Agony Column Home
Agony Column Review Archive

Africa Zero

Neal Asher

Cosmos / Wildside

UK Trade Paperback First

ISBN 1-58715-447-1

Publication Date: 2001

151 Pages; $15.00

Date Reviewed: 05-29-02

Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2002



Science Fiction, Horror

03-21-02, 04-09-02, 4-15-02, Interview, 06-11-02, 11-13-02, 01-07-03, 01-27-03, 02-25-03, 04-30-03, 06-14-04

Africa is not the typical setting for science fiction. Ian McDonald has done his share in stories of the Chagra, but otherwise it tends to get left behind. In 'Africa Zero', Neal Asher redresses the absence of African-set science fiction with his usual verve. 'Africa Zero consists of two novellas, the title story and 'The Army of God and the Sauraman'. These are earlier works of Asher's than we're used to seeing. The first hails from 'Threads' magazine in 1994; there's no date for the second. There are some chronological knowledge problems caused by the 'fix up', but don't let that stop you. 'Africa Zero' delivers Asher's usual drolly-recounted over-the-top adventure.

Set some three centuries after an asteroid has annihilated America, both stories recount adventures of The Collector, a nearly immortal cyborg who has appointed himself the protector of Earth genetic diversity. He's seeded Africa all sorts of entertaining monsters, and protects those who have gone wild after the setback of the asteroid impact. These include huge Great Africa Vampires, smaller pygmy vampires, mammoths, and other more exotic creatures. 'Africa Zero' starts as The Collector is on the trail of something that is killing mammoths.

Asher is rather sly at undercutting the reader's expectations, then surprising the reader with complexity. 'Africa Zero' is no exception as The Collector's relationships with the creature he's pursuing and the woman whom he has saved snowball into something fascinating and character driven. This is because Asher knows how to do action right, so the reader can really visualize the scenes of vampires, mammoths and monsters. Happily plugging along enjoying the shoot-'em-up, the reader finds an unexpected emotional payoff is building. It's nicely done.

'The Army of God and the Sauraman' takes up the story a couple of hundred years hence. Thus, it's a bit disconcerting when Asher re-introduces The Army of God, which played a part in 'Africa Zero', as if The Collector had never heard of it. Oh well. Because by the time that happens, Asher already has another runaway train well off the tracks, this time involving intra-corporate wrangling and the creation of a soldier race. In this novella, Asher works his laconic sidekick routine to the hilt, creating a monosyllabic character who shows much more complexity than the reader at first expects.

Across both stories, told in the first person, The Collector emerges as an interesting point-of-view character. He's more than two thousand years old and no longer strictly human. Part of the fun of this work is finding out just what The Collector is. And though Asher might have made him more invincible, he does show fallibility. The Collector is also capable of some emotions, though they are filtered through a prose so dry it might give you windburn.

At 151 pages, 'Africa Zero' is not a bad introduction to Neal Asher. Those who have read and enjoyed his other works should definitely seek this one out. It does have some kinks, but frankly, Asher's engaging big-screen technique just blows them out. If the idea of the Terminator roaming across Africa, protecting genetically engineered monsters from humans sounds appealing to you, then you'll enjoy 'Africa Zero'.