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Line War by Neal Asher

01/09/2008. Contributed by Tomas L. Martin

Buy Line War in the USA - or Buy Line War in the UK

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pub: TOR-UK. 503 page hardback. Price: 17.99 (UK), $34.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-4050-5501-7.

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Neal Asher's eleventh full length novel and fifth Ian Cormac book, 'Line War', returns us to the world of the Polity. After the rise of Jain nanotech infected AI Erebus in the previous book 'Polity Agent', Cormac and his depleted group of friends have a lot of work to do if they are to stop Erebus' nefarious plans to destroy much of the galactic government.

Asher's meticulous world-building in the Polity novels to date has created a rich and detailed universe filled with artificial intelligences of debatable morals and intricate nano-technology barely kept in check by the good, let alone the villains who have allowed it to consume them in a quest for power.

Orlandine is one character who managed to control the rapid growth of the Jain technology and here she plays a big role, manipulated by subtle forces to oppose the behemoth that is Erebus. He has subverted many minds unwillingly to his control when he first combined with the Jain nano-technology and within his vast mind an unwanted guest resides. Fiddler Randal, a human Erebus killed, has somehow found his way inside the group mind, dogging his plans.

It is this confliction within the villainous AI that captures the main attention of the novel, with Ian Cormac shunted from mission to mission by shady AIs on his own side and Mika being taken by the mysterious Dragon spheres into the place where Erebus was formed. Randal's hidden persona within the bad guy's immense fleet of wormships creates a great tension and conflict to Erebus that is paid off nicely at the end.

Some of the other characters suffer a bit for the focus on Randal, Erebus and Orlandine and this is less of a 'Cormac novel' than earlier books. The ECS agent has grown considerably since we first saw him in 'Gridlinked' and though he has developed some amazing abilities, he still feels a bit squeezed from the limelight.

As always with Asher there are some spectacular actions set pieces and more clever ideas than you can shake an AI controlled nano-technology wormship at. A few more friends are lost in this violent world but the indestructible taciturn golem Mr Crane makes a welcome appearance.

I enjoyed this fast, furious space opera a lot and would place it firmly in the top half of the author's work to date. The wider focus on multiple characters worked well and a lot of interesting developments occurred to many of them, with Erebus' story being the most effective.

The last twenty pages or so covered a completely different problem for Cormac than the rest of the book and it felt both rushed and tacked on. The dramatic revelations and action at the very end of the novel were too important to throw away in such a short space of time and I felt they deserved a book of their own to really use to the full potential. After so much set-up work for this new plotline, I was disappointed it wasn't left as more of a cliff-hanger for future adventures.

'Line War' has its flaws but like all Asher's books, the thrilling action and panoply of far-future ideas make it more than worth a read. It's not perfect but then what is?

Tomas L. Martin

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