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Neal Asher's first novel for Macmillan, Gridlinked, wasn't the world's greatest book. But it certainly showed enough promise for me to buy his next book, The Skinner.

The Skinner is another tale set in Asher's Runcible universe, where AIs and star gates link the many worlds of humanity, and man shares the stars with intelligent hornet hives. The isolated world of Spatterjay has a reputation for two things: its ancient and violent biosphere, and the immortality virus. Three vistors arrive on the same shuttle, all with different aims, but fated to work together to change their worlds. One is a dead man hunting a legendary killer, another a woman searching to find meaning in her immortality, and one a man who's carrying hornets from world to world.

The scars of the wars with the body stealing Prador are beginning to fade, but war criminals are still at large. Spatterjay is the home of Jay Hoop, the legendary skinner. We follow our heroes across the planet, searching for Hoop, while a Prador plot slowly starts to take shape. It's all good escapist fun, with AIs with a certain Banksian outlook on the world, and some of the nastiest monsters (human and otherwise) that you'll come across. (And it's worth reading the chapter introductions together, as they merge into a SF nature documentary of a world much more violent than the calm and peaceful Earth. You'll probably never look at a whelk in the same way again...)

A fun, light read, reminiscent of a cross between Peter Hamilton's blockbusters and Harry Harrison's Deathworld.