Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Review: Dark Intelligence

Dark Intelligence is Neal Asher's new Polity novel, set after the Polity/Prador wars of the "Gridlinked" novels. True to form, it's not really science fiction, but really an action-thriller, with lots of big explosions, planet-busting weapons, and planetary AIs.

One of the big problems with post-singularity work is that stories that are interesting to people fundamentally have to be about people, and a post-singularity AI isn't human enough to be either comprehensible or easy to identify with. The conceit then, is that either humans are AI pets, deployed only as a front to other species as an interface (as in the Iain Banks' Culture novels) or that for some unfathomable reasons, human type brains can occasionally be so smart and interesting that they are of value to an AI.

Dark Intelligence starts with the latter premise, with Thorvald Spear awakening after the war, and immediately deciding that he needs to go after a rogue AI that had committed all sorts of atrocities during the war. Of course, that justifies him in performing all sorts of atrocities as well, and we learn that Spear isn't just any old unreliable narrator, but that he himself might be some form of construct.

With this plot, we get a romp through the Polity/Prador neutral zone, an exploration of the crab people, and some drone intelligences, but mostly a lot of exposition and high action sequences. It's fun, but one is left thinking: "Did you need a novel to do all this? It could easily have been a short story." The characters are simple and not really developed, though the plot is. And of course, the rogue AI that's at the core of the story only gets viewed from external sources, so we get a very incomplete picture.

The cover of the novel bills itself as the first part of a trilogy, but I'm not sure I'll bother continuing. Read it only if you've enjoyed past Asher novels.

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