An Exchange of Hostages

Posted by : atcampbell | On : October 6, 1998

An Exchange of Hostages by Susan R. Matthews

Ten people attended the discussion of An Exchange of Hostages, the first novel by Campbell Award nominee Susan R. Matthews. This is a science fiction novel about a military doctor who is forced to attend a school for torturers. The story describes the training in detail and also depicts the complicated political and psychological environment at the school and in the world outside.

This book produced strong and varied responses. Eight people finished the book and had positive things to say about it. Two of us were so turned off by the graphic depiction of torture sequences that we were unable to finish the book. I fell into the latter category, and had to quit halfway through the first intermediate torture exercise. I hope to never find out about the advanced material…

Those who finished the book were impressed by the book’s ambition and its attention to detail. Generally Matthews’s prose style was considered compulsively readable. We felt that this novel was a good examination of a corrupt society and its corrupt inhabitants. It’s a character-driven story about control. The complicated social structure in the school seemed believable as a military extreme. The author gets deep into the minds of some of the torturer students (and their subjects), which leads to an uncomfortable level of reader identification. Someone commented that a novel about a torturer should be this introspective. The emotions seem so realistic that some of us speculated that the author might be writing from experience.

If the idea of a graphic torture novel doesn’t turn you off, we recommend that you read An Exchange of Hostages. Susan R. Matthews undeniably has talent. We were all impressed by the author’s bravery in writing such a book and the publisher’s bravery in publishing it.

— A. T. Campbell, III