A Singular Subcutanean
“Subcutanean” by Aaron A. Reed is literally a unique novel. A novel novel? When I backed it during its initial Indiegogo campaign I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. But I’m a huge Haunted House/Psychological Horror fan, and know what Aaron is capable of. So the premise sounded right up my alley from the get-go. What threw it over the edge is how Aaron was writing it. Using what he knows well from the realm of interactive fiction and generative storytelling, every copy is unique.
It tells the story of Ryan who, with best friend Niko, discovers a secret basement in their house where nothing is as it seems and after which nothing will be the same again. It’s a mind-bending exploration of friends dealing with the unexplained and the inexplicable. The nature of love, friendship, loss, reality, and surviving against all odds.
That’s about as specific as I can get. My two copies (seeds #10017 and #10152) are different from what you will read. The broad summary of the plot is roughly the same, but the moment to moment can diverge in quite impressive ways. Your copy, your experience, is yours and yours alone.
My Singular Subcutanean #10017 is even more unique, briefly containing characters that only exist in my copy, based on a challenge I gave Aaron to incorporate some silly in-jokes from our time at Spirit AI. What started as a joke (and what I read out-of-context prior to starting the novel) was expertly weaved into the story so that when I reached that part organically in my read-through I was gripped with what was happening (before I realised it was “just” my unique paragraph).
This expert inter-weaving of dynamic story moments extends throughout the entire story. One of my favourite parts of the story was a moment being set up chapters earlier which resolved later in the book in an awesome climax. At the time I was thinking to myself “Surely this must be one of those static moments” and then having my mind completely blown when I started comparing notes with another reader only to find out that never happened for them.
It was such a pivotal and impactful moment, that I felt it should have been experienced by every reader. Whilst at the same time, the experience wasn’t diminished by the alternative events. What I read was my experience of Subcutanean, and theirs was theirs.
And what’s more, this isn’t a gimmick. The dynamic nature of how the book was authored fully supports and enhances the story. I’ve rarely had such a satisfying experience as I watched all the pieces fall into place and the story come to its conclusion.
My Singular Subcutanean lists the major differences that occurred in my copy, and it was almost like this copy was made for me. I specifically like more upbeat stories, and it told me my Ryan was more optimistic in his narration. That theme was also true of a number of other distinct differences.
Delving into minor spoilers (that are hopefully vague and devoid of context), I particularly liked the way Aaron dropped major revelations on us by making sure we, as readers, understood what was being said, but Ryan did not. Perfectly encapsulating Ryan’s moment of confusion paralleled with our own.
Subcutanean is an amazing book and an impressive undertaking. I utterly recommend it. A fantastic read, made all more rich and interesting by the unique way Aaron authored and distributed the book.
If you want to check it out, you can buy your copy here. You can also buy it at Amazon (though I recommend getting a unique copy from Aaron directly, Amazon is limited to 3 different seeds). If you’re still not sure, check out the twitter accounts Aaron set up to post two copies in parallel (Seed #2160 and Seed #6621)
Comparing notes with another reader is also a genuine highlight of experiencing this book, so perhaps buy two and have someone read along with you!
DISCLAIMER: At the time of writing, I worked with Aaron at Spirit AI Limited.