***///***ATTENTION POLITY CITIZENS***///***
Due to gravimetric distortions caused by runcible disaster on planet Samarkand
all transmissions are being received in reverse order;
we apologize for any inconvenience.
Choros, planetary AI warden of Marques III
The Worlds of Polity
(or why Neal Asher rocks)
Part the Third
Reviewed by Raul M. Chapa
Neal Asher returns to the worlds of the Polity for his newest book, the first in a trilogy that promises to blow your mind – Dark Intelligence. His imagination sweeps us across the galaxy and by utilizing the mythos he has developed, Asher creates a thrilling and complicated story of terrible past wrongs and the redeeming and destructive power of vengeance. Asher’s character development makes the story impossible to put down – there are thrills, chills, and technological innovations that make each page memorable.
The heart of the novel deals with the dark artificial intelligence named Penny Royal: the “dark” part being (Polity-speak for “psychotic with unpredictable and violent tendencies.”) It is bad enough that Penny Royal is an artificial intelligence astronomically more intelligent than the human standard, but it has built a reputation in the Graveyard (that no man’s land between the Polity and the Prador Kingdom) of granting wishes much like in fairy tales of old. With its power, Penny Royal transforms others who wish to augment themselves in unique and non-Polity ways, but as in fairy tales, the recipient of such wonders usually gets more than they expected, with horrifying and sometimes deadly results. The other characters in the story have all experienced Penny Royal’s ministrations, and are now looking for revenge on the rogue machine.
Thorvald Spear is the resurrected survivor of an annihilating ambush that took place during the Prador War over a hundred years ago. He and eight thousand fellow soldiers were trapped in a hostile world controlled by the prador, but they were all killed by Penny Royal, who was supposedly there to rescue them. Spear’s resurrection is not without flaws, for though he knows he was killed, the precise circumstances and timing suffer from an incongruity – perhaps a parting gift from the mad AI – so Spear hunts Penny Royal to find out the truth of his death before he tries to kill the machine.
Others who suffer from Penny Royal’s twisted wish fulfillment including a female gangster who wanted to defeat her competition and is being transformed into something inhuman, an abandoned and forlorn Polity assassin drone that found its mission corrupted in unexpected ways, and a renegade, half-mad prador that is unwillingly becoming more like the hated humans it hunted during the war. Penny Royal has been busy in its years of hiding in the Graveyard. Despite its relative invulnerability, the AI has made more than its share of enemies who are taking the time to prepare themselves for the ultimate conflict. But when dealing with a extremely powerful artificial intelligence with nasty psychotic tendencies, nothing is certain.
Neal Asher’s work is astounding in its scope and magnificent in its breath. There is action, but there are also significant moral dilemmas and quandaries that his characters have to confront, and it is this that makes his books more that mere escapism. While artificial intelligence of the kind that make the Polity do not exist (yet), pondering what these machines could be capable of makes for gripping reading.