BOOK REVIEW: DARK INTELLIGENCE / AUTHOR: NEAL ASHER / PUBLISHER: TOR / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Neal Asher is one of those well known sci-fi authors who has produced a whole range of novels set in the same world, known as The Polity. This makes his work a little intimidating for new readers. Luckily, his latest work, Dark Intelligence, is a good jumping-on point. It also happens to be one of his best works so far.
The titular ‘dark intelligence’ of the novel is Penny Royal, an Artificial Intelligence created during wartime. As such, it is a rather malevolent creation, which coupled with its god-like abilities make it a powerful force for darkness in the universe, delighting in making double-edged deals with humans, like a particularly vicious genie. We learn that Penny Royal is looking for a better way to exist and as such has calculated an optimal path for change; one that informs much of the action throughout the novel.
The book begins with the story of Thorvald Spear, a man with burning hatred of Penny Royal due to its past sins. Thanks to his unique set of skills (and some rather nifty bio-technology), Spear seems very much the right being for the task, though of course things are not as easy as that. The perspective switches across to other characters as we go along, and this allows the reader to explore Asher’s Polity setting. New readers will find the diverse technologies fascinating and get to discover the ruthless and rather alien Prado for the first time. Long-time fans of Asher’s work will find plenty of new twists and turns to delight in.
Asher is a modern master of sci-fi. The style is quite dense in places and Asher juggles quite a few complex ideas at times; this is a solid piece of sci-fi writing, but isn’t a casual read. Commit to it, however, and you will be well rewarded for your effort.
If you feel that Iain M. Bank’s Culture series is a little bit too light and jolly for your tastes and you want something with a darker, more bitter bite to it, then the Asher’s Polity novels may very well be for you.
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