Paul Cornell – A Better Way To Die – Review

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Paul Cornell is a British writer, and a man of many talents – he’s written novels, short fiction, comics, non-fiction, TV tie-ins, Screenplays… He’s been nominated for Hugo Awards in 3 different categories, and he has won a BSFA and an Eagle Award.
A Better Way To Die is the first collection of his short stories, published by NewCon Press. The stories in this book were all previously published in a variety of places between 2005 and 2014, and it’s the first time that all 4 Jonathan Hamilton stories can be found in one place, which is reason alone for owning this book!
But let’s take it one step at a time; below is a run-through of the various stories in the collection, and my thoughts on them. But before I start with this let me say that, if you own/have read all of them already then this is obviously not for you, but for the rest of us this is a strong recommendation to buy and read this book.
So, without further ado – the book starts out with an introduction by John Scalzi, pointing out that Cornell is one of the nicest people on the planet, a great writer, and a must-read.
After that we start with Paul’s stories – most of them have a short prescript by the author discussing some key points, inspirations, or importance to himself of what’s to come; I found this to add rather a lot to some of them.
The Deer Stalker
A story about archetypes, and about reductionism in fiction and history; but more so in the simplifying activity of myth-making. Contains Sherlock Holmes, Lee Oswald, a Alice (of In Wonderland fame), besides others.
It feels slightly disjointed, a sketch approaching an idea…
Michael Laurits is: DROWNING
Nobel Laureate Michael Laurits of the title is drowning In Real Life, but, with the help of a friend who could make the required storage available on very short notice, has managed to upload himself to Lief, an online social/work system he was linked into when the accident happened.
Is this a person, now? Is he alive? Can/should he be turned off? Would this be murder? Opinions differ, and it will come down to a court to decide.
This again was an interesting take on the topic, but also, yet again, felt sketchy in parts, unfinished,. I wonder if that state of polish is on purpose?
Global Collider Generation: An Idyll
A Jerry Cornelius story (with Michael Moorcock’s ok!) – it’s the 2nd Cold War, and the powers of the world, each for its own reason, are building the GMC – a Muon Collider circling the Earth. Literally. This is a story from an anthology which paired writers with scientists (Dr Rob Appleby, High Energy Particle Physics in the case at hand).
A big step up from the previous stories, I felt.
Secret Identity
A story of the Manchester Guardian, fighting magical supervillains who threaten Canal Street and its LGBT community. With a Secret Identity everybody knows, anyway. Except that the Secret Identity is gay, and the Manchester Guardian demonstrably not…
It’s fluffy, but it’s highly enjoyable fluff!
The Occurrence at Slocombe Priory
A pastiche of M.R. James, and a cartoon series that some of us have heard of. No, sorry, this would be telling. Fun, if harmless.
The Sensible Folly
Er, the story of a Sensible Folly. Written for the Folly Tower Trust. Kinda cute…
More
Set in George R. R. Martin’s/Melinda M. Snodgrass’ Wild Card Universe – a caper/farce of actress (read: wannabe) Abigail Baker, at Bowery Rep – definitely off Broadway, but at least on the Right Continent (she is from rural Dorset). She is very highly strung, to put it mildly. All over the place, and not just her special powers (borrowing from other Aces’ powers), or her lack of control thereof.
This I found entertaining, if slightly overstaying its welcome, at least until it actually gets to the point.
Also – read up on the Universe before you hit this if you’re not up to speed on at least the basics, it will make rather more sense!
The Elephant in the Room
Essentially the 2nd part to the previous story. I really like the setting, but the character grates to some extent. This could, of course, be fully on purpose…
A New Arrival at the House of Love
This is weird and random and confusing, but not necessarily in a bad way. Not sure if this is about a game, a futuristic MMORPG, aliens, and what the difference would be anyway.
As unusual as delightful little story.
The Ghosts of Christmas
Where to start? This is NOT a Christmas story, the day is just a catalyst. It’s a time travel, or rather time travel paradox story. It’s about family, about who we are, and about how the past shapes the future. Impressive, emotionally deep, but thankfully not soppy. Inspired.

Tom
Well, the aliens have arrived, they are friendly (phew), help us sort out the damage we’ve done to the planet (thanks, guys), really like water and our oceans, and take to working (females only) as dive guides.
Which is how a human guide, on a platform off the Australian coast, meets and falls for a female Carviv. And… well, let’s just say that this is Cornell’s Alien Sex story. There’s more to it, but I won’t spoil your enjoyment. The end is ambivalent, and reminded me of Mercurio D. Rivera’s ‘Dance of the Kawkaroons’. This cries out for a novel, or even a series.
Ramesses on the Frontier
And here we have Mummy story – Pharao Ramesses I is making his way through the Duat – modern day America in this case – before he can pass on. You see, what he believed about the afterlife and the Gods is all true, and our world only part of what the Gods put in place.
This is rather fun, and something I would expect from someone like Somtow Sucharitkul, not from Cornell…
Zeta Reticuli
A story of the first ‘modern’ alien abduction experience, as reported in 1961. Told from the viewpoint of an alien. A marvellous little piece, wonderfully alien, yet again confirming my opinion of Cornell as one of the most thrilling current-day writers!Jonathan Hamilton
There are now 4 stories set in that universe/following the protagonist:
• Catherine Drewe
• One of Our Bastards is Missing
• The Copenhagen Interpretation (BSFA winner)
• A Better Way to Die
This is the first time these are available in one place, and in itself enough reason alone to buy the book for me.Jonathan Hamilton is Victorian-era SF (yes, kinda Steampunky), set in an alternate History diverging from ours. It is Cornell’s way of talking about Masculinity (Jonathan Hamilton is some kind of proto-James Bond), and is so very British it hurts – overdrawn a bit like Read or Die, albeit skewed in a different direction. The powers in this world, extended into the Solar System, exist in a precarious, ever-shifting Balance, which keeps them from annihilating each other. And it’s the job of in/out of uniform officers like Hamilton to protect this Balance.
The individual stories are independent if clearly in a sequence/on a time line. And I really really wish someone gave him a contract to write a novel, nay, a series in this universe already. Take my money already!
More Paul Cornell
Title: A Better Way To Die
Author: Paul Cornell
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net
Publisher: NewCon Press
Publisher URL: http://www.newconpress.co.uk
Publication Date: 2015
Review Date: 161112
ISBN:9781907069840
Price: UKP 12.99
Pages: 301
Format: Paperback
Topic: Short Stories
Topic: Speculative Fiction


Markus ThiersteinMarkus Thierstein is a former professional skater and editor for Diversebooks. These days he pretends to work for a living, and only do sport for fun. He blogs, mainly in review form, on thierstein.net.