Sunday, August 12, 2018

16. Change Agent by Daniel Suarez

Also found this in the same communal bookshelf at the Vancouver apartment.  There is a lot of mainstream junk in there and older semi-academic stuff, but almost always several readable books and even a good find from time to time.  This one falls under "readable".  I resisted at first, having finished Suarez' Daemon on the same trip.  Again, easy digestibility tipped the scales and I jumped right in.

Change Agent was published 11 years after Daemon and it does seem that Suarez skill as a writer has evolved and improved.  This one has the same fun energy and nerdy tech info, but unlike Daemon, it is structurally more sound and the overall resolution of the novel more satisfying. 

The novel takes place in the future where genetic engineering has become mainstream, fundamentally altering the world.  Other than the changes to society (which are richly and interestingly portrayed), Change Agent portrays the biggest change as economic.  Silicon Valley gets caught napping and China and Southeast Asia takes the lead in this technology, which wipes out traditional silicon technology and creates massive unemployment and migration from the west.

The protagonist is an analyst for the US security agency responsible for policing genetic engineering.  There are a list of allowed pre-birth changes and striving parents and criminal organizations trade on a black market the illegal manipulations that will give their children the advantages needed to maintain their economic status.  On the trail of a black market genetics kingpin, our hero gets attacked early on in the book and wakes up in the hospital to find that he has genetically become this kingpin, at least physically.  His brain and personality remains his, but nobody believes him.  Forced to escape, he goes on the run to try and figure out what happened to him, why and what he can do about it.

It's a great premise and the adventure that follows is a really cool journey through biopunk Southeast Asia.  Many of the themes are super contemporary to us today (economic anxiety in the west, fake news, return to aristocratic relations between the rich and poor) and I suspect may seem dated even 5 years from now.  Nevertheless the portrayal of the massive refugee camps, the working poor and the new elites in the steaming jungles and dense cities of Thailand and Malaysia are really cool.  The technology as well and its evolution/development during the book is creative and will stimulate your nerd world-building synapses.

There is one big flaw that also exists in Daemon and it's again these super smart FBI agents who form an opinion about the situation that is harmful to the protagonist (and necessary to the plot) and just become utterly dogmatic and small-minded.  It is again not realistic and kind of weakens the reader's willing suspension of disbelief.  I just can't believe that anybody at this point, especially specialists in the field of a certain technology, would not be able to entertain the idea that the technology has moved beyond their previous conception of it. 

Still, a really enjoyable tech sci-fi thriller.  Check it out.

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