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Neal Asher – The SkinnerHere's another old-ish and previously published review, this time for The Skinner, the first book in the Spatterjay series (3 books so far) by Neal Asher; I found it to be fast paced, captivating, fascinating, and, in classic Neal Asher vein, slightly gory and OTT. Good stuff, then…

The book kicks off with Keech, Janer, and Erin arriving on Splatterjay, named after its most (in)famous founder/settler/criminal’s nickname (Jay ‘Spatterjay’ Hooper), although the name is also the defining characteristic for the planet’s rather unusual and violent biology.

The three protagonists are not your standard fare, either… Keech is (was?) an ECS (Earth Central Security) Monitor, hunting Hooper and his former gang of slave traders for the last 700+ years – and heading for some surprises on Splatterjay. Problem is – he is dead. Has been for a good part of these 700 years, which he spent as a Reif, a re-animated corpse, partially biological (the bits that survived his assassination), and partially machine. Janer is carrying two Hornets, as he’s in the pay of a Hornet Hive Mind, after being indentured to the Hive Mind for two years as punishment for killing a Hornet.

Erin is the only one not new to Splatterjay. She’s been here, she is a ‘Hooper’ (ie carrying the virus that theoretically can make you immortal), she was here when the skinner was beheaded (but not killed… body and head now live independently. Told you the fauna was unusual…), and she has some unfinished business with Ambel, one of the old captains.

The story follow their ways, as their paths criss-cross each other in pursuit of their own agendas, and inevitably converge on a focal point.

The story is set in Asher’s classic AI run Polity/ECS universe, with ‘Runcible’ based FTL transport, and galaxy wide immediate ‘underspace’ communication. The book deals with the fallout from the Prador war several centuries back (that’s a separate series of books. Also worth reading!) and especially the rather gruesome trade in ‘cored’ human slaves run by Jay Hooper and his gang. All this is only backdrop though – the real star in the story is the local fauna and biology, with the Spatterjay virus which can make almost anyone and anything almost immortal, and the ramifications such a thing has on the local wildlife. No, I won’t spoil the fun, it’s worth reading!

The concepts in the book are quite interesting and varied – it starts with the abovementioned Spatterjay virus, spread by the local leeches; takes in the ‘cored’ humans (with removed spinal/cerebral parts, replaced with whatever the new owner wants), ‘thrall units’ which can be used to suppress uncored humans and control them remotely (mainly by the huge, crablike, cruel, disgusting Prador); as well as the concepts of Reifs and the cult of ‘Anubis Animated’, and the Hornet Hive Minds, which are thousands of years old, but only recently learned to communicate with humanity through the use of technology (so much for the mice & the dolphins, I say. Way cooler!).

This is a fast & furious book, playing in a fascinating environment. I found it ‘unputdownable’, as nu-English has it, and not as gory as I might make it sound above (it’s just Neal Asher, not Iain M. Banks, after all…). It’s a classic adventure story with some interesting and inventive twists and turns, and with lots and lots of drive (I read it in two days straight, despite it being over 500 pages long).
Recommendation? Get it, read it, pass it on!

More Neal Asher

Title: The Skinner
Series: Polity
Series Number: 1
Author: Neal Asher
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL:
Publisher:  Tor
Publication Date: 2003
Review Date: Aug 4 2006
ISBN: 0330484346
Price: UKP6.99
Pages: 583
Format: Paperback
Topic: SF
Topic: Military
Topic: Biological SF


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