Skinjob by Bruce McCabe
A bomb goes off in down town San Francisco. Twelve people are dead. But this is no ordinary target. This target exists on the fault line where sex and money meet.
Daniel Madsen is one of a new breed of federal agents armed with a badge, a gun and the Bureau’s latest piece of technology. He’s a fast operator and his instructions are simple: find the bomber – and before he strikes again.
In order to understand what is at stake, Madsen must plunge into a sleazy, unsettling world where reality and fantasy are indistinguishable, exploitation is business as usual, and the dead hand of corruption reaches all the way to the top. There’s too much money involved for this investigation to stay private.
Skinjobs are the latest thing in adult entertainment, synthetic creations that flawlessly mimic humanity. They are starting to replace their organic forebears in the world’s oldest profession. When a “dollhouse” is destroyed in an act of terrorism, a federal agent and a CCTV operator are drawn into a shadowy conspiracy. Who is it that is trying to destroy the newest sector of America’s tech economy?
Agent Daniel Madsen lives his job. He is at the forefront of a new type of policing and when an explosion rocks the centre of San Francisco, he is called upon to capture the culprit and, most importantly, do it quickly. He has less than one week to uncover the truth. Skinjob is a race against time, to stop a criminal before anyone else is hurt or killed.
Over the course of the week, the impact of the investigation starts to take its toll on our protagonist. He is working in a time sensitive environment and is pushed to the bounds of his limits repeatedly. It’s interesting to see how his character copes. Rather than falter, Madsen does some of his best work and thrives in this environment. The worse the situation becomes, the more determined it makes him to uncover the truth. He knuckles down and focuses his intellect on each new issue he encounters.
The science fiction elements of the novel are all pretty low key. With the exception of the skinjobs themselves, and the portable lie detector that Madsen uses, almost everything else will be familiar. The story unfolds in the year 2019 and that near future setting feels close enough that nothing is massively outlandish and all fits quite neatly with modern technology.
Watching all the various factions in the business, political and religious arenas attempting to deal with the aftermath of the bombing is where the narrative really captures the imagination. All the politicos and power brokers grubbily trying to manipulate public opinion to their own ends all feels frighteningly realistic. Ironically, it seems that all these different groups look at the bombing with exactly the same reaction – What’s in this for me? How can I turn this tragedy to my advantage?
It becomes evident, as the crime is investigated further, that the situation is more complex than at first glance. Everything from national policy and organised religion, to gender politics and sex are involved in one form or another. Masden needs not only to capture a criminal but also to discover who he can and can’t trust.
McCabe’s writing highlights the ever-increasing impact of technology in every aspect of our daily lives. When the authorities are monitoring every public place with closed circuit television cameras, you have to start asking the question, where will this surveillance end? Some of the story elements in Skinjob strike particularly close to home. How much right does a government have to track everything that the electorate does? Only yesterday in the UK, the government started to push through emergency legislation that ensures Internet service providers have to retain details of every person’s “communications data”, whatever that rather grey sounding phrase means. It sounds suspiciously like one step closer to Big Brother watching us all 24/7 to be honest. It would appear Mr McCabe’s debut couldn’t have been more topical if it tried. It picks apart some very similar issues surrounding civil liberties and the nature of the people we chose to protect them.
The story ends with the suggestion that Agent Madsen, and some of the other characters, may return again at some point in the future. I certainly hope so as I rather enjoyed this novel. Thematically sitting comfortably somewhere between Blade Runner and Minority Report McCabe’s debut is solidly entertaining fare. There is plenty of action and the plot rattles along at a good old pace. Skinjob is exactly the sort of book I like at this time of year, something that is easy for me to get lost in. The insights regarding our over reliance of technology also add a nice extra depth to the proceedings.
Skinjob was originally self-published in Australia but has been picked here in the UK by Bantam Press and is available now. A perfect sci-fi tinged beach read with a thought-provoking premise at its heart.