COWL: He is the summit of human evolution, and more vicious than any prehistoric beast.

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In Cowl Neal Asher seems to be doing to the time-travel adventure what he has been doing to space opera and planetary romance: to pump it full of performance-enhancing substances and send it crashing through a gigantically expanded version of its traditional milieu, exploding the big sets and sending body parts flying in all directions. -- Locus (Russell Letson)

'Readers with a taste for dense, high-concept science fiction will find much to admire in Neal Asher's Cowl' -- Washington Post.'Neal Asher can do no wrong, it seems. He possesses the ability to take on mammoth themes and make them original, credible and dynamic. Not to be read on a plane - this book deserves your full attention'  -- Dreamwatch (Colin Baker).

In the far future, the Heliothane Dominion is triumphant in the solar system, after a bitter war with their Umbrathane progenitors. But some of the enemy have escaped into the past, where they could position themselves to wreak havoc across time. The worst of these is Cowl, an artificially forced advance in human evolution … who is no longer human.

Polly knows no more than how to obtain the funds to support her habits. She is unprepared for her involvement with Nandru Jurgens, a Taskforce soldier, and the killers pursuing him. Nor is she able to resist the powerful attraction of the alien tor, which she is impelled to pull onto her arm… But she must learn fast as she is dragged back through time, not least that to the denizens of some eras, she is little more than a food.

Initially, the fragment of tor imbedded in Tack’s wrist is the extent of his value to the Heliothane – a point that is brought home to him with bloody abruptness. But he is a vat-grown programmable killer employed by U-gov, and no stranger to violence. His long journey into the lethal world of the Heliothane is only beginning, and the extent of his mission just becoming apparent. And he must become more, he must change, and be changed…   

Meanwhile, hunting throughout time and the alternates, Cowl’s pet, the torbeast, grows vast and dangerous. It sheds its scales where its master orders. They are tors – organic time machines to bring human samples to Cowl. And the beast feeds…


Excellent review by Paul Di Filippo here of the American issue of Cowl:

Foreign and old covers:



Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Cover Artists:
Reviews:Kirkus on Kirkus Reviews wrote:

Time-travel yarn, in the ultra-violent tradition of The Skinner (2003).

Centuries from now, the eugenicist-supermen Umbrathane are fighting a destructive war with the super-supermen Heliothane. Cowl, a genetically modified Heliothane, allies himself with the Umbrathane and time-travels back to the remote past, before higher lifeforms evolved. What he does there isn’t entirely clear, but engineer Goron and the other Heliothane want Cowl dead. Time is multiply tracked, with every change in a timeline giving rise to multitudes of new tracks (which is why Umbrathane and Heliothane can’t use time travel to wipe each other out). A monstrous, insatiable creature called the Torbeast, partly controlled by Cowl, sheds temporally active scales called “tors.” These tors attach themselves parasitically and irremovably to humans and drag them into the past to meet Cowl, to whom their DNA is of interest. Not so far in the future, meanwhile, teenaged, drug-addicted whore Polly helps warrior Nandru tussle with programmed government assassin Tack over a McGuffin. Though Tack kills Nandru, an intelligent device containing Nandru’s mentality implants itself in Polly, and both Polly and Tack acquire tors. Polly’s soon cures her drug addiction but causes her to eat voraciously while dragging her back through WWII, past Henry VIII and the Roman Emperor Claudius into the Stone Age. Traveler, a Heliothane, captures Tack, rebuilds and reprograms him, and aims him at Cowl.

Asher’s time-travel rationale holds up, amid the crackling energy and slam-bang action. The big drawback here: it’s impossible to understand the motivations of the movers and shakers—Asher’s belated explanations don’t help—and thus, absent noteworthy or appealing characters, hard to care about what comes next.

Mark Chitty on Walker of Worlds wrote:

Cowl, the genetically modified preterhuman of the title, has traveled back to beyond the Nodus (where life first began) in an attempt to change the future of life on earth to suit his views. He checks his progress by sampling DNA from humans of the future that are bought back through time by use of a tor. These tors are distributed by the torbeast, Cowl’s pet, a huge monster that has been created to travel through time at will – providing it has enough energy, which it gets from devouring humans of the future. . .

Go to review.

Andi Shechter on January Magazine wrote:

Did someone get the license of that book? Phew, I'm exhausted. Cowl is my first taste of Neal Asher and it was a whirlwind. Even at a not-huge 320 pages, I felt like I'd read an enormous adventure of a book, in no small part because of the number of ideas Asher packed into the novel. . .

Go to review.

Shortlisted for the Phillip K Dick Award.

Foreign or old covers: