Mark Budz' third novel, Idolon, takes place in Santa Cruz about a hundred years into the future. The latest fashion is a type of electronic skin ( philm ) which can be programmed at will to look like a celebrity or anything else. The members of one cult, the Transcendental Vibrationists, all wear the same philm, motivated by their belief that when everyone shows the same face, they will be lifted up to heaven. Enter Kasuo van Diijk, a homicide detective who is investigating the death of a young woman (it's unlucky to be young, blond and female in a noir novel) who is wearing a new kind of philm and whose DNA isn't in any government database.

Idolon is a fun, old-fashioned science fiction noir thriller with a well-thought out premise and up-to-the minute scientific speculations on everything from wearable computers and what kind of viruses they might get to artificial intelligence and the future of the family. Budz is building a name for himself among hard science fiction readers and this new novel should add to his growing reputation. Gavin J. Grant is the co-editor of The Year's Best Fantasy &andamp; Horror: 2006 (St. Martin's).

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