The Age Of Scorpio book review


I’m a little too busy with other projects to post anything new, so here’s another recent book review I wrote for the British Science Fiction Association magazine, VECTOR.

Gavin Smith – The Age Of Scorpio

Gollancz, 2013

Paperback, 512pp

£16.99

ISBN 9780575094758

There are three stories running through The Age of Scorpio: an old one, a modern one and a future one.  All three are pretty grim and gruesome, and at no point does any character die peacefully in their bed at a ripe old age, surrounded by their loving family.

No one in The Age of Scorpio dies like that, even though practically everyone in the whole book dies.  Those who don’t die are only spared in order to suffer some kind of massively painful and permanently debilitating injury.  The Darling Buds of May this is not.

The Age of Scorpio by Gavin SmithThe three story threads follow, in chronological order, the grim and bloody footsteps of Britha, an ancient Briton; Beth, a modern-day ex-con just finished serving time for murder, and Scab, a psychopathic future badass who spends his days smoking fags, injecting heroin and killing people.

Britha is a witch of sorts; part of a proud tribe facing a terrifying – demonic, even – threat to their very existence.  They are about to discover there are things far worse than being humiliated in battle: supernatural forces from out there whose defeat will require greater sacrifice than even Britha, well accustomed to blood and loss, can possibly imagine.

Beth is not a witch, and neither is she a bad girl – not really.  Having served her time she returns home to Bradford, only to find her hated prodigal sister, Talia, has gone missing.  Beth traces Talia to Portsmouth via a web of weird sex, bad drugs and large explosions, and it’s there amongst Portsmouth’s thugs and gangsters that she discovers Talia has somehow become caught up in the end of the world.  Tsk.

And finally there’s Scab and his comedy insect sidekick, Vic.  Scab used to be one of the most dangerous and unstoppable forces in the known universe, an Elite.  But, stripped of his godlike powers, he’s now little more than a wretched killer for hire, spreading death, misery and destruction seemingly wherever he goes.  Chasing a piece of ancient Seeder technology in Red Space, Scab and Vic run into some of Scab’s former colleagues – and when you face the Elite even an attitude as murderously unpleasant as Scab’s is unlikely to save you.

I went through four distinct stages when reviewing The Age of Scorpio.  By 100 pages in, the unrelenting nastiness of every character had already become painstakingly obvious.  200 pages in and the law of diminishing returns was rapidly diminishing the never-ending waves of mutilation and murder.  By page 300 this reviewer was still reading only so that you, dear reader, wouldn’t have to.  But it was at page 400 that the dreadful realisation suddenly hit: this entire book really was one grindingly miserable episode of violence after another.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, right?  But such an over-done shopping list of death becomes simply tedious – a tedium anyone who has read De Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom will recognise.  The Age of Scorpio’s end, when it finally comes, is a merciful release, and like many of the book’s murdered characters, you’ll be praying for a quick end too.

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