Polity Agent by Neal Asher

Polity Agent by Neal AsherNeal Asher amps up the stakes in his fourth Polity novel, Polity Agent. He also kills off most of the main cast of the Gridlinked sequence. (Um…Spoiler alert?) The titular agent is, of course, Ian Cormac, who begins the story having been literally dismantled physically and mentally and reassembled after the events of Brass Man. He’s covered in temporary synth skin, and the great vessel Jerusalem is knitting the remaining ten percent of his mind together. But Cormac is revived just in time to take on the latest threat to the Polity, more Jain nodes.

These are being distributed to select Haimans (part human, part AI) after the trial run with Skellor in Line of Polity and Brass Man. Among them is Orlandine, a haiman woman who hits on the idea of dismantling her Jain node before allowing it to subsume her. Which is good. Because the Jain nodes released in this story spread like a violent plague, the cybernetic equivalent of a zombie apocalypse. Back are Thorn, dracoman Scar, and scientist Mika. With Cormac, they are called into action when a team of humans, Golem, and the AI from their ship come through a runcible from 831 years in the future, having traveled mostly in cold sleep to the Small Magellanic Cloud. The runcible on the far side is detonated to stop whatever was coming through.

Which turns out to be Jain. But they’re already fighting Jain in the present as an entire arcology suffers damage as the governing artificial intelligence Where is it coming from?

Fugitive AI ship King of Hearts knows. He happens on a rogue AI ship from the Prador War over a century earlier. Called Erebus, it makes the Borg look like mildly annoying playground bullies.

In Brass Man, Asher used “retroacts” to give some history to killing machine Mr. Crane. Crane does have a cameo in this one, but this time, it’s Horace Blegg, the mysterious, seemingly immortal man who gives Cormac his marching orders. We see his origin story, witness him “walking” through U space, and find out his true nature by the end of the story. In Gridlinked, the Separatists (humans resisting the rule of AI) were the Polity’s greatest threat. In Line of Polity and Brass Man, it’s Skellor, a Separatist who has joined with Jain technology and goes after the mysterious Dragon. In Polity Agent, it’s Erebus, who not only hates the Polity but is immune to Jain technology’s ability to subsume its host.

With each book, Asher builds a more complex world. In this one, he gives some of the history of the Polity and reveals the underpinnings of the Jain tech that weaves its way (sometimes literally) through his universe.

Oh, and Cormac has sex. Yes, he finally lets his hair (among other things) down and ponders becoming more human.