Dear Reader: a letter from Christian Cantrell
While it took me something like sixteen months to write Scorpion, it’s probably fair to say that the story has been simmering for closer to ten years. After finishing my second novel, rather than jumping right back into another long-term commitment, I decided to do some short-form experimentation. But experiments are most fun when they’re shaped by constraints, so I challenged myself to write a series of stories combining various genres with science fiction themes which I hoped might distill something entirely new and unexpected.
The first story I wrote, The Epoch Index, was about a CIA analyst named Quinn Mitchell who thinks she’s signing up for a career sitting safely in a cubicle writing queries against massive indices of data collected by intelligence agencies, but finds herself unexpectedly in the field chasing an international serial killer. The Elite Assassin, as he becomes known, leaves four-digit numbers carved or branded in various places on his victims, but nobody can figure out what they mean, and the murders appear to be entirely unconnected. It isn’t until Quinn finds the numbers encoded in an index with an unknown origin that she finally begins uncovering patterns and ultimately discovers a truth that is far more disturbing than the murders themselves.
Between other writing projects, I occasionally revisited The Epoch Index. I loved the characters, and the story ended with the biggest cliffhanger I’d ever written, so I enjoyed playing around with various resolutions. A few years ago, Epoch was optioned for film adaptation which gave me the space I needed to expand it into a novel and finally finish exploring the characters’ journeys. The result is Scorpion — a fast-paced, high-tech, international spy thriller.
But Scorpion is just one of several great new thrillers available, so how is one to decide which one to pick up first? The best way to guess whether you might like one of the daily specials on the menu is to hear how the chef describes it — the key ingredients, how they’re prepared, and how the dish can be compared to fare you may be more familiar with. Since picking your next read is not unlike ordering a meal, let’s try a similar approach.
Scorpion starts by combining two parts thriller with one part science fiction. The criminal detail of Breaking Bad is balanced by the high-tech, investigative process of CSI while the complex relationship dynamics of The Silence of the Lambs gradually arise. Add a twist of The Sixth Sense, then let bake according to the pace of a book like Gone Girl, and what emerges is a story with the international flavor of I Am Pilgrim or the Bourne series infused with the near-future hint of Minority Report (but with the distinctive tech-skeptical kick of Black Mirror).
That probably sounds like a lot. But the key is in the presentation. Each chapter is served with the intentionality of its own course which, over time, is designed to add up to the rich and complex flavor of a highly character-driven, near-future thriller.