One man will transcend death to seek vengeance. One woman will transform herself to gain power. And no one will emerge unscathed.... Thorvald Spear wakes in a hospital to find he's been brought back from the dead. What's more, he died in a human vs. alien war that ended a century ago. Spear had been trapped on a world surrounded by hostile Prador forces, but Penny Royal, the AI inside the rescue ship sent to provide backup, turned rogue, annihilating friendly forces in a frenzy of destruction and killing Spear. One hundred years later the AI is still on the loose, and Spear vows for revenge at any cost. Isobel Satomi ran a successful crime syndicate, but after competitors attacked she needed power and protection. Negotiating with Penny Royal, she got more than she bargained for: Turning part-AI herself gave Isobel frightening power, but the upgrades hid a horrifying secret, and the dark AI triggered a transformation that has been turning her into something far from human…. Spear hires Isobel to track Penny Royal across worlds to its last known whereabouts. But he cheats her in the process and quickly finds himself in her crosshairs. As Isobel continues to evolve into a monstrous predator, it's clear her rage will eventually win out over reason. Will Spear finish his hunt before he himself becomes the hunted? Dark Intelligence is the explosive first novel in a brand new trilogy from military SF master Neal Asher and a new chapter in his epic Polity universe.
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Neal Asher and his Polity series has been floating around for a while, but I had read mixed reviews and was never overly interested. However, the first book in his latest series was another Audible sale, so generally willing to give a new space opera a chance, I went ahead and downloaded it.
Dark Intelligence is a rather grimdark space opera full of big ideas: deadly AIs, planet-busting spaceships, ancient alien civilizations, destructive weapons, obsessive protagonists and antagonists, and massive amounts of grotesque violence. It's a bit like the Expanse series with more gore (and the Expanse series is not exactly light on gore), or something by Peter F. Hamilton or Alastair Reynolds but bloodier and darker. (Neal Asher, it turns out, is also a British SF author. They do seem to be fonder of modern-day retellings of Lensmen-level space epics that have kind of gone out of style in the US.)
Thorvald Spear wakes up after being "dead" for a hundred years. His last memory was of being a soldier who'd been captured by a nasty alien race called the Prador, who were at war with the human Polity. Asher's previous books in the Polity series covered the war against the Prador, and there are many references to events and characters that evidently appeared there first. I didn't find it too hard to figure out what's going on, since the Prador are standard-issue genocidal Bug-Eyed Monsters who torture and eat their enemies. In the tradition of such alien enemies from the Kzinti to the Gorn, they got their asses kicked by mankind and thereby became slightly more civilized.
Thorvald's grievance is not against his old enemy the Prador - it's against a "black AI" that controlled a Polity destroyer that turned on his side on the planet where he was fighting the Prador. When he wakes up, he learns that the AI, Penny Royal, is still around, still a fugitive from Polity justice, and causing trouble all over the galaxy. So he goes after it.
Spear isn't the only one after Penny Royal. There's also a psychopathic crime boss named Isobel Satomi, who was granted "upgrades" from Penny Royal and learned that the AI is rather like a traditional djinn in that it might grant your wish, but you usually won't like the results. There is also a Prador leader, similarly modified by Penny Royal, who wants to track it down to get some questions answered.
They all end up meeting along with several other secondary characters at a planet called Masada, in a big bloody showdown that sets Penny Royal up to be an enigmatic recurring character in what I'm sure will be more books in this series.
The mystery for much of the book was what Penny Royal was up to. Is it evil, insane, or playing some long game?
Along the way, though, there is lots and lots of evisceration, dismemberment, heads blown off, people being eaten, people being transformed into monstrous H.R. Giger-like things, and AIs threatening and trash-talking each other and every life form they meet.
This all sounds very exciting, and I was reasonably entertained, but there's one problem: when it was over, I had trouble recalling all the twists and turns and big reveals, and moreover, I didn't much care. All the characters, from Thorvald Spear to Isobel Satomi to Penny Royal, were flat, with a very limited personality range. I was most interested in the alien and AI characters, just because they were different, but really, while I appreciated the big ideas and the epic scope of the story, it was epic in a scene-by-scene kind of way ("Oh wow, she just fell to the surface of a planet from orbit and got up to keep fighting...") but without really getting me interested in the universe, which as I said, is not unlike similar ones written by Hamilton, Reynolds, or Iain Banks. And I had the same reaction I've had to those other British SF authors - interesting, creative universes with lots of scope for adventure and intrigue, but nothing that quite hooks me enough to care a lot what happens next. So I might read something else by Neal Asher, but I'm rather indifferent as far as reading the next book in this series goes.