Neal L. Asher
The Engineer (C) (1998)
Reviewed: 2002-04-30

The back bills Asher as "the master of science fiction horror". There are some elements of that, but more striking is the author's fertile imagination, hitting the reader with a rich sense of wonder. The title novella and several of the stories are set in the Polity, a universe reminiscent of Iain M. Banks's Culture: a civilization combining advanced humans and robots and discreetly led by AI minds of superhuman intelligence; very advanced technology; big ships—and I mean big. In "The Engineer", a science vessel picks up an alien that has been frozen in an escape pod for five million years. When examined, resuscitated, and contacted, it proves a remarkable creature of potentially enormous value. An outside political bloc does not want to leave this find to the polity and engages in covert war-like action. Space operatic battle ensues.

Asher delights in weird biology. "Snairls" has a man connected to a hivemind exploring a giant gene-engineered mollusc. In "Spatterjay" a polity scientists travels with natives on a planet with a bizarrely aggressive fauna which gives frequent cause for black humor. Of the lot, "Jable Sharks" qualifies most clearly as a horror story: Fishermen, or maybe whalers, hunt dangerous sharks on an alien ocean when they run into a creature more fearsome than any simple predator can be. The final two stories of the volume see comparatively primitive human settlers living on worlds of a posthuman entity shrouded in mystery.

Another impressive new talent from Britain.


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