Book Review: Skinner

On balance, I’m already a Charlie Huston fan. My previous favorite book by Huston is Already Dead, which is a hard-boiled noir novel about vampires in the New York underground. I didn’t care for the rest of the trilogy quite as much, but Huston is high on the list of authors I enjoy.

I’m not sure why it took me so long to pick up Huston’s new book, Skinner, but I’m glad I did. The plot is “20 minutes into the future” stuff–really fresh allusions to recent events abound. But unlike almost every other recent novel about a dystopian future, there’s a liminal glow of hope. I am truly ready for a dystopia backlash, and Skinner has some of that energy along with underpinnings of optimism.

Skinner is very William Gibson-esque, in a good way. As a connoisseur of Gibson, I’d say Huston’s book isn’t early Gibson like Neuromancer–we don’t get that very often, and maybe that time has passed. It’s mid-Gibson: think Pattern Recognition. There’s even a character in Skinner that specializes in teasing out patterns from data like in Pattern Recognition.

What’s different from Gibson is the main character, Skinner, who was raised in a Skinner box. Because of his childhood, Skinner has several special skills, as well as a lot of emotional baggage. I’ll leave it at that. One other difference is that in recent books like Spook Country, I feel like Gibson spent most of the book building up to a single big finale. In contrast, Skinner has a pretty consistent number of fun ideas and action throughout the entire book.

I’d recommend Skinner if you like Gibson, Stephenson, or Swierczynski. And if you enjoy Skinner, you might enjoy The Informationist or Daniel Suarez or Ramez Naam.

6 Responses to Book Review: Skinner (Leave a comment)

  1. Sound good. I still have not read anything of Charlie Huston, but I should fix this. Regards!

  2. Interesting plot and twist!

  3. I just read this based on a thread on Ask MetaFilter looking for “smart thrillers” I like how it gets into nature/nurture stuff without hitting you over the head with it. And I’m reading Naam right now. Thanks for the other recs.

  4. My brain isn’t working right. Based on your tweet I was fully expecting to see a guest blog post, written by @CharlieHuston, about some book written by B.F. Skinner.

    I envy your time availability for novels. I need to make time for reading again, it’s been too long.