A Better Way to Die: The Collected Short Stories

By Paul Cornell

Rating: 2 stars

In his introduction, John Scalzi claims that Paul Cornell is, possibly, the nicest man in science fiction. I’ve only met the chap once or twice, but from those, and from Twitter, I wouldn’t argue the proposition. That makes it difficult to come out and say that I didn’t really enjoy much of this collection. Although Cornell has written some cracking Doctor Who, this volume, as well as my reading of the first of his Shadow Police series and his Lychford books suggest that his personal style doesn’t work for me. He seems to write from a dark place, something which comes out moreso in his short fiction. The stories in this collection are set in chronological order (with the Hamilton stories sorted at the end), so we can see his style and his writing develop.

The early stories, The Deer Stalker, Michael Laurits is: DROWNING and Global Collider Generation: An Idyll feel quite experimental, and I struggled to understand a lot of them; The Sensible Folly was a lot more fun, as were the two Wild Cards stories (Cornell’s contribution to George R. R. Martin’s shared universe). The Ghosts of Christmas felt really bleak all the way through and I really struggled to read that story.

The Hamilton stories were interesting because they start out almost as James Bond pastiche, in a world where Newton’s musings took him in a very different direction, where the great powers of the 19th century have survived and still play their Great Game, while maintaining a “balance” to avoid all-out war. It feels like these stories in particular get very dark as they go on. Hamilton is a complex character, trapped by ties of loyalty and love in a very cruel world. It’s easy to feel sympathy for him, and even what he does, and still be appalled at his world.

An interesting collection, with a strong authorial voice. Read if you enjoy going to dark places, but not really to my taste.

Book details

ISBN: 9781907069840
Publisher: NewCon Press
Year of publication: 2015

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter (The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club, #1)

By Theodora Goss

Rating: 4 stars

After the death of her parents, Mary Jekyll is broke, but her mother’s papers indicate her father’s associate, and wanted murderer, Edward Hyde, may still be alive. Fired with the idea of claiming the reward for his capture, with the help of Sherlock Holmes, she goes after him. Instead she finds his daughter, Diana. Together, they delve deeper into a mystery that leads them to other unusual, indeed, some might say, monstrous, women and a secret society whose members will stop at nothing to get what they want.

I really enjoyed this adventure, which could have just as easily been entitled The League of Extraordinary Gentlewomen, as it brings together various fictional women from gothic fiction. The author, in a piece on John Scalzi’s blog describes having been struck with the thought that female monsters in that sort of fiction always die. But what happens if the puma woman escaped Moreau’s island; if Rappaccini’s daughter didn’t die of the poison antidote; or if Frankenstein didn’t actually destroy the bride he created for his monster. This book is the fruit of that rumination, and it’s a huge amount of fun.

The book is told as Mary Jekyll’s story, but the other characters are, in no way, diminished because of this. They each get their own chapter telling of their origin story but are present in another way as well. The author uses the device that the story is being written by Catherine Moreau, but, being annoyed at the interruptions of the others, leaves their interjections in place in the text. For the first few pages, this was annoying, but it soon became very much part of the narrative, and I started to thoroughly enjoy the interruptions. Each of them has a very distinct voice and it’s a nice way to get additional points of view into the story, where appropriate. This device does, however, mean that the tension is lessened a bit, since we know that all the characters survive to the end, but that’s a minor issue and one that doesn’t bother me.

I really liked all the characters, their individual stories and the mystery that brought them all together. The story moves at a rapid pace and is very readable. I can’t wait to read more adventures of the Athena Club.

Book details

ISBN: 9781481466516
Publisher: Gallery / Saga Press
Year of publication: 2017


By Roald Dahl

Rating: 3 stars

This collection is part of a themed series put out by Penguin to showcase Dahl’s adult short fiction. The clue to the theme is in the title, with trickery and deceit being the order of the day. Some of the stories fit the theme by a thread (such as the first story, The Wish about a boy who imagines his carpet to be full of monsters), but most are good fits. I hadn’t known that one of my favourite Dahl books as a youngster, Danny, the Champion of the World, was based on a short story, but it was, and it’s in this collection. The plot is much the same (but with adult protagonists) but with fewer words, there’s less space for characterisation.

The longest story in the collection is one of Dahl’s ‘Uncle Oswald’ stories, and it’s nice to see the licentious old man get the wool pulled over his eyes. Other highlights for me included The Surgeon about a surgeon who is given an astounding gift; and Beware of the Dog about an RAF pilot who comes down and finds himself in hospital.

While some of these have lost their sting over the years, many others still retain their bite and sense of “oof” that comes with the twist. It’s a fun collection, if quite short, and a decent introduction to Dahl’s adult short fiction.

Book details

ISBN: 9781405933230
Publisher: Penguin
Year of publication: 2017

The Rise of Endymion (Hyperion Cantos, #4)

By Dan Simmons

Rating: 4 stars

Concluding the Hyperion cantos is a tricky job, drawing many threads together and providing some closure, and Simmons mostly does a good job. We pick up five years after Raul Endymion and Aenea found themselves on Old Earth, just as they have to leave. This time Raul is sent out alone to go and look for the Counsel’s ship, that they left on a planet somewhere along the River Tethys while Aenea goes on her own adventures. We follow Raul on his travels, hiding from the Pax and his eventual reunion with Aenea. A neat trick with relativity means that another five years or so have passed for him before the reunion, making her in her early twenties before the relationship foretold in the previous book happens, and so making the whole thing somewhat less creepy.

There are several points in the book where Aenea, now in full One Who Teaches mode, stops to provide several pages of exposition. This slows the book down a lot and it feels clunky to hear someone ask “Tell us about the Farcasters”, or whatever, and have an infodump thrown at the reader. I wish that a better way could have been found to handle that.

It’s also sometimes tricky to keep various versions of a story in my head at once. “So the Cantos said this about it, the Core says that, and now Aenea is saying the other.” Trying to remember all the different versions so that I could reconcile them in my head was sometimes tricky.

The Core comes out of this as the real villains, along with certain individuals in the Church who can’t see beyond their own greed. I’m left feeling almost sorry for Lenar Hoyt, now the Pope, who seems like a very weak character, who is entirely led by other people, and by the Core. It feels like a weakness that the final resolution seems to pretty much leave the Core out entirely. We never find out what happens to it, but I suppose there have to be some mysteries left over. And speaking of mysteries, the Shrike retains some of its mystery. We find out more about it, but the core (to me) item of why it was created and why it changed sides in the last book are still not clear.

Also, something that bugged me from early on was the revelation that Father Duré from the first books was still “alive”, in that he and Hoyt shared a body and each time Hoyt died and Duré was resurrected, he was killed by the Church to allow Hoyt to return. But Duré’s cruciform was cut from him by the Shrike in Fall of Hyperion, while in the Labyrinth (I flipped through the book to make sure I wasn’t imagining it, and I wasn’t). Since it’s never explained, I guess this is just a plot hole, but I would have thought that any beta-readers would have picked up on it (either that, or I missed something pretty important).

Definitely better than its predecessor, but perhaps not quite matching the first two books of the cantos, it’s worth reading to finish the story. Oh, and if I ever write a sequel to my blog post on big dumb objects, the Startree is definitely going on the list.

Book details

ISBN: 9780553572988
Publisher: Spectra
Year of publication: 1997

For the Love of Radio 4 An Unofficial Companion

By Caroline Hodgson

Rating: 3 stars

This is a fairly lightweight fluff piece of a book. The most interesting part for me was probably the early sections that talked about the history and antecedents of Radio 4. The sections discussing individual programmes won’t contain much that long-term fans of the station won’t already know, but it’s pleasant enough.

My main problem is that I’ve slightly gone off Radio 4, especially the Today programme, over the last few years, since B*exit, since I felt it was biased and drifting ever more to the right. And since it was always Today which anchored me to the station, I’ve drifted away from R4 as well. I listen to a lot more podcasts these days, and when I do listen to the radio, it’s as often the World Service as R4.

Going back to the book, it’s split into thematic sections, covering news and current affairs, drama, arts, etc. Mainstays of the schedule get their own subsection, covering the programme’s history, previous presenters and any controversy that it’s had. Light and fluffy, it reminded me of many of the things I do still love about Radio 4 and might bring me back to some degree (although I think Today has lost me for good).

Book details

ISBN: 9781849536424
Publisher: Summersdale Publishers
Year of publication: 2014

Powered by WordPress