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Bewildering Stories

Neal Asher, Prador Moon

reviewed by Danielle L. Parker

Prador Moon
Author: Neal Asher
Publisher: Night Shade Books, 2006
Hardcover: 320 pp.
ISBN: 978-0-7394-7693-2
Imagine you’re in a crowded elevator that suddenly starts free-falling from the 101st floor. Imagine further that various villains in the press (you know them by their wide lapels and squinty looks) cut loose with the contents of those violin cases they carried on board. Imagine further that out of the control panel and other cracks and crevices burst ugly crab horror-monsters who rip off your neighbor’s pinkie while you’re still shrieking Pinchers at four o’clock!

Are you in your worst nightmare? Well, you might be, but if you read Prador Moon, you’ll recognize the sensations. Thrills and chills? Pandemonium? You bet. Gore? Girls and boys, you gotta believe it.

I came to Neal Asher after his wonderful Bond-in-space Gridlinked, finishing less happy, but still greedy, its sequel, Brass Man. Prador Moon, too, is set in Asher’s Polity future. Prador Moon is a far tighter novel than those two massive, sprawling tomes. It is, in fact, a simple novel. We have really nasty, totally unredeemable, cannibalistic, carnivorous aliens, in much the spirit of those early B (or do I mean D?) movies, where those big spiders, or ants-crabs, in this case-come over the hill in the dark and proceed to rip apart various extras. The hero and heroine, of course, miraculously lucky, fight back and win — end of story. There’s no need to worry about all the gore: these crab critters are so bad, they deserve all the splattered guts they get. They’re so unredeemable that when the hero of Prador Moon threatens a human traitor with torture of a particularly nasty kind, he’s still the hero. How beautifully simple!

OK, so we don’t have huge moral issues here (which there are in any real war). And we have aliens as cartoon villains (though not cartoons for kids, please). But the fun of Prador Moon is the same kind you find in Asher’s aforementioned Polity novels. Nobody, and I mean nobody, does blow-up bam-wham battles in space better than Neal Asher. I know, having tried to craft some myself (and then file-13ing the results), that it isn’t easy to write dreadnaughts-in-space conflicts as gripping as Asher’s. There was a battle section in the otherwise somewhat uneven Brass Man that I read several times just for the sheer thrill and great writing of it.

I’m not, as a rule, a reader of military SF; I generally hate the stuff. I confess to liking Timothy Zahn, who can do pretty good space smashups, as well as few others, but I really think Asher takes the honors. Who needs caffeine to jump the heart rate? Grab an Asher book.

Asher’s Polity universe of cooperative AI and human is equally intriguing. Asher’s humans of the future and its AIs are morphing into each other: humans whose augmentations have made them super-computer cyborgs, and AIs who wear human forms and talk in nonsense quotations. That Asher has, tongue-in-cheek, given the AIs a cynical sense of humor adds to the fun. Who ever thought far-future artificial intelligences would be playful? I joke, therefore I am?

In Asher’s best books he manages to show us fascinating characters (the mysterious Ian Cormac and playful Jabberwocky-style Dragon of Gridlinked being his best examples, though not the monster mech, brainless smasher Golem of its sequel Brass Man). There’s no one of particular interest in terms of character in Prador Moon. We actually get closer to the hapless first and second children of the cannibalistic crab general Immanence than to the human protagonists. Poor tykes! I felt so sorry for first-child Vagule, torn limb-for-limb by angry father and gleeful siblings, that I would have honored him with my best crab salad dressing. If I could ever stand crab salad after this story, that is.

Still, if the human characters aren’t particularly memorable, there are those space battles. Please, Mr. Asher, a fan is begging you. Bring back Ian Cormac and more of your roguish AIs in your next Polity story-and keep writing those space battles!

Copyright © 2008 by Danielle L. Parker

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