Myth Makers Presents: The Fires Of Prometheus
by Joseph Keeping

Fan fiction is a difficult thing to review. Whereas the Virgin or BBC novels are, obviously, expected to meet the standards of any other novel, fanfic engenders no such comparison; should it, too, be expected to meet such lofty heights, or should allowances be made for the fact that, more often than not, the fan author is just an amateur trying to do his best? Ultimately, I think it depends on the work itself; in the case of this review, because of its sheer quality and professionalism, I have chosen to critique as I would a proper novel (which is, anyhow, the form for which it was originally intended). So bear in mind, while reading this review, that the work in question easily overshadows the average work of fan fiction, which is already a huge point in its favor!

"Myth Makers Presents 3: The Fires Of Prometheus" differs slightly from the first volume in the series ("In Tua Nua", previously subjected to a Review From The Land Of Fiction) in that the main novella is preceded by two short stories. Sadly, neither story is particularly memorable (and nor do they pair well with the principal story, making their inclusion all the more suspect), and so I shall deal with them only briefly here. Clive May's "The Love Of A Dalek" suffers the same problem as most 'Brief Encounter'- style stories, namely: why does it exist? The best of this genre use their few words to make an interesting observation about some aspect of Doctor Who, or else to tell what amounts to an amusing anecdote. "The Love Of A Dalek" does neither, and really left me cold. Jeri Massi's "Mistaken Identity" is better, but struggles to find a voice -- it would have worked well as either an all-out comedy or as an ecological drama, but doesn't really settle down into either.

And so we come to the star attraction: Joseph Keeping's "The Fires Of Prometheus". I'm privileged to have worked with Keeping and read his prose for several years now, back to the days when we both contributed to the now-defunct "The Whostorian Quarterly". I've always enjoyed Keeping's short stories, and his ability to mix a strong plot and action elements with perceptive characterisation and very human moments. "The Fires Of Prometheus", Keeping's first solo long-form effort ("In Tua Nua" having been co-written with James Bow) continues much of that tradition, but sadly doesn't quite meet up to Keeping's previous standard, resulting in an enjoyable but unsatisfying read.

The TARDIS is summoned to Scotland in the early nineteenth century, where the Fourth Doctor and Sarah become embroiled in the efforts of a mysterious cult led by the sinister, blind ex-priest Schlecta. Sarah meets a young girl with strange powers of premonition whom she soon realises is a young Mary Godwin, the future Mary Shelley and author of "Frankenstein". When Sarah is kidnapped by the cult, the Doctor and Mary pursue her across Europe, stumbling across a series of grisly murders centered around the comatose Victor Frankenstein and his blasphemous experiments into the nature of life itself.

Keeping, as usual, has developed a strong plot, one which borrows intelligently from "Frankenstein" without being either derivative or ridiculous. "The Fires Of Prometheus" does not so much crib from Shelley's work as complement it, offering a reasonable (well, reasonable within the confines of Doctor Who) background from which the story might have sprung. There are plenty of twists and turns to maintain the suspense, and the conclusion is particularly thrilling -- especially as Keeping plays off readers' expectations from the original novel, to good effect. Keeping's interpretations of Sarah Jane is excellent, nicely treading the line between "modern woman" and "screaming companion" which seemed almost paradoxical in the TV series. The Fourth Doctor, too, is quite good, albeit a little temperamental (taking his mood-swing tendencies of Seasons 13 and 14 to new heights), though Keeping does go to the well a little too often for traditional Fourth Doctor catchphrases and antics, making him somewhat two- dimensional.

Not quite as good is the supporting cast. No one is quite fully fleshed out, though some characters -- Schlecta and Mary in particular -- seem halfway there. In these instances, the basis for a complex and involving character is obviously there, but not enough time is spent coaxing them to maturity. And this probably comes from the other major problem with "The Fires Of Prometheus": the pacing of the whole thing.

Although I liked the story from the start, my interest was never really captivated, and it took me several chapters before I realised that the pace was the problem. Everything seems to happen in a continuous run, without a pause for breath: the reader is thrust from situation to situation, plot point to plot point, without any opportunity to really become acquainted with the settings and characters or reflect on events. A subplot, once completed, is barely referred to again, given the whole thing a rather disjointed air (it seemed like ages after the first five or six chapters that the Doctor thought to so much as mention the cult and the Speakers again). Too many characters seem to be introduced merely to serve their function in the plot; nowhere is this more evident than with Henri Clerval, whose introduction, development, and death happen so rapidly that the reader has no time to become involved with the character, meaning his ultimate fate is rather anticlimatic.

The end result is a story which, despite its intriguing plot, lacks emotional resonance with the reader. And this is particularly disappointing given that this is by far one of Keeping's strengths. Certainly, there's nothing wrong with a purely plot-driven story, but when one is so skilled at coaxing humanity out of the printed page, it is a shame to opt for a lesser approach.

"The Fires Of Prometheus" is indeed an excellent piece of writing. While it is not as good as Keeping and Bow's "In Tua Nua", it is deserving of the prominence given it by the "Myth Makers Presents" format, and is easily one of the better pieces of fan fiction I've read in quite a while. But I can't help but feel that there is an even better story lurking within, needing just a bit more work and polish to draw out. "The Fires Of Prometheus" is good, but it could be great.


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