You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

My Photo
Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


One of the reasons I enjoy science fiction is I like to see visions of the distant future. There is a precept that technology advanced enough seems like magic, so part of the allure is the same as in fantasy, reading about fantastic sights and people. Especially intriguing is the idea of time travel. Every novel about time travel discusses the technology behind it, and most discuss the intricacies of what it involves. None I have read have gone into such depths as Neal Asher's Cowl.

The foundation of the story of Cowl is that in the distant future, two different races of humans make war on each other, eventually using time travel as a weapon. The Umbrathane and Heliothane have taken their war through time, bringing along innocent bystanders throughout history. The Umbrathane leader is Cowl, a genetically engineered creature who is both superintelligent and ruthless. Cowl has so little regard for human life that he destroys Jupiter's moon Callisto and the millions of Heliothane on it.

The story starts with Polly, a teenage prostitute in the twenty-second century, and a man named Nandru, who comes to her and embroils her in a dangerous scam. Nandru ends up dead, and Polly ends up with a scale from Cowl's immense time traveling beast, which sends her back in time. Joining her is Tack, an advanced agent from her time who also gets a piece of the scale in him. While Polly is dragged back in time, with Nandru's personality downloaded to a device attached to her, Tack is captured by Saphothere, an advanced Heliothane warrior from Cowl's time. Saphothere takes Tack back in time to Sauros, a Heliothane base in the Jurassic.

Tack is augmented physically and mentally. Polly struggles to survive as the scale, attached to her arm, drags her further into the past. Saphothere and Tack survive an attack by Cowl, then head back in time to reach his base. Cowl has set up a base just before the Nodus, when life begins to form on Earth, a time beyond the Heliothane's ability to reach him due to the immense power requirements. Polly and Tack and Saphothere all reach Cowl's base and have a part in the final battle against Cowl.

This synopsis is very brief, and there are many double crosses and intrigues throughout the book. I was struck by the plans and plots. Cowl is a formidable enemy, with vast amounts of power and technology at his disposal. The author does a great job of describing the technology that enables time travel, if not in complete detail. There is always a bit of hand waving at this point, but the author at least tries to settle the amount of energy that is required for the time travel. Interestingly, time travel is achieved through organic processes. And there is always talk about how different actions affect the ability to travel forward or backward in a time line.

The story is both large and personal. We follow Polly closely as she deals with the primal act of survival against dinosaurs and the elements. We also follow Tack as he becomes a weapon to attack Cowl, is reprogrammed with more abilities, and finally loses his programming and must create his own personality. The trip through history is entertaining, especially watching evolution in reverse, and seeing the Earth as a primordial barren wasteland. The book shows time travel in the extreme, discusses the evils of war, and shows personal survival against great odds. A-


Post a Comment

<< Home