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Bewildering Stories

Neal Asher, Gridlinked

reviewed by Danielle L. Parker

Author: Neal Asher
Publisher: Tor, 2001
Length: 423 pages
ISBN: 978-0-765-34905-7
What happens when James Bond becomes so blasé he can’t cover a yawn when the thug du jour threatens to eviscerate his innards beginning at his belly-button? Or, worse yet, when he’s so uninterested in the seduction at hand that the beautiful lady really, truly believes he’s a — gulp! — artificial life form? (Of course, we all know what happens in movie land — they replace that winky-winky, self-consciously-coy fellow with a jug-eared, rough-edged thug of their own. Much improved!).

Dead inside is more or less Ian Cormac’s condition at the start of this story, too. Cormac’s a suave and violent Bondian agent of Earth Central Security gone blasé and cold. He’s been tied into the “gridlink,” the huge electronic network that veins this future universe, for so long, even his A.I. Masters worry for the state of his humanity. When an undercover Cormac blows apart the lady love who’s convinced he’s a spy and an artificial life form, Cormac’s computerized master asks him if he’s injured. Cormac (who’s not particularly upset about his recent act of decapitation) replies that all systems are functioning normally. Right then and there, we know he’s got a problem.

Cormac’s not convinced, himself, but then, he’s more or less an addict to the glorious rush of electronic communication. His masters (who, in this future world, are themselves artificial intelligences) know better. They cut the umbilical cord just when Cormac is in the midst of a dangerous investigation: someone — or something — blew up a runcible on the icy world of Samarkand. A runcible is the device that this future civilization (called the Polity) uses for instantaneous interstellar travel (smile at this charming use of Edward Lear’s nonsensical runcible spoon).

This, however, is serious business. Not only does he have a disaster to investigate, the vengeful brother of Cormac’s terminated lady love and the bereaved’s deranged mechanical servant, Mr. Crane, are hot on Cormac’s heels. He also has a cantankerous and highly dangerous Jabberwocky of sorts, in the form of the alien Dragon, to try to outmaneuver.

Can Cormac out-Bond them all... and still get his mojo back? You’ll have to read it to find out.

One final comment: I read the sequel, Brass Man, before I managed to get my hands on its prequel, Gridlinked. I loved both books, but Gridlinked is definitely the better of the two. Brass Man suffers even more, in retrospect, from its lack of focus on Cormac. The deranged mechanical man (Golem) who plays a more-or-less bit part in Gridlinked gets more action than he deserves in the sequel. That’s apparently because some fans wanted more squash-them-flat, pound-them-into-powder, mindless action from the non-speaking (non-thinking?) Mr. Crane.

I, on the other hand, have different advice for the author. Please, Mr. Asher, don’t listen to fans who want more of the Monster Mech. The character that really holds our (at least my) attention here is Ian Cormac. I tend to prefer heroes with enough brains to speak their own lines. Mere massive muscle doesn’t get my attention, at least in its literary form. (Of course, if it’s walking down the street, that might be a different matter — for a few appreciative seconds).

So, Mr. Asher, tell those fans who howl for more Mr. Crane to go back to Mortal Combat or Doom to slake their lust for brainless gore, and give us more — much more — of that sexy Bond super-agent, Ian Cormac, instead. Now that he’s got his mojo back, I quite like the fellow.

Copyright © 2007 by Danielle L. Parker

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