Narrator: Jeff Gurner
Published by Penguin Audio on 18 April 2017
Length: 14 hrs and 37 mins
Genres: Mystery/Thriller, TechnoThiriller
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New York Times best-selling author Daniel Suarez delivers an exhilarating sci-fi thriller exploring a potential future where CRISPR genetic editing allows the human species to control evolution itself.
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.
©2017 Daniel Suarez (P)2016 Penguin Audio
Change Agent, by Daniel Suarez, is a frustrating pop-sci thriller, more focused on whiz-bang tech than telling an original story. At its core, this Crichton-esque soft-serve is a generic lone hero on the run chase book, set in the near-future where the threats of illicit genetic modification are rearing its ugly head and Interpol is working on cracking down on underground biohackers. After shutting down an illegal gene shop, analyst Kevin Durand becomes the target of Eurasian gang boss, Marcus Wyckes. Durand is injected with a “change agent” and wakes up in the hospital five weeks later, his entire genetic structure altered so that he is now the spitting image of Wyckes, the Most Wanted Man In The World! Durand, on a mission to reclaim his identity, has to elude police, escape from his own team of Interpol agents, and go deep, deep, deep, deep undercover to secure the help of some of those underground biohackers he’s been tracking for arrest.
If you’ve seen the movies Face/Off and Minority Report, you’ve basically read this book already, and Saurez fails to inject many change agents into the formulas established by so many other body-swap and hero on the run thrillers. While it’s clear Saurez has certainly done his homework and there’s plenty of next-gen sci-fi tech to go gaga over, the story itself is too derivative for me to muster up much enthusiasm. There were also too many moments that ripped me right out of the narrative with how clumsily they were handled. In one instance, we’re introduced to a strange villain who is so evil a guard pees himself at the mere sight of the man, a scene that reads far more goofy than threatening. On another occasion, Durand has to flee a building swarming with cops by rooftop and surrounded by drones. He leaps off the roof and onto one of the drones, whose far-away pilot registers the error, but it never occurs to anybody to turn one of the other nearby drones to examine the “glitch” their sensors are reading. Later, Saurez details an underground slavers club where people have been modified to look like celebrities. It found it rather odd that people nearly 50 years in the future would still be modifying themselves to look like young Brad Pitts and Scarlett Johanssons rather than their current contemporaries, but maybe that’s just me. At other times, Saurez stops to linger for far too long, bearing the story down with a lot of exposition and infodumps on current affairs, the tech of the day, and detours into the Malaysian jungle that serve to slow the narrative to a crawl when it should be racing full speed ahead.
While Saurez’s writing failed to sell me on Change Agent, Jeff Gurner’s narration was at least well done. Gurner has a rich timbre and is able to provide a wide range of voices and accents to keep the large cast distinct. At times the reading felt a little too much like the voice-over work of a documentary, but it’s a solid enough listen overall. Given the flaws in pacing and Saurez’s been there, done that narrative choices, though, this was hard a audiobook to really sink into and enjoy, which made keeping my attention focused on the material all the more difficult. On the production end of things, the audio comes through clear and consistently, as one should expect of a major publisher like Penguin Audio.
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