Review: Shadow of the Scorpion by Neal Asher (Tor UK)


Shadow of the Scorpion by Neal Asher
Published by Tor UK and Out Now

Review Copy

Neal Asher is rapidly becoming one of my favourite authors after reading The Gabble and Other Stories, then Prador Moon and now Shadow of the Scorpion

All are set in some way in the Polity Universe where humans have crossed the universe with computerised help. The Polity is run by Artificial Intelligence. Not one but several varieties all with different functions. You might have thought would be cold and calculating and in some ways they are, especially in Prador Moon but they also instil the avatars they use like the Golems and weapons like the scorpion-like war drone with a wide variety of human emotions.

In Prador Moon we see the first contact between the Polity and Prador and it does not go well. It causes a war on an almost incompressible scale. A war that is still going in the flash-backed childhood of Ian Cormac and its aftermath is explored the present of the story. Cormac is haunted by his childhood memories as the story switches.

In the present we see Cormac going from being an ordinary solider (an Earth Central Security regular) to an ECS Agent through a series of events that pushes him into the sights of superiors. Though its unclear if it’s a case of being the right person at the right time or if the A.I saw something more in him from the start and this was just the push he needed.

Even though there is a war that is killing millions and threatens to turn humanity into nothing more than a food source for the Prador there are still those that see it as an opportunity to break away from the Polity even if it means weakening our defences and destroying us.

This sets Cormac up against someone he knows and gets involved in the terrorist  plot of the break up the Polity. At the same time he’s dealing with events of childhood that has him chasing the shadow of a scorpion.

Asher captures in  complexity of humanity like asking would you if you could delete your bad memories so you don’t have to deal with them? And what happens when these begin to surface?

Cormac turns out to be an exceptional hero. He has a capacity for extreme violence, he slips into the role of quasi-agent and he has a hero’s journey.

Shadow of the Scorpion explores the foundations of Agent Cormac and as such is a great starting point for those new to the Agent Cormac Series or Neal Asher in general. But not that I have a feeling for long-term fans that there are going to be more than one ah-ha moments.

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