Hilldiggers is perhaps an odd book for Neal Asher. He has moved away from the Polity, though it remains in background, and has created what may be his most political novel yet.
Brumal and Sudoria have been caught in an interplanetary war for years, a stagnating affair, the balance of which is tipped by the appearance of an alien object – the Worm. After its capture and separation into four parts, a scientists is impregnated in one of its prisons and gives birth the quads before killing herself. In the meantime, McCrooger is sent from the Polity, carrying the Spatterjay virus, and becomes involved in the alien’s plan to come back together.
Asher was one of those authors who has steadily grown in stature, coming up in the general boom of British sf in the late 1990s and onwards. Though he doesn’t have the on page pyrotechnics of Reynolds, his writing is solid and entertaining. Hilldiggers is a mature novel which sees him perhaps poking at the idea of Ender’s Game or Starship Troopers and reflecting a sense that war is futile.
Set in a new universe, there is some info dumping but Asher sets the scene quickly and efficiently. Perhaps it does not have the gravitas of an Alastair Reynolds book but this is a thought provoking rattle of a read.