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Neal Asher – Brass ManBrass Man is the 3rd book in Neal Asher's Agent Cormac series, the previous ones being Gridlinked and and Line of Polity. This is very much a series in the old fashioned vein – whilst we don't know to how many books it will run to eventually (Neal might have an inkling about the overarching story arc?) it very much needs to be read in sequence, these books don't stand well on their own. So, if you haven't done so yet, cease reading and go read the first two books, then come back. It's worth doing so, they're fun. Spoilers for the first two books to follow – you have been warned.

The story of Brass Man is, as the title implies, the story of Mr Crane. Yes, he was taken to pieces earlier in the series, yes he has been resurrected, by popular demand, Neal informs us in his notes.
The book has a number of intersecting and interacting threads on the go, but the two main ones show some interesting similarities indeed: on the one hand we have Ian Cormac, Earth Central Security (ECS) agent with Carte Blanche, on board of the war ship 'Jack Ketch' (look it up if you don't know), once again chasing Skellor, who has survived the end of the Occam Razor, and is on the lose again due to some greed and general stupidity (how very human). Skellor himself is chasing Dragon, or, rather, one of the two surviving Dragon Spheres, in hope of help with the Jain technology he barely controls in himself.

And, on the planet Cull (yet another planet with a fauna suitably gruesome for Neal's tastes, if not as intrinsic to the story as for example Spatterjay is) the Rondure Knight Anderson is on his trial voyage to slay (a) Dragon, one horror which has only recently appeared on the planet, and which might be related to the giant sphere which descended on the planet some time ago. Do I need to paint you a picture, or indicate where the solid effluent will meet the air ventilation device? Hint: it starts with a C …

I'm sure you've gathere that we're looking at Space Opera here - huge, glorious, broad-brush stuff, but, as always with Asher, ending with the grunt down in the dirt. The book itself is entertaining, in parts even absorbing, but it also is needlessly gory at times, and overly detailed when it comes to human suffering, torture, and killing, especially when describing Mr Crane's dirty (and not entirely voluntary) deeds. Yes, to some degree there's a point and an intrinsic logical requirement to this, but I still doubt that it needs to be displayed to such an extent. But then maybe I'm just a sensitive soul...
The story, with its multiple, intersecting and interacting threads is unusually complex for Asher (although I have to admit that I haven't read his most recent books yet, so this might be a development), and is sometimes confusing, or at least disorienting. One interesting feature is a series of 'retroacts', which are essentially flashbacks telling Mr Crane's history whilst he battles to re-gain his sanity.
We get some insights into AI psychology, politics, and outlook, including verbal sparring (no, it's nothing like Iain M Bank's stories like Excession) and actual violent conflict. All is not well in the Polity, we learn...
There is also some much welcome character development in Ian Cormac, and some hints that this might well be something that the central AIs governing humanity very much want, which suggests a bigger story arc to me. Which is a good thing – as long as the books are this entertaining I'll keep reading them!
Recommendation? You've read Asher before, and have read the first two books: get it. You haven't read the series yet? Get the first two books first, then Brass Man! You dislike Space Opera, and/or object to a certain amount of gore and splatter? There might be more enjoyable books for you than this series...

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Title: Brass Man:
Series: Agent Cormac
Series Number: 3
Author: Neal Asher
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL: http://skating.thierstein.net
Publisher:  Tor/Pan McMillan
Publisher URL: http://panmacmillan.com
Publication Date: 2006
Review Date: 101103
ISBN: 9780330411592
Price: UKP 6.99
Pages: 568
Format: Paperback
Topic: SF
Topic: Space Opera

 

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