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Friday, March 16, 2007

"Brass Man" by Neal Asher



According to the USA edition’s jacket description, “Brass Man” is a sequel to Neal Asher’s impressive debut “Gridlinked”, which first introduced readers to ECS (Earth Central Security) agent Ian Cormac. What it fails to mention is that “Brass Man” is actually a direct sequel to “The Line Of Polity”, which is mysteriously unavailable here in the United States. For diehard Asher fans, I doubt this is much of a problem since the books have been available for a while now in the UK & Canada – in fact, they’ve already had the luxury of a fourth Ian Cormac novel – but for those of us stateside and those readers new to Mr. Asher it can be a bit confusing. So, after digging around some, I’ve determined that the available Cormac novels should be read in the following order: 1. “Gridlinked” 2. “The Line Of Polity” 3. “Brass Man” and 4. “Polity Agent.”

With that out of the way, let’s move on to the actual review. Having only previously read Mr. Asher’sGridlinked”, what immediately becomes apparent is that the author has really progressed as a writer. This seems only natural as a number of books (“The Skinner, “The Line Of Polity”, “Cowl”) were released prior to “Brass Man”, but it’s not always a given. So, I was quite pleased with how much better a storyteller Mr. Asher has become with “Brass Man” compared to “Gridlinked.”

Breaking it down, the format with which “Brass Man” is told is through multiple point-of-views of a veritable host of characters, both major & minor as well as heroes, villains and those in-between, so be forewarned if you’re not a fan of this kind of set-up. To me it has its ups and downs. On the plus side, with the narrative changing every few pages it really helps the novel move along at a brisk pace and adds numerous layers to its intricate plot, which Mr. Asher handles with obvious grace. On the other hand, the story can get confusing at times if you’re not careful (especially if you hadn’t read the previous volume in the series), and there is an obvious lack of character development, which brings me to my next point.

Though “Brass Man” is considered an ‘Ian Cormac’ novel, the main protagonist doesn’t have nearly as much face time as he did on “Gridlinked” and seems to play second fiddle to a number of other players, including the title character Mr. Crane who I felt was probably the most developed individual in the book, due to his background exploration via ‘retroacts.’ As to the others involved, we’re treated to familiar faces from “Gridlinked” and apparently “The Line Of Polity” as well as a number of new entities. Now, I’ve heard Mr. Asher’s characters described as “shallow” and “one-dimensional”, and I can’t really argue that as some of them are interchangeable archetypes, while others lack personality or fail to mature as the story progresses. In their defense, I can see why this may be, as we’re not just dealing with humans, but also androids, AIs, aliens, and other modified creations that may lack the capacity for growth. I also believe that you’ll see more development of certain characters from book to book rather than within an individual novel as evidenced by the changes that I've seen so far from Mr. Cormac himself. Still, with such fantastic, larger-than-life creations as Dragon, the aforementioned Mr. Crane, the antagonist Skellor and many others, I believe that Mr. Asher has fashioned a cast of characters whose ‘coolness factor’ far outweigh any faults that they may possess.

As to the ‘AI-ruled Polity of Worlds’ that these characters inhabit, this is one area where Mr. Asher’s imagination soars. For sci-fi aficionados, some of the concepts (artificial intelligences, nanotechnology, cyborgs, planetary transportation, etc.) utilized may seem familiar as seen in other books, movies, anime, comics or videogames, but Mr. Asher puts his own spin on them as well as introducing unique ideas, and it is their use as a collective that makes the Polity universe as a whole so fascinating. Of course, rife with an abundance of technological jargon and the fact that the reader is thrust into this massive universe immediately with few explanations aside from the excerpts that preface each chapter, the Polity Universe at first can be quite daunting to grasp. However, as with the characters, this is an area I believe that will be further fleshed out as the series progresses, not to mention the other Polity books. With “Brass Man”, one of the more imaginative and enjoyable aspects of the book is the planet Cull with its distinctive cultures and local fauna (or more accurately monsters), that are so vividly brought to life and apparently has become a staple of Mr. Asher’s world-building.


Overall I have to say that I really enjoyed “Brass Man.” It may not be as mentally stimulating or original or character-driven as some other sci-fi that I’ve read, but it is a fun, action-filled, high-velocity futuristic adventure that I believe will only get better as the series continues. And continue it shall for, as previous predecessors, ‘Brass Man” ends on an unresolved note with many plotlines to be further explored in the currently available “Polity Agent”, and a concluding chapter, the forthcoming “Line War.” I, for one, have been hooked and eagerly look forward to the continuing adventures of Ian Cormac and friends as well as any future works by Mr. Neal Asher

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