© 2017 Daniel Suarez
Deep into the 21st century, global civilization has been transformed by bioengineering. Consumer products which were once manufactured are now grown, from knives to car bodies; the streets are illuminated not by bulbs, but by bacteria; and lab-grown meat is common. Although gene editing has also been used to cure several prominent diseases in human babies, parents are increasingly interested in going beyond repair: they want to make their children into designer augments, with heightened intelligence, physical strength, and so on. Enter Kenneth Durand, who uses statistical analysis to figure out where “baby labs” are so that the police can shut them down. But the many labs shut down by Durand’s ingenuity aren’t independent operations: they’re all run by the same criminal enterprise, and they – -the Huli jing — will have their revenge in a most insidious way. A violent encounter at a train station leaves Durand writhing on the platform, and he wakes up weeks later — after a prolonged period of intense pain and semi-consciousness — to find himself transformed. His own genes have been edited to make him into the monster he was chasing. Friendless and the subject of an international manhunt, a once pacifistic statistician must find new strength within himself as he escapes police custody and descends into the underworld looking for answers and a way to reclaim his identity.
First of all, there’s a lot of really cool things going on in the background here. Logistical drone lanes, for one: there are so many commercial drones that they’ve been given air lanes to travel in, just like airplanes. Screen interfaces are largely a thing of the past; as most people have the means to have images cast directly into their eyes. (This can be a nuisance, with the advertisements, but there are countermeasures.) All this advanced technology makes Durand’s life considerably more difficult after he’s branded a criminal; one push notification from the police and a crowdsourced manhunt makes it impossible for him to move in civilized society. He does, however, have one asset: the criminal whose body he’s inhabiting happens to be incredibly intimidating, and since he wasn’t expected to survive the transformation (the gang wanted the police to think their most-wanted man had been assassinated) , there have been no countermeasures put in place to stop Durand from taking advantage of his appearance. Once the Huli jing realize he’s escaped and on the move, another product of bioengineering is tasked with hunting him down.
Using CRISPR and succeeding technology opens up a world of possibilities, and Suarez explores both the good and bad. Durand’s journey will culminate in discovering horrors he couldn’t imagine people capable of, though if he’d read Brave New World he wouldn’t be so darkly surprised. Both the worldbuilding, and Durand’s struggle to hold on to his identity — trapped in another body, forced into doing things he’d never otherwise do — succeed in creating a fast-moving and immersive tale of tomorrow.