Title: The Technician
Author: Neal Asher
Publisher: Tor UK
Release Date: August 2010
Buy from: Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com
The new standalone novel by Neal Asher featuring two of his favourite polity creations - the hooder and the gabbleduck...The Technician is Neal Asher's latest novel and marks the completion of my resolution to get up to date on all of his releases. I've not done too badly, this being the fifth book of his I've got through since January, each being just as enjoyable as the previous one. I'm actually quite glad I've done it this way, especially as much of what happens in The Technician relates to the Cormac series, mainly the events in The Line of Polity which is set on the same planet. I thoroughly enjoyed completing the Cormac series and was eager to once again see what was happening in the Polity, but Neal didn't meet my expectations. He exceeded them.
The Theocracy has been dead for twenty years, and the Polity rules on Masada. But the Tidy Squad consists of rebels who cannot accept the new order. Their hate for surviving theocrats is undiminished, and the iconic Jeremiah Tombs is at the top of their hitlist.
Escaping his sanatorium Tombs is pushed into painful confrontation with reality he has avoided since the rebellion. His insanity has been left uncured, because the near mythical hooder called the Technician that attacked him all those years ago, did something to his mind even the AIs fail to understand. Tombs might possess information about the suicide of an entire alien race.
The war drone Amistad, whose job it is to bring this information to light, recruits Lief Grant, an ex-rebel Commander, to protect Tombs, along with the black AI Penny Royal, who everyone thought was dead. The amphidapt Chanter, who has studied the bone sculptures the Technician makes with the remains of its prey, might be useful too.
Meanwhile, in deep space, the mechanism the Atheter used to reduce themselves to animals, stirs from slumber and begins to power-up its weapons.
The Technician is set on Masada, a planet recently freed from a theocratic rule that kept the powerful in their orbital habitats away from the dangers on the surface while the workers were forced to live day to day in squaller, risking their lives so the higher echelons could benefit from their work. The Polity is now in control after the events in The Line of Polity brought about intervention, granting amnesty to those in the Theocracy and raising the living conditions of all on the planet. With Masada being under quarantine for many years after the Jain threat that caused the intervention, it has been a slow and steady climb for the population adjusting to the Polity. But there are still some who feel amnesty is unacceptable - the Tidy Squad. This group conducts its covert operations with the sole aim of bringing ultimate justice to former Theocracy members. And Jeremiah Tombs, the only man ever to survive a Hooder attack, has been in their sights for a long, long time.
Tombs is a mess, living in isolation under the eyes of the Polity AI's, supervised by Sanders and still believing the Theocracy is ruling strong after so many years in captivity. The truth he will not believe - the Theocracy is dead and the Polity rules, while the legendary Hooder know as the Technician did something to his brain that not even the great AI's can understand. But time is now short, for an ancient Atheter machine is waking in the depths of space and is heading for Masada, once the homeworld of its creators, with its mission still intact: destroy any signs of Atheter intelligence. Tombs is released and Amistad, the de facto expert on the Atheter, must help Tombs unravel the mystery that the Technician planted in his head.
When I came to read The Technician I had a couple of concerns. Firstly, the story is set on Masada, the setting of events from The Line of Polity. Now, I think Masada is a great setting, it has all sorts of dangerous wildlife, a history that has been uncovered throughout Neal's works, and holds the potential to deliver a stunning novel. But The Line of Polity is my least favourite of Neal's novels. It's good, but because of the Theocracy and the in-your-face religion bashing I just found it left a sour aftertaste. Returning to the planet that had all of this history was both exciting and daunting. Secondly, after reading the final volumes in the Cormac sequence (Polity Agent and Line War) I was unsure whether I could enjoy a novel that was once again restricted to one lonely planet in a galaxy that had so much to offer.
Now, regarding my first concern about religion. Asher has certainly grown as a writer in the seven years between The Line of Polity and The Technician. While religion is still an aspect in this novel - it has to be with Tombs as a former member of the Theocracy - it's more subtle, more relevant to the story without being dragged up every other page. Tombs is a disturbed man and his fixation on the fact that the Theocracy survived is a key element to the story, and Asher manages to convey this through his words and behaviour very effectively. As the whole planetary situation has changed these moments with Tombs are a stark contrast to the beliefs of many of the other residents. The Tidy Squad is another aspect to this religious theme, but they are against the amnesty the Theocracy members are offered, living to exact revenge on those that treated them so badly in the past. While this thread could have easily turned into a dig at religion, Asher keeps it relevant to the plot and to those characters it affects.
As to my second concern and limiting the story to one planet. This is Masada, why was I worried? There are Hooders, Gabbleducks, Dracomen, and a whole host of other dangerous and equally interesting creatures wandering its plains. And this time around we're getting a full-on story that has a Hooder at its centre, not to mention the Atheter AI and the Gabbleducks that play a role throughout. While the building blocks of Masada were laid during The Line of Polity, it really does get centre stage here. We find out why Masada is the way it is, and just what caused it to become that way.
Suffice to say, the worldbuilding going on in The Technician is second to none. Asher covers all the bases and manages to add the history from previous books in without it being noticeably repetitive for those that have read them, but equally important for those that have not. Asher's writing is very much a fast paced action orientated style, and when he flexes those muscles in the story it's a joy to read, but experience has also given him some very good story-telling skills that apply to those sections that aren't balls-to-the-wall action. With the combination of world-building, story-telling and all-out action, The Technician has a little bit of everything that adds up to a very satisfactory whole.
The Technician does start slowly though, with sections jumping back and forth through periods of over 20 years, and this can be a little confusing. More than once I had to double check just which period the point of view was from and slipping it into the right place in my mind. Fortunately these are only present for the first part of the story, and once we're brought up to date with events it's full steam ahead. Story and character progression go very much hand in hand throughout the novel, one leading to the other, and vice versa. Tombs is one of the main contributing forces to forward movement for the overall plot and, along with the imminent threat of the ancient Atheter device, we learn plenty of things that have only been hinted at or suggested in past novels. It all comes together surprisingly well, and the revelations kept those pages turning and turning late into the night.
There is so much to enjoy in The Technician it's hard to stop blurting it all out here and let you go out and experience it for yourselves. The titular legendary Hooder, the history and fate of the Atheter, the changes to Tombs and his journey and discovery of these, the advancement of Amistad, the deadly environment of Masada. It's all good, and it all makes for a gripping and extraordinary story. I thought Line War was excellent, but The Technician tops that and is far and away the best thing I've read by Neal Asher.
As I finished The Technician I became frustrated - I've had the pleasure to catch up on the events in the Polity over five novels, to enjoy the settings that Asher has created, and to do so with the knowledge I had another waiting on the shelf. Now, however, I don't. Yes, I've got a couple of his older books to re-read, but with Neal's departure (no pun intended) to a different setting, the wait for something new set in the Polity is going to be a long and painful few years.
But what a way to start a hiatus: The Technician was awesome.