Shadow of the Scorpion (book, Neal Asher, 2009)
From Death Ray #19.
Author: Neal Asher
After five novels of hi-tech action-man exploits, Neal Asher gives us Agent Cormac, the early years.
Agent Cormac is the star of five of Neal Asher’s numerous Polity novels. Cormac’s like the Daniel Craig James Bond of the future, hard as nails, sexually liberated, emotionally stunted, resourceful, prone to employing violence to solve the Polity’s problems yet strangely moral anyway. This is the Batman: Year One of the series, following Cormac’s early years and first mission in service of the Polity (though we note here that even by the end he is not been made an ECS agent).
There are two faces to Neal Asher’s stories. One is the wildly creative planetary ecologist. The other is the action man. The Cormac stories are in the latter camp. They are not quite as inventive as some of Asher’s books, and in truth they’re sort of the male equivalent of chicklit, really; a bit Bravo Two Zero. It’s pulpy wish-fulfilment fantasy stuff. The hi-technology of the time means that Cormac can repeatedly have bone-crunching fights, be smashed up and rebuilt. There’s an endless parade of fighting and tech-porn. But, though Shadow is not as thought provoking as some of Asher’s stories (we recommend the short ‘Acephalous Dreams’ to see Asher at his cleverest), it is massively good fun. Asher might cram a seemingly insupportable amount of information into his prose, but he’s one of the few SF writers who can sketch out entire histories and future sciences and still manage to be thrilling.
Asher’s work is generally excellently paced. Here he intersperses an incident from Cormac’s childhood involving a war drone (the titular Scorpion) with his first deployment as an ECS soldier. One of Cormac’s unit turns out to be more than he seems, and Cormac is drawn into a murky world of separatists and stolen alien weaponry. A top-quality adventure story, and an excellent jumping on point for those new to either Cormac, the Polity, or both.