Review: Exoskeleton by Shane Stadler

Posted: October 15, 2012 in Reviews - TV, movie, book and whatever
Tags: , , , , , , ,

First, a disclaimer: whilst compiling resources to write this review, I came across this excellent one on ChiZine’s website. If you’re looking for an educated and objective review, go there.  If you’re looking for my personal response to this novel, keep on reading.

Exoskeleton is the impressive debut novel by Shane Stadler, published by new horror small press Dark Hall Press.  The story centres on former professor Will Thompson, who has been framed for rape and sentenced to 25 years in prison.  He is given the option of “compressing” his sentence to just one year, and without knowing the full implications of that compressed sentence or the true nature of DARPA, the shadowy organization doing the “compressing”, he signs up.  Meanwhile, a small and dedicated team of investigators on the “outside” smell a rat. They set about uncovering the truth, at great personal risk.

Exoskeleton utilizes several science fiction and horror tropes: the medical experiment gone horribly wrong, the malevolent secret government organization that will stop at nothing to achieve its aims, vengeful spirits against which the fleshbound have no defence, and let us not forget the bucketloads of excruciating and inventive torture employed against the protagonist. Stadler never lets the story devolve into cliche, but instead uses these tropes with originality and energy. The torture scenes, of which there are many, are far from gratuitous, but an essential element of the plot.  Some of the perpetrators are dyed-in-the-wool sadists, it is true, but most of them are “just doing their job” or believe that their actions serve the greater good, which I found much more chilling than the traditional “me villain, you victim” relationship.

And the reason for all this secrecy and torture? Can’t say, ‘cos that would be a massive spoiler.  But I can give a few hints.  It involves building on Nazi research, some heavy metaphysical concepts, you are highly unlikely to see it coming and your reading experience will be all the better for it.

I hate to admit it, but I usually approach debut novels from start-up presses with a mild sense of trepidation; can I really trust these people with my time and mental energy? With this in the back of my mind, I kept expecting the story to go plunging headlong into a massive plot hole.  I’m happy to report that it didn’t happen.  You can trust Shane Stadler and Dark Hall Press to deliver the goods.  A big part of the reason why you can trust the author with this material is revealed in his bio at the end;  it says, “Shane Stadler is an experimental physicist.  He has worked at numerous government research and defense laboratories, and is currently a professor of physics at a major research university.” 

That little piece of information might have been the scariest part of the novel.  How much of this stuff is real? It makes me wonder…

Stylistically, I felt there was slightly too much filtering throughout the story, but that is a tiny nitpick for what is otherwise a well-constructed and engrossing science fiction horror novel.

You’ll find all the links you need to purchase Exoskeleton here.

(Disclosure: the publisher provided me with a free electronic copy of the novel for review purposes).

Shane Stadler is an experimental physicist. He has worked at numerous government research and defense laboratories, and is currently a professor of physics at a major research
university.

Shane Stadler is an experimental physicist. He has worked at numerous government research and defense laboratories, and is currently a professor of physics at a major research
university.

Comments
  1. elissa stadler says:

    true page turner…..what happen’s to Will next?

    • I can’t believe I forgot to mention that in my review! *slaps head* The ending wraps up the story nicely, yet is cleverly set up to lead into a sequel, should the author so desire.

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