A Better Way to Die • 2014 • Fantasy short story by Paul Cornell


Meta: ISFDB. This fantasy short story appeared 2014 in the Rogues anthology and was republished in Hortons Best Of SF&F 2015.

Synopsis: Spy Major Jonathan Hamilton protects a timeline-adjacent 19th century British empire.

Review:  A blend of steampunk and alternate history with aliens, hints of solar adventures, strange technologies and culture. The innovative ideas presented left me baffled and yearning for more. I had difficulties understanding the setup and following the plot (the editors needed a long paragraph to introduce it; compare that to the otherwise long lists of story links!). Cornell throws terms into the story that seem to be very important, like the „balance“, but which are ambiguous at best. The introduction tells us that the story is „fast-paced“ but I don’t know which story is meant, because the current story has got a quite long exposition and only a very small part of action or even inter-action. In fact, the first 6 pages come with zero lines of dialogue.

Given the characters and plot, it is far drawn to connect it to the theme rogues at all. In summary, it was difficult to assess the story: I could have given it 1 star, because it didn’t work at all in the given context of „Rogues“. On the other hand, it could be 4 or 5 stars for readers knowing the setup. In this case, the ideas were nice enough to leave with 3 stars. What I’ll do next is read a couple of other Hamilton stories, which are linked on Cornell’s blog.

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