Neal Asher, Gridlinked (2001)


Author: Neal Asher

Title: Gridlinked

Format: Paperback

Pages: 522

Having followed advice of the inestimable Bookstooge, I decided to embark on another bloody literary journey, but this time a decidedly hi-tech and futuristic one. Neal Asher’s Polity novels had been described as ‘a more action-packed Culture’, and it’s a description I find at once very apt and quite misleading ;). The world of Polity is indeed similar to Banks’s Culture in that it is an ever-expanding and galaxy-spanning political entity of humans inhabiting planets and space stations, all governed and kept together by extremely sophisticated AIs. The AIs have distinct personalities which are, as expected, highly logical and possessed of a worldview undoubtedly more affected by their computing skills than by any emotions, though they seem to feel them too – especially curiosity. In short, however you would slice it, they are not human. Their ascendance to the position of power in the human Polity has apparently been bloodless and quite benevolent, humans having realized that it’s ultimately for their own betterment – and that the other choice they have is definitely worse. The AIs act more like managers than dictators, quite content to improve the lives of Polity citizens and repel any possible threats. And there are threats aplenty, as on many worlds human populations hadn’t joined the Polity, mostly due to political differences (especially autocratic and religious regimes seemingly disapproving of the entire concept of Polity or even the existence of AIs). The major one is posed by Separatists, a loose coalition of terrorists, interest groups, or even governments happy to use Polity’s technology to bring about Polity’s demise, and they are a constant source of interest to ECS – the Earth Central Security agency, consisting mostly of human agents dealing with out-Polity threats.

Enter Ian Cormac, one of the most famous ECS agents. He’s already become a living legend, but the fame came at a cost. Gridlinked, i.e. linked to the AI net in ways that while enabling him to deal with astounding quantities of information at the same time dehumanize him, Cormac soon finds that he might be at the end of his line. Cut off the net in an effort to become fully human again, Cormac realizes that the Separatist threat he’s been fighting might not be worth the hassle, as a mythical creature, thought long dead, lets its presence known in a deviously brilliant and lethal way.

So… Let me first assert that Gridlinked put me squarely in Cormac’s camp, and the second book, The Line of Polity, only enhanced that feeling. I thoroughly enjoyed the technological side of the novels, with runcibles, AI-governed dreadnaughts, thin-guns, ECDs, APWs, and a multitude of other different weapons, Cormac’s near-sentient shuriken, and golems. The golems can be really creepy bastards, especially Mr. Crane ;), but Asher does great job showing their different uses – and the different personalities that can be downloaded into their near-indestructible bodies. The political situation is an intriguing one, and quite realistically played out – if anything set hundreds or thousands  of years in the future can be even remotely realistic, that is. What I loved, however, were the wonderfully realized ideas about various worlds and life-forms. I adored the concepts of Dragon and Maker, and I was quite taken with Dracomen and their easy adaptation to anything the universe throws at them. Let’s not forget Horace Blegg, the mysterious Agent Prime, whose own legend starts at Hiroshima during the WWII… Blegg as the incarnation of the Wise Man is a wonderfully subversive character, for all that his scenes are quite short, and I’m eager to see what Asher does with him in the future installments.

Cormac with his pet shuriken up close. Behind him a friendly golem and a Dracoman. In this ensemble the most mind-boggling is the presence of jeans 😉

Whereas Banks waxes lyrical on the subject of co-existence of AIs and humans (especially in The Player of Games), Asher leaves most of it in the sphere of assumptions – at least for now. I have a feeling there will be more of that in the subsequent books ;). In Gridlinked the details of the arrangement between humans and AIs are left intentionally vague, marked only with broad strokes indicating the easy life led within the borders of Polity: the various enhancements and genetic adaptations available to all willing, the low price of the everyday comforts, the universally high value ascribed to human life in general… Even the doctrine of non-interference on the worlds that hadn’t been yet accepted/incorporated into Polity seems more like a rather benevolent than disinterested approach, intent on limiting the number of potential victims of a possible conflict.

What Asher does pay attention to, however, and with great effect, is the danger and lethality of space and its various inhabitants – all the different life forms and weapons, the planets themselves, sometimes inhabitable or even outright hostile to any life, and sometimes sporting a vast array of deadly predators at the top of the lengthy food chains evolved during millions of years. It surely forms a wonderful stage for the mayhem surrounding our protagonist wherever he goes: and the action scenes are written superbly, in a highly engaging and satisfying way. But it is more than that: Asher excels at creating sophisticated, believable ecosystems and fills them with bits and pieces of history, archeology, sociology and biology. The  complex human cultures existing within and without Polity, with special emphasis put on those nomadic, ephemeral ones created around runcibles and those existing in a near-symbiosis with Polity’s AIs, are described vividly and thoughtfully. The various creatures populating the worlds are a product of enviable imagination – and a lot of work. And, even more surprisingly, among the unremitting, vivid action there’s even a place for small, deeply personal scenes, for myths and legends and fables, for gossip and various individual idiosyncracies.

In the first installment, Ian Cormac seems a bit like a James Bond-type of character: cold, ruthless, utterly professional and legendary in his nearly robotic efficiency. Yet in the early twist that leaves Cormac vulnerable and imperfect, bereft of a big chunk of his earlier abilities, Asher achieves nearly instant rapport between the protagonist and the readers: as the hero finds himself flawed and outmatched, he finds out that the need for other people reaches beyond the mere usage of them as tools or Polity-dictated objects of due diligence – and rediscovers comradeship and human understanding along the way.

All in all, Gridlinked definitely delivered, and even more than expected – not only superb action, a solid, entertaining and surprisingly cerebral science-fiction setting matched by wonderful and easy to imagine worldbuilding, and a cast of believable, likeable characters, but also a promise for something more: a potential for a well-executed cosmic space opera :D. I’m definitely going to revisit Polity world soon.

Score: 8/10

35 thoughts on “Neal Asher, Gridlinked (2001)

  1. Great review. I WAS going to write all this back when I wrote my review, but I didn’t want to pre-emptively steal your thunder 😉

    Glad you enjoyed this. I have found people who enjoy Gridlinked then go on to enjoy the rest of Asher’s books even more. Those who were meh, or didn’t care for it, tend to fall off the bandwagon.

    Without spoiling anything, don’t expect too much of, about or anything, in regards to Blegg. That way you won’t be disappointed.

    I hope the rest of your time in the Polity book universe is as good as this was.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 😀
      Thanks! 🙂

      I actually already read The Line of Polity and enjoyed it even more 😀 The worldbuilding got better, so that I actually want to draw a hooder 😉 The villain is more villainous, the Jain concept not new, but well done 🙂 I find it less convincing that all the characters from the first installment meet here, but whatever – it reads well 😉
      Ooh, pity – I kind of expected more of him, being the tutor of Cormac 😉 I wanted Cormac to go the same way 😉

      Thanks! There are more reviews to come, that’s for sure – and it’s a good mark of whether I enjoyed a book or not 😉 I thought it would be nice to read the prequels before I go to the third installment in Agent Cormac series – Prador Moon and Shadow of the Scorpion. What reading order would you recommend?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. re: Blegg
        I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with how Asher deals with him, just at the amount. That is all.

        For me, the Jain concept was the first time I’d run into it, so I absolutely loved it. I’m glad I discovered that concept with Asher and not some yod like Banks or Reynolds, hahahahaa.

        I read these originally in this order:
        Agent Cormac Series
        Spatterjay trilogy
        Prador Moon
        Shadow of the Scorpion
        The Owner trilogy
        The Gabble & Other stories
        Engineer Reconditioned
        Transformation trilogy

        Now I’m doing a re-read of them all except with the owner trilogy last. That’ll give Asher time to finish up his Jain soldier trilogy. Book one is out and I believe book 2 is coming out soon or is already out.

        My only issue is that I wish I had read the Owner trilogy AFTER Gabble and Engineer, as those are short story collections and have Owner stories in them.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Oh, cool 🙂 I’m ok with Blegg being enigmatic and appearing only once in a while for a short time. I think it actually works better this way if you want to keep the mystery vibe alive 😉

          Yeah, this kind of concept is mind-blowing the first time you read it 😉 Then it’s “oh, that. Cool” 😉 But still very well done 😀

          I’ve read somewhere that the prequels are not necessary, but good to know if one likes Asher/Agent Cormac series. I think I’ll read them first, then the rest of Cormac, and then will follow your reading order (that sounds like I’m a knight in some fishy Templar-like institution ;)) I’ll remember to read the short stories before the Owner.
          Good to know he’s still writing! Not like some other guys whose names I won’t mention 😛

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Yeah, he took a break when his wife died but everyone understood. We were just glad he didn’t give up on writing altogether. It makes my re-read bittersweet as I’ll see a dedication to his wife and know what he went through after she passed.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. You got me interested but the book isn’t available on Kindl Unlimited. If I stumble upon a hard copy in a library… somewhere, one day. You book reviewers come like twice a week with a “must read” (sigh). I still have to manage a life and do some writing by myself (that isn’t blogging).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. LOL, I completely understand your plight! I have the same problem 😉
      In defense of Asher, it’s a really fast and gripping read. I sneaked peeks between different daily chores, which is a rare thing for me, as I much prefer a longer reading time. I borrowed a copy of Gridlinked from my library, actually 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Good to know. Might be great reading for this summer. It’s been ages since I read some good straight forward space opera. Machineries Of Empire doesn’t really count, nor does the Leckie trilogy. This might just be what I need.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Quite some Goodreads’ reviews complain about “terribly inconsistent one dimensional characters, cookie cutter secondary characters, zero resolution”. A matter of taste, of a real problem you think?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It definitely is a great summer read for me 🙂 Not sure what your reading preferences are for summer, though – this surely isn’t a philosophical treatise 😉 The caption ‘action packed Culture’ is to some extent true. There’s a lot of bloody action, both in space and on the ground, some of the secondary characters are typical military/mercenary, and the main protagonist is a regular tough guy, albeit with brains. Still, it is very well written and the imagination behind the worldbuilding really impressed me – especially in the second installment.

        Not sure why someone would say ‘zero resolution’, I’ve read two books and each was resolved very neatly – I could only quibble that it might have been too neat, actually – but undoubtedly there is an overarching plot.

        I also don’t really understand the criticism of ‘terribly inconsistent one dimensional characters’… is it one or the other? 😉 Sure there isn’t much psychological development, the books being a space opera, but what there is is quite convincing.

        Let me put it in context: I was rather underwhelmed by Leckie, even though the first book I found really intriguing; the psychology of the characters never developed behind the parameters set in the first book, and the overarching ideas painstakingly stacked through the trilogy I found rather worn, flat and ultimately unconvincing.
        Here at least Asher is quite upfront about his sympathies and his general worldview – I don’t have a problem with it being rather simplistic for now, especially that in my experience most space operas are 😉 It’s better written and less boring than Banks, and it’s leagues above Weber and his horrible Honor Harrington series 😉 Hope this helps! 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Some of Bookstoge’s reviews had already awakened my curiosity about this (oh, so prolific!) author, but I kept procrastinating: now that I have read yours, and perceived the great enthusiasm that came from enjoying this story, I understand that the Universe – together with you and Bookstoge 😀 . – is trying to tell me something, and I’d better listen….
    Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You’re very welcome!
      I do hope you’ll enjoy the story, I’m quite certain you’ll appreciate the scope and skill of worldbuilding 😉 Looking forward to reading your thoughts on it! Btw, the second book is even better 😀

      Glad to be in one team with the Universe and Bookstooge! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I very much appreciate Banks’s ideas and find my own expectations to some extent mirrored in them – but his books are not literary masterpieces 😉 I hope you’ll find Asher more apt in this regard and, for lack of a better word, more streamlined than Banks, while still quite optimistic about the future of humanity in the stars :). Though that future in Asher’s vision is quite adventurous – and bloody! 😀

          Liked by 1 person

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  6. piotrek

    Heh… maybe, one day, definitely not before I finish all the Banks though 🙂 Culture is my current Utopia, but occasionally I crave decent space opera…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you’d enjoy it quite a lot 😊 A change of pace might be good from time to time – as a comparison between similar in general outline, but quite different in details, imagined worlds 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Well, I’m really only going to repeat what Maddalena said, but Bookstooge put Neal Asher on my radar and I’ve been meaning to get on these books. Your added enthusiasm means I’ve got to pull my finger out coz these books sounds like awesome fun. Thank you! 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You’re very welcome! 😀
      I do hope I didn’t hype the book too much, but it was really a load of fun, and the second book was even better. As space operas go, this one really delivers 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  8. So cool that you got around to checking out this series. I mean, Bookstooge pretty much sold it to me with his reviews as well and now with your thoughts on it I’m pretty much certain that I’ll have to pick this up at some point in my life hahah Awesome review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! 🙂
      It was a real pleasure, and the second book was even stronger. Two other Asher’s books are already on my shelf, prequels to Gridlinked, waiting for their turn, so you can see I’m quite invested already 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! 😀
      I am officially hooked on Asher’s Polity – I’m currently reading a third book in the series and enjoying it immensely 😀


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