I absolutely adored Lincoln Michel's new novel The Body Scout, which feels like a classic cyberpunk noir with a twist of freshly modern relevance. Here's the official blurb:
In the future you can have any body you want – as long as you can afford it.
But in a New York ravaged by climate change and repeat pandemics, Kobo is barely scraping by. He scouts the latest in gene-edited talent for Big Pharma-owned baseball teams, but his own cybernetics are a decade out of date, and twin sister loan sharks are banging down his door. Things couldn't get much worse.
Then his brother – Monsanto Mets slugger J.J. Zunz – is murdered at home plate.
Determined to find the killer, Kobo plunges into a world of genetically modified CEOs, philosophical Neanderthals, and back-alley body modification, only to quickly find he's in a game far bigger and more corrupt than he imagined. To keep himself together while the world is falling apart, he'll have to navigate a time where both body and soul are sold to the highest bidder.
Michel is a writer who understands both the art and artifice of storytelling. He's the former editor-in-chief of Electric Literature and also writes one of my favorite newsletters about the craft of writing. This pedigree shines in The Body Scout, where Michel marries a self-consciously trope-y hard-boiled detective voice with the scathing sci-fi satire. It's wacky and pulpy, but with a clear sense of purpose. The technology and futuristic lingo often toe a perfect line between on-the-nose corniness and complete believability. Even the overarching idea of Big Pharma sponsoring baseball teams to use as walking advertisements for body modifications — it's both absurd, and terrifyingly plausible.
The Body Scout is a quick, plot-driven read, with simple language, short chapters, and swiftly deployed descriptions that keep the story moving. Michel also demonstrates some remarkably deft world-building, establishing imagery and history (of the future, and the characters) in a few short words that spark the reader's imagination just enough to titillate. In other words, the prose is stark, but masterfully deliberate — a commitment to craft that I appreciate. At the same, the story presents satisfying philosophical questions about cloning and body modification and genetic engineering, and explores them all organically through the plot. There are a lot of big ideas at play, but the book doesn't bog you down with them, either. The Body Scout is no morality play, and there are no easy answers — not for the characters, and certainly not for the lingering concerns of body science that the story leaves you with. Michel's vision of the future is one of diversity and progress, but also one that makes you wonder whether you really should "believe the science." Maybe the commune of medical luddites is onto something. Maybe — and this was one of the weirdest considerations a book has ever left behind in my brain — maybe the Neanderthals were right.
Just trust me: read The Body Scout. It even predicted last night's baseball wild card game, in a way:
The Body Scout [Lincoln Michel / Orbit]