(2006/2008) Neal Asher, Tor (UK), £6.99, pbk, 222pp, ISBN 978-0-330-47126-8
This is the first paperback release of the 2006 novel. Asher's artificial intelligence-governed Polity meets its first sentient alien race in this punchy little novel, an introduction that goes badly wrong when said aliens make a good attempt at wiping out the welcome team. What follows is all out war with the Prador, a crablike race of heirarchical carnivores intent on adding the human race to its food supply, mainly by brute force. Asher's storytelling is similarly brutish, and all the better for it! With plenty of ultra-violence and black humour, this makes for a very enjoyable read. The plot follows Jebel Krong, an Earth Central Security Agent assigned to the Prador welcome team, and Moria Salem, a technician on the runcible (a form of wormhole technology). Both get drawn into the Prador-Polity war by their separate paths, which merge as a chance victory against the Prador nears.
Moria begins the novel by installing an illegal mental augmentation that increases her abilities so dramatically as to draw the attention of the local planetary AI. As they work together on improvements to their local runcible, they suddenly become embroiled in the war as the runcible turns out to be key to the Prador's invasion plans. Having survived the initial attack by the Prador, war hero Jebel Krong has to work with Moria to put their own plans into action, stopping the Prador invasion in its tracks. Because otherwise the Polity, struggling to shift to a military footing, may well lose the war.
The strength of this novel is that it never really gets bogged down with the technicalities of the plot. It moves from scene to scene smoothly, thanks to some fast-paced storytelling and the occasional explosive action scene. It is brimming over with exploding crab-monsters, prose riddled with laser fire, punctuated by space battles between awesome battleships and wily AI supercraft, all written with an edge of black humour, and with Asher's tongue firmly in his cheek. This does not have the epic background of many of his other works; indeed, this feels less like part of the grander Polity chronology, and more like a standalone episode in its history, but I feel that is what makes it more enjoyable. Freed from the necessity of exposition, Asher keeps it fast and punchy, suitably reflecting the content. You won't find complex, multi-layered plots here; instead, a highly readable action space opera.
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