the Little Red Reviewer

The Gabble and other Stories by Neal Asher

Posted on: April 24, 2015

2015-04-05 20.33.31The Gabble and Other Stories, by Neal Asher (short story collection)

published 2008, Night Shade Edition published 2015

where it got it: received review copy from Night Shade Books (thanks!)

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My first Neal Asher novel was The Skinner, an edgy  space opera that I’ve lovingly described as “magnificently disgusting”.  In that novel, the name of the game is adapt or die, and the denizens of the planet Spatterjay take full advantage of evolutionary opportunities. Even visitors who stick around long enough can watch their bodies change into something not quite human.  The Skinner made me an instant fan of Asher, and I’ve been watching for his titles ever since.

Many of Asher’s novels take place in his Polity Universe, which in a similar fashion to Banks’ Culture novels,  the novels all take place in the same universe, and occasionally characters from one book show up or are mentioned in another, but you can generally jump around in the order the books were published.   Not sure Asher is for you? Not sure you want to dive into a new universe? The Gabble, a short story collection of stores from the Polity will answer both of those questions for you.  If you ask me, you can just answer those two questions with a resounding Yes and be done with it.

What I loved about how Asher does alien planets and aliens is that everything is so damn alien. Why should aliens have two arms, two legs, a head, a nose and a mouth? If that configuration is unique to Earth, it follows that every planet will have a unique configuration based on evolutionary needs, the planet’s unique environs, and any one of a million other variables in how life works. No one we run into is going to look like us, think like us, or communicate like us. There is no gentleness here, no Star Trek style diplomacy.  Some species simply do not communicate with others, and humans are quite tasty.  It might sound harsh, but this is how nature works.   When it comes down to it, we are just animals in a food chain.

About half the stories in The Gabble follow a pattern of someone visiting a planet they’ve never been to before, and getting into some kind of trouble with the natives. the visitor might be a hunting guide, a bounty hunter, a criminal, a special agent, a scavenger, or someone else altogether. Characters face strangeness, alienness, and facing down their own arrogant preconceived notions of what an alien might think or want. There are a number of cases of “what could possibly go wrong?” which is always fun.

A few words on some of my favorites in the collection:

“Softly Spoke The Gabbleduck” (2005) – Remind me to never visit a planet where either Gabbleducks or Sheq live.  Although advised against it, a hunting party takes down a Sheq, and the tribe must replace their lost member. The hunting guide can leave these idiots to die, or try to save them from their own stupidity. There is a gloriously horrific scene about how the Sheq tribe welcomes their adopted tribe member, by helping her go where they go, and eat what they eat. She probably lost her taste for hunting after that. This was the perfect opener for the collection.

“Alien Archeology” (2007)   – If you’re looking for information about the future of humanity and the Polity, this is the story you’ll want to read first. There is talk of adapted humans, a short history of the high tech races of the galaxy that left their ruins for us to find, AIs, golem cyborgs, and a very special creature who talks in nonsense that doesn’t sound like nonsense.

“Acephalous Dreams”  (2005) – a prisoner is offered a way off death row if he agrees to allow what amounts to the hindbrain of an alien to be implanted in him. This isn’t torture, and the prisoner wasn’t forced to accept this. It’s just that the most powerful AI in the polity wants to understand more about this alien race. With the use of flashbacks, the prisoner didn’t do anything wrong. His crime was completely justified. Does that mean his punishment was justified? Did he choose the right end? This is one of those multilayered stories that sticks with you.

“Snow in the Desert” (2002)  – An immortal albino and a bounty hunter who has forgotten what it means to be human, or maybe she never knew. Asher proves hard science fiction can also be grimdark romance. I know it sounds cliche, but everyone really is looking for someone, someone who understands them, someone they can grow old with. What if someone growing old with you is a physical impossibility? And what would you give up if you finally found that person? Like I said, grimdark scifi, but romantic.

At the end of the collection, Asher offers a few anecdotes on each story, and discusses when they were published (between 1999 and 2007) and what publications or anthologies they appeared in. there are no original pieces in this collection, but as I am woefully under read in Neal Asher, it’s all new to me.

7 Responses to "The Gabble and other Stories by Neal Asher"

I’ve never read Neal Asher before, but Night Shade did just send me a copy of Dark Intelligence which I’m looking forward to reading. This collection sounds like a bunch of fun, though. I’ll have to check it out!

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Dark Intelligence is a new entry point to his universe, so that’s a good place to start, too.

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Glad to hear that. I’m in the same boat as Tammy and have been curious about trying his books.

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Softly Spoke The Gabbleduck and Snow in the Desert were among my favorites! I also really liked the ones that bordered on horror like Putrefactors and Choudapt and those that focused on aliens. Strangely enough, I didn’t enjoy the longer stories as much.

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This is indeed a very approachable Asher book, a good way to find if you like the writer and writing. Truthfully I liked it better then the one novel I tried.

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which of his novels did you try?

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Gabbleducks are ridiculous fun, but really just the start when Asher gets going.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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