Review: Head On by John Scalzi

Books Sci-Fi & Fantasy

John Scalzi's Head OnI recently finished reading (well, listening to the audio book version, read by Wil Wheaton) John Scalzi’s Head On, the sequel to 2014’s Lock In. The story takes place one year following the events of the first book and continues the adventures of locked in FBI agent Chris Shane and his senior partner, the hard-drinking, ruthless Agent Van.

In the first novel, the reader is introduced to Agent Shane, a person who was stricken with Haden’s disease as a child. The disease initially displays flu-like symptoms, then something similar to meningitis, finally paralyzing the victims while leaving their consciousness intact. They are, in effect, locked into their own bodies. To combat this, personal transports called Threeps (because of their resemblance to the robot from Star Wars) are developed, along with a neurological network to support their operation. A virtual reality space called The Agora exists as an online haven for Hadens.

The second book begins begins with a game of the new sport Hilketa. In this sport, several Threeps battle each other with swords and warhammers on a field, with the intent of knocking off a designated player’s head and throwing it into a goal. One player is selected for this duty three times during an exhibition game and dies during the game. This sets off a mystery, which Shane begins to investigate.

The book does a great job setting up the plot and following a standard mystery formula. It is kind of predictable — I figured out “whodunit” shortly after their initial scene — but is still fun. The interactions between Shane and Van, along with the descriptions of the Agora and Helketa, are engaging. The characters are three dimensional and well developed. Scalzi’s prose is typical Scalzi: accessible and engaging.

It cracked me up that Van is actually kind of an asshole. Her actions throughout the book support this assessment, not to mention she flat-out refers to herself as such in the story. It’s hilarious and breaks up some of the more serious crime investigation aspects of the plot.

The pacing was quick and the story unfolded so succinctly, I kept thinking there would be more to follow at the end. I am certainly looking forward to the third book in this series.

I’d give this book a 4 out of 5 — Recommended. As an added bonus, the book’s publisher, Tor, has rules for playing the game of Hilketa on their website. Just be sure you have a robot or two so you don’t get hurt …


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David Buck
Based in Colorado, David Buck is an author, musician, and media specialist for Nerdvana Media. His work has appeared on Tedium, EN World and across the web. In his spare time, he composes music, writes science fiction, and builds scale models, mostly starships and movie cars.