It’s not hard to catch a reader’s attention when you say no two copies of your book are alike. Fresh-on-the-scene author Aaron A. Reed shows his game designing background with Subcutanean, a suspenseful novel littered with changing areas of text. This isn’t a CYOA kind of story, mind you – despite being categorized as interactive fiction – but the fact that there are little differences between every copy may understandably give the reader the allusion they’ve chosen Orion’s path along the way. Subcutanean tells of a gay man and the best friend he loves, above all else. However, the encasing shell of the story is trippy horror. Beneath Orion’s bed is a staircase that leads down to a secret basement sprawling with hallways and rooms that never seem to end. Exploring the labyrinth becomes a bit of an addiction, but it’s a dangerous curiosity – there’s something else that lives down there, following them and multiplying.
The unique proposal of Subcutanean lured me with ease; talking to the author a little about the concept solidified my interest in reading this novel. I was not disappointed! The drama is heavy, relatable, and important (seeing as our lead is queer and struggling with his identity); honestly, you could read this story for that reason alone, having no attraction to horror. Granted, it is going to come – the spiraling universe beneath Orion’s bed is twisted fun – but I didn’t feel like I was reading a horror story the majority of the time. There’s a lot of suspense here, but the interactions between Orion and Nico are the focus. It’s hard to going into detail without revealing too much, but let’s say their relationship is presented in multiple ways, all of which are deeply triggering in emotion.
Although I did find some sequences a little slow, and I would have loved some bigger moments with the Mimickers (beyond that water scene and Nico’s experience simply being referenced), Subcutanean was a thrill to read. It’s definitely unlike anything I’ve ever read, and Reed proves interactive fiction should be further explored. This novel comes highly recommended.