The Departure by Neal Asher
390 pages Nightshade books
As an adult political Science Fiction is my favorite kind of Sci-fi novel, when I was younger Del Rey paperbacks with Science Fiction Adventure were often my favorites. One amazing thing Neal Asher has done here is marry those two styles in one fantastic 21st century speculative work of fiction. The first of a new series called the Owner trilogy is not a totally new universe to Asher, there were a few stories about a character called the Owner, but it is the first novel in in this setting and a origin story. The majority of his work take place in the universe of his polity novels. I have reviewed the first two Gridlinked and the amazing novel Skinner on my blog already. If no other reason this novel earns it's title for being a bold Departure from the novels Asher has found so much success with.
The Owner series is set in our solar system only a few centuries ahead on a overpopulated Earth and a fledgling Mars colony. The lazy comparison will be to the Bourne Identity space opera as the main character Alan Saul wakes up without any prior memories of his attempts at a failed revolution. He has the help of an AI implanted in his skull and an engineer named Hannah. Saul has to re-learn quickly why he was at odds with the Committee the one world government, who is dealing with a overpopulated and under resourced world coming with a system to determine which citizens are of value and which should be killed.
Saul augments his brain, so he can interface with the committee's source of power, a mega satellite colony on a asteroid in orbit of earth. Thus begins a a battle for the control of Argus. This is a powerful Science Fiction novel filled with lots of high concepts. I think there has been some disappointment with some Asher fans, but if this was his first novel I think it would rated higher, the problem is Asher has put the bar very high. I can only speak for a couple of novels but there is nothing here that compares to the setting, tone, characters, hardware and quality of writing in Asher's second novel “The Skinner.”
As it is a Neal Asher novel there is all kinds of insane kinds of future tech designed for brutality and warfare. I read this right after the very intellectually strong, action weak and left leaning 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson which shares a similar setting. This novel felt like Cannon films bought the rights to adapt that novel and made a libertarian mega action version. Anyone who knows me knows that is not exactly a turn off as I love Cannon movies.
The majority of Science Fiction novels with a political message are written by left leanings writers (like John Shirley, John Brunner or Kim Stanley Robinson) or straight-up radicals (like Ursala K.Leguin and Norman Spinrad). I would be lying if I didn't admit that I like to agree with my favorite novels. However as a political writer myself I don't want or expect all my readers to agree with me. So in return it is only fair that I read enjoy authors I don't agree with.
That is the thing, this novel feels very Ayn Rand influenced and seems to call for little or no government. Probably the opposite of John Shirley's recent anti-libertarian novel “Everything is Broken.” I don't really agree with a lot of the message but I enjoyed the story throughout.
I spent a lot of time thinking about and considering the message of this book, mostly after it was done. Unlike my bad experience with Dan Simmons novel Flashback I was able to separate my personal feelings and enjoy the story. Simmons may be one of the most brilliant minds working in genre but once he decides to make a point he often forgets to be a genius. Flashback felt like it was written on a soapbox, and that often pulled me out of the story. Asher didn't do that.
I was busy reading about giant space battles, spider gun robots and 23rd century warfare and revolution. It was a fun wild ride and only after it was done did I realize that Asher and I see a lot of the same problems coming in the future we just don't agree on the root cause. In the end I enjoyed The Departure and I am interested enough in the story that I am going to read the second book when it comes out.