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Neil Asher - GridlinkedHere's my original, quick review of Gridlinked by Neal Asher, a fast paced and rather entertaining Space Opera featuring Secret Agents, conspiracies, and extra-galactical bio-technical intelligences (it's a multi-book series, as a substrand of Asher's Polity series meanwhile)

Ian Cormack is a Secret Agent, working for ECS, the Earth Central Security agency. He’s legendary, or, as some people believe, mythical. Just as a good Secret Agent should be. We find him on Cheyne III, infiltrating a separatist cell, and making a right royal pickle of it, the reasons for which transpire in due course…

Cormack has been Gridlinked for 30 years. Gridlinked is the term for those people who are linked into the all-encompassing network the Artificial Intelligences running humanity’s course maintain. This Gridlink provides him with all the real-time and historical information a Secret Agent could wish or dream of, downloading it directly into his memory, displaying it on his optical nerve. Neat, no? There is a downside, or course. The upper safety margin for being Gridlinked is roughly 20 years, after which you start losing more than just some manual skills. You start losing your humanity, if not your sanity.
Cormack does not appear (is not?) human enough, thus his failure on Cheyne III. His access, his Gridlink, is disconnected, in an attempt to revert the damage, and make him more human (and thus more useful) again.
And he’s put on a new case: somebody sabotaged the Runcible (Faster-than-light-travel portal for humans and small cargo) on the planet Samarkand. A traveller arrived at near-light speed, and his energy was not absorbed. The resulting explosion was the equivalent of a 30 Megaton blast. His job is simple – find out who, what, how, and why. Not easy, given the circumstances, the near-total destruction of Samarkand, and with Dragon, an enigmatic, extra-galactical, bio-technological entity playing his games with him, too.

The setting for this highly enjoyable romp through all SF clichés is classical:

  • the Polity is the Earth centred and AI controlled, expanding scene of law & order, with the ensuing areas of frontier planets, and the wilderness and anarchy beyond.
  • We have ‘underspace’ travel for space ships, FTL through the Runcibles for humans and small cargo, and generally lots of tech with only spurious attempt at giving any consistent technical explanation of how it works.
  • The Runcible technology is based on the well-known nonsense poem by Edward Lear (what? You don’t know it? What do you have on/in Loo of an education? Ok, ok, I reproduce it below ;-), with all the typical applications, it the people moved about are called ‘Quince’, the application the pops them in and out of underspace is the ‘Spoon’ (of course) and so on. All good fun.
  • All the AIs across the Polity communicate using some kind of underspace communication channels, allowing for real-time communication all over the ‘civilized’ galaxy (ie the part controlled by the Polity).
  • There are sentient robots/androids about, mainly in a military capacity, here they are known as ‘Golems’. They can go mad, as they story shows, and are then even more dangerous than usual.
  • And then of course we have the Joker: here he’s called ‘Dragon’, and consists of 4 connected 1-mile globes made from bio-technological materials, and a giant, non-sentient beast looking like a Monitor Lizard, controlled by Dragon. Origin, powers, intentions etc unknown.

Style wise we look at quite modern writing – think Space Opera that has seen Cyberpunk, took the neat ways of talking about technology and society and how they interact, and dropped the rest. A part of the book also plays on Military SF, when Cormack gets his small elite group of fighters, and the action literally descends into the dirt, where his past errors from his Cheyne III fiasco catch up with him. Both the military and the Intelligence parts are overdrawn and rather OTT, as they should be in a story like this. Ah, the Intelligence bits… Cormack happily follows in the footsteps of James Bond and every ‘Classic’ Secret Agent before and since.

The story is good fun, entertaining, and has lots and lots of drive. I don’t remember any dull parts. I’ll have a dig around for some of his other stories, this book is definitely a great recommendation for Neil Asher.
Have a go yourself if you dare to be entertained without too much depth, and if you don’t mind that this is, by any means, NOT Hard SF!

Ok, as promised, Edward Lear:
The Owl and the Pussycat poem

The Owl and the Pussycat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.

The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
"O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are, you are, you are,
What a beautiful Pussy you are."

Pussy said to the Owl "You elegant fowl,
How charmingly sweet you sing.
O let us be married, too long we have tarried;
But what shall we do for a ring?"

They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-tree grows,
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose, his nose, his nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

"Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling your ring?"
Said the Piggy, "I will"
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.

They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon.
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand.
They danced by the light of the moon, the moon, the moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

More Neal Asher

Title: Gridlinked
Author: Neal Asher
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL:
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication Date: March 8, 2002
Review Date: December 22 2005
ISBN: 0330484338
Price: £7.99
Pages: 528
Format: Paperback
Topic: SF
Topic: Space Opera


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