Prador Moon: a Book of the Polity
By Neal Asher
Published by NightShade Books, 2006
Review by Hobbit
So, what new to expect from Neal Asher? This rather slim book is one which shows all the Asher trademarks: big weapons, violence, more big weapons, fast pace, gigantic explosions and nasty (make that really nasty) aliens. And all in 222 pages!
The book is an interesting one, in that, although recently written, Neal goes back to events in the Polity before the time in which most of his previous Polity books exist. So the events of Gridlinked, Line of Polity, The Skinner, and The Voyage of the Sable Keech (reviewed HERE) haven’t happened yet, although some of the key elements of Asher’s universe do exist. The Dragon (first met in Gridlinked) does. Runcibles (the means of instant matter transfer) do, as too the AI’s which run them (and the Polity). And also the Separatists (first met in Gridlinked) continue their terrorist war against the Polity, determined to avoid being run by the AI’s.
However this book mainly deals with the first meeting between the Earth Polity and the Prador – nasty, aggressive, carnivorous crab-like aliens seen previously in The Skinner, and The Voyage of the Sable Keech. Those who have read Neal’s earlier books will know how nasty they are, but for those who are new, there’s a nice summary made by one of the characters here (on page 61): ‘hostile, horrible-looking b*stards, eat people, torture people. Redeeming characteristics: none found.’
This might suggest therefore that First Contact is bound not to go well; and so it transpires. Before ten pages have gone, the adversaries are throwing around Asher-weapons (bigger than your average armoury) with aplomb – rail-guns, pulse guns, missiles, lasers, masers and any assortment of ways to blow things up.
In all this carnage is Jebel Krong, member of one of the Earth Central Security’s Avalonian units, elite soldiers who are decimated by the unprovoked attack. The death of his girlfriend in the first assault leaves him with a point to prove.
At the same time, but elsewhere in an (at first) seemingly unrelated event, Moria Salem, on the Polity planet of Trajeen, has upgraded her aug (augmentation) also seen in earlier books, but finds herself super-upgraded by a separatist with an ulterior motive. Hired by ‘George’, a downloaded submind of the planet’s AI, she finds herself having to learn how to deal with the threat of the Prador, who without AI of their own, wish to gain access to the runcibles, presumably in order to continue their galactic conquests.
Just to add to the situation, the Separatists are involved in attempting to secure a runcible in a deal with the Prador, so that the Polity is destroyed.
So: big weapons, lots of violence, big planet-wrecking battles, nasty, nasty aliens who would give the Daleks a run for their money: these are the things of a SF space opera fan’s best dream. And, as rather hoped, Neal doesn’t disappoint.
What I am reading the book for most are details of the Prador – the alien creatures, met in previous books, who are really unpleasant. Though small parts have been given in backstory before, here the reader gains more details of the Prador lifestyle. They think nothing of experimenting with humans, torturing whilst alive, then eating them for lunch. This is not for the fainthearted, though they are not random acts of violence. The reasoning behind such actions is shown, as their society is impressively predatory. Their aggression has a reason; if it was not so, survival would be unlikely. Thus although they are gruesome, they are understandably so.
If I had to pick fault, it would be that the book was too short and that some of the dialogue was a little too flippant or contemporary – it’s not too often these days you hear an alien say ’There are two kinds of Prador, XF-326, the quick and the dead. Decide now which you want to be.‘ (page 73). Or how about ‘Bring it on human’ (page 205)?
But these things are definitely said with tongue firmly in cheek, and I guess we’re not meant to take them too seriously. The entertainment value is still clearly high, if you can cope with all the grue. Some of the details in the book are deceptive: Jebel’s reputation as a Prador-killer belies a likeable character with a caring side; Moria’s understanding of runcible mathematics is complex, yet central to the main plot. Though there isn’t the depth of earlier work, it would be wrong to dismiss the book as throwaway entertainment.
What Neal does provide, as I mentioned in my previous review, is fairly straight forward entertainment writ widescreen. And here he provides a very nice helping. The action sequences, though mainly small in nature, are well done. Battles both big and small take on a nearly balletic quality in an almost orgy of violence. This will not be for everyone.
In summary, those who have enjoyed Neal’s earlier books are going to enjoy this one. It’s short but it’s entertaining – fast and fun. For those who have not previously read any of Neal’s work, this is a pretty good place to start.
Hobbit, August 2006.