Years ago I wandered into my local bookstore and stumbled on a new book titled DAEMON. Having a little bit of experience with UNIX, the title intrigued me and I picked it up and read the summary. It sounded good, so I gave it a try. That first read added the name Daniel Suarez to a very short Google Alert list I maintain that I call “Authors Who Cannot Write Their Next Novels Fast Enough.” Since then, I’ve been fortunate to get an early read on a number of Suarez’s new titles, and I’ve yet to be disappointed. After DAEMON came its sequel, FREEDOM. That was followed by Kill Decision (my review here) and then Influx (my review here).
Here’s the thing–Suarez has the ability to extrapolate advanced tech (some of which exists only on the drawing board or as thought exercises) and spin some crazy what-ifs that often leave me doing my own Google searches to find out whether or not something is theoretically possible. And you know what? More often than not, Suarez’s tales have just enough pieces of real, hard-edge science to make me a bit nervous. With his previous novels, Suarez tackled AI, autonomous drones, and a secret organization that monitors current commercial research and steals it if it threatens to destabilize economies or even governments.
Suarez’s latest novel, Change Agent, adds yet another theme requiring a watchful eye–genetic hacking. And while the autonomous drones in Kill Decision ranked the highest on my list of Believable Suarez Tech Risks, the drones have now dropped to #2… with my DNA moving to the #1 spot.
The premise is pretty straightforward–in 2045, Kenneth Durand works in the Genetic Crime Division of Interpol in Singapore. Kenneth is responsible for creating a series of algorithms that have helped Interpol shut down illegal genetic hacking labs. Many diseases have been cured or prevented through specific genetic manipulation, but illegal labs are taking the technology and offering up banned “upgrades” to human embryos. Singapore is now the tech superpower of the world and has become the focal point for criminal activities related to genetic hacking.
Kenneth’s algorithms are making life difficult for the illegal labs, and he’s gotten the attention of “Most Wanted” Marcus Demang Wyckes, the head of the Huli Jing cartel that profits from so many of these labs. Kenneth believes he knows the limits of current genetic hacking, but after being injected with an unknown substance on the streets of Singapore while on the way home to his wife and daughter, he’s about to learn just how far DNA manipulation tech has progressed.
Five weeks later, Kenneth wakes up in the hospital. He’s in pain and confused with vague memories of the attack. But when his colleagues arrive, instead of helping Kenneth, they put him in handcuffs. Kenneth Durand no longer exists; the face he sees staring back at him is the face of the wanted Marcus Demang. Somehow… Kenneth’s genetic code has been rewritten. He looks and sounds exactly like Marcus Demang, and the police aren’t believing him when he tries to explain what has happened.
Kenneth finds himself on the opposite side of the law, on the run in a city that makes hiding almost impossible with cutting-edge surveillance and bio-detection tech. Kenneth has to first figure out how this change was done, and then find the person responsible so he can try to get his life back.
As I said, when I finished the book I immediately took to Google. Just do some quick reading on CRISPR and you may have trouble falling asleep tonight. The advances in genetic modifications are coming, and what’s even more shocking is how cheap and easy-to-use the tools to do the work are becoming. Change Agent is some outstanding science fiction… but let’s split it and say it’s fiction but with some solid science tucked into the pages. (I can honestly say I’ve learned some real genetic info from this book–learning is fun!)
Change Agent is a fast-paced thriller that will have you turning the pages as fast possible to figure out how it all will end for Kenneth. As with all of Suarez’s books, I finished this one a little concerned about where our world might be heading if some of this tech becomes a reality… and wondering how long until his next book comes out.
Note: I received an advanced review copy of the book.