Melissa McCann





Awe-Struck E-Books, Mar 2004
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood

Science Fiction

Terminally ill patients may have a new hope. An experimental application called "skin" is a symbiotic organism designed to bond with and heal its host, and sustain him or her permanently.

Emma Sloanís condition is terminal because she wants to die. She is an actress with hopelessly disfiguring burns. Without her career, Emma is sinking into death when her doctor decides to apply skin as a last-ditch measure. Emmaís new skin has a strong self-preservation instinct Ė there is no longer any chance of her giving up and dying. It is, however, so ugly that hospital workers scream at the sight of her. All the other experimental recipients of skin have seemingly gone mad.

Emma has barely been introduced to her skin when the other skin wearers go on a murdering rampage and escape the hospital. Out in the ruins of the Old City, homeless and dispossessed people begin to disappear. Authorities believe they have fallen prey to the skin people.

Skins have a strong attraction to each other. With wills of their own, the skins go to extraordinary lengths to join with others of their kind. Colonel Nick Archer believes he can use Emma as bait to bring the other mutated skin people, led by charismatic Vietnam vet Conroy Jackson, back to where they can be captured or killed. Archer doesnít realize how many special abilities the mutants have; they are natural commandos. Archerís duty is to risk Emmaís life, kill her if she goes mad like the others, and definitely not be conquered by the "summoning eyes" which made her a star.

SKIN is exciting adventure. It is also a fascinating study in "what-ifs". What if an organism could be created to surround, sustain, and heal the terminally ill? What if that organism had purposes of its own? What if the human wearer had to learn to cooperate with the organism or be mastered by it? What if that invincible organism had a species imperative to replicate itself? What if it came into direct competition with the humans who created it?

What if a few mutant wearers could learn to master it, and what if those few mutants had purposes in conflict with each other?

Author Melissa McCann keeps the adventure going at a hot pace while weaving scientific information helpfully into the story. She appears to be a student of genetics, but knows better than to bombard the reader with complicated and unnecessary facts. I found I could jump over some of the details about DNA without hurting my understanding.

Extra suspense was added to my reading because, for quite a while, I didnít know who were going to be the "good guys" and who the "bad guys". I only knew I was rooting for Emma. It added urgency to my exploration of skinís possibilities and of the ethics of responsibility to oneís own species. The author finds reasonable and satisfying answers to the puzzles she poses.

SKIN is my biggest, most pleasant surprise so far this year. An inventive premise, irresistible momentum, human conundrums believably worked out, and respect for the readerís intelligence, combine to make SKIN a good candidate for an Eppie award nomination. It is definitely on my short list for Favorite Adventure of 2004.

January 2004 Review


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