Fiction Review


Neuropath

(2008) Scott Bakker, Orion Books, 18.99, hrdbk, 306pp, ISBN 978-0-752-89150-7

The fact that this book has not come out under the Gollancz imprint should clue you in to the fact that this is being marketed more as a thriller than as SF, which is fair enough given the (somewhat flimsy) plot, though there is also plenty of speculation for the reader familiar with, say, transcranial magnetic stimulators and other stereotactic neuroradiosurgical devices and, even if you're not, don't worry, the book explains all...

Thomas Bible is a psychologist with an ex-wife, two children and a boring job at Columbia University and the last thing he is expecting is a visit from the FBI. Perhaps it is something to do with the serial killer known as the Chiropractor, who rapes his victims after first removing their spinal cords? But no; they are looking for Tom's best friend, Neil Cassidy. It seems he may be responsible for some bizarre crimes, some of which end in death and some of which do not. In the former instance a porn-star has her pain and pleasure centres cross-wired, and slashes herself to death in orgiastic delight; in the latter a well-known businessman has had his ability to recognise faces removed. In both cases they are victims of perverted neuro-science, but that should be beyond Neil's abilities. However, Tom discovers that Neil has been lying to him for years. Cassidy has been working for the NSA, interrogating terrorists and other subjects using neurosurgical techniques, 'tweaking' their brains. Now it seems he has gone on a murderous rampage in order to prove a theory that Tom addressed in a book he wrote. For Neil there is no such thing as free will, and emotions and meanings are no more than phantoms in the brain. Now Tom is the last chance the FBI have of tracking Neil down...

This is a very dark book, with a downbeat ending that many will find disappointing. Strangely, given the marketing situation, it is the thriller aspects of this book that most let it down. There are far too many clues which are not clues (but fortuitous 'accidental' contrivances), red herrings, and some flat out credulity straining events (in particular a car chase which, given certain backdrop information, simply beggars belief). That said, it all moves along crisply enough, and the philosophical and scientific aspects of the book are handled extremely well. Bakker can certainly write well and this is his fourth novel. For those readers interested in the science he recommends a few books, to one of which I can add my own recommendation: A Very Short Introduction to Consciousness by Susan Blackmore. Though Neuropath is far from perfect, I would still recommend it to both thriller and SF fans alike, despite the caveats mentioned above.

Tony Chester


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