01/03/2012. Contributed by Tim Done
pub: Del Rey/Ballantine Books. 225 page hardback. Price: $26.00 (US), $31.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-345-51197-3 pub: Del Rey/Ballantine Books. 226 page small enlarged paperback. Price: $15.00 (US), $17.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-345-51198-0) .
check out website: www.delreybooks.com
Forgive me if this review makes no sense, but my head is spinning and I lay the blame entirely at ‘The Human Blend’.
This story is a dizzying ride through a dark future where plastic surgery and designer bodies are de rigour. No matter what you'd like to change about yourself, it can be done and I'm not talking about getting rid of a large nose or having Wayne Rooney-style hair implants. No, no. In ‘The Human Blend’, you can have an extra arm, another eye, lengthened legs...any and all body modifications are available. Naturally, this can be a great way to improve your effectiveness if you're, say, a waitress, but just imagine the possibilities if you're a criminal and this is where we join the story in Alan Dean Foster's ‘The Human Blend’.
One of the main protagonists ('hero' isn't quite the correct word) is Whispr, so called because his artificially designed super-thin physique makes him virtually silent. Whispr's not really a nice guy as we join him, as he's plundering a dead body with his accomplice. What they find there and the ramifications of it are at the core of the novel and the ensuing action.
Now, it's long been a belief of mine to steer clear of the cover blurb if I can avoid it and I'd wholeheartedly recommend that you avoid finding out anything more about ‘The Human Blend’ if you intend to read it. The story is full of a myriad twists and turns. I've simply never read a book like it. Part futuristic thriller, part spy novel and with a healthy dose of a good old-fashioned mystery thrown in to boot. It's a book which is peopled with rich and diverse characters and an almost mind-bogglingly fecund and detailed universe, which belies the traditionally exciting romp at the novel's core. Like all good thrillers, the less you know about what happens, the more enjoyable the tale.
It's the sheer scope of the novel that's both its crowning glory and its Achilles’ heel. The story is excellently told and the novel spectacularly written. Not a single word is wasted in the prose and the quality of the narration feels almost Shakespearian at times in its beauty. But, I repeat, not a single word is wasted. The novel reminded me of Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett in style if not content. Both novelists fit a giddy number of fantastic concepts into their novels and the same is true here of Alan Dean Foster. Concepts which would be enough to provide the central theme of a novel in the hands of a lesser author are almost thrown away here as a mere backdrop to a more important scene. On the one hand, this is no bad thing. I can't tell you how enjoyable it is when characters absent-mindedly reach down to their shoe, which reads their fingerprint and opens a secret compartment in the heel where they can stow ill-gotten gains. For a self-confessed technogeek like me, I got the same goose-bumps and avarice as I did back in 1989 when I watched Marty McFly jump on his hoverboard in ‘Back To The Future Part II’ but the downside of such a vast array of strange terms like Meld, barker, Natural et al (those words are taken from the very first page, by the way) is that the novel demands concentration from the off. This makes it exceptionally difficult to get into until you're used to the world, then expect to be lost for the first few chapters. It also means that it's not the sort of novel you can read on the tube or train where you're keeping one ear out for your next stop and have one eye on the suspicious gentleman sat opposite who's gazing at your iPod with his thumb perilously close to the concealed compartment housed in the heel of his shoe.
Overall, the book won me over with the bracing story and black humour. One of the characters bemoans his ability to find trousers that fit because his surgically altered legs means he can no longer buys off the rack, an aside which made me do a genuine laugh out loud. The novel also passes comment on the very real future that genetic engineering might bring and how that might fit into justice and correctional institutions in a new and stimulating way. I'll be back to see what happens next in ‘The Human Blend 2’.
Now, where's my iPod gone...?
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Stephen Hunt's novels - USA