The Janus Conjunction
Uninspiring cover, even less inspiring title. The Janus Conjunction (JC) doesn't give the impression of being a particularly good book, and the opening does little to disprove that hypothesis. We begin with Julya and Lunder being hunted by cybernetically enhanced spiders in some old ruins. Since we haven't watched these characters develop, we don't really give a monkeys what happens to them, and it's therefore a weak start.
The Doctor and Sam arrive, and get split up straight away. They don't meet again until much later on, which leaves us very little in the way of Doctor - companion banter. Instead, we're subjected to a series of moderately predictable running battles featuring graphic descriptions of spiders getting blasted. The deaths in JC are quite gory. Not to the level of Longest Day, but violent nonetheless.
JC's saving grace is the skin melting radiation disease which dissolves cells while the body remains alive for quite some time. Sam contracts the disease, and from that point on the novel is a race against time to save the star system and Sam into the bargain. As you may have guessed, this is where JC progresses from a very average into a tense encounter between three or four different parties. They don't all agree, and something's got to give. At one point, I even thought that Sam had died.
The Janus Conjunction has something in common with The Scarlet Empress - giant spiders. I suspect it was unintentional, but two spider novels in a row is somewhat annoying. I know many people are afraid of spiders, but I often think Who needs new monsters, rather than robotic or humanoid versions of Earth animals.
The Doctor appears to be a fairly generic Doctor, apart from the odd utterance of "Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam" and he's not blessed in the characterisation stakes. Sam fares better, her struggles against her injuries and subsequent disease coupled with her separation from the Doctor cause her to think on her feet. She's clearly still the more adult Sam we saw emerge from Seeing I, and she analyses her thoughts and feelings on a few occasions.
Other than that, we learn very little about the supporting cast except recent history, although there is one moment when Lunder remembers his childhood. Captain Zemler's another cardboard bad guy, and there are several faceless mercenaries that can be killed without any questions asked.
The cock-up of the novel would appear to be when the Doctor and Julya are attempting to escape the spider pen in the pitch blackness, and the Doctor claims he can't see what he's doing with the sonic screwdriver. Is this the same Doctor that has excellent night vision? There are also some terrible plays on words - 'Take me to your spider' being the worst, with the chapter heading 'Return to Menda' following closely.
All in all, a pretty good novel that gets better as it goes along. It's a bit generic in places, but it does eventually offer enough to recommend it, so long as you don't expect too much and don't judge it by its cover.
Review by Tom Hey