The Polity Collective stretches from Earth Central into the unfathomable reaches of the galactic void. But when the Polity finally encounters alien life in the form of massive, hostile, crab-like carnivores known as the Prador, there can be only one outcome - total warfare.
Chaos reigns as, caught unawares, the Polity struggles to regain its foothold and transition itself into a military society. Starships clash, planets fall and space stations are overrun. But for Jebel Krong and Moria Salem, trapped at the center of the action, this war is far more than a mere clash of cultures, far more than technology versus brute force.
This war is personal.
I should mention that I have not read any of the other 'Polity' series of books, to which I understand this is a prequel.
The story opens with a formal diplomatic greeting ceremony on Avalon Station. It has been arranged by the Polity AIs for the prupose of negotiating relations with a carnivorous, crab-like alien species, the 'Prador' (apparently a corruption of the term 'predator', we are informed). The main human character, Jebel Krong, sees any grounds for confidence in these creatures as highly dubious. Predictably, after the Prador shuttle lands, their representative (Vortex, first child of Captain Immanence), announces that the humans should surrender the station to them - and then all hell breaks loose; random body parts, alien internals, gobbets of flesh etc are being unceremoniously flung around. The human ambassador is summarily 'snipped' in half and Jebel himself loses an arm....yep, the war with the Prador is officially on!
Overall, I found this to be an un-engaging and predictable story with very flat characters, especially the humans. They seemed just to be names frantically running around doing stuff. The main 'bad dude' (Captain Immanence himself) was a litlle more colourful, even the Polity AIs came over as having more depth than the humans. There was a lot of gore (and bad language), which also left me at a distance and to some extent seemed to be there merely for shock value in place of decent story or character development. Perhaps this story might be of more interest as background for those who have read other Polity stories?
The more I read of Asher's work the more I suspect I am going to be writing some of my own one day. Starting at the tender age of 16, Asher has been writing his stuff for a few years now, and it's really quite good stuff. Sure, it's not the 'deepest' stuff you'll find... there's no great cosmos-spanning love stories, no detailled descriptions of the minutae of the various technologies employed in the stories, but there is a raw grit that you can 'feel' as you read. Strip away all the flash and pomp, the romance and swashbuckelling you find in many 'hard core' sci-fi these days, and you have something very Asher-esque.
After encountering a member of the 'Prador' race in "The Voyage of the Sable Keech" I was pleased to get my teeth into this tale, and was overjoyed to discover how much it delves into the structure of the Prador society and it's brutal politics. There was even a few interesting bit of techno-speak in there that had me wondering why we haven't improved our battlefield metallurgical technology a few notches... after all, did Arthur C. Clarke not show us in enviable style that today's sci-fi is tomorrow's technology?
The only problem I face when it comes to Asher's works is that they are written, quite literally, hundreds of years apart along a bouncing timeline. His first stories sit well down the timeline in the 31st century, whereas this tale apparently sits snuggled up close to the start of the 24th, and the other books bounce around in between these extremes, though can refer back as far as the early 21st century, less than 50 years from now. Quite a brain-spaz trying to keep it all straight at times, but that just adds another bit of fun into the pot.
An excellent prequel to many of the storylines followed in his Polity novels, and certainly one of the most bloody. If you don't think you can handle reading about what a giant carnivorous crab with all the ethical restraint of a staving piranha could, and would, do to a captive human, then this isn't perhaps your kind of book. But if that bothers you less than what you see on the news each night, then jump right in, the water is... dangerous.
Random listing from 'Books'...
Scrap, the blond puppy, gets sent to work on a farm and finally gets to try out his eye dog skills on a real sheep station. The farm is next door to the one he's discovered his mother lives on, and he is very keen to reacquaint himself with her.
But her boss has other ideas... and tries to shoot Scrap when he comes to visit!
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W. Heath Robinson (1872 - 1944)