Home > Categories > Books > Compilations > Lockdown Tales II review
A collection of nine novelettes and stories from SF author Neal Asher, all 150,000 words of which were written during lockdown. It includes four that are original to this volume.
Some of these narratives are set during the latter days of Neal's Polity universe, while others explore what comes next.
Contents of Lockdown Tales II:
• An Alien on Crete
• The Translator
• The Host
• Antique Battlefields
• Moral Biology
• Longevity Averaging
Ever since I was offered a review copy of Brass Man, I have been hooked on Neal's literary labours, and most especially his Polity universe. Now, while not all the stories in this second 'lockdown' collection are based in the polity, there are enough to make it very appealing to me, and in the process show me some of the other 'dark worlds' lurking in the man's skull... and yes, I want to read more about them.
I was particularly taken by 'An Alien on Crete' as it had an interesting premise I have not seen as well-developed even in novel format, and should Neal ever decide to expand upon that story - perhaps tell the tale of what happens after the alien's departure - that would be a story I would gladly hand over hard currency for. I also appreciated that it was not part of his Polity universe, so gave a little bit of variety to the overall feel of the book. However, by the far the most engaging for me was the nominal trilogy of The Translator, The Host and Moral Biology. These are set within the Polity universe, and while the first two are somewhat unrelated, they are bound into a coherent whole by the third.
Possibly the tale that surprised me the most, by how compelling I found it, was Skin. The concept was high-scifi yet told in an almost casual way, using a first-person perspective that gave the protagonist an instant affinity that I found myself relating to. That need for 'something radical to shake up one's life a bit' is something a lot of readers can potentially relate to in this post-Lockdown world. What she did certainly makes "learning to skydive" seem like "learning to draw stick-figures".
One of the things I really appreciate authors doing in anthologies, is adding a preface to each story. Knowing about the little influences helps reduce the "Hang on a minute..." moments so that I can stay immersed in the living story, so while reading 'Antique Battlefields' it was good to know that Neal explicitly stated the tale had a touch of 'Highlander' in its literary genome. And if you have ever seen the original movie, you'll instantly understand what aspects were included in the tale and why the protagonist may have felt the way he did about his possessions. Their value didn't lie in the physicality of them, it lay in the connection they brought him and the memories they brought back to the surface.
The one story in this collection that I felt was somewhat 'the odd one out' was 'Longevity Averaging'. While it is indeed a well constructed tale, and clearly related to Neal's pursuit of a longer lifespan, it felt like it was more of a personal expression of his, than a tale of another world. A wolf in sheepskin, if you will. A worthy tale to be sure, but it had a totally different vibe than all the others included mainly because it was one of only two non-Polity tales and this made it a bit jarring to read, especially as the final tale. Perhaps if it had come first, allowing the coherence of the other tales to round out the book, it may have sat better with me.
There was one story that, after reading it, all I wanted was more about it, was the first tale in the collection - Xenovore. Still set in the Polity universe, it didn't have any elements that included the Polity itself. Set in, but not of... if you understand my meaning. The characters were all somewhat undefined for a big chunk of the story and that kept me curious as small details and informational tidbits were slowly unearthed from the protagonist's mind. That would be another I would love to see expanded into a larger arc despite the surviving characters' ultimate decision about their own future.
Overall, if you love hard-core sci-fi but also enjoy it in small bites, this and the first collection really should be on your reading list. With flavour-notes reminiscent of Peter F. Hamilton and Iain M. Banks , Neal's works are always worth reading and will captivate you from the first page. This is an excellent addition to my personal library and I can not recommend it too highly.
Random listing from 'Books'...
Tom Tuatara cocked one beady eye,
peered at the skink, and let out a sigh.
'No one can beat you, is that what you think?
Are you really so confident, Sammy the Skink?'
A witty New Zealand retelling of The Tortoise and the Hare.
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