BOOK REVIEW Line War

By Neal Asher. The end of the line for the Polity?

Author: Neal Asher

Publisher: Tor

504 pages • £17.99

ISBN: 978-1-4050-5501-7

Rating:

Neal Asher is the M&S of deep space SF. He doesn’t do combat droids; he does razor-edged combat droids with attitude. He doesn’t do alien tech, he does alien tech clumped like coral around desiccated bodies – floating in deep space with a deep desire to start spearing bits of his heroine.

In this, the fifth of his Agent Corman novels, four alien civilisations have been destroyed by Jain technology, and it looks like humanity is going to be the fifth. Erebus, once a Polity AI, now a melded mind wielding that technology and controlling thousands of wormships, intends to win the war against humans once and for all. All that stands between it and success is...

Well, you probably know the answer. If you don’t, this probably isn’t the book for you. Begin at the beginning with Gridlinked, and then read Brass Man, Line of Polity, Polity Agent... everything will make infinitely more sense.

Agent Cormac, Dragon, Mr Crane, the eight-foot-high brass golem with a liking for ripping off people’s heads, Polity AI Jerusalem, Orlandine (her need for absolution now at war with her increasingly god-like powers)… all the familiar characters are back, only marginally more damaged than they were in the previous Cormac novels.

Asher has claimed he writes because he wants to tell stories, “Not because I intended to explore this or examine that, but because it’s fun...’ But he asks questions despite himself, like “does a civilisation that fights not to become something else destroy itself anyway?”

His writing is occasionally matter of fact – although his use of common objects to describe unfamiliar things is clever. Objects are described as, “like a slimy egg”, or sounding like flapping leather. And there are neat touches, like a morality virus that has psychopathic golems dialling down the power on their particle weapons to stun their enemy rather than leaving them in raw chunks all over distant walls.

Asher is brilliant at conveying the vastness of space, the strangeness of alien life and the sweep of planetary horizons. Not to mention the vast sweep of this novel itself. Line War is where the Cormac novels have been heading.

Right at the end, there’s a slight sense of the villain rubbing his hands, stoking his white cat and settling back in this chair. But then, with half a dozen plotlines and information threads from five previous novels to tie up into something resembling a great big bow, that’s inevitable. This is Asher’s best yet.

Jon Courtenay Grimwood

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