Tuesday, 25 February 2014

The Engineer Reconditioned

Neal Asher The Engineer Reconditioned (2006)
I'm not exactly sure why, but this one - collecting an early short story and two novellas - dragged a bit, particularly towards the end. This is annoying as I tend to read for an hour before going to sleep and then again for another hour before I get up in the morning, and plodding through a less than enjoyable book can sometimes cast a bit of an unsavoury tang over the rest of the intermediary day, particularly if that day is already spent enduring minor pain in the shoulder, the mystery of where all the sodding flies in the kitchen keep coming from, the fact that it's still fucking nippy outside despite living in south Texas, the water being cut off for a few hours by the utilities people, realising the milk has gone off, and opening a random page in a self-published book that I've been over a million fucking times to find yet another typo I've somehow missed.

Anyway, setting aside my own first world problems, of all the roughly current crop of British science-fiction writers, Neal Asher has distinguished himself as having both the big ideas and the storytelling ability to get them across without writing like someone aiming at the airport book stands, at least if The Skinner was anything to go by. The promise of that more recent work is found in a few of these slightly more formative efforts from the small press years. He seems particularly adept at writing weird biology of such stomach-churning convolutions as to border on a sort of sciency Lovecraft, which is particularly vivid in the two novellas, The Engineer and Spatterjay, summarised in my notes as having touches of Alice in Wonderland gone horribly wrong and H.R. Giger without the necrosis. Even in the depths of space, Asher's prime fillets always seem to pull you back to the high seas with salt in the spray and faintly disgusting gelatinous things sprouting all over the hull.

Unfortunately for the sake of this collection, whilst he clearly had the recipe even in the early days, it took a while before the pies started coming out right. Some of the narratives here appear strangely lacking in direction, or even story in a few cases. Others I struggled to remember even as I was reading them. Then again, everyone is entitled to turn out a few turkeys, and it's Neal Asher, so it's still worth a read on the strength of the good stuff.

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