PrintE-mail Written by Andrew Marshall


The Age of Scorpio is driven by three plotlines, each revolving around a search quest. Far in the future, a pair of ruthless bounty hunters are hired by a mysterious benefactor to recover a valuable piece of stolen technology; in modern-day Portsmouth an ex-con searches for her sister with a technologically enhanced enforcer amidst the petty thugs of the criminal underworld; and in the past of ancient Britain, a druid chases after otherworldly warriors who kidnapped her tribe for some nefarious purpose. You spend the book waiting for the point when the narratives will converge and everything suddenly makes sense and your patience and concentration for the last 500 pages will pay off. Thing is, they don’t.

When several plots are told in parallel their development should be concurrent if they are part of the same story, or if like here they take place in different times, they should at least exist in developmental harmony. However, aside from some recurring details of the background mythology the three stories have virtually nothing to do with each other, and only in the novel’s dying pages do they have any direct link, by which point you’re past caring.

The three tales certainly do not need to be read simultaneously to make sense of them, so instead of a single book with three entirely disparate plots it would have worked better as a trio of novellas, a literary triptych driven by the concept of portraying the same ideas during separate periods in history. The main link between the stories is the use of ancient and powerful alien biotech and the differing perspectives of its operation: in the far-flung future, it’s merely expensive and largely illegal equipment; in the present, it’s incomprehensibly hi-tech weaponry; and in the distant past, it’s magic; the latter tacitly invoking Arthur C. Clarke’s famous observation regarding significantly advanced technology.

Tension is lost when characters periodically cheat death in various manners, such as being cloned back to life; consciousness being destroyed but then replaced by some other entity with no discernible difference in personality; or being physically killed but hi-tech augmentations allowing for self-resurrection. Minor characters drift in and out of the action as and when demanded (and sometimes even when they’re not) with no greater purpose than to be thinly-sketched plot devices, and the perspective frequently jumps between various characters and back again for no other reason than certain points needing to be made at that particular moment.

As a further minor niggle, some details mentioned in the book’s synopsis – such as a Dune-esque war between galactic powers in the future or an End-of-Days scenario in the present – largely refer to background settings and actually bear little relation to the main events.

You can’t deny that Smith has a wealth of intricate, innovative and ambitious ideas, but as was seen recently in the Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending, there is a difference between mashing lots of great ideas together and the telling of a compelling and coherent story. He makes an effort to not spell everything out for the reader, as any decent novelist should, but unfortunately, also fails to provide the requisite context for the myriad concepts to be fully realised.


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