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I just finished reading Gregg Cunningham’s short novelette Skin Traders: A 224-Verse Book.
Gregg and I share a table of contents in a number of anthologies including Raygun Retro and World War Four and we know each other somewhat online. He was one of the people who turned me on to the 224-Verse to begin with, so I was anxious to read this tale.
It is a short and violent story about a hostile planet Portia where cybernetically enhanced Lawmen are sought after for their implanted technology along with their skin, organs, muscles, and everything else. Life is brutal and Dark Orbit affiliated gangs of pirates plunder the seas and skies.
A Lawman sky ship is shot down by the pirate vessel Skin Trader and those Lawmen (men and woman) unlucky enough not to die immediately are captured and viciously brutalized. Sergeant Bayker is as helpless as the rest of the survivors but desperate to find a way for he and the crew to escape.
Although Captained by a former Lawman turned pirate named Horatio Jack, the Trader is effectively ruled by the savage crewmen Mikey and Master Bosun. Jack makes a deal with Bayker. If he kills the rogue pirates, he’ll free the Lawmen survivors. Bayker will have to act fast, because two other Lawmen Sky Ships are closing in on the Skin Trader and if they do the deal is off. The pirates will leave no survivors.
This is wall to wall action of the most horrific kind and there’s no telling from one page to the next who will live, who will die, and among the living, who will suffer ghastly mutilations.
I won’t reveal the rest, but at about fifty pages, it’s a swift and “devastating” read.
The one thing that puzzled me is that it didn’t seem like a Starry Eyed Press 224-Verse story. It could, in fact, have been in any generic science fiction universe. I define the 224-Verse in terms of its unique space jump technology, the overarching authority of the Galactic Assembly which controls that technology, and the mythic history of the Transcendence. None of that was mentioned here. I was really surprised at the extreme lawlessness on not only this planet but in the area of space it occupies. There was mention of rulers and realms as well as wars and destruction, but at no time did anyone say that something like the Assembly even existed.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does make it hard for me to connect Gregg’s story with the larger 224-Verse including my books The Fallen Shall Rise and The Haunting of the Ginger’s Regret. Having read the other 224-Verse books they all mention to one degree or the other, jump ship tech and the Assembly.
I guess I’ll have to ask Gregg about it.
All that aside, if you like brief stories about brutal pirates with plenty of action and more than a touch of the horrific, give Cunningham’s Skin Traders: A 224-Verse Book a read. Remember to support your indie authors and publishers. We might end up being the major source of good storytelling left in a few years.
Here’s my “Three-minute or less book review” on TikTok.
4 thoughts on “Book Review of “Skin Traders: A 224-Verse Book””
Let me congratulate you on an improved audio presentation evidencing a bit more inflection than your previous one. I’m tempted to enter the trail of discussion about a couple of grammatical errors, but, no, I’ll leave the editing to one side and observe instead that the social environment you’ve described in this story sounds to me like a terribly well-illustrated example of a non-Hobbsian environment, wherein the lack of a social contract emphasizing the value of life fulfill the natural tendency which results in life being nasty, brutal, and short. Now, that might be a recipe for a lot of “action”. But it seems to me that there are other ways for a storyteller to devise tensions and suspense and problems to resolve, to produce action around life-and-death issues. Then again, I suppose a vastly inhabited universe of some 14 million worlds must be expected to include some such hell-holes. Presumably, the inhabitants of such a region will kill each other off before long — and in any case I have no expectation ever to visit such a region. It does remind me, though, of a couple of regions on this planet that I would likewise avoid.
First of all, thank you. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I read Gregg’s story and yes, it doesn’t exactly depict a vacation spot.
thanks for taking the time out to read my little adventure James, much appreciated.
to be honest i’m never sure myself what i’m about to read after i complete one of these side quests either. i sure have left myself plenty to ponder next time 👍
No problem, Gregg. Happy to do it.