Disclaimer: most books I read I pick up myself. Husk is an exception – a little while ago the excellent Den of Geek (who I write for on occasion) sent me a box of books as a gift. It was like Christmas. They covered the entire surface of my coffee table. Where would my sticky little fingers start?
At some point they fell on J. Kent Messum’s Husk. An innocuous skinny paperback among fat juicy hardbacks promising dragons and swords, genius detectives and strange time shifts. I wanted a quick commuting read and – purely on the basis that it wouldn’t break my spine with additional weight when added to my back pack – I grabbed Husk. Smart choice.
Husk explores the fascinating premise of procuring life after death by those who can afford to live post mortem. Set in a near future New York, husking refers to the illegal practice of pimping out the bodies of the living to wealthy deceased 1 percenters, enabled to remain in circulation thanks to advances in future technology.
The protagonist Rhodes works for a company that routinely hires his body out to the deceased. He quickly descends into his own personal hell of skewed perception and the nightmarish consequences of bodily take over by increasingly shady characters. Desperate to take control back and recover a sense of self, he begins to trace the activities of his body when under rental which leads to a horrific realisation about the trade he’s chosen to immerse himself and deeds he himself may have participated in while under the control of his renter.
This is an entertaining read taking very real current issues such as the Occupy movement, developments in technology that may not be entirely ethical and the mass underemployment of highly educated young workforces, twisting them into the narrative while pondering the ethics of illegal ‘husking’ – pimping the flesh quite literally.
Husk is not the first book to suggest that human consciousness could be uploaded into virtual existence post mortem –Tad Williams’ excellent Otherland series being a case in point. However, this is a short, sharp take on the idea which takes the virtual consciousness a step further by uploading in into willing human vessels. Very well written, a tad horrific (self enucleation anyone?) and with the occasional fruity line thrown in, this is adult horror highly recommended to anyone who likes their dystopian sci-fi fast, grim and darkly humorous. It really is not for those who dislike sadism. Not sure what that says about me!
Husk has been made into a film; I’ve not seen it but the trailer looks promising:
As someone who’s age just tips them over the midpoint of the median mortal coil, when everything is heading south, Husk hits a raw nerve. I read Otherland in my 20s when my mortality seemed a distant prospect. After a spell last year that involved MRI machines, many needles and the odd indignity with a speculum, I’m facing up to the declines of the flesh. Who wouldn’t want the option to step into beautiful, impoverished flesh and take it for a test drive? I have no religious believes so what will happen to my consciousness post mortem? If the option was there to preserve it beyond the cessation of my own flesh would I take it? Probably.
Husk is great fiction. It didn’t snap the straps on my rucksack. It’s stayed with me long after the initial reading. It gave me the wonderful Nick Cave & friends ear worm; hence the video. My own husk is fraying a little at the seams. Hopefully I’ll stay tethered a little longer and get to read more by this super author. Bait, anyone?