[Note: The stories in Decalog 5 have a linking theme - they all feature a wonder].
Based on an idea by: Nakula Somana
The Bottom Line: 'Is a story less wonderful because it exists only in your mind? A brief but suitably epic feeling start to the collection.
Author: Stephen Baxter
Continuity: The aliens are not named, but have grey skin, large heads, big eyes, and small ears, noses and mouths. They can become intangible, and live in a network of floating cities in space, orbiting a binary star [it is implied that they are super-evolved humans]. They celebrate Yuri Gagarin's landmark trip into space by creating artificial constructs of him, known as Poyekhalis, of which there have been 3200. Poyekhali 3201 becomes self-aware, which is forbidden by the aliens' sentience laws. They claim that they celebrate Gagarin because humanity never found multi-cellular life beyond Earth had Gagarin not traveled into space, humanity would never have colonized the galaxy and would now be extinct [suggesting that this takes place after Earth has been destroyed, which would make sense if the aliens really are descended from humanity - see The Ark. Given that the claim that humanity never encountered other intelligent life flatly contradicts large numbers of Doctor Who stories, they may have lost much of their knowledge of Earth history, even though they know of Gagarin's mission in detail].
[The wonder in this story is Gagarin's legendary trip into space].
Location: A city in space, the far distant future.
The Bottom Line: A rather good start, showcasing a real-life wonder, albeit one wrapped up in science fiction trappings.
Author: Dominic Green
Roots: There is an Elvis joke (deceased popular musician).
Dialogue Triumphs: 'Stars are thrown round the galaxy like grains of sand in a windstorm, not perfectly choreographed performers in some divinely appointed ballet.'
Dialogue Disasters: 'Do your worst to us, Devil!'
Continuity: The unnamed planet has two main continents, one housing the Amphibians, the other housing the Arboreals. The alien race that created both the Amphibians and the Arboreals left ziggurats on the Stopover Islands. They created the Arboreals and Amphibians to serve as slaves on land and under the sea, respectively. They may also have used them as food. They had enormously psionic powers [given their psychic abilities, interference in the development of younger races, and propensity for pyramids and sarcophagi, they may have been Osirians (Pyramids of Mars, Decalog: The Curse of the Scarab, The Sands of Time).
The Arboreals are essentialy human. Locations on their continent include the Whiteheights Range and the Hissingwhine neighbourhood. The Amphibians have four eyes. They can change their skin colour to indicate their emotions alternate ribbons of black and purple for example is an attack warning. They are oviparous and have claws that can open clamshells. They have ampullae and blowholes. A frightened student leaves a trace of sepia on its chair, as a result of fear apparently, this is not unusual. Their females are supposedly non-sentient, although it is hinted that this is just sexism. Their books include The Archeology of Dreams and The Prehistory of the Subconscious, both by Perfect God is Gracious Breathewater of the Kingscoming Seminary. The have a sacred text called The Book of Nine Thousand Truths. Their cities and provinces include Kingscoming, Godsire, the Purpleport and the Mudborn Dioceses. The Common Dream is shared by both species and is identical in both it was programmed into them by the race that created them to remind them of their origins. The Dream features the sarcophagus in the King's Chamber, which is also an actual location (the Ziggurat containing it is the one building on the planet that has stood undisturbed for one-hundred thousand years). Both races produce telepaths, who can climb into the sarcophagus in the Common Dream. The sarcophagus is a trap, designed to weed them out and kill them on waking, the telepaths undergo massive internal damage, leaving them either comatose or dead. The race that created them both programmed the sarcophagus into the Common Dream into their psyches as a housekeeping routine to process telepaths and destroy them.
Water scorpions are animals native to the planet, which have inch-long nematocysts for defense.
[The wonder in this story is the King's Chamber].
Location: The city of Godsire on an unnamed planet, date unknown.
The Bottom Line: A witty and rather engaging exercise in world building. The names are rather silly (Moo-Quack of Moo-Quack), but the exploration of the contradictions and complexities of religion is surprisingly sophisticated considering the relatively short page count.
City of Hammers
Author: Neil Williamson
Continuity: The City of Hammers is also known as the City of Hephaestus and is one of the oldest constructions known to humanity. It is at least thirty thousand years old and is made of a material that resembles steel, but is harder and stronger and infinitely more durable. The City gains its more common name from the arrays of vast hammers, beneath which it crushes animals and land on Altaque and recreates them out behind it, generating new species. The City is mobile. It is twenty-kilometres wide at its widest point. Everything that it crushes is reconstituted, nothing is consumed or wasted. The system is not confined to Altaque. Yanni and Cal are both hinted to be creations of the City that have left Altaque, Yanni returning there to die. The City does not require maintenance. The structure called the Crown is believed to control the City's function. Nothing is known about its creators. The Monks who live in the City of Hammers only allow visitors to stay for two days. Their order has existed for five thousand years and seeks to learn what the City represents they believe that it represents the variety of life in the Universe. Sixty percent of them are human. At least one the Monks is described as having creamy features and is translucent. Thanks to the City, millions of species exist on Altaque at any one time and more are created every day. Altaque thus has the most diverse biological catalogue of any planet on record.
Wheeler-174 is a virus that attacks the area of the brain, which collates sensory information and cross-references it victims are ultimately unable to feel any sort of sensory stimuli and thus are rendered effectively catatonic. It can be sexually transmitted.
[The wonder in this story is, of course, the City of Hammers].
Location: A shuttle between Nonna and the Point, and the City of Hammers on Altaque (which is located on the edge of the galaxy, or at least on the edge of human space, as there are references to the Rim Worlds), the future [the same era as Earthworld].
Future History: Travellers are groups of humans who live transitory lives in huge space freighters - whole generations come and go without making planetfall.
By this time, Earth is part museum, part theme park [see Earthworld]. Elmer is an Earth colony. The planets Mori and Glovetha are both similar to Earth. Contraceptives called skins are used, and the sensitivity of these can be set [presumably, these are advanced condoms].
The Bottom Line: 'It's not at all what I was expecting.' Great wonder. Cal's doomed relationship with Yanni is rather touching.
Painting the Age With the Beauty of Our Days
Author: Mike O'Driscoll
Roots: The magazines Playboy, Rolling Stone, Zombie and Fractured State are mentioned, as are The Guardian and The Chronicle. Edgar Honeyman is compared to Damien Hirst. There are references to Clinton, JFK, Sinatra, Shaft, Snickers, Jack Daniels, Aaron Neville, the Nuremberg Rallies, Ralph Reed, Jay Leno, William Burroughs, Gotham, Picasso and Tolstoy.
Continuity: Halciencephalin, or Hec, is a designer drug derived from encephalin. It was created by Japanese biotechs. Detox clinics can cure addicts in a day. Artist Honeyman made his reputation with giant carnivores constructed from Slaughterhosue remains. The hygiene issue forced his exhibition to close, and he took it to America, where he instead displayed holograms of his creations. Honeyman and the narrator, angered by their perceived apathy of America, undertake a series of artistic terrorist attacks, including the destruction of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and the Space Needle in Seattle. These attacks culminate in the explosion of Honeyman at the Andy Worhol Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Modern Art awards ceremony, thanks to the explosives weaved into his suit without him knowing by the narrator.
[The wonder in this story is the resurgence of emotion in the people of America thanks to the shock and anger caused by the artistic terrorist attacks].
Location: America, the early twenty-first century (post-2010).
Future History: During the early twenty-first century, the first public execution is transmitted on television in America. Death Valley in California has been cultivated and now supports golf courses [presumably thanks to weather control - see The Moonbase]. Ten years prior to this story, Charles Manson is paroled and appears on Letterman. There was an East African famine during 2009 and 2010.
The Bottom Line: 'This is what the artist believes?' Short, sharp and nasty, Painting the Age With the Beauty of Our Days explores the concept of terrorism as art, which is rather unpleasant idea given the current obsession with the threat of international terrorism. The prose style is fantastic, and the end result leaves the reader feeling slightly sullied.
The Judgement of Solomon
Author: Lawrence Miles
Features Bernice Summerfield.
Roots: The story opens with a quote from Diabolic Electron by James Hunnisett. There are references to The Arabian Nights Entertainments, Popeye, Alessandro Volta, Douglas Fairbanks and Inspector Clouseau.
Dialogue Triumphs: 'It's all right. I'm foreign. Everybody acts like this where I come from. Honestly.'
'Bugger. I mean, er, yes?'
'I am not drunk! Well, all right. I am drunk, but only in a kind of abstract postmodernist way. So it doesn't count.'
Benny's translator malfunctions, causing her to it to translate a sentence as 'Wobble! Do not hoops with agriculture to me, petticoats shrivelling flamb!'
Continuity: Benny was born in 2540 and first published in 2566. She studied at an academy on Vandor Iota. She is nearly thirty-five. It is not explained how she traveled back to eighth-century Baghdad, but she is still married, so the Doctor probably dropped her off there. She notes that she left her diary in the twenty-first century, so this story probably takes place sometime between Return of the Living Dad and Eternity Weeps. At some point recently, she visited a Zincrastian duty-free shop and bought a mock-Hawaiian shirt and a pair of chinos. Benny equips herself for eighth-century Baghdad by talking with her a Pocket Translator (which seems to work telepathically), ersatz gold coinage, two lumps of ultra-low sugar bubblegum, a pack of playing cards with obscene illustrations, and a pen-torch. She has also met Professor-General Chuang of the Peking Imperial College, a fellow archeologist. At some point, she has visited Hai Dow Q. When she is captured and imprisoned in Baghdad, she pretends to be a ghul (ghoul) in order to try and secure her release since ghuls are considered aristocracy, she spends a night in an oubliette, but is released the following morning unharmed. The reference to a friend who used to use the phrase cop eyes is probably a reference to Roz. Braxiatel's collection is also mentioned (Theatre of War).
The wonder in this story is the mysterious brass man, which appears to be omniscient. Its origin is unrevealed, although Benny is certain that it is, somehow, from Earth. If its story about King Solomon is true, it probably hails from the city of brass.
Location: Baghdad, sometime during the eighth century AD.
The Bottom Line: 'How do I keep ending up in these situations? The only story in the anthology that can strictly be considered to be part of the Doctor Who canon, The Judgement of Solomon is Miles at his best, a witty and thoughtful exploration of the non-linear progress of human development. Miles' interest in automata would be revisited in the faction Paradox audios.
The Milk of Human Kindness
Author: Liz Sourbut
Dialogue Triumphs: 'Why else have we got nipples if we cant use them?'
Dialogue Disasters: 'Wouldnt you like pop to feed you from his horrid hairy tits?'
Location: Uzbek, Tadzhiki, London, Iowa and Kenya, the early twenty-first century.
Future History: During the early twenty-first century, a genetically engineered virus designed to switch of the prolactin-release mechanism of cows and thus channel most of their energy output into milk production, becomes contagious and infects humans, causing a wide-spread outbreak of lactation in both men and women due to the massive change in metabolism, this invariably eventually exhausts the victim and is thus fatal. The virus was engineered by Lewis Pharmaceuticals in Iowa and is airborne. Rachael Lewis, already infected, spread the virus at a conference, causing outbreaks around the world [it is not explained how the virus is cured, but it presumably is, unless it is eradicated by placing the victims and infected regions under strict quarantine].
The Bottom Line: On of the oddest stories concerned with the dangers of genetic engineering that I've ever read, and also one of the most imaginative. Despite the comic potential of the virus effects, The Milk of Human Kindness is a highly effective human tragedy, with a bleak ending.
being a tale from the Library of (almost) Everything
Author: Stephen Marley
Dialogue Triumphs: 'Whatever it is, Mr Forthman, surely we've faced worse. What about the porcine horrors we encountered in the Case of the Sudden Pig. It looked like we were done for until I found the Clue of the Inconsequential Truffle.'
Continuity: The Entelechy sprang into being during the first second of the universe, from the necessity of their impossibility. During their brief existence, they solved all the mysteries of creation and created the Omnilibrarium - The Library of Everything. The library is extradimensional and details everything that has ever happened up to the present of the reader. Knowledge of the future is reserved for the elite group of races that evolved prior to the formation of planets. Anyone caught trying to steal a book is instantly swallowed by a nullity-trap and the book returned to the shelves. The Guardians are sound-activated intangible and invisible presences that act as librarians and demand silence from noisy patrons. Located one step to the left of reality, the Library can only be accessed via the Portal, which has been located at the centre of the Horsehead Nebula for the past five million years. To access the Portal, a pilot needs to be able to give one left-hand spin to the ontological structure of space-time. Because of the way the Library works, each book within it maintains the reality of a small portion of the universe, and each book in the Infinite Regress department maintains the entire Universe. Obald of Andromache disappeared in the Library one million years earlier and became the Bibliophage. The Bibliophage's consumption of biographies results in ontological vanishing, the removal of the biographies subjects' time lines being unraveled.
Books contained within the Library include an obscure sci-fi anthology called Dogleg 5 [a joke about Decalog 5] and The Dashwood Chronicles volume 69.
There is a reference to the poet Omar.
[The Wonder in this story is the Library of Everything.]
Location: The Library of Everything, 2555AD.
The Bottom Line: 'Ah yes the Bibliophage.' The only out-right comedy in the collection, Bibliophage is magnificent, a tongue-in-cheek adventure featuring a stereotypical sleuth and Buddhist Nun in an infinitely big library. It's utterly absurd, but Marley, the author of the sublime Managra, handles it perfectly.
Author: Jeanne Cavelos
Roots: There is a reference to the Mona Lisa.
Dialogue Triumphs: 'You don't use sculpture as a tool. Sculpture just is.'
Continuity: The planet is oblate, with a circumference 1.05 times that of Earth. Its mass is only 0.9 that of Earth, suggesting that it has a liquid core or a lack of heavy elements. Its day is 11.47 hours long and the temperature is 33?C during the day and 5?C at night. A black carbon material composed of Bucky tubes covers the entire planet's surface. There is a twenty-metre deep rocky layer approximately three hundred and fifty metres below the surface, containing calcium carbonate and other carbonates, metals, sulphides and silicates. There are metal-rich water deposits two kilometres below the surface, near which the microorganisms congregate. The microorganisms migrate with the magmatic movement of the planets core, the heat from which drives them upwards, thus creating the sculptures on the surface. They feed on carbon-based molecules, including the hydrocarbon polymer chains of plastics. Despite the high carbon content of humans, something in their chemical makeup makes them incompatible with the microorganisms. It is hinted that the planet is alive and that the organisms are therefore part of a larger whole.
The astronauts' Lander contains genetically engineered hybrid plants to provide oxygen, including cactus peaches.
[The Wonder in this story is the microorganisms and their sculptures.]
Location: An unnamed planet orbiting Alpha Centauri B, during the first half of the twenty-first century.
Future History: The planet is the first world discovered to support life [outside the solar system see The Dying Days].
The Bottom Line: Impressive slice of hard science fiction, if slightly too long. The abstract nature of the threat to the team makes a refreshing change from the usual malevolent alien menace.
Dome of Whispers
Author: Ian Watson
Continuity: The Dome of Whispers is a large building of quartz-veined marble, which due to the exact proportions of the building acts as a super-conductor for sound waves and permanently traps sound. People visit the Dome from all over the Galaxy to say a personal message for posterity. Once the wall of the Dome gets shattered the whispers escape and echo around Suf forever, after which Suf becomes known as the Whispering World or the Ghost World and becomes a tourist attraction all over again. The people of Suf use a transport system that features ascending and descending funicular railways. The Ruby Yat is an ancient poem of Suf, about mutability and eternity.
The Empire of Tajalam ruled seven worlds in the Praesepe Cluster five hundred light years from Earth, one thousand years earlier. Following Tajalam's death, they kept his sword in a museum on Praesepe Prime. Tajalam adopted the Ruby Yat as the basis for his private battle-code and cipher system. According to legend, he left the location of a paradise planet in a message at the Dome Whispers before he died, although in fact the message tells that paradise is made, not found.
[The Wonder in this story is the Dome of Whispers.]
Location: The Dome of Whispers, Wakil City on the planet Suf, some time after the Suf year 5079.
The Bottom Line: Rather impressively, Dome of Whispers has the feel of a mythical tale along the lines of the Arabian Nights Entertainments.
Authors: Stephen Marley
Continuity: It is stated by this time that the cosmos is starting to weaken, which is blamed on the Waters-of-Starlight [the exact nature of the river is not made clear, since the tribes people speak using symbolism. According to their oral legends, the Waters-of-Starlight were created by the Nine Root Races during the seventh millennium and a billion stars died in its creation; however, it is later implied that the Waters-of-Starlight are what exists outside the universe, and that it has been intruding into the universe since the Big Bang. It is explicitly stated that the true nature of the Waters-of-Starlight cannot be seen by human eyes, hence it is interpreted as a river. During River Woman's journey she perceives regions of various Earth rivers including the Nile and the Mekong. Presumably, it is how the tribes people see the intrusion into the Universe of that whatever exists outside it, as the universe nears its end (cosmologically speaking), resulting in weaknesses in the fabric of space-time that can be traversed, allowing beings with the knowledge to do this to leave our universe altogether [see The Taking of Planet 5 for more on what lies outside the universe!]. According to the Delaware tribes tradition, during the seventh millennium, the Waters-of-Starlight was considered one of the wonders of the universe (Death to the Daleks, Ghost Devices).
[The Wonder in this story is, of course, the Waters-of-Starlight.]
Future History: Far in the future, the surviving humans on Earth have evolved into shape-changers that can live for thousands of years. Every geological feature on Earth including the rivers was recreated a million years earlier and artificially preserved [There have been millions of years of recorded history by this point - this story probably takes place at a time close to Earth's destruction when Earth has been virtually abandoned - see The Ark and Frontios]. Earth has five thousand tributaries to the Waters-of-Starlight [dimensional bridges? See Location].
The Bottom Line: 'Time to leave the world.' Rather disappointingly, Marley's second story for the anthology is quite dull. The Waters-of-Starlight itself is a great idea, but the characters are trite and the whole thing is about twice as long as it ought to be.
|You visited the Whoniverse at 4:49 am GMT on Friday 16th December 2005