Book Reviews

Book Review: Change Agent, by Daniel Suarez

Image result for change agent cover

Change Agent

By: Daniel Suarez

Published: April 18, 2017

The Rundown: “In 2045 Kenneth Durand leads Interpol’s most effective team against genetic crime, hunting down black market labs that perform “vanity edits” on human embryos for a price.  These illegal procedures augment embryos in ways that are rapidly accelerating human evolution—preying on human-trafficking victims to experiment and advance their technology.  With the worlds of genetic crime and human trafficking converging, Durand and his fellow Interpol agents discover that one figure looms behind it all: Marcus Demang Wyckes, leader of a powerful and sophisticated cartel known as the Huli jing.  But the Huli jing have identified Durand, too.  After being forcibly dosed with a radical new change agent, Durand wakes from a coma weeks later to find he’s been genetically transformed into someone else—his most wanted suspect: Wyckes.  Now a fugitive, pursued through the genetic underworld by his former colleagues and the police, Durand is determined to restore his original DNA by locating the source of the mysterious—and highly valuable—change agent.  But Durand hasn’t anticipated just how difficult locating his enemy will be.  With the technology to genetically edit the living, Wyckes and the Huli jing could be anyone and everyone—and they have plans to undermine identity itself.”

Don’t Get Strung Out by the Way I Look: Man, this cover is boring.  Its entirety is occupied by the title and name of the author.  I suppose the publishers were banking on name recognition to sell copies, but personally, I’d never heard of Daniel Suarez before Change Agent was published.  Behind the overlarge text is the image of a man whose face is obscured by shadows and what appear to be pieces of electrophoresis gel.  The cover has “I’m a generic thriller” written all over it.  It’s a pity, because Change Agent is actually quite enjoyable.

What a Wonderful World: It’s 2045, and CRISPR gene-editing—which is a real technology, by the way—has taken off in a big way.  Though the editing of embryos is heavily regulated, parents eager to have the “perfect” baby purchase vanity edits for their embryos at illegal laboratories situated all over the globe.  However, any adult who wants to modify their body must resort to surgeries or chemical injections, as gene-editing technology does not work on full-grown humans.  It’s impossible; impossible, unless you have a contact in the sinister cabal known as the Huli jing…

Another interesting aspect of the novel is that the tech industry has been relocated from Silicon Valley to Asia due to American anti-intellectualism and hostility towards science.  It’s not a particularly subtle social commentary, but it was biting enough.  Durand and his Interpol buddies are based in Singapore.

The Good Guy: Kenneth Durand is an Interpol agent who uses data analysis to predict the location of Huli jing laboratories.  He is a deeply sensitive man who feels guilty when raids on said labs cause civilian casualties.  He is also a family man, deeply devoted to his wife and daughter.  When he is injected with a change agent that transforms his appearance into that of his principal target, Huli jing leader Marcus Wyckes, his principal goal is to change his appearance back so that he may be reunited with his family.  He soon finds that, when driven by desperation, he is not such a peaceful man after all.

The Bad Guy: Marcus Wyckes is a chameleon who has repeatedly used the change agent on himself.  It sounds like he might be interesting, but honestly he isn’t.  He’s just your typical evil gangster-turned-businessman.  However, the antagonist is not so much Wyckes, but the Huli jing as a whole.  I won’t go into detail into exactly what they and their allies do, but it is in equal measures exciting and horrifying.

The Love Interest: Durand’s wife Miyuki has a very limited role in the story.  She’s less a person than a representation of what Durand loses by remaining as Wyckes.  While looking like Wyckes, Durand is briefly attracted to a guerilla leader named Bo Win.  She is a representation of the life of excitement and violence that Durand-as-Wyckes has access to, but Durand-as-himself does not.

A+: I loved Wyckes’s right-hand man, the unnerving assassin Otto.  He regards all life on Earth with a mixture of terror and disgust, and relishes killing humans.  His modus operandi is to cover himself in potent neurotoxins and then walk around murdering people by touching them.  He alone is unaffected by his poisons.  It is clear that Otto was subjected to some extreme edits, but what he is is not revealed until the latter portion of the novel.  Otto is a delightfully apocalyptic character, and the reader is left wishing that he had been utilized more fully.

F-: The denouement of the novel was somewhat lacking.  During his journey to find the real Wyckes, Durand realizes that while the change agent has not altered his fundamental personality, his actual experiences as Wyckes has.  Having murdered several people, and indirectly caused the deaths of countless others, can he truly consider himself to be a nonviolent person?  As they say, there are some wars you cannot return from.  However, when everything has been resolved, Suarez seems to forget these issues, opting instead for a traditional happy ending.

Does it Represent…

Women: No, not really.  There are a couple of interesting female character; and by “a couple,” I mean “two.”  There’s a high-ranking police official named Marcotte who’s heading the search for Wyckes.  She gets in a fun hand-to-hand fight with Otto (she wears a gas mask, of course).  Then there’s Kimberly, a creepy child who illustrates the unsettling possibilities of producing designer children.  The other female characters exist solely to motivate Durand and illustrate his internal struggles.

People of Color: Almost all of the supporting characters are Asian, including Durand’s wife, Miyuki, and the chief antagonist, Marcus Wyckes.  This makes sense, given that the story is set entirely in Asia.  Everyone else is white, except Marcotte, who is African-American.

LGBT People: No, though Durand and Bryan Frey pretend to be a married gay couple in order to infiltrate an illegal gene-editing facility.  That doesn’t really count, though I’m glad neither of the characters had a gay panic moment.

The Disabled: Durand enlists the help of a rogue genetic engineer named Bryan Frey, who has achondroplasia, a form of dwarfism.  Frey desperately wants access to the change agent in order to correct this disorder and obtain a “normal” height.  He has an arc in which he learns to come to terms with his disability.

But What About Boomer?!: The toyger lives!

Memorable Quote: “When privacy is criminalized, only criminals will have privacy.”

Recommended For: People who want an exciting sci-fi thriller to read while they are on the plane to their fun vacation destination.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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