Legion: Skin Deep: Another cool SF novella from Sanderson

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsLegion: Skin Deep by Brandon Sanderson science fiction audiobook reviewsLegion: Skin Deep by Brandon Sanderson

“I’m not crazy. I’m compartmentalized.”

Legion: Skin Deep is the second novella in Brandon Sanderson’s series about Stephen Leeds, a man whose psyche has spawned a “legion” of extra personalities that he thinks of as “aspects.” Stephen is the only person who can see his aspects — each is a separate personality who lives with him and can follow him around and help him solve problems. Everyone else thinks Stephen has schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder, but it’s not the same thing. Stephen doesn’t know why he has all these aspects or why he creates new ones when he learns something new. There’s one woman (Sandra) who can help him understand, but she has disappeared.

When we met Stephen in the first LEGION story (simply called Legion), he was helping a client find a camera that can take pictures of past events. This had interesting ramifications for politics and religion. In Skin Deep, Stephen and his aspects have been hired to find a missing corpse that contains some innovative biotechnology — part of the body might have been used to store some deadly data. If the body is not recovered and cremated soon, that information might get into the wrong hands and could cause a worldwide epidemic.

Like the first LEGION story, Skin Deep is creative and exciting. In this case, it’s cool to think about the capabilities (and security risks) of biotechnology as scientists work to find more efficient and flexible ways to store large amounts of data. What would happen if we started using the body’s DNA, which naturally holds a vast amount of information, as basically a really big flash drive? Sanderson uses the opportunity to briefly discuss topics such as Open Source and Wetware.

Skin Deep is also partly a mystery — who stole the corpse, and how did they do it? Where is the keycode? I was in the dark until the last pages, though Sanderson gave me a few clues that I missed (I love it when that happens).

I mentioned in my review of Legion that the shortness of these stories means that we don’t get to know Stephen’s aspects very well, but in Skin Deep we get to spend a lot of time with three of them — Tobias is a historian, Ivy is a psychologist, and J.C. is an ex-Navy Seal. Ivy and J.C. have an on-again-off-again romance which adds some humor and some extra weirdness. J.C. doesn’t want to admit he’s not real, so he thinks of himself as an inter-dimensional time traveler who comes to help people in need. (Each of the aspects has their own personality quirks and maybe even mental illnesses.) The aspects can eat, go to the bathroom, and talk to each other on imaginary cell phones. I’m not really sure it always works, but it’s entertaining and it does solve the problem for Sanderson of how to make his hero have so much knowledge and skill without making him seem like a god.

There’s so much more that Sanderson can do with Stephen and his “friends” and it seems clear that more LEGION stories are planned. I’m glad. The print versions are being published by Subterranean Press and the audio versions are produced by Audible Studios. I have and can recommend both. As I write this, the audio version of Skin Deep is free. Oliver Wyman does a great job with the narration.

~Kat Hooper

Legion: Skin Deep by Brandon Sanderson science fiction audiobook reviewsMore fun with J.C., Ivy, Tobias and the gang! I like Stephen Leeds and I totally adore his gang of imaginary sidekicks, especially J.C., the ex-Navy SEAL security and weapons expert who has a hard time dealing with the fact that he’s not real.

“Not zombies,” I said, feeling cold. “Cancer. You created a virus that gives people cancer.”

“It was an unintended result that is perfectly manageable,” Laramie said, “and only dangerous if used malignly. And why would anyone want to do that?”

We all stared at him for a moment.

“Let’s shoot him,” J.C. said.

“Thank heavens,” Tobias replied. “You haven’t suggested we shoot someone in over an hour, J.C. I was beginning to think something was wrong.”

“No, listen,” J.C. said. “We can shoot Pinhead McWedgy over there, and it will teach everyone in this room an important life lesson. One about not being a stupid mad scientist.”

This is the second in a series of short novels about Steve, a genius who consults for various people or companies who need complex problems solved. Steve has an intriguing mental illness: he hallucinates different personae (he’s up to 47 now) who each take on a particular field of knowledge or skill that Steve has. And once he passes off his knowledge about, say, computers to a particular hallucinatory character, that knowledge is utterly unavailable to him unless the character tells him about it.

It’s odd because they’re so completely real to him, but at the same time he *knows* they’re not real. And his hallucinations (mostly) also know they’re not real, but so much of Steven’s life depends on him, and them, acting like they’re real. It’s fascinating, and sometimes it gets really meta, which I love (good brain exercise).

“Just imagine your sense of accomplishment,” I said. “You’re imaginary, so imaginary accomplishment should work for you.”

“But if I’m imaginary, and I imagine something, it’s doubly unreal. Like using a copy machine to copy something that’s just been copied.”

So. The plot. It’s a mystery about a man who was a pioneer in biotechnology, and developed a method for storing massive amounts of information in the cells of the human body. He’s believed to have stored some ground-breaking scientific information in his body before he died. And his corpse has now gone missing.

The mystery itself is just okay; the real pleasure in this book is reading about Steve and his hallucinatory alter egos. Brandon Sanderson handles it all with a deft, humorous hand. I just wish we’d gotten a few more answers about the mysterious Sandra, a psychologist who disappeared from Steve’s life years ago and whom he desperately wants to find again. She keeps being dangled in front of us like a particularly annoying worm, but nothing really happened with that plotline at all. I also thought this second installation in the series would have benefited from more depth and detail; I’m not sure the novella length was the best choice.

Still, Legion: Skin Deep was a fun, light read with some intriguing moments. I’ll definitely read the next one in this series.

~Tadiana Jones

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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