Christian Cantrell’s Scorpion is a weird technothriller. For about two thirds of its length it seems to follow a fairly standard path of agent versus serial killer. But then it takes a significant right turn and the techno overtakes the thriller sending the whole plot in a direction that few readers would be able to predict or possibly follow.
The weirdness starts in the prologue where the background radiation from the Large Hadrion Collider seems to contain a message and there is a theory that the message could be from the future. Cut to the CIA which is investigating a series of seemingly random killings around the globe. The only thing that seems to connect these murders is that each victim has a four digit number embedded on their body somehow. The other odd detail is that each victim is younger than the next. Enter super analyst with a tragic past, Quinn Mitchell who is taken off a nuclear terrorism taskforce to help track down the killer. One of Quinn’s fellow agents is Henrietta Yi, the scientist who decoded the Collider message and is also working on a top secret project for the agency. While spending some time with Quinn, Cantrell also follows that killer, a man called Ranveer, and delves deep into his methods and the various high-tech gizmos that he uses to get his grizzly job done.
For reasons that are never explained, desk jockey Quinn goes by herself to LA on Raveen’s trail and then, using her analyst skills, follows him (again alone and unsupported) to Oman and then to Dubai. She is clearly out of her depth and no reason is given for her not having some form of field-trained back up. But despite her complete lack of field skills she somehow manages to catch up with Raveen. So far so standard – a story of a tech enabled killer being tracked by a tech savvy analyst. But it is at this point that the story gets weird and becomes more scifi than thriller, in ways that do not quite make sense. Suffice to say there are elements of time travel and predestination that do not hold up to too much detailed scrutiny.
Scorpion will appeal to technothriller fans. It is full of weird technical weaponry (all lovingly described), detail of enclaves for the wealthy in Dubai and their use of cryptocurrency, and on the other side, clever use of data and analytics to track down a virtual ghost. And there is plenty of tech in the back half but it is a little more arcane and bases itself in one of the most fundamental paradoxes of the science fiction (and philosophical) canon so may leave the usual fans of this genre scratching their heads more than a little.