Genocide's a great idea*. That may be the only time you ever read a sentence like that, and it needs elaborating on, so I will.
The central idea of the novel Genocide is, of course the eponymous act. Humans, in their brutal expansionist future, kill off most of the Tractites, a four-eyed horse people (stop imagining horses wearing glasses while I'm trying to conduct a serious review.)
To counter this, one of the surviving horse people, physically and mentally scarred by the humans' invasion of her previously peaceful world, uses crude time travel technology in the form of a 'Time Tree' (sort of an Eco-TARDIS) to travel into the Earth's past in order to prevent us ever developing in the first place. (Which sets up a paradox - if we didn't develop in the first place, how could we ever invade them to cause them to want to erase us from history in the first place?) This pre-emptive strike is the second act of genocide.
This is where the Doctor comes in, because the Tractites, in going back to 2 million BC to prevent us evolving, have altered time so radically they've created an alternate universe, which then begins to drain something from our universe. The end result being that if the Doctor doesn't sort everything out, the multiverse might collapse. One significant consideration for the Doctor is that in order to set everything to rights, he might have to commit (you guessed it) genocide.
Arriving on Earth in 2109, the Doctor and Sam discover that humanity doesn't exist. Instead, the planet's called Paratractis and inhabited by a race of Tractites whose history is somewhat foggy. I.e. they're not entirely sure how they developed. For a change, the Tractites are a caring, peaceful society rather than your standard xenophobic undesirables. Their cities are impressively described and some considerable thought has obviously gone into creating a realistic society based on the environmentally sound development of their race, such as books that you read by tasting them and eco-friendly cityscapes.
In fact, the Tractites have obviously made a much better job of living on Earth than we have - there's no pollution, murder is unheard of, and generally everyone's happy. It's this innocence that makes the Doctor's mission of genocide an uneasy one, and it causes Sam to question, among other things, the right of her own species to exist. Had the colonising race been the Daleks, the Cybermen or some other destructive force, we'd have been rooting for the Doctor to give them a pasting, but since Paul Leonard creates a likeable Tractite race, we're not sure it's an easy decision at all (even though we know it is the ONLY decision.)
The notable Tractites are fully fleshed out characters - for example, Kitig is a family horse with a strong sense of overriding duty, and his moral conflict between killing the Doctor (the Uncreator of Tractite legend) and his concern for all life is perhaps his own battle with genocide. If he kills the Doctor, everyone that's ever lived anywhere might die, but if he lets the Doctor live, it's genocide by default, as his race is forfeit.
There's also the Jo Grant subplot. Jacob Hynes is an environmental extremist from present day (1997) Earth, who is prepared to go to any lengths to 'save the planet.' After a Tractite, cut off from the original pre-emptive strike expedition discovers Jacob, he and it attempt to continue the original Tractite plan. Rowenna and Julie, two archaeologists, stumble upon clues that would lead them to Jacob's plan and are thus captured and infected with a deadly virus. Rowenna manages to contact her old friend Jo Grant, who comes looking for them and is also captured. They all end up in 1 million B.C. - 1 million years after the original Tractite pre-emptive strike.
Leonard makes you really care about Rowenna and Julie, and it's honestly shocking when they die, especially when so close to salvation. Of course, it's indirectly that stupid brat Sam's fault, as once again she's able to grasp some complex concepts but unable to make sensible moral choices.
There are some excellent plot points, including the Doctor wasting away in a Tractite prison, the TARDIS being dropped into a volcano in 2 million B.C. and discovered in 1 million B.C. by Sam and Jo, and Kitig's final realisation that his sacred Paratractis is built on death and suffering.
Character-wise, it's interesting to see how Jo has developed from her idealistic, immature young self into an older, wiser and more decisive person. She has a son now, and wants to go home to him, so she's willing to do whatever's necessary to do so, even kill. She's obviously there as a contrast to Sam, who hasn't had the experiences that caused Jo to rethink or change her personal philosophy.
As I mentioned earlier, Sam's an annoying brat, more so in Genocide than in any other EDA thus far. The passages describing her moral deliberations make for a fascinating read. Unfortunately, when she makes the wrong choices, it's ultimately a frustrating experience. Still, that's the fault of the character, not Paul Leonard, who's actually done a good job of bringing out her irritating personality traits.
The Doctor himself lies a little too often, even encouraging Kitig to do so, presumably because there's so much at stake, but otherwise he's pretty near the mark. His constant energy, cheek and zest for life show through even when the chips are down.
Overall, I'd say it was a thoroughly enjoyable book that I couldn't put down. It was powered by great ideas, had some insightful character related paragraphs with observations on morality and shades of grey and painted a believable picture of the last desperate gasps of an enslaved race attempting to prevent its downfall, with many different groups each doing what they have to. It was only let down by one or two plodding sections and an opening that didn't really make sense until about two thirds of the way into the novel.
*Genocide is never a good idea, as it tends to cause more problems than it solves.**
** Unless you're committing Genocide against the Daleks, in which case, go nuts!
Review by Tom Hey