The following review appears at Bookpleasures.com and focuses on how costs affect superheros.
Author Peter Darrach
Second Skin — What Cost for Superheros?
In Peter Darrach’s SF novel, Team Commander Max Cody could lead readers to ask about the cost of being a superhero. When he asked “What is going on with me?”, his flashback saw a bright whiteness and his voice heard an apology. That questioning of an accident to the Astroid Recovery Service (ARSI) commander whisks the reader beyond the usual story line of a conflict between the economic interests of a mining consortium or a protagonist who sides with an indigenous group.
Cody faced becoming a superhero in a world rooted to more real happenings than could be found in The Avengers. But those situations usually demand a cost for the power. When the Greens played God in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy by terraforming the planet, the cost became the loss of support by the Red movement and the planet’s uniqueness.
In Second Skin, Cody’s accident allows the conflict to include how a space accident might reframe human evolution, and how a high technological experiment might strike across the parsecs without planning.
Yet blended within those issues, Cody falls in love with his navigator Elaine, deals with a surging Martian independence drive and fights an ice pirate who could be tied to a political figure in the Martian government.
Those various conflicts whet the appetite of an audience who constantly sees a fast paced, multi-tasking world zoom past them.
Other stories have dealt with part of this scope like, Ben Bova’s Astroid War Series, or the classic movie Avatar. The exploration of the economic downturn of the home planet Earth leads into speculation about how the economic and political systems will follow the characters beyond and into the stars.
However, author Darrach could take readers deeper with Second Skin into the exploration of the wide canvas he paints. What could be the cost to Cody or society for the new abilities Cody displays? What costs exist to society if a new evolution has started? What are the costs to human interaction if Cody has tied into a special accident that changes how people can travel or control resources?
Darrach has laid the framework for the factors that fill Cody’s world and his world makes us think about those issues. Some of us might even simply like the adventure ride of seeing a new superhero.
Yet Darrach just touches the surface. Cody’s accident could lead the way to some exploration about how he developed some seeming supernatural powers. Yet Cody’s attention centers more on his growing love of Elaine. When he is threatened by the ice pirate from an attack on the Mars Orbital Array, the dinner on the array continues without a set of security plans to counter or discover the nature of the threat. That takes the reader completely away from the questions about evolution or accident prevention systems.
Darrach could have developed the man versus self conflict with Cody’s new powers. Cody’s adjustment to a new power must have had some play on his psyche. How did that compare with the ways in his past where he faced and overcame an obstacle?
While Darrach shows readers the new political and economic obstacles in the space age, the author could travel deeper in character development. Cody uses his new powers to thwart the obstacles that would kill most humans. Cody has to shift gears to new situations. But Cody never has to adapt to a limitation from his new powers. As a contrast, the Lady Sula, from Walter Jon Williams’ Dread Empire Falls series, had to reinvent herself throughout the story to deal with personal and Star Fleet limitations.
Darrach sets the stage with characters who represent key agendas, but does not round out those people by showing the impact of competing interests. Gilberto deals with the ice pirate despite his connection to the Martian Government. Yet what are his plans to take advantage of the resources and who would he deal with to handle those benefits? That’s a missing economic or political faction that could be part of the complexity. If the new technology would help mine the resources and place Gilberto in a position to expand his power, where are his interactions with the scientists working of the tech?
The ice pirate is a cunning operative to make the Jack Bauer script people search for counter moves. But his background is a blank slate. What turned him into a pirate and why does he think he can make a big move by helping Gilberto?
Other opportunities could include exploring the technology experts’ concern about how their experiment might lead to unforeseen problems. How does the Governor of Mars see the development of the colony without the economics of Earth? Just how does the community of the planet respond to her vision?
Darrach has opened the path to explore new issues, and it’s reasonable not to expect full closure on many of the issues. Yet once a major item like a possible new evolution or technology is introduced, the concept should have some follow up. Such a blend should not take away from the impact of a character driven story. That blend should be to show how that character deals with the cost of those concepts.