Monday, August 15, 2005

Neal Asher: The Skinner

Neal Asher's science-fiction novel The Skinner is a book in which the author's powerful imagination overcomes some of the problems thrown up by what I judge to be an inadequate grasp of narrative technique.

The Skinner runs to 473 pages, and in my view it would be more effective at two thirds the length. As it stands, there are too many principal characters, and in the early sections of the novel we are not always sure which of them we are supposed to be concentrating on.

Given that the action takes place on a planet called Spatterjay, where things are very different from what we are accustomed to on earth, there is too much new information for the reader to absorb comfortably. The result, I fear, is a certain amount of confusion, blurring of the story line, and a tendency for the reader to put the book down and pick up something else.

What, then, kept me reading? Answer (as I indicated at the start): the fact that this author has a powerful imagination. He has created an entirely new world for us, a task which must have absorbed his energies for a very long time, before he even began to write the novel proper. And it all hangs together tolerably well.

Furthermore, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Neal Asher's technique that couldn't be put right by a thorough reading of Dr Zuckerman's book Writing the Blockbuster Novel. As I have remarked before, you should not be put off by the catchpenny title. A careful study of this book will pay dividends no matter what sort of a novel you intend to write, even the most literary.

Personally I was quite glad I did stick with The Skinner, because at about page 300 it began to get quite exciting. And it continues in that mode until the end. But there is, I repeat, too much for us to absorb early in the book, and we are trying to keep track of too many characters, right to the end.

This is one for serious SF fans, I think.

The author has his own web site, where, as usual, you can learn more about him and his various books.


Anonymous said...

I bet you know this already, but if you like Asher, you'll probably also like Alastair Reynolds (especially Revelation Space,)Charles Strom (Singularity Sky is flawed but full of good ideas) and - even pulpier but no less enjoyable - Richard Morgan.

On a more literary / philosophical tip, the best SF I've read in the last year or so was Super Flat Times by Matthew Derby, published in the US in 2003, and belatedly picked up in the UK by Little, Brown earlier this year. (I get the feeling that a lot of good, serious SF published in the states never makes it over here at all).

Mikhail Capone said...

Interesting post. I haven't read Asher yet but he's been on my list for a long time.

I wonder, have you read Iain M. Banks? Consider Phlebas and Use of Weapons (his masterpiece) are highly recommended.

Anonymous said...

Hey, thanks for the tip - I'm reading Albert Zuckerman's book now. Incidentally, the website you mention is not my own, which is

Neal Asher

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