Neal Asher

Macmillan UK / 432 pages / March 2001

ISBN: 0333903633

Gritty. Now, there’s a word you don’t often hear in connection with science fiction — more’s the pity. If all novels could employ this atmosphere as well as Gridlinked does, I could wish that all authors followed Neal Asher’s lead. Then again, this unique style is all Asher’s; it’s highly doubtful that a copy would be as deeply satisfying.

Asher’s future is a no place for the faint-hearted. This is a world where a terrorist blast is as likely to take you out as a slight miscalculation passing through the runcibles that provide instantaneous galactic travel. Don’t worry, though, everything is all right, because this universe is run by flawless Ais, leaving out the iffy judgement of humans and any other creatures that might decide to try their hand at the controls.

Just such a mishap has obliterated the Samankand runcible and virtually everything else on the planet. How such a thing could happen and who will be held responsible are questions that Earth Central has sent super agent Cormac in to answer. Of course, Cormac will come face to face with sociopaths, mercenaries, androids, and unknown life-forms before he gets to the bottom of this radioactive pile of evidence, but that’s pretty much a normal day for ECS’ top man.

He’s survived all the other cases, why wouldn’t he make it through this trifling matter unscathed?

Maybe because the psychopathic terrorist on Cormac’s tail is on a suicide mission, with no compunction about taking every living thing down with him. Perhaps it might be the “assistance” of the enigmatic and short-tempered Dragon that threatens his life. Or, in large part, it just might be the fact that for the first time in thirty years Cormac is operating without the constant presence of his gridlink. On this, his most dangerous mission, his superiors have decided that he needs to regain his humanity and lose the link — he’ll be going in effectively senseless.

Just as Cormac is feeling his way back to humanity, Asher is flooding the reader’s senses with input. From planet to planet, he produces stark, stunning visuals of the terrain and the natives. Employing a cast of characters running into the dozens, Asher infuses each individual with animation and unique personality. It’s a mark of his skill that some of the most appealing and sympathetic of his creations are the Golems. With a minimum of strokes, he paints in fully fleshed-out characters. Come to think of it, that’s how Asher brings Gridlinked vividly to life.

And, he leaves you eager for more.

Is it too early in 2001 to be thinking of a top-ten list? Not with a novel this impressive. It’s going to take a hell of an effort to knock Gridlinked out of one of those limited berths. Then again, maybe Asher will grant my wish for another book by the end of the year. I’m willing to wait and see.