Monday, October 10, 2022

Head On: John Scalzi

This is the second book in a two book cross-genre series with elements of both science fiction and mystery genres. The first book, Lock In (2014), was a science fiction thriller set in the near future. The story begins about 20 years after the world-wide epidemic of a virus which causes Lock In syndrome. Technological breakthroughs have been developed to the point where the victims of the disease can use a robotic device to move around, talk, and function in society while their bodies are lying in a bed elsewhere. 

The main character of the series is Chris Shane. The virus is called Haden’s Syndrome, so the people who have it are referred to as Hadens. The robot body they used to interact in is called a "threep". Chris is from a rich family, with a trust fund, and has multiple threeps. Most people with Haden's Syndrome cannot afford that. 

Head On continues the story of Chris Shane, who developed the syndrome at a very young age, and has never known a different way of life. In this story, Chris is an FBI agent, partnered with Leslie Vann, who is not a Haden. They have been assigned to investigate the death of a male Haden who was killed while playing a professional sport called Hilketa (sounds like a combination of football and soccer, with swords, hammers, and other weapons). The cause of death is unclear. 

The cool part is that Chris is not defined as male or female in the book. I knew that but I had forgotten by the time I read this second book. When I was reading both the first and second books I always thought of the character as a woman. Many other reviewers had viewed Chris as a male character. The story is told in Chris's voice. I think it was amazing that Scalzi was able to write a book without indicating the sex of the character, but telling it from the point of view of that character does help.

I enjoyed this book as much or more than the first book in the series. The first book was strong on the world building of a culture which has adapted to a significant portion of its population having a debilitating disease and given them a way to continue participating meaningfully in society. It also focuses more on how this had affected the main character's family and how families adapt to having a family member with the syndrome. Head On concentrated more on the crime, and the aspects which would make the death of a Haden more difficult to investigate. 

In a sense, this second book stands alone. I read it six years after reading the first book and I settled into it immediately. There was just enough background included to get back into the near future world and I suspect it would also be easy to read for a reader entirely new to the series. 

I think every book that John Scalzi has written, and certainly the ones I have read, have elements that comment on problems in society. He does this in such a way that this commentary does not interfere with the telling of the story or the enjoyment of the story. 

I loved reading Head On. It was a great mystery, although on the thrillerish side, and John Scalzi tells a story well. Now I want to go back and read Lock In again. I just have to dig it out a box somewhere.


Publisher:    Tor Books, 2018
Length:        335 pages
Format:        Hardcover
Setting:        USA
Series:         Lock In #2
Genre:         Sci fi thriller
Source:        I purchased this book.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Sounds great. Have heard his name for years but never got to him.

TracyK said...

Patti, I loved this two book series and there is novella that can be read before or after book 1. The other two series that I have read (at least part of) are set in space and maybe not your thing, but there is still a lot of his fiction that I have not read. And want to.

stargazer said...

It is indeed unusual and very impressive to write a book without revealing the sex of the protagonist. And interesting that different readers have different ideas. I've only read one of Scalzi's novels - I enjoyed it, but never picked up more of his books. This one sounds good and the same goes for the first one in the series.

TracyK said...

Stargazer, I was impressed by Scalzi writing a character where the sex is not indicated, and I read a couple of articles explaining why he did this. It fit in with the fact that the person is using a robot body (usually with a distance from the actual body) and it makes you think about the ramifications of that, but I was chagrined that I missed it both times until I was done with the book. And I still loved the book. It was a wonderful read for me.

Lark said...

I've read two Scalzi books and enjoyed both of them. I need to read more of his novels.

TracyK said...

Me too, Lark. I have three books on my shelves by Scalzi that I haven't read yet. As a reminder to myself, they are: Fuzzy Nation, The Kaiju Preservation Society, and The Last Colony (#3 in the Old Man's War series).