Doctor Who
Palace of the Red Sun

Author: Christopher Bulis
BBC Books
RRP 5.99, US $6.95, Cdn $8.99
ISBN 0 563 53849 X
Available now

Interstellar tyrant Glavis Judd usurps the monarchy of the planet Esselven, but the royal family manage to escape him. Elsewhere, the Sixth Doctor and Peri land in a huge and exquisite ornamental garden populated by strange playful creatures, over-zealous gardener robots and human scavengers. This, it turns out, is the Esselvanian royal retreat - a planetoid upon which Judd has now set his sights...

I found myself with very little time to read this book, but fortunately Bulis' novels tend to make light reading, and this one is no exception. That is not to say that this book lacks mystery or surprises, because the exact opposite is true. The author takes great pains to disclose the truth about his peculiar planetoid very gradually, but his storytelling technique takes a no-nonsense approach that shows no need to befuddle the reader for the sake of it.

For me, Bulis' best books have been those that are splendid homages to established popular fictions or genres - take Imperial Moon or his Bernice Summerfield New Adventure, Tempest, for example. In this novel he incorporates the familiarity of Alice in Wonderland, in the guise of two curious denizens of the ornamental garden, while several story elements, including a mechanical device that achieves sentient thought, have a distinctly Star Trek flavour to them. The author also alludes to fairytale traditions, with two rival noblemen competing for the hand of a beautiful - though somewhat reluctant - princess.

This rivalry, which comes complete with some witty verbal sparring, is starkly contrasted by the ruthless machinations of Glavis Judd, a kind of space-age Oliver Cromwell. For a time you might wonder how these two worlds can possibly co-exist, but that is the whole point.

Ironically, Bulis also includes a character from what is in my opinion his weakest novel, The Ultimate Treasure. However, this character, the unscrupulous freelance reporter Dexel Dynes, works well in this context as a conveyer of backstory, as he reports on the political activities of Judd. The narrative states that Dynes has "worked hard over the last few years to recover his audience recognition rating after the Gelsandor treasure story" - the author could so easily have been referring to himself!

Bulis has certainly regained my appreciation over recent years.

Richard McGinlay

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