Orbus

Orbus is the third book in the Spatterjay series – I know this as William Gaminara reminded me when he started narrating Neal Asher’s return to Sniper and Vrell. This time we the switch in focus to Captain Orbus as he takes us away from the planet Spatterjay and out to the Graveyard, border between the Polity and the Prador Kingdom.

But before we continue I highly recommend reading The Skinner and The Voyage of The Sable Keech  first as Orbus is not a good jumping on point, being the last (so far) in this loosely connecting series. I guess you could read it in isolation but you’d miss a lot what makes Orbus a brilliantly imagined book. If you’re continuing to read I’m including spoilers form now on in. So with that in mind…

Spoiler Warning

Asher has been keeping secrets, the virus of Spatterjay isn’t all that it appears. It is so much more. And the evolution to its true nature is one part of what makes Orbus a crackling read.

At the end of the last book Vrell had entered Vrost’s ship but it’s what he does there which causes the viruses true nature to be revealed and causes the Prador King personally to arrive to finish the job that Vrost has so far failed to do. And you can see why a Prador who is infected with the Spatterjay virus shouldn’t be allowed to leave. Asher also introduces us to the Golgoloth, a myth and a story to scare young Prador, and a creature is that is very real.

Together they create a mix and a direction that I wasn’t expecting after the low level storytelling of the first two as this time the stakes could not be higher for King personally as well as the Kingdom and probably the Polity if the virus manages to get loose, which sounds dramatic, and it is.

Asher gets to stretch himself writing a grand space battle which he handles with fineness as he winds back time to see events from different views and plays out smaller dramas along with the big battle.

Orbus, being an old sea captain, infected with virus and very much mentally tainted by the Polity/Prador war on Spatterjay as explained in The Skinner and The Voyage of Sable Keech makes him a darker hero to follow. And his struggle with killing or saving Vrell at several points makes great reading.

Not that Orbus was expecting this mission when he signed up to Captain the trade ship Gurnard but Asher uses this book to demonstrate the the Polity AIs are quite manipulative and forward thinking.

End Spoiler Warning

The thing I like about Asher is that he’s always pushing and exploring his creation (the Polity). For example I’m going to read The Technician as soon as I can and that is supposed to feature a black (as in magician) AI. Now they might feature in his Agent Cormac series, which after The Technician will be the only books in the Polity I’ve not read, but I know it’s generated a sequel, Penny Royal, that he’s writing now.

But back to Orbus and a question: what should science fiction do? In Asher’s case his science fiction tells a great roller-coaster story and explores survival, genetics, societies, technology and other themes should be present in science-focused fiction. And he manages to show deep thinking without derailing the story he’s chosen to tell.

Though the voice telling this tale is that of William Gaminara who also lifted The Skinnerand The Voyage of Sable Keech off the page. It’s staggering to think that not only does Gaminara have to read for 14 hours plus but he also has to keep up with what voices he’s given to each character and it’s so smoothly done that when he slips (and he did only a handful of times) do you realise how effortless his narration feels.

For me Asher is a master craftsman and makes the Polity one of my favourite storytelling environments. It’s a universe that I’d urge any SF fan to explore right now.

Orbus is out now in paperbook, ebook and audiobook.

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I’ve already mentioned elsewhere that Neal Asher is one of my favourite authors but as with any well-loved writer (especially if you are me) then you can approach the next book of theirs that you pick up with a little trepidation.

Not that I worry about Asher over any other author, actually I worry about him less as the main body of work revolves around the Polity universe, which pretty much means that I know that I’m going to be in for a good ride as the Polity is a wonderful playground.

The Skinner was set on the fringes of the Polity’s reach. Hilldiggers has no Polity interaction at all until that is an ambassador is sent whose arrival restarts a conflict between two worlds that have recently been at peace after the death of millions.

One of Asher’s strengths is how he invests time and imagination into the biology of the worlds he creates and the two warring planets, whose inhabitants have their origins as humans (and Polity history) but have both adapted to individual unique environments. And it’s fascinating to read the evolutions of those races.

The other thing that Asher does is set different world views against each other. Like the insect Prador’s society vs the Polity humans in books like Prador Moon. And the conflict between the two planets and their races is fully exploited here.

Hilldiggers shares a connections with later books such as The Skinner as the ambassador they sent is infected by the splatterjay virus, which allows him to adapt to the extreme environments he surprisingly finds himself in.

Cleverly Asher finds a way to neuter the Polity agents both the obvious (the ambassador) and its hidden observer drone. This does make the story more interesting as a result. They still have influence but it means they don’t interfere with events in the way that stop the conflict reaching genocide.

But for all that this is a story of four children who as born following their mother’s pregancy near an alien artifact. One that one planet has put a lot of research into and gained scientific and military advantages from in the process.

We also follow the view points of several of the main characters, which rather than fragments makes it easier to see the whole jigsaw rather than trying to figure out why one piece won’t fit.

I did however have issues with one of the characters and their motivations, which is always the downside of a multi-view story. You want to get back to the characters you like and can’t see why some of the action can’t take place offstage. Though I didn’t mind seeing from their view. It’s hard to explain who it was or why it didn’t seem quite right without giving away some pivotal plot points.

Not that it spoiled the overall effect but it felt more like the story needs this than the need of the character. However that could just be me comparing threads and finding not as enjoyable as the others.

Hilldiggers is a stand-alone title in the Polity universe but I think reading something like Prador Moon or The Gabble would be better introduction to Neal’s work but for fans this is well worth reading.

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Following on from the events in The Skinner (see my review) we are back again on Splatterjay. Now the last book left a few loose ends and even though Splatterjay has moved on in the last ten years those ends are immediately obvious. But we are here to follow the construction and the inaugural voyage of the Sable Keech, which, unsurprisingly, brings together the cast of The Skinner as well as a few interesting additions.

Now Asher is kind and clever writer as you don’t need to have read The Skinner in order to understand or enjoy this, but I think you should, so I’m not going to spoil it for you by revealing too much of the background to The Voyage of the Sable Keech. Suffice to say Splatterjay is a very dangerous place to be in that book and it focuses on unfinished business.

This time we focus on Taylor Bloc, a reification, who sets sail on a voyage of resurrection for himself and his fellow Kladite followers. As this is happening Janer is working for a hornet hive mind to stop another hive mind agent from obtaining deadly sprine. And to top it off Erlin upsets a whelkus titanicus causing it to rise from the deep. And that’s not all as the prador, Vrell, turns up in the Prologue and sticks around becoming a target for a much bigger threat.

The wonder in Asher’s writing is how he lays down several threads, like the ones above (though there are more revealing ones), and starts twisting them all together. Even the seemingly superfluous but educationally insightful chapter openings on Splatterjay’s flora and fauna are important pieces in the puzzle.

And Splatterjay and the changes in biology caused by its virus to its evolution is very much an overriding personality in this connected series. On first sight it is a backwards place that doesn’t allow the technology of the Polity to have become widespread, which is why the Sable Keech has to rely on sails, both fabric and living, rather than turbines and grav-motors. But by having world that doesn’t have all the Polity’s technology it makes for a much more exciting and primal tale.

This is every much a tale of survival in a brutal and unforgiving environment. Most of the inhabitants are infected with the Splatterjay virus which bestows long-life and resilience on its host but it will also make dramatic mutations on them if they are injured or near death like morphing a tongue into that of a leaches or replacing a lost head with a leaches mouth.

The theme of life, death and survival are explored from several angles in individual stories that come together on the Sable Keech’s voyage. The hive mind agent that Janar is chasing mission is seemingly to obtain sprine, the only thing that can kill Hoopers, the name of Splatterjay’s humanoid inhabitants, outright. Sprine is also an important part of the world’s burgeoning economy. Erlin continues her struggle with having a long, and maybe immortal life. And the prador, Vrell’s, immediate survival is under-threat from a much bigger enemy.

You can tell that biology, its implications and evolutions, are a passion of Asher’s (and if they aren’t he does a great job of faking it) and what makes this stand out from a run-of-the-mill SF novel to one of mastery is that his characters are dense and weighty, his environment feels like a scientific possibilities and  his storytelling skills keeps everything tight, flowing and gripping.

I’m curious about where he’s going to take the next one, Orbus as I’ve got no idea what he has planned (and no I don’t want to read the blurb to find out ;))

Now, so far, I’ve not mentioned the audio side, which isn’t in anyway any comment on William Gaminara’s reading. In fact it should be seen as a ringing endorsement as he really brought everything to life. He gives all the characters their own voice and inflection. With my favourite the personalities of Sniper when played off against the Warden. Gaminara has in some ways spoiled this series as I’m fixated on listening to him read Orbus to me rather than read it myself. He has definitely added another dimension to Asher’s work and one I greatly enjoy.

The Voyage of Sable Keech is not all plain sailing by any means. You don’t need sickbags, unless you’ve got a weak stomach, just hold on tight and enjoy the ride.

Neal Asher’s new [non Polity]  novelThe Departure (Owner Novel 1) is out on 5 September 2011

Neal Asher has just had the remaining books in his backlist recovered and as I love Neal Asher it’s a good excuse to both share them and for you check out my reviews:

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Extract from my review:

At the heart of Prador Moon is the threat of the Prador as they set about to destroy The Polity. The Polity with its A.I. and advanced technology seem stronger. But the Prador have more than one trick that the Polity doesn’t. It’s quite disturbing really especially when they try to convert their human prisons to the same purpose.  Asher has a vivid, logical and scientific imagination but this doesn’t detract from the emotional drama.

He invests the Prador with completely alien traits but also a level of humanity. He does the same with A.I Golem George. You get to get to see humanity from all sides. Which is the point really of most stories.

 

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Extract from my review:

This is my first exposure to both Neal Asher and the Polity Universe and it won’t be the last. He’s a talented storyteller that doesn’t let the science take away from the fiction he’s writing. He makes it a part of the plot and explains it such a way that it’s understandable and vital to the action and not dumbed down at all.

Take for example Choudapt where Simoz in on a mission to neutralise an act of terrorism. He has a symbiont that allows from some interesting semi-internal dialogue. It takes place in an organic environment where the buildings are alive. He combines the story and the environment so one can only happen with the other.

Now the original covers weren’t bad but I am sorely tempted to upgrade the ones already on the shelf… but it’s the content the counts… right? Right???

Neal Asher’s new [non Polity]  novelThe Departure (Owner Novel 1) is out on 5 September 2011

 

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Review in a sentence:

Sci-fi on the high seas exploring long lives, betrayals and sentient sails.

The trouble with having a wide circle of tastes in reading can sometimes feel like working through that moving belt in sushi bar. It’s hard sometimes to resist the new foods right in front of you in order wait for what you’ve had before and loved to come around. Especially when you trust the chef to serve only foods that you’ll like.

Or at least that’s my current excuse for why I’ve been filling my time with new to me authors rather than working my way through author back catalogues. That and last year I got into the silly habit of reading more than one book at a time. It really doesn’t work.

And The Skinner became a victim of that failed multi tasking and in some ways it’s also the solution. This is the first audiobook review I’ve done. But The Skinner isn’t my first audiobook.

What got me into audiobooks was joining the gym last year and needing something to listen to. Music just doesn’t do it for me. But audiobooks fill my mind and keep my going on treadmills and weight machines. Or they did now I’m more likely to listen on breaks and whilst relaxing in the bath.

Anyway, after two goes at getting into The Skinner on paper and failing to get past 149 pages on the second go I found it on Audible a couple of months ago. Now I always have to listen to them and decide if the narrator is absorbing or annoying and William Gaminara is absorbing and perfect for this book.

Partly why he worked for me because of not only the voices he uses but he also gives them accents – the sea captains remind me of gruff Scotts, the mercenaries as Africans – which you may feel is stereotyping but it’s more about encompassing character and attitude. And it adds texture.

But an absorbing reader needs material is what Gaminara has to read at that really makes something worth listening to or not. And the story of The Skinner is multifaceted to say the list. To start with you have Erlin, searching for an ancient sea captain who can teach her a meaning to life, Janer, bringing hornets and their Hive mind to Spatterjay, and Sable Keech, on a vendetta to avenge the events of the past.

Each of these three character are distinct in their backgrounds and their reasons for being on Spatterjay and their connections to the Polity universe.  The Polity is an AI led technologically advanced society. Spatterjay is not part of the Polity but does fall under it’s protection and has it’s own warden AI, which is handy as the alien Prador are about to interfere in Spatterjay affairs.

I can’t decide my favourite thread but I’m torn between that of the warden and Sable Keech but only because the bits that contain the warden and his subminds were fun to listen to especially the fighting banter. Keech being the investigator of the tale is the most active and his explorations give the context to not only the origins of the skinner (as a character) but also the current state of Spatterjay that has remained the same for several hundred years.

Though this story is all about changing the status quo on this brutal world. Asher is clever how he shows this brutality from showing a character having his guts spilled out from a wound opening his stomach only to be walking around as if nothing happened a short time later as well and from de-fleshed fish that swims away quite happily afterwards.

Splatterjay contains a complex virus that not only repairs it’s hosts but also converts them into leech like creatures if they aren’t careful and all the creatures of Splatterjay are susceptible in some way with most carrying the virus.

Now a world filled with character that hard to kill and a character called the skinner you might be able to imagine what could happen. But whatever has happened is in the past but is part of the reaons for Sable Keech’s arrival.

This is very much a book of transformation and survival. And through each of the threads all the main and several of the secondary characters go through their own transformations as they try to survive.

Asher’s skill is not only in creation but using those ideas, even in a book that’s mostly about boats to look into the meaning of life and the potential for humanity as well as using some awesome weapons and technology.

Luckily this only the beginning as The Voyage of the Stable Keech (again read by William Gaminara) carries on from where this one finishes but I have no idea where that ship is sailing mostly because Erlin, Janer and Keech are internally and in some cases external changed by their journey so far and I think Asher has a few more secrets as well as tricks up his sleeve.

Now lists are always odd things to make and some can be more controversial than others… but I’ve been looking at the new catalogues from a lot of UK publishers wondering what is going to be exciting to read. And there are a lot of exciting books. There are books that I know I want to read at some point, there are books coming out in a series that I’m catching up with (so would be more exciting if I was waiting for them) and  there are books that are debuts that I wanted to try. There are loads of other reasons too why I’m excited but I hope you get the idea. I like new books full stop.

But I thought I’d start with sharing my list of books that I’d pay full-price hardback for without a pause for thought.

Now if you’ve been following this blog for a while I hope you’ll get why I want to read each one. The only mysterious entry is going to be is the Robert Rankin. And I’m very curious by that as I’m hoping I’m going to revisit the Rankin of my teenage years after being excitedly hand sold it a couple of weeks ago and being told you can safely read without knowing all his own intertextual self absorption of late. .

And in no particular order are my Top Five Books from July to December 2010:

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The Fuller Memorandum (Laundry 3) by Charles Stross
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Orbit (1 July 2010)

Bob Howard is an IT specialist and field agent for the Laundry, the branch of Her Majesty’s secret service that deals with occult threats. Overworked and underpaid, Bob is used to his two jobs overflowing from a strict nine to five and, since his wife Mo has a very similar job description, he understands that work will sometimes follow her home, too. But when ‘work’ involves zombie assassins and minions of a mad god’s cult, he realises things are spinning out of control. When a top-secret dossier goes missing and his boss Angleton is implicated, Bob must contend with suspiciously helpful Russian intelligence operatives and an unscrupulous apocalyptic cult before confronting the decades-old secret that lies at the heart of the Laundry: what is so important about the missing Fuller Memorandum? And why are all the people who know dying …?

The Bride That Time Forgot

The Bride That Time Forgot (Brenda and Effie Series) by Paul Magrs
Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Headline Review (28 Oct 2010)

An outrageous adventure with the most terrifying villain Brenda has ever faced – her best friend, Effie.

Something is biting people on the streets of Whitby. In an ordinary town, this would be worrying. Here, it’s disastrous, and only Brenda has guessed why. She’s also trying to prepare for a packed festive break at her B&B, but her best friend Effie is in distracted mood: she just hasn’t been the same since her suave gentleman friend Alucard reappeared.

Meanwhile, Penny has joined a book group in the new mystery bookstore, the Spooky Finger. As she is drawn into the strange and fantastic works of Edwardian lady novelist Beatrice Mapp, she makes some very surprising discoveries. Discoveries that will soon impact upon the lives of all the ladies of Whitby. When unexpected help from the shadows of the past arrives to illuminate the dangers awaiting them all, Brenda realises that unless she can find a way to save Effie, the consequences may be eternal.

Empire of Light

Empire of Light by Gary Gibson
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Tor (2 July 2010)

The nova war has begun to spread as the Emissaries wage a fierce and reckless campaign, encroaching on the area of space occupied by humanity and forcing the Shoal into a desperate retreat. While Dakota goes in search of the entity responsible for creating the Maker caches, Corso, left in charge of a fleet of human-piloted Magi ships, finds his authority crumbling in the face of assassination attempts and politically-motivated sabotage.

If any hope exists at all, it lies in an abandoned asteroid a thousand light-years beyond the Consortium’s borders, and with Ty Whitecloud, the only man alive with the skill to decipher the messages left behind by an ancient race of star travellers. Unfortunately Whitecloud is locked in a prison cell aboard a dying coreship adrift in space, awaiting execution for war crimes against Corso’s own people. But if humanity has any hope of survival, Corso is going to have to find some way to keep him alive – and that’s only if Dakota doesn’t kill him first …

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The Japanese Devil Fish Girl and Other Unnatural Attractions by Robert Rankin
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Gollancz (2 Sep 2010)

The pickled Martian’s tentacles are fraying at the ends and Professor Coffin’s Most Meritorious Unnatural Attraction (the remains of the original alien autopsy, performed by Sir Frederick Treves at the London Hospital) is no longer drawing the crowds. It’s 1895; nearly a decade since Mars invaded Earth, chronicled by H.G. Wells in THE WAR OF THE WORLDS. Wrecked Martian spaceships, back-engineered by Charles Babbage and Nikola Tesla, have carried the Queen’s Own Electric Fusiliers to the red planet, and Mars is now part of the ever-expanding British Empire. The less-than-scrupulous sideshow proprietor likes Off-worlders’ cash, so he needs a sensational new attraction. Word has reached him of the Japanese Devil Fish Girl; nothing quite like her has ever existed before. But Professor Coffin’s quest to possess the ultimate showman’s exhibit is about to cause considerable friction amongst the folk of other planets. Sufficient, in fact, to spark off Worlds War Two.

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The Technician by Neal Asher
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Tor (20 Aug 2010)

The Theocracy has been dead for twenty years, and the Polity rules on Masada. But the Tidy Squad consists of rebels who cannot accept the new order. Their hate for surviving theocrats is undiminished, and the iconic Jeremiah Tombs is at the top of their hitlist.

Escaping his sanatorium Tombs is pushed into painful confrontation with reality he has avoided since the rebellion. His insanity has been left uncured, because the near mythical hooder called the Technician that attacked him all those years ago, did something to his mind even the AIs fail to understand. Tombs might possess information about the suicide of an entire alien race.

The war drone Amistad, whose job it is to bring this information to light, recruits Lief Grant, an ex-rebel Commander, to protect Tombs, along with the black AI Penny Royal, who everyone thought was dead. The amphidapt Chanter, who has studied the bone sculptures the Technician makes with the remains of its prey, might be useful too.

Meanwhile, in deep space, the mechanism the Atheter used to reduce themselves to animals, stirs from slumber and begins to power-up its weapons.

So that’s my personal selection. What’s yours?

When Gav said he was doing a short story month on NextRead I knew I had to contribute something. The question was – what to choose? I read a fair amount of author specific short story collections and was very close to choosing one by Eric Brown, but in the end my complete and utter love for three stories in Neal Asher’s The Engineer ReConditioned swayed my choice. Have a read on to find out why!

Collection: The Engineer Reconditioned
Author: Neal Asher
Publisher: Cosmos

Release Date: Out Now

The Engineer Reconditioned is a collection of short stories by sci-fi author Neal Asher, some in his popular Polity Universe, some not. One thing for sure is that it’s well worth reading. Here’s what’s contained in this great collection:

?The Engineer – 8/10
The Engineer is the title novella in this collection and is a story about the discovery of a stasis pod that turns out to hold a Jain, an ancient race that is been extinct for millions of years. The story follows the science ship as it discovers the pod, a Polity dreadnought as it attempts to reach the science ship, and a group of mercenaries totally against any alien life and want to destroy the Jain and anyone that has had contact with it.

If you’ve read any of Neal’s other novels you’ll know that the Jain are a highly advanced species, and one that has held quite a bit of interest for many within the human domain. The story itself is enjoyable, starting off at a slow pace when the discovery is made and follows through with an interesting and action packed finale. I think this is a story to read if you’re familiar with Neal’s previous novels set in the Polity, but not one for newcomers as it does throw you in at the deep end when it comes to prior knowledge of the setting, although some aspects have small explanations.

Snairls – 7/10
Another Polity story, and one focusing on a character we know from The Skinner: Janer. He’s still indentured to the hornet hive mind in this one and it’s a look at another weird alien creation from Neal. It’s not too long, but is Neal through and through, although it contains no action as such.

Spatterjay – 9/10
This is a short story that I really recommend as an intro to the Spatterjay series (The Skinner, Voyage of the Sable Keech, Orbus). It has Erlin, a character from The Skinner, in and we also get to encounter the Skinner himself. It’s a great little story and one of the highlights of the collection.

Jable Sharks – 7/10
Another weird one from Neal, but I couldn’t be sure if its Polity or not. It sounds like a Spatterjay based story, but clearly isn’t, although it is set on a boat and features a creature from the sea. A nice little ending rounds it off as a solid entry.

The Thrake – 7/10
This is one of Neal’s stories that has religion as one of the central themes, and I must admit that I do quite like it. It has that ‘I’m right because I’m religious’ feel to it and the central character always finds ways to justify what he sees as a sign of sentience and religion when the scientists actually know the truth, but he just refuses to believe them.

Proctors – 10/10
Here’s the first of three Owner stories in this collection, and probably my favourite stuff Neal has ever done. This one introduces the idea of the Owner and his Proctors which enforce his rules on his planets. The setting is not a high tech one, more like mid-20th century tech in a low population world. One of his rules is that the population of the planet is to not go above a certain amount and when it does the Proctors turn killers to bring the population back down to the required level – one of the reasons they are feared so much. The story follows a couple of groups of activists that go searching for a spaceship that has been seen to land near their town, the first group wanting it for themselves and the second in an attempt to stop them. I love this one!

The Owner – 10/10
The second Owner story and another gem in the collection. This one follows a widow and her daughter with her servant and son while they try to escape those that want to kill them. A code of honour on how they can be challenge is evident from the start and when they meet a new companion, the Daybreak Warrior, the story shifts a gear and more of the Owner’s history is revealed. Once again I loved this story and have no issues with it in any way, very, very highly recommended.

The Torbeast’s Prison 6/10
This story is related to Neal’s novel, Cowl. It’s a time travelling story following one man as he shifts from time to time trying to escape his inevitable destiny. There’s a nice twist to the tale, but ultimately I found it to be the weakest on offer here.

Tiger Tiger – 10/10
The third and final Owner story in the collection. This one is more focused on one of the Owner’s rules on the planet: ‘Man must not kill tiger and tiger will not kill man.’ However, a tiger is killed and many of the residents in the village are fearful of the retribution that will come. Again, Neal has developed a deeper history of the Owner and done so in a great and very interesting way. There are some nice little revelations about the characters and the twist in the tale is not overly unexpected, but brings about a very satisfying conclusion.

The Gurnard – 7/10
The final story in the collection is another looking at religion, but also bring in one of Neal’s staples to his writing – alien organism’s. There is also a character from Neal’s novels here – Erlin – who is studying the gurnard of the title and the religion that has grown around it. It’s an interesting story and gives a good look at what the less developed cultures of the Polity are like, especially those around religion. Erlin’s perspective is a good addition and made the story worthwhile, at least from the point of view of getting explanations to the central plot.

Conclusion
While The Engineer ReConditioned is a good collection, it’s because of three stories that I consider this to be a must-have for any sci-fi fan – The Owner stories. I can’t stress enough how amazing I find them and I rate them as my all time favourites. Really, they are that good. Don’t get me wrong, the rest of the stories present here will be great for anyone who is familiar to Neal’s writing, most of them very accessible to those new to Neal Asher, but it’s because of the Owner ones that this totally unmissable.

9/10

Mark Chitty runs the SF-focused book blog Walker of Worlds, which was recently host to a month long SF Appreciation event.

I’m a Neal Asher fan and this review was my final push into placing an order for this book, just so you know they work on me too!

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Neal Asher has an amazing imagination combined with a strong understanding of science and its potentials for evolution. Or at least that’s the impression that I’m left with after reading the tales that make up The Gabble and Other Stories.

I’m really excited to have 5 paperback copies of The Gabble and Other Stories up for grabs thanks to the wonderful Tor UK.

All you need to do is send an email to comps (at) nextread.co.uk with Neal Asher as the subject line. It’s UK ONLY and the CLOSING DATE is 12PM GMT 9 DEC 2009

The quote is from my review of the hardback and just in case you haven’t decided to enter I hope the rest of the review will persuade you:

The wonderful thing about this collection, unlike most, is that the stories share the same universe. So several elements are free to reappear like the Gabbleduck and the Gabble, along with AI and golems and several other unique, fascinating or amazing ideas.

This is my first exposure to both Neal Asher and the Polity Universe and it won’t be the last. He’s a talented storyteller that doesn’t let the science take away from the fiction he’s writing. He makes it a part of the plot and explains it such a way that it’s understandable and vital to the action and not dumbed down at all.

Take for example Choudapt where Simoz is on a mission to neutralise an act of terrorism. He has a symbiont that allows from some interesting semi-internal dialogue. It takes place in an organic environment where the buildings are alive. He combines the story and the environment so one can only happen with the other.

My favourite story is the sixth one, Acephalous, because it brings together the AIs that control the Polity, the golems, nanotech and information on the ancient races that has been teased at during other tales.

But saying that I’ve got a soft spot for the Gabbleduck after the revelations that come from The Gabble, which is a great bookend for the opening Softly Spoke the Gabbleduck, that hints that it has more intelligence or maybe that should be more humanity than is originally thought.

Adaptogenic would bring a new twist to The Antiques Roadshow. There really is too much to mention and going into too many details would spoil the revelations that come through the telling.

I get the feeling that Neal Asher likes the idea of genetics and evolution and the possibilities that science has and enjoys how that knowledge and exploration feeds his stories. He’s managed to weave some wonderful but also believable tales.

The danger of a collection is that there is going to be one or two dubs but I really can’t think of any that fell short of the mark. Each has their own take on the world as well as enhancing and informing each other.

I’m really looking forward to reading more Neal Asher and the Polity Universe.

Good Luck!

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To celebrate the paperback publication of a The Gabble and other stories Neal Asher was kind enough to answer some questions on Gabbleducks, short stories and SF, amongst other things. Neal Asher has this year has fast become one of my favourite writers. He’s an wonderfully talented science fiction writer who regularly amazes me.

I’m not sure what else to say so here we go:

Gav: It’s unusual for a short story collection to be centred on the same universe, so I’m curious what is it about the Polity that means you have so many stories to tell?

Neal: The simple answer to that is that it’s big. Starting out writing short SF stories I wanted a large canvas on which to tell them, and with each one that canvas expanded. To a certain extent I did this deliberately, but it also grew organically – in the telling. Really, Earth itself is large enough to contain just about any story you could think of, so inevitably a star spanning Polity is going to have a whole lot more room.

Gav: And this probably links In to the question above but at the start of my review I said:

“Neal Asher has an amazing imagination combined with a strong understanding of science and its potentials for evolution.”

As well as:

“I get the feeling that Neal Asher likes the idea of genetics and evolution and the possibilities that science has and enjoys how that knowledge and exploration feeds his stories. “

Does science fiction still have legs? Or is technology and science getting so advance that there is less and less to reveal and predict in SF? Or is it the case like in the books that humanity still has a long way to go its understanding itself and its knowledge?

Neal: Right now we are just entering a time in which some elements of past SF stories are becoming reality. We have laser weapons, we have Star Trek communicators, we have video telephones. But that doesn’t mean all these things are dead for the purpose of story telling. An old idea becoming reality, or the SF love of the new shiny idea, doesn’t necessarily make old ideas obselete, often it’s quite the reverse. Really, SF still has legs and a long way to run on them, it’s just that some of the signposts have changed and the legs are wearing new trousers.

Gav: The bad guys seems to be the insect-like Prador rather than the Polity AIs that run humanity. I’m curious as to which is more alien in your eyes? Both to me are scary, but somehow the AIs seem more compassionate?

Neal: Rather than grabbing up the new shiny thing in SF (singularity) I’ve gone a slightly different route with my AIs. They are a product of us, really only development of us. They are, using that favourite description used by the wannabe academics in SF, the post humans, and as such, they are much more like us, much more recogniseable than the alien and predatory Prador. Because of this they seem more compassionate, more human, but really they are colder even than the Prador, and would dump the human race in a second if that served their purpose. And, just like humans, there are also nasty Ais. But I also have to add that in my books the Prador are a nasty product of evolution; they are all the same and not bad guys through deliberate intent – effectively there are no Prador good guys. The real bad guys in my books (with the potential to be good) are usually human – aren’t they always?

Gav: You seem to have a soft spot for the Gabbleducks. Can you explain a little bit more about them and if they appear anywhere else in the books you’ve written?

Neal: I’ve always got a soft spot for my monsters, be they alien or human. Gabbleducks, which also appear in the Cormac series from The Line of Polity onwards, stem from me wanting to create something monstrous, mysterious, and even humorous. They are the kind of creature you’ll more likely find in a fairy tale than a zoology book: a troll, snark or, of course, a jabberwock. But just like Mr Crane – the big murderous android seemingly made out of brass in the first Cormac book, Gridlinked they grew in the telling. The result with Mr Crane was the third in the Cormac series, Brass Man. The result with the gabbleducks has been the short stories you’ve read in The Gabble stories acquainting us with the horrific idea that they were an intelligent race who, in an act of racial insanity, sacrificed civilization and intelligence – and further, the book I’m presently writing: Gabbleducks.

Gav: You’ve included some authors notes to place the stories. They read like fan treats. Are you a big fan of any other writers and if so can you think of any treats you’d like to see from them?

Neal: I like providing these treats. In my other books I usually start every chapter with a paragraph extracted from some fictional Polity work, like ‘How It Is’ by Gordon, ‘Quince Guide’ compiled by humans, Anonymous or ‘Modern Warfare’ lecture notes from EBS Heinlein (little hat-tip there). I enjoy writing them and they simultaneously enable me to step back from the story and fill in some background.

Am I a big fan of other writers? In the acknowledgements for The Skinner I wrote, ‘Thanks to all those excellent people whose names stretch through the alphabet from Aldiss to Zelazny, and who have kept me spell-bound for most of my life. All their names are too numerous to list here, but they have been a continuous source of pleasure to me and a huge influence on what you find between these covers.’ That quote generally covers most of the old greats, but my fannish attitude to SF hasn’t gone away now I’m writing it. As for treats I would like from writers still producing … I just want them to hold on to the sensawunda that got them reading SF in the first place, and give me that, in their books.

Gav: Short stories are seen by some as a dying market but lots of writers enjoy doing them. Most of the stories have appeared elsewhere before being collected. Did you have in mind at some point you’d be able to collect them or did you see them as individual pieces that could appeal to both fans of the books and those new to them?

Neal: Though it might have been at the back of my mind that my short stories could be published in a collection, that wasn’t the aim when I wrote them. I just carried on as I did at the start, writing for short story markets (magazines like Asimov’s,) when time permitted because I simply like writing short stories. It came as a pleasant surprise when publishers wanted them for various ‘Year’s Best’ collections but, later, not so much of a surprise when my previous editor at Macmillan, Peter Lavery, told me that we ought to do a collection. It was about the right time for me, being fairly well established. The short story market, I feel, is not a dying one, just a very limited one. They don’t sell that well unless there’s an established market for them.

Gav: Your work has several different strands to it now. If someone picked up The Gabble and want to explore more where could they go next?

Neal: Next go to the one-offs or those that, though starting off a series, do stand alone. The one-offs are: Cowl (time-travel and not set in the Polity), Hilldiggers, The Shadow of the Scorpion, Prador Moon and Africa Zero (two novellas).Those starting off a series but which are self-contained novels are: The Skinner and Gridlinked. It’s also worth adding that I’ve recently submitted a new novel to Macmillan called The Departure – double meaning here since the book is about the departure from Earth of the main character, and the book itself is a departure from the Polity.

Gav: And finally, I hope that you’re still writing short stories, where can we find some more? and do you think you’ll have enough for a second collection of Polity tales in the near future?

Neal: More of my short stories can be found in The Engineer ReConditioned, and a short chapbook called Runcible Tales. Time permitting I will write more short stories and submit them to various magazines and then, when I have enough, maybe collect them together in one book. But ‘time permitting’ is a movable feast. I’m writing Gabbleducks, want to write a book about Crete and also want to take another look at four fantasy books presently languishing in my hard drive. So yeah, sometime, though maybe not in the near future.

How cool was that? I’m now very excited to hear about The Departure and Gabbleducks and I have a bit more catching up to do. But if you haven’t read The Gabble and other stories, do, it’s amazing and if you need more convincing I’ve written a review to persuade you some more.

Thanks Neal for taking the time to do it.

And if you’re in the UK and are lucky you can win one of five copies of The Gabble and other stories by keeping your eye out for post to win a copy in the next couple of days.

I saw this on Walker of Worlds and just had to share! Neal Asher has released the cover to Orbus, which is out in September:

 Orbus

Just look at that monster!

Now in charge of an cargo spaceship, the Old Captain Orbus, flees a violent and sadistic past, but he doesn’t know that the lethal war drone, Sniper, is a stowaway, and that past is rapidly catching up with him. His old enemy, the Prador Vrell, mutated by the Spatterjay virus into something powerful and dangerous, has seized control of a Prador dreadnought, slaughtering its entire crew, and now seeks to exact vengeance on those who tried to have him killed.

Their courses inexorably converge in the Graveyard, the border realm lying between the Polity and the Prador Kingdom, a place filled with the ruins left by past genocides and interplanetary war. Secure in that same place the Golgoloth, a monster to a race of monsters, is recruited by the terrifying King of the Prador into the long cold war between his kind and the humans. It is imperative that Vrell be hunted down and killed, for what he knows and what he might become.

Meanwhile, something that has annihilated civilizations is stirring from a slumber of five million years, and the cold war is heating up, fast.

Oh and this could be the back:

Orbusback

 

Now this is the reason why there will always be real books. Covers like these!!