BooksOfTheMoon

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 Lost Child of Lychford (Lychford, #2)

By Paul Cornell

Rating: 4 stars

It’s nearly Christmas in Lychford but local vicar (and, coincidentally, witch) Lizzie is finding it awfully stressful. While she worries about her parishioners (and bad Christmas songs), something terrifying is worming its way into Lychford, and the ghost of a young boy has started following her around. With her friends (and fellow witches), Judith and Autumn, she has to get to the bottom of things before the big day.

Moreso than the first book in this series, this reminded me of Cornell’s London Falling, where there is doom and forces out to destroy humanity around every corner and only the will and faith of a very small number of people prevents it, and then at great personal cost, and by the skin of their teeth.

I like the very different characters of all the witches; and while I’m not a person of faith, and usually don’t have much interest in books that bring it to the fore, the faith here was done well and with enough facets to be interesting, not preachy. Like the previous book in the series, and the aforementioned London Falling, there’s a sense of ancient and malevolent forces that care nothing for us or anything like us and the incredibly thin line (or, indeed, blind luck) that’s kept us going thus far.

Engaging and with more depth than a novella of its size should be able to produce, I still don’t know if I can face the next book, where Lychford comes face to face with Brexit.

Book details

ISBN: 9780765389770
Publisher: Tor.com
Year of publication: 2016

Witches of Lychford (Lychford, #1)

By Paul Cornell

Rating: 4 stars

I’ve enjoyed Paul Cornell’s work for a while now and picked this up at an author talk during a literary festival. It features Judith Mawson, a grumpy old lady living in a village in the English countryside, who also just happens to be a witch. And the village of Lychford is no ordinary village either, but the lynchpin of the worlds, the very shape of the village helping to hold back evil. And now a supermarket chain wants to build a new store that would upset the topography and destroy the wards.

For such a short story, it’s a novella of only 140-odd pages, this packs a lot of detail. It deals with faith, and crises thereof, local village politics, town and country and more, as Judith gathers some unlikely allies in her fight against the supermarket.

The tension between old friends Autumn (a dyed in the wool rationalist and sceptic) and Lizzie (now the village priest) is very well drawn as old friendship fights with more recent woes that beset both characters, and colours their interactions with each other and Judith.

There’s a lot of warmth in this story, and real complexity in the subject of faith, both of the vicar, Lizzie, and the atheist, Autumn. I look forward to reading more of the adventures of the witches of Lychford.

Book details

ISBN: 9780765385239
Publisher: Tor.com
Year of publication: 2015

Doctor Who: Four Doctors

By Paul Cornell

Rating: 3 stars

This is an appropriately timey-wimey multi-Doctor story by the writer of Father’s Day and the novel British Summertime. Clara finds a picture that should be impossible, and sets out to make sure that it doesn’t happen. As you’d expect, the rest of it doesn’t go to plan. It’s a fun story primarily involving the the 10th, 11th and 12th Doctors, although others do make cameos. Clara is travelling with the 12th Doctor, but the companions of the 10th and 11th Doctors are ones that we haven’t seen on TV (Gabby and Alice respectively). I don’t know if they’re been around in the comics for a while, but having just encountered them in this one graphic novel, I can definitely say that they feel like the kind of people that the Doctor would hang out with, so that’s a definite bonus.

The Doctors themselves are mostly written to their own characters although occasionally the 10th and 11th feel a little interchangeable (not something that can be said for Spiky Twelve). I found the art a little inconsistent: at times I wouldn’t have recognised someone if it weren’t for what they were wearing (dunno if it was just me, but the 10th Doctor seemed to suffer from that the most; I don’t know if David Tennant just has a difficult likeness to capture).

I also liked the little mini-comics at the end of each issue (especially the one with the Doctors doing various sketches from British comedy, but then I’m a bit of a fan of Neil Slorance).

So, a fun story, although I did have to read it twice to grok it, what with the time travel, alternate timelines (I particularly liked the Time Lord Victorious) and paradoxes, but it’s definitely satisfying.

Book details

ISBN: 9781785851063
Publisher: Titan Comics
Year of publication: 2015

London Falling (Shadow Police, #1)

By Paul Cornell

Rating: 4 stars

Detective Inspector James Quill is about to complete an undercover operation that’s been running for several years when his chief suspect, Rob Toshack, is killed whilst in custody. His Superintendent then puts him in charge of a small team consisting of an intelligence analyst and two undercover detectives to try and find out what happened. As they do so, they find their eyes opened to a strange sideways London that sits alongside the one they knew. The team must work out their own differences, use their new Sight to solve Toshack’s murder and nick the Witch of West Ham.

This book took a bit of time to get going. It wasn’t really until Toshack’s murder in custody and the events that follow that it really gets into gear. I liked Quill and the driven intelligence analyst Lisa Ross. The two other protagonists were more ‘complex’. DS Costain is possibly a bit bent, and is convinced he’s going to hell, and trying to make up for it, while DC Sefton is trying his best to understand the Sight, live up to expectations of a gay, black man in the Met and live down his childhood issues.

Superficially, this book is similar to Ben Aaronovitch’s ‘Peter Grant’ novels, but while those are easy to read and quite light, this is dark. The magic in Cornell’s world is driven by sacrifice, which can only make for a fairly dark novel. I found that grimness a little much, if I’m honest. This is probably a 3.5 star book for me, but I’ll round up because the metastory of what’s going on with the Sight and how Quill and his team ended up Sighted is an intriguing one. The feel of the story was quite one-sided though, as there is lots of play from the powers of evil, but only our small team, stumbling about in the dark trying to put things right (although this does lead to quite a funny scene where they get a priest, a rabbi and an imam to try and bless several objects in the hope that it might prove effective against their opponents). It’s the intriguing hint of back story towards the end regarding this that has piqued my interest.

I don’t know if I’ll read the sequel, but it does make me want to read Broken Homes (the latest Peter Grant novel) for something similar but (hopefully) with less pain and death.

Book details

ISBN: 9780330528092
Publisher: Tor
Year of publication: 2012

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