December 28th, 2009

Kitty: Angry Calico

Wasserman, Robin: Skinned

Skinned (2008)
Written by: Robin Wasserman
Genre: YA/Science Fiction
Pages: 361 (Trade Paperback)

The premise: snatched for, which is also the backcover blurb: Lia Kahn was perfect: rich, beautiful, popular — until the accident that nearly killed her. Now she has been downloaded into a new body that only looks human. Lia will never feel pain again, she will never age, and she can't ever truly die. But she is also rejected by her friends, betrayed by her boyfriend, and alienated from her old life.

Forced to the fringes of society, Lia joins others like her. But they are looked at as freaks. They are hated...and feared. They are everything but human, and according to most people, this is the ultimate crime — for which they must pay the ultimate price.

My Rating

Must Have: but with one warning: this is not a plot-driven or action-driven book. If you like character-centric books, particularly those with more of an existential theme, and you love the themes behind the updated Battlestar Galactica (focusing on the cylons), then you're going to have fun with this. It's a good book, and even when I didn't agree with our heroine, never once did I not at least sympathize and understand where she was coming from. Wasserman really gets into the heart of the matter and makes you really THINK about how you'd feel if you were in Lia's shoes. The science fictional elements and social reaction to those elements are also very strong, which surprised me, though I don't know why: for whatever, unfair reason, I expect the science in YA SF to be light and fluffy and non-existent, not explained in detail (which isn't to say the science used in Skinned is accurate or not, but it makes you wonder about how such an process could take place in the future). At any rate, it's a pretty strong start of a series, and I'll definitely be picking up the next installment, Crashed, once it's released in trade paperback. :)

Review style: spoilers, because this isn't the kind of heavily plot-driven book the premise makes it out to be. It's actually very, very character-driven, and it's hard NOT to spoil such books. So if you want to avoid said spoilers, there's no need to click the link below to my LJ. Otherwise, click away! Comments and discussion are most welcome. :)

REVIEW: Robin Wasserman's SKINNED

Happy Reading!
Stone & Sky

Sky Coyote, by Kage Baker

Sky Coyote
Author: Kage Baker
Series: The Company #2
Publisher: Harcourt Brace & Company
Format: Hardcover
Year: 1999
Pages: 310
Genre: Soft SF/Superhuman/Time Travel

Jacket Description
The year is 1699, the place the Lost City in the heart of the Mayan jungle -- but in fact it's New World One, a rest-and-rec center for Dr. Zeus's hard-working immortal operatives. (The margaritas at the Palenque Poodle are excellent.)

Enter Facilitator Joseph. He's been given a new assignment, and it's a tough one. Joseph sailed with the Phoenicians, was a priest in Egypt, a politician in Athens, secretary to a Roman senator. . . but now he must go to Alta California. His mission: to save the Chumash of Humashup from certain destruction at the hands of the coming white men, by convincing an entire village to step into the future.

The Chumash, he quickly learns, are no pushovers; they were the inventors of shell money, after all. Some, like Nutku, spokesman for the Canoemakers' Union and First Functionary of the Humashup Lodge of the Brotherhood of the Kantap, may match Joseph himself in cunning.

In this second book of Kage Baker's Company series, we get more of a glimpse into the Company, and some of what we glimpse is dark. (When certain troublesome cyborgs disappear, for example, what happens to them?) We also learn how Botanist Grade Six Mendoza is managing after that unfortunate experience she had in Renaissance England.

My Review
This second novel of the Company makes all of In the Garden of Iden feel like a prequel, and for those SF readers who don't like much romance I might recommend starting here. It jumps ahead a couple hundred years and switches to Joseph's first-person narrative (I think the series is actually shaping up to switch back and forth between Mendoza and Joseph with every book, but I could be wrong), and it gets much more into the world-building that was so ruthlessly relegated to the background in the first novel. There's still nothing ground-breaking about Baker's set-up, but the glimpses of the world of the future begin to have a more coherent (if deliberately baffling) look.

Joseph is a delightful narrator, much wiser than Mendoza and less self-centered. He also has already done his growing up (way back in prehistory, as he was recruited somewhere around 18000 BC) and thus doesn't subject the reader to all the "oh my god the world is not what I was led to believe!" bit that goes along with any sort of coming-of-age story. Instead, he is the sort of character that is settled in his comfortable rut and keeps his head down when the fur starts to fly. He knows he's playing ostrich, but over the millennia he's gotten glimpses of some nasty things, and he very much doesn't want to be the one turning over all those rocks.

That, of course, makes him very human, no matter what Mendoza thinks of him. And that, of course is the major theme Baker is exploring in this series -- our common humanity, no matter what outer trappings we set up to differentiate ourselves from each other. That theme is very much made manifest in Baker's portrayal of the Chumash, which I also found delightful. The jacket description doesn't do them justice. . . they are not "noble savages," nor do they speak in metaphorical and broken English the way they do in far too many Western novels. . . instead, they are aggressively modern-thinking, and they use an economics vocabulary that I doubt was invented yet (at least not in the New World), but then realism isn't exactly the point.

But though the Chumash serve as the focus of the plot, Sky Coyote is there for many of the same reason In the Garden of Iden was: to introduce a key character and get him into position for the larger events in store. To that end, in this novel we also meet our first humans from the future where Dr. Zeus invented time travel and immortality treatments, that bright future that all the immortals living through history the long way are waiting to see, and their portrayal answers some of my questions and raises quite a few others. I was wondering, the entire time I was reading In the Garden of Iden, why on earth the Company didn't employ any adolescent psychologists who could tell them what the natural course of events would be given the way they raise their little immortal cyborgs (I mean, anyone with a lick of common sense could tell what was going to happen, but I acknowledge that the Company would likely need to hear it from someone with a degree or two before acting on it); now that I've seen some of the people who run the Company I understand why they didn't employ any adolescent psychologists. But now I'm left to wonder how on earth those people even formed Dr. Zeus Inc. -- a question Joseph is left wondering as well, so I assume Baker is going to answer it somewhere down the line.

I will admit, this novel wears its narrative on its sleeve -- I can just hear Baker thinking things like "and I'll insert a flashback here because the plot's getting a bit slow and I need to put this in somewhere" -- but the narrative voice is strong enough that I don't mind. And there is a moment, a single perfect moment, near the end of the novel (p. 285-286 for those who've read it and want to see what I'm talking about; I wouldn't dare try to paraphrase here because I couldn't do it justice) where Joseph is forced to look in the mirror and examine his choices over the last 20,000 years. It involves the Chumash, the Loony Tunes, and Philip Marlowe, and I wouldn't change a word of it. That moment is the same sort of moment I saw in the short story I read by Baker that made me start talking her up as a favorite author; that moment would have made a much weaker book worth the price. And the ending Baker gives Kenemekme is just as good, a wonderful bit of metaphysics and humanism that isn't overplayed like it could have been.

I will definitely be continuing this series, though I'm a little worried I'm going to hate switching back to Mendoza's voice. . . but then, I was a little worried about switching to Joseph's voice, so it'll probably be fine. :)

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