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THE SKINNER by Neal Asher Kirkus Star

THE SKINNER

By Neal Asher

Pub Date: April 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-765-30737-5
Publisher: Tor

Riotous far-future SF yarn, a second from the British author of Gridlinked (not seen).

Mostly ocean, planet Spatterjay hosts a remarkably voracious assortment of life-forms; most carry a virus that, when passed to humans, confers extreme longevity and tremendous strength. The victims, however, must eat human food or “go native”—i.e., turn into ghastly, predatory monsters. Seven hundred years after a war against the alien Prador (they would capture humans, remove their brains, and use the bodies as mindless slaves), three people arrive on Spatterjay. Erlin, aging and weary, infected with the virus long ago, needs to find her old shipmate Ambel, an ancient, virtually indestructible sea captain. Janer doesn’t know what his employer, the hornet Hive Mind, wants on the planet. Dead for 700 years, part corpse, part cyborg, Earth agent Keech’s task is to hunt down and exterminate the vicious humans who assisted the Prador during the war. Psychotic, sadistic Rebecca Frisk, still a Prador employee, is one of those Keech seeks. Another is Hoop himself, a pirate who brutally ruled the planet, collaborated with the Prador, went native, and had his head cut off (the body lurks on a distant island; the head resides in a box in Ambel's cabin). Also arriving on the planet is Ebulan, a powerful Prador who, while others of his species desire peace, trade, and cultural exchange with humans, has an agenda of his own. Watching everything, and interfering as it sees fit, is the planetary artificial intelligence, Warden, with its various free-roaming submind units, not to mention Sniper, an antique, autonomous war drone.

The whole impressive, ingenious enterprise hurtles along at a high-octane clip while swinging with nonchalant abandon between horror and comedy: call it black slapstick. In sum: a blast.