Something More

by Paul Cornell

Gollancz, 2001
"Something More" is Paul Cornell's first standalone science fiction novel. It's a long novel for those of used to Cornell's Doctor Who work and it begins slowly. The post-apocalyptic world feels rather generic, an SF staple, but after a while the book becomes more intriguing as multiple plots unfold. Cornell's Who work is often seen to be on the softer side compared to the hard SF of a Lawrence Miles or a Simon Bucher-Jones, but "Something More" is full of ideas and Cornell keeps introducing them throughout the work, keeps throwing in twists. It is a good book that can throw in surprises three quarters of the way through that still seem logical. It is not just the big plot twists: the background details are always fresh in some solid world-building.

Introducing multiple threads is perhaps easier than resolving them. "Something More" does a good job of bringing everything together for the conclusion, but the actual finale feels unsatisfying. It is thematically rich, but ultimately not persuasive.

While the book compares itself to CS Lewis, it is of Iain M Banks that "Something More" reminds me most. To be precise, "Use of Weapons", with its detailed culture and a sadistic streak. "Something More" features mass rape, gruesome murder and detailed torture. It is not the sort of fare the BBC would allow in a Who book. I am surprised that more has not been said about the controversial elements in this book. Apart from torture and murder, we have a character brainwashing a fourteen year old to give him a blowjob, another whose sexual activity starts at eleven and... well, see the spoiler section below or, better still, go buy the book yourself!



How controversial is this book? Well,, Jesus Christ is cast as the villain. Not someone pretending to be Jesus Christ, but definitely, clearly Jesus Christ.

But before we get on to the theology, there is the sex. Sex seems separated from love in "Something More". The text seems to condone Booth when he uses casual sex as an escape while still in a relationship. David confounds eros for real love with his sexual obsession for Rebecca. Lutyens' relationship with his wife is noted for being long asexual. Sex was also used to show the degraded nature of society in the post-apocalyptic future, but I was unclear quite whether there was a message in all this. Is there a connection between sex and memory, for memory is the central theme?

"Something More" is about the tyranny of memory. Rebecca and Booth are haunted by theirs. Simon Trent is literally haunted by his memories of his dead brother. David is trapped by his memories of Rebecca and Ruth driven by hers of Booth. But "Something More" is not purely about people trapped by their memories. Jane has learnt to control hers and, ultimately, Rebecca's memory of being Jane and Booth's control over his memory provide the salvation. Yet re-setting history in the ending is the ultimate cop-out a writer can take, an avoidance of redemption, the fantasy solution of un-doing that which was done.

The theological argument in the finale is somewhat confusingly written. We have what might be stylised as a conflict between Christianity and Wicca (given that Cornell describes himself as both a Christian and a Wiccan). The Namer (a.k.a. Jesus Christ) has a linear view, wanting to bring all humanity's souls to Auriga, but Jane and Lutyens favour a cyclical view. (Jane makes an analogy to the seasons, tying in with Cornell's early Who books.) However, while the former view is explicated, the latter is unclear, offering a vague hope of some alternative fate. When Booth then re-sets history, presumably human souls are still going to Auriga, there is still a conflict on Auriga between the Namer and Lutyens—or has the mass forgetting somehow changed that?

The finale has a strong thematic logic, but I find it poor in terms of world-building. One would imagine that everyone (except Booth) forgetting everything they know would soon lead to the collapse of civilisation. It also avoids further redemption. "Something More" is not about forgiveness, but about dealing with one's memories and one's past. Not only is redemption side-stepped by re-setting history, but forgetting is idolised as another solution.

Henry Potts, 13 Jun 2003; revised 25 Dec 2005

Originally posted to the Jade Pagoda mailing list.

Return to Main Page.