Monday, November 1, 2010

CSFFBT: 'The Skin Map' by Stephen Lawhead

This is going to be a slightly different take on this month's Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour. I haven't quite finished the book yet, and so will reserve more in-depth comments until tomorrow, when I will have finished it.

First, some notes first:

The Skin Map and
Author’s web site -

In short, about the book itself:

Lawhead is turning into one of those authors whose books I pick up with a sigh of relief, because a) I know it's going to be good and b) I know it's not going to make me crazy by proposing brain-breaking concepts.

(By 'brain-breaking' I don't mean twists on physics or large amounts of math - I mean things like "religion is for weak and stupid people" or "monarchies are great because of the order and stability they produce" or "carnivores are inheritantly evil".)

In The Skin Map Lawhead revisits one of the oldest of SF concepts - the alternate reality, visited by people from Our Earth. This has been used in a zillion ways, from Andre Norton's Here There Be Dragons (as well as the whole of the Witch World novels) through Stephen R. Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covanant to Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere as well as countless less notable others.

(This is not to knock other examples of the subgenre as being despicable - I have as a special love the Crossroads series by Nick O'Donohoe, which Amazon tells me collectible sets of the original paperbacks are going for ungodly sums, and which was not, imo, all that terrific a fiction series, despite my deep love for the subject matter. Ahem. Moving on.)

I mention Neverwhere in particular because it, like Skin Map, uses the backdrop of London as its launching point to Someplace Else. As an rural American by birth and inclination, I am afraid I not ever going to Get the fascination with the layers of history wrapt in London. Lawhead, though, makes a better-than-usual job of creating a believably complex modern metropolis as well as an alternative (1600's) reality that doesn't have me shrugging off suspension of disbelief as 'too much like work'.

And that's actually not being fair - I was well and truly drawn into this book and its plot, and look forward to finishing it tomorrow. Reading it was only complicated by the fact that I've finished three (and a half) other books in the last week. Between them - Kage Baker's House of the Stag, a partial re-read of CJ Cherryh's Gate of Ivrel, Lois McMaster Bujold's Cryoburn and Connie Willis's All Clear, I am full, to the shallowest hair root, of alternate realities and timestream convolutions.

So when a Skin Map character - just in passing, or so it seems - takes steps to advert a major historical disaster (and so save thousands of lives) my warning bells go on. (Danger Will Robinson, Danger!) Because no good turn goes unpunished, and no modifications of the plan go unnoted, and nothing is so good as it looks.

I haven't read far enough to know if the danger-adverting is just windowdressing, or is actually treated with more depth later on. I'm looking forward to finding out.

Two - no, three other notes:

- The character of Wilhemina is turning out to be, oh, eight or nine times more awesome than I had thought she was going to be. (I was, frankly, expecting another Neverwhere-esque non-entity.)

- The *concept* of a skin map is great. It even evokes that old classic The Illustrated Man. But in the context of WWII and the final solution, I'm a bit twitchy about things made from people skins.

- The cover - eye, strange symbols, pyramids and London, all in red-orange - is awesome.

As I said, hopefully more, later. Meanwhile, other CSFSBT participants are:

Red Bissell
Thomas Clayton Booher
Keanan Brand
Grace Bridges
Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse
Jeff Chapman
Christian Fiction Book Reviews
Valerie Comer
Karri Compton
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
George Duncan
April Erwin
Tori Greene
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Timothy Hicks
Christopher Hopper
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Becca Johnson
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Shannon McDermott
Allen McGraw
Matt Mikalatos
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Gavin Patchett
Sarah Sawyer
Chawna Schroeder
Kathleen Smith
Rachel Starr Thomson
Donna Swanson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Dona Watson
Phyllis Wheeler
Nicole White
Dave Wilson

1 comment:

Keanan Brand said...

Good review!

Like you, my mind leapt to the Holocaust when I first read the book's title, but considering that the man volunteered to make himself a map changes matters.

It's a dandy read, this book.