(2003) Neal Asher, Tor, £7.99, pbk, 663 pp, ISBN 0-330-48435-4
These days, the state of British SF, especially space opera, seems to be increasingly healthy. It isn't just that a whole new wedge of authors have appeared to ply the space lanes, but older, sometimes more esoteric hands have also blasted off into the darkest depths of what I still consider to be one of the very best of the purely escapist literatures. They also seem to have brought an increased savagery with them.
Neal Asher is no exception. The Line of Polity is set in Asher's universe of an Earth, dominant amongst the various colonised worlds, seeking to extend its sphere of influence to all of the colonies. The boundary of this sphere is the Line of Polity, a boundary that is mutable and shifting. Enter the fray Cormac, an agent for Earth with (as you'd expect these days) all of the paraphernalia of a futuristic, nano-enabled, downloaded and uploaded mega star. Enter also a world of religious oligarchy where most of the population are slaves to the elite caste, where their lives are lived on a planet of lethal beasties. Enter at last the Polity, trying to get a percentage of the populace to vote for intervention by the Polity.
Fast paced with a clean, if somewhat violent style, Neal Asher delivers a cracking read with very little else. As I mentioned earlier, this is purist escape and none the worse for it. The glittering array of technology is only that which we've come to expect, the brutality perhaps a little more than expected but never the less a usual partner in space opera these days. Maybe the days of coruscating irresistible beams versus impenetrable defence screens are gone, but the days of super heroes and fearsome villains is far from it.
The novel stands alone, but it is obvious that much has gone before. I loved it, so I'm off out to look for more.
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