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by Steven-Elliot Altman

(Ace, US $13.00 / Canada $19.50, 359 pages, trade paperback; 2003.)

Four stars.

Not often does a genuinely new idea come along in literature. This one touches on primal fears: isolation, loneliness, loss of physical and mental senses. It skates on the thin ice cover scanbetween science fiction and horror.

The story centers mainly around Robert Luxley, who has a "special trick" that he uses to build a lucrative career as an assassin. Anyone he touches, skin to skin, gets paralyzed for fifteen minutes. A subtle weapon -- but only so long as nobody thinks to look for it. Then he learns that there are other "Deprivers" in the world, whose gift (or curse) varies in effect and duration. Some can take away the power of sight, hearing, balance, or worse. Some deprivations are brief, others permanent. And once the Normals find out about the Deprivers, fear becomes the watchword of the day.

It takes a lot of careful planning to make what is essentially a medical mystery work as a story. A widespread, devastating disease can reshape a society temporily or permanently. Look at the tracks left by old enemies like the Black Death. Here, the author invents a new condition, "Sensory Deprivation Syndrome," and then extrapolates the effects on individuals, human culture at large, and the subculture of the Deprivers themselves. It's a very methodical case of what-iffing one's way to a logical conclusion.

Deprivers is told in a hard-science fiction style, despite its sociological aspects. The precise nature of the weird science motif, and its implications on the action, carry most of the weight. Character development and interactions, while mentioned, are sketchier and the general prose not as colorful. But the storyline itself is fascinating; it doesn't particularly need larger-than-life characters or ornate descriptions to work. Recommended.

Review by Elizabeth Barrette.

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