Neal Asher: The line of polity

Eldene felt weak and light-headed for the second time that morning and wondered if her scole was preparing to drop a litter of leaves. Running her thumb down the stick-seam of her shirt, she opened the garment to inspect this constant companion of hers that oxygenated her blood in exchange for a share of it.


What it promises

Pan-galactic action. Huge space-beasts. Political intrigue. A planet at the border between empires. Imaginative and terrifying local fauna. Heroes. Mysteries. Evil geniuses. Awesome technologies. Showdowns.

What I experienced

I think this book is the sci-fi equivalent of a huge box of shiny things. You open the box and are so gleefully distracted by all the sparkles that it’s only afterwards you start wondering whether there was anything else to the experience.

In this story the shiny things are:

  • fragments of technology left over from a mysterious ancient species
  • a moody alien the size of a spaceship
  • a rogue evil scientist
  • an evil theocracy
  • a few action heroes
  • a planet on the border of a galactic empire
  • vicious local fauna that can kill in gruesome and original ways
  • a local gal who makes good
  • space ships and space stations galore
  • the requisite wormhole technology with new names
  • torture sequences designed to horrify and entertain
  • small space weapons
  • big space weapons
  • really big space weapons
  • ‘splosions.

Asher’s plot device is to throw more and more of these into the story into a huge literary stacks-on until we get an explosion so big the good guys win.

Every character in the story is either really good or really bad. Badness is usually established by having them torture someone in their first scene; goodness is established by them handling a gun/ship/computer really well and following it up with a humorous quip. Either that or by having them express Feelings for someone else (mother, co-worker).

As a result a few of the characters kept getting mixed up in my mind: primarily all the hard, gun-toting male action heroes (Stanton, Thorn, Cormac and various offsiders). They all seemed to speak in the same slightly long-winded sentences punctuated by tough exclamations:

Cormac was impressed, but no less irritable and bored.
‘You’re not listening to me,’ he said. ‘I’m not here to conquer your little empire, Dreyden.’ He looked up. ‘Though I may yet give the matter some consideration if I’m delayed any longer.’

‘May yet give the matter’? No matter how I play it in my mind, I just can’t get these phrases to sound natural coming off the dashing hero’s tongue.

After reading

At the end of the book I’m not sure I’ve been left with anything at all.

The bad guys were so bad (and usually in really incompetent ways) that I haven’t really learned anything about the nature of evil – other than, if you’re going to be evil, be more focussed on what your real aims are, then stick to the game plan. The good guys seemed to only sustain life-threatening injuries at the end of one chapter, for it to be revealed in the next chapter that a high-tech medical solution was on hand just around the corner all along. The innocents picked up along the way (Eldene, Apis) had predictable character arcs with no real revelations. And while the entire galactic conflict was supposedly about human versus AI rule, very little was actually discussed on this topic beyond Gant thinking to himself once (and I paraphrase): ‘What am I now that my human mind has been transplanted into this robot body and brain? What is the nature of soul anyway? Hm.’

Having said all that – it’s still a solidly-written plot with nothing offensive to detract from the flow of events. That flow washed around me for two full days of reading during a rainy holiday. It was pretty pleasant.


This book was mostly read on Rarotonga, partly in the LBV cafe


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