Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen ! Bonsoir Mesdames et Messieurs ! Welcome, or welcome back on board of I.S.S. Rover. Spring is finally here, no snow, no cold. Not to mention that there was a partial solar eclipse today. But thats not why we are here today. It´s time for a new literary adventure. And as the headlines say, it´s again time to check out what else is there for a fan of Iain M. Banks aside from the endless rereading of his books if he´s searching for a similar experience. You can find links to the arlier posts from this series at the end of this post.
As I already announced in the last ( and at the same time the first ) post, today we will be checking out Neal Asher, yet another british fiction author ( which is a requirement of mine, and not that i care how uninclusive it is or anything else ). And the book on display today will be Gridlinked, the first novel written by Neal Asher, and also the first book of his now already sprawling Polity universe/series, and the first book of the Agent Cormac series.
It was a quick impulse decision to incorporate his work in the whole “Search Project”, but it took me some time to decide on where to start, as I tried to pick out something that is promising to be good, and at first I tried to avoid the Agent Cormac series, but unfortunatelly all signs were telling that for the appreciation, and maybe a “fair” judgment ( as much as a biased oppinion can be fair ) I will have to start literally at the beginning. Whatever, lets move on. While contemplating my options I also found a collection of Asher´s short stories: The Engineer Reconditioned. And as I am a succer for anthologies it will be reviewd shortly, as i decided it deserves a separate post, rather than to be included here ( also for the benefit of a “fair judgement” ).
So … Gridlinked. It kicks off with a not too impressive start: we have the main character, the hero, antihero or whatever, Agent Cormac behaving like a jerk, killing a criminal in what should be a cool action scene. But actually it´s not that impressive, you have such “cool scenes” in every military/spy fiction be it science-fiction or not, and if one thrives reading such literature, it becomes somewhat boring ( which is one of the main reasons why I´m inclined to search for a successor to Iain M. Banks ). And not only is the opening scene boring, but the main character is also uninteresting. Why ? I´m not really sure. Maybe it´s the cliché, that he is an unemotional killing machine, the 007 of the universe, and yet he fails so utterly in assessing his situation. The amateurism of the writer shows here, which isn´t surprising, it´s his first novel after all, but it did anger me, as he already had a whole volume of short stories published, and had noone to point out this to him ? What is he, writer of fan fiction, is he stuck on that level ? Well sincerely, I don´t know, but wil be geting to soon, when i check his anthology.
But this feeling did lessen somewhat my curiosity, my wanting to read it, so I went through this book quite slowly, did not breeze through it, as I would if it hadn´t been for this limping start. And if it were only for this clichéd trope I would probably forgive him, but later on there is a promise of a tragic death, which for the seasoned reader won´t be tragic, as he/she knows that it will be “miraculously” reversed. And it doesn´t matter how wel built up is the whole reversal, it still stinks; we all have seen it already in other stories, so it simply doesn´t work for me. Maybe if i were younger and less experienced reader it would, but I´m not. So sorry Neal you will be stuck together with Richard Morgan and Dan Abnet in the category of uninventive, but still decent writer. You will get a chance to get out of there, but it will be hard, especiallly seeing that you cling to your Polity universe like there is no other thing out there.
Aside from this flaws, the book is a decent sci-fi, military flick, displaying the usual commando action, with larger than life main character and supporting crew. We have bad ass androids/robots who deliver mayhem, destruction and death, but sometimes when equivalent forces claxh the end is quite anticlimactic, but that is a flaw I am willing to forgive at this point. We also have Culture style AIs, but they get only the fraction of “page time” they would deserve. Of the four funnier quotes that i have marked in my e-book in two are involved AIs:
´Ready,´said a voice that managed to put all the elements of a bored sophisticate into one word.
Samarkand II continued. Í have been initiated prematurely. Presumably there is a reason for this. I ame therefore ready for your explanation. Please continue. It has been thirty-seven seconds-mark-and I am bored already.
And these are the rare occasions that something more shines through Asher´s work, something resembling the wit of Iain M. Banks or Terry Pratchett. Maybe in future volumes the AIs get to play a bigger role; in the recently published Dark Intelligence they surely do, but I hope that they will make a better show much earlier. And this hope is the main reason I will be revisiting the polity universe – soon; aside me being a succer for anthologies.
The worldbuilding has a relatively slow pace, which is not a problem. It is done via quotations, flavour texts at the beginnig of the chapters, much like seen in Frank Herbert´s Dune series. And the world building points toward a universe larger than LIFE itself, or maybe even larger than DEATH, which is yet another warning sign for me to quit, and never to return to Polity. But … There is something that tells me that there still might be something, something that might separate Asher from the likes of Richard K. Morgan, and that was a glimpse I had when i read the aforementioned excerpt from his last novel, it seems his writing has evolved, maybe not as much like I would like, but evolved nonetheless, and that might be the edge, the “thing” that might keep his work interesting.
And if I already mentioned Frank Herbert, I would like to point out another influence of his on the universe of polity. The structure and modus operandi of the ECS ( Earth Central Security ) – the organisation whose agent Cormac is – seems to be inspired by the Bureau of Sabotage of the Dosadi Experiment. This might be coincidental, but I stopped believing in coincidences. So to not make it harder for Asher and to not spoil the savour of my new guilty pleasure I will treat this fact as a tribute toward a revered person.
So all in all I had some pleasure reading the book, being disappointed on ultiple occasions, though they were not the unpleasant as I was mentally prepared for them after I read the excerpt, and against my better judgement after that I continued with the intention of reading this book, hence the addition of it to my vast list of guilty pleasures. Whatever, I won´t recommend him to anyone. He has a large following, so he doesn´t really need new fans, but I also kinda understand why he stayed undetected by me until now.
And now onto new adventures. Should it be Scott Lynch´s The Lies of Locke Lamora, or the recently acquired Jack Vance Treasury, or the more epic Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell being the part of my “british fiction year” project. It does seem that the start of Dune reread is being delayed yet again. Whatever.
See you next time around. Hope you enjoyed this outing, and that you will be returning soon. Till then take care and have fun ! Captain of I.S.S. Rover over and out !