A convicted felon is given a choice following his sentencing … Serve a twenty five year conventional prison sentence … Or spend 365 days in a new, experimental corrections program.
He opts for the experimental program, only to realise he has made a horrible mistake.
A dark tale of science spun dangerously out of control, EXOSKELETON will leave even the most jaded of readers quaking in their boots.
So that is the official synopsis for this book and there is plenty there to spark interest but will it really leave me quaking in my boots? I highly doubted it but had high hopes based on some of the reviews publicised about this story.
The story is written by Shane Stadler who is listed on his own website (www.shanestadler.com) as being an experimental physicist by trade. He has worked at numerous government laboratories including the Naval Research Lab in Washington, DC. He is currently a university professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy where, as well as educating students, he conducts research on novel materials such as magnetocalorics, spintronic materials and superconductors. He has also published over 120 papers in peer reviewed scientific journals and this book, Exoskeleton, is his first fictional work.
He is obviously an intelligent and talented man but his background here in experimental physics, Naval research labs and work for other government laboratories coupled with a fictional book on experimental correction programs really sparked my interest. At the very least, he writes from a logical, accurate and educated viewpoint and that really shows in the book.
In regards to the reviews that gave me high hopes, there have been statements written by readers and critics such as “a certified dark journey into madness” or “a horrifying tale of supernatural vengeance, one wrought with complex questions of faith, spirituality and the after-life”.
On to the story then which starts off with us being introduced to the main character, William Thompson, who is being moved by helicopter from prison to his new location. We eventually find out that this new location, called the Red Box, is going to be the place where Will is going to encounter 365 days of experimental treatment rather than complete his actual sentence for the crime he has been sentenced. The logic for the choice is pretty sound as the crime Will has been charged for would likely mean he wouldn’t survive a year in general population anyway. As Will is signed into his new prison by the guards, we are given a little insight into Will’s mental state which is quite depressive and given enough facts to give The Red Box a real sense of foreboding. Will is brought to a room where it is explained to him that he is now just a number, 523, and that he will spend the day being evaluated before the full year of treatment begins the next day. It is in this opening meeting Will first hears about being fitted for equipment among other disturbing suggestions.
Breaking up the story of Will within each chapter we are also introduced to other characters running connecting side stories. Early on we hear of a Richard Greene who appears to reluctantly work in the higher echelons of the company behind the Red Box as well as Mr Bergman who appears to be one of the top dogs there and a chap called Lenny who seems to be a hit man, working for the business as they discuss some missing files that may have been leaked.
We then learn of a Jonathan McDougal who works/runs something called the DNA Project along with his intern, Denise Walker who are investigating something called Compressed Punishment. These investigations have lead them to Will Thompson who they think could possibly be innocent and therefore his inclusion in the Compressed Punishment program may help them to bring the program to an end.
Back with Will, he is finding out that he may be regretting his decision as it is explained to him that the program will essentially push him to limits physically, psychologically and emotionally. The author does a really good job of making Will’s situation feel hopeless and as the story continues and treatment starts, things get much, much worse.
For a large part of the story, Will, now fitted in the exoskeleton, is put through advanced torture scenarios which are described clearly and at times disgustingly. There is immense detail given of the many different horrifying things Will is put through as the CP program measures Will’s physical and emotional pain thresholds. The author has done fantastically well at describing these tortures to the point of making me cringe at some of them especially the ones involving dentistry or bone bending and stretching.
While Will is put through hell, Richard Greene and the DNA project try to bring the project down from the outside and it is through this sub story we begin to understand the true intention of the program which is essentially to force a human soul to separate from its body when a body is brought to higher state of pain creating some sort of super soldier that exists on a different plane of existence.
The story becomes a very descriptive chase between Jonathon trying to investigate the program legally, the heads of the program who will stop at nothing to protect it and Will who has to endure horrific tortures in order for the program to get his soul to separate from his body.
They do, eventually, succeed but the power now controlled by Will is turned on those who have tortured him in quick, brutal fashion leading to an explosive ending.
What a great story this turned out to be. While not leaving me quaking in my boots, it is horribly descriptive through the torture scenes and will make even the most hardened cringe through some of the scenes described. Will’s story is interesting and the sub plots running with other characters are well developed and also interesting. It does seem to be written with a sequel in mind but that doesn’t take much away from the story as it does feel finished and complete. If I had a single complaint, it would be that the book seems to end really quickly. It is so beautifully slow and descriptive throughout yet that ending seems to happen at lightning speed.
That is a really minor gripe though and I would highly recommend this story to anyone.
Exoskeleton (Shane Stadler)