The Line of Polity (and other bits and bobs..)

Spoilers for The Line of Polity (2009 Tor (UK) trade paper), which I finished today (and eventually minor ones for Cowl). First, some small negatives: as with seemingly all books these days, it was too long - after the 50,000th evisceration, they start to lose their impact - the chapters were too long, as well, yet

I could have done without the "fairy tale", but that's a really minor point (and besides, I did read all of it).

(agreed) there were too many of them to have the fairy tale start each of the twenty - I was sort of into it at first but then it, too, began to pale. And, given this length, it seemed sort of like somebody said, "663 pages - time's up!" and the story was brought to a fairly abrupt end, epilogue notwithstanding. For instance, the Ian/Cormac last segment without John/Jarv didn't seem sufficient and I'm not sure we got back to all the main characters at all.

Also, one really weird complaint - after Molat got clobbered the second time, I started laughing and was anticipating either a third clobbering or some especially brutal twisty end in the same chapter but, instead, he stopped getting beat up so much and just sort of persisted for awhile. So by the time he finally does get wasted, it seemed inappropriate, like he almost should have survived by that point, with some sort of thematic/ironic point. I dunno - I just felt like there was a great, but missed, opportunity for a little inset piece of comedy or theme or something.

Also, I'll probably feel like Mika for asking, but what's up with "Ramus" (when obviously the character knew it should be Remus but changed it for some reason)? In hopefully proofreading-land, I didn't know Dick van Patten had made General (many references to the ship General Patten which, at least as an American, doesn't look right). Also, struck by the grayish slaughter from bears ("bodies were strewn everywhere like some new and grizzly harvest" (p.410)). And a couple of not-so-felicitous descriptions, with the sharp obsidian bananas (p.577) and "satanic fuchsias" (p.611)

But, given the bulk of the book - except for the already-mentioned end/denouement - it was well-paced and the first 49,999 eviscerations were great. Skellor could have used some more in-depth psychology or personalization (a better "before" picture to go with the "during" and "after" ones) but was a heck of a villain (though he got a little excessively dumb at the end). I liked the depiction of Masada and the whole structure of the Theocracy and thought Eldene made a good viewpoint character and Fethan was interesting. Ironically, this felt more like an Agent Thorn book than an Agent Cormac book for a lot of it and his storyline (mingling with Gant - and Cormac - eventually) was particularly good. The bit with him and Stanton dealing with Brom was one of the better action sequences, especially.

One other thing: the book has many parallel PoVs, which I know some people don't like. Personally, I think it suits the story and I can't, off-hand, think of any other way the breadth of the tale could be told.

Yeah, my only problems were that, by the time Thorn's line was introduced it was starting to seem like it was taking too long to get them all started but that was the last major one. But then he did keep dropping in new minor ones to the point that they started to seem like excess (various Carl/Molat/Dorth cannon-fodder type lines). And all were fairly short within long chapters so you could never really settle in to any of them. But the thing itself isn't anything I have a problem with and was necessary to the story and, except for those "matter of degree" sorts of problems, was very well done. Ah - one more small problem was that I could occasionally read an entire paragraph or two - for instance, when most of the storylines had converged on Masada's surface and the first paragraph or two was just a description of surface conditions before signalling who the viewpoint character was - before I could figure out which storyline I was in. It might have been better to have those descriptions be rendered initially more from observing the character's perceptions rather than a detached omniscient view from over that character's shoulder, sort of. "Bob looked over the still grass of Masada with relief" rather than "The grass of Masada was still. Bob was relieved."

Oh, and to return to the point about Skellor getting stupid - ironically, right before the first time he "cursed his stupidity", I thought of one reason that I seem to prefer Asher novels over Reynolds novels so far (besides Reynolds' being even longer) is that Reynolds often has characters who are very stupid/obtuse or petty or have otherwise needlessly negative aspects when it runs contrary to any need unless that of plot and not usually even that. Asher seems to relish smart capable characters who may not have any other virtues (but often do) and this isn't restricted to the "good guys" (or less bad guys). More like Greek arete or maybe Latin potestas vs. English "virtue". And certainly not plain incompetent stupidity.

Cowl is the one over which opinion seems most divided. On the one hand it was shortlisted for the PKD award, but on the other it gets slammed in Amazon reviews. My view is that unless I venture outside of the Polity I'll end up stuck in a rut.

My view is divided in one. I read Cowl as my third Asher just after Christmas when I was sick as a dog so I don't entirely trust my memory or judgment but I was loving it to start with despite my delirium but, again, the first few trips through time and the first few dinosaurs were very cool and then by the sixth dinosaur or whatever, it paled and sort of dragged in the middle. And there were places of outright "wow!" relatively early on (I think) such as in describing some of the Heliothane future stuff but it didn't seem to sustain that. But I don't ordinarily like time travel stories much - I got it only because it was a non-series book and I wanted to read an Asher solo novel - and I agree with Coolhand - it was well done and didn't give me any more of headache than I already had, which time travel stories usually do. And I liked, if that's the word, Tack and Polly. And I loved the decidedly realistic and unromantic and non-fantasy take of Polly's trip to the middle ages. :D I am not one of those who pines for those particular "good old days".
I just stumbled across my (very brief) comments I made on reading this book. And it would seem I shared some of your views:

Not as good as the previous books but still very good. A bit confusing with multiple POVs and the ending seemed a little rushed.

I should mention that I do normally like multiple POV books (eg Hamilton).
Skimmed quickly through this thread to avoid spoilers. I just started reading The Line Of Polity. So far, I'm loving it. Glad I did it fairly soon after reading Gridlinked. Took me a moment or two to get reacquainted with some characters from the first book. I have Brass Man handy as well so I can dive right into it if I feel any incipient amnesia coming on between books.
Apropos of almost nothing: I just saw Guardians of the Galaxy. The robotic dart wielded by Yondu Udonta is something along the lines of what i would imagine Cormac's Shuriken capable of doing. The thought popped into my head almost immediately.
That must be one heck of a dart. :) I picture Shuriken as a semi-indestructible semi-sentient circular saw with little respect for gravity.

I'm going to have to see that movie, aren't I? When I saw the ads for it it looked completely stupid to me but it seems like everyone's talking about it, most people like it, and I've even seen comparisons to... gulp... Star Wars. I'd hate to have missed Star Wars.
That must be one heck of a dart. :) I picture Shuriken as a semi-indestructible semi-sentient circular saw with little respect for gravity.

If you see the film, you'll understand what I meant.:D
I don't know if I'll manage to get to it, but I may try. If it's not just exactly like Shuriken, I'm gonna be mad. ;)
I don't know if I'll manage to get to it, but I may try. If it's not just exactly like Shuriken, I'm gonna be mad. ;)

At the risk of introducing a spoiler, I'll just say that you will need to see the final scenes to appreciate the full impact.
Okay, that was one heck of a dart. I can definitely see what made you think of it. :)

In other flashes, the scene with the skull reminded me of the budong from Farscape.
In other flashes, the scene with the skull reminded me of the budong from Farscape.

I'm still catching up on a number of Farscape episodes that I've missed. I can see what my next Netflix view will be. :rolleyes:
The Line of Polity (TLoP) is the second novel in the author's Agent Cormac series, the first (Gridlinked) being reviewed here in February 2012. A couple of extracts from that review in the way of introduction:

The novel starts in the twenty-fifth century when humanity has spread to many worlds using FTL ships, but has since installed interstellar matter-transmitters known as runcibles for routine travel. This empire (known as the Polity) is managed not by people but by Artificial Intelligences which vastly exceed human capabilities. They are linked via the AI Grid, to which some humans also have direct mind links surgically implanted in their brains. The Polity's interests are defended by the ECS (Earth Central Security) which sends agents wherever trouble arises. Their top agent is Ian Cormac, who has been gridlinked for thirty years - ten years longer than the recommended maximum.

The story has many familiar SF elements: modified human types (including outlinkers who are specialised for life in zero-gravity space stations); artificial humans (golems) who are much faster and stronger than any human; physically boosted soldiers (sparkind); anti-gravity machines, anti-matter bombs and proton beam weapons. This is all combined into a page-turning thriller which maintains a brisk pace despite being over 500 pages long. It is quite a traditional story, filled with the basic optimism of a galaxy-wide humanity, but is none the worse for that.

It is not essential to have read Gridlinked first but it is helpful as TLoP features several of the same characters as well as the same background (which is explained more thoroughly in Gridlinked), and there are various references to the characters' shared history.

TLoP begins in the currently fashionable way by starting several separate plot threads running, in various locations and with different characters, that initially have no obvious connection but which gradually merge, mostly towards the end of the story (one of them isn't explained until right at the end). The main focus is the planet Masada, run by a ruthless, absolutist theocracy living in luxurious orbiting satellites while human slaves are used as farm labourers on the planet's surface, whose atmosphere holds insufficient oxygen to support human life (symbiotic creatures are attached to the labourers to provide them with sufficient oxygen in their blood). Masada is just outside the boundary-line of the Polity, but there are plans afoot to support a rebellion to overthrow the theocracy.

The beginning is set on Masada as we follow a young female slave, Eldene, in her dangerous task of harvesting the valuable squerms, fierce creatures whose flesh is a delicacy throughout human space. We next meet Apis, a young Outlinker whose space station is being attacked by a type of fungus; and all this is still in the Prologue. In the main body of the novel we soon meet Skellor, a rogue genius inventor who has acquired some technology from the long-dead Jain alien civilisation; Aberil and Loman Dorth, rulers of the theocracy; Lellan Stanton, leader of the (literally) Underground resistance on Masada; plus some characters familiar from Gridlinked: the mercenary Ian Stanton (Lellan's brother) and his partner Jarvellis; Mika the scientist; the ECS agents Thorn and Cormac; and last but not least, the vast alien being called the Dragon and its creations, the dracomen.

What follows is a complex series of increasingly interrelated plots as Eldene makes her bid for freedom with the aid of the enigmatic fellow-slave Fethan, the theocracy perfects its devastating orbital weapon designed to penetrate to the deep caves of the Underground, Skellor tests the transformative power of the Jain device, Ian Stanton and his sister work to free Masada while the theocracy is tightening its grip, and Cormac is in the middle of the whirlwind, attempting to deal with the Dragon which (as usual) has its own agenda.

This book is even longer than its predecessor at 650 pages but the story rattles along at a good pace. Despite the number of characters and the constantly switching viewpoints it is not too difficult to keep up with who's who and doing what to whom. There is the odd eyebrow-raising element which (as is so often the case) is not concerned with the big story elements but some of the incidental details. The one which struck me most here was the presence of theatrically extreme predators on Masada, orders of magnitude bigger than their prey. A cursory glance at the history of life on Earth indicates that the top land predators (lions, wolves, even T. Rex) are generally smaller than their prey – really big predators have been rare and tend to die out as soon as conditions for them become less than optimal, because they have to eat so much just to stay alive – and no explanation is provided about why Masada should be so different.

Despite this niggle I enjoyed TLoP and will acquire the three remaining novels featuring Ian Cormac: Brass Man, Polity Agent and Line War.

(An extract from my SFF blog: Science Fiction & Fantasy)

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