Hilldiggers by Neal Asher

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Hilldiggers by Neal Asher

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Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Hilldiggers concerns an ambassador, stuck between two planets about to resume their episodic space war; and would be fine were there fewer political elements.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 496 Date: July 2007
Publisher: Tor
ISBN: 978-1405055000

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A long way from the here and now, a chap called McCrooger will approach a pair of planets that have recently finished engaging each other in a space war. It was a needless war, of course, and a very episodic and lengthy one due to their erratic orbits. However the titular planet-churning, city-ploughing spacecraft had finally tipped the balance.

This doesn't mean that McCrooger, arriving as ambassador for the colossal Earth-based human empire known as the Polity, is entering a system of peace. A lot of what he is about to witness boils down to a family of four quads, child prodigies all of whom have a lot of influence on current events. A lot of that influence might be down to the token mysterious alien artefact, a worm-shaped item that was smashed into four by the military and is now quartered (pun intended) on its own space research station.

There is a lot to commend this book. The science is certainly on the hard sci-fi side, whether referring to computers, spacecraft or genetic manipulation. There is invention too, with nothing at first what it appears to be - the history of the two warring sides is one example; and McCrooger (whose nicely fresh first person narrative doesn't sustain its colloquial sarcasm) has some interesting interior biology.

If one were to close one's eyes (daft, I know, when reading a book) one might even be holding a classic of science fiction. It's not just the excerpts from a political science/history book that launch each chapter (never fully appropriately, unfortunately) that reminded me of the Foundation series - but I cannot remember Asimov as ever being this political.

There are still so many fractious factions - the Sudorians, the Brumallians, the military, itching for the war to resume, those people stuck living on space stations in orbit - there are goodies and baddies everywhere, and in the deserts in between. And let's not forget the highly powerful Polity character known only as Trigger.

Luckily this is all easy enough to follow, although perhaps some of the political ideas are laboured a little - such as the planetary consensus on Brumal, reached by pheromonal dialogue. It is usurped, though, again unfortunately, by a lot of infighting (and just plain fighting) caused by one certain Hilldigger captain making inroads into the peace. I wouldn't go as far as to call the book woolly (it doesn't feel particularly too long, even at 470 pages) but perhaps there's too much of this before McCrooger can gather enough main protagonists together, state the obvious, and launch the last hundred pages into action.

However for me this book loses marks due to the way Asher has avoided a rollicking, filmic, inventive adventure for a heavy, politics-based story. I'm sure he could have crafted something much better than a token space opera, but he has gone too far I think with the seriousness. Anyway, five stars were never going to be possible - the ending is too predictable, if the volume of the "I was a metaphor!" scream on the last page is not.

Hilldiggers must be right up the street of Asher fans, who would welcome this further Polity book with open arms (he's written at least two more, just from past titles, but this is perfectly self-contained). It remains a good piece of British science fiction, but I think the inventiveness on view was containing something a little fresher, brighter and hence more to my taste.

I would still like to thank the publishers for giving Bookbag a copy to review.

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Buy Hilldiggers by Neal Asher at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Hilldiggers by Neal Asher at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Hilldiggers by Neal Asher at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Hilldiggers by Neal Asher at Amazon.com.


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