In his second full-length SF novel The Skinner
, Neal Asher offers an exhilarating clash of multiple factions--each with their own peculiar agenda--on the lethal waterworld Spatterjay.
The seas teem with hungry monstrosities, but Spatterjay holds immortality. When its giant leeches bite out gobs of flesh, they transmit a virus that forces regrowth, preserving the leech food supply. Some human colonists, the Old Captains, have lived many centuries. But beware of going native, like the legendary, repulsive Skinner whose undying head is now confined to a box...
Other locals include the worried AI Warden who polices Spatterjay, and the old, unruly war drone Sniper--as engagingly sassy as anything from Iain M Banks. Tourists arrive: a woman returning to ask whether her viral immortality was worth it, a human agent of hive-mind intelligence discovered among Earth's hornets, and a man 700 years dead but (thanks to preservatives and cyborg implants) still avenging the atrocities of Spatterjay's founding fathers in an even older war.
That ancient conflict involved the alien Prador, whose own war criminals fear the long memories preserved on Spatterjay, and are taking measures. Illicit intruders lurk, including an immortal sadistic psychopath and a submerged spaceship loaded with continent-busters.
Asher cuts deftly between strands of fast-moving narrative, laced with action, biological inventiveness, grotesque horror, and glints of humour. When Sniper the battle-happy drone gets swallowed by a giant "molly carp"--a protected species--he must wait in disgusted frustration for (ahem) natural processes to release him.
Multiple climaxes of combat, death, justice, sacrifice, and vindication lead to some nicely sneaky or witty reversals. This is an enjoyable, unpretentious, neatly crafted SF adventure. --David Langford
To the remote planet Spatterjay come three travellers with very different missions. Janer is directed there by the hornet Hive-mind; Erlin comes to find the sea captain who can teach her to live; and Keech - dead for seven hundred years - has unfinished business with a notorious criminal. Spatterjay is a watery world where the human population inhabits the safety of the Dome and only the quasi-immortal hoopers are safe outside amidst a fearful range of voracious life-forms. Somewhere out there is Spatterjay Hoop himself, and monitor Keech cannot rest until he can bring this legendary renegade to justice for atrocious crimes committed centuries ago during the Prador Wars. Keech does not realise that Hoop's body is running free on an island wilderness, while his living head is confined in a box on an Old Captain's ships. Nor does he know that the most brutal Prador of all is about to pay a visit, intent on wiping out all evidence of his wartime atrocities. Which means major hell is about to erupt in this chaotic waterscape.
--This text refers to an alternate