Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Shadow of the Scorpion

Neal Asher Shadow of the Scorpion (2008)
Still buzzing from how much I recall having enjoyed The Skinner - which I read back in 2012 - here I am once again slightly underwhelmed by a Neal Asher title, so bugger!

Shadow of the Scorpion turns out to be military science-fiction, probably decent as military science-fiction goes, but military science-fiction nevertheless. It narrates the early years of Ian Cormac, Polity agent and two-fisted protagonist of other novels by Asher, so it probably helps if you've read those other novels and already care about the character, which I haven't and don't.

I gather this one is roughly about war, and the truism of its first casualty being truth, in this case referring to Cormac's memories which have been edited so as to remove the traumatic bits and thus allow him to carry on soldiering. It also occurs to me that some of this might represent an oblique response to the Iraq war, to US coverage of the Iraq war and to what went on at Abu Ghraib, which at least elevates it above the general level of most military science-fiction as I understand it to be, and about which I don't really care enough to investigate for myself, having at least a million better things to do. If that bothers anyone, please feel free to stop reading and piss off. Military science-fiction indeed! You sad fucking wankers!

Ahem - pardon me...

'—experiencing pain only hardens you, desensitises you, was how I thought about it all back then. I now understand that I was just being selfish, like a parent giving an unruly child drugs to calm him down. Pain, whether physical or mental, always serves the purpose of teaching the recipient to avoid it, but more important than that, it can teach said recipient to empathise with the pain of others. We need pain to be human.'

So, as military science-fiction, Shadow of the Scorpion at least has a more elevated purpose than the presumably usual weapons-porn driven fight to liberate freedom from the clutches of a giant space Nazi ingeniously named Obamack Bara or whatever; and Neal Asher certainly knows his way around a sentence, but the problem is that  most of the book
is actually quite boring, at least up until the last couple of chapters. It's well-written and wildly inventive - although nowhere near quite so apeshit as was The Skinner - but somehow I just wasn't feeling it. I've noticed how Asher occasionally has this habit of avoiding too many direct references to people, objects, occurrences or whatever, I suppose so as to avoid the sort of repetition which comes when everything is continually spelled out over and over and over. Unfortunately he seems to push the fine balance just a little too far over the line on occasion resulting in three or four pages passing with only an approximate idea of who or what the fuck they're all talking about, or at least this was how I found it. It's probably significant that I happily kept on reading, regardless, and still got enough out of it to conclude that Shadow of the Scorpion was more in the direction of a pleasure than not.

No comments:

Post a Comment