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Or R Scott Bakker, as he’s also known – author of The Prince of Nothing (The Darkness That Comes Before, The Warrior-Prophet and The Thousandfold Thought) and its sequal trilogy, The Aspect Emperor, which began a year or two ago with The Judging Eye.

While the books listed above are high fantasy – extremely good high fantasy, actually – Neuropath is a techno-thriller, a science fiction murder story. Actually, there’s not much mystery involved, as the main character, a psychology professor, is presented with the true identity of the killer when the FBI visit him at work and show him a video of a missing porn star cutting herself with broken glass whilst in the throes of ecstasy. The killer is his best friend.

Many of the crimes described further on in the book are just as disturbing – worse, in fact – and the point is that the killer is simply illustrating that all human emotions and concepts – lust, love, justice, spirituality – are nothing more than functions of the brain’s electro-chemical processes. The killer opens up his victim’s skulls to manipulate these processes directly. It becomes apparent that the killer has a personal mission involving the protagonist and his family.

The novel is perfectly readable, very well written – it moves along at a quick pace and is not especially long. Although it’s set in the near future, there are plenty of references to contemporary popular culture. Much of the story is taken up with the main character explaining to others the facts and implications of recent neurological research – for instance, the fact that free will is an illusion. Experiments have shown – and I’ve seen this on TV – that brain activity spikes shortly before a person makes a conscious decision, indicating that its the brain that actually makes the decision and simply informs the conscious mind of the fact as the decision is put into action. The protagonist – and, indeed, the author – state that consciousness is only a tiny slice of the brain’s full functioning and may, in fact, be completely irrelevant to its efficacy.

While such discussions are fascinating – and I have little doubt as to their truth – they bog the narrative down a little, but, more importantly, they make the main character come across as a mouthpiece for the author’s ideas, and the secondary characters always listen obediently, prompting further didactic spiels with their disbelief.

The conclusion of the story is far from happy, and feels inconclusive – probably quite deliberately so. Neuropath is supposed to be a profoundly disturbing novel, one where the true victim may not be a character on the pages, but the complacent self-regard of the minds reading those pages. As such, I highly recommend this book to anyone honest or brave enough to countenance the idea that their very thoughts, feelings and experiences may be illusionary figments of a mind that is both less and more than it thinks it is. It’s also not too shabby a story.

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