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Sunday, January 02, 2011

Review: Gridlinked

If you've read many of my book reviews, you'll note that I complain quite a bit of the characters found in many science fiction novels: I think that they are largely wooden with very little humanity in them, more like puppets driven by a plot. Gridlinked was Neal Asher's first novel, and he solved this problem by having the protagonist, Ian Cormac, be someone who was "gridlinked" for so long that he's become in danger of losing not only his social skills (like most of us geeks), but also his humanity as well. As a result, Asher can portray his protagonist with all the puppet-nature that he demands his characters have to serve his plot without fear of such criticism.

The plot is kinetic, spanning multiple star systems, meeting various non-human entities, with lots of weapons ranging from big guns to intelligent shuriken deployed at one point or another at nearly every form of sapient and/or intelligent being in present. The result reads like a summer blockbuster of a movie: lots of loud explosions, plenty of "wow" moments as horrible beings slam at each other, and a plot that seems almost lifted out of a Western. The world building is provided in dribs and drabs, usually as entries from one encyclopedia or text of one sort or another that head chapter entries. My problem with this world is that I just don't see how it could possibly have room for human heroes --- it seems to me that the kind of trouble-shooter Ian Cormac would have to be would be replaced by the kind of Android ultra-terminator style robots that seem to be all over the book.

What, then, kept me reading? Well, the action never stops. You are kept on the edge of your seat wondering what trick the author will think of next to keep one character or another alive. One scene has a character attempting suicide only to accidentally set off a sequence of events that ensures her survival. The weapons are pretty darn cool, if improbable. In other words, this is exactly the kind of guilty pleasure you can indulge in if you're about to get on a plane on vacation. I have no doubt I'll be loading up the Kindle with more from Asher for my next flight. Nevertheless, if you're looking for a deep read, with the kind of reflection that Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon has, there's none of that here. Read Morgan instead. Asher is Tom Clancy for the pocket-protector crowd, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Mildly recommended.

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