UK Trade Paperback First 2001
426 Pages; £10.00
Date Reviewed: 03-08-02
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel
From its arresting cover to its explosive climax, 'Gridlinked' cruises at a speed most novels consider terminal velocity. Thank Steve Rawlings for the cover, thank McMillan for the fine line of trade paperback originals, but primarily thank Neal Asher for a novel that distorts, teleports, and resorts to whatever means necessary to take no prisoners. 'Gridlinked' is to space opera what Doom is to PacMan. It's a hard fist in your face, but done with imagination to spare. Asher may be a bit on the crude side, but he amply makes his point that sometimes crude is what you need to get the job done.
Set in the Runcible universe that Asher has been developing since 'Parasite', his first novella for the seminal small press Tanjen, 'Gridlinked' has a troubled publication history itself. That's OK because it's certainly in your face now. Asher's universe posits instantaneous travel between planets in the galaxy, but it's not a safe process. Things can go wrong, as they do on Samarkand, when a tiny miscalculation results in a massive catastrophe. Earth Central sends agent Cormac to investigate.
Cormac is a burnt out, overloaded James Bond from the far future. His weaponry includes Golem combat androids and creatures bred for the task that may have ulterior motives. His opponents include some humans and other creatures that are actually a bit more savage and relentless than he is. Asher's universe is vivid and well conceived, sparkling with danger and menace. He easily creates multiple, complex environments. With a few brushes of his comic-book brush-paint language, worlds unfold, and plots multiply like signals crossing a circuit board. Cormac and his enemies, particularly the viscous Mr. Crane, are given just enough detail and depth the leap into three-dee focus. Cormac is clearly more than your average Joe, and the Bond comparisons become more than implied.
Asher is an interesting writer. He's willing to take a chance to pound out the heavy-metal version of space opera with big language, bold characters and wide-screen action. You get the feeling that you're reading the words of a writer who is not entirely in control of himself, like Robert E. Howard. If Asher doesn't shout his words as he sits at the terminal, then he certainly does when they come off the page. But he backs his enthusiasm up with a detailed imagination. His worlds are complex and un-subtly different in a way that seems natural and not forced. The plot is a lot more complicated than the reader will feel it is. Asher just nails it with such clarity that the reader is able to follow every blazing signal path.
'Gridlinked' is not without problems, at least for some readers. While it is complex, it is not subtle. There's an occasional downside to the experience of reading a writer who is moving faster than even he can write. And those who find violence annoying or distressing should certainly give this one a miss. Unfortunately for them, they'll miss a riveting experience. 'Gridlinked' sets the already strong pulse of current British science fiction pounding relentlessly.