John Scalzi's name has been bandied about for years as a sci-fi writer whose work I need to read, so when I had the chance to listen to the Audible version of his latest novel, I figured it was about time to see what all the fuss was about.
In this stand-alone novel, a virus devastates humanity in the not-too-distant future. It acts like the flu for most, but about 1% of those afflicted suffer what is eventually called "Hayden's syndrome," rendering them paralyzed and unresponsive, forever trapped inside their own bodies. With millions afflicted, a new industry arises. Androids are made, basically robotic bodies that can be remotely controlled by the bedridden, and offer nearly all tactile experiences a human body can. Then there are other afflicted people who are still mobile, yet they possess an innate ability to serve as surrogates themselves, suppressing their own consciousness to allow the locked in to use their bodies. All this creates a certain societal morasses, and amid all of that we jump into the story a quarter century after the outbreak, just in time for a murder mystery.
The two detectives on the case of a dead integrator, a person who rents out the use of their body, who appears to have been killed by an unknown attacker in a hotel room. Shane is the rookie, a lock in herself and the daughter of a powerful politician crusading for the rights of the afflicted. Vann, a grizzled vet herself on the force, has reservations about working with Shane at first, but the opposites attract plays out really well as they gauge each other through the course of the investigation.
The window dressing for this book feels reminiscent of Robert Venditti's comic series, The Surrogates, but that's really just a surface level thing, because Scalzi's story explores different themes altogether and doesn't pose as much skepticism and wariness towards the technology as found in Venditti's story. Here, much of the story relies on Shane finding her footing, literally and figuratively, as she makes a name for herself apart from the long shadow cast by her family's dynasty.
The star of the book, at least in the audiobook experience, may be Amber Benson. Wil Wheaton also offers narration in another edition of the audiobook, but I went with Benson for the sake of the protagonist being female, and Benson's performance was spot on throughout, and went a long way to drawing me in as a listener. It didn't hurt that Scalzi's characters and pacing and the pay off at the end all aided in creating one heckuva story melding sci-fi with police procedural.
If this is the kind of stuff Scalzi writes, I'm definitely gonna have to read more of it ... or listen to it. Either way.