I’ve read some of Neal Asher’s Polity novels and enjoyed them, so I thought I’d try the first in another of Asher’s series, The Departure.
In a near-future dystopian version of earth, a totalitarian world government is hoarding resources and allowing the vast population to starve. Dissidents are dealt with by torture and scientists are forced to develop cybernetic neural implants. They have prisoners to practice on.
One man is on a mission of revenge. He doesn’t know who he was, but he does know he was tortured and sent for incineration. Somehow, with the help of a rogue AI, he survived and is hell-bent on destroying the man who tortured him. The Departure is the events that lead Alan Saul to remember who he was and collect the elements he needs to complete his mission.
Like the Polity novels, The Departure is pretty hard sci-fi and takes a while to get into. I didn’t like this novel as much as the others. It was hard work and I nearly gave up. I think the reason it didn’t work for me was that I didn’t find much differentiation between the point-of-view characters. Most of the book is from Saul’s point of view, but there are sections set on Mars from the point of view of Var, a senior technician, and sections from the point of view of Heather, Saul’s girlfriend and the creator of much of the cyberware that enables him to carry out his mission. Saul is hard to identify with: he’s cold, emotionless and ruthless. When it’s revealed that he’s autistic some of that makes sense, but it’s still hard to care. Var feels like a set-up. She’s a plot device not a character. Heather is supposed to be Saul’s conscience but she doesn’t have much depth. Her main function in the story is to provide an external view of Saul, to show the reader what his neural tech costs him physically, and to humanise him a bit. Neither Var nor Heather come across as characters in their own right.
I think the same is true of the villain, Director Smith. He is depicted as a sadist and an ambitious politician, but we don’t really get any sense that he’s developed beyond that.
So, I did finish it eventually, and the ending was really good. The novel is the first part of a series and this book sets up what the series will be about. It was exciting and made me want to read the next part. It’s conceivable that the characters make get stronger. It may be some time before that happens but I’m not ruling it out.