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on 14 February 2011
Polity Agent is the fourth book in the Agent Cormac series, a series I've been catching up with and thoroughly enjoying. The second and third books in the series, The Line of Polity and Brass Man, dealt with the emergence of Jain tech and Skellor's use of it and was a fairly self-contained duology within the main story. Of course, just because that sub-story concluded it doesn't mean everything is fine, far from it - Jain tech is still out there and Polity Agent hits the ground running.

As a runcible opens from 800 years in the future the team that were sent to return the Maker to its civilisation in the Small Magellanic cloud comes through in a panic, the Makers overrun by Jain tech. With runcible time-travel not recommended by the AI's of the Polity due to the huge power requirements and dangers it involves, this situation is used solely to destroy the Jain infested Maker civilisation and most of the Small Magellanic cloud. This event raises many questions, most prominent of them being the purpose of Dragon, the huge bio-construct that the Makers created and sent to the Polity. Meanwhile an entity called Legate is distributing Jain nodes to certain people within the Polity, one of these being Orlandine, a haiman who takes a whole different approach to studying the Jain technology she has in her possession, while another is a dangerous separatist leader on the planet of Coloron. Meanwhile Horace Blegg, the infamous immortal of legend, is slowly learning more and more about jain tech and of himself, while Cormac continues to discover more about Dragon while trying to limit and eradicate the spread of Jain tech. And then there is the King of Hearts, a renegade AI whose journey out of the Polity leads him to discover something very dangerous indeed.

Where to start? Well, Polity Agent isn't so much a build up of events like previous novels, but an instant hit of what to expect throughout. This really does help the novel, but then it's part four in a series so it shouldn't have to take too much time building up the story. With the future runcible opening early in the book it kicks off a chain of events that has a huge impact on the Polity, but it starts to raise more questions about Dragon, the Makers and the Jain nodes. These questions have been there in the previous novels, but it's only now that the dots are starting to connect and the bigger picture is becoming visible - and boy is it big!

The characters that carry this story forward are all interesting. We've got the returning characters of Cormac, Mika, Thorn, Scar, plus the AI Jerusalem, but it's the new ones I enjoyed reading. Orlandine is one of the main characters here, and her haiman heritage is a very interesting part of this. She's as close to a human-AI hybrid as is possible (a full meld results in the death of both within minutes), and because of this she's got much more knowledge and intelligence than humans and can apply it very specifically. With a Jain node in her possession she hides away to fully investigate it, a story thread that results in some interesting discoveries about the Jain tech. There is also Horace Blegg, the enigmatic immortal we've seen in previous books. This time he gets a major role in the story and we start to learn more and more about him and his status within the Polity, and it's a very interesting journey he goes on. We also meet an Atheter AI - awesome! As for the King of Hearts, well, its journey out of the Polity leads to some startling discoveries that really will effect humanity as it stands.

In my review of Brass Man I said this:

What is most enjoyable about Brass Man is the sheer feeling of threat that faces the Polity. While we only see this through the events on and around Cull, the implications of these events have far reaching effects.

Well, now that threat is wide reaching, and we see it. Asher has done a wonderful job of showing this in Polity Agent and it comes across very well. We aren't restricted to one place, although much of the story does focus on the Jain tech outbreak on Colloron, and it's because of this that Polity Agent steps up the game. The ending doesn't conclude this story at all and instead introduces more of the threat that the Polity will face very soon, and here's hoping Line War will deliver everything that it needs to wrap up this series in style.

So, Polity Agent is a big book dealing with big issues to the Polity. It's not the best place to start with Neal's work, simply because it requires prior knowledge of events that have occurred to get the most out of it. Fortunately Neal does take some steps to help the new reader here with his chapter introductions. These little snippets give the reader either a little reminder about events that have occurred previously, or fill in the gaps for anyone new to the series. These chapter introductions are a presence in all of Neal's novels and are hugely enjoyable to read. Some of them give general background of the Polity and it's technology while others are a direct reference to the story, to give that little bit of world building without being too in your face. I love them though, and enjoy these just as much as the story itself.

Polity Agent is another great SF novel and continues the Cormac series in style. Asher doesn't shy away from anything here and delivers everything you could possibly want in a science fiction story. Simply put, this series has got better with each new novel and Neal Asher is firmly establishing himself as one of the premier science fiction authors writing today.
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on 12 February 2007
The forth book in the Ian Cormac series following on from Gridlinked, The Line of Polity and Brass Man is another fantastic book with Asher again showing that he is one of the few British authors that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Iain M Banks (who incidentally gets a nice acknowledgement in the foreword along with Richard Dawkins).

Set in a time where inter-stellar humanity is governed by enlighted AIs, this book sees Ian Cormac again thrown into the middle of trying to save the Polity from the threat of the Jain. To call Ian Cormac a super-agent undersells the character massively. He is no one dimensional futuristic James Bond but rather an interesting and flawed man with a hint of mystique that might explain why an unaugmented human is in charge of AI minds magnitudes more superior to his. Other previous characters are also back, such as Mika and Horace Blegg. The storyline of the latter is particularly good as it raises as many questions as it answers.

The Jain have been previously mentioned in this series as the source of Skellor's (a previous adversary) abilities. Polity Agent fleshes out more details of the threat these Von Neumann machine-like objects pose, the history of the Jain and who is orchestrating the current situation.

Polity Agent is a gripping read, both involving and exciting. All in all, this is another excellent book richly deserving of 5 stars
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on 14 November 2015
After mourning the loss of Ian Banks I have been delighted by Neal Ashers books. A worthy successor with imagination, inventiveness and just the right amount of background detail to leave you eager to pick up the next one. Peter Hamilton could do with reading them.
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on 26 May 2016
I really enjoyed this book ,great ending and the story towards the end showed the polity as vulnerable and the AI not as clever as they first thought. Great book and worth reading although you need to read the others in the series.
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on 19 September 2012
I started reading SciFi at an early age with the likes of Poul Anderson and Isaac Asimov. I have bought every single one of the Polity books one after another reading them from cover to cover in a matter of days. I particularly like the fact that the AIs in Asher's books can be thoroughly vile. You won't be disappointed.
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on 22 June 2015
Heck. I adore Neal Asher, and Agent Cormac, but my brain could not cope with this book. It will probably be rated as a classic, must read sci-fi novel, and I will just have to accept my limitations. Neal, you are a genius. I'll have to go back to Kevin J Anderson.
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on 2 April 2014
If you like your SciFi to be a good long read then Neal Asher will definitely please.
The whole of the Polity universe is well plotted across at least 8 books each with over 500 pages.
I was finding that I was impatient to be home so I could immerse myself again each evening.
When you come to the end of one book you will just want to pick up the next.
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on 11 October 2007
A strong follow up from Brass Man. We get to learn more about the mysterious Horace Blegg and the inner workings of the Polity. Its an intriguing world, with politics and economics controlled by AIs. Almost like Plato's ideal state, except instead of a triad of detached rulers we have a multiply of AIs who, when push comes to show does not rule based on cold logic alone. This is a fantastic book and, oh the action scenes! Grand space battles with masers and tasers whizzing through space and gory close up combats. Ian Cormac and NEJ (a space ship) doing some pretty amazing stuff on all levels. I cant wait to see where this will end. I mean it, I cant wait! I need the next book now, now!
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on 11 October 2011
Brandy consuming Cormac finds himself in a perpetual series of unfortunate events throughout the series. Each catastrophe-on-brink in the Polity universe finds Cormac directing the Polity goodness against the evil from elsewhere. This is how is has happened for the first three novels and the same is true with Polity Agent. However, where Asher failed in a minor way (three star reviews) in Brass Man and Line of Polity is in the fact that the entire plot revolved around an evil sprung from nowhere... nowhere meaning having very little connection at all to the first novel, Gridlinked. The following incidents in those two novels felt random and tied too closely to Asher's typical blow-scary-alien-wildlife-up-with-big-guns. It felt old.

Thankfully, Asher steps away from the broken record and tries to reinvigorate the Cormac series with Polity Agent. With the main villain Skellor having been plastered against a brown dwarf star in the third novel, a new evil must naturally arrive to replace the `ying' where the `yang' has been lost. But again the replacement villain is conceived from the ether and pursues a unidirectional goal- explore the Jain node and deceive the Polity. There's also malcontent AI bent on the destruction of the Polity and to approach the technological singularity with other merged AIs. As ever, Dragon (the remaining two spheres at least) take a prominent position in the novel. More detail about the Dragon, the Makers and the Jain technology are given, which enriches the story and the entire series, as a whole.

If only every character didn't `grimace' or `grin' so much. Asher obnoxiously oversues some words like this to generically characterize a kill-for-joy character.
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on 20 November 2011
I've recently become a huge fan of Asher's work after reading through the Cormac series. This book didn't disappoint in the slightest, but in all honesty needs some patience to get through. I'm not sure what it is but Asher seems to pen these epic bricks of paper that plod along at a slow but detailed pace until the final few chapters and then the entire book explodes with intrigue and suspense.

Even though the story is pockmarked with action scenes that deter from the story there just never seems enough to actually grab me. But you come to expect this and once you fall in love with the universe and it's inhabiting races you endure, learning and picking up some incredibly detailed knowledge of a fictional destination. Every world has it's own breathtakingly diverse and strangely plausible wildlife and geological elements, no stone is left unturned in what sometimes simply transforms into a guide to the galaxy.

But as I said the story lurches forward and more and more characters are introduced and disappear making some of the plot and individuals difficult to follow and (I found) hard to care about (even in death). Persevere through the growing crowds of characters (something which caused me to flick back to remember who the Hell is who) and the ending series of events should blow you away.

I just wish my girlfriend had an interest when I tell her how incredibly doomed the characters are and then how Asher rescues them through genuinely well thought out deus ex machina.
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