A recent post at Tor.com on weird SF novels reminded me of Atom Bomb Blues by Andrew Cartmel. It may well be the weirdest Doctor Who novel ever. Also a very bad novel, although I can’t accuse it of a lack of imagination. Atom Bomb Blues is packed with ideas, practically all bad. It read like Cartmel just threw in anything that came into his head, and every other page there was something that made me blink and go “Huh?”
So… the Doctor is hanging around the Manhattan Project. In an alternate universe. And this alternate universe has been infiltrated by people from our own universe in the 21st century, who just happen to look exactly like people from this other universe’s 1940s. And the infiltrators plan to destroy the world because they think it will change history in other universes, causing Japan to win World War 2. Already we have reason to suspect that Andrew Cartmel has been snorting raw sugar. But wait! There’s more! Ace is taking fish oil pills that give her superhuman mathematical abilities! And she’s wearing a cowgirl outfit because she thought the Doctor was going to the Alamo! And she’s really, really dense! And one of the infiltrators is some kind of beatnik who talks like Maynard G. Krebs! Crazy, man!
And then there’s the alien. Named Zorg. Who keeps adding a “z” to the start of people’s names. And writes poetry. He’s not there for a reason. Cartmel just threw him in. Why not? And the Japanese agents in bright, color-coded Zoot suits. And the random encounter with Duke Ellington. And the stereotypical Indians. And Major Butcher, the Los Alamos security officer, who is heavily and obviously based on Dashiell Hammett for absolutely no reason I can determine at all. What’s up with that, Andrew?
And then the story stops dead for a bizarre chapter in which the Doctor, for no reason in the world, convinces Major Butcher he (Major Butcher) has been drugged with peyote. This is the chapter with Zorg, and the Indians. It has dialogue like “That was very dapperly done, Doctor,” and “Don’t be so literal-minded, Bulldog Bozo.” The whole chapter has absolutely nothing at all to do with anything else in the novel. Put it all together, and you’ve got something that left me staring at the book in my hands, muttering “what the hell was that?“
Finally, I’d like to note that I can’t read the phrase Atom Bomb Blues without thinking of “The Wedding Bell Blues” by the Fifth Dimension. It makes reading this thing even more surreal when, every time you look at the cover, you hear a choir of carousels.