One man will transcend death to seek vengeance. One woman will transform herself to gain power. And no one will emerge unscathed....
Thorvald Spear wakes in a hospital to find he's been brought back from the dead. What's more, he died in a human vs. alien war that ended a century ago. Spear had been trapped on a world surrounded by hostile Prador forces, but Penny Royal, the AI inside the rescue ship sent to provide backup, turned rogue, annihilating friendly forces in a frenzy of destruction and killing Spear. One hundred years later the AI is still on the loose, and Spear vows for revenge at any cost.
Isobel Satomi ran a successful crime syndicate, but after competitors attacked she needed power and protection. Negotiating with Penny Royal, she got more than she bargained for: Turning part-AI herself gave Isobel frightening power, but the upgrades hid a horrifying secret, and the dark AI triggered a transformation that has been turning her into something far from human….
Spear hires Isobel to track Penny Royal across worlds to its last known whereabouts. But he cheats her in the process and quickly finds himself in her crosshairs. As Isobel continues to evolve into a monstrous predator, it's clear her rage will eventually win out over reason. Will Spear finish his hunt before he himself becomes the hunted?
Dark Intelligence is the explosive first novel in a brand new trilogy from military SF master Neal Asher and a new chapter in his epic Polity universe.
©2015 Neal Asher (P)2014 Audible Inc.
Neal Asher and his Polity series has been floating around for a while, but I had read mixed reviews and was never overly interested. However, the first book in his latest series was another Audible sale, so generally willing to give a new space opera a chance, I went ahead and downloaded it.
Dark Intelligence is a rather grimdark space opera full of big ideas: deadly AIs, planet-busting spaceships, ancient alien civilizations, destructive weapons, obsessive protagonists and antagonists, and massive amounts of grotesque violence. It's a bit like the Expanse series with more gore (and the Expanse series is not exactly light on gore), or something by Peter F. Hamilton or Alastair Reynolds but bloodier and darker. (Neal Asher, it turns out, is also a British SF author. They do seem to be fonder of modern-day retellings of Lensmen-level space epics that have kind of gone out of style in the US.)
Thorvald Spear wakes up after being "dead" for a hundred years. His last memory was of being a soldier who'd been captured by a nasty alien race called the Prador, who were at war with the human Polity. Asher's previous books in the Polity series covered the war against the Prador, and there are many references to events and characters that evidently appeared there first. I didn't find it too hard to figure out what's going on, since the Prador are standard-issue genocidal Bug-Eyed Monsters who torture and eat their enemies. In the tradition of such alien enemies from the Kzinti to the Gorn, they got their asses kicked by mankind and thereby became slightly more civilized.
Thorvald's grievance is not against his old enemy the Prador - it's against a "black AI" that controlled a Polity destroyer that turned on his side on the planet where he was fighting the Prador. When he wakes up, he learns that the AI, Penny Royal, is still around, still a fugitive from Polity justice, and causing trouble all over the galaxy. So he goes after it.
Spear isn't the only one after Penny Royal. There's also a psychopathic crime boss named Isobel Satomi, who was granted "upgrades" from Penny Royal and learned that the AI is rather like a traditional djinn in that it might grant your wish, but you usually won't like the results. There is also a Prador leader, similarly modified by Penny Royal, who wants to track it down to get some questions answered.
They all end up meeting along with several other secondary characters at a planet called Masada, in a big bloody showdown that sets Penny Royal up to be an enigmatic recurring character in what I'm sure will be more books in this series.
The mystery for much of the book was what Penny Royal was up to. Is it evil, insane, or playing some long game?
Along the way, though, there is lots and lots of evisceration, dismemberment, heads blown off, people being eaten, people being transformed into monstrous H.R. Giger-like things, and AIs threatening and trash-talking each other and every life form they meet.
This all sounds very exciting, and I was reasonably entertained, but there's one problem: when it was over, I had trouble recalling all the twists and turns and big reveals, and moreover, I didn't much care. All the characters, from Thorvald Spear to Isobel Satomi to Penny Royal, were flat, with a very limited personality range. I was most interested in the alien and AI characters, just because they were different, but really, while I appreciated the big ideas and the epic scope of the story, it was epic in a scene-by-scene kind of way ("Oh wow, she just fell to the surface of a planet from orbit and got up to keep fighting...") but without really getting me interested in the universe, which as I said, is not unlike similar ones written by Hamilton, Reynolds, or Iain Banks. And I had the same reaction I've had to those other British SF authors - interesting, creative universes with lots of scope for adventure and intrigue, but nothing that quite hooks me enough to care a lot what happens next. So I might read something else by Neal Asher, but I'm rather indifferent as far as reading the next book in this series goes.
Dark Intelligence is another installment in Neal Asher's 'Polity" universe. While clearly temporally following The Technician, this tale, while billed as the opening salvo for a trilogy, provides sufficient resolution and closure for a satisfying ending on its own and only hints at a more hidden theme to emerge later. Basically, several intelligences (humans, Prador, drone, golem, and AI) have all at prior contact with the dark AI Penny Royal who has previously been depicted as a completely amoral, Marquis de Sade-like AI with a rap sheet spanning the galaxy. All of these individuals seek revenge of one form or another with Penny Royal for past wrongs and also end up at each others throats as well.
The sci-fi elements are pure Asher with powerful AIs, manipulable quantum forces, post-human evolution, and imaginative, well depicted aliens that are truly alien. As the story unfolds, past events both prior to this tale as well as concomitant occurrences are reinterpreted to reveal the chess grandmaster and puppeteer that is Penny Royal. Rather than merely a sadist, Penny Royal appears to operate by a different set of rules, beyond the bounds of normal human or AI reference.
The narration is excellent with a good rendition of all the various sentient species. The tone and mood are well suited to the tale, although a warning for those who have previously enjoyed The Technician; as the narrators are different, the carry over characters will take some getting familiar with again. Finally, while the remainder of the trilogy is uncertain in direction, one can expect that these characters will be called upon again for some well-conceived, but opaque plan that Penny Royal has hatched.
Dark Intelligence tries really hard to be a complex psychological space opera thriller, but it just doesn't have the strong writing enough to pull it off. It tries to combine high concepts with Star Wars style space fantasy elements, and makes me wonder if this is where science fiction is heading over the next decade or so.
There are definitely a lot of novel ideas here, but they aren't strung together in a universe that is understandable and believable enough. Fans of his universe will probably like it, but as this was my first exposure to the author, I wasn't as engaged as I wanted to be. The ending was likewise pretty underwhelming, considering the promises implied in the mystery aspects of the book. I felt a weakness was throwing too many character POVs in, meaning there wasn't really one main character, although you are led to believe at the beginning that there is one.
Overall it's not a universe I'm in a hurry to return to.
I actually would. I usually re-read Asher's books more than once and Yen's reading of this book was so great I think I actually will re-listen to this.
All of Asher's trademark things that make him one of the best sci fi writers around are here - bizarre alien ecosystems and life forms, hilarious and wise-cracking AI's & drones, intriguing characters, and an exploration of a very interesting unifying theme - transformation. Not to mention Asher's return to a theme he has explored before that I find very interesting - which is insane/fragmented machine consciousnesses.
I haven't listened to any of his other performances but I have to say he knocked it out of the park with this reading. I usually love Asher's books (I pre-order them and sometimes even order them from the UK since they come out sooner over there) but I'm considering waiting until Yen does a performance of the next Asher book on Audible because I liked his reading so much.
Sure....if I had 20 hours straight to sit in one place LOL.
Awesome book with terrific performance by Yen. If you haven't ever read (or listened to) any of Asher's other books, you REALLY shouldn't start here though because there are a lot of other books in this universe before this one and you should enjoy those first. Start with Gridlinked.
I enjoy space fiction so was happy to find this Neil Asher series. Unfortunately I could not finish the first book. The story is impossible to follow with constant back and forth in time, and there are large sections where every third word is some made-up word in the lexicon of this Polity universe that Asher has created. I imagine that if you have been an Asher fan and are familiar with his other Polity work, then you may enjoy this series. For the uninitiated, the task of listening, yes it feels like a chore, is not very enjoyable.
I read. I listen. I rate. And then sometimes I review.
I do not have much experience with hard science-fiction, certainly not much dealing with AI technology, but I really enjoyed listening to ‘Dark Intelligence’. It was at times challenging but overall, a rewarding experience.
The only issue, which was mainly just a personal one and not one I think would always matter to others, is the technical jargon. I have read a few hard science-fiction novels here and there and more often than not, I am capable of keeping up with the “fictional science” that the author is building and writing about. In this one, it was mostly just the very common, technical things that baffled me at times. Some of these sections were also closely lumped together so I did end up losing track here and there of the explanations.
I also have to show some appreciation for the author’s style of writing. Despite not being able to comprehend all the technical lingo, the writing of this novel still maintained its focus on what the story is about more so than the specifics. I don’t often remark on the writing of a science-fiction/fantasy author, mostly because that doesn’t seem of much importance really, but I couldn’t help but notice that despite having trouble understanding some bits of the science, I was still able to understand everything that was going on, as well as be interested enough to continue listening to the book.
To reiterate the writing skills which this author displays, I also loved how the book starts off at a slow, steady pace and matures into something more complex and more exciting. Seeing as how this is a completely different world from ours, the author does an excellent job of building up everything step-by-step to keep the story, along with the characters and the world building, from overwhelming me.
All in all, if you are a hard science-fiction fan, this book won’t disappoint. If you are not, I think this is still a good, enjoyable read. You may or not have trouble with the specifics but I think you’ll still easily be able to enjoy the story for what it’s worth.
[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this audiobook from Audible in exchange for a review. All opinions expressed are my own.]
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