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Change Agent


Change Agent

Full fathom five thy father lies.
Of his bone are coral made.
These are pearls that were his eyes.
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.

With a series of technology-driven thrillers studying the impact of change on the world, it is only fitting that the quote above from William Shakespeare's play “The Tempest” was selected to open this novel.

CHANGE AGENT is vintage Daniel Suarez. In a short period of time, he has been called “a legitimate heir to Michael Crichton.” While I feel those proclamations may be a bit premature, Suarez is definitely on his way. He does currently inhabit a select group of sci-fi/thriller writers, along with the likes of Mark Alpert, who have consistently pushed the boundaries of mere science fiction into fast-paced, intelligent thrillers. His works make a nice companion piece to viewing modern cable series like the terrific BBC show “Black Mirror,” which focuses each mind-bending episode on the use and abuse of stretching the limits of technology.

This book is set in the year 2045 when genetic manipulation is quite commonplace. Suarez himself indicated that while silicon and software powered 20th-century innovation, the 21st will bring living technology --- a fourth industrial revolution of synthetic biology and genetic editing. This becomes the premise for this terrific novel.

The story opens with an example of genetic re-engineering that goes badly wrong. A young couple is meeting with an “underground” genetic engineer who plans to make some in utero alterations to their unborn fetus that will ensure their child will turn out a particular way. The meeting ends tragically, with law enforcement breaking in and killing the pregnant woman in the process.

"This novel is Daniel Suarez's epic work and hopefully the one that officially puts him on the map.... Suarez possesses the power that all great sci-fi/fantasy writers possess --- the ability to create their own world that operates entirely by their own rules."

The team behind this is the Interpol group of 2045, who find that most of the criminals they are chasing are those behind illicit and borderline immoral forays into the world of genetic engineering. Kenneth Durand is a key member of this team. If there is one mantra that guides Durand's life, it would go something like this: “Change comes. Inexorable. Most times it arrives gradually --- but sometimes change is an earthquake.”

Durand found himself fortunate to be recruited out of the police ranks to join the Genetic Crime Division of Interpol. Unfortunately for Durand, his own guiding principles about change will come back to haunt him in a big way. When he gets stranded one night by his vehicle on the way home from work, he is forced to take mass transportation. While fighting his way through the throngs of commuters, Durand feels a stabbing pain followed by a surge of adrenaline. As his mind begins to process the fact that he was injected by someone in the crowd, his world goes black.

He awakens to find himself secured to a hospital bed and bandaged. His body and face feel both unnatural and swollen. His doctor informs him that he has suffered a severe allergic reaction to something. She also lets him know that he was brought in as a John Doe nearly five weeks prior to his awakening. Durand then tells the doctor who he is and demands that this information be shared with his Interpol team, as well as with his wife and young daughter.

When his commander and partner arrive at his bedside, they are rather cold, bordering on hostile. It is only at the end of their abrupt conversation that he realizes the living nightmare he has entered. You see, Durand is no longer himself. He was injected with a genetic transformation serum that has eliminated the entire appearance of Kenneth Durand and replaced it with Interpol's Public Enemy #1, Marcus Demang Wyckes.

Interpol demands that the person they believe to be Wyckes tell them what he did to Durand and if he is still alive. Durand/Wyckes recognizes that this is a situation he cannot talk his way out of. His only chance is to find someone who can reverse engineer the genetic manipulation he experienced. He is able to get away, but must avoid the entire breadth of Interpol and the police force in his easily recognizable guise as the criminal Wyckes.

Meanwhile, the real Wyckes must remain hidden until Durand is somehow caught by his criminal band or eliminated. The change agent administered to Durand was supposed to have killed him. Immediate medical response to his attack saved his life and permitted the gradual transformation into Wyckes, which is outlined by Suarez in painful prose that will make readers feel every new tattoo that springs to life on Durand's actively transforming skin.

The rest of the novel is a futuristic rollercoaster ride. As Durand seeks out help from people he knew from Interpol, he gets closer and closer to a remedy. However, both Interpol and Wyckes' crew are after him, and those who help Durand in even the smallest way find themselves quickly eliminated. Since Wyckes and his cronies possess the ability to genetically re-engineer at will, they are also able to give themselves the ultimate disguises, allowing them to remain under the radar. They can be anyone they want to be as they seek out their long-range goal of undermining the nature of identity itself.

This novel is Daniel Suarez's epic work and hopefully the one that officially puts him on the map. Reading it called to mind a combination of Philip K. Dick's classic BLADE RUNNER (a.k.a. DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP?) and the TV series/film The Fugitive. At times the action is relentless, and by setting the book in the unfamiliar future, Suarez possesses the power that all great sci-fi/fantasy writers possess --- the ability to create their own world that operates entirely by their own rules.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on June 2, 2017

Change Agent
by Daniel Suarez