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Literature / The Polity

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A typical cover.
The series' timeline. See full version here.
The Polity is the name for the science fiction universe created by British author Neal Asher, and the Earth-based United Nations in space, The Polity.

The stories follow three plotlines. The first, occurring in the 2400s is centered around the Earth Central Security Agent Ian Cormac, and later his allies that have managed to survive at least 2 books. The second, set in the 31st Century, is centered around three travelers to the primitive world of Spatterjay and its notoriously deadly seas. The third takes place sometime between the two, following around the rogue AI war drone Penny Royal.

The stories of Cormac are Post-Cyberpunk and give the reader an excellent view of the military and political conditions of the Polity. Anything related to the other storyline covers life inside Polity borders from a civilians view.

The Cormac or Polity novels which form the core are:

  1. Gridlinked (2001)
  2. The Line of Polity (2003)
  3. Brass Man (2005)
  4. Polity Agent (2006)
  5. Line War (2008)

Other novels within this setting include:

  1. The Skinner (2002)
  2. Prador Moon (2006)
  3. Voyage of the Sable Keech (2006)
  4. Hilldiggers (2007)
  5. Shadow of the Scorpion (2008)
  6. Orbus (2009)
  7. The Technician (2010)
  8. Dark Intelligence (2015)
  9. War Factory (2016)
  10. Infinity Engine (2017)
  11. The Soldier (2018)
  12. The Warship (2019)
  13. The Human (2020)

This series provides examples of:

  • A God Am I: The primary symptom of anything using Jain technology: Skellor, Orlandine, Thellant, the Makers, Erebus, the Atheter race, the Jain made arrogance one of the two necessary trigger conditions for the stuff. The Prador race seem to suffer from this anyway due to their nigh-invulnerable ship armor, mind controlling of slave populations and their use of preserved infant brain tissue for super-computers.
  • Alien Non-Interference Clause: The Polity does not condone interfering with other governments... However a number of quasi-legal groups exist with rather restricted weapons with the sole aim of forcing The Polity to intervene and assimilate planets. It's not strictly enforced; the Polity and ECS do not interfere, but Polity citizens are allowed a lot of freedoms, amongst them is the right to arm foreign rebels, provided said gear is not military grade, even though something which is considered obsolete by civilian standards outclasses anything outside the Polity. However, ECS will enthusiastically screw the Alien Non-Interference Clause with extreme prejudice if a Polity citizen has been harmed.
  • Anachronic Order: Although books within a particular sub-series usually come out in chronological order, the same cannot be said for the setting as a whole. Shadow of the Scorpion, for example, is a prologue to the Cormac novels, but came out after the other five Cormac stories.
  • Author Filibuster: The author repeatedly expresses the opinion that an AI-run dictatorship is better compared to anything run by humans. The only planets to resign from the Polity both became human controlled, the first being a religious theocracy which immediately used a Contra-Terrene Device on a Polity city and was in turn wiped from reality. The second returned to the Polity 80 years later as a world of tribal primitives.
  • Badass Normal: Thorn, even by the standards of the baseline Sparkind he is a badass. Too bad everyone else is a post-human badass, or a fucking space ship with Earth-Shattering Kaboom weapons
  • Berserk Button: Go ahead, kill a Polity citizen in view of any Polity AI, ECS Agent or Soldier. If you're lucky you'll be uploaded into a virtual prison for entity while your body is fixed up and sold to someone who lost theirs, if you're lucky.
    • Mr. Crane has a few: Don't damage his coat, pants, boots or hat. Seriously, don't. Also after observing how a terrorist group fed captives to local marine life, Mr. Crane chose to reinterpret his orders of "Only kill those who get in your way" from proceeding to the central compound and killing their leader, to walking spiraled laps around the island—ensuring that, at some point, everyone was in his way.
  • Big Bad: Erebus is the dominant personality in control of a vast fleet of hive-minded spaceships that control a technology that can assimilate anything they encounter.
    • the Jain, for developing a technology that is designed to respond to technologically advanced sapient beings that express arrogance and to slowly engineer the extinction of all life through the host's empire building plan.
    • Arian Pelter holds the surprising distinction of being the only antagonist to be a clear Big Bad. He has not been a pawn or byproduct of any scheme created by another entity, he is however a psychotic, arrogant, stupid baseline human and therefore weak in comparison to everything else.
    • In the Spatterjay arc, a Prador is the Big Bad until Always a Bigger Fish happens...
    • The Jain themselves show up at one point, and Hijacked by Ganon the plot. Understandably.
  • Bio-Augmentation: Nearly everyone in the Polity has some sort of augmentation, with the most basic being an implant that connects users to the data network. Things like mechanically boosted joints, additional limbs, and expanded brain capacity are considered commonplace.
    • Gridlinking allows users unlimited access to data and to even converse with AIs directly. However, it is also considered addictive and dangerous because users become increasingly dependent on AI assistance and they start forgetting to interact with the outside world. As a result, Gridlinked users are only supposed to be connected for a few years before being forced to disconnect.
  • Blessed with Suck / Cursed with Awesome: Getting the Spatterjay Virus can fit either category. On the plus side, you are nearly invulnerable and immortal, with a high pain threshold and super strength. On the negative side, if someone does want to harm you, a Fate Worse than Death or agonizing death will ensue. Also, because the virus wants to ensure a living host, it will sometimes transform the human host into a Body Horror or resurrect a Jain soldier
  • Colony Drop: A single Runcible engineer's Indy Ploy with a moon during the Prador War inspired the Polity to construct a few dozen portals to do this. Had the war gone on any longer the Polity would have officially changed its military doctrine for large scale engagements into a point and click adventure game: Use Moon On Planet.
  • Conservation of Ninjutsu: A single Jain infected human can often survive multiple times against attacks that would be considered overkill against a planet, but when you get multiple pure Jain soldiers absolutely nothing goes in their favor. Justified in that the Jain army was confronted by ten Dreadnaughts and the Prador King's personal flagship. While the single infected human spends his entire existence hiding from Polity warships. If they found him, he'd be incinerated from orbit.
  • Cranial Processing Unit: Averted with Reifications, who carry their "memcrystal" somewhere in their chest. This is likely close to the power source that supplies all of the mechanisms that reanimate their bodies.
    • Implied to be the case with Golems as when two are "burned out" by a self-destructed command in The Line of Polity they are described as having smoke coming from their heads. Isis Wade also survives having all of his body below the sternum disintegrated.
  • Crapsack World: More like crapsack galaxy until Polity Agent, where at least two galaxies are officially death traps. The Polity is essentially the only space based civilization that has not completely self-destructed or been wiped out. A conflict is only considered major when the most conservative estimate of losses is 10 million dead. Baseline Humans are notoriously squishy in the eyes of AI, Drones, Golem, Haiman and other post-humans.
  • The Corruption: Jain Technology functions like this, being a biomechanical superweapon.
  • Death Is Cheap: So far the only characters to be permanently killed with no conceivable are Horace Blegg, Thorn, and Scar. Citizens of the Polity may have their minds uploaded into Golem which are just robotic skeletons that can be customized, adapted into an AI, have a flesh and blood clone grown. Consequentially Polity soldiers have a tendency to be hardened veterans, in armored Golem variants with the better part of a century in experience.
  • Death World: Spatterjay, where virtually every living thing is chiefly interested in immediately eating every other living thing on sight.
  • The Dragon: Anybody using Jain technology at all. Most aren't even aware of their status and assume they're the Big Bad, except for Mr. Crane, who is so mentally broken being able to interpret orders is a miracle.
    • Dragon however is not the The Dragon, as it/them has/have been working to subvert their creator to bring peace and sunshine and honey goodness to the galaxy...
    • Separatists, as they're all too often puppets for Jain tech users.
  • Egopolis: Spatterjay is named for its "founder" "Spatter" Jay Hoop, as is the name for its immortal residents and the humans he formerly enslaved for the Prador, Hoopers.
  • Fate Worse than Death: For a Hooper, Prador "coring". Normal humans have the benefit of their brain dying during the process. Hooper brains are able to survive the operation... Actually any form of major dismemberment is this for Hoopers. The main cause of death is suicide, as many can't handle being immortal and being able to survive almost anything whilst retaining the ability to feel pain.
    • Even worse, for an older Hooper, is to fall in the sea and not get rescued (or instantly killed). They can potentially spend hundreds of years in the sea, being continually eaten alive (and regenerating), and 'drowning' without actually dying. Their only real hope is to be attacked by a predator large enough to kill them outright.
  • The Federation: The Polity, subverted in that they're only a democracy for the ruling A.I.s and even then there's only a few of them. And only if Earth Central feels like letting them have a vote.
  • Festering Fungus: When dormant, Jain technology exists in fungal form, its smallest unit referred to as mycelium.
  • Generican Empire: "The Polity".
  • Giant Enemy Crab: The Prador are giant enemy crabs. Giant, sociopathic, cannibalistic, man-eating enemy crabs with a penchant for enslavement and massive firepower.
  • Good Is Not Dumb: The most intelligent beings in existence are the Polity AIs, entirely for the reason that they treat Jain technology as the sapient sterilizing death weapon it is.
  • Insistent Terminology: A.I.s that have regular social interaction with humans often adopt a gender identity as much as to be compatible with human language as it is a case of determining their personalities. They will get upset like humans do if referred to by the wrong gender.
  • Kryptonite Factor: The only thing that can kill someone infected with the Spatterjay virus is a poison called sprine, extracted from the organs of giant sea serpents.
  • Made of Iron: The Hooders as in The Gabble have carbon-nanotube carapaces which dissipate laser hits, can survive loosing large parts of their bodies to proton-cannons designed to obliterate tanks, have uselessly long lives and near-perfect immune systems. One of they very few ways for them to die in the wilderness is by drowning.
  • More Dakka: Any ECS ships of Delta class or larger being deployed in combat & War Runcibles.
  • Mugging the Monster: ECS needs to teach its agents that just because it has a crappy skin sheath over a brass carapace it might not be a knock-off mechanoid, it could be Golem 25 with a serial killer's memories, lava resistant combat armour and a psychotic owner...
    • Conceivably the other way round is common for people who mug undercover ECS agents in borderworlds.
    • In Voyage of the Sable Keech, several Reifs take Captain Ron and Erlin hostage. The hostage situation lasts until Ron and Erlin decided they are needed elsewhere.
  • Neglectful Precursors: The Gabbleducks on Masada are actually the survivors of the Atheter race. They created everything on Masada to remove traces of their existence, The Hooders for example exist to remove any dead Gabbleduck carcasses
  • Never Found the Body: The problem with Jain tech is that even a few molecules can store a personality, and only a single "active" molecule is needed to start The Virus style reproduction cycle..
  • Our Zombies Are Different: Sable Keech in The Skinner is something like a cross between a Discworld zombie, a mummy, and a Hollywood Cyborg.
    • Cored Hoopers could be considered zombies, Even worse is The Skinner...
  • The Plan: From a non-Polity human point of view, the Godlike AIs are running a Gambit Roulette in a casino owned and operated by a legion of clones, but to anyone in Earth Central Security it's all going to plan. The AIs don't fail with their schemes with the exception of the legendary Horace Blegg. He realizes he's Earth Central's avatar and his entire existence is to give EC a view from the ground up and to act as a mythical guardian in the shadows of humanity.
    • Dragon is another example of this trope. Although as of Line War the Dragon, as a whole as done the unthinkable and engineered a Gambit Roulette, essentially violating the setting's unwritten law of scale plans by having an unknown random chance element in the plan.
  • Planet Spaceship: Some of the Polity's larger dreadnoughts are the size of moons- in fact, they're sometimes used as artificial moons for generating tides on terraformed planets when not on active duty.
  • Portal Network: We call them Runcibles. Having one on planet is necessary for Polity membership.
  • Post Cyber Punk: As is noted by several reviews, while the stories have the gritty feel of Cyberpunk, the setting is more along the lines of Space Opera, with Cormac and the other protagonists either working for the government, or at least aiming to better society.
  • The Punishment: Jay Hoop was a really nasty Space Pirate who collaborated with the Prador, and also had the Spatterjay Virus so, the Old Captains of Spatterjay beheaded him, and one captain keeps the living head in a "treasure chest". His body lives on, and is the "Skinner" of the book with the same title. It brutalizes anyone who gets near it
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: In the backstory to The Skinner, Sable Keech along with a group of Hoopers took revenge on humans who had collaborated with Prador and sold them to the aliens as slaves. As their enemies were also Hoopers, they killed them in brutal, protracted ways, or in one case, placed them in a glass coffin and created a Fate Worse than Death.
  • Sapient Cetaceans: The concept gets a Take That!; the narrator notes that eventually people were able to accurately measure the intelligence of animals, and found that despite longstanding stereotype, dolphins and whales were actually pretty dumb. Instead, the novel has a swarm of hornets who form a Hive Mind / living computer of equal or greater than human intelligence.
  • Sapient Ship: Polity war ships are commanded by AI's and one of the older ships also has a human captain who is wired directly into the ship and (in a sense) is the ship.
    • Ships can also reproduce, not like making a carbon copy, but an actual separate individual AI. Jack Ketch was created by a dying dreadnought. Jack himself created four A.I.s, All of which betray the Polity and except for one suffer the kind of fate expected for such an act, at the "hands" or rather weapon systems of Jack himself.
  • Sdrawkcab Name: Used for The Reveal in The Skinner
  • Sealed Evil Is The Can: The only way to describe Jain technology.
  • Sliding Scale of Robot Intelligence: Ranging from the barely sentient labor drones to the Nobel-Bot "Golems" and "Subminds" all the way to the godlike governing A.I.s.
  • Smug Bug: The only Prador that avert this trope are either infants or drones (cryogenically frozen infant brains in robot shells). Any Adult not behaving like this is either weak and therefore slaughtered to remove the weakness, or is attempting to manipulate events and is therefore slaughtered for being incompetent at concealing their motives.
  • Space People: A subset of humans have adapted to life in zero-g through a combination of generations living in space and genetic engineering. They are almost impossibly thin with rather delicate skeletons and can even survive in a vacuum for a limited time without a suit.
  • Technology Marches On: in the prologue to Gridlinked, humanity's most advanced computer is said to process terabytes per second, while in Alien Archeaeology the Athether memstore holds 120 gigabytes. As of 2015, a terabyte can be held on a cheap hard-disk from the store and a high-definition film can easily hit the 120-gigabyte mark.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Polity Line Dreadnoughts above the Delta class are forbidden from orbiting inhabited worlds with seas. A War Runcible acts as either a portal for instant transport of whole fleets or a method of sending whole moons towards hostiles at .0000001% below the speed of light. To emphasize the scale of warfare in this setting, a major war consisted of losing a 3,000 crewed vessel every 42 seconds. The above examples are only some of the more unusual techniques of which the Polity pursues overkill, the idea being that the only measuring unit is Megadeath.
    • This trope applies in another sense; the Polity does not ignore idle or implied threats. Anything that harms, or promises to harm, a single citizen will be destroyed with overwhelming firepower, extreme prejudice and enthusiasm, NO EXCEPTIONS.
    • Despite the sheer scale of the destruction of the Prador War (where they were losing warships every 42 seconds), there is still a wide-spread conspiracy theory that it was entirely made up, mostly as a Take That! to Holocaust Deniers.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Separatists: there is not a single one of them who stops to think about the fact that even local constables on backwater Polity planets are carrying More Dakka on their basic utility belts than most terror cells. Arian Pelter is probably the only one not to worry about this, as he is something of legend amongst Separatists and carries some serious firepower, plus his bodyguard Mr. Crane ignores nearly everything that can be carried by unmodified humans.
    • Arian Pelter, for thinking he could genuinely win against the Polity. To them he's just a persistent thorn in the backside. A hard to kill thorn that does kill a lot of people, but he still ends up being just as big a threat as a baseline human can really be.
    • The Proctors and upper class Masadans. They seriously thought they would have a shot against the Polity and get Curb Stomped by barely trained rebels using Polity equipment that isn't even restricted within the Polity. The Autodoc (a small autonomous drone that can reattach limbs, build new bones and perform lifesaving surgeries in minutes, found literally everywhere like fire extinguishers or emergency phones) alone granted the rebels a huge advantage in the revolution.
    • Not even A.I.s are immune to this, Jack Ketch's offspring despite being Polity warships and therefore informed on how just how powerful the Polity can be when pissed off while deploying its military, still think its a good idea to dick over the Polity. Even though the entire exercise was a trap to catch any A.I.s that might be planning to turn against the Polity, they stepped right into such an obvious trap. Not to mention they stole U-Space Inhibitor which is one of the most restricted technologies in the Polity (it jams hyperspace jumps by bouncing a black hole back and forth through a runcible, a fault can annihilate stars) activate in a region of space they know is being monitored for U-Space activity, and being picketed from the Polity side...
    • Erebus believes this applies to organic life as Jain technology corrupts them but has enhanced itself and its AI partners/slaves. Pity about the fact that Erebus needed humans to even get a basic interface with the Jain tech going. One of the humans used still lives on inside the Erebus hivemind, causing Erebus trouble and contributing to it's eventual downfall by sabotaging it from within during major battles.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Ian Cormac takes this in epic levels. Mr. Crane, as if he isn't scary enough being able to swim in lava as if it's water, But is later modified by a Dragon Sphere to be able to subvert and control Jain Technology without being infected.
    • Logically, it should extend to any non-native of Spatterjay who gets infected with the Hooper virus. Nothing says Badass more than having a localized sport that requires you to remove at least a meter of uninterrupted intestine without the opponent removing both your eyes or the two of you both passing out from bloodloss.
    • Sniper the war drone undergoes one of these as he goes from a centuries old outdated design of body (which was nevertheless badass) to a bleeding edge artificial body that combined with his trademark guile allowed him to survive being outnumbered by jain soldiers.
  • To Serve Man: Prador enjoy eating humans; and their own children- Evil Tastes Good
  • Unnecessarily Creepy Robot: Sniper (in his original shell) is a giant metal crayfish, with guns for mouthparts (which move to represent him 'smiling'), and is considered abnormally scary/ugly even by the standards of war-drones.
  • We Will Use Manual Labor in the Future: The Prador and their use of human slaves. It's mentioned several times that it would really be much easier, and really no trouble at all to use robots. The Prador are just bastards. And Properly Paranoid.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Medical technology in the Polity has advanced to the point where aging is virtually halted (to the point where letting one's hair go naturally gray is something of a fashion statement) and complete bodily destruction doesn't necessary mean that the human mind has to also cease existing. It's stated that the only real way for someone to die is for an individual to eventually become so bored that they have to make the conscious decision to stop living with no way for others to effect an involuntary resurrection.
  • World War III: Actually happened twice, first time was the corporate wars which jumpstarted the colonization efforts on the basis that being farther away from Earth equaled being less likely as a test subject for the latest Doomsday Device developed. The second was the Quiet War, which is essentially World War III as a Cold War, this time the parties involved were human governments and the Godlike AIs replacing them. The two wars are frequently cited as the reason why humans suck when in power, compared to the AIs like Jerusalem, Gordon or Earth Central itself.

Alternative Title(s): Polity Series