The Gabble is a fantastic introduction to Neal Asher’s signature style of writing for those who are unfamiliar with his work, and for fans it is a wonderful expansion with both familiar and unfamiliar worlds and characters. Each story is set within his Polity universe, a violent and gory post-cyberpunk future where worlds are ruled by powerful AI’s and humans are augmented with whatever genetic, biological or mechanical enhancements they can afford.
Each story is a stand-alone tale that requires no previous knowledge to enjoy. They all have similar themes and concepts and character tropes and are all connected through a disciplined attention to detail.
Asher often employs the same character types in the same settings with similar conflicts, but this is not a criticism. He is an author that writes what the fans want – what they want is consistency of style and elements, and with each story he delivers on this: fast-paced action, deliriously-imagined monsters and world designs, tough and sexy characters and symbiotic and parasitic technologies integrated into living creatures. If one loves labels they could throw around biopunk, hardscience, post-human, post-cyberpunk or even technoir.
But at it’s core his stories are good old space opera: world-spanning politics and intrigue, the constant threat of war or disease, and the constant presence of the seemingly omnipotent AI that govern worlds – age-old themes of betrayal and revenge, love and honour, evolution and recidivism.
The first story is Softly Spoke the Gabbleduck. It is a fantastic introduction to the book sets the mood for the following stories. Well paced and simply-described with characters and villains that are easy to relate to and invest in. The world is violent and strange and alien, and the creatures within even more so.
There are several novella-length stories in the middle of this book which could threaten to distance the first-time reader with their reliance on canonical knowledge, but are still thoroughly enjoyable and are well placed in the book. The following stories are shorter with faster paces and some very exciting scenes, and the final story is the titular The Gabble. Reading this book is like surfing: you get carried along in the currents, your adrenaline pumping as you are gently carried up a large swell; and suddenly you are thrust over the precipice of the breaking water and you have an exhilarating ride through the roiling foam and the thundering waters until you reach the shore, full of endorphins and ready to head back out into even deeper waters.
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