Head On by John Scalzi

Head On by John Scalzi Head On by John Scalzi
Narrator: Wil Wheaton
Series: Lock In #2
Published by Audible Studios on April 17, 2018
Source: Purchased
Genres: Science Fiction, Mystery
Length: 7 hrs 36 mins
Format: Audiobook
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four-stars

John Scalzi returns with Head On, the standalone follow-up to the New York Times bestselling and critically acclaimed Lock In. Chilling near-future SF with the thrills of a gritty cop procedural, Head On brings Scalzi's trademark snappy dialogue and technological speculation to the future world of sports.

Hilketa is a frenetic and violent pastime where players attack each other with swords and hammers. The main goal of the game: obtain your opponent’s head and carry it through the goalposts. With flesh and bone bodies, a sport like this would be impossible. But all the players are “threeps,” robot-like bodies controlled by people with Haden’s Syndrome, so anything goes. No one gets hurt, but the brutality is real and the crowds love it.

Until a star athlete drops dead on the playing field.

Is it an accident or murder? FBI Agents and Haden-related crime investigators, Chris Shane and Leslie Vann, are called in to uncover the truth―and in doing so travel to the darker side of the fast-growing sport of Hilketa, where fortunes are made or lost, and where players and owners do whatever it takes to win, on and off the field.

Head On could work as a stand alone, but I think it’s best to read Lock In first, to get a full feeling for the world and the main characters Chris and Vann. In the near future, a portion of the population has been affected by Haden’s syndrome, leaving some “locked in,” awake and aware, but unable to move or respond without computer/mechanical help. Our mystery this time around centers on the death of a Hilketa player. The player, like almost all Hilketa players, is a Haden, piloting his specialty threep remotely. Since the crime involves a Haden, it’s FBI territory and this case falls to Chris and Vann. It doesn’t hurt that Chris was at the game when the player died – Chris’s father is  potential investor in the Washington franchise.

The world Scalzi has created is well-done – believable and possible, but t heart, this is a police procedural with a cool sci-fi backdrop. Chris and Vann make great partners and I love some of the dialogue. They have two different ways of dealing with the world, but they complement each other well in finding the clues and conducting interviews. There were plenty of suspects from the league managers to a jealous wife to the pharmaceutical company. Once again, I like how the potential motives are your standards, money, jealousy, revenge, the need to hide a secret.

Head On is definitely more mystery than sci-fi, which works for me, but if you’re looking for pure sci-fi, this isn’t it. It does deal with some interesting topics like how we view people who are different, when does entertainment become exploitation. It really is mostly about the mystery though, not the gadgets or technology. It’s more interested in the plot than the characters, too, which is fine for a mystery occasionally.

About John Scalzi

John Michael Scalzi II (born May 10, 1969) is an American science fiction author and former president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. He is best known for his Old Man’s War series, three novels of which have been nominated for the Hugo Award, and for his blog Whatever, where he has written on a number of topics since 1998. He won the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer in 2008 based predominantly on that blog, which he has also used for several charity drives. His novel Redshirts won the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Novel. He has written non-fiction books and columns on diverse topics such as finance, video games, films, astronomy, writing and politics, and served as a creative consultant for the TV series Stargate Universe.

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