Summer Scares 2019 Resources

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Friday, October 18, 2019

31 Days of Horror: Day 18-- What I'm Reading: Skinwrapper by Stephen Kozeniewski

Today I have a review of the new prequel to one of my all time favorite space horror books, Hematophages. It's Skinwrapper by Stephen Kozeniewski. From the back cover copy via Goodreads:
A single word strikes fear into the hearts of even the most experienced starship crews… 
Aboard the freighter Blue Whale, a young girl’s day begins like any other: texting her friends while her parents bicker about breakfast. Then, with a loud, sickening pop, their domestic tranquility is shattered.  
A single word goes out over the emergency warning system…  
The galaxy’s shipping lanes are plagued by a gang of vicious pirates. Suffering from all manner of terminal diseases, they require zero gravity to live. They also need a constant influx of fresh blood and organs, so their victims also become their unwilling donors. The band is so ruthless, so violent, that its very name has become a synonym for terror.  
A single word that chills the blood, even in the utter cold of space…  
The little girl finds herself alone, lost, and trapped aboard the vessel she called home, praying it won’t also become her tomb. She is about to learn there is nothing in the universe worse than being hunted by a SKINWRAPPER.  
This prequel novella shoves you screaming back into the world of “space horror masterpiece” (Daily Dead) THE HEMATOPHAGES.
Appeal: This is a space horror novella that you can enjoy with out without having read Hematophages as it deals with secondary characters and plots from the main novel. [I am being vague on purpose.] But fans of the novel will love the chance to learn more about the Skinwrappers and even meet a

The writing is solid as usual from Kozeniewski. He might write pulpy and fun horror novels, but that doesn't mean he isn't a good writer. The opening scene is a good example of his skill. We meet our teen narrator, immediately. She is a normal teen who lives on a space ship with her two moms, having a normal day when bam...a bolt comes lose from the window of their apartment pod and well... let's just say it is the beginning of the end. It sets up the dread and anxiety even before we meet the Skinwrappers.

Like all good SF, the world building is well done here. It has to be for the story to work. Kozeniewski adds all of the details we need to understand what life is like in this world of space living without sacrificing the story. And this one is mostly about the story. While Hematophages was a nice mix of character development and action, Skinwrapper is storyline driven. That is not to say the protagonist is not well developed, she is. But she's the only one we get to know. 

The action comes from our protagonist trying to survive. So there is anxiety, fear and dread even before we see the Skinwrappers. And it is intensified along the way both because our protagonist is young, sheltered, and doesn't really know what to do in an actual emergency, doesn't really know what Skinwrappers are, just that they are evil, and because things around her start going from bad to worse [gravity shut off, dead bodies, and more]. And that is before the claustrophobic scenes in the final third of the story, when she is hiding in a cryogenic box.

But, there is also tons of humor [just like in Hematophages]. From our protagonist fighting with the voice in her head to the droplets of pee floating in the box with her as she hides, there is a sense of humor here that shines through the action and terror.

Finally, the ending is perfect for people who read the novel AND it is definitely going to make people want to read the novel. 

I inhaled this novella on a plane ride and smiled as I read the last line. 

Three Words That Describe This Book: dark humor, strong world building, terrifying

Readalikes: Space horror is really making a comeback these days. Here is a list of 14 space horror options from a recent Book Riot list. Any of those will make a good readalike. But also, go read Hematophages. I mean I don't know why you didn't listen to me 2 years ago when I told you to read it, but now you have no excuse. Go read it. 

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