This new addition to the Polity universe starts off where the Polity Agent left off. Polity is still suffering from the onslaught of Jain tech, a lethal nanotechnology designed to destroy civilisations. Jain-infested Erebus and all his subjugated AIs are at war with the Polity and Agent Cormac, Orlandine and Dragon all are trying to their best, in their unique ways, to thwart Erebus's plans, whatever they might be.
The narrative constantly skips between different points of view: we have Cormac, the Jain-tech controlling haiman Orlandine, researcher Mika aboard Dragon, a subversive computer virus called Fiddler Randal who inhabits nooks and crannies of Erebus's mind, an AI called Vulture in forced co-operation with Dragon-modified Golem Mr Crane and, occasionally, other sentient entities on both sides.
Line War is probably just about readable as a stand alone, but there is a clear continuation from Polity Agent and it would be probably more enjoyable if read in sequence.
As the previous Cormac novels, this one is a space opera with a big helping of post-cyber-punk. All kinds of human-AI hybrids feature prominently (bio-machines and a powerful nanotechnology). The underlying conflict and, let me call it, existential core of the Polity world, buried deeply under the explosive high-tech, is about what it is to be a human or a machine, evolved or built, top-down or bottom-up.
And, as with the previous Cormac novel, I had a bit of a mixed experience reading Line War.
The world is compelling, the technological ideas are impressively thought up and put together, there is great, deepening, complex intrigue, really mean ships and faster than light action.
But all those lovingly told battle scenes are very repetitive, despite creative usage of various highly developed weapons and they often don't contribute much to the development of the plot. The characters themselves are rather flat, and social background to the Polity worlds almost non-existent. More than half of the novel is taken up by the build-up and the real, exhilriating suspense only kicks in in the last 180 pages.
For this reader, Line War would have been a much more enjoyable read at hundred pages shorter, with significantly less detailed descriptions of exploding metal, evaporating rock and coiling wormships.
Still, those who loved previous Cormac novels (and particularly Polity Agent) should get hold of this one as it does its job well. Other s-f readers should probably borrow it, unless they really like space opera with complex plots and a lot (and I mean a lot!) of technological bang. Personally, 3 stars, and from the BookBag an extra half bearing in mind the fact that there must be many fans of a SAS-type stories out there.
Tor hardback, 510 pages, around £11 on Amazon
This review was originally written for www.thebookbag.co.uk.