Sunday, 17 March 2013

Halfskin by Tony Bertauski

Publication date: 30th November 2012
Published by: Self published
Genre: Science Fiction

On the surface Halfskin is a science fiction novel set in an alternate reality where nanotechnology has advanced to the point where it is being used to create man-made stem cells (biomites) that can be used to not only heal the body but enhance it.  Unfortunately there is a catch, the little buggers continue to increase and spread, eventually taking over the human side.  Marcus Anderson is a government official who has played a key part in introducing and implementing a law preventing humans from becoming more machine than human, and individuals are ‘shut down’ when they reach the 50/50 level or Halfskin.  It is also Marcus’s job to enforce the law – and he loves his job.

As a boy Nix Richards was in a car accident that killed his parents and nearly killed him.  If it wasn’t for biomites he would be dead.  Ten years later at 18 he is dangerously close to halfskin, prompting the authorities to come for him.  

Cali Richards, Nix’s sister, is no stranger to loss, pain and suffering – first her parents, then her husband.  She is not going to lose her brother too and is determined to keep Nix from being captured and killed by the government…

For me, in a nutshell, this novel was a cat and mouse chase – or more accurately cat (Marcus) and mice (Cali and Nix).  It reminded me of that well known recurring  dream (not a nightmare but definitely disturbing) about being chased - just when you think you have eluded your pursuer you look behind only to find he/she is still on your trail. Eventually you wake up in a cold sweat relieved that it is over. Reading Halfskin evoked those same feelings.  There was an unexpected twist, which is always good.

The novel is both clever and thought-provoking.  It certainly got me thinking - in the same way that one debates about whether Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is actually about espionage or whether Twilight is actually about vampires.  For me Halfskin wasn't so much about humans at risk of becoming machines but an examination of how intolerant, inflexible and fearful members of a group in a society can make it their mission to come down heavy on those who deviate from said group and seek to at best silence and at worst annihilate them. (It got me thinking about the sign of the times: the far religious and political right versus the liberal centre-left, about the fiasco of the recent US presidential election and the UK coalition government).  Unlike other novels, this is done with subtlety - it's not trying to be clever and it's not in your face. Of course novels can mean different things to different people so not everyone will agree with my take on this.  

I also found myself drawing parallels with Bertauski's previous novel The Annihilation of Foreverland.  Nix's character and experiences were quite similar to Reed's.  There is the common theme of a virtual world - "Foreverland" and "Dreamland" - with a mysterious girl in both worlds who is important to them but remains in the background.  You could say Halfskin is the adult version of The Annihilation..., which is pitched for the young-adult reader.  If you liked one then you'll probably like the other.  

I have also read the first of Tony’s Socket Greeny trilogy and I must admit I preferred that.  All the same, Halfskin is worth a read and Tony Bertuaski is one to look out for.

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