Welcome to Spatterjay ... where sudden death is the normal way of life.
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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Asher's future is a no place for the faint-hearted. This is a time when a slight miscalculation is all-too likely to take you out passing through the runcibles that provide instantaneous galactic travel. Don't worry, though, everything is all right, because this universe is run by "flawless" AIs.
The planet Asher springs on us in this novel is an entity as deadly as any of the criminals our ECS agent Keech is sent to wipe out. Every form of life on Spatterjay survives at the expense of others, including the no-longer human Hoopers.
Keech, perhaps, has less to worry about -- after all, he has been dead more than seven centuries, but that doesn't mean he doesn't pose a threat to some of the most heinous villains to ever appear in fiction. Erlin may have her own form of immortality to fall back on, but even she can die. And what of the Hive-linked Janer? What is truly his agenda on Spatterjay?
Asher floods the reader's senses with input. From planet to planet, he produces stark, stunning visuals of the terrain and the natives. Employing a wide-ranging cast of characters , Asher infuses each individual with animation and unique personality. It's a mark of his skill that some of the most appealing and sympathetic of his creations are the Subminds of the AI. With a minimum of strokes, he paints in fully fleshed-out characters. Come to think of it, that's how Asher brings THE SKINNER vividly to life.
And when you finish this novel, you'll know precisely what a horrifying idea bringing the Skinner to life is...
Asher delivers the goods every time. And, he leaves you eager for more.
After having read all of his books, I can safely conclude that The Skinner is certainly Asher's best work (with Gridlinked following a close 2nd). Without going into too much detail, this book is one of the most immersive pieces of science fiction I've come across.
One of the reviewers described aspects of Skinner as implausible - I strongly suggest that reviewer go off and read trashy Grisham-like novels! This is science fiction mate; landing on the moon once seemed implausible!
I have never managed to draw such a rich imaginative picture whilst reading any other piece of sciene fiction (ok maybe Neuromancer). I clearly remember one scene where the main character of the book is flying this Star Wars-like airbike across the ocean infested with the most grotesque and bad-ass creatures imaginable - I could picture this scene as if I was flying alongside him! I could rattle off numerous other such experiences whilst reading this book.
Give it a go, hopefully you will derive as much enjoyment out of Asher as I have.
Great to have some of the AI drones, hornets, and even the intelligent sails getting a decent look-in.
Very original, I loved this.
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