Overall Review: Change Agent is a rip tide of a story that reels you in then tosses you around a brave new world of crime all while showcasing the dark underbelly of the glittering world Interpol Agent Kenneth Durand fights to protect. It’s a slow burning fuse leading to an explosive take on a dystopian future where the “end” comes not in a fiery apocalypse but in a loaded needle, slick contracts, and the human desire to control its legacy.
It’s 2045 and the world knows how to design everything from food, drugs, to babies. Given the nature of man (and its poorly contained criminal tendencies), where such a technology exists, someone will find a way to abuse it to turn a profit. Kenneth Durand, an Interpol agent, leads a team focused on fighting genetic crime. He hunts for criminal activity related to the illegal “vanity” edits human embryos crime syndicates offer on the black market and has a knack for finding the criminals lurking in the shadows.
The Main Character:
Durand is a driven man with clear boundaries that often cause him discomfort in his professional life. His skills take hunting for criminal activity in directions that bring him to the attention of the criminals seeking to stay hidden in the shadows. From the first, you quickly realize that despite being extremely good at catching criminals, he’s experience with crime is very hands off.
Suarez creates intriguing opportunities and story moments that allow the reader to climb inside his world-building along with Durand and experience the shades of grey living in 2045 forces upon those existing outside the safe zones. As his journey twists him inside out, (sometimes literally) he comes to experience the same conflicts that prompt others to turn to the black market. His inner musings and the increasingly dangerous situations he encounters bring his struggle to life and orient the world-building in a way that anchors this story to the here-and-now. I had more than a little internal struggle of my own with wanting Durand to get his life back after seeing what he’d need to do to make it happen. Durand takes a Richard Kimble-esque (sue me I like The Fugitive) run through a world Hitchcock would’ve been proud to make you feel unsettled about.
The World of 2045:
If you’re an impatient reader or tend to miss the point of building out the world beyond the narrowed main protagonist story arc, Change Agent may feel a little heavy on the data for longer than you prefer before the action really kicks into gear. But I strongly suggest you resist the urge to skip because every single bit of explanation and world building is purposeful and plays a part in bring this story to life.
The way Suarez designed this journey leaves the reader with questions and conflicts both about the ultimate fate of his protagonist (and more than one side character) but our place in his highly plausible future world. One reason is the extremely detail with which he describes and shares his view of the future. His ability to explain high-level scientific concepts in a way that’s accessible is impressive – and very necessary because I hate feeling like I have a case of the “dumb” when reading a science based thriller. The other benefit to it is creating tangible examples in the Singapore landscape that make these high concepts vital to understanding the need for such detailed writing.
This isn’t just a future-cast thriller. This is a whole different era of the world, so knowing how things work, people interact and society functions is crucial. If you’ve ever read an article about gene editing or 3D printers then 2045 is going to open up a whole new level of possible uses and how it’ll impact the near future. On more than one occasion, I found myself recalling an article I’d read about scientific advancements and suddenly really understanding why they matter and how it matters in a real world since. Then again, I also found myself re-reading and thinking I really shouldn’t have let my counselor talking me out of keeping my science based second major because job hunting on the new frontier is gonna call for skills I’m seriously lacking…although the lawyer-leaning me has a whole new interest in international agreements and how they get made.
Every piece of the city described and each secondary character add depth and flavor to this world. It helps build the sense of a greater struggle happening just beneath Durand’s struggle to save himself. It opens avenue of thought about the deals we make with ourselves to justify the things we do, what exactly is it that makes up a person’s self and whether or not that self (or any part of it) is for sell.
By the end of this book, I was rooting for the cops (trust me that’s huge) and wondering how soon before I’d be reading about companies making living technology breakthroughs that would make stopping the tide of change the world over absolutely impossible.
Daniel Suarez tackles big concepts with a frontline feel in his new speculative thriller Change Agent. He aptly describes the world you’re about to enter: “living technology—a fourth industrial revolution of synthetic biology and genetic editing” and it’s a landscape where this layered cops and robbers tale thrives.
Change Agent is unlike any other thriller (because science) I’ve read in recent years – it’s a slow starter well worth it in the end. I’m absolutely all in to watch what Netflix makes of this source material in the coming movie.
If you want to hear more from Daniel Suarez and Ro about Change Agent, check out the Writers, After Dark sneak peek interview over at Slice of SciFi.
Change Agent by Daniel Suarez
Hardcover: 416 pages
Publisher: Dutton (April 18, 2017)
On a crowded train platform, Interpol agent Kenneth Durand feels the sting of a needle—and his transformation begins…
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 his Huli jing could be anyone and everyone—and they have plans to undermine identity itself.