DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

John Skipp
Friendly Firewalk Press / 340 pages / $19.95
ISBN: 097530190X

Cover John Skipp didn't really write this novella so much as channel his protagonist's thoughts into print. This is a dangerous undertaking for writers and most fail. Some, like Joyce Carol Oates and John Skipp, succeed. It isn't perfect. The story, although it needn't be a "big fat novel," weakens toward the end and could use some more development. But, overall, the kickass prose makes CONSCIENCE worth ready. Invigorating, original writing is nothing to be sniffed at in an era of imitation, pastiche, and past glory, and CONSCIENCE hits you like a 12-pack of Red Bull.

The author wants protag Charley Weber to be an unlikable character. He's a vicious killer whose business card could read: "Will kill you for money or just if you piss me off." But since the story is prologued by the ultimate victimization riff (Charley was not only an abused child, but, dammit, they killed his dog), the reader realizes from the top that Charley may be cold-blooded, but there's still a spark of humanity to be redeemed. Charley's a disillusioned baby-boomer who can both recall the 70s when "when music mattered" and realize what a crock of shit that sentiment is. He's loved and lost and killed a lot of people, but he's still only a scumbag, not an asshole. (A scumbag, notes Charley, will do anything for money. An asshole, among other things, "violates the most basic rules of human protocols; and he does this automatically, as a matter of course.") He's in LA to do business with an asshole who wants his ex-girlfriend -- whose great sin seems to lie in becoming part of a cult leader's harem -- murdered, but on the way to fulfilling his contract, Charley wakes up and confronts his soul/conscience/Doppelganger. Literally.

CONSCIENCE has a cinematic setting (why else chase up and down in those glass elevators?) in the most-cinematic of settings, LA, and Skipp (who always wanted to grow up and make movies anyway) says in an introduction that he feels his story would make a "swell film." It might, but it would be *based on* not *be* this story. Nuance, depth, and sizeable chunks of meaning would be lost. Instead of traveling the Dharma Road to an enlightening redemption you'd be lost in Bummed-out Allegory Alley.

One hundred of the book's 322 pages are devoted to the novella and around 70 to reprinted solo short stories and the author's lively personal commentary. They rest is a never-produced screenplay. (Personally, I find a $19.99 softcover novella with such lagniappe a better deal than the usual "limited edition" hardcover novellas from specialty presses, but then I'm a book reader, not a book collector.) CONSCIENCE is strewn with small copyediting errors that probably don't irritate anyone but me*; otherwise the book is attractively designed. --review originally appeared in DarkEcho #36

*The author said the errors bugged him, too, and assures us the subsequent edition was cleaned, ironed, and folded.

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Copyright © 2004 Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.