Fiction Reviews

The Soldier

(2018) Neal Asher, Tor, £9.99, pbk, 448pp, ISBN 978-1-509-86241-2


Her mission is vital. Her failure is unthinkable.

A corner of space swarms with alien technology, a danger to all sentient life. It is guarded by Orlandine, who must keep it contained – as it could destroy entire civilizations. An alien intelligence shares her vigil. But she does not share everything with Dragon... Orlandine is hatching a plan to obliterate this technology, removing its threat forever. For some will do anything to exploit this ancient weaponry, created by a long-dead race called the Jain. This includes activating a Jain super-soldier, which may breach even Orlandine’s defences. Meanwhile, humanity and the alien Prador Empire also watch this sector of space, as neither can allow the other to claim its power. However, things are about to change. The Jain might not be as dead as they seemed and interstellar war is just a heartbeat away.

Here we go again. Just when you thought that Neal Asher might have had enough of writing his own unique brand of highly entertaining space-opera with his Transformation series - consisting of Dark Intelligence, War Factory and Infinity Engine, and let’s not forget those three novels made up his sixth series of books, here we are with series number seven – 'Rise of the Jain', Book One, with The Soldier. As it is the start of a new series, Asher fans will no doubt be well up to speed with his previous oeuvre, but newbies could well start here and catch up eventually by reading the previous eighteen novels he has written as well as the novella and short stories collections!

Helpfully, for the newbie, before the action starts we have a “cast of characters” which consists of details of the five major ones - not all of them human, or alive, in the conventional sense – note, some of these characters we have encountered before, but perhaps, not by these names, or their current state of existence. Then we get a four-page glossary which explains the various races, technology, worlds, etc, that we are about to encounter. And what else are we getting for our £9.99? Well, it is a typical Asher space opera involving alien weaponry, humans, things that were once human that have been augmented, AIs, AI battleships, and lots of drones, and that’s just scratching the surface of who or what is involved. Meanwhile, there is all that ancient Jain technology that has been lying around since the earliest days of Asher’s writing, which although ancient, is still extremely potent, and worth getting your hand/claws/sensors on. Typically, for Asher some of the major characters have agendas, and hidden agendas, and agendas lying dormant that they don’t even know about. Many are on a transformative journey, and won’t like the transformation they will have to endure. As in keeping with the title of this series – 'The Rise of the Jain' – a Jain super solider has been resurrected after millions of years (harking way back to events in Asher’s Spatterjay series) and the plot focuses on Orlandine, who guards the Jain technology that is kept on an accretion disk near a dead star which includes the ability to resurrect even more Jain super soldiers who would be unstoppable. Orlandine’s mission is to stop that virus-like technology breaking out, and anyone from stealing it, but she has ideas of her own, or rather a mission to fulfil that could put her guardianship to an end.

Thus we have a whole load of very mad, very bad, and very dangerous to know characters from all corners of the universe, wanting a piece of the action for their own ends in a story which is – gulp – almost 450 pages long, spread over just 20 chapters, making it normally the sort of book I hate to read with my goldfish-like attention span, but at least Asher splits these into sections told from the viewpoint of the major characters, or as it unfolds in a specific location such as “Earth Central”. Each chapter also starts with an extract from some reference book telling the reader about the Haimen, Wormships, Cyborgs, etc, which are always handy snippets of information to have. Of course, Asher, the old pro that he is, racks up the tension as the novel progresses to reach the killer ending, and the set-up for Book Two – The Warship.

Recommended for Asher fans, and those new to his writing.

Ian Hunter


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