Change Agent by Daniel Suarez (Near-Future Techno-Thriller, 2017).
In this high-stakes and high-tech thriller Daniel Suarez peers not quite 30 years into the future. He foresees 2045 as a world where a combination of global warming, ubiquitous 3D printing technology, ultra-cheap robotic mechanization and in particular a revolution in genetic manipulation has radically restructured the human experience worldwide.
The first three of those factors provide a sort of juiced up background–producing a world of desperate refugees, most of them unemployed (even unemployable, in a world where advanced machines have taken over or rendered obsolete entire industries) and a blessed minority who live comfortable lives in a totally immersive media environment. But the focus is on rampant genetic engineering. It’s legal form involves editing the genetic codes of plants, animals and even single-celled human zygotes–the latter involving the elimination of various inherited diseases.
But of course there’s a dark side to redoing humanity’s genetic heritage and the illegal “vanity edits” the rich pay for to give their offspring advantages such as extra intelligence or flawless beauty are but the tip of the bio-engineered iceberg. Ken Durant. Interpol’s leading investigator of such crimes, is about to run afoul of a far more threatening innovation.
Till now, it was only possible to re-engineer people in their earliest form (a mere fertilized egg). But a powerful and ruthless black-market international organization, the Huli jing, has carried this technology to grotesque extremes–growing wildly mutated people on order and even transforming the very genetic structure of full-grown people. Durant’s actions have hurt the gang’s trillion-dollar bottom-line and its maniacal leader has decided he must be dealt with in a most fiendish and ironic manner.
Himself dosed with the Huli jing’s revolutionary “change agent,” Ken finds himself framed (as a DNA duplicate of the group’s leader) and on the run from both the authorities and the criminals themselves. He flees from consumer-driven Singapore, encounters climate and economic refugees, not to mention an array of sleazy underworld figures, political revolutionaries, robot weapons and bio-engineered soldiers, among the unusual characters and dangers in futuristic Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar.
It’s overall an effective high-tech thrill-ride. My only problem I have with it stems from the science fictional truism that in predicting the near future writers tend to be a bit overly ambitious (while far future imaginings are usually overly conservative). I’m not saying that the kind of social transformations Suarez describes here couldn’t happen, it’s just the pace at which these revolutionary technologies are pictured here that give me a slight amount of pause. To be sure, his own viewpoint character voices surprise at how suddenly even the poorest and remotest parts of the world have adopted such things.
But this is a minor quibble and didn’t unduly impair my enjoyment of this exciting book.