01/09/2008. Contributed by Tomas L. Martin
pub: Night Shade Books. 250 page enlarged paperback. Price: $14.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-59780-139-3.
check out websites: www.nightshadebooks.com
Neal Asher has made a name in the space opera section of Science Fiction in the new millennium, producing an impressive selection of novels all sharing his innovative technology, world-building and raw visceral violence. Many of these books have focused on his Polity setting, in which AIs, crazy alien worlds and insatiable nanotechnology clash with gusto.
Many of these books feature Ian Cormac, an updated James Bond figure for a galaxy of self-healing nanites and pervasive internet 'gridlinks'. From his introduction in 'Gridlinked' to his most recent encounter with the Jain-infected Artificial Intelligence Erebus in 'Line War', Cormac has grown in stature and abilities as his enemies themselves grow more formidable.
'Shadow Of The Scorpion' is published under a different publishing house. TOR publishes much of Asher's US output but this book is published by smaller house Night Shade Books. It complements rather than competes with the higher profile releases, focusing on Cormac's early life as a child and fledgling agent.
The book flashes between a young Cormac struggling to deal with the return of his medic brother Dax from the catastrophic Prador War and an older Cormac as he begins life in Earth Central Security. His partner Carl has gone rogue and Cormac is picked to go undercover to help take him down.
Nightmares of a scorpion-shaped battle-droid and gaps in his memory hint at unrevealed secrets as the older Cormac unravels a complicated separatist plot with typically Asher explosiveness. As usual the action sequences are delightfully anarchic and new technology and ideas are sprinkled throughout the storyline.
This is quite a short book and a relatively light read compared to some of the more complex Polity novels. The absence of the nefarious Jain nano-technology and less AI influence makes this an easier read but also possibly less rewarding. All through the book, Asher hints at a big twist involving Cormac's brother, father and memories. Because it was built up so much I had created big expectations and a few of my own theories so when the twist arrived I was disappointed at its straight-forwardness. A little more work could have created a more powerful plot reversal that would have made this book far more meaningful.
As it is 'Shadow Of The Scorpion' is a nice little read providing colour and background to the Polity universe. The action is as entertaining as always and the revelations about Cormac's past add more dimensions to the character but after finishing this book I couldn't help feeling an opportunity had been missed to create something more than that.
Tomas L. Martin
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