Paperback: 662 pages
Publisher: Tor (31 Mar 2004)
Category(ies): Science Fiction
Neal Asher's Polity is a future interstellar federation, run by AIs (because people have more confidence that they'll be fair), but not quite to the extent of Banks's Culture. Not all planets are in the Polity, but in order not to distress too much those independent worlds outside, it requires an obvious majority of a population to want to join the Polity (not to mention ways for a population to be able to leave) before membership can be granted.
Of course, there may well be worlds in which the rulers don't want to join, yet a majority of the population do. In those cases, the Polity will extend membership, just a little more forcefully. And this novel is about one such case - a rather unpleasant society on a planet where people can't breathe without the aid of a symbiote, a symbiote which requires special dietary supplements, said supplements being entirely under the control of a brutal and ruthless religious ruling class. Here, there is no vote for freedom, because how can you vote for something that you don't even know about?
Oh, and there's a Big Not-So-Dumb Object that has a distinct messianic attitude.
This is a fine setup. There's a sense of depth and complexity that can be a little confusing, and it sometimes reads like a sequel due to references to earlier stories set in the same milieu, but I'd far rather have that richness than the bland, genericity of so many future worlds.
Fine Space Opera, most reminiscent to me of Peter Hamilton.