Peter Darrach,
Second Skin
(CreateSpace, 2012)

Second Skin by Peter Darrach is a science-fiction adventure novel that was self-published through Amazon's CreateSpace program. It runs 328 pages and, for a self-published book, the editing was quite good. This book is labeled as, "Volume One."

The year is 2125 and the population of Earth has depleted many of its natural resources, especially its metals. However, humankind has managed to colonize Mars and build one enormous functioning solar-powered smelting facility situated in an areocentric orbit. Small ships go out into the asteroid belt, identify small asteroids that are high in metallic content and use small explosions and/or thruster devices to guide them into orbit. These herded asteroids are then broken up into smaller pieces and fed into the smelting array. The resulting metals are either used in construction on Mars itself or sold to Earth. The result is that the Martian colony has become quite prosperous and, as our story begins, has gained independence from Earth. Not everyone on Earth is happy about this, but Mars and its people are acting as friendly trade partners.

The main character of the story is Maxwell Cody, a fairly young but experienced asteroid miner who has a very unusual experience when he and his partner are hit by a meteor shower while setting up the thruster devices on an asteroid. Max should not have survived, but something very strange occurs and he is able to survive vacuum for much longer than is normally humanly possible.

Besides the ability to not breathe for a while, yet survive, what else can Max do that most people cannot? Who is Suicide Sam and his pirate gang, and what role do they play in our story? What is happening on Phobos, one of the moons of Mars? How will the military-run scientific experiments on Phobos affect the population of Mars, and possibly of Earth? Are the pirates interested in those experiments? Do Max and the beautiful Elaine have a future together? Will they survive?

Comparisons with other authors can be useful at times but, as each author has his or her own style, there are limits. Darrach does not have the sophisticated vocabulary or phrasing, in this book, as does newcomer D. Barkley Briggs (The Book of Names) or veteran author Gene Wolfe (The Book of the Long Sun). Nor does this book include the high level of scientific technology found in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars series. However, Second Skin is a somewhat lighter, definitely faster-paced and more fun read than the books mentioned above. The characters in Second Skin tend to be caricatures, to some extent, as it is hard to find any faults in the good guys or anything likable in the bad guys. The settings are described very well, there is lots of action and not only are the characters rendered in three dimensions, but they also evolve. That is especially true for the protagonist, who is not completely human by the end of the story. Or is he?

I enjoyed this book enough that, if this is indeed the beginning of a series, or at least the trilogy, I would likely buy the sequel.

book review by
Chris McCallister

25 August 2012

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