Sunday, February 19, 2012

Shepherd492 reviews: The X-Files: Skin

The X-Files: Skin (Ben Mezrich)



Plot

Skin, the last in a line of X-Files novelizations, is a promising novel that manages to capture many of the best aspects of the show. Our story starts out when a skin transplant causes an average man to gain incredible strength and an insatiable blood lust. However, what starts as a simple monster of the week premise develops into a more complex plot that takes our protagonists halfway around the world.

The opening segment of the story, in which Mulder and Scully are filled in on the case and chase leads throughout the city, is probably the weakest. The story progresses very quickly and fairly predictably, and there is an over reliance on one-shot point of view sequences to portray the latest development. Only a handful of intriguing plot threads and well written main characters keep this opening sequence from souring the book. After that particular case is closed, however, our heroes discover an underlying mystery that is linked to Thailand, Vietnam War veterans, and a man believed to be long dead.

This second part of the story makes excellent use of its exotic locale (an isolated village in southern Thailand) and provides more compelling mysteries for the agents to solve. This part takes many of the best elements of the X-Files- conspiracy theories, science, mysticism, and intrigue and successfully touches on each of them. The structure of the mystery is great for balancing out the duo's approach to solving problems. While Mulder investigates the legend of the Gin-Korng-Pew, Scully tries a more scientific approach, investigating the MASH unit that was abandoned at the end of the Vietnam War. The two different approaches to solving a given problem are a crucial element of the show, and the author faithfully recreates that in this novel.

The novel's conclusion is a bit on the weak side, however. The finale is rushed, with the revelations coming in rapid succession. Also, the final confrontation between the agents and the antagonists is a bit disappointing too, as is the fact that there are a few loose ends that aren't getting resolved any time soon. Despite this, there are still some good action scenes packed into the end of the book, and the story structure is true enough to the X-Files TV show to be worth a read.

Characterization

Mulder and Scully are obviously, rightfully, the focal points of this book. Their characterization is effective and accurate, though little more than surface level. Mulder is his usual self here, eagerly pursuing leads and jumping to wild conclusions that usually turn out to be right. Scully is skeptical, approaching the problems from a scientific point of view. The two play off of each other very well, though the dynamic isn't as strong or complex as in many of the episodes, it is nonetheless authentic and, if nothing else, adequate. The book references some key points in each character's life, though to no great effect, the characters are not really explored or developed through this story. Skin is very much a story driven adventure.

The supporting characters are fairly stock. Mulder and Scully move about from place to place, interviewing one forgettable character after another. This is no different than most X-Files episodes, though there is frequently a guest character that will provide an appreciated extra dimension to the story. Here, the side characters don't really stand on their own, and are nothing more than plot propellant. Of the recurring characters from the TV show, only Skinner makes an appearance here. He shows up for only a few pages and is characterized fairly well considering his extremely limited role, but it would've been nice to see more of the recurring characters from the show.

Of note is the villain, Quo Tien. Quo is a trained assassin and apparently the son of the deceased CEO, Emile Paladin. He stalks our heroes throughout the novel, committing gruesome acts of violence to cover up the experiments. These acts of violence, and the sexual pleasure he takes from skinning the corpses of his victims, are really all the characterization he is given. As nothing more than a foil to our protagonists, he is a decent villain, but he doesn't really develop any other traits and characterization of this character is fixated on the pleasure he derives from killing.

The characterization is about what you'd expect. Our heroes are written well, though the lack of more than surface detail is disappointing, while everyone else is pretty forgettable.

Prose

The writing style employed in this book is perfectly fitting for the narrative. Dialogue between the characters is pitch perfect, even the witnesses/experts get off a few good lines. Additionally, the book is very gory. The details of skin transplanting are vividly described, and characters die gruesome, terrible deaths. If that wasn't enough, the book also shows burn victims, and goes to great lengths to visualize the depths of their suffering. The book is at least as gory as a regular X-File, if not more so. This helps to add more mature elements to a book that was otherwise lacking in this element.

Where world building is concerned, Thailand really stands out. The initial part of the book is fairly subdued when it comes to visualizing the world which contains the events, but the author does a great job of bringing a remote region of coastal Thailand to life. Much of this has to do with his description of the region's culture, and how this ties into the underlying mythology of the story, though the town's economic and social situations are mentioned as well. The exotic locale is used to great effect here, providing one of the most enjoyable elements of the book.

If there is one glaring flaw it is the overabundance of useless details when handling the one off PoVs

Conclusion

Skin is a surprisingly good book. The plot isn't great, with a strong middle section sandwiched between a forgettable, by the numbers introduction and a rushed finale. However, a strong writing style and accurate, if shallow, portrayals of the main characters make the book well worth a read.

Final Score

74/100

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