You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Engineer Reconditioned

The Engineer Reconditioned is a collection of short fiction by Neal Asher, the author of The Skinner. Most of the stories are set in his Polity universe, with several set on the world of the Owner. One story takes place in the universe of his book Cowl. The collection is a fun visit to these other stories.

The centerpiece is the novella called "The Engineer". In it, the crew of the science vessel Schrödinger's Box comes across a mysterious metal sphere drifting through space. They thaw out the contents to find a small creature that immediately starts building things out of its environment. The creations become so complex that they can emulate a small human. Meanwhile, the outlaws of the galaxy learn of this discovery and seek to destroy it lest it become a powerful weapon in the Polity's hands. There is a bit of politics and social commentary, but the action is the substance of the story. My only complaint is that compared to The Skinner, the AI characters are dull and flat. Otherwise, it is a fun story.

Two characters from The Skinner make appearances. In "Snairls", Janer takes his hive-mind companions on a large air snail. In "Spatterjay", we see Erlin the first time she comes to the planet and meets Ambel and his crew. The action is a little fast here and there's not much time for character development. However you can see it's a good seed for the full story.

The Owner world is a place where there is a dispassionate and invisible ruler of a planet with few rules: stay inside the marked areas and no population over two billion. In "Proctors", the action follows a scientist and law enforcement as they seek to find a visitor from another planet who has been abducted by men who don't believe that the Owner exists and want to make their own rules. In "The Owner", a family is on the run for disobeying a religious stricture but find the Owner themselves. Both these stories show societies developing differently under the same basic rules.

Asher takes on religion in two very different stories. In "The Thrake", a missionary comes to a planet to determine if a new humanoid species is sentient, only to get a nasty surprise about the nature of sentience. In the final story, "Gurnard", the religion is based on the life cycle of a parasite. The story got more interesting as I understood the circumstances. The parasite has a complex life cycle involving compelling animals to take actions that further the parasite's needs. Part of the life cycle concerns the rites of a religious order. The story follows a man named Beck as he is compelled to return to a church in order to carry a dying fish to its birth waters.

All of the stories here have a good mix of science and action. Asher never fails to provide a good story based on interesting scientific ideas. A-

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Blogger Neal Asher said...

Thanks for the review.

7:24 AM, February 17, 2011  

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