The Books of Neal Asher's Polity Science Fiction Series
Welcome to the Future
The Polity is the setting for many of Neal Asher's books.
The books span a period of at least eight hundred years; Prador Moon is the earliest book and is set at the beginning of the Prador War, and the Spatterjay books are set about seven centuries after the end of the war. No timeline is mentioned in any of the books, other than references to events occurring so many years ago, and dates are rarely mentioned (Gridlinked is set in 2432) but there is a timeline on Neal Asher's site. Prador Moon is the earliest book to date, set in 2310 and Hilldiggers the latest in 3230.
High technology is prevalent in this future, including faster than light travel and instantaneous transport. Humans have numerous technological, including cybernetic and biological, enhancements available such as genetic adaptations, augments which interface with computers and other augments, cosmetic adaptations such as ophidapts and catadapts, haimans, a combination of human and AI with semi-AI augments.
At the beginning of many chapters there is a short extract, usually stated to be from another, factual, work, that provides background detail to the universe of the Polity, some of the most common are from "Quince Guide", compiled by humans, "How It Is" by Gordon and "Modern Warfare" by EBS Heinlein, but there are many others.
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A short lived (twenty three minutes before causing his death) direct interface between the human genius Iverus Skaidon and the Craystein computer resulted in the creation of Skaidon technology, which includes runcibles. The interface was not the human/semi-AI combination used by haimans, but rather full AI. Runcibles give effectively instantaneous travel across vast distances; travellers (and anything else sent through a runcible) are called "quince." Skaidon was fond of the nonsense poems of Edward Lear and the terminology of the technology derives from these, in particular "The Owl and the Pussycat."
Prior to the Prador War, runcibles were the main way of crossing interstellar distances; the events of the war showed the strategic shortcomings of this and resulted in an increased use of spaceships which travel FTL through a region known as underspace.
The AIs are the - mostly benevolent - rulers of the Polity. Before the time any of the books are set, the AIs took control of civilization. The AI simply known as Earth Central is the chief AI of the Polity and runs Earth Central Security and Earth Security. Although technically the same, the term ECS tends more used for special forces and undercover operatives whilst ES is more often used to refer to the regular forces.
The Quiet War was the name given to the takeover of civilization by the AIs. Although it was definitely quiet, calling it a war is a bit of a misnomer. At this time, corporate wars were wracking the solar systems and, the AIs already being commonly used by governments and corporations, especially in off-world colonies where they tended to control everything, they gradually usurped power from their masters. Once they had completely taken control, they became the rulers. Which process brought the various conflicts to an end.
Subminds are part of an AI but are semi-independent. They are often in drone bodies, or run subsystems for an AI. Subminds may become independent.
Drones may or may not be controlled by AIs. Drones vary from the fully autonomous, such as war drones, to those controlled by an AIs subminds to those directly controlled by AIs themselves.
Mostly manufactured during the Prador War due to problems remotely controlling drones in a battlefield environment, whether in space or on the ground, war drones are AIs such as Sniper, from the Spatterjay series, which are in a discrete mobile body packed with weapons. They range from irascible to psychopathic, and as such, considering they also tend to be heavily armed, are often less than popular and mistrusted.
Golem are AI made to resemble humans. They feature an artificial skeleton which is usually covered in synthflesh, a synthetic flesh, and their description sounds rather similar to that of the Terminators. Some, usually lower model Golem, are metalskin rather than synthflesh covered. Golem, which are manufactured by Cybercorp, are not the only androids around but they are the most common and usually the best.
Separatists are a common theme in the books. They are humans who object to the AI leadership; usually, the root of this is because the AIs aren't letting them do what they want to do. The loosely-affiliated Separatist organisations are often run by or associated with terrorists and criminals, and worlds that do leave the Polity more often than not end up in a bad way. Separatist groups tend to be willing to do anything in order to achieve their goals, no matter how many people get injured or killed in the process. Although Separatists do include true believers, for many their main objection to the current hierarchy is that they aren't at the top. Separatists typically don't recognise non-combatants; if you aren't for them, you're an enemy and deserve whatever happens to you.
Non Human Intelligences
There are a number of non-human intelligences known both within and without the Polity.
The Prador are one of the few still existing non-human intelligences (other than the Polity AIs). They are huge, many legged, armed and clawed crustaceans having a mindset described as being that of psychopathic lobsters. Prador are perfectly happy to eat their own children and humans. Most Prador encountered are first, second or third children; adult male Prador are rare and completely control their children using pheromones. A Prador spaceship would normally be owned and controlled by an adult Prador and crewed by its children. Prador society is violent and patriarchal; female Prador are only used for breeding.
The Prador War started 27 years before the birth of Ian Cormac and apparently ended when he was about 12, making the war last for just short of 40 years. The Prador Second Kingdom instigated an attack on the Polity, with initially devastating results as the Prador's superior metals technology and the Polity's lack of spaceships resulted in the Prador gaining many easy victories. Worlds were ruined during the conflict, resulting in a demilitarised zone between the Prador and the Polity after the war known as the Graveyard; a region filled with dead worlds and destroyed ships and stations.
Prador Moon is a comparatively short book compared to the others. It is set at the very beginning of the Prador War. A number of characters who appear or are mentioned in novels set at later dates appear in this novel; Captain Tomalon and the Polity dreadnought Occam Razor from The Line of Polity and Jebel "U-Cap" Krong who is referred to in Shadow of the Scorpion. There is also a possible appearance by the war drone Amistad from Shadow of the Scorpion and the surgeon Sylac from the beginning of the book may be the same as the one from Gridlinked.
These are another known non-human intelligence which actually evolved on Earth. The hornet nests form Hive minds and, as the minds are comprised of many separate hornets, they can live for thousands of years.
Dragon is a huge being consisting of four, one kilometre diameter, conjoined fleshy spheres. Dragon is a meddler and fond of making cryptic statements.
The sails are native to Spatterjay, and are a race of winged creatures who work as sails - hence the name - on Hoopers' boats.
Evidence exists of at least three previous star faring civilizations; the Jain, the Atheter and the Csorians, although they are all long gone. Relics of both the Jain and the Atheter crop up from time to time, frequently causing quite a bit of destruction when they do so.
Agent Cormac Series
The Agent Cormac series currently consists of Shadow of the Scorpion, Gridlinked, The Line of Polity, Brass Man, Polity Agent and Line War. The series is about ECS Agent Ian Cormac, who has a rather unique Tenkian weapon, a semi-AI Shuriken.
Although Shadow of the Scorpion is chronologically the first book in the series, it was actually the sixth written. As such, it doesn't make a good starting point, as many of the references to items such as runcibles are not very well covered. Gridlinked covers much more of the necessary background.
A gridlink is an implant that allows the user to communicate with AI and computer networks. It's a step up from the, normally external, augments, but not as the level of the direct communication that killed Skaidon.
The Line of Polity is the edge of Polity space; human worlds beyond that are referred to as Out-Polity. Out-Polity worlds can join the Polity, but this requires a substantial majority of the citizens to desire this. The AIs will not incorporate a world into the Polity without this majority. On Spatterjay, the Line is an actual, physical line.
The psychopathic and deranged metalskin Golem Mr Crane.
Line Wars are conflicts that take place upon the Line of Polity, usually of a small nature that are quickly resolved, but this is not always the case.
The Spatterjay series currently consists of The Skinner, The Voyage of the Sable Keech and Orbus.
These are largely set on the planet Spatterjay, and most of the planet, barring the Polity base, is classed as Out-Polity. The Spatterjay Virus, transmitted by the bite of the Spatterjay leech, can transform normal humans into "Hoopers" who have much greater strength, longevity and recuperative powers than normal humans.
One of the major characters of the Spatterjay books is Sniper, a Polity war drone that fought in the Prador War. Others include Thirteen, a submind (number thirteen) of the AI that calls itself Warden, which AI functions as the warden of Spatterjay.
"Spatter" Jay Hoop, after whom both the planet and Hoopers are named, was a pirate who operated, along with his associates, from the planet primarily during the Prador War, selling captured humans to the Prador.
Sable Keech was an ECS monitor and reification; the latter being a reanimated corpse, sometimes controlled by the mind of the dead person.
Orbus is an Old Captain. Old Captains are very old, and therefore very strong and hard to kill, Hoopers.
Other Stand Alone Books
As well as Prador Moon, there are other books that are not part of the two major series.
This book is mostly set after the events of the Agent Cormac series, although there is some overlap. The events at the beginning of the book happen during parts of The Line of Polity and on the same planet.
This is a short story collection of Polity stories. The titular Gabble is a Gabbleduck; a huge, lethal (like most of Masada's wildlife), duck-billed creature that spouts gibberish that almost seems intelligent
Hilldiggers is set in an Out-Polity human system although there are various representatives and agents of the Polity present.
This book of short stories was originally some of Asher's earliest work. It has since been re-vamped and re-released and some of the stories also cover parts of the history of the Polity.