An alien sent to earth to abduct hitchhikers? A forbidding countryside farm hiding a sinister secret? No, this ain’t Alabama, son, this is Scotland, the scene of Michael Faber’s Sci-Fi classic Under The Skin book.
Imagine, spending your days driving up and down Scottish A roads looking for fresh meat thumbing a lift by the roadside. But only the beefy specimens will suffice – you don’t want any gristle now – just the finest meat. This is the 9-5 routine of the main character, Isserley.
This book, published in 2000, garnered critical acclaim for Faber’s literary style and his deft crafting of a ubiquitous and troubling extra-terrestrial eeriness. Under The Skin a powerful Sci-Fi accomplishment, one that in line with one of the great traditions of the genre, ask you to look at the social implications.
This book has turned people vegetarian, by holding up a mirror to big industry and the abattoirs. It also holds a mirror up to society and to us as individuals. Are you ready to look?
Under The Skin makes you step outside of being human and analyse yourself from another perspective through the vehicle of Isserley, an alien manifest in human form, given a second chance at a serious price. She is a lonely soul out in the physical and emotional wilderness. The beauty of nature the ledge she clings to in the otherwise maddening isolation of life on foreign planet, on the hunt for flesh.
You’ll no doubt gasp at many a scene in this book, one in particular radically changing the lens through which we peer. The visit of Amlis Vess, the son of the corporation that sent Isserley to Earth, stirs Isserley into an uncomfortable ambivalence; attraction to and disdain for this handsome man of the elite who has had life easy, gets high all day and pronounces lofty liberal ideas about the treatment of the animals (us). But his visit changes everything for her. The aliens value human life in much the same way that livestock is generally valued. But during a visit to the abattoirs with Amils, one of the imprisoned humans, sat naked on the floor of his cage, scratches what seems like a word into the dirt. It sends a message; if these animals have language, then maybe they’re not just savages after all.
An involving and detailed narrative from start to finish will have you looking at yourself through the eyes of an alien. Who knows, you might just like it.
Also, check out the film adaptation of the same name by Jonathan Glazer. Starring Scarlett Johansen, the film is a more surreal and sexual affair, differing quite a bit from the Under The Skin book, but loads of naked Scarlett Johansen can’t be bad, right? If you want more Sci-fi book reviews like this join our newsletter here.
May the force be with you