I read this courtesy of NetGalley. It’s out in April 2022.
Well that was… a ride.
Cornell’s novella follows in a trend from the last few years of exploring issues of humanity through the lens of AIs. I mean, I know that authors have pretty much always been exploring what it means to be human through the medium of the robot, right back to Metropolis; but I feel like it’s somehow become more pointed, or nuanced, or something, in the last 5 or so years. Maybe I’m just being shortsighted; maybe I can blame Murderbot for this perception.
Anyway, Rosebud is a spacecraft orbiting Saturn – a spacecraft about 1mm in diameter, crewed by five AIs of varying (and really very varying) provenance. They encounter an anomaly, and they investigate. In doing so, they are confronted both by their own identities, as memories are brought to the fore, and by the consequences of the anomaly – what it’s doing to them and what it might mean for the humans back on Earth. To investigate, the AIs are forced to be embodied – and as is generally the case, bodies have consequences.
I can’t quite describe the style this is written in. It’s present tense; it’s third person, but the POV favours one character, Haunt, in particular. It also feels more spoken, I think, than written; perhaps formalised internal monologue? For instance: “That’s how this is supposed to do. Doing it on their own is above their pay grades. Not that they’re paid. This is big people stuff” (p14). It’s certainly very readable – I powered through it in a sitting, despite some of their narrative weirdness that occurs thanks to the anomaly. There’s some amusing banter between the five characters – they are very different, with wildly different expectations and desires and perspectives, and they’re not always interested in cooperating with each other.
If you’re a fan of Paul Cornell, this will probably work very well for you. It’s not my favourite Cornell (that would be the Lychford series), but I’m certainly glad I got a chance to read it.
Another novella that I received from the publisher at no cost which I have been remiss in reviewing. Also, another novella where it’s definitely better to have read the previous stories, although not as necessary as for Sarah Gailey’s work.
Returning to Lychford, once again things are amiss with the boundaries between the worlds; this should come as no surprise (poor little village). This time, there are also significant fractures in the relationships of the three witches who must hold the place together. This, of course, leads to more problems – and the most interesting part of the story, as far as I’m concerned. The problems facing the town are definitely significant and I always enjoy the different ways Cornell dreams up to imperil the place. But these stories wouldn’t be nearly as intriguing if that relationship element were missing. All three of the women are outsiders in some way; that has played some role in the previous stories but perhaps most of all here, especially for Amber. The struggle to fit in, the question of whether that’s necessary, the actions of other people in all of that… . I liked that the tensions of how different people cope with things, and that different people experience different issues, weren’t ignored. I’m being a bit vague here but the revelation of the problems to be confronted isn’t something I want to spoil.
The Lychford books fall into that category of stories where normal life goes on for most people while a few go to extraordinary lengths to keep it like that. Here, those few are a female priest, a wannabe Stevie Nicks, and a cranky old woman. I’m really enjoying that the location is a sleepy little village, and the way the three women interact.
On sale 22 November from Tor.com. Sent to me by the publisher at no cost.
Previously in Lychford, three women discovered that Bad Things were going down in both a spiritual and literal sense in their village. Together, they managed.
Now, it’s some time later… in fact, it’s Christmas. So you just know something bad is going to happen. Lizzie is the pastor and she’s relatively settled; Autumn is still running her magic shop and she’s taken on Judith, ostensibly as her shop assistant but actually because Autumn is Judith’s apprentice in witchy business. And yes, something bad is happening. Whether it’s worse than the events of the first story is debatable; it certainly affects a few people more immediately, viscerally and unpleasantly than the attempted Evilness of the first story.
Like last time, Judith – the old woman who is cranky and impatient – is my favourite. I felt that she got a bit less airtime this time, although I haven’t actually compared the two; it was just my gut feeling. Nonetheless cranky ladies FTW; I love her practical get-it-done nature and her impatience with what she sees as uselessness. I also love that she is willing to work with the younger women and accept that there are other ways of doing things… eventually…. plus she clearly loves the town, and her son; everything she’s about is protecting the place, and indeed giving everything in the service of that. She takes her responsibilities very seriously.
Lizzie is a bit more fleshed out here than in the first story; she’s less burdened by guilt (as I remember it) and therefore (?causality?) able to act a bit more. Autumn, though, continues to be almost a cipher. She doesn’t get much character development or airtime (although she does make a tremendous sacrifice which Cornell writes nicely).
Again, I’m not sure that this is especially a huge contribution to witchy stories, but it’s engaging and well-written, fast-paced and enjoyable.
This book was provided to me by the publisher at no cost.
In Witches of Lychford, Paul Cornell takes the idea of witches being people (and particularly women) who are tasked in some way to protect the humdrum population from things they don’t understand. Here, the place is a bog-standard (on the outside) English village, which is facing a very real and common threat: a giant supermarket chain wanting to move into the village and Change Things. On the face of it those things are alarming enough for those who are traditionalist, or who moved to the country to get away from big business and the corporate nature of the modern world. Underneath, though, is a far more alarming truth – that changing things in Lychford, such as boundary markers and the like, could have devastating results for the way the ‘real’ world interacts with the world of Faery and other, more malignant dimensions.
Cornell’s focus is on the three women who might have a chance to do something about this. By far my favourite is Judith Mawson: at 71, she has “a list of what she didn’t like, and almost everything – and everybody – in Lychford was on it.” There’s a point late in the story where she grudgingly tells someone they are not on that list. Cranky old women for the win, I say. Judith is competent but not a superhero; she gets things done and grumbles about it – and sometimes she fails. Also, her tragedy is absolutely and completely appalling.
The other two women were less convincing to me. Having read a few of these Tor novellas it’s striking to see some of the similarities – I don’t know whether it’s deliberate or if it’s just fallen out that way in my reading. But there are some similarities in theme between this and Angela Slatter’s Of Sorrow and Such, and in one of the young women there’s a link to Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway because she spent time in the land of Faery and has been damaged by it. Her friend is the newly-arrived pastor, whose faith has been challenged by events in her past and who is really not feeling like she fits into the parish, where she herself grew up. Lizzie, the pastor, and Autumn both felt rather flat to me – especially coming off the back of McGuire and Slatter. Their issues were less emotionally gripping than I would have liked and they did not especially appeal to me as people, either (or perhaps concurrently). Nor did their role in solving the problems feel like it was fundamental.
Despite this problem of characterisation, I did still enjoy the book. It’s not a significant addition to the fiction on witches, or the real/faery divide, but it’s an interesting story and there are some lovely moments.