I just got Prador Moon delivered this morning after anxiously waiting for it for the past three months. I'm a huge fan of both Neal Asher and his unique brand of story-telling. Asher distinguishes himself by writing action/sci-fi that simply has to be read in order to be believed. Action junkies rejoice! There is so much gruesome action, fighting, and combat in his novels that it blows your mind. If violence were calories then Asher is a mountain of double chocolate torte cake swamped by a lake of raspberry fudge sauce; a sweeter read you will not find. Yet he is far from one-dimensional. Along with all the action he provides, you get wonderful, compelling stories, believable characters, sensible villains, complex plots, laser-like insight into the foibles of humanity, and unbelievable planets, locales, and other settings to enjoy. He jubilantly throws in terrifying monsters (with a predilection for eating humans), sinister aliens (with a predilection for eating humans), vicious warped psychopaths of the human persuasion (terrorists, criminals, religious fanatics, and just plain ole psychopaths), artificial intelligences, android/golems, FTL technology, sentient warships and drones, an amazing array of amazing weapons, black markets, high technology, backwater retrogressed worlds, biotechnology, and xenobiology so nightmarish it would give Lovecraft the willies. Then he takes all these elements, mixes them up in the high-speed blender of his imagination, and creates frothy, fun-filled concoctions that are part science fiction, part horror, and part gleeful splatterfest, but 100% compelling and fun. Asher is a great writer; despite the exuberant violence and action laced through his novels, his writing is intelligent, his plotting intricately complex, his characterization is convincing, his stories are belivable, interesting, and full of ideas. Best yet, he integrates those great ideas and unremitting action nicely into a convincing sci-fi universe. I simply love his writing and his Polity universe creation.
Asher does one other thing extremely well, as good as any writer out there. Yes, he imbues his action sequences with a sense of relish and fun that I thoroughly enjoy, but he also makes absolutely wonderful and convincing protagonists. Even better, he makes really, really great villains! His protagonists are never self-righteous, self-involved, or even self-important like so many characters in other stories. Nope, they're generally down-to-earth, likeable people reacting in sensible ways to the environment they find themselves in. His villains are even better than his good guys though; they are generally self-righteous, self-involved, self-important, and fanatically bigoted to boot. They're not "EVIL" like so many authors make the mistake of doing. Nope, they're really villainous because they simply don't care about others, only about their own goals, and if everyone has to die to justify their own views then that is just fine with them. Asher just has a natural knack for making both convincing, likeable protagonists and thoroughly despicable, villainous, believable, and actually enjoyable bad guys.
Beyond creating great individual villains, Asher also loves to take aim at institutionalized villainy and pokes sharp, pointy, literary sticks at many such groups in his fiction. He is particularly gifted at skewering both abusive religious cults and fanatical terrorist groups. In trademark Asher fashion, the resolution of conflicts between these psychopaths and his protagonists universally involve viscerally, violent scenes with lots of explosions and flying body parts. Denouement of a graphically gruesome, yet satisfyingly cathartic, manner. I think the single most apt adjective for Asher's novels would be "FUN". Yes, he writes great stories which are compelling and interesting, but so do other gifted writers. Where Asher trumps all others is in making sure you have fun in reading his stories. If you like science fiction and if you like action, then you're in for a treat with this author. Nobody, but nobody, puts the two together better than Asher.
Now, after that glowing paean, on to my verdict for Prador Moon. This novel does not measure up to Asher's past performances unfortunately. It is a much simpler story without the twisted, convoluted plotting featured in his earlier works and it suffers because of this. Since this book clocks in at around 200 pages, as opposed to the average 500 pages of his other novels, there just isn't as much room for ideas, action, plot, and character development and frankly it shows. This novel still features much of what I described above, but in smaller portions which fail to satisfy as previous novels did. It also lacked a pivotal idea, a technique used to drive the stories in other novels. For example, the xenobiology of the planet Spatterjay was the underlying pivotal idea which drove all else in The Skinner. In Line of Polity it was the Jain technology and its implications. All of the previous Asher novels were brimming in colorful, fun ideas, but they were all anchored to one pivotal, central story idea which supported and directed the others. This novel simply did not have an underlying idea that had not already been dealt with in previous novels. I still liked this book, but I can't say I loved it like the other Polity novels. Honestly it feels more like a supporting novella and not like a novel at all. There are some good reasons to read it anyway though. First off, it's not bad at all, just not up to the same grade of excellence as the previous works. We also get to learn some backstory on the Polity and some of the characters who show up in future stories (Occam's Razor, Tomalon, Anna Vasco, etc). Chronologically, this novel is set much earlier in the Polity universe (before Gridlinked, The Skinner, Brassman, Line of Polity, Sable Keech, etc.) giving us some background into the development of the Polity and the initial war with the Prador civilization. The book follows the action of the team that makes initial violent contact with the Pradors (really good bad guys, giant crabs that like to eat and enslave humans). Jebel "Ucap" Krong is a soldier obsessively fighting the Prador. "Ucap" is short-hand for "up close and personal", which is a pretty cool handle I have to admit. The story focuses on the ongoing conflicts between Ucap and the ship Occam's Razor with the Prador Captain Immanence and the eventual resolution of that conflict. It pretty much ignores the war in general which was really disappointing. A full treatment of the war would have been fascinating and could have been the best Asher novel yet. The novel also ends pretty early in the war so you really don't know much about the conflict at all other than how it started, and what happened to those involved in that initial conflict, and of them only to that point somewhat into the opening of the war. I wish the author had done a complete treatment of the war and not just this one vignette which feels like nothing more than a teaser. There were also some irritatingly unfinished elements in the book like the story on the augment surgeon, Aubron Sylac, that were never fleshed out. So, all-in-all, my verdict is that if you don't mind paying a full novel price for a partially complete novella, and you know what you are getting in advance, then this is a fun little read and worthwhile. Just don't expect something along the lines of The Skinner or Line of Polity. My verdict is three stars. Yes, I know I have five stars above, but that happened somehow accidently and Amazon won't let me edit it now. My apologies for that and I hope you'll accept this lengthy review as amends. For what it's worth I think everything else I have read by Asher is five star suff.