#SciFi Review: Husk by J. Kent Messum (@_JamieK_)

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 - which is finally getting the wider release it deserves.

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 the population, suffering the indignity of existence is the grim reality of life. 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, and when that's not enough . . . they turn to husking. It's dangerous, it's expensive, and it's highly illegal, but for up to 72 hours at a time, the wealthy deceased can hitch a ride in a human body, take total control, and live life to its fullest. With no fear of death, and no need for restraint, they push their 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 husk was forced 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 are playing by the hazy 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, while I did guess a few twists, I did not see the biggest coming, and certainly didn't anticipate the full ramifications of the depraved conspiracy. This is an uneasy, unrelenting, and 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 on Husk .

Kindle Edition, US/Canada Edition, 368 pages
Expected publication: May 1st 2018 (first published July 30th 2015)

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.