on the numinous Infinity Engine by the luminous Neal Asher
I must unravel my past back to its beginning, and it's to the beginning I will go nextMy first Neal Asher story was Softly Spoke the Gabbleduck (Asimov's August 2005). Then came The Gabble (Asimov's, March 2006). I was fascinated and intrigued by the wonder and mystery of the Gabbleducks and everything about them. I'd been reading science fiction for forty years; so fascinating and intriguing me was no mean feat. Alien Archaeology (Asimov's June 2007) was the first Penny Royal story I read and it had not only a Gabbleduck, but also a rusty former ECS agent and an incredibly narcissistic and greedy treasure seeker. The fascination only deepened. I gleefully read the subsequent stories with Penny Royal, culminating in The Transformation Trilogy, which ties together the Prador, the Gabbleducks (we all know those are the Atheter, right?) and Penny Royal. There's also the shadow of a connection to Ian Cormac.
Mr. Asher weaves a complex and intricate tale. He leads us, captivated, to the inevitable and inexorable yet unforeseen conclusion. The gradual unraveling of the past mixed with the fraught action of the present is riveting It is followed by the final revelation of the whole truth which has on me as great an impact as the final revelation in Sophie's Choice. It is in its own way as devastating. The climax of the story takes place at Panarchia, where Penny Royal's tale begins. So here at the end and the beginning, is where stand the dramatis personae.
"Meanwhile, over the years, it became apparent that Sverl was changing in some strange way."Sverl started as a contradiction- a Polity-hating, human-loathing Prador possessed of an overweening curiosity. (You! You readers of War Factory. You didn't really think Penny Royal was finished with Sverl, did you?) He ends as a much happier and better suited/fitted individual than he started. And he is something of a trailblazer for the Prador. I suspect more will follow in his foot prints, or rather, claw marks. (Sfolk is also happy with his new position.)
"no one had any idea what the Weaver's intentions now were."The Weaver is, as always, sitting in the catbird seat. He proves it is possible to achieve happiness, attain goals, and get what one wants, to the consternation of the Polity AI's, with some collaboration with Penny Royal. This involves a quid pro quo beneficial to all concerned, especially the reader. I wonder though if he isn't a bit lonely. Perhaps some more Atheter memstores will turn up.
"Welcome to the prison hulk the Tyburn. I am the Brockle and I am here to execute sentence on you."The Brockle, oh, the deliciously deranged and arrogant Brockle. Mr Asher had to create a suitable, a plausible antagonist, and so came the Brockle with his Penny Royal like shoaling and his ability to hijack the once again hapless Garotte, and his nearly unlimited ability to expand himself and his abilities. The Brockle is not only nemesis, but also foil to Penny Royal. There is an important difference between the two. Where Penny Royal's madness drives its genius, the Brockle's madness drives only his meanness. Playing Hotspur to Penny Royal's young prince Harry, Penny Royal is all the Brockle would like to be, only not in a thousand years.
"During the ensuing three periods of waking, Trent thought about his past, wished he could change it but accepted he couldn't."Trent Sorbel, erstwhile soulless tyro and basic sadistic criminal thug, has like the Tin Man, been in need of a heart. In the end he has grown one through his shepherding of the shell people and his love for three particular shell people. He has redeemed himself, Penny Royal just provided the setting.
"Blite and the crew were a strange lot"Speaking of hapless, poor Blite and his crew have been dragged along by Penny Royal through the thickest thickets in the briar patch, the Graveyard, and beyond. In the end he and his crew are no longer a blight on the Polity and well, you'll see.
"On Masada, Penny Royal had provided me with intimate evidence of its own guilt, so my role seemed to be that of executioner."Riss and Spear have at last completed their tasks as Penny Royal's chosen instruments. They are in a position to leave The War and Penny Royal in the past and move on into their futures. Through the spine entrusted to Spear, we/they learn the whole story of Room 101, Penny Royal, and events on and around Panarchia. The story speaks volumes about the exigencies of war, decisions made by leaders safely at the rear, the disposability of those at the sharp end, and how we/all societies have treated our veterans. The task chosen by Penny Royal for Spear was to execute him or forgive him for his role at Panarchia and all that followed. As for the rest, well that's our play, and it wouldn't want us to give it away.