Fiction Reviews

Dark Intelligence

(2015) Neal Asher, Tor, £18.99 / Can$32.99, hrdbk, 471pp, ISBN 978-0-230-75072-2


Apart from three short story collections and two novellas, if I'm right – counts fingers – Neil Asher has written four other series, and two stand-alone novels, which add up to an impressive sixteen titles and with Dark Intelligence we enter series number five, but crikey his latest tome runs to 471 pages, spread over only 19 chapters, how will a reluctant reader like me cope?

Not too bad actually, though that’s not to say that Dark Intelligence is an easy read, it is solid, thoughtful stuff, hard science fiction merged with hard science fantasy so pay attention at the back as we follow on from Asher's novel The Technician but you didn’t have to read that first, yet a familiarity with some of his other works in his Polity universe would help in a tale where: “One man will transcend death to seek vengeance. One woman will transform herself to gain power. And no one will emerge unscathed...” Da, da, da. Well it is labelled 'a transformation novel', and let's not forget to acknowledge another great cover from Jon Sullivan.

Right away, we are straight into the action as Thorvald Spear wakes up from the Big Sleep, a whole century’s worth, his essence stored within a personality-storage gem, or memplant, short for a model memory-recording implant as it is known in the trade which has been lost for decades and has turned up on Masada, and this where some knowledge of the events of “The Technician” come in handy. Spear is downloaded into a clone of his original body. He died in combat, in battle on the planet Panarchia, fighting against the crab-like Pradors, and his almost last thoughts were relief because a rescue ship had arrived and then his very last thoughts were a mixture of disbelief and despair as the artificial intelligence within the ship, known as the Penny Royal has turned rogue and Spear and countless others are annihilated. Now, a century later, that war is at an end, finished almost eighty years earlier, and Spear is resurrected and becomes a very rich man due to the back pay he was received, rich enough to put his dreams of revenge into action because Penny Royal is still out there and if he can just salvage an old Polity warship from the lawless area known as the Graveyard he might just make that happen.

To do that he has to team up with one Isobel Satomi who ran a successful crime syndicate, but after her competitors attacked, she needed more power, and the only way to do that was enter an unholy alliance with Penny Royal and pay to be turned into part-AI (artificial intelligence) herself, but the upgrades hid a horrifying secret and she is deteriorating and mutating into something more and less than human. Revenge against Penny Black also burns in what is left of her heart, so she can use Spear just as he thinks he can use her. But Isobel is not alone in her warped transformations, soon she and Spear will come across other beings who bargained with the AI devil at their cost. Some of these other characters are human, some Prador – just, and, even, other AIs are encountered which allow several third person plot lines to be developed and carried forward into the next two books of this trilogy, while a resurrected, or restored Penny Royal sits in the centre of everything like a dark malevolent spider holding all these strands together. Expect much in the way of revelations and plot twists in the next two books and sit back and enjoy some bad-ass space battles and general bad-assness and wait like me for the next thrilling instalment. Recommended.

Ian Hunter

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