Head On: A Novel of the Near Future
John Scalzi’s new book, Head On: A Novel of the Near Future, is not your usual police procedural. It’s gripping science fiction that is inventive and unpredictable. Head On‘s narrator is FBI agent Chris Shane, who is smart, rich, and cocky. He’s also a Haden, a human who navigates the physical world via a machine while his body lies still and unresponsive at home, monitored by two full-time caregivers.
In this novel – as in Scalzi’s 2014 book Lock In – millions of people have survived a highly contagious virus, which for most was no more than a mild illness. However, for one percent of the global population the virus causes Haden Syndrome, which results in a permanently locked, immovable body (albeit with intact cognition and consciousness). By using a neural network and a robotic transport called a threep, Hadens are able to navigate the world, hold jobs, form close relationships, participate in certain sports, and, on occasion, commit murder.
The plot in Head On centers on Haden athletes whose threeps participate in Hilketa, a fast-growing sport where players literally tear each other apart. The brutality of the game feeds spectators’ appetite for violence, but is “acceptable” because only a player’s robotic self is damaged. That is, until one athlete’s biological body experiences pain and dies during a game. That’s when Agent Shane and his partner Leslie Vann get involved and the action goes into high gear.
Both Lock In and Head On are complex and believable novels, and they also present compelling questions about what it is that makes us human. Although the publisher calls Head On a stand-alone book, for maximum enjoyment, I recommend you read both of them in the order they were published.
To request a copy, click here.
Review by Pam Barry, Reference and Young Adult Librarian