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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Review: Cowl

Cowl is Neal Asher's time travel novel. The novel, not set in his Polity universe, follows two characters, a government trained special agent named Tack and a former prostitute named Polly as they get pulled back in time by organic time travel devices intended to bring them back to a mysterious creature named Cowl at the beginning of time.

The mechanism behind time travel is never fully explained, though the unique thing that Asher does here is to view history as a series of probability curve, and explaining paradoxes as pushing a particular group of events up or down a probability slope.

The characters aren't very likable, though we start to sympathize with Tack after we realize that he was effectively a programmed assassin and a pawn. What I dislike about the book, however, is that the characters don't seem to have much agency at all. Tack gets dragged this way and that by factions of time travelers and never gets much agency until right at the end of the book. Polly just keeps jumping backwards in time continuously without any agency at all either. So that makes the book a slave to the plot, the reveals, and the world.

Unfortunately, the plot's complex, but the reveal isn't all that interesting. The villain turns out not to be that much of a villain, but is still not a nice guy either, and the wrap up is just full of pyrotechnics for no particular reason. I'm not sure what Asher was trying to achieve, but his attempt at a cerebral time travel story with lots of action falls a bit short of his Polity novels, which at least have some sort of coherence to the violence.

Not recommended.

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