Cowl by Neal Asher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Well, now, this was a fascinating ride. I've been into Neal Asher's works for a while and didn't really expect to see a novel set outside of the vast worldbuilding structure he has since written, but here we are.
And his penchant for grabbing a big concept and torturing his characters with it is completely intact.
Here's the awesome bit: it takes place on a future, post-war dystopian Earth but the core conflict is actually a vast time-war with two sides going back in time to screw up the chances of the other. The chaos is potentially unimaginable. Fortunately, Asher goes ahead and imagines it, making it even more fascinating by including things like a bio-mechanoid beast of burden or symbiotic shards of consciousness set up as traps for future biological samples -- that kidnap them and send them, forcefully, back in time. Back VERY far in time.
We get to see a vast stretch of the Earth's past. And what's more, the characters and big bads are quirky and unique in the ways Asher is well-known for in his later books. Cowl himself, for example, is like a vast time-like spider pulling in its prey from all across the future. Getting out of this mess while getting dragged back in time is a truly fascinating story idea.
So, is it worth it to pick this book up? I think so! But some of the characters fall short of being actually likable. But that's ok. It's still a fun SF, like a hybrid between old-school SF and eldritch horror, all wrapped up nicely in survival adventure. :)
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