Neal L. Asher
The Engineer (C) (1998)
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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