Dark Intelligence: Transformation Book One, by Neal Asher
War Factory: Transformation Book Two, by Neal Asher
I’ve put off reviewing these book for awhile, not because I didn’t like them but because there’s a level of brilliance in them that I’m still processing. Part of it was reading these books at about the same time that I read Homo Deus, a nonfiction book predicting that in 100 years or so we could be facing a world in which human beings are augmented through surgery and gene manipulation to a point where they will essentially be immortal. At the same time, argues Yuval Noah Harari, artificial intelligence could be refined to the point that it could not just replace but decide to destroy human-kind.
Then comes along Neal Asher’s Dark Intelligence in which Thorvald Spear, veteran of a war with the Prador (a really nasty variety of alien), is brought back from the dead. The war is 100 years in the past. Near the end of that conflict a rescue ship guided by an AI that named itself Penny Royal turns rogue and instead of rescuing proceeds to kill the earth forces, including Spear. Technology has advanced to the point where cloning is easy and consciousness can be downloaded and preserved. Having watched thousands die at the hands of Penny Royal he now seeks revenge.
Penny Royal, meanwhile, is in hiding but is not idle. The AI has become a sort of Mephistopheles, using its incredible intelligence to help fulfill the wishes of organic beings. But every bargain has more to it than the agreement seems to involve. One of these is human Isobel Satomi, who lost her crime syndicate to a rival gang. Isobel decides that all she really needed was greater power. Penny Royal provides that without disclosing that in the process she’ll gradually transform into an alien predator.
Spear hires her to help with his revenge mission.
The second book in the Transformation trilogy War Factory continues with Spear in his hunt for Penny Royal but also brings us more into contact with the Prador, the former enemy. A crab-like being the Prador are unapologetically aggressive, as much with members of their own families as they are with other beings. Male parents, for example, will eat whole generations of their own young. Some offspring are used to help pilot ships and serve other onboard functions, but they, too, may be eaten if they fail to perform. If they are lucky enough to kill the parent in some way that parent will be eaten which releases a hormone cascade that transforms them into beings like their own male parent.
Like Isobel in book one, a Prador named Svert has been transformed by Penny Royal to become more human-like.
As the story continues we begin to discover that Penny Royal, despite its devil-bargains, has a plan that could alter Spear’s relationship with the AI.
This is a stand-alone trilogy that exists within Asher’s existing “Polity” universe, which now covers over a dozen books.
Somehow he manages to balance humor with some truly horrifying stories and makes it work to bring books with incredible interest. The books are flush with interesting ideas about science and society and his storytelling powers are amazing. The third book is out this year but I haven’t picked up a copy as yet. I read these two books one after the other and am hoping to get book three soon.