NEAL ASHER. THE SKINNER. SPOILERS!

Discussion in 'Science Fiction' started by Elvira, Sep 16, 2016.

  1. Elvira

    Elvira Well-Known Member

    I have enjoyed The Skinner, it has been a fun read. It wasn’t what I expected, but this is due to the fact that I don’t like poking my nose in too many reviews prior reading a book, for fear of spoilers. Somehow along the line in this forum, I have picked up the Polity word linked to Asher’s books. Therefore, I had made the assumption that the political organisation and diplomatic games would be at the core of it. There was none of it.

    The strong points in TS were, in my view: the alien world of Spatterjay; a complete hostile environment inspired in marine fauna but taken to its worst diabolical version. It is the perfect background to set the story in motion and to pull it through.
    I have also liked how all the different characters were eventually led to participate in what constitutes the sole purpose of the book: the Skinner. How those un-spatterjeyed yet become so.
    I found the huge contrast in technology, from basic fishing boats to complex drones very ingenious.

    Hoopers’ immortality has meant a change in the concept and relationship with pain. Death traditionally sets the limits in conventional stories. Once removed, pain becomes somehow precious. It is a reminder of their vitality opposed to their immortal monotony. It has changed the currency in the story and I thought this was clever.

    I have absolutely loved the array of secondary characters: Sniper, the mafioso drone, the SMs, Windcheater, the sail, the Hive with its Jiminy Cricket attitude even Molly Carp. I wish the story would have dwelled more in them. I guess then, they would have stopped being secondary characters and become main ones. It would have been fine by me.

    In my view, the weak point in the story has been the characters development . They are well drawn but they didn’t grab me, and consequently this is why I have liked TS but not loved it. Whatever genre I read, it makes all the difference to me if I can connect with the main players, and in TS, I found them a bit disengaging, dispassionate, predictable.

    I might also be picky but there were some holes in the story, which distracted me: Keech the 700 years dead agent, how could he keep a sense of revenge and/or professional responsibility for this long, unless it is emotion based? Why does he wait to be almost dead (again) before self-transforming into cyberagent, a far more operative cop with a less disagreeable body and completed with emotions, in which he rejoices?

    I also wonder how the 1000 years Old Captains keep their sanity by going out and about with their menial fishing trips.
    I could neither care for Frisk, the she-badass was faaaaar too evil and dislikeable without any redeeming features, which would have allowed me to connect to some extend with her role. I knew from the beginning, she had to be doomed.
    Amber’s final story of the villain turned into a survival hero was a bit too convenient for me. There were also some contemporary allusions to fast food and Halloween, which I found them odd considering the setting.

    All said, the ending was great, and with Sniper somehow gaining control over the Warden AI made it for me.


     
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2016
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  2. kenubrion

    kenubrion Well-Known Member

    So where is Boreas with his opinion?
     
  3. Elvira

    Elvira Well-Known Member

    Maybe in Spatterjay playing cards with The Skinner?
     
  4. kenubrion

    kenubrion Well-Known Member

    He's disappeared before so maybe he's coming back. Maybe he's been let go. Anyway I would think you and he would be anxious to continue with The Voyage of the Sable Keech. I thought each book got better. The story gets very complex by the second half of the third book.
     
  5. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    I'm here! Sorry, it's been a little hectic. Not only is there a bit of a family gathering going on, but I also had a mountain biking accident that's put me under the weather. I've been stuck around 85% of the novel for over ten days. Will get to finishing it this weekend pronto!

    And without having read @Elvira's first post, this book has been a lot of fun so far. I've particularly been fond of the capitalist minded Sail Windcheater and the exchanges between him and the cantankerous drone Sniper. Before I started this book, I'd heard other people briefly mentioning how Sniper was their favourite character and I'd thought he was a human all along. Asher's world-building with this novel has been absolutely great.
     
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  6. Elvira

    Elvira Well-Known Member

    Glad to have you back and hopefully in one piece!
     
  7. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    I've had my first run-in with the Skinner. It was not a pretty sight, but I survived. God damn freaky world is Spatterjay. One of my favourite things about the book was the continuing story of Spatterjay's marine denizens at the start of each chapter. Asher's done with with one or two of his other novels, as well.
     
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  8. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    @Elvira and @kenubrion, with regards to characterisation, I think it's a given now (after 5 previous Polity books and now this one) that Asher writes plot-driven narratives. And of all his characters, it's the aliens and the artificial intelligences that are the most well developed rather than the humans. The one exception I can think of in terms of good development is Brass Man, in which he presented the psychosis and schizophrenia of an AI better than just about anyone else that I've come across. Of course, there's Kubrick's & Clarke's scarily realistic HAL 9000 with its cognitive dissonance, and Banks attempted a smaller treatment of this motif in Excession and did a good job of it (he's an accomplished wordsmith after all), but Asher just kills it with his book.

    In many respects, I'd say Asher is Peter F. Hamilton 2.0. Both write multiple points-of-view involving large casts, but while Hamilton's books are bloated and take forever to pick up (Pandora's Star didn't start to really get interesting until around page freaking 600!), Asher's novels are comparatively leaner, and the pace is faster and the action comes quicker. Plus, Asher's funnier.

    I thought the secondary characters were great, too. Even though you don't get to know most of them very well, they're just so interesting, from the various Hoopers, the indigenous natives (I think Windcheater was probably one of my favourite characters), the AI from Sniper to the Sub Minds 1-13, the Prador, and even the goddamn Molly Carp! I loved Sniper's overlay programme that Warden installed into his SMs and suddenly they were all like "We should attack 'em, splash 'em, kill 'em, hit 'em... ." Transformed from more simple, geological survey drones to frothing at the mouth, rabid enforcer drones with 'attitude'. That gung-ho attitude was hilarious.

    Lots of great death scenes, loved the battles between Prador and SMs/Sniper (also liked Asher's description of Sniper being akin to a piked, infantry soldier going up against full-armoured, mounted knights), loved how the chapters started with the continuing story of the indigenous fauna's brutal life-cycle/predator-prey-relationship and finished just to start the cycle all over again.

    Despite the scantiness of character development, I liked just about every character except for one. Only Rebecca Frisk was a caricature with no role but to further the action on Spatterjay. I guess, in a way it made sense because she was ultimately shown to be Ebulan's pawn in the achievement of his goals, and while her character traits were touched upon and to some measure explained, she was just a little too cartoon-ish in how crazy she was. Hell, I started to feel sorry for the Batian mercenaries. I even started to respect their cold-mindedness by the end, but it was great how even Spatterjay was too much even for them (poor Shib!). What a fucked up place.

    I was also surprised at the mean-mindedness of the Hoopers and even Sable Keech with what they did to Rebecca Frisk. That I didn't expect and didn't like. Better to have ended it immediately, but I suppose when you're for all intents and purposes immortal, then your perspective is much more skewed for a lot of things.

    I think I got more bang for my buck with this novel because I'd already read the Ian Cormac series. The Skinner is the second novel Asher wrote after Gridlinked, and I've got to say there is a marked difference between the two. While Gridlinked is uneven in quality and I can see some people not getting along with it, TS reads much more fluidly and provides a better end. So, in many cases TS probably works as a better introduction to Asher. But I still think reading the Cormac books first is a better idea. The series give you an overview and the real goings-on within the Polity. It not only provides the grand perspective, but it is seriously kick-ass action-filled. The final two books also provided intriguing tid-bits about the Prado-Human war and you get to meet ultra scary assassin drones whose sole purpose was the specialised skill of assassinating Prador. Finally getting to see a proper Prador in The Skinner was a real treat.

    I liked Sable Keech most of the main characters. But I found him most interesting up to and until his full 'resuscitation'. After that, he actually became weirdly less interesting.

    The Hive Mind aspect was a strange but fascinating. We share the planet with sapient wasp collectives?

    Ambel's resolution was both kind of lukewarm and also apt, I felt. What were the fast food/Halloween allusions?
    This was an interesting twist, and I enjoyed it, but I didn't understand it. Just...how? The Warden is dismayed at how much of Sniper just keeps coming and coming and coming during the transfer, but how does that turn into Warden being subsumed by Sniper instead of the other way around? Sniper is an old war drone mind with nearly a millennium of accumulated memory, but Warden seems like one of those minds with a capital 'M' as in Banks' Minds. I've always gotten the impression that the AI 'Minds' of the Polity are like the Minds of the Culture but perhaps at an earlier stage?
     
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  9. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    And I really liked Vrell! Once he was away from his father's pheromones and his transformation into the adult stage of his life jump-started, he got so damn interesting. Loved his survival instinct when the tables turned. It was actually pretty comical.
     
  10. Elvira

    Elvira Well-Known Member

    Absolutely! The moment Sniper get swallowed by Molly Carp was just priceless. I also loved the englishness in the jargon and the swearing.

    Death was too precious and valuable. She just didn’t deserve it.

    Yes, this is the disadvantage of arriving late to SF . I’m always on the first book of everything. I think if I had read some previous Asher’s books, I would have taken into TS more quickly and I would have overlooked some of the points, which were nagging me a bit, as I would have been more tuned into his world, characters type and plot.
    So did I, the mysterious character in his corrupted body. Once reawaken, not just to a superior fully functional body but to his emotions, he became, in my view, a standard, duller Spatterjay citizen.

    The way I understood it was the Warden acknowledges the power of Sniper when he mentions how much Sniper has “underestimated” itself. I guess a 1000 years of self-improvements programs of dubious and surely illegal nature, will provide the Sniper with an edge the Warden lacked. Being consumed by Sniper, is not an option the Warden is ready to consider, so he chooses to reculer… This is my very un-scientific explanation.

    I don’t remember exactly in which passage, but I think it was one of the scene in which the human blanks rebel agains Ebulan or maybe when he is savouring a rotten human leg…

    Vrell is one, I’m sure, will reappear badder, meaner and bigger.
     
    Last edited: Oct 2, 2016
  11. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    I've been thinking about this. It's not that Keech isn't emotional. I mean, he's not, but the driving force to complete his goal/vengeance would have had a strong emotional spark. As a rief, could that initial spark have just transformed into a sense of overriding, unfinished duty? Like a programme? I think a lot of immortal characters portrayed in fiction are obsessive compulsive, and Keech is just another one of those. Strangely, it's the old Hooper captains who seem to have a more balanced mind-set. Perhaps it's the monotony of existence on Spatterjay. It seems to give them enough time to centre themselves, psychologically speaking. (Okay, the original eight seem to have been a crazy exception.) It's the reason why Erlin comes back to seek out Ambel to learn how to deal with immortality, right? It seems that getting through the second and third centuries of your life is the crucial bit. That's the period when most decide to commit suicide either explicitly or by indirectly making choices that leads to their death.

    In the end, I didn't have that much of a problem with Keech's seven centuries of on ongoing vendetta, partly sprung from duty, partly from an even deeper emotional need for retribution not only for his own death, but for the horrors of that exceptionally perverse slave trade with the Prador.

    As for his transformation, I think there were a couple of distinct advantages of him being a rief. 1) He felt no physical pain. That's a major advantage and we're given a glimpse of that when the Batians shoot him with a powerful energy weapon, yet he's able to basically shrug it off and catch them by surprise by killing one of the mercenaries. 2) While being a rief would make him a pariah, the advantage here is that most would either steer clear of him, or feel a little intimidation if he decides to confront them. Add to that him being an Earth Central Security (ECS) agent and it all plays in his favour.

    He basically had three choices. He could have either died a full death, had his consciousness transferred into a Golem (a Polity android body), or used that highly advanced nanotechnology to physically regenerate from the little organic matter left over from his original body. No one wants to die, and transferring your consciousness into an artificial non-organic body seems just too final, like a permanent gulf between the organic being you were to the artificial being you become. The best option would be to regenerate. But that would remove the advantages he has as a rief operative. After his confrontation with the Batians and most especially after the accidental infection by the Spatterjay virus which was playing havoc with his systems, his choices and time frame were limited and he was basically forced to go through with a full organic resuscitation, and not in ideal conditions.

    Yeah, that seems highly probable. I think either Sniper or SM13 were sneaky in tickling Molly Carp's brain to go after Vrell, but I'm sure he's going to survive and become as ruthless as his father, though with more limited resources.

    I don't know...I'm still unconvinced that it could have happened at all. I mean, even Sniper was surprised at its individuality being uncompromised. It was also wondering where the heck the Warden was. I still see the Warden as a Mind with a capital M. Hopefully, there's a proper explanation given for this event in book 2. If not, then this is the only major plot hole I see. It really makes no sense to me, even if it was a fun and happy circumstance.

    Edit:
    What about your thoughts on the novel and some of the things that Elvira's pointed out?
     
    Last edited: Oct 2, 2016
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  12. Elvira

    Elvira Well-Known Member

    Yep! 700 years of compulsion deserver the title… I think my problem is I’m assessing this time issue from a very classical point of view: immortality as a curse, the yearning to become mortal once again. How such a desirable gift turns into a torment. I was wrongly expecting the characters to dwell into this issue. Obviously, this is not the type of book for this kind of reflections.

    I can see clearly your more scientific, analytical mind into work, in comparison to mine: poor Keech, the mysterious, extremely smelly pariah. I guess I don't own a SF hat yet, and keep viewing facts from a very non SF p.o.v I’ll get there… eventually.

    I’m sure there will be a very satisfactory explanation about this in the next book. I trust the Warden knows what it's doing and does so freely and for a reason. Otherwise, we’ll get back to this point and leave it in shreds.

    I think @kenubrion might be orbiting machining away from Spatterjay...
     
  13. kenubrion

    kenubrion Well-Known Member

    Hey, sorry I missed this. I just reread the entire thread and man, you two do go on. It's like the classic Peanuts cartoon where Charlie Brown and Schroeder are laying on the lawn and watching clouds go by. Schroeder points at one and says "that one reminds me of Descarte's essay on the essential flaws in the human struggle to transcend the physical dimensions."

    Charlie says "I was going to say it looks like a horsie but nevermind."

    I'm Charlie Brown. You two are Schroeder. I thought it was good. The end.

    Actually I can't believe you didn't go immediately to The Voyage of the Sable Keech.
     
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  14. Elvira

    Elvira Well-Known Member

    You, Charlie, just made me laugh! :p
     
  15. MorteTorment

    MorteTorment Regular Member

    Not gonna read any posts in this topic that aren't a reply to me.

    Someone recommended this book to me on goodreads. Do you think that it's up my alley?
     
  16. kenubrion

    kenubrion Well-Known Member

    Who cares?
     
  17. Elvira

    Elvira Well-Known Member

    I thought you already mentioned trying it and not liking it. Maybe you are getting it mixed up with another book...?
     
  18. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    I also remember you mentioning you'd tried reading it but gave up. I liked it a lot.

    I've started reading the sequel, now. Starts off with a brilliant death-match right off the bat.
     
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  19. MorteTorment

    MorteTorment Regular Member

    I think that you're thinking of spatterjay, I haven't read The Skinner.
     
  20. Elvira

    Elvira Well-Known Member

    Morte, my dear, The Skinner is the first book in the Spatterjay Trilogy. ;)
     
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