The Gabble And Other Stories
by Neal AsherThe Gabble And Other Stories is a collection set in the Polity universe. This book was my first introduction to this far-future space-faring series full of wonders and horrors, with perhaps more of the latter than the former. In spite of a few in-universe references I didn't feel confused or in need of catching up at any point whilst reading the short stories. The stories are linked, but it's within a setting of many worlds which don't overlap any more than, for instance, stories set in ancient China or 1950s Paris might.
Softly Spoke The Gabbleduck is a tense, twisty story in which a hunting party on an alien world search for rare or even mythical prey, whilst the guide wonders what his arrogant employers will shoot at next.
Putrefactors is a great tale of corporate slyness in which an assassin is sent to take out a poisoner on a colony planet where the people need a symbiont to prevent the local food from killing them. It's as gory as it sounds. The next story, Garp and Geronamid, is also very gory, featuring trees full of parasitic toxin-laden worm things. It features themes of corruption and organised crime.
The Sea of Death is a strange, imaginative journey to a world of ice tunnels and promising glimpses of evidence of an ancient, extinct alien civilisation. Likewise the poignant Acephalous Dreams and the gross Choudapt in which people are crossbred with weird alien creatures, are examples of Neal Asher's prodigious imagination.
Alien Archaeology is a novella rather than a short story, and it stands out because of its length and its graphic violence. It opens with a thief called Jael torturing a man called Rho and leaving him for dead so she can steal some mysterious alien artefact. It features high octane alien fights, scary AI robots, galaxy-spanning settings, and a dual point of view that toys with reader sympathies. This is one story that makes more sense as part of the collection. The final story, The Gabble, returns to the enduring mystery of the nonsense-spouting beast and layers in another mystery on a base investigating alien life forms. The tales are best read in order due to the links between them.
One of the recurring themes is what humans will do to themselves to survive. This is a fascinating collection, not least because of the varied answers to that question, which sometimes require a strong stomach. The relationships between men and women in these stories tend to be brief, functional, and unsentimental, as if all of the awe and affection is reserved for the endless variety of sentient life, whether it's biological, mechanical, or a hybrid of both.
Often violent, gory, or plain weird, these stories depict a far future that you may not want to live in, but which makes for absolutely engrossing reading.
8th August 2016
Review © Ros Jackson
Source: convention freebie