by David Marusek
Cover Artist: Chris Moore
Review by Steve Sawicki
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 0765312670
Date: 01 November, 2005 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK /
There's certainly a lot of interesting stuff going on in Counting Heads, beginning with Marusek's idea of what the semi-near future will look like. The government has developed robotic slugs that crawl around and sample your DNA in order to prevent terrorism and keep track of nano-attacks. Major cities are shielded from these attacks and most everyone is a clone of a specific personality type. Life is good, more or less, so long as you're near the top instead of near the bottom.
We only really get a slice of life from one particular area so it's not clear what's going on in the rest of the world except that global terrorism, which was a problem, has more or less halted. It's unclear exactly what the power structures remaining are as well although there's some indication that corporations have replaced governments for many functions. What is clear is that Marusek has a bunch of ideas that he wants to present to us and he uses his characters to push forward the plot so they can be presented. This is pretty much the way SF was done in the 40s and 50s. This is not a bad thing, just a thing.
The story revolves, more or less, around Ellen, the daughter of Eleanor and Sam, who loses her head, literally, and must be saved from ultimate destruction. The characters, and many of the characters are AI, move from place to place and from event to event as if they were being directed. While this is certainly true of all novels in the sense that characters do what the writer wants them to, it is clear here that these characters go to places so that we can see the place and the neat ideas contained there rather than the character needing to be there for development purposes. This is not to say that characters don't get information or insights they need at these places, just that those things are only gotten to move them to the next place of neat ideas.
This kind of writing can be fun but more so in the novella and short story lengths. As a novel it just doesn't really hang together all that well, even though there are many neat ideas which almost, but not quite, make the whole thing worthwhile. In the end I wanted more to happen with the characters, for their being to have more of a sense of purpose, for there to be more choices allowed rather than the feeling that everyone was just being forced from place to place almost against their will.