Book Review: Dark Intelligence

Dark Intelligence by Neal Asher, Transformation #1


Thorvald Spear wakes in hospital, where he finds he's been brought back from the dead. What's more, he died in a human vs. alien war which ended a whole century ago. But when he relives his traumatic final moments, he finds the spark to keep on living. That spark is vengeance. Trapped and desperate on a world surrounded by alien Prador forces, Spear had seen a rescue ship arriving. But instead of providing backup, Penny Royal, the AI within the destroyer turned rogue. It annihilated friendly forces in a frenzy of destruction, and, years later, it's still free. Spear vows to track it across worlds and do whatever it takes to bring it down.

Isobel Satomi ran a successful crime syndicate. But after competitors attacked, she needed more power. Yet she got more than she bargained for when she negotiated with Penny Royal. She paid it to turn her part-AI herself, but the upgrades hid a horrifying secret. The Dark AI had triggered a transformation in Isobel that would turn her into a monster, rapidly evolving into something far from human.

Spear hires Isobel to take him to the Penny Royal AI's last known whereabouts. But he cheats her in the process and he becomes a target for her vengeance. And as she is evolves further into a monstrous predator, rage soon wins over reason. Will Spear finish his hunt, before he becomes the hunted?

As you all should know, Neal Asher is one of Britain's leading Science Fiction author, best known for his Polity universe series. Which was kicked off a few years back with Gridlinked. From that moment onwards, Neal Asher has already published over 10 books in this universe. His last books set in the Owner Trilogy had a different universe. Now with Dark Intelligence, Neal Asher once again returns to his high praised and loved by many, Polity Universe. But this is not all, there is more, Dark Intelligence is the first book in a new series. So there will be plenty more where that came from!

The story of Dark Intelligence starts off with the main protagonist Thorvald Spear memories or something along those lines. You first read about his consciousness inside a memory crystal. As Thorvald Spear died over a 100 years ago during an encounter in the Prador war. Now with being awoken all of the memories come flooding back in and also how it actually happened, how Thorvald died. Thorvald and his forces came to Panarchia with a ship and when you read Science Fiction you can guess that ships in those future times have an Artificial Intelligence on board. Well if luck wouldn't have it, the ships AI, who first helped Thorvald turned rogue and killed him and his fellow marines. With these memories flooding back, Thorvald is now hellbent on getting his revenge on Penny Royal once and for all. Thorvald could have opted to have these memories removed, but what is better served cold? Yes, revenge... Now Thorvald is looking for leads to locate Penny Royal, and find it is a hard bargain to get ahead of an AI's thinking, luckily he isn't on his own though. Thorvald being the smart man he is looks for a new crew, and encounters Isobel Satomi, a leader in the criminal underworld who also had a unfavorable encounter with Penny Royal. In a desperate attempt to gain power, Penny Royal tricked Isobel and how she is slowly turning into something more than human... she is becoming AI herself. Becoming, what she despised.. As you can imagine the race is definitely on for Throvald, even though he is helped greatly by Isobel, her transformation into what could be considered ultimate predator could cost him his head...

After I read Gridlinked, I had a great sense of wonder in the world and the story that Neal Asher had written. Now after finishing Dark Intelligence I have this feeling once again. Neal Asher really proves himself that he has a great mind. Writing Science Fiction is more than just incorporating technology, you have to think about them, adapt them, extrapolate current technology and much more, AND make it come over as convincing and for me personally not over the top. Just the right balance to create something believable and in the case of Dark Intelligence something deadly with a definite thriller and horror element. 

Some readers of this book might say, well another story featuring a rogue AI. same of same old. Well you are wrong. By far. Just quickly: this story is awesome. Lets get back on track, as Dark Intelligence doesn't solely focus on Penny Royal, yes it plays a huge part in the plot of the story, but there is a lot more focus on the characters:  in particular on Thorvald Spear and to a certain degree Isobel Satomi, and how they navigate through a hostile universe to get closer to Penny Royal. 

As for the characterization in the book, the story of Dark Intelligence has the leading protagonist of Thorvald who comes back from the dead. However the book isn't told in only Thorvald's narration, each chapter consists of multiple points-of-view, so you also get to read the actions and reactions of some of the secondary characters to the story, which for me was a big plus, as this always broadens the scope of a story much more, of course given that it is used in a good way and doesn't produce infodumps, which I can safely say Neal Asher doesn't. I liked all the characters of the book but Thorvald really leaped out of the story even with his mind set on revenge he still holds a high degree of rationality. His military mindset really seems to help him. AI's always freak me out, Penny Royal in this wasn't an exception. I think when it comes down to describing the actions of AI's in general Neal Asher has to be one of the best. I read and seen lots of movies with AI's but never have those surpassed the sense of doom and dread that I get when I read about his rogue AI's.

All this combined make Dark Intelligence an exciting and very promising start to a new trilogy set in the the Polity universe. If you are a die-hard Neal Asher fan this book is a must read but even if you are new to his books, and have zero prior knowledge, Dark Intelligence is the perfect way to step in to his provocative but overall very cool and action packed universe. Dark Intelligence has everything Science Fiction needs, and much much more. Neal Ahser definitely proves that he is one of the leaders of Science Fiction.

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