Tuesday, 29 April 2008

The Engineer

Time for some more Neal Asher. This time short fiction rather than novels. Not too much of a change for him here though.

For starters, many of the stories borrow characters or settings from novels (it could, of course, be the other way around; these are not new stories). But they also more or less continue his interest in fairly grotesque alien biologies. That's no bad thing, but it does mean that his short stories are rather similar to read to his novels.

Still, there are some very enjoyable stories in this collection. The eponymous, The Engineer, is probably the best. While it takes an element of his Polity novels, the extinct aliens known as the Jain, it fashions this into a nice, self-contained novella. Unusually for Asher, it generates a rather sympathetic strand with the resurrection of (apparently) a solitary Jain.

Other stories take in his Spatterjay series, and there's a number of stories that centre around barbarian worlds under the control of a human entity known as the Owner. These were nice because their setting is new to me, although they might become tiresome in a novel.

One aspect of Asher's writing that I both like and dislike is his goading of religious societies. Obviously, I come from the same place on this point, but I find his treatment revels a bit much in being nasty to these ignorant civilisations. While Dawkins is never this rude, I find Asher's works on this subject similar to Dawkins' less tolerant remarks. And, similarly, I suspect that this tone is liable to repel believers rather than engage with them. Hardly what we want.

Anyway, overall an enjoyable collection that sees Asher somewhat stretch his range a bit. Not up with the best of short science fiction, which tends to focus more on ideas than situations, but still good fun.

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