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Cowl

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3.67 of 5 stars 3.67  ·  rating details  ·  1,236 ratings  ·  63 reviews
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 Umbrathane have escaped into the distant past, where they can position themselves to wreak havoc across time and undo their defeat. The most fanatical of them is the superhuman Cowl, more monstrous than any of the creatures out ...more
Paperback, 432 pages
Published April 4th 2006 by Tor Science Fiction (first published 2004)
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The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey NiffeneggerOutlander by Diana Gabaldon11/22/63 by Stephen KingThe Time Machine by H.G. WellsTime and Again by Jack Finney
The Best Time Travel Books of All Time
155th out of 358 books — 874 voters
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Best Books of 2004
220th out of 276 books — 127 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,865)
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Dunkthebiscuit Kendrick
Revisiting an old favourite by a favourite author. Cowl is a time travel novel with the usual Asher twist (it's bloody, intelligent, often blackly humorous).

When teen prostitute Polly and brainwashed government hitman Tack get caught up by an organic time machine that will only travel backwards, to the point before complex life on Earth arose, they're due to be genetic samples for Cowl, a genetically modified future human. Things get a bit sticky and it doesn't work out as planned, things get b
...more
Allan
Having been used to reading tales within Asher's polity Universe, this one is a bit of a change. The main theme is time travel and a war between 43rd-century humans, or what they've evolved or been engineered into, as it effects others down the time line.

The Cowl of the title is one super-engineered human who has travelled back to the beginnings to time and, from there, sends organic time machines out to collect and return with human gene samples from across time. Trouble is the samples are usua
...more
Sean Randall

“Andrewsarchus. You've just evaded the largest carnivorous mammal ever to roam the Earth. Don't you feel privileged?”


Though Asher seems to have a thing for siblings, I enjoyed this work far more than the first book of the Owner series. Maybe because everything happens in one book here and I'll come to like Owner more later on, I don't know.

One thing that I also liked with this book vis-a-vis Owner was that you got to know the characters, together, before they go splitting off into their own part
...more
Geo
I'll start off by saying that I found the basic premise of this book to be really fantastic. The approach to time travel and alternate histories and such was really well thought out and not like anything I'd read about before. Or perhaps, he took the concepts further than anything I've read before.

The pace was good. I didn't ever really find myself bored. Inherently with books involving time travel and such, you're invariably going to end up having to think a bit harder about what things are hap
...more
John
Cowl is a truly inventive and refreshingly invigorated novel.

I disliked the main character, Polly, at first, but she slowly grew on me. The supporting character, Tack, introduced as a heartless villain, transforms a greatly. Into a character I actually cared about. The morality the book builds is remarkable. Moving elegantly from black and white, to no side actually being the good guy.

The sci-fi elements are excellent. The main villain is actually terrifying because he's intelligent, a rare el
...more
David
About the most gonzo, space operatic time-travel tale I have ever read. Awesome villains, dark heroes, crazy science. Sort of reminded me of Richard K. Morgan's novel, Altered Carbon, where he takes a killer high-science idea and then drives the story forward at a blistering pace with it, looking at it from a dozen different angles.

The killer idea this time is a unique theory on time travel that involves multiple time streams, quantum paradoxes, probability slopes, and takes place over a time s
...more
Zare
Nov 04, 2010 Zare rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: sf
Interesting story based around time-travel and long exhausting war that spreads millions of years starting from the future backwards - yup you read it well, backwards :)[return][return]Characters are great - maybe not too fleshed out but nevertheless very well portrayed. Main characters seem to be of the Asher's favorite type - good person forced to live at the edge of society and do things that others find awful and distasteful and the brutish merciless one, perfect killing machine bred for war ...more
Ethan
This is a fast-paced sci fi story with all sorts of interesting stuff crammed into it: time travel, dystopian future(s), super-evil bad guys and vaguely evil good guys. The plotting is good, though a bit convoluted at times, and I'm not entirely convinced it all hangs together.

The worst part about the book is the writing--there's an almost criminal amount of gerund/participle abuse, and some pretty wonky syntax besides. This hampered my enjoyment of the book, but I was able to ignore it most of
...more
Steven Stennett
Time travel one of the best things about science fiction.

The style of writing, dense for me, like the aroma of the dish being stronger than the taste.

There is nothing wrong with this presentation of a novel, being this way inclined.

Its just that everyone brain is wired differently, and I am more of a straight forward story reader.

This did not prevent me enjoying the book immensely. Skipping through time, to a western style show down, who ends up being the fastest draw!!!

Only the act of read
...more
Dave
The concept behind this book was really unique and involves time travel and human mutation. As a hard Sci-Fi book it was really solid. My only complaint was that Asher uses the word nightmare excessively. The book is overflowing with the phrase, "...she looked up and gazed into the nightmare" or subtle variations on that theme. It happened often enough to annoy be by about 1/3 of the way through the book, but not enough to ruin the book overall. Just seemed like lazy writing/poor editing.
Robert
An amusing time-travel novel, based on the "many-worlds" interpretation of quantum mechanics (an interpretation for which there is no evidence or requirement). Asher has the wit to steal Heinlein's answer to the question, "How come I end up in the same place on Earth when I time-travel, despite the Earth's orbit, rotation etc?" and modify it only slightly. It is also fun to get away from Asher's "Polity" setting in this novel: may his publishers allow him to do so more often!
Geoff Lynas
Whatever incredible vision Neal had in his head when he wrote this, I can only guess at. I'm afraid there was a failure to communicate for me. Already rapidly forgetting what little did register. A bit of a struggle to get through all of the bibble-bobble SF, in the company of muted characters I didn't really care about, culminating in a very unsatisfying ending. Neal Asher is a much better storyteller than this book reveals. Better luck with the next.
bkwurm
Interesting, fun read. however, suffers from the usual problem of all time travel based stories in that the consequence of paradoxes, by creating alternate timelines or here, pushing yourself down the probability slope, is not very well explained.

What did irk me a little was the lack of explanation for the war of extermination between the Heliothane and the Umbrathane as well as the implication that they were from some other timeline where humanity never evolved. It was not clear if they were o
...more
Andreea Pausan
Intricate and interesting story: Cowl is a human monster who controls a huge beast, located somewhere at the beginning of time. The beats sheds scales that attached themselves to humans and drag them back through time to the beginning, where Cowl waits to destroy the future. In that same future, and in several parallel ones, the new humans (split into two warring factions) also travel through time, trying to turn one of the human bullets against Cowl. Time travel is realized by harvesting someth ...more
Roddy Williams
‘In the fourth millennium, the Heliothane Dominion rules triumphant in the solar system. But some of its enemies have escaped into the past, where they are still capable of wreaking havoc across time. By far the worst of them is Cowl, an artificially forced advance in human evolution – more vicious than any prehistoric beast.

Innocently embroiled in this galactic conflict and fleeing for her life, Polly finds herself dragged back through time, era by era… towards the very dawning of life on Earth
...more
Nicolas
Dans ce roman, on suit les aventures de Polly et de Tack, projetés depuis leur XXIIIème siècle natal jusqu'avant l'apparition de la vie sur terre pour participer à une guerre qui ne devrait pas encore être la leur, mais qui se déroule à rebrousse-temps. Qui plus est, il ne s'agit pas d'une "simple" guerre, mais d'une lutte entre l'humanité et le post-humain conçu pour la remplacer. Bref, c'est LA grosse baston de la fin de l'histoire de l'humanité, mais qui se déroule au début des temps.
Bon, je
...more
Wil
I'm so addicted to anything by Neal Asher. He knows how to heighten his stories to such an imaginative and sometimes gruesome level that you can't help but be sucked into it all. His villains are always memorable and his stories satisfying complex, even baroque. His stories are a cross between horror, scifi, and space opera that I think few authors are able to pull off as well without getting ridiculous or collapsing under their own weight.

Having said that, I should have stuck to the Polity seri
...more
Voodoochilli
Damn.

This was a good book, however there was something that ruined it for me. I'll list that at the bottom of this review so you can skip it if you haven't read the book yourself or are not familiar with Neal Asher.

Ok, so last year I tried to read one of Asher's other books, The Skinner. There was something about the simplistic writing style that bothered me. I guess it felt amateurish. Since then I found out that Asher has in fact improved a lot so I decided to give him another shot, after all
...more
Chuck
I'm prepared to suspend disbelief when reading a novel, and in particular when reading a sci-fi novel. I just couldn't do it with this novel, mainly because it's a time-travel novel. I just plain hate time-travel novels. It's such a hackneyed literary device, and as far as I'm concerned, it's impossible in principle. Other than that, this novel is what I've come to expect from most Asher novels, competent, if not brilliant, science fiction.
Sarah Beaudoin
I really struggled with Cowl. The story itself seems interesting - a war of sorts between to different types of creatures, lots of awesome traveling backward in time, and snippets involving dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures. But no matter how much potential the plot has, it couldn't escape Neal Asher's writing. The narrative moves slowly, the characters are flat and uninteresting, and there was nothing at all compelling about it. By the time I had read the first few chapters I realized I ...more
Emelie
Before the last 100 pages, I would have said 2 or perhaps 2.5 stars... But holy crap, those last chapters! A-mazing!

Okay, still not extremely good, but I guess it's not really my cup of tea quite yet... I'm new to real sci-fi, so perhaps I would have enjoyed this one better if I'd been used to it. Now it was a very slow 300 pages of mechanical talk, Heliothane and Umbrathane this and that, Cowl and shit... Yeah, I really liked the chapters when Polly and Tack finally arrive in the Nodus. And Ac
...more
Jessica
Huh. Probably the only Neal Asher novel yet that I haven't really cared for. The underlying story was good but I didn't really find the same kind of character development as in his other works. Frankly I just didn't find myself caring what happened to anyone. As well found the technical descriptions bewilderingly complex in this story. Like, what the hell! Normally my working knowledge of the sciences is more than enough for me to get the gist of Asher's future science explanations, but this tim ...more
Dyien
Overall interesting read, but not something I would call "awesome". I can only recommend that you try read it in one go instead of leaving several days between chapters as I did. I think it made the story less engaging for me.

Matthew
was tempted to just rate this one star. While it featured the usual top notch action, sci-fi military intrigue from Neal Asher and his Polity series; the techno-babble in this story is utterly incomprehensible.
This has to be the most confusing time travel story I ever read, and it didn't even involve paradoxes (much).
I'm glad to be done with it, but I didnt understand it.
Greg Zafiris
7: A nice SF departure from the world of GRRM, but a bit too technical and tough to follow. I liked the premise of people throughout time being kidnapped backwards in time, so that an uber-human can try to destroy mankind, but the science of it got very confusing, to the point where I just skimmed most of it. Luckily, the writing was pretty crisp, and there was a lot of action. Characters were somewhat forgettable, with Tack (the future secret agent/killer who realizes his own humanity) the most ...more
Josh
This book wasn't exactly groundbreaking, but it was a fun read. I enjoyed it the whole way through, which was pretty impressive as it is fairly long. Asher manages to keep the action fact paced and interesting throughout, and there are some interesting characters involved in the story as well.

For a more in depth review, check out the post on my blog: http://jyoungjuharris.com/2014/11/11/...
Kelvin Clements
This is a wonderful story, not based in his the "Polity" universe, but on a time travel adventure. Starting in the future of the 22nd century and travelling back before the dawn of life o Earth. The hero’s if they can be termed as such are created by their experiences as they travel through time, their baptism of fire which changes both of them to be better people. My only disappointment as always is that the story has to end, and this being a one off story. I don’t have the comfort of another t ...more
Carol Lindsey
Ahhhhh, Neal Asher. Cowl is a fine book, a bit scattered, but a fun tale. Worth reading, though I suggest taking notes. New people pop in and out, and to be honest, I might need to read it again to really appreciate the details. I felt pressured to finish it, despite the late hour. All those shifts back into Earthtime have really tired me out. 4 stars, maybe a smidgen less. I am tempted to read the spoilers, as I really have no idea what happens in the end, despite being literate and having made ...more
Jon
Neal Asher at his best with great characters, excellent pacing and exciting, brutal action. I hesitate to give it four instead of five stars, because I really did enjoy it and I thought the plot developed beautifully, but I never really did understand the paradoxes and whatnot of the time-travel going on. Maybe as to that aspect of this book, less would have been more. Overall though a great read, right up there with The Skinner and Brass Man as some of the best sci-fi I've read.
Andreas
Cowl is a very unique novel by Neal Asher. It's thrilling and chilling, a travel mostly back in time through dangerous epochs where nobody would like to live. It's not related to Asher's other series.

What starts as something inevitable slowly turns into a nightmare. The last chapters feature again the action-packed fighting scenes, which are the trademark of the author and which I don't enjoy so much, but nevertheless this was one of the best books I read in 2005.
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I’ve been an engineer, barman, skip lorry driver, coalman, boat window manufacturer, contract grass cutter and builder. Now I write science fiction books, and am slowly getting over the feeling that someone is going to find me out, and can call myself a writer without wincing and ducking my head. As professions go, I prefer this one: I don’t have to clock-in, change my clothes after work, nor scru ...more
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