Rookie FBI agent Chris Shane is assigned to a murder case the first week on the job, but it’s a case he/she is particularly suited to investigate. The suspect is a special type of Haden (a person affected by Haden’s Virus) who has the brain structure to allow other people to use his body. If anyone involved was using someone else’s body temporarily, then finding the suspect for the murder is more like tracing an encrypted IP address than matching a fingerprint on file.
Twenty-five years ago, about 1% of victims of a highly contagious virus lost complete control of the bodies, unable to move or respond. Eventually known as “Haden’s Syndrome”, these people are completely “locked-in” their own bodies. Chris, our protagonist, was affected when he/she was two years old, so he/she has never known anything other than the humanoid robotic personal transport unit, controlled by his/her brain, to interact with the outside world.
Interestingly, the protagonist, Chris, is never referred to as “he” or “she”, and the two audio versions available feature a male or female reader. Elements like this, and the very real creative and detailed world-building Scalzi provides, are the hallmark of this read. The story itself is a clever, deliberate, and fun police procedural in a future world of human-controlled robots and human-controlled people, and all of the regulation, power, misuse, and discrimination that comes with it.
I strongly recommend reading the documentary-style novella (available for free on Tor.com) about the world leading up to Haden’s Disease before reading the actual book. I didn’t reach it until the end of the audiobook, but it provides a much deeper frame of reference for the story. A fast-paced and exciting read for fans of mystery and crime plots in a scifi set-up.
“Making people change because you can’t deal with who they are isn’t how it’s supposed to be done. What needs to be done is for people to pull their heads out of their asses. You say ‘cure.’ I hear ‘you’re not human enough.”