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Counting Heads

David Marusek
Tor (336 p)
$24.95. ISBN: 0765312670
(November 2005)


book cover There are more ideas to the page in this auspicious debut novel than many science fiction novels have in their entirety. In its twenty-second century world the world's survived the mega-terrorism of "the Outrage" that occurred in the 2060s and is now wondrously nanotechnical. Production is unneeded as any product can be extruded from recycled materials. Lifespans extend for hundreds of rejuvenated years. Nanoprocessors residing in one's body link to personal AI "valets" (later "mentars") that amplify one's life a myriad ways. Skilled trades -- like security and nursing -- are filled by an underclass of specialized clones, Robot "arbeitors" perform lowlier tasks. The world is so perfect there are just too many people for it. Jobs are scarce and money, for most, is scarcer. Core character Samson Harger, a packaging artiste, marries fellow "aff" -- "affluents" run the world with a pettiness and ruthlessness akin to medieval royalty -- Eleanor Starke, a high-powered corporate prosecutor who becomes one of the most influential people in the world. Just as they are granted the nearly unheard of privilege to have a child, their marriage is torn apart when Harger is misidentified by Homeland Command as a criminal and consequently "seared." Searing deprives Harger of the now-common (as long as one can afford it) lifespan of hundreds of years. He is left with perhaps four decades of life as a smelly social outcast. The story skips ahead 40 years and Starke, pursuing a colonization project to help relieve the masses, is assassinated in the crash of her space yacht, but daughter Ellen survives -- at least her decapitated head does. Ellen can be rejuvenated -- but only if her head avoids those who want her dead. The back story of Harger's seared life and subplots weaving around the goal of saving Ellen show more of the fascinating aspects of Marusek's dystopia and its denizens. Marusek evokes an impelling sense of wonder with an awesomely imaginative and all-too-believable future chock full of nifty details while allowing his characters to compel the novel. Counting Heads is a marvelous must-read from an author who must be noted as an important new voice in science fiction. -- (in CFQ Jan/Feb 2006 issue)