Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Expanded Universes (The Coming of the Terraphiles)

The other week I read the Michael Moorecock Doctor Who novel The Coming of the Terraphiles and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's an odd beast, you can't quite be certain who is a guest at and who is hosting the party. the Doctor is clearly a lead character, but the Multiverse takes centre stage. Quite apart from that the story belongs to Bingo, Hari, Flapper and the other members of the Terraphiles, a society of history enthusiasts who base their reenactments on a rather limited set of source books, and  who anyway have so much more history to choose from that the conflation of a mere few hundred years maybe doesn't seem so terrible a fudge.

This is of course correct and in keeping with the way Doctor Who stories are constructed - the Doctor is so often the catalyst in someone else's story, the outside event that shakes things up and gets them moving, his very presence such a disruption that stories happen around him. It is the characters who's lives he enters who we most identify with, not the Doctor himself. (This, incidentally, is why I found the Ten/Rose era so disappointing; as he descended into weepy navel-gazing his awareness of his affect on the world around him not only diminished but was written as being less important - so the viewer was not supposed to care as much either, but that's another discussion.)

Anyway, what was strange for me about reading this novel is that it is possibly the first bit of secondary source material that I have consumed for something of which I am a fan since I stopped reading the Star Wars Expanded Universe books as a teenager. By secondary source material I mean original material which is (until rescinded) canonical, but is not part of the core format and storyline. (In addition, I don't really read fanfiction, either - not because I don't agree with it per se, but because I genuinely don't tend to enjoy that sort of shared speculation, especially when it is written down. I have squicks about what's real and what isn't in my fictional universes.) So, for almost all of my fandoms what the characters have got up to is only what everyone knows they have got up to and what I have speculated they have got up to in my head.

What I'd forgotten was quite how expanding reading a bit of extra material can be, not only because it contains the continuing adventures of characters you like. What really got me, in my gut and in the lightness of my step, was the feeling (once more) of being part of a secret club, of gleaning hidden knowledge that others have not seen, and of knowing that in any discussion I might have about the show I might have a secret adventure that will most likely not be touched by someone else's opinion. (I seem to be a fan who doesn't like to talk to other fans as fans, although I do like to talk to people who are friends and also happen to also be fans, if that makes sense.) I remembered again how good it is to know that the space between episodes is not a nothing, but is teeming with life.

I remember one of the reasons I stopped reading Star Wars EU books was because they became too full, every gap in the story was plugged, every natural lacuna filled with excitement that eventually collapsed into a tedium of overexposure, and I don't want to go back to that state. I don't want to become bored with characters I love, or crucially crowd out my own imaginative vistas with the derivative burblings of hacks, but it has re-ignited my interest in exploring further afield in those shared worlds of the imagination.

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