Review: Catskinner’s Book by Misha Burnett

Reviews say as much about the reviewer as about their subject. Reviewers bring to bear all of their previous experiences and attitudes, their perspectives depending on their personal history and current state, the tastes and preferences of their friends, their families, their generation, their social background, time and place, and so on. All of which is merely an introduction to this particular review, which is as much about my response to the book as about the book itself.

On reflection, it occurred to me that my experience of “Catskinner’s Book” by Misha Burnett, is similar to my experience of the movie “The Matrix”. The main similarities in the works themselves is that they deal with the theme of ‘aliens among us’, and there is a unique protagonist, a chosen one of sorts. The way the hero of Catskinner’s Book was “chosen” is closer to the way the infant of “Rosemary’s Baby” was “chosen”. Catskinner, like The Matrix, features a number of striking concepts such as distinctive representations of a ‘hive mind’ in humans. Catskinner also has a main female character of considerable surprises. The book is as much horror as science-fiction.

The writing in Catskinner is bold and deft and hooks you right in from the start. That was enough to carry me along for quite a while, but … and I’m sorry to include a ‘but’ at this point … like The Matrix, there was one element that drove me out of the story and left me on the sidelines, letting the rest go by. This has everything to do with me, in my current state, and the tidal wave of excessive violence that’s currently pervading our culture (and has been for some time, witness The Matrix!). I’m talking about long, extended scenes of carnage and mayhem, all of them both unlikely and ‘fantastic’ in the imaginary sense (Neo with machine guns in the marble corridor forever) (Batman and the Joker in the tunnel) (The goblin massacre in The Hobbit) (I could go on and on with such examples). I’m not sure what the attraction is, but surely there is one, and we are seeing more and more of them acted out in our theaters and schools and shopping malls – not just random killings, but sprees all dressed up in appropriate costumes and dramatically ready for the cameras. Perhaps it’s because I started to read this book shortly after the Newttown tragedies, or maybe I’ve just had enough of it for one lifetime, but it leaves me colder all the time. I can’t follow the stories anymore after encountering these prolonged bloodbaths.

All of which does not indicate that you, the reader of this review, may not be able to look past that, or may even enjoy these passages. It’s curious. I didn’t mind the main character being a paid assassin. It’s what he was created for, in a sense, and it matches the overall plot, which is a sort of gangland-rivalry-from-outer-space. It just seems to me that this kind of thing can be done, and used to be done, with a lot less shattered glass, a lot fewer explosions, and somewhat less incredible stunts and feats of physical prowess. I recently watched the old Sergio Leone – Clint Eastwood classic, “For a Few Dollars More”, and there is a scene where Clint has to climb over  a wall to sneak into the bad guy’s compound. The stunt man actually climbs over the wall, slowly, with difficulty, like a human being actually would, and comes down on the other side landing hard, a bit scratched and bruised as well. Nowadays a single leap and it’s up and over and down, no worries, as if we were all composed of computer-generated graphics these days. All of which is to say that I’d like a bit more realism in my fantasy fiction! Crazy, I know.


5 thoughts on “Review: Catskinner’s Book by Misha Burnett

  1. We look for “causes” for the increasing violence in our real world, as if any one feature can be blamed. But the problem is ubiquity. Violence as entertainment has escalated in all media, to the point where it’s normal and expected. For novelists, extreme violence, graphically described, has almost become almost de rigeur. Violence in the news is also ever-present — police shootings, often excessive and fatal, and too often of people who aren’t guilty of anything. War violence, described with euphemisms that soften the reality of blood and death. Person on person and mass killings, by people who have snapped, for reasons that may never be clear, under conditions that may never be understood.


  2. Yes, and i’m not looking for causes or explanations or solutions. I’m only reacting to what I see. I don’t think it’s all video games or movies or even leaded gasoline in the atmosphere!

    I’ve been extremely fortunate, I know, not to have been directly involved in any wars, although I have been a victim of violence on several occasions, but never the cartoon kind. It’s always been frighteningly real. Humans are a certain kind of animal, that’s also true, predatory and carnivorous, but I can do without all the celebrations of that!


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