Monday, 27 April 2009

‘Shadow of the Scorpion’ – Neal Asher (Tor UK)


Regular readers of the blog will know that I generally tend to shy away from ‘hard science fiction’ and stick with space operas where the laws of relativity etc don’t form such an integral part of the plot. A rule of mine is to stay away from books that make me feel stupid because I don’t understand them (science was never a strong point) :o) In light of yesterday’s post maybe this is something that will have to change on the blog, we shall see...

Anyway... Having read Neal Asher’s ‘Gridlinked’ a few years ago I was ready to lump him with the ‘hard sci-fi’ lot but then I picked up a copy of ‘Prador Moon’. Hard sci-fi is one thing (and there were technical bits that I didn’t quite get) but when you add giant carnivorous space crabs (toting Gatling guns in their claws) then it’s a whole different ball game!
I was up for more of this kind of fare and ‘Shadow of the Scorpion’ (complete with menacing looking scorpion war drone) looked like it would deliver in spades. As it turned out, it did deliver but also failed to deliver at the same time...

If you’re a fan of Neal Asher’s ‘Polity’ series then you will have come across Earth Central Security agent Cormac, not a man to be messed with! ‘Shadow of the Scorpion’ takes a step back to Cormac’s childhood and his early years with the ECS. It helps if you’ve read previous ‘Cormac’ novels but it’s by no means a big deal if you haven’t. A childhood haunted by feelings of intense loss (that can’t be explained), and a large scorpion shaped war drone, sets the pattern for Cormac’s early days as an ECS agent. The enemies may differ but Cormac’s search for answers remains the same. The only difference is that the sheer act of staying alive just got that much harder...

On the surface, I had great fun reading ‘Shadow of the Scorpion’. This is a book driven by a mystery that Cormac isn’t even aware of until three quarters of the way through the book, a move that provides fresh impetus at just the right time and gives the reader a new perspective on Cormac’s childhood. At the same time as it’s doing this, ‘Shadow of the Scorpion’ is also trailing Agent Cormac as he attempts to get to the bottom of a terrorist plot. This is another mystery to be solved; one that’s a little more straightforward (we know who the enemy is, just not where he is...) but ones that’s driven at high speed by a heavy dose of gunfire, chases, intelligent weaponry and races against time. Neal Asher writes unashamedly high octane scenes that are positively ankle deep in spent ammunition and gore, he’s also not afraid to tackle the subject of torture (mental and physical) and these two approaches made for scenes that grabbed me and didn’t let go until their explosive climax.

There is a lot going on, and a lot for fans of fast paced frenetic sci-fi to enjoy, in ‘Shadow of the Scorpion’ but it was the structure of the novel itself that I felt let things down...
Telling Cormac’s stories as a child and ECS agent gives the reader ‘two stories for the price of one’ but I was sometimes left wondering where the connection, between the two, was. Other than Cormac himself, there didn’t seem to be anything else that connected the two plotlines and this lent a rather disjointed air to proceedings. At times I felt as if I was reading two short stories that had been tacked together to form one book. Either plot works fine on it’s own but stick them together...

I was also left a little bemused at how everything was tied up at the end. Cormac’s ‘present day perspective’ is split into two and the two plot lines resolved on one planet at the same time. Although the affect is quite cool I was left confused and wondering which plot line was resolved first. This wasn’t made clear although I’ll admit that I may have missed a trick here, three or four re-reads (of the last few pages) didn’t help though.

While Cormac’s plotline, as an adult, is resolved satisfactorily I was less impressed with the resolution of his childhood mystery. I don’t want to say too much, as it will give the game away, but I was left thinking ‘why didn’t she do the whole job instead of just half...?’ The answer is that doing the whole job would have meant this plotline was potentially not needed at all and I get the impression that this was to be avoided...

‘Shadow of the Scorpion’ is a fun read (loads of fun in fact) that suffered from structural problems once I stopped to actually think about what I was reading. It didn’t hang together very well but I found enough there to make me want to give Asher’s work another go...

Seven out of Ten

1 comment:

Jonathan said...
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