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My books can be purchased as e-books for only $1.99. If interested, just click here: Books.
Match Play is a golf/suspense novel. Dust of Autumn is a bloody one set in upstate New York. Prairie View is set in South Dakota, with a final scene atop Rattlesnake Butte. Life in the Arbor is a children's book about Rollie Rabbit and his friends (on about a fourth grade level). The Black Widow involves an elaborate extortion scheme. Doggy-Dog World is my memoir. And ES3 is a description of my method for examining English sentence structure.
In case anyone is interested in any of my past posts, an archive list can be found at the bottom of this page.
My newest novel, Happy Valley, can be found here.

Sunday, April 19

Under the Skin

A few weeks ago I wrote a short review of maybe the strangest yet most beautiful film I’d ever seen—Under the Skin, based on Michel Faber’s novel of the same name. It was strange because I could only guess at what the story was about, a combination science fiction concept of alien invasion and a mystery/thriller involving male abduction. It starred Scarlet Johannsen, so naturally I watched it carefully even though confused. I carefully watch anything starring Scarlet Johannsen. For her acting ability, of course.

I decided I had to read the book to find some explanation for my confusion. Whoa! Or maybe more appropriately, “Oink!” The novel is stranger than the movie, but where the movie never explained itself except in the most symbolic way, the novel was quite clear as to Faber’s intended meaning: The aliens think nothing of harvesting male vodsels (humans) to process and butcher for meat to be sent back to the wealthy elite on their home planet, just as we think nothing of fattening up cows and hogs and turkeys to make the meat more tender when we butcher them and package their byproducts for our consumption. Normally in a sci-fi novel or story about alien visitation of earth, the aliens are super-scientific and scoop up humans to take to their ships to study them. Here, they want only to ship vodsel meat back home as a very expensive but very tasty food item.

Here are several examples of Faber’s writing style, which helps demonstrate the beauty of his language as well as the filmaker’s attempts at recreating that beauty. “The days were lengthening fast: only 8:24, and the sun was already off the ground. The sky was bruise blue and flesh pink behind a swaddling of pure white cumulus, hinting at the frigid clarity to come.” “In the world outside, the sun’s rays intensified abruptly as if some responsible agency had just noticed they were shining at half the recommended power. The windscreen lit up like a lamp and beamed ultraviolet rays onto Isserley and the hitcher, pure heat with the nip of breeze neatly filtered out.” Nice, yes?

Some exposition: a female named Isserley has spent four years at her job of searching out and abducting appropriate males to take back to the Ablach Farm, where workers take them inside a barn for processing. She roams the highways of the Scottish Highlands looking for hitchers, whom she picks up and finds out if they’re proper specimens (no skinny ones, no sick ones, no females). If no, she drops them off along the highway; if yes, she hits a toggle switch that springs two needles up through the passenger-side seat, injecting icpathua, a drug that puts them out immediately. The car, an old red Toyota Corolla, has been tricked up by Ensel, the manager of the farm workers, by inserting the drug switch as well as a switch that darkens the windows so no one can see what’s going on inside the car. We get this information in bits and pieces, at first only following Isserley on her foraging for hitchers. Slowly, information about her is hinted at: the pain she feels in her back, the overlarge green eyes that have to be hidden behind thick glasses, the scarring of her hands, her huge breasts she uses to entice men into the car. She has been physically altered by plastic surgeons back on her home planet so that she can look human (or vodsel, since she thinks of herself as human and the earthlings as lowly animals, or vodsels). We learn later that she’s had her tail amputated and her spine shortened, her sixth finger on each hand removed, her nose altered from her natural snout to a tiny vodsel nose, her small natural breasts removed and replaced by breasts copied from a magazine that Ensel had found, Playboy, I would guess. Esswis, also having been altered to pass as a human, is the token owner of the farm. We never learn exactly how the purchase of the farm was accomplished, only that the farm is visited regularly by a transport ship, sent there to bring back the “meat.” The interior of one of the barns has been altered by digging out huge spaces below ground, four levels connected by a lift, or elevator: dining and recreation level; men’s sleeping quarters; transit level; and at the lowest, the vodsel pens. Isserly lives by herself in the decrepit farm house, her electricity supplied by a long cord from the barn. She hears from Ensel that their employer’s son, Amlis Vess, will be arriving on the transport ship to inspect their operation. She is angered, hating the owner of Vess Incorporated, a man with unimaginable wealth, hating his son even though she’s never met him. She is a product of the lower social levels on her home planet, having to work with other lower class members below ground in the New Estates, working on huge, deep ponds filled with some sort of vegetation that produces oxygen for the elite class who live above ground. We learn that their planet is harsh and ugly, with oxygen and water in short supply, with little vegetation. Thus, when Amlis Vess arrives, he finds a planet with blue skies, rain that falls from above, trees and plants everywhere, and a body of water that takes his breath away (the North Sea). When Isserley first sees him, we finally get a complete description of what their race looks like: she says he’s the most beautiful human being she’s ever seen, his nakedness covered by beautiful black and tan fur, a tail for balancing whenever he needs to stand erect, a perfect snout. Ensel wakes her up in the middle of the night with the news that Amlis Vess has just set free four of the “monthlings” (so named because they’ve been processed for a month), naked, pink vodsels that have been fattened for the slaughter house. She and Ensel track them all down, kill them, and bring them back to the farm before any earthlings can see them and wonder what they are. Amlis Vess, it seems, is an animal rights activist who doesn’t believe any animals should be used as food. He tells Isserley when she confronts him about his releasing the vodsels, “We’re, all the same under the skin.” Yes, and that leads us to our own feelings about the processing of food animals for our cuisine. We keep calves in tiny enclosures until they’re ready to be turned into veal; we fatten cows and pigs on special foods and hormones to make them more tender when we turn them into chops and steaks and roasts; we create turkeys never intended to fly, only to develop huge breasts for our Thanksgiving delight. We even disguise our meanings when we have different names for such animals differentiating the live animal from the food product: calf and veal, pig and pork, cow and beef. I won’t say any more about the novel’s plot because of spoilers. If anyone decides to read Under the Skin, I’m sure you’ll find it as strange as I did. And you, like I, will probably think twice about digging into that succulent ribeye or Thanksgiving turkey breast or leg.

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