Hardcover: 510 pages
Publisher: Tor (4 April 2008)
Back in my review of Polity Agent, I expressed some disappointment that that book ended mid story. I also expressed hope that the threads raised there would be resolved.
In this novel, they are.
The rogue AI Erebus is following an apparently insane plan. But given its trans-human level of intelligence, that surely cannot be true, and it's not - Earth (and Earth Central Security, aka ECS) is surely under deep threat, even if the real nature of that threat isn't immediately obvious. Meanwhile, the alien spheres of Dragon have their plans (and since Dragon is not remotely human, there's no surety that those plans will be good for humanity). The murderess and fugitive Orlandine has become transfused by the Jain tech, and is surely too dangerous. The Brass Man Mr Crane is too enigmatic to be safe. With all these threats, how can Ian Cormac, even with his strange growing powers, help save the day, especially when he starts this novel in the wrong place entirely.
And yet, of course, he does. This is the climax to the Cormac series of books. By the end of this he has not only helped to save the day (helped, not done it all), but has transcended his human origin to become a mythic figure. In some respects, Asher has had to keep him out of this story: many of the most important actions are carried out by others, and Cormac's abilities, overly relied upon, could have lead too much to 'and in one bound, he was free'. So it does tend to be the other players, to one extent or another, who move this story forward the most, with Cormac ending up a relatively minor actor here. But in the end, that doesn't matter: we're not after the story of Cormac, we're after how the Polity survives this greatest of all threats to it.
There's even a 200 years later coda with two of the characters which allows some reflection.
In some ways, Asher occupies a mid-ground between Iain M Banks and Peter Hamilton. The Polity is reminiscent of the Culture, but much more flawed. And the Jain technology is very Hamiltonian in its level of threat. However, I think Asher is best when he's least like Hamilton. Here, he manages to avoid the Night's Dawn tendency to pile on the hopelessness too much.
A satisfying conclusion to Cormac's story.