On Death and Designation in Neal Asher's Transformation Trilogy

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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος --Iliad

Gordon Dickson's Soldier Ask Not is set in a different sort of milieu than the Polity. In it civilization has splintered along personality types. the three main Splinter cultures consist of the Friendlies, people of faith, the Dorsai , warriors, and the Exotics, philosophers. The viewpoint character, Tam Olyn, a man of Old Earth, is a vengeful manipulator straight out of ancient Greece. Tam asks some Friendly soldiers if they think they will lose the current conflict on which Tam is ostensibly reporting. They respond overwhelmingly in the negative. For them the conflict will end in victory or death, and "what is death?"

One might well ask "what is death?" in the Polity universe, where we have recordings of people's memories and personalities that can be restored in machine or living body form. What then is Penny Royal's crime exactly? Like Tam Olyn, Theovald Spear begins his story obsessed with seeking revenge for needless, unjust deaths during wartime. Like Odysseus, Άνθρωπος πoλυτροπος, both are much traveled on journeys of many turnings. Both, filled with wrath, seek to avenge the wrongly dead. At the end of both their stories/journeys come revelation, the truth, and freedom.

Of those seeking revenge against Penny Royal, Spear is least changed by the experience. Physically, he has gone largely unchanged. The mental and emotional changes are subtle. One change is his obsession with confronting Penny Royal. Another is a feeling that he is "pursuing a set destiny". According to google translate, "Thor vald" means "Thor selected" or "Thor's power", and Thorvald is selected by Penny Royal to represent those slain at Panarchia. Spear has received not only his own memories but the memories of others among Penny Royal's victims. He thus has a unique perspective of events on Panarchia. Like Tam he has the power of objectivity. Thus he has been given the power to forgive or judge/execute Penny Royal. A spear set to be Its chosen instrument.

Two other of Penny Royal's victims were self-selected, Isobel Satomi and Sverl. Satomi, whose name means "beauty" in Japanese, is/was a beautiful woman on the outside and a hideous monster on the inside. Through the miracle (Elizabeth can be translated "My God is abundance") of Penny Royal's nanotech, the ugly shines straight on through. Later, with the monster separated out, what remains is a memstore echo of the person that was. She is left to contemplate her beauty that was lost. One is left to wonder if there would be any value/point/benefit to restoring her further. There may not be much to restore.

“There is nothing left for me,” she replied. “I just want to go away now."

Satomi lacks character or depth-- she is unable to look more deeply than her immediate urgings. Like the war machine she was transformed into physically, she locks onto a goal and moves to achieve it, no time to think of consequences. She sees that Mr. Pace has become invincible a la Penny Royal and desires similar invincibility. When Trent Sobel expressed doubt that Mr Pace is happy with his transformation, she could not grasp the possibility that Mr Pace has made a Shaitan's bargain. Once separated from the war machine and preserved in crystal, she cannot let go of her anger at Penny Royal for the transformation he gave her. She desires restoration to her pre Penny Royal state, but not redemption.

His next Prador instinct was to find some way to punish them, but then he decided he was better ttan that.

Sverl's transformation is in the opposite direction from Satomi's. He goes from being a monster obsessed to ein Mensch. He was was obsessed with hating/killing humans, with his displeasure with the outcome of the war and the king that so ended it, with understanding how/why the war was lost, and finally, he was obsessed with Penny Royal. He is the most transformed and the most beneficially transformed of Penny Royal's revenge seekers. Sverl spent a hundred years studying the human condition and developed a great understanding thereof. He became a very unpradorish Prador- an intellectual. He developed hobbies and worked on science projects in his spare time. He gained not only the understanding of what he sought but a greater understanding of all things. He has left the war in the past and with it any resentment of Riss for infecting him with parasites. He has outgrown hate and the need for vengeance and has replaced it with an intellectual life and a pragmatism that opens new vistas to him. One might hope the Prador king can forgive the inconvenience of his survival and see him as an exemplar for Prador in the future.

"And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?" --Genesis 4:6

Apart from the Penny Royal experience, Spear and Sverl have common ground. Both are intellectual and gifted with enquiring minds. Both have that rarest of gifts, extreme competence. They contrast with the villains of the piece, Cvorn and Brockle, whose minds are set and whose competence is inadequate.

But, either way, Sverl was dead, and all Cvorn’s plans in ruins.

Despite availing himself of some Polity tech, Dragoncorp augs, Cvorn remains very much as he and Sverl were at the end of the war. Despite/because of the steadfastness of his personality and attitudes, he sets about rejuvenating himself physically and sexually. This rejuvenation inflates his arrogance and impairs his judgment, and provides Sfolk with the manner of his undoing.. Unchanged is his hatred for the Polity, the soft humans and the AI's alike. He very much resents losing the war.. He has this in common with Satomi-- a longing for vengeance. More than this, he wants to restart the war. He has no particular dislike for Penny Royal, beyond his hatred of Polity AI's, but Sverl is both an enemy and a means to an end. He would reveal the abomination that is Sverl, thereby inflaming passions throughout the Kingdom and re-igniting the war. Caught up in his feelings/anger/hatred, he never considers the surety of the disastrous outcome another Polity-Prador war would have for the Kingdom.

"For blood with blood shall, while I sit as judge, / Be satisfied, and the law discharg’d” The Spanish Tragedy III.vi.35–36.

Neither Cvorn nor Brockle is one of Penny Royal's victims. The most important commonality between Penny Royal and Brockle is insanity in the form of homicidal mania. It is a matter of degree. Whereas Penny Royal has a part that is insane, Brockle's insanity is all pervasive. Penny royal subdues and harnesses his insanity. In Brockle insanity gains full rein/reign. He is unstable, and his insanity escalates so that his self justification for his crimes is ever changing and his obsession with Penny Royal ever growing. He began as a sadistic cop who took more pleasure in hurting people than the job required. Not quite breaking the law sufficiently to merit/suffer execution, he is paroled to the prison hulk Tyburn. (Tyburn was a place of execution in Middlesex).

He shares with Penny Royal the abilities to manipulate matter with nanotech-- disassembling/reassembling people and things, and he can separate his parts-- shoaling and adding more sub units as needs arise. As his abilities grow, so grows his need to end Penny Royal and so increases his megalomania. The obsession leads him to not only commit actual crimes punishable by the ending of him but also to see himself as supplanting(?) Penny Royal. He begins by wishing to end an evil threat the Polity AI's are unable to recognize and ends by seeking to destroy Penny Royal and take his place in Layden's Sink. Confusingly, he will either cause a time paradox that would destroy the Polity and the Kingdom but that's O.K. or it is he that enters the sink to begin with, and not Penny Royal, so all the better. (I hate temporal mechanics.)

If you boil the water surrounding a prador, it won’t even realize it is dying.
Brockle ate itself for a thousand years..

Both these villains, Cvorn and Brockle, are profoundly arrogant and supremely overconfident. Like Satomi, they are locked-in and incapable of meaningful change/growth.If they would just get on with their lives and let Sverl on the one hand and Penny Royal on the othergo, they could be so much better off. Each is too obsessed to see objectively where their best interests lie. Each comes to a bad end because of it.


Dark Intelligence (2015)[6] ISBN 9780330524551
War Factory (2016) ISBN 9780330524612
Infinity Engine (2017) ISBN 9780330524636

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