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Kiln People
Beth Meacham, David Brin

The Skinner

The Skinner - Neal Asher Every time I pick up a book by an author I have never read before I always hope to find a “new favorite”, most of the time this does not happen. I mean what are the odds? If I find a “new favourite” author every month I would not be a very discerning reader. The best I can realistically hope for is to discover a new author whose back catalogue I am keen to investigate. Still, occasionally I strike gold, I think I just did.

There are zillions of genre authors vying for my attention when I browse bookstores. The only way I can narrow down my search for an exciting new author is by recommendations. Personally I don't trust recommendations generated by computer algorithms, I find them interesting but I would rather get recs from my peers at PrintSF. In the aggregate they are vastly knowledgeable about sf and their recommendations are always reliable.

Neal Asher is one of the names that crop up again and again alongside “space opera” sf luminaries such as Iain Banks, Alastair Reynolds and Peter F. Hamilton. For some reason British authors seem to be dominating this thriving subgenre of sf. The aforementioned Banks, Reynolds and Hamilton have one thing in common, they are good storytellers, good world builders and - more importantly - good prose writers and characters creators. Basically they just write damn well and we are lucky they are writing in our much maligned genre.

The Skinner is set on an amazing watery world full of weird and unfriendly (mostly marine) creatures, no cure cute bunnies to be found anywhere. They all want to eat you. On a larger scale the planet Spatterjay is on the periphery of Asher’s Polity galactic empire which is not explored in any detail in this particular volume. As I understand it it is a little similar to Iain Banks’ Culture, but I can not really compare them usefully from reading just this one entry in Asher’s series. One thing I have noticed is that the A.I. and drones in this book are very similar to their counterparts in Banks’ books. They are snarky, funny and aggressive. However, The Skinner is not a poor Culture knock off, Asher’s writing style is not as literary and his pacing in this book is faster than the Culture books I have read.

The gosh-wow mind blowing sf elements are all very well, but without some decent prose and character developments to act as foundations to mount them on the book would be unreadable. Kudos to Neal Asher for not forgetting this. The prose is very readable, the dialogues are often very good and the characters are just great to hang out with. Particularly noteworthy is Sable Keech who is a sort of cyborg / zombie / badass cop hybrid. My only criticism is that I find the frequent point of view switches not as smooth as I would like. Not that it hinders the readability of the book much though.

In conclusion I am glad I gave Neal Asher a try and I will be reading many more of his books.