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Zero Point, Neal Asher, 564pp, 2013/2012

This is the second instalment of the ‘Owner’ sequence of novels. These are set on a near-future Earth where the European Union bureaucracy has spread out and taken over the world, stifling creativity, allowing the population to grow to 18 billion, and establishing itself as the ruling elite in the worst possible Stalinist tradition (or the best possible Stalinist tradition, depending on your view of humanity and bureaucracy). Fortunately, thanks to advances in technology, the superman has appeared (as this is a Neal Asher novel) and cut off the head of the bureaucracy – the Committee, killed many millions of its senior staff, stolen a space station, and set off to Mars to look for his long-lost sister – see The Departure (Owner Trilogy 1).

In this volume, we meet a survivor of the bureaucratic leadership who immediately sets out to re-establish control of Earth, taking advantage of the chaos caused by the destruction of the rest of the hierarchy to unleash a manufactured plague that kills off eight or ten billion of the ‘zero asset’ population – those at the bottom of the social ladder who contribute nothing to the system – while blaming it on our erstwhile hero, Adam Saul, and quickly demonises him in the best Big Brother tradition (the other one (though now you come to mention it…)). She quickly establishes her control by killing off her rivals, and anyone who knows about her control over the plague – the ‘Scourge’ – and starts rebuilding the damaged ecosystems of the planet, which usually involves killing off a few hundred million people here and there when no-one is looking. Unfortunately, the world’s gene bank was on board that stolen space station, and so has to be retrieved. Fortunately, as mentioned in the previous episode, the late Committee Chairman (or former dictator of Earth, depending on your view of bureaucracy) had been building a space warship for emergencies, which is soon put into commission and sent off after the runaway space station.

This is all very Neal Asher, with advanced killer technology, population megadeaths, and lots of individuals meeting gory ends as the new Dictator of Earth does her best to save the planet from centuries of bureaucratic incompetence and human stupidity and greed (depending on your view of humanity and bureaucracy) while killing anyone who annoys her. This could all just be a satire on the rise of bureaucratic international agencies and the loss of freedom and power of the individual who must resort to terrorism in order to overthrow the oppressive state, something that we can see happening in Europe and may already have happened in the USA – and Russia and China never even got past the front door of the western way of life – which a lot of readers might not realise is just what a lot of right-wing loonies keep warning us about: quite worrying isn’t it?

Anyway, unfettered by bureaucratic control, both parties are able to harness new technologies that have been bubbling away just below the attention-level of the previous authorities to give us space battles, killer robots and new forms of cybernetic life – AI was so last century – while moving the grand story forward, ready for the next instalment – Jupiter War: An Owner Novel (Owner Trilogy 3).

This is an excellent read – helped if you have read the previous volume, but it is not essential, as many of the characters in that were killed off, and we have a new set of baddies established in this – though you have to admit that their motives are good, for isn’t ‘saving the planet’ worth sacrificing other people for?

If you are a regular reader of Neal Asher’s work than it is all here, advanced technology, lots of killing, super-heroic figures who will save us all in the end - though the end is not yet nigh – even some intelligent robots turn up, and all as well-written as ever. It does seem as if his Cultur…, sorry Polity novels had reached a technological level – singularity, a term used in this novel – where there was nowhere left to go except to evolve. This series begins at a technological ground level and starts to work its way up, giving the author the chance to do it all again, but not in a repetitive way, while also encouraging readers to vote No to Brussells.
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on 9 August 2012
I, like some others found a certain ambivalence towards the first "Owner" novel, "The Departure" Not down to Neal's writing, but the new universe we were in. I had become so comfortable with the polity that I initially couldn't settle into this new place and time. As the action increased along with the body count, I felt much happier. Now with the second book "Zero Point", it feels just right. Neal is on top form, the story flows along nicely, the body count is astronomical, the action good and gritty. The politics is once again going to offend certain people but Google "Agenda 21" and see if "Zero Point" doesn't seem a little less far fetched.

All in all a cracking read, possibly one of his best! If I could pre-order book 3 today I would.
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on 7 April 2013
Zero Point is the second book in Neal Asher's Owner Series, and continues with the strong - and somewhat unpalatable - themes that he developed in the first book, The Departure. The dedication at the start of the novel really sums it all up: "To all you steady researchers and developer of our technology, for recognising the optimistic road to the future, rather than seeing a slippery slope to doom."

Of course, the Owner Series is about a society that has been on the slippery slope to doom, both societally and ecologically. At the end of the first novel, the protagonist, an anti-hero called Alan Saul, was escaping from Earth on board the Argus Station having decapitated the global bureaucratic dictatorship of 'the Committee' whilst taking the station, and finishing off local controls by dropping their own satellite network on them. The 'zero asset' citizens are freed from Committee oversight, at the cost of the collapse of infrastructure, which potential could lead to their starvation.

This novel meshes three tales together - the emergence of Serene Galahad to reestablish the power of the Committee and the infrastructure of the Earth whilst pursuing a more radical path than her predecessors, the events at the Mars Colony which had effectively declared independence from Earth in the first book, and the events aboard the Argus Station. The plots are brutal, and don't show the nicer side of humanity.

Technology ramps forward without the control of the Committee, as Saul develops his abilities and others have the limits on what they can do released, and the plot twists and turns. Some of the characters - for example Galahad - feel quite two dimensional, but the energy and darkness of the plot drive you forward.

I found that it was quite hard to put down as it draws you in quite effectively, despite finding whole elements somewhat unpleasant. The story goes into areas that few other SF stories do except in the more literary side of the genre (such as The Handmaid's Tale or Nineteen Eighty-Four), with a dark dystopian vision and characters that match. It won't be everyone's cup of hot beverage, but I recommend it for its energy and dark flavour. It directly provides of vision that contrasts technology used for good and for ill, with the difference being the morals of those that wield it.
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on 11 January 2013
Zero Point is the second Owner novel from Neal Asher, following on from The Departure. While I enjoyed the opening novel in the Owner series, The Departure didn't work quite as much as I would have hoped - it was more a novel of setting things up, establishing the setting, and moving pawns in to place. My closing sentence in my review of The Departure was:

"Now the setting up is done I expect much more from the sequel, Zero Point, and I won't be as forgiving if it doesn't meet the expectations I have."

So, the only question that really matters is whether it met those expectations, or did it fall flat in the attempt? Fortunately Zero Point built on the foundation laid out in the series opener, adding plenty to the story that kept me turning the pages to find out what happens next.

Zero Point picks up events immediately following the ending of The Departure. Alan Saul, the Owner, has captured Argus Station and controls it in its entirety, has wiped out a large proportion of the Committee's ruling Delegates on Earth, and is now looking ahead as Argus travels towards Mars. Var Delex is now in charge at the Antares Base on Mars, trying to use everything at her disposal to ensure the long term survival of the base, though not everyone agrees with her views. Earth is in the throws of change with Serene Galahad taking control of the Committee, setting her targets on a reduced population that cannot bode well for the zero assets. And when she discovers what the Owner is up to on Argus Station her focus to eliminate him only increases...

Following on from an action packed finale to The Departure, Zero Point doesn't wait around to get its breath, instead jumping straight into the meat of the story. We see the Owner investigate Argus Station further, digging up some very interesting hidden research that Messina, former head of the Committee, was working on. The research ranges from android/cyborg experimentation through to zero point energy of the title. It's a very interesting and enjoyable read while this is ongoing, with some rather intriguing possibilities from this research.

Zero Point carries the story along at a good pace early on, with the above mentioned happenings on the Argus Station making for the most engrossing. The Mars colony is another important aspect of the story, one that moves along at a slower pace, but always relevant and adding to the whole. As for Serene Galahad and her movements on Earth - that's on another level again. Seeing someone rise from the ashes of the Committee to assert control and begin a ruthless and focused re-build of the planet raises many questions in itself over the outcome, but it's an aspect of the story that I wouldn't have missed a second of.

I had one minor issue with Zero Point, and it was more one of pacing than anything else. A short way into the story an event happens that puts the brakes on the momentum that had been built up, essentially putting many of the most interesting aspects on hold for a good portion of the novel. It does allow other aspects to come to the fore and Asher adds more depth to the story, but it changes the pacing of the book and slowing down the events.

On the plus side, Zero Point is a thoroughly enjoyable novel with some very interesting ideas. Asher doesn't fail in making this second volume of the Owner trilogy a step up from The Departure, adding in plenty to keep the pages turning. For those familiar with his Owner short stories there are some nice treats in store, and for those that haven't.... well, what are you waiting for? In short, Zero Point is well worth reading, and I will be very much looking forward to Jupiter War!
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on 20 October 2014
A couple of chapters into Part 1 of this series (Departure) I was wondering if this was quite for me. There was an arid, stark quality to the writing which I thought might not appeal. Destructive machinery and soulless people. Implacable. I was waiting for something a bit more human sympathy to leaven it. But I stuck with it, and I'm glad I did. It became more and more involving and fascinating and by the end I was looking forward to #2. This is it and it does not disappoint.
Zero Point launches with all the momentum built up in the final pages of #1 and continues to accelerate. But more than that, it clarifies and consolidates into something more, a story so well crafted that it is (IMO) almost flawless. A revelation after #1. The only minor literary missteps occur in the short off-stage passages of future history and background that preface each chapter, because occasionally they lapse into a tone that makes them read as vehicles for the author's political opinions - never quite appropriate in a novel, no matter how interesting. But this is a very minor criticism. Zero Point is a terrifically well written and well structured story that more than fulfils the promise of its forerunner and makes you eager to read #3 (I have that pleasure to come)
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on 10 August 2012
Neil writes another sf stormer in a new universe. This second book continues on straight after the ending of the first "Owner" novel which is rare in itself and as usual with Neils books its a roller coaster ride of action, politics, personal relationships and a very interesting take on technology. It reads easily and the action never relents. Alan Saul the central character is an interesting mix of cold logic and human emotions. As said before in another review if part three was avalable now id buy it.

One notable subject in this book which is the most though provoking of all is Neils take on the future of Earth. You can see the extrapolation from these times of austerity to the dystopian future Neil paints so well in this series and its frightening. Highly reccomended!
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VINE VOICEon 27 September 2012
I must admit to preferring the Polity books from Asher, but as I have read most of his books I went with this new series, the action is fast paced, and some of the characters are interesting and likeable, the bad guys really are the pits of the bad. Having said that the only thing I didn't like from a personal point was the way that untold billions of human deaths are just tossed away like so much paper. The total disregard for life seems almost a trivial thing. It at times made me quite depressed that there seemed to be no end of gloom and doom. I guess I will have to wait for the third part to see how it all turns out in the end. - I will get the third part, so that is some recommendation anyway.
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on 12 August 2012
I tend to regard Neal Asher as a frequent provider of dense brain candy. His writing and characterisations are technically poor (though much better technician onwards) - however his books are also tremendously fun - not good for you just nice and fun. I just devour them. I typically manage to finish one of his books in a day (and that includes work!) - this does involve being very antisocial for 24 hours and losing a bit of sleep!

Zero point carries on from the fantastically nihilistic first book in this series. Every terrible possible manifestation of centralised socialism and totalitarianism is carried onto the most extreme extent - and then some. What makes this so entertaining is the way in which you can see apply the prinicples behind these attrocities every day from the the way in which little hitlers are born and raised in meaningless beurocracies to the dumbing down of education systems.

It is still a little hard to identify with Alan Saul - there is very little to like about him other than his ability to 'kill the bad guys'. Of more interest in the novel is the slippery slide into insanity from the new rulers of earth and the ongoing martian plot. Newer characters on argus station have the potential to develop into something really quite cool in the third novel.

if you are expecting something substantial in the genre of scifi e.g. early (phlebus aside) iain m banks then you will be disapointed

However if what you want is trashy fun scifi then you can't get better than this.
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on 26 May 2013
It seems some people are bothered by the dystopian aspects of these books, I amn't at all. I find the utopian books tend to be a bit childishly optimistic, which isn't to say they can't also be enjoyable, and I like the way he's tied this series to a near future timeline.

Anyway back to the book. Of the three story lines the Mars one is by a mile the least interesting, it really doesn't go anywhere and adds very little. The Earth story line is flawed but pretty good. As expected though its the Argus story lines that are the most interesting and they keep things ticking along.

Definitely interested to see how the next book turns out.
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It's never been a secret that I love escaping into the future with Neal Asher, I love the way he works the storyline bringing cracking characters, top notch action and of course his own wicked little twist as mankind proves that no matter how far advanced we think we're becoming, the baser instincts tend to take over.

Throw into the mix, a pace that is almost as fast as the future, wonderful prose that that really fires the readers imagination which all round made me a very happy reader. Great stuff and definitely an author I can't wait to embark into the future with again.
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