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Neal Asher


U.S.A Hardcover 1st

ISBN 0-765-30735-9

Publication Date August 2003

448 Pages; Price $25.95

Date Reviewed : 01-22-04

Reviewed by James M. Palmer © 2004



Science Fiction

03-21-02, 4-15-02, Interview, 06-11-02, 10-03-02, 11-13-02, 01-07-03, 01-27-03, 02-25-03, 04-30-03, 06-14-04

British author Neal Asher makes a strong debut across the pond with 'Gridlinked', a far-future cross between the 'Foundation' series and the James Bond novels of Ian Fleming. Ian Cormac is a famous Earth Central Security agent in a future where runcibles, matter transmitters controlled by AIs, allow instantaneous travel among the worlds of the Polity. When the runcible on the planet Samarkand detonates and wipes out the human colony there, Cormac is called on to investigate, but not without bringing along trouble brought on by his last assignment. After killing the sister of terrorist leader Arian Pelter when his cover is blown, Cormac brings down the wrath of Pelter himself and his hired gun John Stanton. After seriously injuring Pelter and Stanton, Cormac goes to investigate the runcible disaster, unaware that the two of them are still alive and gunning for him. Unfortunately, Cormac is almost burnt out, having been "gridlinked" to the AI net for longer than normal, and has been ordered to sever his link for the duration. He does so, and has no idea what Pelter is up to.

With the Samarkand runcible out, Cormac must get there by ship, while Pelter and Stanton trail him across the galaxy with a psychopathic android named Mr Crane. Once on Samarkand, Pelter discovers a deeper mystery buried beneath the surface of the planet, a mystery related to an enigmatic entity known as Dragon that Cormac has dealt with before. Cormac must now overcome his net addiction while figuring out what Dragon wants and stopping Pelter from killing him. All in all, a wild ride.

This is a fun book. Asher has created a fully fleshed universe here, which is no surprise. He has written several other books, published in Great Britain, and stories featuring Cormac and his far future universe. Here you'll find Anti-Gravity Cars, abbreviated AGC, instant transportation to anywhere in the Polity via the runcibles, and the ubiquitous chainglass, which is used to make everything from blades to spaceship windows. Cormac even has a cool weapon, a programmable shuriken in a shoulder holster.

What's more, Asher introduces these ideas to us slowly, using little snippets from fictional publications at the beginning of most chapters to do so.

Asher also occasionally shows us examples of that dry British wit we Yanks love so much, such as in his description of the killer android Mr Crane: "They called him Crane because he was so very tall. They called him Mr Crane because he was so very prone to dismembering people."

I've never read anything quite like 'Gridlinked'. It rides the vast landscape between, say, the Foundation trilogy and military SF, incorporating a Bond-style super spy. It isn't hard science fiction (though there is some cool extrapolation of some wonderfully weird alien creatures), but it isn't space opera either.

I must say that the ending was a bit confusing to me, and I expected Cormac to suffer more from his separation from the AI network, but what Asher does with that was intriguing. Cormac was constantly questioning whether or not he would have noticed certain things about human nature had he remained gridlinked, and started to question if his linkage made him less human. I also thought Cormac's confrontation with Pelter was somewhat anticlimactic, but it was a speedy and necessary end, as Cormac still had to contend with Dragon and the dangerous secret buried under Samarkand.

If 'Gridlinked' serves to whet the appetite for more of Cormac and the Polity, then it's all for the better; Tor will release Asher's other books in U.S. editions. Asher deserves it, for he has written a solid, competent debut novel.