by Neal Asher
Review by John Berlyne
Tor Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 0330411594
Date: 17 February, 2006 List Price £6.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Can it be nearly five years since Neal Asher burst onto the scene with Gridlinked? Apparently so! Asher, of course, was very active as a writer on the genre fringes for some time before Tor UK (Macmillan as it was then) picked him out of the slush pile, but the wily manuscript reader who "discovered" him has every right to be feeling extremely smug right now, for Asher has become a resounding and distinctive voice in British SF, and with overseas publishers knocking at his door, Asher's voice can now be heard in the US and indeed around the world.
Gridlinked introduced us to Ian Cormac, an agent working almost autonomously for the security arm of the Polity - a kind of galactic federation of planets (not to be in any way confused with the benign, bland Star Trek version) stemming from Earth. Cormac is utterly deadly - a hero drawn of the cool, silent type. Asher doesn't waste our time with too much of Cormac's background, either in Gridlinked or in the subsequent Polity novels, instead he largely just gets on with what's happening right now, and it is this sense of immediacy, this "nowness" that drives all of Asher's novels through. His energy as a writer is truly impressive.
Brass Man follows on directly from The Line of Polity and Gridlinked. The arch villain Skellor has been revived by the mysterious Jain technology that has infected his system and he's tearing round the galaxy causing mayhem in search of Dragon, an ancient, ambiguous alien intelligence that Cormac supposedly destroyed at the end of the previous book. Along the way Skellor takes some time out from his hell raising to raise something very hellish indeed - he brings back Mr Crane, the two metre tall brass android killing machine, a character high point from Gridlinked. It's impossible for Asher readers not to be drawn to the bizarre behaviour of Mr Crane. His (its?) cold, twisted logic and idiosyncrasies light these stories like a beacon and in Brass Man we learn something of his "birth" and get a glimpse into the hows and whys of his psychopathic nature. And it makes for pretty compelling reading, I can tell you!
Asher steers this novel towards Cull, a non-polity world with a kind of wild-west feeling to it. It is here that Dragon (not destroyed we now learn but instead split into it's composite sections) has gone to ground. On Cull we follow the antics of Anderson, a Knight Errant character - not quite Don Quixote, not quite King's Roland Deschain, but with elements of both. He is searching for a dragon to kill, but has no real notion of the dragon he's likely to find. Also searching for Dragon are the massive Polity AIs - minds housed in huge, powerfully armed war ships who play out their own political games, the key to which is the Jain technology that Skellor possesses. Having introduced (or re-introduced) these various elements, Brass Man fiercely roars towards its climax on Cull and the resolution is about as exciting and satisfying as any genre reader could wish for. As a side note to the plot, I'd like to nominate Asher for the "Best Creature Creation" award (there is such a thing, isn't there?). Few writers manage to come up with monsters as cool as Asher's!.
Brass Man, it turns out is all about the resurrection and further exploration of characters and situations previously thought resolved. Don't though for a moment think that there's any element of soap opera writing here ("It was all a dream") - Asher is far too imaginative for that. Instead the reader's experience here is like getting back on a really good roller coaster - and here the ride justifies the anticipation. Asher's science fiction voice is edgy, loud and full of punch. His writing is fast-flowing and tight, fizzing with energy and the resulting stories are examples of the very best science fiction out there. This is an author on a roll right now - long may it continue.
Very highly recommended.