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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 two 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 stories of Cormac are Space Opera 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.

Books in this series

The Cormac or Polity novels which form the core are:

  • Gridlinked (2001)
  • The Line of Polity (2003)
  • Brass Man (2005)
  • Polity Agent (2006)
  • Line War (2008)

Other novels within this setting include:

  • The Skinner (2002)
  • Prador Moon (2006)
  • Voyage of the Sable Keech (2006)
  • Hilldiggers (2007)
  • Shadow of the Scorpion (2008)
  • Orbus (2009)
  • The Technician (2010)

This series provides examples of:

  • A God Am I is the primary symptom of anything using Jain technology: Skellor, Orlandine, Thellant, the Makers, Erebus, the Atheter race, the Jain actually 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 armour, mind controlling of slave populations and their use of preserved infant brain tissue for super-computers.
    • Subverted: Ian Cormac actually becomes more attached to humanity despite his ability to utilize U-space.
    • Earth Central, Gordon, Jerusalem and any AI in charge of the larger warship classes or a War Runcible subvert this. They all know they're gods, but are not at all crazy mostly...
  • 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.
    • Not quite so strictly enforced though, 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.
  • 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.
  • Backwards Name: Used for The Reveal in The Skinner
  • 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 Earthshattering Kaboom weapons
  • Batman Gambit: From a non-Polity human point of view, the Godlike AIs are running a Gambit Pileup to the power of Xanatos Roulette game in a casino owned and operated by a legion of Gargoyles David Xanatos clones, but to anyone in Earth Central Security it's all going to plan. The AIs don't fail with their schemes. Except for the legendary Horace Begg, realizing 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.
    • That was kind of a boner as the chosen replacement for legendary saviour makes it quite clear what he thinks of Earth Central.
    • Dragon is another example of this trope. Although as of Line War the Dragon, as a whole as done the unthinkable and actually engineered a Xanatos Roulette, essentially violating the setting's unwritten law of epic scale plans by actually having an unknown random chance element in the plan.
  • 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 and subvert anything they encounter.
    • Or to be more precise, 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.
  • Blessed with Suck / Cursed with Awesome: Getting the Splatterjay Virus can fit either category. On the plus side, you are nearly invulnerable and immortal, with a low 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 ressurect 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.
  • 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.
  • Dangerously Genre Savvy: A number of characters are smart enough to avoid Never Found the Body scenarios or assuming that a villain will keep their word and just leave the Polity. Unfortunately despite their efforts, Jain Tech means that said body can be microscopic.
    • It also helps that most use weapons that ensures there is only a body at the atomic level...goddamned Jain Tech!
  • 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.
  • 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: Coring a Hooper, 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.
  • The Federation: The Polity, subverted in that they're only a democracy for the ruling A Is and even then there's only a few of them. And only if Earth Central feels like letting them have a vote.
  • Game Breaker: The Polity warfare doctrine is to spam these at all levels of conflict from nanomachines that heal fatal wounds in seconds to... well read the above Colony Drop entry again.
  • Good Is Dumb: Subverted; 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.
    • The Atheter civilization deliberately engineered themselves into a non-sapient animal to prevent their race from being wiped out by the Jain tech. AND left a psychotic machine in space to destroy any leftovers.
  • Insistent Terminology: A Is 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.
  • 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 sheathe 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.
  • 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 Hooper's could be considered zombies, Even worse is The Skinner...
  • 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 wasps 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 Is, 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.
  • 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 Is.
  • 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.
  • 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 emphasise 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, if it harms or promises to harm a single citizen, it will be destroyed with overwhelming firepower, extreme prejudice and enthusiasm, NO EXCEPTIONS.
    • Despite the sheer scale of the destruction of the Prador War (The last one where they were losing warships every 42 seconds), there is still a widely 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 Is 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 Is 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.
  • 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 metre of uninterrupted intestine without the opponent removing both your eyes or the two of you both passing out from bloodloss.
  • To Serve Man: Prador enjoy eating humans; and their own children- Evil Tastes Good
  • 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.
  • World War III: Actually happened twice, first time was the corporate wars which jumpstarted the colonisation 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.