Weeding Womb

Snow in the Desert

Snow in the Desert by Neal Asher. Not bad. Nothing deep, but certainly a good way to spend a while. Spoilers below.

This story is interesting to compare - at least, in the mind of the anthologist - to Lost Sorceress of the Silent Citadel which does a disservice to both stories. If you've read and agree with the rebuttal to my Lost Sorceress review, it does even more of a disservice, since that story is from Moorcock's Eternal Champion fantasy output and this one is something entirely different. The only major intersects are 'powerful protagonist that knows more than most' and 'some desert'. Most readers could probably tie a half-dozen stories and a couple of book series into that template. (If you can't even think of one, you should be smacked with a trout. A sandtrout.)

The plot is quite simple. An albino nicknamed Snow (reread the story title and groan) is living on a desert planet and is fighting for his life. Someone wants his testicles. And not in any sexual sense: this person wants them cut off, held in stasis, and delivered to him, and is willing to pay good money for the delivery. Condition of the body is irrelevant, so most people figure cutting the gonads off a corpse is easier than getting them from a live human who very much wants to keep them.

Over the span of the story, we meet the players. First Snow, then the various groups of killers (from mercenaries looking for a bounty to a group called the Andronache who seem to have made Snow their personal crusade), then finally various factions who have other plans for Snow, including a woman who Snow unwillingly accepts as a travelling partner (and somewhat more willingly as a sexual partner).

Why is Snow hunted so much? He's recently been unmasked as the only known immortal, which makes a steady supply of his DNA highly valuable to a lot of people.

The writing is great, though I - as always - have a few complaints. First, the local word for "mayor" seems to be "Androche", yet there's no connection to the similarly-named Andronache mercenary guild. I presume some sort of pseudo-Greek derivation involving the prefix "Andro-", meaning "man", but if you're going for that, pick a different word to derive each term from. Besides, the Androche in the story is a woman. Perhaps an "-arch" (ruler) suffix or even "kuros" (Greek for "lord") would be a better source.

Which leads me to the next complaint. The universe seems bigger than the story. Normally this is a great thing, as it allows both the author (in his writing) and the readers (in their imaginations) to further explore the same universe, but here it isn't like that. Here you get the feeling that something important happened that you weren't let in on. I don't know why, but something about the story just gives me that feeling that there's something about Snow that we're really missing but should nonetheless know. Maybe this is part of a series, but I didn't see any obvious statements of same.

The 'surprise' nature of the more-than-human woman Snow travels with (it's implied that she's an android, but she's not quite that inhuman) is a bit of a copout, but it's not that bad since it's at least hinted at throughout the story rather than just sprung on the reader for the Happy Ending. Though I can't quite see how anything organic could be left of her after the trials she goes through during the story. Her feats of endurance and strength (and cybernetics visible when she takes a bullet) show her body is mechanical, yet she possesses a reaction time and unending fount of patience that imply her mind is equally cybernetic, leaving little left to be human. But perhaps I'm reading into it too far.

Still, a good story. Nothing deep, but a real nice read.

The Archon

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