Disclosure: My short story “Joey” appears in the Zombie Pirate Publishing science fiction anthology World War Four. It also features Neal Asher’s novelette Monitor Logan.
Neal Asher’s War Factory is the sequel to his novel Dark Intelligence and the second in his “Transformations” trilogy.
We continue to follow the travails of a plethora of characters, human, Prador, AI, and other, all orchestrated by the dark AI Penny Royal, who has mysterious motivations for manipulating lives and even entire regimes.
Asher remains a top author in the crafting of space operas, interweaving a large cast of players on his interstellar stage, this time upping the game. Penny Royal leads herself, the assassin droid Riss, and Thorvald Spear on a journey to rediscover their beginnings, which for the mechanized members, is a massive space station. “Room 101” was a sapient intelligence who felt a maternal instinct toward her martial creations, and who, when on the verge of destruction, did the unthinkable.
Penny Royal literally goes back in time to achieve her ends, playing an intricate game of chess, and none of her pawns have the slightest clue what’s going on, or if they did, how to get themselves out of it.
Spear seems to be the one random element, the one entity Penny Royal cannot fully control. The novel is broken up into the perspectives of the different characters, but only Spear’s story is told in first person. I have to wonder if he might be Asher’s alter ego in the novel, but if so, he’s one seriously disturbed little toon. But then again, in this book, everyone is.
Like his last novel, “War Factory” displays more than its fair share of “medical atrocities,” including human/Prador hybrids, along with graphic mutilations, dismemberships, and deaths.
If I have one criticism, it’s that the novel’s action is so dense, and there are so many characters, that it was easy for me to get bogged down after a few pages. For me, this wasn’t a book I could zip through. I found myself repeatedly slowing down (I’m usually a pretty fast reader) and trying to make sense of the densely packed narrative.
I checked this book out of my local public library and had to renew it at least once so I’d have time to read it all. Unable to sleep, I got up around three this morning and finished the last portion of the book, and in a way, it was like crawling out of the darkness and into the light. This is especially true after a number of rather grisly deaths took place in the last few pages.
I won’t tell you who survives or who does not, except that Penny Royal remains an imposing force. However, she has gotten the attention of another formidable entity, setting things up for the last book in the trilogy.
This isn’t whiz-bang Star Trek or Star Wars action. The novel takes place against the background of a vast universe, both in the space opera sense and in view of the world Asher has created in his numerous works. If anything I’ve written intrigues you, pick a place to enter that world, and then have fun.