Book: The Departure

Author: Neal Asher

ISBN: 978-0-330-45761-3

Neal Asher is a British science fiction author most well known for his Polity books, including the Agent Cormac series, the Spatterjay series and some stand alone books and short stories.

The Departure is the first book in a new series, The Owner. Set in the future, probably the 22nd or 23rd century, Earth is a dystopian world governed by the Committee, an elite formed from the two powers that created the world government, Pan Europa and the Asian Alliance. The world cannot feed or support itself, thanks to government waste and population growth. Government sucks in most of the resources and, in typical fashion, mismanages them and allows people to starve.

The DepartureThe population is kept under control by the Inspectorate Executive, a government organisation embodying the worst aspects of the Gestapo and Waffen SS, that has incorporated all police and military forces into itself. The elite few live a life of luxury; those considered assets are given enough to live, the rest either starve to death or are simply killed out of hand. An estimated twelve billion people are needed to die to balance out resource usage. Even though the technology existed that might have prevented the situation from arising, such as asteroid mining, mismanagement and lack of interest in the governed population exacerbated it.

The Argus Station, formed from and around a recovered asteroid, is the heart of the Argus Network, a satellite laser and surveillance network designed to keep the populace in hand, on top of the Dalek identity-reader guns and Inspectorate troops.

Alan Saul wakes into this nightmare, imprisoned inside a crate destined to be destroyed in the Calais incinerator. He has few memories of his life prior to this, except for his name, and, in his nightmares, the face of the man who tortured him. He also has Janus, a computer intelligence that communicates with him from hardware implanted in his skull. Janus seems a very advanced AI, and his internal hardware also seems to be far beyond the norm.

Saul decides to embark on a quest to discover who he was, why he was imprisoned and tortured and what his skills were. He has very little sympathy for either the Committee or the rest of the whole corrupt and tyrannical apparatus of government, so he also aims to instigate as much havoc and mayhem against them as possible. He especially wants to find his torturer, and have his revenge upon him.

The future in this book is rather bleaker than the one portrayed in Asher's Polity series. Even though there was violence and death, often unjustified, as well as people who just seemed to enjoy killing others or were simply after power, on the whole residents of the Polity enjoyed a good lifestyle, even under the governorship of the AIs.

Although I don't think The Departure is one of his better pieces, it is still an enjoyable read. Just be aware that the societal structure of this Earth is nothing like those of previous books by the author.

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