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Neal Asher – Shadow of the ScorpionNeal Asher is an English writer of action-based Space Opera. His output is hard to quantify I find, given the number of short stories, novellas, collections, chapbooks etc on the market – never mind the different ways different people count his series. My view, then... 5 books (excluding this one) in the Agent Cormac series, 3 in the Spatterjay sequence, plus another 4 novels and a collection in the Policy Universe. Outside of that setting there's a rather marvellous stand-alone time-travel novel (Cowl), and the Owner series he's currently writing (the only part of his output which didn't find favour with me so far).

 

The Shadow of the Scorpion is the post-written prequel to Neal's Agent Cormac series. Which, in my book (sic), is one of his better, more intelligent ones, mixing the action with character development and rumination/exposition on some of the bigger questions around an AI led society, loyalty, doing the right thing, and the price one pays for those.

 

But this is not a Cormac novel. Instead you could describe it as a proto-Cormac story, told in two alternating threads. One of them shows Ian Cormac as a child, in school and with his mother (an archaeologist who digs up dinosaur bones. Oh dear.) - his father is away, with his Sparkind unit, fighting the Prador. His brother is also in the war (I suspect most people are, at that point), but we see him come back to have his memories edited, to re-enable him to work as a front line medic. But he is being followed by a war drone, in the shape of a Scorpion (yup, that makes the title. Although I there's more to it, and I thought it quite clever).

 

 

The other thread shows Cormac as he goes through the end of his initial training with the ECS forces, and his initial deployments during clean-up after the war (Prador remains. Crashed Dreadnoughts. Separatists. The Graveyard. Hoopers). It is this thread which really seems to contain the formative experiences of young Cormac, not the childhood one, interestingly. 

 

Both threads come together at the end, in a rather interesting way – and I cannot say much more without spoiling the rather clever structure, so I shan't. Take it from me that that I think this rather well done.

 

I think this needs to be read as it was written – I can't see much point in someone going ahead and reading this before starting the actual series, it really only makes sense as an addendum. Even if you know where you're going to end up (ECS Agent. Shuriken. Thin Gun) I didn't feel that this really was a problem. More like the fulfilment of a prophesy...

 

For an Asher book this is actually quite cerebral and introspective. It's not that there's none of the action we're accustomed to from him, but it's not as relentless and empty and dominating as some of it can be at times; instead there's pacing, a clever structure, and a certain amount of introspection; really all the things which made the Agent Cormac series more intelligent and thus standing out from some of his more mindless-escapism entertainment.

 

 

 

More Neal Asher

 

Title: Shadow of the Scorpion

Author: Neal Asher

Series: Agent Cormac

Series Number: 6

Reviewer: Markus

Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net

Publisher:  Tor

Publisher URL: http://www.panmacmillan.com 

Publication Date: 2009

Review Date: 140101

ISBN: 9780330478779

Price: UKP 7.99

Pages: 341

Format: Large Format Paperback

Topic: SF

Topic: Space Opera

 

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