The Mercury, May 1995

Eidolon, October 1995

The SF Site: The Best in Science Fiction and Fantasy, April 1999

Light-speed impact by Tas writer

The Mercury, 15 May 1995.

Let me say from the outset this is one book that will startle the tripes out of any reader not prepared to wade into it with all defence shields down. Detrius Thesper's adventures may be set in strictly chronological order but it's an order mired in chaos and an adventure that rips along at the speed of nanoseconds.

First-time writer Niall Doran has tackled a difficult writing milieu. The bleak science fiction comedy has been done, and done with devastating cleverness, in the various hitchhikers' guides to the galaxy and the average person has been well exposed to hi-jinx in hyperspace via such television shows as Red Dwarf. So with all this stuff on the loose to thrill the reader and disarm the viewer, what's a young author from Hobart doing in among the time warps and space beasties?

Telling a singular tale, that's what.

Doran has used time, rather than space, to connect the adventures of the main character and his exceedingly active cohorts. He sets the action on Earth and has protagonists coping not only with the vagaries of life on the planet but with the blockheadedness and sheer bastardry of inept government departments.

Thesper is a time traveller and battler of space beasts, in particular, one tentacled creature that surfaces on the planet. This may or may not be so, of course, because the time element to the story has events happening in a time where time itself is out of order. Is that a monster Detrius sees on the horizon or did he see that in another time and place in the universe? Is that a corpse or will it be killed some time in the future? There are intriguing moments when the reader is required to go to work on a few of these propositions.

Doran has borrowed on bits and pieces from other planetary places. His time capsule is less a sleek rocket and more a wardrobe - a distant cousin, surely, to the TARDIS. Its crew, Detrius, Celi, Reek, and George, who have arrived on Earth by ghastly error, could transfer to the deck of the two-headed Zaphod's spacecraft and be perfectly at home. Even the conclusion to the book, complete with jockish if nincompoop action men rushing about, has delirious overtones of Ben Elton's Stark. The allusions to other science fiction novels are cleverly worked into the story and Doran never lets up on the pace.

There is little subtlety to Detrius Thesper and the adventures he and his crew get up to and for this reason the book will appeal to the younger end of the reading market. It fairly cries out to be read by students and young adults. Doran still has some fine-tuning to do with his style and it would be good to see him abandon the more frenetic aspects of his writing. The ideas fairly race off the page but at such speed and with so many permutations to the story that the development of a more tightly-crafted plot has no time to be realised. The plot is fun, the plot is clever - but there is simply too damned much of it.

It's a jolly read, though, with some nicely observed moments and it will be interesting to see if Niall Doran kicks on. A little more discipline from the writer, plus the eagle eye and unrelenting pen of a firm editor, will work wonders next time. The book is self-published and looks good and full marks to all concerned for turning out a wholly Tasmanian product.

- Patsy Crawford

Eidolon - the Journal of Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy

No. 19 (Vol 5), October 1995.

Niall Doran is a young writer from Hobart whose first, self-published, book The Chronological Adventures of Detrius Thesper (referred to hereafter as TCAODT) is proudly proclaimed to be "A Loopy Kind of Comedy" along the bottom of its cover. Irrespective of this claim, the book's general presentation is hard to fault, and the cover illustration is certainly eye-catching; so much so that upon seeing a flyer for it on a stall at Thylacon [the 1995 Australian National SF Convention, held in Hobart], I simply had to buy a copy just to find out what the hell it was about. (Call me a sucker if you want to; I don't care).

As for the plot, the scenario sounds more complicated than it really is. Four travellers from the future are stranded in Melbourne, 1985, after an accident destroys their time machine. With little or no memory of their experiences together they drift apart and go their separate ways - until ten years later when one of them, with the help of the Australian Institute for Future Research, develops a possible means of taking them home and sets out to reunite the four. Of course, things don't go according to plan, with one castaway incarcerated in a mental home and later mistaken for a brutal serial killer, another living in blissful (if that's the word) ignorance in Launceston, and the last quite happy with the life she has made for herself in this time. Throw in a few skinheads, bureaucracies, Anti-Terrorist Squads and, of course, a time-devouring monster for good measure, and you end up with a story that's not entirely fresh, but is intriguing enough to keep the reader amused.

Comparisons with Ben Elton's Stark and Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide trilogy are inevitable, although overall the book resembles one by Robert Rankin most closely of all. Flawed characters in a flawed world, with a plot superficially complicated enough to make your eyes water and imperfect resolutions abounding - this is very familiar territory. TCAODT may not break any new ground in sf humour - or even plain old sf - but it is genuinely funny in places and that, after all, is the point. This is a book that sets out to entertain, and nothing more.

Stylistically, Doran demonstrates himself to be a capable (if sometimes over-enthusiastic) writer. Many of the book's weaknesses lie in its structure, particularly its opening chapters and sudden conclusion (of sorts). Like most self-published books, TCAODT suffers from a lack of editing, and would have benefited from a firm, guiding hand to keep the author in check. For instance, an overly-fragmented narrative makes it hard going at times; frequent leaps across points of view work well during action scenes but become labored during development or backfill; and whereas in Ben Elton's (early) work, one gets the feeling that the story would make sense even if the book wasn't a comedy, Doran has patched his holes with an abundance of action and interspersed a bare minimum of explanation among more entertaining character interactions.

For me the prize was Doran's setting, which is nothing more or less than contemporary urban Australia. Not the bush, nor a fictional Neighbours-land perpetuated by other local comedies like Hey Dad and Newlyweds - just the places we have, most of us, lived in or heard about every day. If we have an Australian mind-set then Doran has successfully captured it, or an aspect of it at least, without exaggerating it or distorting it in the process. Doran's eye is keen, his timing is occasionally perfect, and he demonstrates an understanding that, in longer works rather than sketch comedy, it's not what people say or do per se that makes the reader laugh, it's the way they are. (My favourite passage in the entire book comprises nothing more than an explanation for the dearth of research funds in Australia, thereby justifying the existence of a secretly successful scientific Institute, buried under Canberra "of all places").

Perhaps that explains why, at times, his main characters come across as being a little stereotyped. Being castaways from the future they are less firmly rooted in our time and therefore less susceptible to the cutting edge of Doran's wit. Maybe in later works with characters echoing reality, rather than other works of this nature, Doran might truly come into his own.

Anyway, to sum up: if you're looking for something to while away the empty months until Terry Pratchett releases his new book in paperback, or you're simply curious about the state of sf humour in Australia, then this book is worth a read. (At least it's intentionally amusing, unlike some notable exceptions the Eidolon reviewing team has come across just recently). Niall Doran has proved himself to be another new author worth watching in the future - if only to make certain he doesn't make any sudden moves.

- Copyright © 1995 Sean Williams

The SF Site (U.S.): The Best in Science Fiction and Fantasy

April 1999

Sometimes you are just in the mood for something fun -- fun, fun, fun 'til your editor makes you read something with literary sway. You want to sit back and enjoy yourself, have a few laughs, escape the madness of reality with the insanity of fiction. You want to read The Chronological Adventures Of Detrius Thesper and, dammit, you're going to do it. Or something along those lines...

Detrius Thesper is nobody's notion of a hero. Self-centred, cowardly, inept -- he's more like the bungling sidekick who has to be rescued every other chapter. Well, at least he got that part right; he's a menace to his own safety and to anyone within a kilometre radius.

Really, with a visitor from the future you ought to be able to expect more than that. But, that expectation isn't going to get you anywhere in this book. Detrius is just one of a quartet of marooned time-travellers. One is a young woman who wants nothing to do with their old lives and really wants nothing to do with Detrius (something about desertion). The only one with any idea of how to get them home is going strictly by memory. The fourth, and most stable, member of the team is due to be released from an insane asylum any day now.

Between Detrius' crew and the monster that "followed" them into the past, things are not looking promising for Melbourne, in fact, for Australia as a whole. Of course, everything will really hit the fan when the "authorities" decide to step in. This would be a good time to take a vacation anywhere else. War zones included.

Let me just say that the worst is yet to come.

The Chronological Adventures Of Detrius Thesper follows a proud tradition of British humour of the absurd. Think of him as Tom Sharpe, minus the malice. Not that no one gets knocked off in this book, but not with quite the prolonged glee of that esteemed author. Perhaps, it is more like Ben Elton's stuff. Then again, maybe it's just strictly Doran. Whatever comparisons you make or how you classify it, The Chronological Adventures Of Detrius Thesper is a hoot.

If the name seems familiar, you are probably correctly connecting Doran with Thylaxene, one of the strongest and most unsettling anthologies to come out in 1998. From New Zealand or anywhere on the globe. If the name seems unfamiliar, it might be because Doran and his co-horts are from a gasp! foreign country. In other words, they are part of the wealth of fine fiction that isn't making it into US bookshops. Yep, we're getting robbed.

The Chronological Adventures Of Detrius Thesper may not go down in history as one of the classics of the genre, but it is one I feel genuinely fortunate to have snagged. You will, too.

Copyright © 1999 Lisa DuMond

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