Skip to main content

The Owner Series: The Departure, Zero Point, Jupiter War by Neal Asher

Yes, yes, it’s another trilogy post, and I’m sorry about that to a small degree, but in my defence, it is simpler to do this than to find three different ways to say the same thing in three separate posts. Hence, consolidation. Or perhaps in context, some sort of augmentation of the essential humanness of the post? I’m stretching of course.

So, on with the show. Fair dos, I know very little about Neal Asher*, except for what I can deduce from this trilogy. I would guess he has a dark and troubling pessimism for humanity’s future, a grim view of the toll of our human stain, and oddly enough, an optimistic outlook for the planet post-humanity. I would also hazard a guess that he’s a scientist of some sort, or at least of a scientific bent, given he seems to be able to talk of such real-life but convoluted concepts as zero point energy and the Alcubierre drive, only two of the completely feasible near-future technologies he develops to fruition in this, The Owner series.

It all starts with Alan Saul, who awakens in a plastic coffin on its way to being incinerated, with no memory but with an artificial intelligence implanted in his mind. His world is a strangely familiar dystopia in a not-too-distant future, where socialist concepts have been stretched to their most awful extremes and the world is a stratified socialist autocracy where usefulness to the state and to the Chairman is the only measure of a person’s worth and therefore his or her ability to buy food and pay for medical help. Everyone should be microchipped in order for the government to track them, and, it turns out, in a dreadfully warped Malthusian final solution, wiped out if required. It seems however that Saul is somehow off-grid, and whilst working to retrieve his past his great natural intellect gets to work, with the aid of the AI which later he absorbs entirely, on a strategy for revenge and ultimately his escape. Book one works through his struggles planet-side, book two on his escape into space, and book three is basically one fucking great big space battle using crazy far-future weapons and where humans are ‘backed-up’ into portable brains grown from their own stem cell tissues.

It’s pretty bleak in places, and a shit load of people meet untimely ends, but then also many people are suddenly propelled into near-immortality, not least Saul, later the titular Owner (plot spoiling prevents me from revealing the reason), with the advent of new technology for mapping and storing minds. It’s all very entertaining, and with insectoid machines cutting swathes through misguided humanity in vast, sprawling combat sequences, gruesome too. Had this been a medieval setting, I imagine people like Bernard Cornwell would cluck their tongues and stroke their beards in approval.

*Of course, this could be easily rectified with a simple internet search but I prefer in this case to be an absurd Luddite, in contrast to the author


How's about that then?

Last And First Men by Olaf Stapledon

Consider if you will that the world was still recovering from what was to them then the Great War, the single most pointless and bloody conflict that man had ever seen. 16 million lives, both combatant and civilian, were lost, and families were indelibly marked for generations to come. So, if, at first, Stapledon's cosmological novel seems a little naive, or rather ridiculous, particularly with his predictions for the immediate political future of Europe, you might forgive him. He was, so I'm told, a committed Marxist and could see nothing good coming from the consumerist capitalism of America and its influence on the old world. In the foreword, Gregory Benford mentions that the unforgiving might like to skip to part five, so as to miss those parts to which one might take offence with the benefit of so stark a hindsight. Part five is where humans are almost totally killed off, for the first time of many.

For this book (novel would seem an odd description given it has no central…

Annihilation: Southern Reach Trilogy 1 by Jeff VanderMeer

Hereward: The Last Englishman by Peter Rex

By all accounts, Hereward was the guerrilla scourge of the invading Norman armies in eleventh century Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, famous for isolating and dismembering members of the Norman nobility who strayed too far from home, and also for trashing Peterborough and hiding on an island. Called variously (and often erroneously) The Wake, The Exile or The Outlaw, his infamy was such that families in search of noble English lineage have usurped his "heroism" for their own glory even until this very day. Rex delights in highlighting one author's particular folly, entitled Hereward, The Saxon Patriot, in which Lieutenant-General Harward attempts to run his antecedents right back to the loins of the eponymous gentleman-rogue. 

Having only read the introduction to Peter Rex's myth-busting (and often ill-edited) work, I was already struck by an initial thought which ran thus: if as Rex asserts Hereward was the son of Asketil Tokison, a descendant of a wealthy Danish family …

Engleby by Sebastian Faulks

The first bad thing I might say about Engleby is that for some reason, it put me in a foul mood; as if by some sort of literary osmosis I had absorbed Michael Engleby’s uniformly critical point of view and had turned it on the world and my unsuspecting wife particularly. She was not a happy bunny. The first good thing I might say is that this didn’t last long, especially as the next book I picked up was a Charles Portis novel which quickly dispelled the gloom. Is this a triumph of the suspension of disbelief, of verisimilitude, of getting the reader to buy into the character? Or is it simply because the only point of view we get for 350 pages is that of “Toilet” Engleby himself? It’s hard not to warm to him even if you don’t like him or his fairly stiff opinions, and that must be a victory for Faulks. His protagonist protests that his memory is spotty – spotty enough that the major crisis in the novel is not really uncovered (officially – the twist was so obvious I guessed it from read…