Saturday, May 9, 2020

Moral Biology, by Neal Asher

[Analog]
★☆☆☆☆

(First Contact Adventure; Polity Universe) A first-contact team visits an alien planet where the aliens have a defense system meant to keep anyone from crossing in either direction. (23,275 words; Time: 1h:17m)

This story is set in the author’s “Polity Universe,” which contains over a dozen novels and shorter fiction, but this story seems to be completely stand-alone.

"Moral Biology," by (edited by Trevor Quachri), appeared in issue 05-06|20, published on by .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Review: 2020.243 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: Fundamentally, this is a first-contact story, but the characters spend so much time just getting to the aliens that it reads more like an exploration/adventure story. It sets up several questions, starting with “why does the security system prevent things from entering or leaving the planet?” As the party get closer and closer to the alien, things gradually become clearer, and the conclusion wraps everything up nicely.

The story does a nice job of depicting a future where different sorts of nanotech are pervasive. That’s hard to do, since it implies so many changes to so many things. I think it’s greatest strength is that it explores the idea that humans and AI are complementary to each other; that humans and AIs are far more powerful working together than either is alone.

Worth noting: DeepSqueak is a real project.

Con: Much of the narration is awkward, there’s a lot of editorializing, and it sometimes descends into broken English. E.g. saying “probing to his receptors” instead of “probing his receptors” or “I thought it an idea to get to you fast.” There are even spelling errors, e.g. “expertize.” I’m not sure what went wrong here—I’d have expected Analog’s copy editor to catch this kind of thing—but it’s not acceptable in a professionally published story.

Another problem, almost as bad, is that it simply explains too much. Not in the way of infodumps, although there is some of that, but rather the descriptions in each scene are way too long and bog the story down.

As far as the plot goes, one wonders why creatures this sophisticated technologically didn’t just come up with an entirely mechanical system to deliver sperm to other planets. What was so hard about that?

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Neal Asher Info: Interviews, Websites, ISFDB, FreeSFOnline

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