The Human

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.

16 thoughts on “The Human

  1. I’ve got such a long list of other books to read, there’s probably no way I ever get to Asher, but maybe if I live long enough. 🙂

    I’m looking forward to reading more Expanse books, #2 should be available in a few days. Worked through a few more episodes of season one last night. You mentioned the escape from the Donnager; a number of liberties there, but it was still very exciting, and it didn’t have aspects that bugged me like that Canterbury scenes did. Everything pretty much made sense or close enough.

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    1. I’d definitely read the Expanse books first. Asher’s books are great for ideas, but character development isn’t particularly one of his strengths. For that reason, I don’t lose myself in his books the way I do with he Expanse ones.

      On the liberties with the Donnager sequence, they didn’t bother me to any great extent. Overall, the show often seems to forget when characters are supposed to be in free fall, and many space sequences take place much faster than they plausibly would, but given that most TV sci-fi utterly ignores these issues, I give The Expanse people some leeway when they are loose with it due to production realities.

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      1. Yep, likewise. So far, in the re-watch, the only thing that’s “made me mad” is the Canterbury destruction scenes and the manufactured drama thereafter. Just a bit of a rough start in my eyes.

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        1. One of the things that did concern me, and still does, is how dark and edgy the show feels. The books give the idea that it’s a hard world, but alleviate it with characters mostly getting along well with each other. The show takes a long time to show that. I’ve had a number of people tell me they couldn’t get into the show because of that darkness, and I wonder if its ratings wouldn’t be better if it didn’t double down on it to the extent it does.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I think I’m one of those people who said that. It does taking getting to know the characters in the show, and, as you say, the books are much better on that count.

            I think you know it’s a pet peeve of mine, our current thirst for dark, edgy anti-hero types. To me it’s an ugly reflection of our current FU’d cultural sensibility.

            Personally, I always liked Superman and the optimism of Roddenberry’s Star Trek. I think we need those shining examples. Post-modern deconstruction has gone way too far, IMO.

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          1. Just finished it. Very Vancian. (As in Jack Vance.) In enjoyed it. None of Asher’s stuff is very hard sci-fi, and this had its share of magic like tech, but he seemed to keep the trappings of technology about it. I wonder if he plans any more stories in this period.

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