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Neal Asher – The GabbleThe Gabble is a collection of short stories and novellas by Neal Asher, with all of the stories set in his Polity Universe with its various strands and series of books. At the end of the book there are Author’s Notes, providing some writing background and the publication history of each of stories, which vary quite a bit both in terms of when they were written, as well as when and where they fit into the Polity time line.
As befits a collection of short stories I found that some of the offerings here had much more depth than others, that some were more ‘finished’ and polished, whilst others appeared to be mere sketches. Generally the quality of writing varies quite a bit throughout, although I didn’t spot any real turkeys (but also no interesting experiments, or must-read stand-out yarns).

So, given these are Asher stories, do we get the expected? I would say yes: Sex – there’s quite a bit of it, in several stories. Nothing that would count as ‘bad sex’ by my definition, but nothing very special either; and generally nothing story-relevant…
Violence – quite some, although there’s not as much splatter and gore as some other Asher efforts proudly display, which is not all bad IMHO. There are some queasiness-inducing bits/scenes, though (Choudapt comes to mind), but again nothing I consider a problem, he stays way below Banks levels, as always.

So, here’s a quick round-up on the stories in the book:

Softly Spoke the Gabbleduck: Our favourite Masadan piece of wildlife (except for those amongst us who prefer Hooders, of course) makes its first appearance. We get big-game hunters, illegally going after a Gabbleduck which lives on a different planet for reasons not entirely clear – a world with an oh-so slightly alien and nasty fauna, which Asher presents with his usual panache. And I’d love to be able to pinpoint what the reference in the title is, but have failed so far. Answers on a postcard (or in the comments section below) please.

Putrefactors: neat pun of a title for a pre-ECS story on a colonization world. Standard staples here: parasites (and Erlin, the Xenobiologist from the Spatterjay stories, studying them), corporate malfeasance, turned golems… but overall it’s more a sketch than a fully developed story. A lot of the concepts from this we’ve seen, much more fleshed out, in later efforts.

Garp and Geronamid: Garp is a strong parallel to Sable Keech – another Reif police officer with more sense of duty than sense. Geronamid is the AI from Hilldiggers, and appears in several stories here, but it still does not develop much character. Overall this is a not very exiting run-of-the-mill Polity story.

The Sea of Death: Here’s a much more interesting offering – a story of an Archaeology project on a frozen world, with millions of dead aliens in closed coffins, stored in a labyrinth of ice-brick caverns. Claustrophobic, ever so slightly scary, and clever.

Alien Archaeology: This starts with a Xenoarchaeologist finding an artefact which apparently contains the stored mind of an Aetheter, one of the lost high civilizations which keep appearing in the Polity stories. Subsequent events only relate to Archaeology in a Indiana Jones way, ie are mostly violent in nature. There are attempts to restore said mind to a suitable body (er, a Gabbleduck again), rogue AIs, ex-ECS agents, Prador – the works, really. A very enjoyable romp through most of what makes the Polity Universe. Did I mention the Gabbleducks? This is definitely Novella length, btw.

Acephelous Dreams: Another story centred around stored minds from an old race. An usually quiet story for Asher, despite the background of abuse of minors by religious leaders and subsequent mental aberrations and murder. This unlikely scenario itself clearly indicates that this is SF…  Oh, and I rather liked that one, for being interesting, different, well written, and multilayered, something Asher doesn’t always deliver (not sure if he always aims for it, either!).

Snow in the Desert: a short ECS fragment, centred around a protagonist with unique characteristics, which are of commercial interest. As in mega-bucks. Thoroughly and cleverly asks the question of what makes us human, whilst completely sidestepping the related issue of why this matters…

Choudapt: Biotech. Separatist Terrorists. Viral Sabotage. ECS intervention. An agent carrying a (sentient) Dr Mycelium variant (can you spell symbiont?). The most interesting part I found the biotech, and especially how the humans adapted themselves to their new environment by using local DNA (everybody runs around with Mandibles. Lovely.) This story might make for an interesting looking film (Naked Lunch meets Blade Runner, anyone?), although they might have to bulk up on content/story to avoid undue CGI bills.

Adaptogenic: Entirely unremarkable. Not bad, just not special in any way. Interesting only inasmuch as it shows the genesis (in Asher’s mind, at least) of the basis of the Spatterjay biology.

The Gabble: Yup, another Gabbleduck story (apparently we have a full Novel coming our way on the topic). Set on Masada, and focussing on the most interesting life forms there (Hooder, Gabbleduck, Tricone), and set a bit after the events in The Line of Polity. It adds yet another (substantial) fragment to our slowly growing story of knowledge about the Aetheter and their creatures/heritage/whereabouts. No, I won’t say more.

Overall this is an enjoyable but not essential bunch of tales; I would hope that none of the information contained in these stories would be required knowledge of any of Asher’s main series. I guess it can be read without prior knowledge of the polity (or any other Asher books), although you will miss some facets which require knowledge of underlying concepts and (at least for The Gabble) prior events. I don’t think this would make a good introduction to Asher, either, so would conclude that this is one for Fans and/or completists. But in a good way.

More Neal Asher


Title: The Gabble (and other stories)
Series: Polity
Series Number: not really in sequence
Author: Neal Asher
Reviewer: Markus Thierstein
Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net
Publisher:  Tor
Publisher URL: https://www.panmacmillan.com
Publication Date: 2009
Review Date: 110702
ISBN: 9780330457590
Price: UKP 7.99
Pages: 371
Format: Paperback
Topic: Space Opera
Topic: Bio-Tech

 

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