Book Review:

Skin Deep, by Jacqueline Jacques

Six frozen brains are found in an abandoned cellar: the result of Nazi concentration camp experiments. They give British scientists the chance to pioneer the first brain transplants. Max is the first successful transplant. Journalist Clare wants to tell the story and get her promotion - perhaps also a new relationship - but she can't see the real story, the nightmare she is being drawn into, until it is much too late.

This is a novel that examines what would happen if people cryopreserved in the 1940s were reanimated in the early 21st century. The process was brain vitrification and the reanimations rely on a present day culture that is capable of performing brain transplants, so anyone with a scientific background would have to suspend reality with regards to the "science" in the science fiction. In addition the brains were preserved undiscovered and untended for over 50 years. Storage without the need for maintenance would be nice if possible, but of course in reality no one knows how to do it.

If you disregard all this, though, you do have a discussion about how the rest of the world would react. The story is based around a news team covering the events and observing the reactions and behaviour of the reanimated people. Unlike the scenario as most cryonicists see it, the patients were revived after their brains were transplanted into the bodies of people who were brain-dead. Therefore there was the added dimension of dealing with someone else's body. Neuropreservation concepts today can only theorise about realities of the future because people cannot predict the future with certainty. This book does not consider nanotechnological regrowth of the original body, but it does detail the problems that would arise using a "body transplant". The donated bodies were chosen only on the basis of tissue typing, not whether they were physically compatible with the brains. Even today with surgical procedures such as liver transplants strange events occur, such as the recipient developing new likes and dislikes for food. Now just imagine what would happen with a whole body being transplanted around the brain of someone else! In the novel, a musician has a particularly hard time as a result of an inappropriate body.

The novel does consider the matter of continued life. Here the replacement bodies can age, and further body transplants would be needed in a society that has not cured ageing. The question of whether the brains would age regardless of what bodies they are in apply and are mentioned as well. This relates to concerns that some cryonics people have as to whether they'd need a second cryopreservation at some time and whether they'd be able to earn enough money for it in their second life.

Of course the history of 1940s is emotionally charged, and yes this is another "thriller" time travel type story about extremist authoritarian politics with the inevitable crop of scenes of violence, mayhem and attempted world domination. There were scenes that, for example, cleverly juxtaposed the concentration of people into ghettoes and camps by the Nazis using railways with the concentration of present day working people into cities and their public transport systems. I think the point may be being made that although the cries of "Seig Heil" may never be made again in earnest by those in charge, many National Socialist methods could appear again under other ideologies unless checked. Indeed, this already happened in Yugoslavia and many African countries.

The lead in goes on for a long time, making very pertinent comparisons between events today and 60 years ago as seen by the protagonists. This sort of thing may be interesting to cryonicists wondering how they will take to life in the future. The action scenes occur more towards the end. However a number of points are made during the lead in that will interest cryonicists. There is more about this book and its author on the web site and on Amazon. I urge cryonicists to read these.

Jacqueline Jacques was born in wartime Wales, but lived most of her life in and around London's East End, settling finally with her husband and family in Essex. There she is able to combine the outdoor pleasures of Epping Forest with visiting the London art galleries and theatres. Besides writing she loves to paint and her other interests include travel, cooking, and music.

After graduating (Newcastle) and obtaining a teaching certificate (Leicester), she worked as a teacher, but after her family had grown up she realised a life long ambition and become a writer, beginning with short stories and articles.

Honno, the Welsh Women's publishing company, publishes Skin Deep in November 2004. Jacqueline Jacques is now working on her seventh novel.