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2: Zero Point: The Owner: Book Two Paperback – September 3, 2013
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Fortunately, "Zero Point" is a more satisfying read.
That's not to say it's excellent - the characters are still too stereotypical and the villian is another of those psychotic nutters that generate too many What the...? moments to really hold your interest.
But we have a load of classic Asher elements and they are always fun.
High tech? Check!
Gory battles? Check!
Some kind of artificial intelligence melding with organic brains? Check!
All good stuff and well put together.
If you've read "The Departure" - and this is a sequel so you should have - you'll know that Alan Saul has control of a huge space station called Argus and has just blasted the heart out of the evil Committee that hold sway over way too many billions of people. And you'll know that a fledgling outpost on Mars has something to do with the plot.
"Zero Point" gives us Alan Saul consolidating his hold on Argus, the Committee regrouping and coming after him, and Mars full of intrigue and deception despite a population smaller than a Los Vegas hotel. Add in some some speculative physics, that psychotic despot and pages and pages of mayhem and you get the idea.
It's all well tread ground, both generally in sci-fi and by Asher in other novels. But unlike "The Departure", I felt "Zero Point" had more urgency and a more cohesive plot. Saul's character was better integrated (no pun intended, he's now half AI after all) and Asher upped his humanity so he was generally nicer and thus more accessible. His somewhat side kick, Hannah, is still written from a shallow pool. As are the rest of the cast to be honest. And I'd like Asher to give up his 'Quince Guide' chapter introductions because I still think the overt history lessons are a lazy way to frame the plot elements.
But overall I think Asher is hitting his straps with "Zero Point". And I'm actually looking forward to the next book in the series, because as sure as sunrise, it's on its way!
The story is not complicated, with three main POV's - Serena Galahad, the megalomaniac who takes control of Earth after Alan Saul almost bombed it back into the stone age in The Departure; Var Delex, the de facto leader of an isolated Mars base, Antares; and last, but not least, Alan Saul himself (or itself) on Argus Station, the space station that he 'hijacked' and used against the Committee.
Using the remants of the Committee's infrastructure, Serena Galahad ruthlessly destroys millions of ZA's (humans who had been classified as zero assets under that regime) via a mutated form of the Ebola virus (which she names the 'scourge'), nullifies all opposition with extreme prejudice, and in a scene that horrifies the reader, has her father tortured in the most appalling fashion.
Serena's one redeeming feature is her desire to repopulate the flora of Earth from a gene bank which happens to be on Argus Station, and, desiring to eliminate Saul anyway, she devises a plan to attack the station.
Meanwhile, Var (who wrested control of Antares base from the apparatchiks of the Committee during Saul's attack) is desperately trying to plan the survival of the base while managing the diverse fears and interests of the survivors. Var gets traitorously ambushed by one of the personnel on the base, and her fight for survival is an absorbing one.
Serena of course views those survivors as anathema and includes them in her elimination plans
Finally on Argus station, Alan Saul is gradually melding with the information network on the station, the robots are under his control and he gets to play with the coolest toys - quantum mechanics - in his push for an FTL drive.(I can't elaborate without revealing a spoiler or two)
Serena, who is the most fascinating character of the three (in the way that a tarantula or blue-ringed octopus is fascinating!)has a ship built which carries a wide array of weaponry and sends it off to Argus and Mars to fetch the gene bank and, not so incidentally, wreak mayhem and havoc. If space battle scenes are your thing - the battle at Argus station is a no holds barred humdinger!
All in all, a fun action packed read, which is what I have come to expect from Neal Asher. It is not James Joyce or DH Lawrence, (or even Tim Lebbon) but it is a highly entertaining read.