Ian Cormac is Neal Asher's James Bond, albeit a Bond colder, more calculating, and deadlier than even the new Daniel Craig version. Cormac's lack of affect and human connection is central to the plot of the first Cormac novel, GRIDLINKED, but how did he become a cold-blooded killer in the first place? Were his parents murdered before his eyes by a petty thug, like Bruce Wayne's in "Batman"? Did he experience some other sort of transformative event?
The best answer I can glean from Asher's sixth Cormac novel, SHADOW OF THE SCORPION, is that he was just born that way. The novel proceeds on two tracks, one dealing with his experiences as an eight-year-old on Earth during the Prador War, and another dealing with his first mission with Earth Central Security at age twenty-two (or so). Cormac's childhood was not idyllic--his father was away fighting in the war, his mother was emotionally fragile and possibly alcoholic, and his older brother returned from the war badly damaged and barely able to talk about the horrors he had witnessed. Cormac wasn't abused or badly neglected, however, and little that happened appeared to faze him. The only shred of psychological explanation is an oblique reference to mild autism.
The core of the novel, however, is not Cormac's childhood but the other track. As a newly minted grunt, Cormac is quickly thrust into an adventure that involves him infiltrating a terrorist network and ultimately chasing a bad guy halfway around the galaxy. By the end, he has advanced into the elite ranks of the Sparkind and is well on his way to becoming a full-fledged Polity Agent. This does little to differentiate SHADOW OF THE SCORPION from the other Cormac novels, but it's done well enough that few Asher fans will complain ... at least not loudly.
The titular scorpion is a war drone that ominously appears several times in the novel, and each time he appears to want to speak with Cormac, but is thwarted. There is clearly some connection between the drone and Cormac's father, but the nature of that connection is left hazy until the very end. Asher provides few clues, leaving the reader to wonder whether the drone might somehow *be* Cormac's father, or might know that Cormac's father is alive somewhere and playing at Darth Vader, or under the spell of an evil wizard, or something like that. The scorpion is in the title, he appears several times in the book, so he must have something really important to say, right? Unfortunately, when Cormac finally catches up with the scorpion, what the scorpion tells us, while sad, will have about as much impact on the reader as it does on Cormac, which is to say not much. And that says a lot about this novel.
SHADOW OF THE SCORPION will appeal most to those who have read most or all of the preceding Cormac novels, and it will make the most sense to readers who have completed at least GRIDLINKED and SPATTERJAY, but readers without prior exposure to Asher and his Polity universe will not be lost.