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The Line Of Polity
Neal Asher
Pan Macmillan paperback £10.99

review by Duncan Lawie

The Line Of Polity is a direct sequel to Neal Asher's first novel, Gridlinked, featuring the return of Cormac, of Earth Central Security, and his old adversary Dragon, a gnomic - and potentially hostile - alien.
   The book begins with Cormac chasing Skellor, the smartest scientist to have left the Polity. He successfully captures the Separatist base where Skellor is working, but Skellor sneaks on to the Polity warship supporting Cormac. Skellor has obtained Jain technology and is prepared to experiment on himself and the Occam Razor. The ship, a survival from the Prador war of a previous century, is run by a symbiosis between human and AI captains. It is convincingly old and crufty, evincing the feel of something once cutting edge and now, though still powerful, mainly being maintained through habit. Skellor becomes darker and more dangerous as the novel progresses, a better-rounded baddie than Arien Pelter in Gridlinked.
   In the course of the first third of the book, almost every named character that survived Gridlinked puts in an appearance, including John Stanton, a former mercenary. He is using his contacts and his new fortune for a revenge mission against the Theocracy, a thuggish hierarchical religion that rules the planet Masada, outside the Polity; his sister happens to be head of the Underground. Dragon has been working with the Theocracy so when Cormac is called to handle the reappearance of Dragon all the strands of the book are wound together on Masada.
   The local perspective on Masada is provided in part by Eldene, who is effectively a slave on a planet where the air has no oxygen. Even if escape from those who control the oxygen supply was possible, the wilderness is filled with ghastly predators. The rulers live in space habitats and practise purges and power struggles upon each other. The design of the planet and its ecosystem shows a similar flair to the world of Spatterjay in The Skinner. The monsters pass across the stage, each more horrible than the last, offering deaths as grim as those the human rulers of the planet inflict on each other.
   There is almost too much going on in this book, though Asher manages to keep all his plotlines clear and open, building and rebuilding towards an inevitable finale before twisting aside. Unfortunately, all the activity leaves several of the most interesting ideas in the book only partially investigated. Delving into the issues surrounding Jain technology, for example, could have given the book a greater depth and provided a break from the relentless action. Several genies are out of the bottle by the novel's end but the potential consequences are barely mentioned. Handling these matters may be difficult, though, as we have seen the Polity 500 years later in The Skinner. In fact, there is sometimes a feeling that Asher is starting to feel the constraints of what he has already written. The Line Of Polity is better than the cyber-noir-by-numbers of his first book but isn't as well rounded as his second. It is readable and pacy, a delight for those undaunted by 550 pages of non-stop action.

Related item:
tZ  A Couple of Pints in the Quart Pot: interview with Neal Asher - by Duncan Lawie
The Line Of Polity

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