A deftly crafted murder mystery and robots: what more could you want?
Scalzi is one of those author’s who very rarely, if ever, steers me wrong. He’s got a knack for writing gripping, fast-paced novels that are wildly entertaining from start to finish and Head On fits the bill perfectly.
It’s the second book (well, maybe the third if you include the short story prequel) in this world were a number of the population has been struck by “Haden’s Syndrome”—a disease that leaves people fully awake, but completely unable to move or react to any outside stimuli. So instead, Hadens (as the victims are called) navigate the world in personal robots called threeps.
That’s the backdrop for another fun “whodunnit” following Chris Shane, the child celebrity who now works as a rookie at the FBI. Honestly, it’s as much (if not more so) a murder mystery as it is a science fiction book.
What separates it from similar books is Scalzi’s willingness to use threeps and Haden’s sufferers as a way to explore how culture responds to disabilities and minorities. Throughout the book, you see that there are very few ways in which the Haden’s have the upper hand. Society tends to have them a little lower on the totem pole than folks without the disease both through obvious and subtle biases (like the way folks bump into threeps all the time while walking). In the few areas that Haden’s survivors do have the upper hand, people without Haden’s are starting to use the technology to better themselves. On the surface, it’s not a big issue, but as Scalzi deftly explores, you begin to see the way that impacts Haden’s sense of being as well as their wallets.
As with everything I’ve ever read by Scalzi, he manages to make you think about these things without you ever really realizing it. He never gets heavy-handed—the conversation and action seamlessly take you through these discussions as part of the action.
As I mentioned, it’s book two in this world, but it stands alone pretty well. You don’t need to read Lock In to enjoy Head On, though I’d argue you’ll enjoy the characters and world a bit more if you do. Head On ends up being everything you’d expect from Scalzi: entertaining and gripping with much more to think over than it first seems.