1/12/2010. Contributed by Tomas L. Martin
pub: TOR-UK. 339 page hardback. Price: GBP17.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-230-70925-6. pub: TOR-UK. 366 page paperback. Price: GBP 7.99 (UK), $ 9.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-330-45759-0) .
check out website: www.panmacmillan.com
Neil Asher, like fellow countryman Alastair Reynolds, has been quietly but effectively making a large part of the modern space opera genre his own for the past decade. Novels such as ‘The Skinner’ and ‘Line Of Polity’ portray a complicated galaxy of hyper-intelligent planetary AI, race-destroying nanotechnology virii, lethal flora and fauna and characters alive and dead, residing in all manner of bodies from preserved cadavers to impenetrable metal golem.
‘The Gabble’ collects ten short stories set in Asher’s Polity universe, showcasing some of the minor characters from the books and some we haven’t met in his longer work. The content, while broken into bite-size pieces, is indicative of his overall style – outlandish characters, larger-than-life technology and wildlife and usually a big gun or two. This is blockbuster Science Fiction, unafraid to mix hard SF world-building with bombastic action sequences.
We open with one of several stories about the eponymous Gabbleduck, a bizarre mix of bloodthirsty predator and comical duck, with a complex history beyond its seemingly simple nature. In ‘Softly, Softly Spoke The Gabbleduck’, a local guide takes a vindictive couple out hunting on steep mountain ridges, only to come into contact with the nonsense-babbling, havoc-inducing Gabbleduck. This is a great little tale of action and betrayal to welcome us to the collection, and is one of my favourite of the ten.
‘Putrefactors’ is a more straight Science Fiction tale. Colonists on a world with invasive flora are dying sooner than expected, despite the symbiont designed to help them digest the deadly plant life. An assassin lands on the planet to kill one of the inhabitants and finds a conspiracy that soon wants him dead, too. It’s another neat little plot that builds to a satisfyingly brutal climax.
‘Garp And Geronomid’ takes another look at the reif introduced in Asher’s novel ‘The Voyage Of Sable Keech’. Reif are dead people, kept alive in a near-mummified state by biotechnology and computers. Garp, a former police investigator unwilling to go to his grave just because his quarry killed him, finds his job made easier and more dangerous when the planetary AI, Geronomid, arrives on the planet inside the body of a giant allosaur. There’s some neat humour in this one and Geronomid is a great character. The use of a third party narrator is a good trick to keep the story mysterious.
‘The Sea Of Death’ is one of the most standalone stories in this and so is a good one to start with if you’re unfamiliar with Asher’s milieu. ‘Alien Archeology’ is another story with a Gabbleduck, with a pinch of the aggressively destructive Jain technology on the side. I found I didn’t identify with the characters much in that one. ‘Acephalous Dreams’ sees the return of Geronomid, but the breadth of this story of a convict given over to alien nanotechnology seemed to strain the abilities of such a short story.
‘Snow In The Desert’ and ‘Choudapt’ are better, as the main cast is far more compelling. In the former, albino killer Snow stalks through the desert, where everyone seems to want him dead for his unique DNA. The chemistry between Snow and the mysterious Hirald is good and there’s plenty of fun poked at the super-human nature of some of Asher’s other protagonists, which is a deft touch. ‘Choudapt’ is an action-focused story of an AI-enhanced agent trying to save a city from a biological infestation that is controlling the local population. The odds stacked against the main character are huge and the tension as a result is fantastic. This is the most enjoyable story in the volume, for my money.
We finish with the agreeable but forgettable ‘Adaptogenic’ and the book’s namesake, the story ‘The Gabble’. Here we delve further into the back-story of the bizarre Gabbleducks, although I found that the revelations in previous stories spoiled the mystery somewhat. I would have preferred this story to come before ‘Alien Archaeology’.
If you’ve already read and enjoyed any of Neil Asher’s vast ‘Polity’ series, this will be a nice collection to add breadth to the worlds and characters we’ve already seen. It’s nice that none of these stories feature more than minor characters and worlds from the longer works, which has the benefit of making Asher’s galaxy seem bigger and deeper. There are also a couple of stories that are worth the admission price on their own and act as a good introduction to Asher’s high-octane universe of cunning androids, unstoppable aliens and frantic pyrotechnics. A good one to get in ebook form for commutes and plane journeys.
Tomas L. Martin
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