Book Uno is a new feature at Jawas Read, Too! More specifically, it’s a game. If you know the rules of Uno the card game in which players must match either colors or the face value of cards one at a time in an attempt to get rid of their entire hand, you know the basic rules for Book Uno. It’s a chance for participants to knock out a book they might already own since the challenge is to meet general requirements rather than detailed ones. Just in case, let me give you a quick explanation.
Player 1 reads a book and picks a item (type of character, setting, genre, relationship, etc…) from that book which will be the theme (or criteria) for Player 2 to use in choosing the next book in the game. Player 2 chooses a book that matches the theme chosen by Player 1 and reviews it. Players choose themes for each other, not specific books.
For example: I might read a book that has a male protagonist and decide I want the next player to review a book that also has a male protagonist. As long as the book is Speculative Fiction and features a male protagonist, it’s a fair play for that move.
As you can see, the challenge fell to me, but I was more than ready. Which book did I pick? Click the link below to find out.
Samson Paul Harger was born in 1951 and died in 2092. Unfortunately, he still has over 40 years left to live; watching his body deteriorate at a rate normal for that of a man living in the 20th Century is only going to prolong his sense of injustice. In Samson’s lifetime, mortality is more of a distant bother than a reality. Humanity has experienced a technological boom, neé—a renaissance of medicine, cloning, and that ever elusive font of youth: immortality.
Shortly after getting married to his second wife, Eleanor, a routine encounter with a slug designed to scan for disease wrongly flags him as a virus-ridden terrorist. He’s stripped of all cybernetic enhancements, loses his immortality and becomes a normal man returned to an apartment he no longer remembers. Uncertain about his identity, Samson lives in a perpetual fog of exclusion and impending death. An assassination attempt against his family reinvigorates Sam to action against a vague corporation eager to control the fate of humankind.
Counting Heads is an intricate and complex Science Fiction novel with a premise that could have been extrapolated from the headlines of today’s newspapers. The world is powered by solar energy; a killer outbreak of disease prompts entire cities to construct domed canopies that detect and destroy virulent bacteria and viruses before they penetrate the populace. People are sampled daily to the same end, taking the fear of disease a few steps in an extreme direction. Plastic surgery is a lapsed practice having long evolved into something more sophisticated. Rejuvenation clinics turn back the clock on cells and organs, ensuring a youthful existence and relative permanence for the newly middle-aged—150 or so—at the age of their choosing (Sam has chosen to live in his 30s). Quirky A.I.s are tuned to our every need and advertisements are a frequent and constant pest.
Aside from the gadgetry (and there is tech in abundance), Marusek has brought together issues of privacy, safety, community, immortality, and identity into a fascinating worldscape that examines the consequences of the advances that can allow an affluent lifestyle. If the “things” in this novel are plausible, the characters are just as vivid and engaging. Sam in particular becomes a curmudgeonly old man, bitter and wronged with just the right touch of senility to sustain Marusek’s wry sense of humor—something I don’t often see in Science Fiction preoccupied with such heavy ideas as population control, dehumanization, mortality, and a rigidly hierarchal society.
At a certain point in the novel, I began to feel it was too saturated with ideas and the minutiae of futuristic scenarios. The first section (Counting Heads is divided into three parts) was the most fascinating and the most accessible. In fact, the first paragraph was one of the best first paragraphs I’ve ever read—in any book. And there are some truly beautiful and thought-provoking passages when the socio-political elements are shown in sharp focus, such as when Fred begins to worry he is suffering from “clone fatigue.” His symptoms are nothing short of deviant for typical iterant (i.e. “clone”) behavior (clones are bred for reliable and preferred behavioral traits). Fred is exhibiting signs of individualism that question his role as a clone; the implications of this are intriguing and examined thoroughly. Clones in general were perhaps one of, if not the, strongest element propelling the narrative forward.
In the midst of a sometimes confusing and frustrating collection of oblique references and acronyms never quite explained, it was too easy to get lost. I found myself losing momentum after that first section. Frequently I set the book aside, especially toward the end when the narrative became sluggish and the actions of several characters, ineffective and repetitive. Marusek was too circuitous arriving at a conclusion I felt was ambiguous and without solid resolution. After Part One, there are multiple points of view lacking clear motivation with tangential asides springing forth from other tangents and an increasing sense of dissolution. At this point, it was difficult to tell how each of these characters and their disparate storylines were related. I wondered if they would ever coalesce into something more cohesive and less structurally frayed and disconnected from the tightly woven and promising narrative of the first section. While connections are made in the final chapters, the ending left me with more questions than answers.
Structurally, there was an unevenness to the story that remains incongruent with the bizarre, yet compelling characters who are attractive as personalities rather than out of any real investment in their personal conflicts. I knew more about the mechanical bee and wasps who never once spoke, but were clearly defined (in context, if not explicitly) with a purpose and motivation. And of Samson—the man I thought was the protagonist? An ending that was strangely complete for someone who lost everything except his life, but only after I’ve let the book settle for a few days.
Some things, like the clones and the seared (people like Sam who were stripped of medical and technological advancements) were handled very well. I loved the perpetual stench of humanity that followed Samson around, lingering long after he’d left the room. Metaphorically it’s bittersweet how much of an impact he (and other seared individuals) can still make, even if it’s a constant reminder of the ugly and unpleasant business of searing. Fred and Mary, the married clone couple, were sweet and became my favorite characters. Their subplot was more tangible than Samson’s, which dissolved with age and incompetence (his, not Marusek’s), only to be picked up and mishandled a few times by strangers along the way.
Counting Heads isn’t a book to read for an uncomplicated and easily comprehensible story. It seems like characters are introduced for the sake of introducing them and belatedly attaching them to discordant storylines supplemental to the one Marusek seemed to begin with. Maybe the large cast is supposed to make up for Sam’s internalized deficiencies, maybe Sam was never the sole protagonist, or maybe I’m missing something else altogether. Either way, I’m curious if the sequel, Mind Over Ship, improves on any of these issues. It almost feels like Counting Heads was entirely staged to set up the facts for its sequel, which I will be reading it to find out.
Release Date: October 16, 2007
Reviewed Format: trade paperback
If you want to see what theme I pick for the next player in the game and who they will be, stay tuned for the November edition of Book Uno!
Book Uno is a new, regular feature on JRT. It’s a collaborative effort between Erika and other book bloggers to promote all types of Speculative Fiction books. Until she works out the kinks, game play is by invitation only.