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Head On by John Scalzi

BOTTOM LINE: Too much fun

Genre: Science Fiction
Publication Date: 17 April 2018
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Synopsis from the Publisher:

John Scalzi returns with Head On, the standalone follow-up to the New York Times bestselling and critically acclaimed Lock In. Chilling near-future SF with the thrills of a gritty cop procedural, Head On brings Scalzi’s trademark snappy dialogue and technological speculation to the future world of sports.

Hilketa is a frenetic and violent pastime where players attack each other with swords and hammers. The main goal of the game: obtain your opponent’s head and carry it through the goalposts. With flesh and bone bodies, a sport like this would be impossible. But all the players are ‘threeps,’ robot-like bodies controlled by people with Haden’s Syndrome, so anything goes. No one gets hurt, but the brutality is real and the crowds love it.

Until a star athlete drops dead on the playing field.

Is it an accident or murder? FBI agents and Haden-related crime investigators, Chris Shane and Leslie Vann, are called in to uncover the truth—and in doing so travel to the darker side of the fast-growing sport of Hilketa, where fortunes are made or lost, and where players and owners do whatever it takes to win, on and off the field.”

My Thoughts: John Scalzi is fast becoming one of my favorite authors. Granted, his oeuvre is one of my favorite genres. Still, my enjoyment of his novels goes beyond genre. Based on his blog and Twitter feed, Mr. Scalzi is a person who does not take life for granted but has no problems making fun of life experiences. This ability to poke fun at the most mundane things serves him well in his writing. Of the novels of his I have read, there is a general mocking tone that I adore. His novels are very tongue-in-cheek, or at least that is how I interpret them, and I love when someone can appreciate the humor in any situation.

Take Haden’s Syndrome and the “threep” suits Hadens use to interact with the real world. Mr. Scalzi takes what should be a tragic situation with millions of people locked into their own minds, able to hear and feel and smell and think but completely unable to move and makes them almost enviable. They get to walk around in their very own robot suit, named after one of the most beloved, recognizable Star Wars figures there is. He turns the idea of crime procedural on its head with his gender-neutral characters and one-half of the detective partnership that busts every cop stereotypes.

There there is the game Hilketa. I cannot shake the mental image of robotic heads popping off and being tossed back and forth across and football-slash-rugby field. Even worse, I cannot help but find this mental image highly amusing. If anything captures the insanity that is professional athletics, hilketa is it. A little bit football, a little bit rugby, add in some roller derby and even some Quidditch, and you have a crazy game of robot-on-robot violence. With heads flying off. It is hilarious even as the story highlights just a few of the ways owners or other interested parties can corrupt the game in the name of greed.

As with all of Mr. Scalzi’s novels, the story is well-written with the right combination of action, mystery, and exposition. The characters are easy to enjoy, and the dialogue is witty without being unrealistic. I love the careful way in which Mr. Scalzi plays with gender stereotypes and keeps the year as ambiguous as possible. It gives the entire setting a refreshing air of possibility and not in the typically dystopian manner. The whole novel is a fun play on the science fiction novel and detective story.

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