Compared to Asher's one other collection, The Engineer ReConditioned, this volume has a better focus on the Polity universe. If you're used to any Asher novel, then you'll be happy to know that his short stories contain the exact same elements as his larger works. Unlike Asher's novels, however, is the inclusion of some steamy sex scenes in three of the ten stories. Considering Asher's thousands of pages of novel text without any sex scenes I can remember, the inclusion of sex in the short stories is odd... perhaps the stories were too dry and needed to be lubricated to give them that certain "oomph."
These stories also represent an author finding his niche as a science ficiton writer. Sometimes called "post-cyberpunk" but really just action/horror/noir, the author can see the author settling into the niche which has made him famous... and so deep in the pit that I don't think the author could ever redefine himself. Whereas his previous collection was dating from 1995-2001, this collection mainly includes stories from 2001-2008.
Softly Spoke the Gabbleduck (2005 novelette) - 3/5 - Incestuous siblings on homicide safari: Tameera, Tholan, and his assistant Anders hire a safari guide on the planet Myral. When Tameera snipes a C-grade sentient and later becomes abducted by the hextet of Sheq, the shagging siblings take revenge upon the Sheq, and the assistant and the safari guide who have witnessed the crime. When the gabbleduck appears in the shrouded mist of a valley waterfall, someone is bound to die. 33 pages
Putrefactors (2008 novelette) - 4/5 - Unauthorized android attacks assassin Ansel: The Company's assassin's mission is to kill a villager on a gastronomically uninhabitable planet, but Earth Central is onto his plot. The tables are turned on Ansel when the same company he works for seeks to kill him off, one way or another. 25 pages
Garp and Geronamid (2005 novelette) - 4/5 - Salind snoops simulacrum, snubs safety: A reporter follows a murder victim reification, who later becomes an unwilling assassin for a non-Polity world's mafia queen. The ruthless police rear their ugly head in matters the visiting AI Geronamid considers vulgar. With the mafia's drug-crazed grip and vise-like clutch of fear over the people, a fair and democratic vote towards Polity integration looks unlikely, unless Salind can find a newsworthy story to broadcast back to the Polity. 45 pages
The Sea of Death (2001 short story) - 4/5 - Sub-zero subterranean sarcophagi sleep soundly: Millions of kilometers of tunnel lie below the surface of Orbus, each tunnel loaded end-to-end with frozen sarcophagi. The aliens within have been scanned and studied but only Duren the loosecannon was crazy enough to actually open one. The passing planetoid of Corlis is about to add some unexpected geothermal energy to the usually frigid Orbus. 18 pages
Alien Archaeology (2007 novella) - 5/5 - Rho's rare relic releases rampage: Rho's Atheter memory store is so valuable that pirate Jael steals is and offers to transfer its store into a gabbleduck, a creature which is thought to be a non-sentient de-evolution of the Atheter race. Havoc breaks loose as she attempts to sell the gabbleduck to the Prador, a situation which involves a reclusive rogue AI named Penny Royal, who inhabits the Prador/Polity borderland known as the Graveyard. Rho simply seeks revenge against Jael, but he becomes mixed up in Earth Central's attempt to hinder Jael's plans for the Prador. 76 pages
Acephalous Dreams (2005 novelette) - 4/5 - Murderous Daes dons Geronamid's node: Daes decapitates a man who once hurt him long ago, but he has no doubt that he'll be caught for his actions. The regional AI Geronamid's Golem offers Daes the chance to be given a cephalic implantation of a Csorian node. Should he survive, the charges will be droped. Once quarantined on a remote planet, Daes is quickly subsumed by the node and Geronamid's plans are soon revealed. 26 pages
Snow in the Desert (2002 novelette) - 3/5 - Arid assassins aim at albino: On a desert planet where water is scarce and highly valued, an albino man named Snow has a bounty placed on his testicles. Having fought off assassins before, the level of guile to retrieve his DNA has reached unexpectedly high levels. 41 pages
Choudapt (2008 novelette) - 2/5 - Mycelia medic manhandles malicious mold: Simoz carries a doctor mycelium inside himself. A virus keyed into the genetic augmentation of the population of Wrack has them hostile against outsiders like ECS Simoz. He and his mycelium, named Mike, must produce a retro-virus and find the perpetrators releasing the terror. 24 pages
Adaptogenic (1994 short story) - 4/5 - Antiquarian acquires autogenic at auction: Jason Chel bid for a hammer-whelk shell, a related early Golem series, and a box of miscellaneous items. The Golem is missing its long-term memory, something which fellow bidder Grable is eager to attain. When it's found inside the shell, Chel journeys to the Golem's last known planet of service to learn more of the story, only to be met by Grable, an uncooperative AI, and a planet on the cusp of a world-time. 30 pages
The Gabble (2006 novelette) - 3/5 - Spastic speech spurs corpse search: Jonas is eager to dissect a hooder in situ but gabbleduck researcher Shandelle has the only available ATV. The two decide to investigate a gabbleduck on the way to the forensic dissection. With dracomen, tricones, mud snakes, and heroynes littering the surface of Masasa, the 530km jourey is as interesting as their discoveries. 48 pages
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