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Brass Man    by Neal Asher order for
Brass Man
by Neal Asher
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2005 (2005)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Reading Brass Man is rather like watching the play of a video game ... one that's violent with plenty of blood, gore and brain matter. The vast cast of characters range from human to AI (ship-based, planet-based and robot-based) - with everything imaginable in between, like humans downloaded into golems. It's all very confusing, figuring out who is what. And we never really get to know any of these characters - they remain simply avatars on a screen.

A sometimes somber mood is exemplified by this musing quote (which also gives a good sense of the players: 'What is death when doctors can repair your body at a cellular level, and maintain your life though your body be so badly damaged it is not recognizable as human? What is it when you can record or copy your mind? What is it when machines can regrow your body from a single cell, or build it from materials of your choice, fashioned to your highest or lowest fantasy. What is it when you can change bodies at will? ... Ridiculous questions, really, because nothing has changed. Death remains that place from which no one returns. / Ever.'

Story? Yes, there is a story in here somewhere, though it's an effort to unravel it. The book comes across like strobe lights illuminating brief flashes of characters (many of whom die just as you're getting to know who/what they are) and events, which do eventually attempt to converge at the ending. It's a patchy presentation and I really could have used a road map along the way. You have to like, and be patient with, this style of writing, and decyphering takes time, until you get into the flow of it. It turns out that someone called Skellor (whose sidekick is a golem, the titular Brass Man) has discovered an alien biotech, which is highly invasive and gives those it absorbs great power over others. Dormant for centuries, when it awakens, it destroys entire civilizations. It's active again, and the hunt is on for Skellor, who is doing its bidding.

One aspect I appreciated was knight-errant Anderson who hunts a dragon, assisted by his sidekick Tergal, on a primitive colony world called Cull; the duo invokes a subliminal reincarnation of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Though Brass Man is not for everyone, this wild and woolly SF adventure did hold my interest, and the last sentence kind of sums it up: 'What they had seen was real, sort of, in a sense ...'

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