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Biased and superficial Science Fiction reviews

       
THE SKINNER

Copyright 2002 by Neal Asher

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SOJALS rating:     
one SOJALS point one SOJALS point one SOJALS point one SOJALS point no SOJALS point    Superb (4/5)

I first read this on the 28th September 2002.

The planet of Hooper, more commonly known as Spatterjay, has been colonized for many centuries. Although Earth's Polity government reached it two-hundred and fifty years previously, it remains on the edge of Polity control. There is a single base on the planet where which Polity laws are enforced. The rest of the planet remains ungoverned, inhabited by astonishingly ravenous monsters, and a small number of independent humans.

Due to the nature of the all-pervasive Spatterjay virus, the longer these colonists survive, the less human they become, the virus slowly converting their bodies into an immensely strong, virtually immortal alien substance. The oldest of the colonists, hundreds of years old, have immense strength and a rather different outlook on life.

Our protagonists arrive on this strange wild planet, each on their own quest, but willing to band together at least for the start of their stay on this world. There's Erlin, returning to Spatterjay after an absence of many years. She's returned for love, searching for the captain she left many years ago. Next there's Janer, a normal man subjecting himself to the whims and will of a hive mind. Finally, there's Keech the reification, a corpse preserved and reanimated by technology, slowly changing into an AI-controlled cyborg as failed organs in his dead body are replaced. He's come to fulfill an old obligation and in the hope, perhaps, of immortality.

They're arriving at an interesting time in Spatterjay's development. Ancient war-criminals are loose and striving for vengeance. There's also about to be an alien attack - the Prador, mankind's old enemy, and the war-criminals' old allies, will attack. The planet's guardian AI, even with all its planetary defenses, may not be together enough, may not be quite up to the job of protecting this planet in its hour of need.

Neal Asher has achieved a remarkable, distinctive book. His world of Spatterjay is a blood-red, living colour, cutting-edge world of irrepressible life and wild nature. One would initially imagine some updated version of Harry Harrison's Deathworld, but believe me, it's nothing like that.

Get through the violence, the gore and the gobbets of flesh. and you're left with an astonishingly vivid world peopled by superhuman beings coming to terms with their immortality, with hive minds struggling to understand humanity and with AIs learning that actual experience can sometimes be more effective than academic knowledge.

Asher has created an excellent and varied cast of characters, even the planetary AI has personality while its robotic assistants SM13 and Sniper provide R2D2 and C-3PO for a more modern audience.

I look forward to more novels from Nr Asher.

"THE SKINNER" won the SF Reviews award for the Best Book Of 2002.

Loaded on the 31st October 2002.
    
Cover of THE SKINNER
Cover by Steve Rawlings and Debut Art

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