Head On: A Novel of the Near Future
© 2018 John Scalzi
Agent Chris Shane of the FBI saw the man decapitated on the playing field. before his very eyes. But so did thousands of other people; decapitations were, in fact, the point of the game. Hilketa, after all, is a sport in which human-controlled droids go into battle against one another, trying to tear the head off a randomly-designated player-droid and carry it across the goalposts while the defending team stops them. This is a game played with swords. Of course heads are supposed to come off….but people aren’t supposed to die. And yet, the moment Duane Chapman’s droid lost his head, the human controlling him inexplicably died. So it was that Chris and his training partner Van, abuser of many substances, had their second huge case. In Head On, Scalzi explores the world of Hadens more thoroughly, from their elaborate digital world to specialized droids — some for lovers and some for fighters. Although Van and Chris are able to establish the means easily enough, the question remains: why? Why would someone murder a reasonably popular, reasonably talented athlete? The mystery takes readers down familiar paths, from the noir staples like jealous wives, to Scalzi’s running joke of Shane destroying a series of personal threeps (the humanoid droid he moves in the world through, his real body being locked-in from Haden syndrome). Scalzi’s Haden-world is just as interesting this time around, though I was more fascinated by Haden culture than the actual murder mystery.