Thursday, May 25, 2006

Counting Heads by David Marusek

Counting Heads is a startling debut novel from noteworthy short fiction writer, David Marusek. It is something of a continuation from a previous short story of his, We Were Out of Our Minds With Joy, and this short provides the first chapter.

Just over 100 years in our future, nanotechnology has changed human life as we know it. The economy is in ruins due to this technology's ability to produce any product one might want out of any substance, and the only market is for patented luxury items. Aging has been halted and overpopulation forces the worldwide government to severely restrict all human birth.

The story begins with Samson (an artist) meeting and falling in love with Eleanor (an upwardly mobile government agent). After their public event of a wedding, Eleanor is given a major promotion and the couple are given a permit to produce a child. The fetus awaits them in a jar in New Jersey, in fact.

As if to contravene their improbable good fortune, soon after the birth of their daughter, a random nanotech sweep finds erroneous signs of terrorist technology in Samson's personal AI assistant. (which of course resides in his body) Samson is taken into custody, and he is molecularly 'seared' to rid him of any nanotech. From then on, Samson becomes mortal -- nanotech fixes will not work on the seared. His marriage ends; as it must for a mortal married to an immortal. This is all covered in the original short, and from there the longer tale of mother and daughter, a lost father and loneliness, and the morality of sentient clones begins.

Counting Heads is dense. There are 3-4 new technologies or scientific ideas per page, and it's easy to be overcome at times. With that, though, comes a frightfully fierce sense of wonder and immersion. The story is fast paced and it's a quick read, but the font is small, and so what appears to be a short book truly is not.

Marusek has written a work of hard science fiction, and it's a wonderful debut novel. A bit uneven at times -- there are a few scenes that drag -- it still numbers as the best nanotech SF story I've ever read.


Collector's Notes:

It's the first novel from a talented writer. A no-brainer to pick up.