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Review: 'The Departure' by Neal Asher

The Departure
The Departure is the latest book from Neal Asher and the start of a new series, 'The Owner novels', which sees him move away from the Agent Cormac / Polity universe that will be familiar to his past readers.

Asher is one of the strongest and most prolific voices in SF at the moment. Along with Reynolds, Stross and MacLeod he has put a new vigour in the genre. His ability to write fast-paced, twisting and interesting stories reminds me of the late David Gemmell's novels in fantasy: maybe not the absolute best, but you can guarantee an enjoyable, well written story that will have you wanting more at the end.

The Departure opens with the protagonist, Alan Saul, waking up on a conveyor into the Calais Incinerator without any clear memories of who he was and why he was there, only knowledge of the fact that he had been tortured in an Inspectorate Cell and the memory of the face of his tormentor. He is accompanied by an voice in his head called Janus, that claims it is an artificial intelligence and that it was created at the same time that he wore up. Naturally, Saul sets off to find out who he is, why he was dumped at the incinerator and how he can have revenge on his torturer.

It's a bleak future, completely different to that shown in the Polity novels. Earth is controlled by the Committee, a bureaucratic totalitarian regime trying unsuccessfully to manage the limited resources of a hugely over-populated world. Life has lost its value and brutality and starvation are common. A resource crash is coming and the only likely way to prevent it is the same as the results that it would engender; the deaths of billions of people. The extrapolation is scary, as it could easily been seen as a logical extension of the ways that population, politics and technology have been going since the 9/11 attacks.

The story ranges from the slums of Earth to the orbital majesty of the Argus station and out as far as the small human colony on Mars. The pace rapidly picks up, and the back story is filled in nicely as the plot races on. It resolves well, but leaves the hooks hanging and the stage set for a sequel.

All in all, a enjoyable, above average read that leaves you wanting to find out what happens next, having set the scene for the further books. Truly the David Gemmell of SF.

PS Shout out to Neil Ford for the change to read this. Thanks!