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Posts Tagged ‘Scott Bakker’

Disciple of the Dog is about a private investigator, Disciple Manning, who is hired to look into the disappearance of a beautiful, young middle class woman by her parents. Jennifer joined a cult that believes the world is an illusion, that it is really five billion years older than it appears and that therefore the Earth is shortly to be consumed by the dying Sun. Then, one night, she disappeared.

Disciple is the first person narrator of the story – and is both blessed and cursed with eidetic memory – true total recall. He comes across as a charmingly obnoxious cynic. In his initial interview with Jennifer’s parents, he explains to the reader that, when his clients start to get upset, to cry, the best thing to do is discuss his price. He is also intensely world-weary – he remembers in perfect detail all the worst moments of his life; his phenomenal memory continually sabotages his relationships with women: he simply gets bored with them.

So, when he gets the chance to hook up with a young woman journalist hoping to get a story out of Jennifer’s disappearance, he leaps at the chance to get her into bed. And, while the premise of the case seems straightforward at first, he quickly becomes excited by the anomalies he finds. The cult leader is a jovial and charismatic ex-psychology professor who takes all of Disciple’s barbed comments with ebullient good humour. The police chief is a gentle, youngish man who seems out of his depth. The small town where the cult is based is dominated by the sinister Church of the Third Resurrection. And then Jennifer’s fingers and toes start turning up around the town.

As long as you engage with the charming part of Disciple’s persona and not the obnoxious part (and I did), then Disciple of the Dog is a very entertaining detective story. Although Disciple is pretty full of himself, he’s also engaging and a little tragic. His singular talent enables hims to dispense with taking notes and to go over people’s words, tone and body language at leisure – theoretically making him a formidable detective. On the downside, apart from his personal demons, he has few flaws as a fictional character – his military and prison experience make him hard as nails and seemingly make him impervious to physical danger. And in the end, he has little to do with the resolution of the case – the answer comes at him out of leftfield, and he simultaneously watches events climax on TV in his motel room.

This is a better book than R Scott Bakker’s previous thriller, Neuropath, which I liked a lot. Where that other book was full of rather self-indulgent infodumps about the nature of the brain and consciousness, this one is much more concise. The story moves along at a brisk pace and never gets boring. It’s also quite short – due to its abrupt ending – but I think the length works well. I highly recommend it.

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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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