Sunday, October 24, 2010

Book Review: the Skinner by Neal Asher

The Skinner By Neal Asher
424 pages

My first time reading Neal Asher was a far future bizarro science fiction short novel called Africa Zero. This is a longer more epic tale, but it is also one of the most bizarro modern Sci-fi novels I have read. It has sold me on Asher as a bold new voice. Entertainment weekly called it Dune meets Master and Commander and I can't disagree with that. The plot and and setting are so strange that I struggled a little bit trying to explain it to others.

It takes place in the same “universe” as Asher's first novel Grindlinked, I have not read that yet, but I don't think I suffered much for it. This is a stand alone novel.

Not since Dune has the landscape and ecosystem of a world come to such vivid life. What is most exciting about that is Spatterjay, the planet where skinner takes is what a horrible place to be the planet is. It makes the novel feel icky in a way. This is not a world where you want to take a vacation. SpatterJay, named after Jay Hooper the human who found the planet is mostly ocean. But the planet is teaming with life, including leeches both giant and small. The ecosystem is so interactive after a few bites from the leeches human are integrated in way that makes them almost immortal. Jay was using this unique ecosystem to take murdered humans, re-animated and devoid of life to be sold to the Prador, a crab like race the humans were at war with.

Humans who live on the planet are called Hoopers, and most have lived hundreds of years constantly being rebuilt by the leeches. This is explained well as two hoopers in one part fight in a tearing each other up, their bodies keep repairing themselves.

The book opens following a few humans as they arrive on the planet. My favorite of the characters are Sable Keech And Janer. Keech is A monitor (Basically a cop) who has been hunting a this planet's funder for 700 years after his death. How is that you ask? He is cybernetic his dead body linked to computer that stored his mind. His target is not doing much better, Jay Hooper's (known also as the Skinner) body has been living with out his head. Spatterjay seas captains have been keeping it alive in a box.

As for Janer he is a human who was punished for killing a hornet after he served his time as host to a hive mind of sentient hornets. After his time is up he stayed with the hive mind and is traveling the universe looking for adventure.

At the same time the human race is in a time of peace after years of war with the Prador,but They also want to kill the skinner and any other witness to the war crimes they committed together. The only part of the novel I did not enjoy were the seemingly endless battles between the Polity A.I. Who oversaw the planet and the Prador. That stuff wore me down a bit in the last 100 pages.

None the less I loved this inventive, brutal and super fucking weird science fiction epic. Asher made a fan out of me with this novel and I'll check out his other work for sure. Along with Richard K. Morgan, Neal Asher and China Mieville it seems the most exciting speculative fiction belongs to england.

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