Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: Tor (2 Nov 2007)
This is another of Asher's Polity books. Unlike most of the rest, this is a prequel, taking place some time before the events of the main story lines, and it doesn't feature Cormac or the other characters that we're used to. What it does concern is the first contact with, and then war against, the Prador - a particularly nasty crustacean race of aliens.
The Prador are dangerous, and they're nasty, because of their species makeup. They're insanely aggressive, and that aggression is what drives their culture: it's a dominate or be crushed setup, with no way out. As a result, they're unable to consider a peaceful settlement when they encounter the Polity. In the end, it'll have to be defeat, or they'll wipe humanity out. Or at least enslave us, since we're quite tasty and can be made into biological robots. The message beneath the story is that sometimes your enemy cannot be negotiated with: not in my view a useful one, since humans can usually be, and demonisation of your opponent is not useful in the real world.
There's also a problem with the depiction of the Separatists, the anti-AI resistance. They're often depicted as patsies, almost as if Asher has something personal against them. Here, that's particularly so, but it means they're stupid, and stupid characters don't help stories.
Reading this book is unnecessary to understand the books later in the timeline. We already knew pretty much everything that we needed from information given in the other books. What this one does is to expand on those snippets and produce an actual story. As we know from the start that the Prador will be rebuffed, the potential tension is greatly weakened, and that's probably the biggest problem: it's difficult (not impossible, just ask Homer, just difficult) to keep the same level of drama going when you already know the long-term result. The Prador in books later in the timeline are part of the narrative landscape, just as the Separatists are. They're features that Asher tells stories against.
How the Prador War happened.