Zero Point by Neal Asher

Zero PointReview by Fantasy Book Review

Earth’s Zero Asset citizens no longer face extermination from orbit. Thanks to Alan Saul, the Committee’s network of control is a smoking ruin and its robotic enforcers lie dormant. But power abhors a vacuum and, scrambling from the wreckage, comes the ruthless Serene Galahad. She must act while the last vestiges of Committee infrastructure remain intact – and she has the means to ensure command is hers. On Mars, Var Delex fights for the survival of Antares Base, while the Argus Space Station hurls towards the red planet. And she knows whomever, or whatever, trashed Earth is still aboard. Var must save the base, while also dealing with the first signs of rebellion. And aboard Argus Station, Alan Saul’s mind has expanded into the local computer network. In the process, he uncovers the ghastly experiments of the Humanoid Unit Development, the possibility of eternal life, and a madman who may hold the keys to interstellar flight. But Earth’s agents are closer than Saul thinks, and the killing will soon begin.

So, Zero Point is Book two of the Owner Trilogy. I’ve got to say I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as the first book, The Departure. I think part of that is down to the huge body count at the end of book one, with so many of the main and significant characters dying or being adjusted, so book two kicks off with a new cast, particularly in the role of the villain. I found that, along with a massively expanding plethora of technology, it made the first half of the book hard going for me – I’m still not much of a tech head. However, that’s part of the reason I read Asher – it forces me to use my mind and wrap it around the science. Serene Galahad’s (a deliberately ironic name choice perhaps?) development as a psychotic tyrant with a chilling streak of logic held me even as she totally repelled me. Is this a vision of what a senior politician will face in our near future? Asher’s writing compels you to believe it will be. In fact, this book in general leaves me with the conviction that this is the way our civilisation will go but without perhaps the hope of any salvation offered by this story. The technological advances portrayed don’t compensate for the wholesale slaughter necessary to achieve Serene’s vision of utopia – this is not a novel for the faint of heart.

In the second half of the book, I settled into it better and enjoyed it more. I loved the details of the Martian colony with references to War of the Worlds and Edgar Rice Burrows. For once I was actually familiar with some of the tech – Alcubierre’s theory for a FTL drive for one. I also loved the proctors, but I’m left wondering at the sudden disappearance of Serene’s comlifers from the story – I’m guessing they’ll be relevant to book three.

While The Departure might have shifted away from what some consider typical Asher, Zero Point brings it back. It doesn’t have homicidal aliens and deadly ancient tech, but it has all the explosive action scenes and various humans having chunks carved out of them that you might expect of his work. I know the Owner books have taken some flack for not being standard fare, but that’s part of the appeal for me.

In the meantime I’m back to my stack of unread Asher books. However much he might make me squirm and give me brain ache, I get a kick out of reading his work and seeing how hard sci-fi should really be done.

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