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Brass Man
Neal Asher
Tor UK, 432 pages

Brass Man
Neal Asher
Neal Asher was born in 1961 in Billericay in Essex. He started writing SF and fantasy at 16 after what he terms an "overdose" of E.C. Tubb books. After leaving school, he worked for a steel furniture maker, then operated a milling machine and began writing again. Thereafter, he decided to go back to school and finally graduated. He continued to write, having his work published in a number of magazines and producing a short story collection called Runcible Tales from Piper's Ash. With the publication of Gridlinked and The Skinner, he's working on The Line of Polity, to follow the year after.

Neal Asher Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Cowl
SF Site Interview: Neal Asher
SF Site Review: The Skinner
SF Site Interview: Neal Asher
SF Site Review: Gridlinked

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil

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'It was the dark red of old blood, and smooth as polished stone. A more modern product of the Polity, its controlling AI, named Jack, took no orders from any human captain. Cormac wondered if it could withstand Jain technology subversion any better than had the Occam Razor and its interfaced captain, Tomalon. In such a ship as this, there was no facility for AI burn -- for killing its AI -- it having been built after the time of extreme paranoia about AI?s taking over? when they had.'
Never having read any Neal Asher before, I came into this universe unprepared. What I found very early on was that the author believes in value for money, churning out a huge quantity of detail and plot in short order. At less than 25 pages in, my mind was reeling with the sheer volume of ideas, characters and on-going stories that I'd been presented with. While not a serious obstacle to enjoyment, it became quickly apparent that had I read the previous adventures in this series, Gridlinked and The Line Of Polity, I'd have been far better equipped to understand what was going on. As a newcomer, I soon felt like I was reading E.E. 'Doc' Smith on steroids; a style that is not necessarily a bad thing, but initially felt uncomfortably close to brain overload.

Brass Man begins with a salvage vessel, whose pilot is seeking fortune out beyond the limits of Polity-controlled space. He finds an asteroid, rich in rare metals, and containing the wreck of a dreadnought, which proves too tempting to resist. After the expected perilous encounter with rogue tech, Asher switches focus to Ian Cormac, the Polity agent who is apparently responsible for the dreadnought's plight. Cormac's superior, a rare survivor of Hiroshima, sends him to investigate. Cormac is sent after a criminal brought back to life by the same unknown, illegal, and very alien technology that led to him being branded a renegade. Cormac travels in an intelligent starship. The ship is an example of the AI which long ago decided that humans were far too stupid to order their own affairs. Meanwhile, on a world named Cull, outside of Polity space, an old timer named Anderson and his young protégé, Tergal, are on a mission to kill a dragon. From these starting points, ideas tumble in rapid, often disorienting sequence, but always in an entertaining manner. In the past and present, many authors have tried Asher's technique and fallen flat on their faces, but somehow he manages to turn all of the swirling chaos and manic confusion into an art form.

Helping to create an impression of immenseness are the self-aware ships and world-controlling AI. They interact with each other at a level where there is no human participation. Indeed, it is made clear that the human mind is physically and mentally not equipped for such interaction. The Brass Man of the title is a golem named Mr. Crane. Golems are highly sophisticated androids owned by the rich, but in the case of Crane, just about everything has gone wrong, resulting in a deranged killing machine. A machine akin to a T3 with refried circuits, that is on a murderous mission. As the story tumbles onward, like an unstoppable asteroid, we're treated to a smorgasbord of characters, sharp sometimes acerbic humour, and a plot which stretches so far and wide, it's impossible not to feel lost. My impression was that this is entirely by design, and Neal Asher wants his readers to feel small as they journey through his deadly universe. On occasions, the effect is every bit as suspenseful as the first Alien movie, and Mr. Crane comes across as a fine addition to the long line that began with Frankenstein's monster. In summary, Brass Man is a novel of total world immersion, presented in a style that left me feeling dazed and confused, as Led Zeppelin might have put it. I knew I'd had a good time reading, I just couldn't remember all the details.

Copyright © 2005 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at www.inkdigital.org.


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