The novel “Ash Ock” by Christopher Hinz was published for the first time in 1989. It’s the second book of the Paratwa series and follows “Liege-Killer“.
Terrorist attacks are hitting one of the colonies where humans live after the Earth has been rendered uninhabitable. The fear is that the perpetrators are the terrible Paratwa, genetically modified assassins who share a conscience in two bodies. Susan Quint witnesses one of these attacks and, when she exchanges a look with one of the killers, she feels a sense of familiarity, but at the moment she thinks more about running for her life than about that strange feeling. But when two policemen come to interrogate her and try to kill her, Susan runs away and tries to figure out what’s happening to her.
The Costeaus used to be pirates, but over the last few decades, they have begun to integrate into the colonial population. The Lion of the Alexander, the leader of one of their “tribes”, collaborates in the investigation of the attacks, also to try to establish if there are any Paratwa behind them as he saw their ruthlessness when he was a boy. The fact that some sort of malware is destroying important archives is suspicious because the Paratwa are among the very few to have pre-Apocalypse technology. The Lion decides to awaken Nick and Gillian, the Paratwa hunters.
In “Liege-Killer”, Christopher Hinz introduced the Paratwa, creatures who can use two human bodies in perfect synchrony thanks to a telepathic connection who are trained since childhood to use a deadly weapon called the Cohe wand. “Ash Ock” is set 56 years later, but its development has strong roots in the first novel. The situation in the space colonies is influenced by the events of decades earlier and there’s the return of Nick and Gillian, who had been placed in cryogenic stasis. Crucial information is provided in this sequel, but reading “Liege-Killer” is essential to really understand the events and in particular the two Paratwa hunters and everything that revolves around them.
Christopher Hinz uses much of “Ash Ock” to delve into the motivations of important characters, and some of them go through inner conflicts, albeit for very different reasons. For Gillian, these are the consequences of the events of “Liege-Killer”, which from his point of view have occurred only recently. For Susan, there’s a slow discovery of her complex past with a series of twists concerning her present.
After a somewhat frenetic start due to what happens to Susan, first witnessing a massacre and then fleeing after having suffered an attempt to kill her, the pace slows down. There’s less action and more introspection, also on the part of Ghandi, a character who has become entangled in the machinations of the Paratwa. His point of view is useful for progressively discovering the plans of the Paratwa towards humanity and their progress.
Unlike the first novel, “Ash Ock” has no real conclusion but is basically the first half of a novel divided into two books. In part, Christopher Hinz used it to expand the “mythology” of the Paratwa, to update the situation of the colonies and the Earth, to introduce important new characters, and to start some subplots that will continue in the third book of the original trilogy. It suffers from a certain tendency towards slowness in certain parts that are supposed to be useful in the sequel, so it’s less compelling than the first novel. In my opinion, it’s still worth reading with the awareness that you have to complete the trilogy to know how the story ends.