Scorpion by Christian Cantrell

What if Christopher Nolan’s Tenet was less in love with itself and the magic of cinematography, and just decided to tell a more interesting story? That’s basically what you have here with Christian Cantrell’s Scorpion, as a CIA analyst discovers that a serial assassin she’s been pursuing might have far stranger motivations than she’d ever dreamed.

Quinn Mitchell is one of American intelligence’s finest minds, but her personal life has gone to hell. After the death of her young daughter and the subsequent implosion of her marriage, her entire life is devoted to work, seeking to protect the world from the nuclear terrorism that, in this novel, wiped out Seoul some years earlier. As is the way with government-funded agencies, her taskforce has become so successful that it’s no longer deemed necessary. Thus Quinn is given a brand new assignment: analyze the data behind a string of bizarre murders worldwide, all differing in method and type of victim but linked by the presence of a 4-digit number marked on each corpse by the killer.

In this she’s aided by her new boss’ main Tech Guy, the brilliant if complicated Henrietta Yi. Henrietta left academia after making a major discovery at the Large Hadron Collider, and joined the CIA out of a desire to use what she found to help prevent more of the disasters that claimed her parents’ lives. But the more she learns about her boss’ designs, the more she wants out, and soon she and Quinn are engaged in a deadly dance through time and space to do what each woman believes will save the world.

This was kind of a weird book that I feel meant well, with great diversity and representation, yet came across to me as deeply unsympathetic to its main characters despite going through the motions of propping them up as Strong Female Characters. Quinn and Henrietta both lean heavily on the sociopathic end of the spectrum — which I usually think makes for great reading! — but Henrietta’s story, at least, petered out in a way that felt more confusing than otherwise, especially since the bit about the tags in Quinn’s breast after her cancer treatment was never fully explained. Despite having so many similar points of interest in common with the main characters — motherhood! Pokemon collecting! being too smart for my own good! — I felt like they were less fully rounded people than collections of quirks in a skin suit. A large part of this may be due to how rushed the ending chapters felt. I still don’t understand Quinn’s change of heart, and am hoping it’s not just because she realized that she really hates her dad.

Time travel narratives are always difficult tho, so if you like a bit of Day Of The Jackal hijinks thrown in to your sci-fi, with the romance levels dialed down to low, then you could do much worse than this intriguing genre mash-up. It’s 100% better a use of your time than watching Tenet, anyway (which I had to do for Hugo voting this year, so thanks for nothing, fellow Hugo nominators.)

Scorpion by Christian Cantrell was published May 25 2021 and is available from all good booksellers, including

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  1. I will be voting on Tenet sight unseen, whereas you, as I understand things, voted on it sound unheard.

    1. Haha, no, I heard it just fine (advantage of sitting at my PC to watch,) plus I usually have the Closed Captioning on anyway, so I don’t think I missed anything story-wise… which probably did not improve my enjoyment of the movie, tbh! I sometimes think Nolan chooses to obscure his own work so he can hide behind a cloud of inscrutability, turning critics’ insecurities on themselves instead of allowing them to judge his works on their (middling to above average) merits.

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