The Human is the third and final book in Neal Asher’s most recent series, The Rise of the Jain, which I’ve discussed before. The series takes place in Asher’s Polity universe, one where humans have expanded into an interstellar community ruled by AIs, and have interactions with numerous alien species. It’s also a universe where FTL is possible. So this is not the hardest science fiction around, but it’s still far harder than most TV or movie sci-fi.
A central part of the story is ancient alien technology left behind by a race known as the Jain. Jain technology is amazingly advanced and always seems to provide stunning power. But it always seems to be a trap, as the technology inevitably turns on the user and destroys them, often taking their civilization with them. As a result, it’s heavily proscribed by the Polity AIs.
The series focuses on a concentration of Jain technology in an accretion disk around an apparently forming star, and a nearby solar system. The nearby system is ruled by Orlandine, a woman who is a haiman, an AI-human hybrid, who is infected with Jain tech, but appears able to control it. She has made it her mission to lead a group of AIs in keeping the Jain tech contained.
Other major players are Trike, a man who by the end of the second book had been infected with multiple alien viruses and technologies, including Jain tech, but also appears to have it tentatively under control, his partner Cog, a Polity agent who, like Trike, is infected with an alien virus that makes him superhuman, and The Client, an alien biological AI with her own complex relationship with the Jain and their technology.
At the end of the second book, an ancient Jain warship had unwittingly been released from its prison. The result in the third book is an epic battler. In fact the entire book is one continuous battle, or perhaps multiple battles that all blur together. During the course of the battles, the characters with Jain tech all become major bulwarks, but the trap of Jain tech eventually shows that the real battle isn’t what everyone assumes it to be.
As usual with Asher’s books, there’s a lot going on. I could characterize this as a mix of Star Wars with better physics and The Thing on an planetary scale, with, before it’s over, a scene reminiscent of Alien. There is a wide cast of viewpoint characters, including humans, AIs, and aliens. And Asher is fearless in showing us just about any viewpoint, no matter how strange. The most sympathetic characters often end up being the aliens or AIs.
On balance, I enjoyed the book and recommend it, although only after reading the first two books: The Soldier and The Warship.
That said, 500 pages of battle, which sounds exciting, is a lot of battle. And Asher’s penchant for describing the magical technologies in detail, while is often mind candy in small doses, at times in this book just becomes tedious, with me wondering when we’ll get to a new character or plot development. It wasn’t enough to make me stop reading by any measure, but I found that it detracted from the experience.
Still, if posthuman space opera is your thing, well worth checking out.