During a war between two planets in the same solar system - each occupied by adapted humans - what is thought to be a cosmic superstring is discovered. After being cut, this object collapses into four cylindrical pieces, each about the size of a tube train. Each is densely packed with either alien technology or some kind of life. They are placed for safety in three ozark cylinders of a massively secure space station. There a female research scientist subsequently falls pregnant, and gives birth to quads. Then she commits suicide - but why? By the end of the war one of the contesting planets has been devastated by the hilldiggers - giant space dreadnoughts employing weapons capable of creating mountain ranges. The quads have meanwhile grown up and are assuming positions of power in the post-war society. One of them will eventually gain control of the awesome hilldiggers ...
I’ve been an engineer, barman, skip lorry driver, coalman, boat window manufacturer, contract grass cutter and builder. Now I write science fiction books, and am slowly getting over the feeling that someone is going to find me out, and can call myself a writer without wincing and ducking my head. As professions go, I prefer this one: I don’t have to clock-in, change my clothes after work, nor scrub sensitive parts of my body with detergent. I think I’ll hang around.
Neal Asher is always a good bet for space opera action, biological (often alien) oddities, and some seriously nasty body-horror elements. Sometimes all at the same time.
In this, we return to the remnants of the old Earth factions so far removed from the Polity and its AI masters that there needed to be a tentative inquiry into rejoining the human race. No, no, this isn't a novel about what is human. All these peeps are so far beyond what we consider human that neither side fits the bill. I mean, between a peep with a dual variant on the Spatterjay virus making him half-monster and half-immortal, extensive biological enhancements/alterations on all the old-time humans to live on this caustic worm-laden world, and all manner of uploading consciousness and vat-grown clones, what we really have here is a hard-SF tale distilled down to essentials...
Like loyalty, conscience, family, and stopping the damn civil war.
Didn't I mention? Yeah, this is a civil war novel. :)
This is a reread review as I first read this over a decade ago before GR. I love Neal Asher, but this is a decidedly different outing from his normal fare. While set in the Polity universe, this takes place much later than the others in the series, including his most recent Rise of the Jain trilogy, which kicks off with the excellent The Soldier. I have to think Asher was exploring a bit here as the narrative style he utilized is rather unique to his other work; more on that later.
The story is set in a remote stellar system outside of the orbit of the Polity, colonized by humanity via an ancient colony ship that left before the A.I.s took control of the Polity itself. The Polity has been monitoring the system for decades using an A.I. named Tigger. In any case, when the colony ship arrived, they found two worlds in the 'green zone', but one was very hot and one cool with a high concentration of chlorine gas in the atmosphere. These conditions forced the colonists into rather radical genetic engineering on themselves to survive the local conditions. After centuries of struggle, both sets of colonists achieved something of a civilization, with the 'cold' planet employing bio-engineering extensively, basically 'growing' their tech, including space-craft.
About 120 years before when the story starts, a war broke out between the two planets, consummated whenever the two planets were close enough to actually war with their rather primitive space tech. This war lasted about 100 years until the 'hot' planet won utilizing 'Hilldiggers'-- massive ships with gravity weapons that blew the hell out of the cold planet. The key to the new tech was something called the 'worm'; an unknown alien (tech or alive, who can tell) which wandered into the system and was captured by the hot planet. The study of it yielded a range of tech breakthroughs (like the gravity weapons), but since the worm's capture, massive amounts of mental illness plague the people on the hot planet.
Lots of background, but the main story concerns the four 'children' (quadruplets) of the lead scientist studying the worm, each of which possessed unnatural, genius abilities, albeit directed at different areas. We get their back story as the tale progresses. The story kicks off with an ambassador from the Polity contacts the two civilizations and tells them they are not alone. The 'hot' planet's military (Fleet) is highly suspicious of the Polity, especially one of the quadruplets who is a high-ranking officer of Fleet. Of the other three quadruplets, one has become a hermit on the hot planet, writing a rather subversive account of the war, another has become a 'speaker' for the cold planet's civilization (which is something akin to a hive mind), while the third is the leading scientist studying the worm itself...
Asher mixes narrative styles here, employing first person for the Polity agent and third for the rest of the main characters; this mixture is a little odd and did not sit well for me; he did something similar with Orbus and I did not like it then either. It was neat to see Asher explore a civilization outside of the Polity, and the polity agent is actually a hooper! Lots of drama while the mystery of the worm is explored and the hot planet devolves into a civil war between the 'orbitals' who study the worm and Fleet. Some decent action, but this is rather tame for an Asher novel. 3 stars.
I wasn't sure what to expect of this one. From the back cover copy I didn't think I'd really like it, but since I am running through all the Neal Asher Polity books according to some random recomended order I found on the internet. This one is to be read before the Rise of the Jain seriese according to that list.
Overall I was pleasantly surprised by the plot twists and action of the story. There are almost no characters from previous Asher books outside the bit player of Geronimid the sector AI. There are AI's, hoopers (what people from the planet Spatterjay are called, and two types of adapted humans we haven't met before. Both custom adapted to the two livable planets in the particular solar system, and I can't even remember if that system was given a name.
The set up is that these two planets lost most of the technology that got them here and while rebuilding decided to start a war with each other that lasted nearly 100 years and had just ended by the time the Polity discovered this human outpost.
The story revolves around not only the concequences of the war, but also the causes which have been hidden from all the human types. It was well told and nothing jolted me out of my suspension of disbelief. I figured out the deal with the four system humans but was suprised to find out which one ended up being the antagonist.
While I missed more flavor from the Polity and some of the charaters that played part in previous books I will read more. Next up is the Rise of the Jain books, which is not completed yet, so by next up I mean, in a while I'll probably start reading those. Heck I haven't even bought the most recently released book in that series.
This one is a little different than the usual Polity fare but still a solid and enjoyable read. A bit muddled in the middle but as typical for Asher the final hundred or so pages was non-stop action and revelations. As usual there is a good mix of horror, science fiction, and military fiction, and as an added bonus this one includes a love story... well sorta kinda maybe. I probably would not start here if you haven't read anything by him but it can be read on its own. 4 U-Space jumping stars.
I still enjoyed this, but the Asher spark isn't quite there. Maybe it's because the central plot point of the four siblings' birth is just a bit too much of a stretch. Harald didn't work for me either. I liked Tigger and McCrooger. And I have always liked Asher's careful balance wherein every weapon has its limitations.
A well paced SF novel about a horrible, unjustified war, a bizarre alien probe and lost colonies rediscovered by the Polity, the current human galactic organization. There's enough plot twists and surprises, but very digressions. The two societies and the victor's civil war that follows the end of the war are interesting, I like the biotech civilization as a concept. Near the end I couldn't put it down.
You can read this without having read any other books in the series.
I haven't been reading Neal Asher's books in any order. AT first he was one of my favorite authors, then I felt like my time was nearly wasted reading his work, and now this book brings me back to enjoying his books again.
I loved how twisted the plot was, how the various factions and entities swirled around his central theme. His dialog in this book is perhaps not the best but the story itself makes up for it. I'd say there was just enough foreshadowing for me not to feel cheated at any of the big reveals. Except for two things, the origin of the quartet of super-achievers and how the ship Ironfist was dealt with at the end, little of it was telegraphed too strongly either.
I liked how alien the two races are at the start of the book and how we come to learn their shared, human, origin.
I enjoyed our main protagonist, the Old Captain. Nice to see a hooper who isn't a "bad guy" after seeing them as boogeymen in other books. He could have been more emotionally involved. Maybe it was based on his physiology but he sure went through the story not giving much of a damn what happened to him. Not enough anger or even joy.
I liked the AI Tigger even more as he seemed more emotional than our human. And more willing to intercede more than we expect from the remote higher-level AI Geronamid.
I was most disappointed with Harold. Given even his sister calling him the strongest-of-the-four (in every sense), I felt he might have been more conflicted at the end.
This was an enjoyable background story of the Polity.
Having read Hilldiggers after finishing the Agent Cormac and Spatterjay series, knowing a bit more about Mr. Asher - Neal in short - by following his blog, and drawing from my own experience I'm positive this is Neal's most personal work yet. This man knows what he is writing about when McCrooger talks about his struggles with eternal life and the subsequent possibility of losing it. The mental battles the four siblings experience; Harald's blind search for power, Orduval's fits and seizures, Rhodane's flight to Brumal, Yishna burrowing herself with the endless search of knowledge. Director Gneiss's emotionless behavior. The utterly relentless grip of The Shadowman - or is it... - on the Sudorian System.
While this book had many familiar things in it for me personally and thus the book is bigger than the story for me, I think it will be an enjoyable read for anyone familiar with Neal's other work. Though I assume it'll be a bit tougher to digest than his other work just because of how personal it is.
When hungry I deny it, when thirsty I don't drink. All the pressure forcing me to do what I must do, I counter, and so at last manage to remain me.
Thank you, Neal.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
I simply couldn't wait for this book to be over. It seemed to drag on forever. Not a bad book per se, but not even close to the quality of the Agent Kormac series. It's a well written book, but it just didn't manage to capture my imagination.
I noted in the title that Hilldiggers is #15 in the Polity Universe and this is based upon the chronology of the books. However, Hilldiggers can be read as a standalone as it's not part of a specific series (Scatterjay, Agent Cormac, Owners, Jain, etc). Which yes, is a bit confusing because when you've read enough Asher books, you want to tie it into something and this selection doesn't.
And as usual with one of his books, there is no expedient way to summarize two planets long at war, a Polity emissary, a strange and inexplicable Worm contained at the space station, an interfering AI, and how all of this fits together. So I won't.
Overall, I enjoyed Hilldiggers. I liked the rotating points of view between three of the four siblings, the AI Tigger, and McCrooger. As with most Asher books, there are fascinating plot twists, interesting technology, subtle and not so subtle commentary on the state of the universe (or politics closer to home), and strange alien beings.
What I didn't care for were the chapters from Haralds - one of the four siblings - point of view. For myself, I found these repetitious, perhaps bordering on annoying, and eventually I started skipping to the last paragraph to get the gist of that segment and moving on. Did I feel I lost anything in the overarching scheme of the book? Not at all.
Recommended if you like Neal Asher books. I do recommended this selection if you've been debating about trying one of Asher's books. It would be a way to sample without having to deal with one of his trilogies.
This is one of Asher's Polity novels, and the setting reminds me of the Culture novels of Ian M Banks. Although I think this one of Asher is just a bit too much. The baseline is cool: ambassador enters a star system in which the population is engaged in a civil war, each side owing a planet with a different history after human colonization. On top of that add a civil war inside one of the factions, an alien artidact (?), 4 siblings infested with the alien (?) pursueing an unknown destiny, space fights, supreme weapons, genetic modification, hive minds, supermen, and some politics.
During the read I could not get attached to one of the characters, not even the ambassador, understand and grasp their motives and see their destiny. As a result, the read became not so interesting and rather slow. The very end was quite cool, but too little to late to make this book great. 3 stars
Hilldiggers is good, solid science-fiction set in the arena of Neil Asher's Polity, which I haven't sampled before now but am now quite keen to again. The idea that human colonists could so genetically alter themselves to become what would be easily interpreted as aliens is a rare insight to what we may indeed have to do to survive out there.
Was enjoyable, though after 15 polity books I must say that "hooper/enhanced human and his witty, sarcastic drone/ship AI friend find themselves in an adventure" story feels a bit repetitive sometimes.
I’ve already mentioned elsewhere that Neal Asher is one of my favourite authors but as with any well-loved writer (especially if you are me) then you can approach the next book of theirs that you pick up with a little trepidation.
Not that I worry about Asher over any other author, actually I worry about him less as the main body of work revolves around the Polity universe, which pretty much means that I know that I’m going to be in for a good ride as the Polity is a wonderful playground.
The Skinner was set on the fringes of the Polity’s reach. Hilldiggers has no Polity interaction at all until that is an ambassador is sent whose arrival restarts a conflict between two worlds that have recently been at peace after the death of millions.
One of Asher’s strengths is how he invests time and imagination into the biology of the worlds he creates and the two warring planets, whose inhabitants have their origins as humans (and Polity history) but have both adapted to individual unique environments. And it’s fascinating to read the evolutions of those races.
The other thing that Asher does is set different world views against each other. Like the insect Prador’s society vs the Polity humans in books like Prador Moon. And the conflict between the two planets and their races is fully exploited here.
Hilldiggers shares a connections with later books such as The Skinner as the ambassador they sent is infected by the splatterjay virus, which allows him to adapt to the extreme environments he surprisingly finds himself in.
Cleverly Asher finds a way to neuter the Polity agents both the obvious (the ambassador) and its hidden observer drone. This does make the story more interesting as a result. They still have influence but it means they don’t interfere with events in the way that stop the conflict reaching genocide.
But for all that this is a story of four children who as born following their mother’s pregancy near an alien artifact. One that one planet has put a lot of research into and gained scientific and military advantages from in the process.
We also follow the view points of several of the main characters, which rather than fragments makes it easier to see the whole jigsaw rather than trying to figure out why one piece won’t fit.
I did however have issues with one of the characters and their motivations, which is always the downside of a multi-view story. You want to get back to the characters you like and can’t see why some of the action can’t take place offstage. Though I didn’t mind seeing from their view. It’s hard to explain who it was or why it didn’t seem quite right without giving away some pivotal plot points.
Not that it spoiled the overall effect but it felt more like the story needs this than the need of the character. However that could just be me comparing threads and finding not as enjoyable as the others.
Hilldiggers is a stand-alone title in the Polity universe but I think reading something like Prador Moon or The Gabble would be better introduction to Neal’s work but for fans this is well worth reading.
Hilldigger has an Old Captain aka immortal from the planet Spatterjoy. He's the Polity envoy-cum-assessor to two colonised planets of pre-Polity humans who've been having a running space war for several centuries. One planet, the hotter one in the system, is home to the high-temperature-adapted Sudorians, who find 55C chilly, and bear an ancient grudge against the Brumallians who live on the slower and cooler planet, and have organic tech to save themselves from a chlorinated atmosphere. The war is won by the Sudorians, when they capture an alien/artifact called the Worm, imprison it, learn about U-space and other such. Immediately after this, the Polity comes offering tech and miracles, if only the Sudorians (and maybe the vanquished Brumallians, later) join up. Except that Fleet doesn't want peace. And four genius quad orphans are manipulating their way up into Sudorian society for reasons they themselves don't know. Our Envoy needs to ensure peace while being under constant attack from factions and also from a Spatterjoy pair of viruses fighting it out in his body, while his invincible helping drone is half-destroyed.
Swashbuckling, breathless, wonderful space opera of the best quality. Inventive, full of tech and creatures from the highest and maddest level of creativity.
Except that asteroids are not so close that they keep banging into each other every few hours. I bet even Saturn's rings don't have that kind of hectic clashing of rocks, and they are a sight denser. Neal Asher, major fail, that.
The book focuses on the century-long conflict between two planets outside the Polity: Sudoria and Brumal. Humans flying out of Earth in generation ships colonized both Planets, but strong differences between two groups and the substantially different environments of each Planet led the inhabitants to diverge from the baseline human form and each other.
The plot centers on the Polity Consul Assessor David McCrooger and four Sudorian siblings of extraordinary capabilities. Most of the story involves the Sudorians distrust of the Polity, the mystery of the four siblings, and "The Worm," an alien captured years before that gave the Sudorians their technological advantage to win the war.
This book is somewhat different from the previous books in the Polity Universe, bringing a whole new set of characters and a conflict happening entirely outside polity space. There is very little Polity intervention and technology in this book.
Overall, I'd recommend this book. Reading a previous Polity Universe book is not strictly required, but some Polity Universe background can be helpful.
It's odd to read one of an author's first books and discover that it is chronologically the last book in a long arc of stories.
Hilldiggers has only one of the familiar Polity characters of the Cormac/Dark Intelligence series, the AI Geronomid. The tale is a good one, but at times lacks the tight, lean feel of the author's later work. Then there is the similarity of The Worm to Dragon and the total absence of Jain tech, which later books explained was spread across almost all known human and Prador space. The Worm seems to have many Jain attributes but the story never develops in that direction.
Regardless, Hilldiggers is an excellent read that more or less pairs with Lockdown Tales as an overview of the late- and post-Polity universe.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
While set in the Polity universe (or just outside its power sphere, actually) it stands alone as a story.
A gradually revealed mystery, which ends up not being quite as obvious as it might have appeared to be, with a contradictory set of principal semi-humans who you may or may not like or identify with, and a reverse Frankenstein phenomenon thrown in to demonstrate the fallibility of aliens as well as humans. Oh, and as with Iain M Banks, the most interesting characters are AIs.
And the title, as with some other of his books, is not so much misleading as not indicative of the main narrative.
Another of Asher's excellent stories. He does a good job of keeping you in suspense so they are an easy and fast read. This one is a stand-lone but builds on Polity and AI with a new - old earth settlements where evolution sped to adapt to environment. Again, serious baddies with the sprinkle of goodies to balance the show. Based on 4 brilliant siblings who are key to the future of millions. They were tweaked by an entity that was captured, to achieve its own ends. Much fun. What's my next Asher?
Space Opera / Military SF. Even though this is part of Asher's Polity universe, it's self-contained and the Polity history is explained enough to consider this a standalone. It's not as grimdark as some of his other work, and some of the actions by various characters seemed a little unrealistic, but I found it entertaining enough to seek out more of his books.
(r/Fantasy 2022 Bingo Squares: Weird Ecology (HM); Set in Space (HM); Standalone (HM); Revolutions and Rebellions (HM); Features Mental Health (HM); No Ifs, Ands, or Buts; Family Matters.)
Been reading the Polity series now for the last month and I can easily say that this book is by far the worst of all of them. It feels like it’s a book written by Asher, years before he perfected his writing style. Weak storyline and no memorable characters, apart from the drone Tigger.
Since this book is a standalone in the Polity universe I recommend you skip this one and go directly to the next instead.
The Polity is clearly influenced by Iain Banks' Culture. This one felt the most like a Culture novel and that made it quite enjoyable. Sure there are space battles, it is an Asher novel after all, but most of it is simply getting to know the power players in the drama, and how the Polity AI's have perturbed the status quo in their subtle ways. The Polity observer and consul are almost irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.
A good story and I love the universe he created that this story takes place in - the characters are quite well developed and the back-stories are fascinating. For me though, this just doesn't rise up to the promise and complexity that's set up at the beginning of the book. The ending is a little disappointing - I expected more at the end.
I'm pretty sure Neal Asher is my favorite sci-fi writer. His Polity series is just excellent. In this installment, the Polity makes contact with a solar system of two warring factions. One focuses on technology and the other on biological engineering. Four siblings, of unusual birth, find themselves shaping the future for their worlds. And the Polity are there to assist.
I've just found Neal Asher on Goodreads. I'm not going to leave a review, except to say that I own every. single. one. of his books in paperback. Books are expensive in South Africa, and I *really* don't have a lot of money. I buy them anyway, and cut back on other costs for the month. He's that good.
The good: Interesting civilizations, and a whole new meaning on what a hive mind can also be. Interesting AI (of course:)). Interesting side step from the usual Polity stuff, while integrating the Polity.
The not so good: The last 20% of the book dragged on for a bit.
Summary: Still a good read and money well spent. Mr. Asher does SF very well.
Another "WOW" from Asher! This story was a very wild ride, and I found myself wondering at the twists and turns the plot took. And it went to a totally unexpected place at the end, but I really should have known. About halfway through, I found myself extending my walks just because I didn't want the story to end. And that's definitely not a bad thing.
I have gotten used to the fact that some of Mr Asher's stories start out seemingly fragmented and confused, but some perseverance leads to threads coming together with rather surprising elegantly and even humor.