BRIEF SYNOPSIS: First contact with aliens in Asher’s Polity universe.
PROS: Fast-paced; much action; cool depiction of aliens.
CONS: Flat characters that lack any qualities to which the reader can relate.
BOTTOM LINE: Could have spared a few pages to flesh out the characters more.
I really wanted to like Prador Moon. It’s set in Asher’s Polity universe like Gridlinked, which I read and liked, and The Brass Man, which JP read and liked. Those two books follow Polity Agent Ian Cormac while Prador Moon shows us the Polity’s earlier days as it examines the clash between humans and the all-too-absent aliens in the Polity universe.
The very first encounter takes place on Avalon station in a scene that immediately shows that the aliens are not as benevolent as one would hope. Through several gory scenes throughout the novel, in fact, we learn that these crab-like aliens have little regard for human life and an insatiable appetite for human flesh. Polity security agent Jebel Krong is one of the few survivors of that first, fateful meeting and takes a decidedly intense interest in retaliating against the predators who come to be nicknamed the Prador based on their predatory nature.
As fans of this universe already know, the human-populated Polity travels great distances through gates known as runcibles which use advanced technology that can only be controlled by artificial intelligences. In Prador Moon, Moria Salem is a runcible technician who becomes embroiled in the humans’ fight against the Prador when a supposedly routine augmentation meant to provide simple net access proves to give her abilities far beyond the norm. And as if the Polity doesn’t have enough to contend with besides invading, flesh-eating aliens, they also have to deal with a human faction known as the Separatists who are not so much pro-Prador as they are anti-AI.
The story’s construction lends itself to a fast-paced, action-packed book. The narrative of Prador Moon alternates points of view between Jebel, Moria, and the Prador leader known as Immanence. Through them we see different aspects of the players in this battle for human survival. Given that we are seeing things through the characters’ eyes, it could be assumed that the reader would make instantaneous connection with those characters; not necessarily like them, just connect with them in some way. Unfortunately, this is not the case. In all story threads, it’s difficult to make any emotional connections with the characters at all beyond the ability to superficially determine who the bad guys are. (That would be the human-flesh-eating aliens, in case there was any doubt.) In Jebel Krong’s case, this inability to connect may be because he is a merciless killing machine. But even the loss of a loved one – his main motivation for going all Rambo on the Prador in the first place – does not come through as the dramatic moment it should be and thus does not endear Jebel to us. At times it seemed that a minor character, the Golem named Urbanus, was more sympathetic. Moria Salem, augmented with a state of the art (and illegal) technology, had a story that was even less engaging than Jebel’s. At least Jebel had personal motication; Moria’s story lacks even that. Her story serves merely to educate the reader about the goings-on of the all-knowing (and sometimes cryptic) AI. The augmentation was cool, but again, there was just no emotional attachment to the character. Without these connections, the characters are archetypal at best.
Oddly, the Prador POV offered the most engaging story and the most enjoyable sf-nal outlet. The culture of the Prador is exposed at great length through these passages. We see their hierarchies and their strict social structure, where underlings evolve and advance through controlled pheromones while those that disobey, fail, or otherwise piss off the leader are eaten. Tough crowd, those Prador. The scenes that depict the Prador as the badass aliens they are were gory and frequently accompanied by whimpering and/or dying humans who knew their fate. The gore was really nothing more than shock value here; the human reactions are what really gave the Prador their menacing image. Learning about the Prador social structure was some nice gravy. Their relentlessness in attempting to capture runcible technology – even though it was never 100% clear to me what they’d do with it since they lack the AIs to control it – was nonetheless believable.
There a few surprises in Prador Moon. One character in the book, for example, is revealed to be a Separatist and that storyline is decent enough. But the book’s focus is more on the action and less on the drama. I’m not sure if the book’s 222-page length worked for or against it. On the one hand, I like short books because they tend to cut out the bloat. On the other hand, this particular story could have use more fleshing out of the characters.