Head On by John Scalzi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is the sequel to Lock In, a book I gave four stars to a few years back. This book is just as good, I think, in a different way: the plot and action is much tighter, and this is far more of a near-future police (or FBI) procedural than the first book was. That only makes sense: the world has been established (there is a rather clever prologue disguised as an online article, explaining the Hadens and their sport, Hilketa, that serves as a massive infodump without feeling like one) and now Scalzi gets to (pardon the pun) play in it.
(Also, this book's cover is fun. I didn't think much of it at first--a bland stick figure with an apparently decapitated head? But that's exactly what happens, and is what sets the plot in motion.)
The contrast between the first book and this one is that there's a lot more social commentary in Lock In. There are a few issues raised here, issues of ableism and marginalization, but they're not explored in the depth of the previous book. I wish Scalzi had been able to do that, but the minutiae of solving the case didn't leave as much room for side trips. Other readers' mileage may vary, of course, and in any case the two books complement each other very well. The characters, especially Leslie Vann (who emerges as a cranky but brilliant crime-solving asshole), and the narrator Chris Shane's friend Tony, are given more of a spotlight. (In fact, some of the most enjoyable scenes were the ones involving Chris's flatmates, and the ones showing Haden society.)
Chris has settled into the role of earnest, dogged rookie FBI agent very well, and has a droll sense of humor that keeps the narration crackling.
(And I've now changed my mind regarding Chris's gender. This is a notable plot point, as the author works hard never to say whether Chris is male or female, and it certainly doesn't matter to the story. Which is a deft commentary about gender all on its own, of course. But there's a scene where Chris's mother is shown trimming her hair--yes, I've now decided Chris is female--and the narration avoids any mention of shaving as well, which you'd think would be done at the same time.)
Altogether, this is a solid and quite enjoyable book. Maybe next time, if there is a third book, and given the plot developments in this one, we'll be able to have a bit more commentary on the social aspects of this world.
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