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These are the chronicles of a book addict, a photo junkie, and an aspiring author, rewriting the very fabric of reality one page (and one snapshot) at a time. From the strange to the unusual; the abandoned to the abnormal; the haunted to the historic; the supernatural to the surreal; the forests of dark fantasy, the cemeteries of gothic horror, and the post-apocalyptic ruins of science fiction are the landscapes of my imagination.
Proving that he's not just a one-trick pony, and that Bait was no debut fluke, J. Kent Messum manages to successfully imbue an old science fiction trope with new life (pun intended) in Husk.
Set in a not-too-distant future, Husk finds humanity on the brink of self-annihilation. The people of the United States are downtrodden and depressed, victims of their own culture of consumerism, and living at the mercy of their creditors overseas. For 99% of people, it's a pretty grim time and place to suffer the indignity of existence. For the wealthiest 1%, however, there are quite literally no limits. As it turns out, all the conspiracies are true, and earth-shattering advances in areas like medicine and technology are available for those wealthy enough to afford them . . . and privileged enough to know they exist.
One of those new technologies is that of husking. In one of the greatest (and most quickly suppressed) breakthroughs of all time, scientists have found a way to completely map (and replicate) the human brain. This allows the very rich to have their consciousness downloaded to a computer, where they can live on in the virtual realities of their choosing. While they do have limited interaction with the world, even digital immortality isn't enough, and so husking was born. It's dangerous, it's expensive, and it's highly illegal, but for up to 72 hours at a time, the rich dead can hitch a ride, take control, and live life to its fullest. With no fear of death and no restraint, they push these temporary husks to their limits, indulging in anything from extreme sports, to wild orgies, to the kind of recreational drug use that makes Charlie Sheen look like a tee-totaling altar boy.
Rhodes is a husk, a new kind of whore for a new kind of future. He sells his body (quite literally) to men who want to use and abuse it. It's not a bad life - his contract prohibits lasting physical damage, and his clients provide the cures or detox treatments for whatever they put his body through - but it's beginning to take it's toll. Thoughts, images, and feelings are beginning to creep in on him, remnants of what his body was used to do while he lay dormant and unconscious. They're too brief and too fleeting to really explain anything, but they're enough to clue him into a deeper and more depraved conspiracy. When a dead husker begins invading those pseudo-dreams, and the faces in missing persons reports start triggering those mental spasms, he really begins to wonder if the rich really are playing by the rules of illegal husking.
Husk is a crazy, paranoid, trippy ride through one man's subconscious. We're never quite sure what he's seeing or what it all means, but we do share his suspicion of at least one client, and the prologue ensures we're already aware of the growing trend of huskers who have lost it, snapped, and gone psycho on complete strangers. To Messum's credit, although I guessed at a few twists, I did not see the biggest one coming, and certainly didn't anticipate the full ramifications of the depraved conspiracy. This is an uneasy, unrelenting, unsettling read, but one that insists you keep on following the clues. Along the way, Messum has a lot to say about our vanities, our addictions, and our own self-exploitation, putting a very dark social face on a very dark science fiction thriller.
If you were shocked by how far Bait pushed the limits, know that it's got nothing onHusk.
Paperback, 368 pages
Published July 30th 2015 by Penguin