British author Neal Asher has been quite the one-man publishing army since the turn of the century. By our count this prolific writer has churned out more than twelve rather hefty novels since 2000! (This excludes two short story collections and one novella.)
Line War is the latest Asher book to make it to paperback, the medium Asher’s tough-minded gritty, space opera page-turners are best suited to. It is described as the “fifth Agent Cormac novel” but the character – ostensibly the hero of the piece – is actually just one of several major characters in this densely plotted adventure.
Like most of Asher’s fiction Line War is set in the so-called Polity, a distant future in which Earth is at the centre of a galactic “empire” ruled over by benevolent AIs of staggering intelligence and capabilities. Erebus is a powerful AI gone rogue after having been infected by a malevolent alien technology. He (it?) seeks to undermine the Polity and launches several surprise attacks against some random outer rim Polity worlds. The attacks make no sense however as these worlds are of no strategic importance and obviously serve to divert the Polity AIs’ attention from Erebus’ ultimate plan – but what would that plan be is the question . . .
The question newbies will be asking themselves is, “Can I read Line War without having read any of the other Cormac novels?” The answer is yes, but it is probably not recommended. Line War is be a standalone adventure and not a continuance of an existing storyline. Asher does his best to bring new readers up to speed, but the truth is that there is a massive back-story to Asher’s rich fictional universe and Line War will probably reward long-time fans who have read previous installments in the series the most.
If you’re into modern space opera such as Iain Banks and Peter F. Hamilton then Asher is your guy. His Polity novels share the same high-tech hardware (spaceships, AIs, etc.) as these authors and Asher’s book are genuine page-turners even though they require patience on the part of the reader as he brings his various plot strands and myriad of characters together for his trademark kitchen sink and all climax.
Line War is a worthwhile read, but newbies will be better served checking out some of the author’s earlier novels before getting round to Line War.