The Soldier – Neal Asher

First of the series Rise of the Jain, this is a hardcore science fiction novel set in the author’s Polity universe.

For reasons that are unclear – at least to me – there is a chunk of outer space where ancient but powerful Jain technology is trapped and guarded to keep the rest of the universe safe.

Chief jailer is a half human, half artificial intelligence, Orlandine. The Dragon – an alien intelligence with some quirky human characteristics – is also on guard. The par of them don’t trust one another. The situation is not helped by the plan Orlandine is working on to destroy the Jain technology.

The prador (alien, crab-like race) and human authorities are keeping watch from a distance.

The entrapped alien technology stirs into more active life, and somewhere out there a rogue trader delivers a package that is about to stir the pot, big time.

This is super-charged space opera, with mind boggling technology and awesome death and destruction thrown about like confetti. The plot is slippery, but it’s there and full of twists if you can keep up with the competing interests and factions. The author pours his heart and soul into describing this universe, with relentless detail that may sometimes overwhelm. In short, it can be a slog. The question for the reader is whether the effort is worth making. Sadly, for me it’s not. The characters don’t engage me quite enough, and the complexity of the narrative doesn’t quite work. I wish it were otherwise, as I could do with a chunky science-fiction series to dig into.

Dark Intelligence – Neal Asher

I struggled with this – really struggled. It’s a space opera of the all action military type, featuring mind boggling technology, and three key characters. So, from that perspective it was right up my street. Why then, did I struggle?

Let’s step back, and identify the protagonists here. The main hero is Thorvald Spear, a Polity soldier brought back from the dead. He died in the war against the alien Prador; a war that ended 100 years previously. Now he is back, troubled and tormented, and looking for revenge against one of the other main characters, Penny Royal. Spear’s death had come when trapped on a planet, when rescue seemed at hand. But the AI for that ship, Penny Royal, killed him and his colleagues, and went rogue. Finally, there is mafia boss Isobel Satomi. She’s been afflicted by Penny Royal, and is turning into something that is not human. Her darker side is about to get even darker.

So, what didn’t I like?

First, the technobabble. It may be I was too lazy to trudge my way through it, and work out what was going on. Or, it may be that I needed to have read other works in the author’s universe, to better understand. that ended a century ago.

Second, the dialogue is not that great. OK, it’s often worse.

Third, there is so much powerful technology on show, that it overwhelms any sense of the story. There is one, but it struggles to get out there.

Fourth, having reached the ending, my disappointment was complete. It seemed silly.

And what did I like?

There’s a decent amount of (deadly) action. Some of the ideas were intriguing. (But the execution didn’t work for me.)

That’s it.

All in all, this did not work for me. The author has his fans, so it’s very much a question of personal taste, but there’s no way I could recommend this. And it will take a hell of a lot of persuading to get me to try another one of this author’s books.