Monday, September 03, 2007
Neal Asher – Hilldiggers
Neal Asher is not a new writer on the SF&F scene - “Hilldiggers” his latest  novel, is clearly the continuation of earlier works and themes.
Initially this seems to be a classic story of first contact between a solar system of humans “cut off” in some way from Earth and left to develop in isolation, and the more advanced human societies, left behind. However as we delve deeper we find it’s not quite so simple. The isolated solar system contains two planets whose inhabitants, descendents of Earth’s original colonists have only recently concluded a long, bitter and almost genocidal interplanetary conflict. They have also to a changed substantially from the human form.
Back on Earth, a civilisation now ruled by Artificial Intelligences, sends a human ambassador (himself with various flaws and secrets) to the solar system. The more powerful, victorious, civilisation he encounters seems sick to the heart – militaristic, and superficially democratic – understanding its many secrets, including the initial provocation for war itself and the consequences of a strange “alien” artefact discovered during the war are key to solving the ongoing interplanetary hostilities. This is the precondition for welcoming the worlds back into the warm embrace of humanity (or at least it’s governing AIs).
The alien artefact has imbued four individuals with superhuman powers of intelligence and analysis. But as the different forces these people represent in our alien solar system jockey for power, war becomes once more inevitable and it is left to our human envoy (alongside an invisible, faster than light travelling, cat shaped AI, nicknamed Tigger!) to save the day.
If all this seems a bit like the proverbial literary whirlwind, don’t worry, it reads like that to – probably intentionally on the part of the author. So readers might like the myriad of plot twists and technological innovations that are thrown out on every page. Personally I find it a bit tiresome, though I was, I admit hooked till the last page.
However if this story of a flawed human envoy, travelling to a lost outpost of human civilisation, as an ambassador of a near utopian civilisation ruled by Artificially Intelligent machines, aided by a companion who has more technology in one robotic arm than the entire solar system being visited rings any SF bells, this is because it’s been done before in one of the best contemporary SF novels. Neal Asher’s book is enjoyable, but it’s not first class SF.