Neal Asher, The Technician (2010)

Author: Neal Asher

Title: The Technician

Format: Paperback

Pages: 503

Series: –

I realize I haven’t written the review for the final Agent Cormac book, Line War, and I can promise I will do that at some point, but since The Technician became the star of my previous post, I decided to give it the much-deserved review first.

The Technician is theoretically a standalone, and can indeed be read as such – though it is worth noting that it’s directly linked to the events described in The Line of Polity and the Agent Cormac series in general. I’d definitely recommend reading Agent Cormac series first – and that in the extended version, starting with Shadow of the Scorpion, where we first meet one of the main characters of The Technician.

The events described in The Technician take place in the year of Line War (2444 CE), though it would be difficult to figure it out since the planet Masada is so far away from the main arena of events. However, the timing works well in setting up previously underused characters, such as war drone Amistad and their lethal protégé, Penny Royal, in main roles, logically explaining the absence of Polity’s usual big shots such as the AIs Jerusalem or Earth Central.

But ad rem; the eponymous Technician is a gigantic albino hooder, a near-mythical creature used to scare naughty Masadan children. Among the lethal fauna and flora of Masada, hooders proudly and without effort keep the most prominent position: they are absolutely, ruthlessly lethal. So much so, that there has been ever only one survivor of a hooder’s attack: the former Theocracy proctor Jeremiah Tombs, who, it seems, has been intentionally left alive by the most infamous of all hooders: the legendary creator of grisly monuments of bone and skin, the albino death machine Technician. Tombs’s mind is shattered; the horrible experience of being eaten alive has never left him, being replayed again and again by his altered brain. It would have been a mercy to just let him die: but the Polity’s AIs sense something intangible, incomprehensible even to them in Tombs’s aberrant fate. Is it possible that the fabled Technician acted intentionally and by altering and adding to Tombs’s neural connections left an undecipherable information package?  The AIs may be keeping him alive and well, patiently treating him and waiting for a breakthrough, but the outside world is not so kind. Even after twenty years from the death of the old order, there are those who feel the erstwhile Theocracy members should pay in blood for the decades of iniquity, slavery, torture and deaths. The Tidy Squad, a deep-cover cell consisting of former rebels who still resent Polity’s rule and thirst for vengeance, chooses Tombs as his main target. And so, as Tombs escapes from his confinement and makes his befuddled way toward painful enlightenment, he must be protected by both humans and AIs. And who could be better at this kind of job than Amistad the war drone and his darkly disturbing protégé, the black AI Penny Royal?

The hooder in all its glory © Jon Sullivan

The Technician is a fascinating book; I have already professed my love for the Boschian and Gigerian proliferation of lethal lifeforms on Masada in my review of The Line of Polity, but here it becomes clear that also Asher couldn’t let go of his fascination with this world, born in the darkest recesses of his twisted mind. And I’m very happy about it. For the Polity’s Masada is a world where everything tries to kill you and all artifacts of your technologically advanced culture, because it had been designed this way by an ancient race who in face of Jain threat chose devolution and mental oblivion instead of total annihilation. The gabbleducks – the devolved, intentionally dumbed-down progeny of the once-proud Athether – roam the grassy expanses of Masada, watching with bewilderment the human wars and struggles. And as they do, their insane gabbling thoroughly confounding human colonists, so do the remnants of their collapsed civilization: hooders, molluscs, tricones, and other incredible lifeforms thriving (literally!) on destruction.

But this Asher’s standalone is also markedly different from his Agent Cormac series; focused less on action (don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of action here!) and more on some hard questions concerning a world after a deadly war, where both sides of the conflict – the oppressed and the oppressors, or, more precisely, what was left of the oppressors after The Line of Polity events, must find a way to live together. Reconciliation, acceptance, obsession, hatred and grief, revenge, and – first and foremost, echoing through all events of the novel – the process of rebuilding oneself after mind- shattering trauma – are the main themes of The Technician. You’ll find fighting aplenty, from a nano- to the planetary and cosmic level. You’ll find greed and hatred, manipulation and ruthlessness, injustice and tragedy – but, quite surprisingly for the old cynic Asher – you’ll also find a glimmer of hope.

War drone Amistad © Jon Sullivan

I loved the big reveals of The Technician; this novel, a thoroughly gripping blend of SF and political thriller, presents a new facet to what till now seemed a straightforward, if incredibly ambitious in terms of worldbuilding, space opera filled with classic tropes and a brutally honest dose of political realism. But The Technician, for the most part firmly grounded on the planet of Masada, is at once smaller and bigger in scope, dealing with aspects rarely encountered in speculative fiction: the war may be officially over, but it has not ended for everyone; for those of survivors who had been made by it its end would mean the end of how they define themselves. The vicious circle of vengeance, brilliantly described by Rene Girard in his seminal work Violence and the Sacred, seems to be an indelible part of humanity. Can one intentionally stop it? How do you find reconciliation? What do you do when at last you can look at your former tormentors? And what do you do when you realize that the place you have lived in for generations in fact belongs to someone else?

This being Asher, though, you can still read The Technician as a fast-paced thriller, full to bursting with assassination attempts, close shaves with horrible creatures, battles on cosmic scale, grisly yet colorful descriptions of death and punishment. A bit of a conversation with Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space ideas can be detected, too – and it’s rather interesting. And last but not least, this was my first encounter with the black AI Penny Royal; while I met them on their final stretch to redemption, their deliciously ambivalent, completely amoral character makes them at once a delightful and terrifying character to read.

The Technician is my favorite Asher’s novel to date. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that it gets

Score: 10/10

54 thoughts on “Neal Asher, The Technician (2010)

  1. Woah . . . 10/10!? I wasn’t going to comment, just because I’m so busy . . . But that. That’s amazing and I’m pumped that it worked for you that well. I think that says a lot coming from you, Ola. Huh? 🤠

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, you’re absolutely right – 10/10 is a rarity for me 😉 Last year I only had 7 such high scores, and two of those were re-reads 😅 But this worked exceptionally well for me – I do hope it will be a similar experience for you, when you get to read it! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    1. The Technician is a part of the Polity universe; Asher wrote almost nothing outside of it. But he usually writes trilogies and series set in the Polity, while this one is a sort-of stand-alone: a linked but separate, largely self-contained story.

      If you want to start your Polity adventure, it’s probably best to begin with Gridlinked and the subsequent books in Agent Cormac series. Gridlinked is far from Asher’s best novel, with rather stereotypical characters and more two- than three-dimensional villains (at least at first), but it’s a decent enough introduction, fast-paced, wonderfully imagined. What’s more the sequels are all better! 😁

      Gridlinked’s review is on Re-enchantment, as are the reviews for almost all Cormac books. I can dig out the link if you like?

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      1. I understand that Technician can count as a standalone. That worked for you because you are well acquainted with that universe. But will it work for me similarly well as a standalone, knowing nothing about the setting? That’s why I asked. I’m not yet there to start any journey 😉

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yeah, I’d definitely start with Gridlinked. Or at least The Line of Polity, which is the second installment in the series. You’d lose so much information and context reading The Technician as your first Polity book that parts could become incomprehensible.
          My Gridlinked’s review is here: https://reenchantmentoftheworld.blog/2019/05/15/neal-asher-gridlinked-2001/
          I’d probably knock the score down a little if I were to write this today – Gridlinked got some more love than it deserved because I had already read The Line of Polity by the time I wrote that review 😉 Still, though, read this in a forgiving mood and don’t expect much more than a straightforward space opera fueled by a baroque, twisted imagination, and you should be pretty happy 😀

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! 😀
      I’m firmly in Asher’s camp versus Banks, but I can totally relate: Gridlinked was his debut novel and required a lot of good will. Had some great ideas, but writing was choppy, characters stereotypical, and it mostly served as a setup for next books. That said, the subsequent Agent Cormac novels were much better IMO – and this one is better than Cormac.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Yeah, this may be the right course of action for you. You may enjoy it more this way. You can build up the context slowly, over the few books – and while you’d lose quite a bit of detail concerning the big picture, you still can read The Technician right after The Line of Polity.
          Give it a try, and if you like The Line of Polity, you might like The Technician even more.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. I take all the blame proudly!! 😁

      I very much hope you’ll like Asher’s books! He can be a bit of a miss for some people, but I thoroughly enjoy his novels and his mad, horrifying imagination 😄

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Okay, I’m convinced, Ola. What a review! 10/10? That’s a high score.

    I’ve put Neal Asher to the top of my wish list (as suggested, Agent Asher), and as soon as I’ve cleared some space in my reading schedule, I’ll give him a try.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m very happy to hear that, Cath! 😀

      Beware, though – the first book is inferior to its sequels (it was a debut, after all ;)), but necessary to get through to get a feel for the world and concepts. And it is a mostly straightforward, classical space opera with aliens, wars, space battles and so on 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Despite my “meh” experience with Gridlinked, my curiosity about Asher is still alive and well, and your description of this deadly planet is very intriguing (and the fact that it was named Masada sounds like a combination of gallows- and tongue-in-cheek humor…). I will have to try again with the Polity series (maybe skipping Gridlinked…) so I can get ready for this one, although that giant scorpion (?) makes my blood get cold! 😉
    Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I really wish you to enjoy Asher’s books! Maybe start with the second one, The Line of Polity – it takes place on Masada as well, and gives more depth when it comes to the inner workings of the Polity universe. And also, the characters are much more convincing 😉

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  4. Glad you kept Penny Royal in your sights. The first time I read this I just blew it off as a throwaway character. Little did I know Asher had big plans for it! 😀

    I’ve stopped paying attention to Asher’s pseudo-depth. It is better than having no philosophy in the books, but honestly, the man’s blatant hatred of organized religion pretty much means I can’t take much from him very seriously.

    How are you choosing which order to read the books?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Penny Royal is blood-curdling and deserving sympathy at the same time – I couldn’t miss such an ambiguous character! 😀

      I do like Asher’s philosophy foundation for these books. It’s much easier, I think, to write a slick space opera without much consideration for the social ramifications of living with AI or other civilization-creating species. And in The Technician, apart from an odd remark about Theocracy, I haven’t noticed anything about religion…

      I went with the inner chronological order of Polity books: Agent Cormac series, then Technician, then I think Transformation series. I read Prador Moon and Shadow of the Scorpion between AC#2 and #3, and now I’m going to start Dark Intelligence – or do you think it’s better to go with Spatterjay?
      And I don’t really know where to fit the short stories… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It makes it much more “punchy” the way Asher writes his works than some others. I like it too, I’m just not enamoured of it quite the same anymore. Once he’s preached about “X” subject in one book, that’s all you’ll ever hear on the subject.

        I’d say if the inner chronology is working for you, then go for it. I was thinking he wrote his earlier books all in one go (ie, all the Agent Cormac books) but looking at the dates, he was all over the place. So by publication date would be a nightmare. When I eventually do another read through I think I’ll do the internal chronology too and see if it changes anything, as his skill level will be all over the place.

        Good luck with the short stories….

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Agreed.
          And I get what you mean: he’s pretty consistent in his views and not shy to present them 😉 Some of it may get stale after a while, but I find it still the most enjoyable space opera out there (well, not counting Dune). I might be much closer to Banks in terms of worldview, but Asher is a much better writer. And don’t let me start on Expanse or some such! 😂😂

          Hmm, interesting point about skill level. I think the difference was most visible in Gridlinked vs other books. I didn’t much care for Shadow of the Scorpion, even though it was a much later book – but I did enjoy Prador Moon quite a lot. The moon trick was awesome, and the whole human upgrade subplot was pretty interesting in terms of psychological/philosophical ramifications.
          The Technician is for me the best of Asher’s books I’ve read to date – if I remember correctly, you’re particularly fond of the Skinner trilogy?

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I suspect that even though I disagree with him, we have the same approach and so I can understand the how/why of how/why he writes even while completely objecting to it. I followed his blog for a few months and man, he makes me look like a happy go lucky my little pony lucky charms eater kind of guy 😀

            I am immensely fond of the Spatterjay trilogy. It is part of why I enjoyed his latest Rise of the Jain trilogy, as it tied directly into that 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Hahaha LOL exactly! 😂😂😂 He’s a cynical political realist, and that’s quite rare in the field of SF usually filled with optimists and idealists looking for a bright rosy future… I find his morose ruthless Eyeore perspective quite refreshing 😀

              That’s on my list! I’m quite stoked now seeing as you still love it so much 😀

              Liked by 1 person

  5. So if I need to read those other books first, how many are we talking about?

    And why exactly do you advice starting here? Less emotional pay off? A lot more confusion because of background.

    I really want to read this, it seems what I need, a good fast paced space opera action/politics/thriller. I’ve been looking for a book like this since Reynolds or Banks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agent Cormac series is 5 books long. I’d say go into Gridlinked without raised expectations, it’s a bit choppy at the beginning, and the first half gave me some doubts whether to continue, but it does get better as it goes, and the second installment is much, much better.

      Yes, emotional payoff is one thing, definitely. But also the fact that by the time of The Technician Asher assumes you know a lot about Polity universe, entities such as Dragon or Jain, or other long-gone alien civilizations, or even the internal workings of Polity.

      I’s less philosophical than Banks, or maybe it’s just that philosophy here is more hidden in the actions and the worldbuilding, and it’s more skewed toward political realism and a bit cynical brand of republicanism. It’s also much more thriller-like than Banks, or even Reynolds. It starts off in a more generic way, say James Bond in the future, but it grows exponentially. There still are things that make me roll my eyes, but the ride is a lot of fun! And you particularly, as a fan of Bosch, should appreciate Asher’s crazy, very evocative imagination 😉

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        1. It boils down mostly to worldview/political differences. Asher writes strong, convincing female characters but still sometimes puts them in stereotypically traditional positions. The main female character of Agent Cormac series is this brilliant scientist who nevertheless plays second fiddle to the protagonist, always somewhere in the background. I shouldn’t say more because of spoilers 😉 Let’s just also say that in the early books Asher has a penchant for mustache-twirling villains, but as the books progress they turn out to be not exactly what they seem.

          As for the cynical republicanism, it’s a general feel. One example of it is that there are introduction sections to every chapter. There’s one section called How It Is by Gordon, and it’s written from a not fully informed but acting as if they were human perspective. It’s this part that drives me crazy sometimes and I am of two minds whether Asher presents his own views there or makes subtle fun of them – because his worldview underlying the novels is also one of very clear division between right and wrong, strict moral code, final punishment for those who cannot adjust to life in a society, etc. The republican ideal is very important in the Agent Cormac series – and I really can’t say anymore 😉

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            1. You know I’m very critical 😉 But truth be told, I have different expectations toward space opera, which I want predominantly to give me thoughtful entertainment, and any philosophy is a bonus, than toward other genres and sub-genres, like hard SF for example. Though I still lambasted some of the Expanse books, there is a limit to the amount of bullshit I am willing to accept. But me and Asher is a bit like you and Dune – there are things that are exaggerated or outright handwavium, but you’re still ok with it.
              Besides, Hobbes has always been more dramatic and entertaining than Locke 😉 I can disagree with his views, but I still enjoy reading them 😀

              And yeah, Asher sure can write. I think what I admire the most is the complexity of his worldbuilding and his overarching plot: there is a lot going on, and some things are brought to light only much, much later. They gain second and third meanings, reveal hidden intentions, and this kind of puzzle is what floats my boat 😀

              Liked by 1 person

                1. Heh, I doubt it’s going to get better – you’re soon going to start reading the son’s books and I rarely heard anything good about these 😉

                  Yeah, I figured I should try to manage your expectations regarding Asher 🤣 In its space opera subgenre Polity is IMO the best. It may not have started this way but it’s consistently expanding and getting better as I read. I know what to expect from Asher and haven’t been yet disappointed – on the contrary, The Technician surpassed my expectations and turned into a surprisingly thoughtful novel which I absolutely loved. That said, though, Piotrek for example, after going through several Ashers still prefers Banks 😉

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                    1. I’ll be looking forward to your reviews!
                      My own re-read stalled, I had to return the book to the library and the waiting list is currently around 160 people… There are many copies, a couple dozen maybe, but still – I’m tempted to find the Folio edition and buy it instead 😀

                      Like

        2. …and he’s also quite Hobbesian in his vision of humanity. I appreciate this – unusual in space opera – stance even if I don’t agree with it. I still find it more palatable than Banks, who’s idealism is closer to mine 😉

          Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve never read any Asher and not sure he would be for me, despite of your raving review. One thing is for sure though, I love these illustrations by Jon Sullivan, they are very arty and pleasing to the eye!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, the illustrations are marvellous, and I love the amount of detail in them. I do admire artists who actually take their time and read the books they’re supposed to illustrate/make covers for – their work becomes then a meta-conversation with the readers, giving visual clues to the events from the books.
      Yes, Asher is not for everyone, and I can totally see that his appeal can be rather limited. I have a decades-long interest in reading war stories, be they real or imagined, and his books scratch that itch thoroughly.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve also not read this author before and given how many books are already out there and the fact that I don’t really read a lot of space opera I probably, to be honest with myself, won’t pick these up – although your glowing 10/10 review for this one certainly gave me pause for thought.
    And, I love the illustrations.
    Lynn 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If I were to categorize Asher’s Polity I’d say it’s mil hard-ish space opera with strong political aspects and generally pessimistic/realistic outlook 😉 so I can totally understand its limited appeal! 🤣

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Another glowing review for Neal Asher’s tentacular universe?! Really excited to dive into Gridlinked this year more than ever. I love the bizarre peculiarness of The Technician and I think this book wins extra credits from me just for having complex philosophy integrated into its storyline. Thanks for sharing another formidable review, Ola! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Lashaan! 😀
      Yeah, The Technician is the best of Asher’s books I’ve read so far. Pity you can’t start with it, but then without knowing the context and buildup from previous books I wouldn’t have enjoyed it so much 😉

      Looking forward to your review of Gridlinked – though I feel I need to get your hype down a notch or two – I still think Gridlinked is pretty cool, don’t get me wrong, but it does suffer from being a debut 😉 So even if it doesn’t blow you away, do give Asher a second chance 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m in love with the art work … and this post reminds me that I really need to try Asher’s work. Was tempted when you said this could be a stand alone, but after reading on further I think I’ll see what Agent Cormac is all about first

    Liked by 1 person

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