Source: Review copy
Humanity is in steep decline, its numbers destroyed by The Falling, a virulent disease that gets its name from the flesh that rots off the body and from the final, fast act of death itself. While the last populations seal themselves into quarantined cities, the very rich and powerful can benefit from a solution to the increasing risk of this dreadful death thanks to hi-tech business Re-Volution. With the brain itself tagged with instructions, the instant of death is also the moment of rebirth. The body is resurrected as a hologram, lauded by some as a new species in its own right – the holo sapiens – while denigrated by poorer homo sapiens as holosaps. As the numbers of holosaps increase and living, breathing humans decrease, a movement grows to pass power to this new species. But what if there could be a cure to The Falling? What if holo sapiens are evolving? Is it too late for homo sapiens?
In Holo Sapiens, the extremely talented thriller writer Dean Crawford creates an exciting blend of science fiction, medical thriller, apocalyptic drama and mystery. This recipe, when blended well, is difficult to resist and Crawford certainly succeeds here. Focusing on London, the opening pages bring to horrible life the moment when Britain’s capital seals itself off from its plagued citizens, a moment that coincides with visionary Professor Anderson’s awareness that holo sapiens are more than they seem. But his attempts to pull the plug are thwarted and, as the novel movies into the future, we witness the repercussions of the proliferation of corpses reborn as holographic life forms.
Arianna Volkov is a living psychologist whose job is to ease holo sapiens into their new transparent existence. This is a difficult process for them and yet humans such as Arianna have little empathy for this new species. Arianna is the adopted daughter of Alexei Volkov, a powerful, wealthy man who knows more about Anderson’s research than is good for him. When he is murdered, Arianna has no choice but to go on the run, caught between each and every faction, all of whom believe that she is in possession of the secret that had Alexei killed. But when the rich die, it’s just the beginning.
The story of our heroine Arianna is combined with others – notably the story of Marcus and Kerry who are doctors investigating the origins of The Falling in Ground Zero, Louisiana. I love this strand through the novel. The science of the disease mixes with the dynamic between the two characters – and their resident holo sapien helper – and through them we see the world outside the quarantined cities or sanitised laboratories. This is a terrifying place and matters aren’t helped by other forces at play. At times, this part of Holo Sapiens becomes a thoroughly exciting monster novel and it had me on the edge of my seat. Throughout, Crawford is as good writing about science as he is in creating thrills.
Holo Sapiens isn’t a perfect novel. There is some occasional noticeable repetition in phrasing and the scenes featuring the British Parliament, including the cliched name of the Prime Minister (Tarquin St John), are less convincing. As for the rest, I was more than happy to suspend my disbelief.
There is so much going on in Holo Sapiens, whether in London or Louisiana, whether among the living or among the dead. There is a great number of intriguing characters, each with an interesting back history. But in Holo Sapiens, Dean Crawford ties the strings together with a skill and an empathy (often quite moving) that, for me, lifts Holo Sapiens above his last independent thriller, Eden. I particularly liked the fact that Crawford is not afraid to kill off (permanently) important characters. This might be an invented world but many of its rules are rooted in reality. Holo Sapiens is the first in a series but it is a complete and page-turning novel. It ends well while leaving some hints as to where we may be taken next. Roll on Book 2.