This week in The X-Files licensed novels, a secret government conspiracy is creating supersoldiers… again! You know, if these supersoldiers really were as great as they were talked up to be, the government would be able to stick with a set instead of having to come up with a new type every other week. Lets take a look into Skin, by Ben Mezrich.
When moonlighting medical students harvesting skin from a corpse for temporary use accidentally take it from the wrong donor, the results are catastrophic: a New York City hospital ward is destroyed in a bloodbath, and an elderly professor, admitted for a routine skin graft, is suddenly the city’s most wanted fugitive. Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are the only ones to suspect something more ominous than a medical procedure gone awry. As the FBI agents investigating the “X-Files”-strange and inexplicable cases the bureau wants to keep hidden-Mulder and Scully are determined to track down the forces they suspect are behind the murders. While the police hunt the fleeing professor, Mulder and Scully track the skin that was grafted onto him, a trail that leads from the morgue to the headquarters of a cutting-edge biotech company to the jungles of Thailand. Together they begin to uncover an unholy and undeniable alliance between a battle-trained plastic surgeon, international politicians, and a legendary Thai monster known as the Skin Eater.
Source: the back of the book
(I know, normally I use the Goodreads description for the synopsis; but for some reason, the Goodreads entry for this book is in German. See for yourself)
Another X-Files novel? Well, that can only mean one thing: a villain who gets away, leaving Scully and Mulder no evidence of the conspiracy. But despite the typically disappointing non-resolution, this one is actually a pretty fun read.
Like Goblins, this is a story about the government creating supersoldiers. Skin, however, takes that premise in a much more interesting direction: it focuses on Scully and Mulder attempting to unravel the greater conspiracy of who is creating these supersoldiers, and how. This makes the story feel much bigger than the mission to stop Goblins lone serial-killing supersoldier, with much higher stakes. In Goblins, the antagonist may be stated to be a supersoldier, but it still ultimately boils down to hunting a single murderer who just so happens to be the project of a supersoldier experiment. Skin also gives much more depth and background to the conspiracy, providing inspiration and motivation beyond “another generic government scientist decides to create another generic supersolider”. A doctor obsessed with treating burns decides to create the perfect synthetic skin by hunting down a legendary immortal Malaysian monster and harvesting its hide? Now that’s the basis of an interesting X-File.
Which is not to say the book is perfect. While I was willing to suspend my disbelief that Paladin had managed to secretly acquire hundreds of presumed-dead soldiers as experimental subjects, I had to roll my eyes at the discovery that he had in fact managed to accumulate a whole two thousand of them. That would imply that about 1 in 3 U.S. casualties of the Vietnam War did not actually die but were secretly conveyed to Paladin as test subjects – a little on the high side, if you ask me. I also couldn’t help but notice how awfully convenient it was that the two villains to die just so happened to suffer accidental but karmically-appropriate deaths: Quo Tien stumbling into an autoclave and being skinned (just like his victims!) and Paladin being burned in an explosion (just like the soldiers he used as test subjects!) This isn’t a Disney film where the heroes are forbidden to kill and so the villain must find a high precipice to accidentally stumble off of; Mulder and Scully are FBI agents who carry guns and are permitted to use them in self defense.
Thinking about it, I suppose it also counts as an ironically appropriate death that the original Skin Eater, which took victims’ skins in order to maintain its immortality, had its own skin stolen to grant immortality to others. How’s that for karma?
Final Rating: 3/5