Shadow Of The Scorpion A Novel of the Polity by Neal Asher
This is a science fiction novel. It is about a spy, Ian Cormac, a remorseless man with a capacity for extreme violence and an ability to think on his feet. There is a lot of action and intrigue in this novel.
This story is the beginning of Ian Cormac's career. It starts wtih Ian Cormac's first tour of duty in the military. The setting is at the end of a war between the human Polity and the Prador, a vicious predatory alien carnivorous species who view humans as exotic cattle.
Not all of humanity likes being part of the Polity. Artificial intelligences have taken over creating an age of prosperity for humanity. People are better housed, clothed, and educated. Still, people want their freedom. Not everyone wants to be integrated into a machine society.
There are flashbacks to Ian's childhood. His mother reminds him that he should be an adult before he accepts any cybernetic enhancements. Part of the theme of this novel is the relation between man and machine and what keeps us human.
Ian Cormac finds himself at the wrong place at the right time. He is recruited by the artificial intelligences to investigate rebel activity next to a fallen Prador ship. His job is to prevent the rebels from getting access to alien weapons of mass destruction.
It is a trial by fire for Ian who must outthink the rebels and outfight them despite being untrained in espionage. Cormac demonstrates constant ruthlessness, biting sarcasm, willingness to tinker with deadly weapons, and the ability to mislead with the best.
There is a second thread with flashbacks to Ian's childhood. His mother has excised many of the memories which would have caused him pain or remorse. Many of these memories are about the war with the Prador. A rogue artificial intelligence helps him remember about his fathers death and other painful childhood memories. The removed memories are part of what make him so dangerous.
This novel is very dark. It asks a lot of philosophical questions. What divides humans from machines? How can we maintain our freedom and individuality in an artificial world? Combined with the philosophical questions are all out fast paced action sequences. The artificial intelligences come across as more human than humanity. I had a hard time putting this novel down.