Paperback: 528 pages
Publisher: Tor; New Ed edition (8 Mar 2002)
And now I've worked my way back to the first of the Polity novels, able at last to find out where many of the later threads came from. Here we are introduced to Ian Cormac, an agent for the Polity, which is somewhat akin to Iain M Banks's galactic society in that it too is run by high level AIs. Unlike Banks's Culture, though, this is not a world of plenty - there is still plenty of conflict and crime, and the borders are closer than to the Culture, though still inevitably expanding outwards as if by some natural law. Also, technology isn't the near magic of Banks's scenario.
Cormac's task is to hunt down and remove Separatist terrorists, at which he is brutally effective. But he's been brain-linked to the grid for 30 years, and has slowly been losing his humanity as a result. So, before taking off after a particularly nasty piece of work called Arian Pelter (subtly reminiscent in name of would-be Aryan, Hitler), he disconnects all links with the network and starts learning again how to find out about people by talking to them instead. Oh, and a distinctly ambiguous alien named Dragon reappears from his past. Or rather, one quarter of Dragon. Back references to this appear in the later novels.
This is fast moving and exciting, while being mostly unpredictable. There are flashes of humour, especially in some of the chapter ornaments (anyone know the term for these?), taken from two contrasting reference books which gently contradict each other over the very existence or otherwise of the protagonists. The level of invention in this world is also high, while some details, such as the 'fillet of ground skate' served for dinner to one character which turns out to have been cut from what is suspiciously like an oversized slug, are delightful.
Definitely recommended, and a good starting point for the Polity novels.