Book review: Skinjob by Bruce McCabe (A brave new world)

Tuesday, June 3, 2014 Permalink

Author Bruce McCabe spoke at the national book bloggers’ forum I recently attended. Bruce is a rare specimen – having self-published his debut novel, Skinjob and been busy touting it to bookshops and the like when he was ‘discovered’ by a prominent UK Agent.

Bruce’s hard work and confidence in the story he had to tell paid off when he then signed a deal with Random House to (re)publish Skinjob.

It’s not the kind of book I’d usually read. The title meant nothing to me (and sounded a little salubrious*) and – although I was once a fan of fast-paced action involving treacherous corporations and governments in my John LeCarre, Len Deighton, Robert Ludlum and David Morrell phase – I kinda go for boring old serial killer type novels nowadays.

However, I surprised myself by whipping through 3/4 of Skinjob in a night and finishing it off the next day.

Bruce’s inspiration for the novel came from his own scientific background and his interest in how technology and humanity connect. He was invited to a demonstration at an insurance company during which he witnessed consultants using lie detection voice software (not sure of correct title) on calls with claimants. Bruce said he pondered on the ethical issues of such technology if used widely by law enforcement and its impact on our civil liberties.

9780593074091-1-edition.default.original-1.jpgSkinjob takes this technology further and in a not-too-distant future, the FBI boasts a small number of officers trained in the use of handheld lie detectors.

Agent Daniel Madsen is one such agent, based in San Francisco when he’s called to assist the police to investigate the bombing of a Dollhouse.

Fans of the Josh Whedon show (like moi) will get the reference, but essentially in a future world, the dodgy sex dolls I’ve seen on SBS TV specials are taken to a new level and are capable of basic human functionality.

Most importantly they look and feel real.

Feminist and church groups are outraged as Dollhouses seemingly replace brothels and are legalised, so when the San Francisco Dollhouse is bombed killing 12 people (and destroying a number of skinjobs), the powerful and wealthy NeChristo (religious) organisation is a natural suspect.

Unfortunately the stakes involved are huge and the church and business leaders have influential friends with a lot to lose, and soon Daniel finds himself in the firing line.

Skinjob progresses at a good pace. I *may* have skimmed over some of the technical stuff (as usual) but it didn’t really matter. Even if techno-thrillers aren’t your thing, or if you have a problem with the adult industry you’ll find that – despite all of that, the case ultimately boils down to values and greed – pitting organisation against organisation.

I was far more absorbed than I expected to be and it reminded me of my 1990s spy and espionage fetish. McCabe spins a good story.

The book’s strength is the complexity of the ethical issues debated within: hand-held lie detectors – used productively to fight crime, but also by ‘integrity’ officers on law enforcement colleagues; and of course the adult entertainment industry. Daniel’s interview with the head of a feminist organisation allows the argument against sex dolls to be clearly articulated – the risk of continued escalation in the exploitation and debasement of women and increasing expectations in terms of men having their sexual needs met.

I’ve pondered on this a lot since as I’m pretty #meh about the whole sex industry and have no strong feelings either way. I wondered if perceptions would be different if male dolls were also available. (Hey, I’m an equal opportunity gal! 😉 )

If there was any weakness it would be the lack of depth to a couple of key characters, however the lack of insight into their lives didn’t impinge on the unfolding plot. I also found some of the detail about locations (streets, suburbs and the like) a little irrelevant – but then again, that’s me. I’m prone to skim on some occasions.

Skinjob is a great debut for Bruce McCabe – a well written and well paced plot within a complex and morally challenging environment.

Skinjob published by Random House is now available.

I received an advance copy for review purposes.

Do the ethical issues surrounding readily-available lie detection tools worry you? What about sex dolls? 

* Battlestar Galactica / Blade Runner fans will know that a Skinjob is a derogatory term for a replicant or android.

  • Bec
    June 3, 2014

    I actually figured out the meaning of “Skinjob” when I was Googling the book. And I studied “Bladerunner” in high school. I must have blocked it.

    I am really looking forward to this one. Mostly because McCabe was such an impassioned speaker. It’s not something I usually read either, but I think this is a good thing. I’ve been reading exclusively from the fantasy/YA genre for months now. Looking forward to branching out 🙂

    Lie detection is an interesting thing. Lying is bad, obviously, but our society is essentially based on lies. Could you imagine taking a lie detector into a newsroom? Business meeting? Parliament? Society would kind of…stop functioning. Then, in everyday life, I could see friends testing friends, partners testing partners, parents testing children and vice versa.
    I think there would be chaos for a few years until someone came up with ways to beat the system. Instead of, you know, learning to tell the truth.

    As for sex dolls…prostitution is the world’s oldest profession, or so they say. The sex industry will always be around. It would be nice if these new sex dolls significantly decreased, or did away with, sex slavery though…

    • Debbish
      June 3, 2014

      Yes, I think the ‘where will it end’ dilemma is the issue with lie detection. In the book (don’t think I’m giving anything away) they’re also used by the equivalent of internal affairs to weed out officers. Often it seems they may not have done anything terribly wrong… (And yes, if they were readily available to the public – which would ultimately be the case… then that’s scary!)

      • Bec
        June 3, 2014

        Using it for IA is a brilliant idea. But it could definitely be abused. People with power always find ways to abuse the system.

  • Char
    June 3, 2014

    Sex dolls? I guess there’d be less sexually transmitted diseases so I guess I’m pro.

    • Debbish
      June 3, 2014

      Ha, true! Plus (presumably) less chance of any emotional or intellectual connection as well!

  • Lee-Anne
    June 3, 2014

    This novel sounds intriguing and very original (great review, Deb, not one bit average!) 😉

    • Debbish
      June 3, 2014

      Ha! Got the reference Lee-Anne! It is quite original. As I said it reminded me of my Ludlum, Morrell (espionage) days as it featured power-brokers and influencers. But I guess it’s espionage for the 21st century. 🙂

  • Helen Scheuerer
    June 3, 2014

    Deborah! Not sure if we actually got around to meeting or not at NBBF14 (so many new faces and blogs!), but great review! I haven’t gotten around to reading my copy of Skinjob yet, but your review has bumped it up to ‘next’ on my list.
    Thanks for sharing!

    • Debbish
      June 3, 2014

      You’re welcome Helen and I don’t think we did meet! Perhaps next time!

  • Susan Lattwein
    June 3, 2014

    A spy and espionage fetish is healthier than most. I’m seeing a coat… 🙂
    This sounds like an interesting book, thanks for the post.

  • Aroha @ Colours of Sunset
    June 3, 2014

    On the one hand I think, if you have nothing to hide, a lie detector shouldn’t be a problem, but if it is being used in every day settings and situations, then I feel like it’s a bit of a violation. But then I am contradicting my first statement? Sounds like an interesting book! I might have to add it to my “To Read” list! Thanks for sharing. -Aroha (for #teamIBOT)

    • Debbish
      June 3, 2014

      No worries…. Yes, I think it’s when certain ‘fibs’ are used against you it could be problematic. “Honey, does this dress make me look fat?” for example. Or… “Do you ever fantasise about him / her?” That sort of thing!

  • Suzie
    June 4, 2014

    I’m hoping to write about Skinjob tomorrow so I absolutely had to read your thoughts for inspiration…not really, as I have so much to say but it’s always good to read what others have written.

    • Debbish
      June 5, 2014

      I like to mark a book as ‘am reading’ in Goodreads when I start it but hate if I catch a glimpse of the average ratings or other reviews as I’m worried it’ll shape my thoughts.

      I don’t mind reading others’ comments after I’ve finished the book though.

  • EssentiallyJess
    June 5, 2014

    It doesn’t sound like my type of book, but then I’m not really into thrillers anyway, so that probably doesn’t help.
    Nice to hear a success story about a self publisher though. Maybe one day….

    • Debbish
      June 5, 2014

      Ah yes…. Bruce admitted he felt like he’d won the lotto. Twice!

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