With the gap increasing between the rich and the poor, it’s hard to earn a living wage these days though some would be grateful for a job full stop. For some beautiful individuals out there, a lucrative business exists if you’re willing to rent out your body to the highest bidder. Rhodes is such a person, one of many who work for Solace Strategies as a Husk. The rich and powerful in the world have access to many things the working class do not: running water, cures for cancer and HIV and the ability to upload their consciousness onto a computer so they may essentially live forever, if you can call existing in a server truly ‘living’. These individuals who’ve chosen to die and exist eternally digitally aren’t content with staying within their dreamscapes and look to re-live once more via Husks. From anywhere between 24 to 78 hours, these deceased businessmen and women can take over the mind and body of Husks for a price. Rhodes and his colleagues are paid a handsome fee for this service and are often lavished with gifts, though it’s not without its consequences. Bruises and cuts are often part of the job as the clients take the Husks to the edge, be it adrenaline-filled thrills or wild sex orgies, but Rhodes begins to have nightmarish flashbacks of events that have transpired that he has no memory of. Forgotten as soon as he sees them, the nightmares plague Rhodes, possible remnants of a prior hire from a client. As the visions increase, Rhodes begins to feel out of control, as though his body is no longer fully his between sessions. When his friend and colleague Miller commits violent suicide and another kills in self defence, Rhodes begins to wonder what his body is actually used for whilst he’s in session and which client is to blame.
Equally thrilling and frightening, author J. Kent Messum takes us into a terrifying world set in the near future. New York City, like most places across the globe, is feeling the pinch and it’s pretty normal to find respectable men and women stealing just so they can get a meal in their belly. Even commodities we take for granted such as showering with hot water are now a luxury merely for the rich, with the rest of society having to make do with mist to cleanse their skin. However, the rich are able to have whatever they want and do what they like, no questions asked, and thanks to the Husk service, they can do all this disguised as someone else for one to three days at a time. Though the Husks who willingly get into the business know that whatever the clients do with their bodies whilst on the job is their own business, the Husks do begin to wonder, especially when they’re covered in bruises and cuts and people who they don’t recognise come up to them in the street or at a bar to verbally or physically assault them. The main character Rhodes seems to be having a terrible time of it himself, his mind plagued with brutal flashes that are lost as soon as they appear. Suspecting a malfunction with his Ouija data port that sits behind his ear that each Husk must have to perform their job, Rhodes has it checked out. However, as the flashes become worse, he realises he must find out the truth about what actually goes on whilst he’s on the job before he goes insane.
HUSK is told in first-person from main character Rhodes’ point of view. From what he tells us about himself, he’s a physically attractive man who’s rather into his martial arts to keep fit and toned for his clients who are incredibly fussy when it comes to fitness and beauty, with even a bruise potentially offputting. Besides from Husking, he leads a relatively normal life, sharing his apartment with bartender Craig. Being a Husk, relationships are hard to hold down, especially when you don’t know where you’ve been and who with during the sessions, but Rhodes sees fellow Husk Ryoko as his girl. Though she obviously cares a lot for him, she doesn’t reciprocate the I love you‘s that Rhodes offers her, the words unable to part her lips. Despite this, Rhodes adores her and envisions a future with just the two of them, though he knows it’s just that, a dream, at least at this present time. With a troubled childhood, no skills and a massive student debt fortunately now behind him, Husking is easy money and something which few are able to do. But is it really worth it?
HUSK is a extraordinary inventive tale, full of imagination, but a dark one at that. With its talk of downloadable consciousness and re-inserting into living hosts currently science fiction, there’s nothing to say something of its kind couldn’t be created in the future, which is the real scary part! The book is quite easy to pick up and get into and even if you have to drop in and out of it, you can still pick up where you left off without the need to re-read what happened previously. The pace is rather quick and even though it has a more complex plot than your average novel, Messum manages to describe Husking and the associated technology with ease for the reader to understand. This is no mean feat, as I’ve enthusiastically told many people about the book and what it’s about and believe me, it’s easier to show them the book rather than try to explain it myself.
The characters in the novel are all likable, but you can sense they live fast and easy lives. Each one of them lives the life of an individual. When you’re a Husk, there’s no real opportunity for family or relationships with your life split between yourself and your clients. Despite the career choice, it’s plain to see that Rhodes, Ryoko and fellow Husks Phineas and Clive are good people, just ones that have found themselves caught up in a disturbing business, one that’s too hard to leave.
Once you’ve entered the world of HUSK, it’s difficult to tear yourself away. The story of Rhodes’ plight will have you gripped, eagerly awaiting the turn of the next page to see where the story will go. It’s sexy and beautiful at times, when Rhodes and Ryoko spend their time together, though it isn’t long before the violence, both shocking and disturbing, rears its ugly head. Even the life outside on the street, outside the Husking, is enough to make you shudder, as merely existing is a constant struggle for common people in this dystopian society.
Addictive and thrilling yet laced with such terrifying menace, J. Kent Messum’s HUSK is an absolute must-read!