(2010) Neil Asher, Tor, £17.99, hrdbk, 503pp, ISBN 978-0-230-70874-7
Do not do it, no just don't, okay? Trust me, I am a book reviewer, just do not be tempted that because Neil Asher’s latest offering, The Technician, is being billed as a standalone novel that this is the best place to dive into his oeuvre, or even to dip a trembling toe into his murky waters, because it really isn’t. Why not? Well for a start you are going to encounter characters from the Asher world of The Polity (cf. The Gabble, Hilldiggers, The Line of Polity, Line War, Prador Moon or Shadow of the Scorpion), with a back story that you may be unfamiliar with, and you are also going to come across references to events and worlds and empires and battles and all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures that you will definitely not be familiar with, this makes The Technician one for the Asher veteran who will enjoy re-encountering the likes of Iron Scorpion drone Amistad, and Penny Royal, the Black AI. However, if you really want to become familiar with The Polity then dive into the likes of Gridlinked and join Agent Ian Cormac from the start of the whole stramash.
Still here? Back to The Technician then, and what is a technician exactly? Well, in this case it is albino, sculpture-making Hooder (a Hooder being a biomechanical war machine that consumes Gabbleducks who are descendents of the extinct alien race known as the Atheters) which has driven former Proctor and soldier of the Theocracy, Jeremiah Tombs, insane by sculpting (that is, chipping away, or taking out (and they have a nice sideline in making bone structures out of the remains of their victims)) a lot of him, and crucially placing something else inside. Tombs is the only human known to have survived an encounter with a Hooder, but what’s inside his head? Well, no-one is ever likely to find out as long as he’s the only patient of the high security asylum known as 'Heretic’s Isle', being looked after by Dr. Sanders who has more than a few skeletons in the cupboard. Tombs is so far gone that he does not believe or accept that the Theocracy has fallen, or that twenty years have passed since this actually happened on the world of Masada as revealed in one of Asher’s previous novels The Line of Polity, but he is going to have to learn the hard way, especially as groups of rebel Tidy Squads have been running around implementing their own unofficial clean-up programme bumping off surviving members of the Therocracy with as much extreme prejudice as they can muster, and Tombs is top of their most hated list. But, of course, while they are itching to get their hands or weapons on him, he is safe within the confines of the asylum, but what if he were to escape, then again, there’s no chance of that every happening, or is there?
Well, for the powers that be, there are a few questions that need answered, like why did he survive – or was allowed to survive – the Hooder attack? What was put in his head? And can all this reveal the origins of the Hooders themselves? It is time to give Tombs his own get-out-of-jail pass, even if there are some people queuing up to kill him, and there is certainly enough technology out there to do it with artefacts and hardware littering Masada as remnants from those two ancient alien races the Jain and the Atheter. It is time to stir things up a bit, but far, far away, something unimaginable that can only be dreamed about is about to wake up, and is heading our way.
The Technician is everything you would expect from an Asher novel. Fun, fast, action-packed, filled with great world-building, and superbly-drawn characters and 'things', and not too heavy of the hard-science front. It may come in at over 500 pages and only twenty chapters (my reluctant reader twitch is showing), but we also have a prologue and epilogue and a quote at the start of each chapter from official Polity sources to add to the fun. Do not read it if you do not know his work, but do read it if you do, and if you do, you may well come away thinking this is his best novel yet, and given that it is number twelve in the Polity series that is pretty good going, but even if you do not agree, you will certainly be in for an entertaining ride, and already looking forward to the next one.
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