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
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.
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.
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!