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The Skinner
Neal Asher
Macmillan UK, 474 pages

The Skinner
Neal Asher
Neal Asher was born in 1961 in Billericay in Essex. He started writing SF and fantasy at 16 after what he terms an "overdose" of E.C. Tubb books. After leaving school, he worked for a steel furniture maker, then operated a milling machine and began writing again. Thereafter, he decided to go back to school and finally graduated. He continued to write, having his work published in a number of magazines and producing a short story collection called Runcible Tales from Piper's Ash. With the publication of Gridlinked and The Skinner, he's working on The Line of Polity, to follow the year after.

Neal Asher Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Interview: Neal Asher
SF Site Review: Gridlinked

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Lisa DuMond

By now, you should have taken the time to read Gridlinked, Runcible Tales, or any of Asher's other strong, distinctive works. If you have, then you just the title of his latest novel should be more than enough warning to prepare you for the unflinching brutality inside. I've said it before: Asher invented "gritty scifi" and he's still the very best at it.

Not quite getting it yet? The name of the planet where The Skinner takes place is Spatterjay. I think you've got the idea.

In this return to the universe of runcibles, AIs, and the Polity, Asher introduces ECS Agent Keech, Hive agent Janer, and Hooper Erlin. The three think they are on separate quests, but you just know they are going to end up in the thick of things together. Exactly what they are each seeking is less obvious. What motivation could be strong enough to drive an ECS agent seven long centuries after his demise?

Actually, once you get a clear picture of Spatterjay, you'll wonder why anyone who managed to escape the hellish planet would even consider returning. In comparison, Hell sounds like a charming vacation spot. Of course, Asher's talent for animated descriptions comes through again in an all-too-vivid image of a planet where every creature, from the microscopic to the gargantuan, survives at the expense of those around it. And people -- if you can still call the planet's residents (Hoopers) people -- are only a hairsbreadth away from dissolving into complete savagery. And letting one's guard down, even for an instant, can mean a bump several levels down the food chain.

In Gridlinked, the danger came primarily from the humans and human-like beings. In The Skinner, there is that danger plus the fact that the very planet is a vicious enemy. And the danger here goes back for centuries, to when Spatterjay was truly barbaric.

Asher's flair for unforgettable characters really gets to run wild in The Skinner. From walking, talking corpses to thousand-year-old captains to the tiny, inscrutable representatives of the Hive mind -- a cast list like this is completely unique and disturbingly lifelike. The plausibility of these human/inhuman monsters is by far the most frightening aspect of the novel.

Imagine that these people, these creatures, this place could exist, but don't do it on the way to your next seaside vacation. Or when you're trying to get to sleep.

But, Neal Asher isn't here to sing you lullabies -- he's writing books that keep your nerves stretched dangerously tight. He's waiting to take you to far-off places that will make you long for the safety of good, old planet Earth. Asher's ready, willing, and more than able to put the fear of... whatever he likes, into you.

Don't miss the gut-churning ride that is The Skinner. Get in line now!

Copyright © 2002 Lisa DuMond

In between reviews, articles, and interviews, Lisa DuMond writes science fiction and humour. DARKERS, her latest novel, was published in August 2000 by Hard Shell Word Factory. She has also written for BOOKPAGE and PUBLISHERS WEEKLY. Her articles and short stories are all over the map. You can check out Lisa and her work at her website hikeeba!.

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