I enjoy Scalzi’s books, but the one that blew me away was Lock In – see my review here – his futuristic murder mystery featuring Haden-sufferer, Chris Shane, as his investigative protagonist. It has stayed with me where so many other books have faded into the furniture. Would I enjoy Head On as much?
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.
So there you have the blurb. This book is designed to be read as a standalone and as it is a fairly complicated setup, where the role of Haden’s Syndrome and how it has impacted on the sufferers and US society in general has to be explained, it takes a while for the story to really get going.
The game of Hilketa initially had me cringing, but I’m not used to watching massively armoured American football players charging at each other with the force of a small truck. Once I factored in the US national sport, this next step of ripping apart the robot avatars didn’t seem so extreme.
As with Lock In, for me, the joy of this book is the worldbuilding. Scalzi’s take on how this terrible syndrome has impacted on society, as well as the individuals who have contracted the illness, is beautifully nuanced. Throughout the book, there is the on-going discussion about the initial, very generous financial support package for Haden’s sufferers – and the effects now that has been drastically scaled back. I love the unforeseen consequences of both the government handouts and what happens to a number of the characters once those payments are suddenly withdrawn.
Chris Shane is an engaging, sympathetic protagonist, with an extra edge. His famous, wealthy father was in vanguard of finding new therapies and road-testing the threeps – the robot bodies that Haden’s patients use in daily life while their biological bodies remain bedbound and apparently unresponsive. So Chris became a posterchild in the political fight for recognition of the Haden’s Syndrome – and even now, he is moderately famous. I’m aware that I’ve been discussing the world rather than commenting on the murder mystery. I enjoyed that every bit as much as the futuristic setting and I particularly appreciated reading about a crime that wouldn’t be able to take place now, because we simply don’t have the technology or those circumstances.
Scalzi’s plotting and pacing is skilful, the mystery is suitably twisty with a satisfying number of suspects and I also liked the denouement and the reasons for the crime. Once again, they are all too plausible. There is plenty of drama with several memorable action scenes featuring these tough robots – I could see this world making a wonderful TV series. Once again, Scalzi has nailed this one and it is highly recommended for fans of futuristic murder mystery adventures.
Oooh a 10! That makes me so happy😁 This will probably be my next read, I’m so behind with my April books, but I love all the fantastic reviews I’ve been reading!
I’m very much looking forward to hearing what you make of this one, Tammy. Yes – this one really ticked all the boxes for me:))
Yer comment about American football made me laugh. I have to admit that I am in the minority where Lock In was enjoyable but one of me least favourite of his books. At this time I am not planning on reading this book even though yer review made me tempted for a second. Glad ye loved it.
x The Captain
Oh, that’s interesting! Which is your favourite of Scalzi’s books, Cap? And it’s just as well we don’t all like the same books, isn’t it? Or the world would be a very boring place!
Me favourite is Zoe’s Tale. It’s also the first mate’s favourite. And yes I am glad that people like all sorts of books and support lots of writers. I am also glad I don’t have to read any books I don’t want to.
x The Captain
Oh, me too – I have far too many marvellous books stacked up to waste precious time reading books that I don’t like:)
Sounds like a gruesome read even if it is with robots!
It sounds worse than it is…
Wow, the premise… is impressive! I would love to read this. Plus, Scalzi.
I really enjoyed it, Evelina.
I loved this one! I even thought it was better than the first book in some respects. The mystery was handled a lot better (and I liked that it wasn’t as obvious right from the start who the murderer was!) which I thought made this one a lot more exciting. Plus, of course, Hilketa 😀
Yes – I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, but this one was where the whole world really hit its stride and the political situation regarding the Haden’s sufferers was beautifully handled – and the fact that a murder like that is impossible with our current technology was icing on the cake:)
You can never go wrong with Scalzi, indeed! What I like most about his stories is that he makes you *think* about the issues he showcases in them without ever needing to “preach” to his audience, and that makes the message even more powerful, IMHO…
Exactly! I really like that about his writing.
A book that I will eventually read and with such a glowing 10/10 review I might have to get to it sooner rather than later.
I’d love to know your take on this one – it’s evident that I love it. But I think you’d enjoy it, too.
I’m really looking forward to reading this one soon!! Glad to see such a perfect score for it!
I look forward to hearing what you think of it.
Now I’m REALLY fascinated. You know me–I’m not always into scifi, but a futurey take on gladiators? I’m in. Adding this to the Goodreads… 🙂
I really loved the fact that this murder is currently impossible with our technology these days:)
I keep hearing so many good things about Scalzi’s books, but I’ve yet to read one. I think as time passes, I’m simply becoming scared that they won’t live up to the hype…
I started off reading his Old Man’s War series, which were a fun, intriguing read, but nothing outstanding. However, as he’s continued writing, he certainly has dramatically improved and I love this series. Though it is something of a Marmite read, with a proportion of readers disliking it…
In a way, it says the book is good – when “everyone” likes it it’s like a bag of crisps (or chips, as the locals would have it), nothing special, just a snack for the mind.
I agree! I particularly love this sub-genre, anyway:)