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Skin
By Kathe Koja

Reviewed by Rob Gates
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

At the end of the 1980's, horror was a dying genre.  Stuck in neutral with tired old plots and lifeless stories, it just seemed to be waiting for someone to pull the plug.  But like the terrifying beasts of old, the horror genre fought back; and it did so with people like Kathe Koja.  The power of the reborn horror movement was in the acknowledgement that blood did not scare us any more, monsters didn't scare us anymore - what scared us was ourselves and the things we could do and think.  Sure, the weird and macabre unknown, the world of vampires and beasties, has its place in horror; but for horror to come alive again it had to be infused with emotion - the emotion of people.  The biggest purveyor of this new breed of horror was Dell's "Abyss" line of books (long since faded away).  Abyss gave rise to a bevy of new and powerful writers who could scare the bejezuz out of us - not with blood and gore, but with the mind.  Kathe Koja was one of their biggest breakout stars.  Her first novel, The Cipher, stormed the horror establishment; and she was well on her way to remaking the genre into not only a scary one, but a literary one, too.  She continued with Bad Brains and followed that with Strange AngelsSkin is her fourth novel, and the experience shows.

Skin is the story of two female artists - one a metalsmith and the other a dancer-cum-performance artist.  Both are seeking perfection through their chosen art; and their collaboration leads to obsession and beyond.  Together they create a horrific mix of humanity and machine, in a new form of performance art that brings them both to the brink, testing the boundaries of art.  Inevitably, their shared passion for expression leads them to a physical relationship; and this relationship only serves to push one of the two into darker realms of body modification, pain, and oblivion.

As with all of her stories, Koja creeps quietly into the back of our minds, teasing us with images and actions that each take us one step further along a dark path - until we suddenly realize that (like our fascination with accident scenes) we can't turn away, despite the discomfort.  And the reader is made to feel uncomfortable because, after all, there's only a fine line separating us from Skin's two protagonists; and that thin line's edges are blurry.

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