less-advanced Tor) were only a few decades ahead of human technology in most respects.
But when we get into the details, it all goes pear-shaped. Why hide the Tor behind the moon, where they’ll have to come out and make the last leg of the journey exposed, after they’ve been formally introduced at a banquet? Why bother refitting Orion at all — just show up in the Tor warship, broadcasting an announcement from the fake Orion crew that they found and borrowed a Martian ship. The whole point is to get Earth under their control without having to resort to a fire-fight, but there’s absolutely no indication how any of this would actually accomplish that. Are the Martians going to shape-shift back to their natural forms and just announce “Bwa ha ha! We’re not really the Orion crew! We’re aliens! And we’re conquering your planet!” whereupon the Secret Service will just shoot them and be done with it. Nothing in this plan makes it seem like it’s an improvement over “Just show up unannounced”.
While the main part of the plan is going on, Jessica will secretly communicate with Ratkin to reassure him that she’s got Orion under her control and he shouldn’t blow it up with his own private space-based weapons platform.
Yes, he has one of those. Don’t be stupid. Jessica cautions the Tor that Ratkin will try to double-cross them and conquer the galaxy, and the Tor counter that they’re going to kill her for suggesting such a thing. This is where she stops to gloat: on the last tape, she took a short break to hop back up to Artemis in order to murder her crew off-screen. I didn’t mention it at the time because it was handled as an aside by the narrator. But while she was up there, apparently, she filled Ratkin in on the bare outline of what was going on and had him arrange for his private space-based weapons platform to nuke the hell out of the Tor if they show up without her or try anything. The Tor congratulates her on having cleverly outmaneuvered them such that their only choices are to either agree to her terms or kill her and give up on Earth. For the sake of keeping this story going, they choose the former, but once she’s out of the room, they go back to bwa-ha-hahing about how they’re totally going to double-cross her once they’ve taken over the Earth and gotten rid of that pesky satellite.
Jessica also mentions in passing during this segment that the water crisis on Earth is entirely artificial; the Tor are concerned that even Ratkin’s empire wouldn’t be powerful enough to stop humans from pursuing Martian water out of desperation, and she flat out says that there’s plenty of water on Earth, and it’s only Ratkin’s machinations that are preventing humanity from making it potable.
The faux-Wagner music is traded out for the cheap ’80s crime drama sax on the transition to Earth. Major Stryker, Bob Boness, and the still-hospitalized President DeWitt get on a conference call to hear from Orion-1, which is finally checking in after an unspecified period of time which seems like it ought to have been at least a couple of months by now but time is passing at different rates in different parts of the plot. “Commander Ferris” calls NASA for the first time in months to announce that they’re on their way home to report success. They pretty much repeat everything Jessica already told us about their cover story: they claim that the Martians have agreed to help them, that the ’38 invasion was an by an unsanctioned rebel sect, that by way of apology, the Martians have upgraded Orion-1’s engines and agreed to help them extract water, and that the “feeble attempts” of Jessica Storm and the Artemis crew were “easily thwarted”. DeWitt finds the “feeble attempts” bit hard to swallow. We seem to have completely forgotten the bit from before where the jamming was attributed to a superluminal signal being transmitted from Mars to a distant star system.
Before disconnecting, Stryker gives “Ferris” the bad news about his wife: that she’s gone missing, suspected to have been kidnapped by Ratkin. The clone unemotionally responds, “That is most unfortunate.” But since this is the same character who has been acting like a particularly inanimate block of wood for three episodes now, everyone quickly dismisses any suspicion that there might be something “up” with the fact that he responded to the news of his wife’s abduction without any hint of actually being bothered by it. Just as predicted, DeWitt’s first thought is to throw a ticker-tape parade and state banquet for them.
Once again, turning to the Tardis Data Core for inspiration…
4×02 Legend of the Cybermen: The Doctor takes Sammy to Mythtopia, the greatest amusement park of the second Great and Bountiful Human Empire. But this playground of fantasy has become terrifyingly real: King Arthur searches Atlantis for the Holy Grail while Beowulf enlists the help of Count Dracula to defeat the Loch Ness Monster. But the greatest danger lies within the “Aliens Invade” attraction, where a long-extinct enemy from humanity’s past is being resurrected, and is intent on giving Mythtopia a deadly upgrade.
Okay. Okay. Enough stalling. Let’s get into this thing. Part four. The exciting finale. Or whatever. As you can tell, I haven’t been looking forward to this.
In case you’ve forgotten, the missing-but-not-missed episode 3 ended with the deaths of Commander Ferris, Nikki Jackson and Mark Rutherford at the hands of Jessica Storm and her hired gun Walsh. After the ridiculously lengthy recap, we rejoin Jessica Storm on Mars, under interrogation by the Tor. It’s not clear to me whether there’s meant to be one or two of them there. The voices of the Tor are distorted with an echo and flange, slower and deeper than the Martian voices. This is justified in-universe by the fact that the Tor are communicating using the telepathic Martians as intermediaries: their native form of communication is based on smell.
They inform Jessica of their intent to destroy Earth: since humans will kill for water, the Tor can’t tolerate them as a threat to their supply of quorrium. Jessica counter-proposes that they make an alliance with Ratkin, who can provide them with unlimited slave labor and block any attempt to extract Martian water. The Tor accept her offer, and please her further by planning to work the Orion crew to death in the mines in order to gauge human physical endurance. We fade to the theme music as Jessica Storm laugh maniacally.
Which pretty much sets the stage for side one of this episode: it’s going to be a whole lot of villains monologuing and laughing maniacally as they plan their various double-crosses and backstabs.
The decidedly not-dead crew of Orion-1 wake up in a chamber deep below the Martian surface. It takes them little time to work out that they are prisoners of the Tor, the events of the previous episode having been some kind of mental simulation to test their levels of murderocity. The fact that Walsh and Jessica passed the test, while the others apparently failed does not fill them with optimism.
Everyone is so happy to not be dead that Nikki and Mark immediately go back to sniping at each other, giving us an opportunity to notice that I think they’ve recast Mark again. He actually kinda sounds like Dick York now. Or Dick Sargent. One of them. With maybe a hint of Jack Lemmon in there. And a hint of Boris Karloff a la How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
If, for some unthinkable reason, you’re just picking up the story now, then here’s some good news: Since Commander Ferris was up on Orion for the entirety of episode 2 and didn’t get to meet the Martians, and spent episode 3, I assume, fighting to the death, he never actually got to hear all that exposition the others got, so they get to spend the next five minutes catching him up on who the Martians are, who the Tor are, what quorrium is, how Hanoi Xan rose through the ranks of the World Crime League, and whether there’s water on Mars.
The Tor go back to Jessica to talk with her about Walsh. He passed the murder test, so they like him, but they don’t trust him. Jessica offers to sort things out, so they send her to see him. She slaps him for referring to her as “The Broad”, and his main concern is to accuse her of “going soft” because having been captured by powerful, murderous aliens and trapped many kilometers below the surface of Mars as the fate of the Earth hangs in the balance, her first priority isn’t to find and murder the Orion crew. This annoys Jessica enough that she kills him.
She explains to the Tor that Walsh didn’t count as a “peer” because she hasn’t got any, and that Walsh had orders to kill her anyway: she’d tapped Ratkin’s phone and knew of the planned double-cross. This evolves into a long discussion about the nature of trust, wherein Jessica expositions that the Tor appear as moving shadows, but this is not their natural form (We’re told later that the Tor evolved from reptiles. We’re also told that they are a sulphur-based lifeform, and that we should be ashamed of ourselves for assuming that all life must be carbon-based just because carbon is actually unusual in the way it can bond to other elements, and has properties which sulphur doesn’t. Also, being sulphur-based would seem to make the whole thing about the Tor being related to Earth-reptiles seem even more unlikely. But it doesn’t really matter; the main point is just that they stink).
The Tor also reveal that she’ll be returning to Earth with a cadre of Martian slaves who’ve used their matter-manipulation abilities to assume the likenesses of the Orion crew.
This would have been a more impactful reveal in a format other than audio.
We also get some sermonizing, in case you’ve missed clunkily inserted authorial politics. The Tor suggest that they’re not so different, and Jessica claims that humans would never resort to slavery over water shortages. The woman who has literally sold out humanity as slaves to the Tor. So Tor tells her that humans just call it “minimum wage”. Later, Ari will also point out that humans and Tor have a lot in common, though he grants that, unlike Tor, humans have the capacity for kindness.
Jessica tags along when the Martian clones go to suck out the memories of the Orion crew, though she’s disappointed to find out that the procedure is “mostly painless”. While that’s getting set up, the Tor who’s been dealing with Jessica is summoned to speak to his “Master”, a Tor with the voice of an old man. Time for more bwa-ha-hahing.
They explain to each other that they are totally planning to double-cross Jessica Storm. Despite what they’ve told her, the humans won’t be used for quorrium mining. Humans are ill-suited for it, lacking the ability to manipulate matter on a molecular level, and being prone to dying from radiation poisoning and all. Instead, they plan to transport the human race en masse to the planet Brick (Different people at different times pronounce it differently, so probably it’s meant to be an alien-sounding name like Br’iak or Breeak or B’r’k or B””””k or something, but I’m going to go with “Brick” because that’s what it sounds like) to farm fungi. Earth itself is going to be strip-mined for its atmosphere, because as it turns out the Tor eat pollution. Also fungi, I guess, but mainly pollution.
I will note here that “Pollution is rendering Earth more attractive to aliens” is a ham-handed science fiction plot device which has turned up in lots of things before. Doctor Who has done it at least twice. Power Rangers also did it possibly twice, but I’m not sure because the plot of Megaforce was a god-damned mess. Did Captain Planet do it? Feels like the sort of thing they would do. And heck, War of the Worlds the Series even threw it in. So it would be petty of me to object… But I still object. Because War of the Worlds II has not done anything good to make me want to forgive them for the over-the-top moralizing of “Don’t pollute or else aliens will come and eat all our air.”
All the same, the Tor Master orders the Tor Underling to keep an eye on Jessica Storm, because she’s clever enough to pose an actual threat to them.
We transition back to the Orion crew with a musical sting that sounds like a cheap knockoff of a Wagnerian Opera. Jessica enters and gets taunted about the sulfurous smell that accompanies her. They accuse Ari of betraying them, but Gloria recognizes that it’s actually Ohm: the Tor forced the Martians to build him a new body and reinstalled his mind from backup. It’s a neat idea to toss in which could have interesting implications later on, and which (all together now) doesn’t come up again.
Jessica relishes telling the Orion crew about their fate in the mines, and throws in the really incredibly hackneyed over-the-top villain comment that Nikki should be “pleased” to follow in the footsteps of her slave ancestors.
What. The. Ever. Loving. Fuck.
You know, the only thing I can even begin to imagine that line is for is because they got halfway through episode 2 and started to worry about how “implicitly white” this whole thing was, so they hastily started shoehorning in any line they could think of to convince the listeners that Nikki is black. And I’m not saying that it necessarily ought to be possible to tell a person’s race in an audio-only presentation, but Nikki is black the same way that any non-white character in the Superfriends is non-white: in the mode of a white person who spent a semester abroad and won’t shut up about it. Y’know, like your friend in High School who spent the summer in England and came back insisting on calling it “American Football” and using the exclamation, “bugger me!” in a way that indicates that she doesn’t know what it means. Everything everything about the character of Nikki Jackson screams at the top of its lungs “rich white girl”. So when she starts dropping anecdotes about being raised by her poor grandmother who lived through Jim Crow (the old one, not the Trump-era revival) in a few minutes, Imma call bullshit.
And Jessica’s casual racism is… So not only is it ridiculous and out-of-character, it’s not even believable racism. “You should enjoy slavery because your ancestors were slaves,” isn’t a sociopathic genius trying to be cruel. It’s not even a dumb person trying to be cruel. It’s just… I mean… Look, it’s 2017, so I think we all know what it looks like when a powerful white person says something incredibly racist. This is super fucking racist, but doesn’t sound like real-world coded racism, and it doesn’t sound like real-world overt racism. It sounds like exactly what it is: expository racism which is only there to remind us that Nikki is black, because the writers apparently have never actually met any black people and have no idea how to write the experience of being a person of color in 1990s America. Not that I do either, but at least I know enough to not do that.
Anyway, Nikki decks Jessica after the men all refuse to because they’re “old world gentlemen”. The Tor warn Jessica off of killing Nikki in retribution because, apparently, the Tor respect Nikki for her violent outburst.
With the Orion crew’s minds successfully copied, Jessica gleefully leaves them to their fate. And by “fate”, I mean another long talky scene. It takes Gloria and Nikki about thirty seconds to figure out what Jessica E. Coyote, Sooper-Geeeenius missed: that it’s radically implausible that Tor would want them as slaves in the mines.
4×01 Twelfth Night: Something has awakened in the sewers of Victorian London. Something very old and very dangerous. There’s only one woman who can stop it… But the Doctor Sammy Lake knew is gone, and in her place is a whole new man…
It is January 1, 2017. If you are reading this, you were there. President-Elect D- Irm. President-Elect Do-. FUCK THIS NOISE. Okay. Right. Blah blah something about how he “knows things other people don’t” about Russian interference in the election. I wonder what that could possibly mean… A prankster uses tarpaulins to temporarily change the “HOLLYWOOD” sign to read “HOLLYWEED”. There’s a terror-related shooting at a nightclub in Turkey and a suicide-related shooting at one in Brazil.
TV’s repeats, obviously. We’re a week on now from Doctor Who‘s Christmas special and real-2016’s only new Who, “The Return of Doctor Mysterio”, which was fun, but filled me with dread that Harmony Shoal would be a recurring villain, having appeared both in this special, and last year’s “The Husbands of River Song”. Sherlock returns tonight with “The Six Thatchers”. Mariah Carey, Demi Lovato and Gloria Estefan are among the performers on Dick Clark’s New Years Rockin’ Eve. I am so old now that I have literally never heard of any of the songs in the top ten.
Guess who didn’t learn his lesson last week! Oh yeah, we are returning to the world of D. G. Leigh with The Massacre of Mankind, billed as “The Unofficial Sequel to The War of the Worlds”. And once again, there’s some title confusion; the cover art seems to present the title as Artilleryman Needs You, which would kinda be a better title. Credit where it’s due, though: that is a cool cover. It’s reminiscent of the old “Uncle Sam Needs You To Join the Army” posters, but the art style and the presence of Mars in the background give it a threatening aspect. The mustachioed visage of the Artilleryman in his high-collared black uniform has obvious fascist tones to it, but more than that, I think it’s very obviously trying to call to mind the “Big Brother is Watching” posters of 1984. And the tripods and fleeing couple rendered as negative space cut out of the Artilleryman’s uniform are lovely. There’s something that just feels very retro-sci-fi, evoking any number of ’70s and ’80s short-lived “Heroes fleeing from a pursuer through a strange fantasy world” TV series. And, of course, the old Sci-Fi Channel-specific logo for Doctor Who. The page headers go with The Massacre of Mankind: The War of the Worlds, but the title page, to make things worse, goes with The War of the Worlds: Brave New World. I am suspicious about the title. I kinda suspect that Leigh is going for a Transmorphers thing here, and expects most of his sales to go to people who have made a mistake.
Leigh is still full of interesting ideas and is able to keep up an exciting narrative, but once again, he’s stuffed the book too-full with more ideas than the narrative can comfortably support. And once again, his prose is largely artless and telegraphic. I feel bad for him; Leigh could probably be a decent writer if he had a good editor to help him polish his prose and reign him in.
While Sherlock Holmes vs The War of the Worlds mashed up two classic Victorian icons, The Massacre of Mankind is a more modern take on Victoriana. It’s a steampunk sequel. Well, sort of; it has a lot of the trappings of steampunk, but it’s stylistically more like cyberpunk — steampunk usually has a very different attitude, drawing from Verne and Wells, with themes that fit well with Victorian ideals about gallant men going out adventuring and finding exciting new worlds and exploiting them. This book, though, is set in a world of post-apocalyptic underground cities, with 31337 hacking and cyborg gunslingers. There are dirigibles, sure, but there’s also honest-to-goodness flying cars.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Like Sherlock, Massacre is prefaced with apologies (or “Apologises”) from the author about his playing hard and fast with fact in his story about a turn-of-the-century authoritarian underground civilization besieged by alien invaders from Mars. It’s not as awkward as last time: he apologizes for referencing a seamount that wouldn’t be discovered until the ’50s and for playing hard and fast with the physics of a space elevator. Next is a very strange dedication, to the “gallant souls” who gave their lives at the battle of Anton Dorhn Seamount. Which is the battle at the climax of the book. He dedicated the book to minor characters in the book. He goes on to, I don’t know, name them? This doesn’t make sense at all. Under the title “HMS Phoenix Child” is a list of eight names presented in pairs, as though he’s giving a cast list. “Darren (Ulla) Dunn ….. Harwich”, “George Lindsey …… Ascot”, and so on. I’m not even sure if the names listed here appear in the text of the book. Best I can guess, he based certain minor characters on real people in his life, and he’s giving the cast list here, purely as a shout-out to his buddies. Or not, I’ve no idea.
Next, we get a quick summary of the premise which spoils most of the major plot points. It’s twenty years after the invasion, and the Artilleryman has become the dictatorial ruler of New London. The surface is largely uninhabitable in England due to the persistence of the carnivorous red weed. France, Germany, and a united independent Ireland have formed a coalition that’s at war with New London, but [sic] “Unable to replicate a certain Martian alloy, Marsuminium. Their alien-hybrid-steam-tank division edge ever closer to New London’s research laboratories hoarding stock piles of fighting machines.” Artilleryman (I’m probably going to slip into using “the” with him, but the book treats it as his name), having gained control of the lion’s share of Martian technology, has had its secrets unlocked and developed an arsenal of high-tech defenses.
But the Martians haven’t given up on conquest, and now, an orbiting space station is melting the polar ice caps in order to disrupt human civilization as much of the world’s population is displaced due to sea level rise, and a Martian sea platform acts as their beachhead for a new ground invasion.
We’ll spend roughly half the novel working our way up to the stuff that was just explained in that anteprologue. Then we get a prologue which basically tells the end of the war from the Martians’ perspective, with the dying aliens sending back a warning to their homeworld.
Then there’s an appendix to the prologue which covers ground we’ve already covered, briefly outlining the invasion of Britain by French and German forces, and how they were ultimately repelled by the red weed and Artilleryman’s greater supply of Martian technology.
And then there’s another appendix to the prologue about Artilleryman’s rise to power. His major qualification was simply that he’d survived. He lucked into commandeering a tripod and made a name for himself by using it to fend off French and German attackers. Good luck and charisma got the military to back him, and in the lawless chaos left by the invasion, he was able to build a new civilization, just as he’d planned, using heat rays to excavate an underground city.
We mercifully begin the story proper with the introduction of the narrator, who calls himself “Pockets”. He’s the son of Journalist (narrator of the original novel) and his wife, Carrie (h/t to Jeff Wayne’s musical). This was actually explained back in the second or third prologue, but I wanted to leave something until dramatically apropos. Journalist and Carrie had fled New London after he had a falling out with Artilleryman, but were forced to leave Pockets behind. Pockets grew up as a social outcast, his engineering genius unnoticed and unappreciated, and eventually became a criminal: a dealer of illegal books.
That’s a wonderful idea to splash into this dystopia. The Artilleryman is always depicted as having disdain for poetry and literature, and here, it’s contraband. Pockets smuggles books of nursery rhymes and poetry to people who’ll pay black market prices for the stuff, which paints a lovely picture of what kind of bleak existence Artilleryman has made in his underground police state.
Now say it along with me: Nothing Ever Comes Of It.
As I mentioned, Pockets is a mechanical genius, and it’s this, rather than the book smuggling thing, which is the primary mechanism through which the story moves forward. Among his early inventions is a steam-powered mechanical dog, Pooch, who serves as a sidekick for about half of the book. There’s some well-intentioned but not especially effective attempts to give Pooch some character: he vents steam through his rear so we can do fart jokes about the robot dog. And, not having ever heard a real dog, Pockets didn’t know what they sounded like, so he programmed Pooch to moo like a cow.
It’s Pooch who gets Pockets into book-dealing, locating a supply of illegal books and somehow working out on its own that Pockets could trade them for parts necessary to build a “sky-cycle” with which he could finally leave the city. We sort of skip ahead from there to what Pockets means to be his last deal, trading a banned bible to a vicar in exchange for a Martian power pack.
It doesn’t go well: the preacher (or “Preacher”) draws a gun on him, revealing himself as an undercover enforcer for Artilleryman, and he seems to have a personal beef with Pockets: “Your father also possessed. A sinner in league with Satan. Must be a bloodline trait? An unholy contract signed.”
Yeah, turns out that Preacher is the Curate. He’d miraculously survived being captured by the Martians, but retains a grudge against Journalist and his entire line for cold-cocking him and abandoning him. Pockets is able to escape, but finds Preacher and the police lying in wait for him when he returns home. Pooch sacrifices himself, taking six bullets to buy Pockets a chance to escape, which he does by sealing a tunnel hatch on Preacher’s arm.
With neither Pooch nor his sky-bike, Pockets stows away on a transport to an outer borough and uses his hacking skills to set up a false identity for himself there. We prance forward in time again while he sets himself up in the new development and secures a forgotten watchtower in which to build a new sky-bike, this time simply stealing what he needed from construction supplies, making me wonder why he was doing it the hard way before.
Discovered access to the forgotten watchtower network that originally protected us from the French and Germans while the caverns for Artilleryman’s brave new metropolis were being excavated STOP Used afterwards as Earth bound observation posts STOP Keenly viewed for any signs of a repeat attack launched from Mars STOP Once established and secure underground, the deeper the construction went the less frequent visits paid to the lookouts STOP Spread of the red weed kept the Free Lands at bay, the towers eventually mothballed, resources put to better use STOP Their glass domes covered with blast shields STOP Outside gantry doors wielded shut STOP
How’d come [sic] she smelt [sic] so wonderful? The ways of the old world gone. No more indulgent imports from Paris of the latest boutique perfumes. Those frivolous fancies along with idle gossip of shocking vogue fashion fresh from Milan’s designer houses all belonged in a unattainable forgotten past.
A couple of paragraphs later, he’s made the “mistake” of falling in love with her. We skip ahead weeks or months, and Pockets has finished his sky-bike, but is dawdling on his escape due to his relationship. When he finally does decide to make his escape, he takes Tubance to his watchtower workshop to give her a chance to see the stars. Which, as it does, leads to sex.
They’re interrupted by guards who’ve noticed that the watchtower’s blast shield is open. Pockets hides Tubance and tries to convince them that he’s an inspector doing his rounds. They believe him, but are still duty-bound to take him in and file a report. The guards fail to see a “shooting star” that coincidentally falls during their conversation, but the narrator assures us that this heralds the arrival of the Martian super-cylinder that would, “Mark the start of New London’s collapsing foundations.”
Though Pockets’s cover identity, George Wells, level six engineer, holds up under scrutiny, the Artilleryman’s brave new world is largely powered by prison labor. After the initial excavation, the need to conserve heat rays had prompted a shift to a more pickaxe-based technology, as, “Artilleryman decided that a pickaxe and shovel were good enough tools to be getting on with, he wasn’t the one slaving and dying.”
So once they determine that he won’t be missed, the minor infraction of not having filed the proper paperwork is considered sufficient to merit our hero being shipped off to the mines. With Tubance sidelined, it’s time for our third sidekick, Pockets’s cell-mate, Zero. Zero’s a bruiser with no legal identity due to an unregistered birth. Pockets impresses him by insulting him while he’s killing another inmate. Leigh’s musings on prison buddies is about the most eloquent thing he’s written in two books:
I’ve learnt that there’s three types of friends you make in life. Those first in childhood. When you’re innocent. Free from envy, greed and the biological urge to f**k. When a friendship doesn’t have an alternative agenda for gain. The second is an unbreakable bond that comes from fighting with comrades on the battlefield. Included in this second category is also your prison cell companion. The third form of friendship is everyone else and doesn’t count for shit.
After a tangent about how miners frequently fall victim to a parasitic worm that came to Earth with the Martians and now lives in the ground (this goes nowhere, but provides a chance for a some horrifying imagery about being eaten from the inside-out), we once again prance ahead a bit, and find Pockets hauled off to an interrogation room. They present him with a miniature steam-powered reproduction tripod and demand he help them solve its balance issues.
When he feigns ignorance, the Preacher reappears, now sporting a robot arm and carrying the remains of Pooch. The jig up, Pockets looks at the source code for the tripod’s stability. See, this is what I mean about it feeling more like cyberpunk than steampunk: I shouldn’t be seeing a discussion about software bugs and computer viruses. Pockets recognizes that the flaw was deliberate, and Preacher reveals that it was the work of a saboteur, now deceased. Though hiding the full extent of his skill, he programs the tripod to right itself, then smashes it, which nearly wins him execution before a voice over the loudspeaker stays the Preacher’s hand (We’re not told what the voice says, and who it is is revealed in the next chapter).
I guess it went okay last year, so why not take another swing at it.