Birthday Reviews: Neal Asher’s “Owner Space”

Birthday Reviews: Neal Asher’s “Owner Space”

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Cover by Vincent di Fate

Neal Asher was born on February 4, 1961. His first published story was “Another England” in 1989. He began his long-running Polity series in 2001 with the appearance of the novel Gridlinked. His 2006 novel, Cowl was a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award.

“Owner Space” was published in 2008 in Gardner Dozois’ anthology Galactic Empires. The story is the fourth Asher wrote about the Owner, following “Proctors,” “The Owner,” and “Tiger Tiger.” Three years later, he would publish the Owner trilogy, beginning with The Departure, in which he explored the Owner’s origins. For the purposes of “Owner Space,” however, the details of who the Owner is and how he got to where he is are unimportant, making him something of a deus ex machina in the story.

Neal Asher introduces a complex world in “Owner Space,” offering readers three separate groups to follow. He opens the story with refugees fleeing about the spaceship Breznev and quickly introduces the crew of the spaceship Lenin, chasing after them. With these two assemblages, Asher provides the context of an doctrinaire culture which tries to control all aspects of its people.

Slome Terl and the others aboard the Breznev (sic) have decided it is time to flee the Collective, as it is known, and strike out on their own. Astanger, the commander of the Lenin, although he is subject to the oversight of the Doctrinaire Shrad, is pursuing them to bring them back for reeducation. The third party in the situation is a spaceship of the Grazen, an alien race which the Collective has previously fought, although there is no an uneasy truce.

Although Asher provides their story from the viewpoint of the Grazen mother, he retains an air of alienness about her motives and methods. The encounter takes place near an area known as “Owner Space” a region where Terran ships can’t enter and where Grazen ships are destroyed. It is governed by a mysterious man known as The Owner, who may have terrestrial ties.

Everything changes when the Owner invites the ships into his domain and none of them know what to make of the invitation. Asher has created a complex political situation, especially as Astanger is wrestling with his own concerns over the direction the Collective is going, yet still feels the need to do his duty, fueled only in part by the presence of Doctrinaire Shrad and his security forces. While the Grazen remain somewhat ill defined, Asher does present them as a formidable force which could easily defeat of humanity if they so desired. The Owner’s background remains shrouded and only his practically godlike powers are revealed as he works to find some sort of balance between the crews of the Breznev, the Lenin, and the Grazen dreadnaught.

“Owner Space” offers an intriguing glimpse into a complex galactic situation, leaving many things unresolved. Asher has, however, written the additional stories to help flesh out those mysteries and other questions including his trilogy of novels that explain who the Owner is.

Reviewed in its only publication in the anthology Galactic Empires, edited by Gardner Dozois, Science Fiction Book Club, 2008.

Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a fifteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW and NESFA Press. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Big White Men—Attack!” in Little Green Men—Attack! Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 5 times as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7. He has been the news editor for SF Site since 2002.

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