Thursday, February 24, 2011

Review: The Skinner

The Skinner introduces us to Neal Asher's world of SpatterJay. While it has all the trappings of science fiction, there's actually very little science explained.

The central conceit of the world of Spatterjay is that it is a world driven by essentially one species, the leech. The leech incorporates a virus that when it infects a human, grants the human fast regeneration, growing immunity to wounds (as the viral fibers become incorporated into all parts of the human body), and eventually immortality. Such beings become nearly immortal, and if they live long enough, become very very strong.

The plot revolves around 3 people, Erlin who visited Spatterjay when she was younger and was the one who discovered and described the viral properties, Janer, who was once indentured to a hive mind of hornets (yes, in Asher's universe, the other intelligent species on earth is a hive mind of insects), and Sable Keech, a returned-from-the-dead ECS monitor (think super-cop) bent on avenging his death at the hands of the criminals who once ruled Spatterjay. Throw in some Prador (who were at war with humans some centuries ago), stir gently, mix in with plenty of explosions, war droids, and plenty of underwater action, and you've got all the makings of a thriller.

Is it a good thriller? Yes. The action never gets boring, and nearly all references in the book are made use of at some point or another, so you do have to pay attention so as not to miss anything. You have to like Asher's obsession with parasites and funky life cycles. If you enjoy Iain Banks' depiction of hyper-intelligent minds and droids, Asher's clearly got the same attitude down. The whole thing is a fun read, just don't probe too hard, expect the science to make sense, or wonder why a fully intelligent species could remain undiscovered to humans despite its ability to speak human speech.

Recommended as light reading on a plane.
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