Copyright 2002 by
I first read this on the 28th September 2002.
The planet of Hooper, more commonly known as Spatterjay, has been colonized for
many centuries. Although Earth's Polity government reached it two-hundred and fifty years
previously, it remains on the edge of Polity control. There is a single base on the planet
where which Polity laws are enforced. The rest of the planet remains
ungoverned, inhabited by astonishingly ravenous monsters, and a small
number of independent humans.
Due to the nature of the all-pervasive Spatterjay virus, the longer these colonists
survive, the less human they become, the virus slowly converting their bodies into
an immensely strong, virtually immortal alien substance. The oldest of the
colonists, hundreds of years old, have immense strength and a rather different
outlook on life.
Our protagonists arrive on this strange wild planet, each on their own quest, but
willing to band together at least for the start of their stay on this world. There's
Erlin, returning to Spatterjay after an absence of many years. She's returned for
love, searching for the captain she left many years ago. Next there's Janer, a normal
man subjecting himself to the whims and will of a hive mind. Finally, there's Keech
the reification, a corpse preserved and reanimated
by technology, slowly changing into an AI-controlled cyborg as failed organs in his
dead body are replaced. He's come to fulfill an old obligation and in the hope,
perhaps, of immortality.
They're arriving at an interesting time in Spatterjay's development. Ancient
war-criminals are loose and striving for vengeance. There's
also about to be an alien attack - the Prador, mankind's old enemy, and the
war-criminals' old allies, will attack. The planet's guardian AI, even with all its
planetary defenses, may not be together enough, may not be quite up to the job of
protecting this planet in its hour of need.
Neal Asher has achieved a remarkable, distinctive book. His world of Spatterjay is
a blood-red, living colour, cutting-edge world of irrepressible life and wild
nature. One would initially imagine some updated version of Harry Harrison's
Deathworld, but believe me, it's nothing like that.
Get through the violence, the gore and the gobbets of flesh. and you're left with
an astonishingly vivid world peopled by superhuman beings coming to terms with their
immortality, with hive minds struggling to understand humanity and with AIs learning
that actual experience can sometimes be more effective than academic knowledge.
Asher has created an excellent and varied cast of characters, even the planetary AI
has personality while its robotic assistants SM13 and Sniper provide R2D2
and C-3PO for a more modern audience.
I look forward to more novels from Nr Asher.
"THE SKINNER" won the SF Reviews award for the Best Book Of 2002.
Loaded on the 31st October 2002.