The Gabble and other stories is a new collection of Neal’s shorter fiction with 10 short stories dating from 1999 through to this year. Anyone that has read Neal’s other collection, The Engineer ReConditioned, will know just what to expect from the man that is the master of weird, wonderful and downright gruesome alien creature creations. Add this to the great way in which Neal can quickly draw you into a story and you’ve got a must have collection of some of the best science fiction out there.
1. Softly Spoke the Gabbleduck – a nice and simple story following a few characters as they are hunting out of range of the authorities. With a couple of twists and turns and plenty to keep the story flowing at a good pace this is a great story. 8/10
2. Putrefactors – just what I love Neal for: alien creatures, the hint of corruption, a psycho Golem and an Earth Central monitor. Another page turner that keeps you questioning until the end. 9/10
3. Garp & Geronamid – As another world is at the stage of voting to join the Polity, a reification (dead man walking) named Garp and a reporter are thrown into the middle of events when an assassination attempt is made on the AI Geronamid as it arrives on planet. Add some twists, turns, corruption, addictive drugs, a Golem and an excellent finish and you’ve got another great short story. 9/10
4. The Sea of Death – one of the less exciting short stories where curiosity leads to some interesting findings. 7/10
5. Alien Archeaology – the longest offering in the collection that brings about everything Neal does well in a novel. I won’t list them here, but suffice to say that this is 100% balls-to-the-wall storytelling (and even better is the promise of seeing a living and breathing Atheter). 9/10
6. Acephalous Dreams – with Geronamid making another appearance, this time after discovering a Csorian node and offering a prisoner on death row the chance to get his sentence cleared if he tests the device. I always enjoy the stories like this where a little more is discovered about the history of the Polity universe. 9/10
7. Snow in the Desert – a great story following Snow, an albino, who has a price on his head for the retrieval of his testicles. Seeing the way he has to live on a hot planet where everything revolves around getting and keeping water while avoiding the numerous challenges and attempts on his life makes for a good yarn. 9/10
8. Choudapt – a little exploration of the genetic mixing in the polity and the effects of a virus keyed to specific DNA. 7/10
9. Adaptogenic – a chance lot at an auction leads to some interesting information about some priceless relics that could make the finder very wealthy indeed. When Chel and an associate go looking for these at the wrong time of year on the wrong planet events take a turn for the worse. 8/10
10. The Gabble – another story set on Massada and revealing some more information about both Gabbleducks and Hooders. More of a back story filler than anything else, but still one of the more enjoyable ones from the collection. 9/10
On the whole this is a great collection of stories with only a couple of let downs. This collection is definitely one for fans and readers of Neal’s work rather than someone new to him, the stories can rely to an extent on prior knowledge of some events. A prime example of this would be The Gabble where the events of The Line of Polity have just happened and a little explanation of them is done – so at least I know how that one will finish now! Regardless of any of this I still think that this is one of the better author specific collections I’ve read and that Neal is one of the must read authors in the science fiction genre.