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DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

The Skinner
Neal Asher
Tor/ $26.95 / 480p
ISBN: 0765307375
Cover

Asher's buzz has been that of "hot new Brit SF" writer, but since he's been writing for a couple of decades, that may tell you something about the writing biz. Like his previous novel Gridlinked and various shorter works, The Skinner is set in the universe of "the Polity." Remote planet Spatterjay is an overly oceanic world and the denizens its deep (and shallows) make the Jaws shark look like Charlie the Tuna. One of these nasty buggers is a toothsome leech that transmits a regrowth-compelling virus. This assures a food supply for the leeches -- and exceedingly long lives for its victims. Living nearly forever is never to be desired if you really think about it, as Asher demonstrates with the eponymous Skinner - an ancient still-living bodiless head kept in a locked box. Still, immortality is a valuable commodity and the high tech Polity is now infiltrating what was a seafaring wooden-ship culture. Visiting offworlders provide initial impetus for the plot: Erlin, who discovered the viral immortality is returning to search for a native who assisted her; Janer, a human in service to the hive-mind of the only other sentient Earth species, hornets; Keech, a "reif" who, although dead, has been pursuing war criminals for 700 years. Subplots and counter-plots start interweaving, climaxing, and reversing without spinning out of control. An exotic cast of tens seems like thousands, but all, including AIs, are quite well developed. Zooming along in non-stop SF-action/adventure mode lubricated by as much horror-slime as can be mustered, The Skinner ultimately offers more fun than deep-meaning and more clever wit than pretension.

Cover Cover comment: Tor's whimsical steampunkish cover (above) probably captures the mood better than the beautiful watery cover from the original 2002 U.K. edition (left). On the other tentacle, that original cover's the reason we picked this book out of the pile.

--review originally appeared in Cinemafantastique Aug/Sept 2004

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Copyright © 2004 Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.