Thursday, June 7, 2012

Second Skin by Peter Darrach

Second SkinPeter Darrach's Second Skin is set in 2125. Humanity is out and about in the solar system, living in self-sustaining colonies on Mars, mining the asteroid belt, and building massive space stations that process the raw materials.

But the solar system is a dangerous place. Tensions mount as Earth tightens its control over an increasingly independent Mars, and “pirates” steal the minerals and ice mined from the asteroid belt in ever bolder raids.

Add to this mix average joe asteroid-miner, Max Cody. A strange cosmic event during one of his missions gives him extraordinary powers. With the help of his girlfriend, Elaine Zhou, he uses his powers to thwart a team of pirates and prevent a megalomaniacal villain from taking over the Earth.

Second Skin read more like a super hero novel to me than hard science fiction. That's not a criticism but an observation. I couldn't help but notice how it followed the classic super hero origin storyline—a strange event gives an ordinary man super powers; after reluctantly coming to terms with his new abilities, he uses them for good. With great power comes great responsibility, and all that. I was hoping to get more explanation of the "event" that gave Max his powers, but the story hinted those details would come in later books.

The author certainly knows his science. I was impressed with the in-depth descriptions of asteroid mining logistics, space station specs, and life on an independent Mars colony. While the information was interesting to a space/tech geek like me, it got a bit info-dumpy at times and I would've preferred to see it explained when crucial to the conflict in a scene, not as an aside.

Which leads to my main criticism of the book, and that is the lack of conflict in the second act. The first and third acts had plenty of action that kept me turning the pages. But the second act had lots of staff meetings where everybody got along, dinner parties where everybody got along, shopping trips where everybody got along... Even the two main characters, Max and Elaine, never had any sort of disagreement. I realize they're in love, but even romance novels keep some tension between the lovers throughout the story.

Second Skin is a plausible sci-fi tale about what life might be like in the solar system in the next 100 years (it's especially timely with Google and James Cameron now financing the same colonial vision). While the book didn't work for me in novel length due to the weak middle, I think it would have made a fine novella if the author had cut and/or streamlined most of the second act.

Second Skin is available in print and ebook formats through

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