Tuesday, 10 April 2012

A dose of Asher

A return to Strange News' pulp science fiction favourite, Neal Asher. As usual, we're back in Polity territory, but The Technician sees Asher doing another of his one-off tales in his fictional universe. In the past, these have been among the best of his books (which may not be saying that much for most people), and I'm pleased to report that this one is no exception. Though a one-off, it actually returns to Masada, location to one of the main sequence of Polity novels, The Line of Polity, but picks up a largely new cast, and throws completely new light on some of the fallout from that earlier novel.

As usual, Asher jumps around a generally violent set of plot lines populated by noble Polity agents, nefarious rebels, cryptic aliens and wryly amusing AIs. But he actually centres the book on Jeremiah Tombs, a leading theocrat responsible for oppression in the previous novel, and someone the Polity thought was dead, a victim of Masada's shockingly horrific top predator. However, for a reason the Polity only dimly perceives, Tombs survived this encounter, but with mental "scars" that might not entirely be damage. Keen to discover their meaning, Tombs' Polity jailers release him to explore a changed Masada with the hope that it shocks him back into sanity and elicits some bean-spilling. But alongside its hostile ecology, Tombs' past actions have made him plenty of other enemies on Masada, and the Polity has its work cut out for it if it is to spare Tombs and reveal the reason for his survival.

Overall, another fine pulpy romp from Asher. While the novel is a one-off, it returns to his long-standing quest to tie up loose ends in his fictional universe. This has annoyed me a little bit in the past, but here I actually found its mystery-busting a whole heap of fun. Similarly, while Asher makes Tombs another of his "bad guy" rehabilitation projects, again, I didn't mind at all. Though Tombs starts the novel as someone that you'd be happy to turn into Gabbleduck fodder, Asher actually does a good job of gradually making him less reprehensible as he comes to understand his former crimes.

So, though pulp, not bad at all.

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