Gridlinked by Neal Asher (Agent Cormac series: Book 1)

In outer space you can never feel sure that your adversary is altogether human. The runcible buffers on Samarkand have been mysteriously sabotaged, killing many thousands and destroying a terraforming project. Agent Cormac must reach it by ship to begin an investigation. But Cormac has incurred the wrath of a vicious psychopath called Pelter, who is prepared to follow him across the galaxy with a terrifying android in tow. Despite the sub-zero temperature of Samarkand, Cormac discovers signs of life: they are two 'dracomen', alien beasts contrived by an extra-galactic entity calling itself 'Dragon', which is a huge creature consisting of four conjoined spheres of flesh each a kilometre in diameter. Caught between the byzantine wiles of the Dragon and the lethal fury of Pelter, Cormac needs to skip very nimbly indeed to rescue the Samarkand project and protect his own life.

My reading has not covered a lot of space science fiction, but this particular genre has always grabbed my attention, and having recently played through some video games like Mass Effect and catching up with the movie Prometheus really got me in the mood for some good science fiction. Having searched the internet I found the books of Neal Asher, who besides the Agent Cormac series also written the “Spatterjay” and “The Owner Trilogy” as well as several standalones Polity novels which takes place in the same universe.

Gridlinked is the first book of the Agent Cormac series and centers around Earth Central Security (ECS) agent Ian Cormac. You do not get to meet up with Cormac from the beginning as the prologue focuses on an explosion on Samarkand, where engineer Freeman travels through runcibles but his energy causes a high nuclear explosion. After reading this is was like… What? Okay.. Cool! From the very start there is an introduction to high-tech elements: augmentation, runcibles and artificial intelligence to name a few. But after this rather explosive introduction to Gridlinked the starting chapters change completely and you meet Cormac for the first time.

My first impression of Cormac was that he did not feel quite human. In the first dialogue with Angelina, he is devoid of any manly and even humanly response having to search databanks for the proper words. This plays directly into the Gridlinked title. Cormac has been linked into an AI network for over 30 years, which have made him on one hand a very good agent, having built up quite the legendary reputation but on the other hand robbed him of his human emotions and feelings. But back to Angelina; Cormac was tasked to infiltrate a gang called the “Separatists”, comparable to a terrorist organization. However, Cormac is revealed by Angelina and from this point on you are introduced to the villain of the story: Arien Pelter, the brother of Angelina. The narration in the book changes from chapter to chapter, focusing alternatively on Cormac and on Arien and his gang. I really like this aspect in books because it gives much more grips on the storyline if you see the actions and persuasions of both parties involved. But if you thought that Arien was Cormac's only concern you are wrong… Cormac is charged to investigate the happenings on Samarkand, to find out what caused the explosions and if other parties are involved. Alien threats anyone?

What I like about the character of agent Cormac is that he is kindly asked to go off the grid, due to his loss of humanity. This going-off-the-grid was a nice introduction to see Cormac change his personality, from a more robotic perspective to more humanly, though he is not quite there, he is getting there. Although you get to meet up with many more characters, it somehow felt that besides the narration of Cormac and Arien that there is not so much character development and depth. There was however a set of side-characters, notably John Stanthon and Jarvellis, and I hope to see them recurring in later books. Overall the characters remain pretty similar as how I read them in the introduction of each one.

Gridlinked takes part in deep space but also on several planets. In creating this rich universe, Neal Asher took into account a lot, think of immediate interstellar travel with runcibles, robot androids that obey you at each command, pulse guns from microwave rays to laser, human augmentations and self-thinking artificial intelligence and I forgot the contra-terrene device! There is much information about the universe that it was almost overwhelming. This feeling was cleverly navigated by among others the short introduction into the chapters. Giving short explanations about character, past event, guns and different tech. This made several things easier to understand. In the end combining the characters and the world they were placed in really made this story read like an action film. There is always something happening!

The plot of Gridlinked was actually pretty neat, after the first encounter with Cormac and the Separatists, the storylines split up, and focuses on Cormac investigating the planet of Samarkand and Arien plotting his revenge. In the last quarter of the book both storylines came together again, but I just thought there would be more to the stand-off between Arien’s gang and Cormac’s soldier - I thought this was rather rushed, when Cormac mentioned that he just wanted to get rid off Arien. But I must also admit that the final stand-off did not leave nothing behind in terms of describing how they battle off, it was full of energy! And Cormac was able to play his Golem 30 trump-card, guess the Separatists weren’t expecting that to happen! The second plotline, who caused the explosion of Samarkand was more intricately put together so that after finishing the book this caused me to do some backtracking. Both provided an edge of your seat moment in the end.

Gridlinked is a great book that I can recommend to anyone who likes to read some deep space science fiction. The extensive world that Neal Asher creates, with AI, androids and augmentations was neatly put together, providing a great backbone for the characters to rely upon.

9/10 A great book that I can recommend to anyone who likes to read some deep space science fiction.

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