Sceptre | 2019 (14 November) | 240p | Review copy | Buy the book
In the near future, England is divided. The rich live well, as they’ve always done, in the south while the poor are ghettoed in the northern Estates. There is no shortage of poor people. Many if not most jobs have now been replaced by robots. Making a living is nigh on impossible. The only way to live well is to inherit money. But the poor have one thing that the wealthy want more of – time. When the wealthy die they are ‘backed up’, their consciousness digitally stored waiting for a host body in which it can be implanted. And that’s where scientist Luke Butler comes in. He has used his aunt’s wealth to develop technology that will transfer the consciousness of the dead into the healthy young bodies of especially selected poor people. In return for losing two weeks of their lives, the poor are rewarded with £10,000, a mighty sum in these dystopian days. And so now the rich can be resurrected for two glorious weeks which means an opportunity to say a final goodbye, to right a wrong, or to make the same mistakes all over again. What could possibly go wrong?
Body Tourists has an irresistible premise and I couldn’t wait to read it. The structure works well. We follow the stories of Luke and his rich aunt, but we also spend time with a series of people, one at a time, who either make the step of bringing a loved one back to life for two weeks, or who decide to become hosts themselves. And then there are the others, the families and friends of those who become hosts, and have to deal with a kind of loss of their own. This is a fascinating and horrible society. Money is so precious and so scarce. People have to make decisions they shouldn’t and the consequences can be awful for them.
There is some great worldbuilding here. The descriptions of the northern estates are especially compelling. People are effectively sedated by their virtual reality games, turning themselves into zombies, while a few fight back setting up gyms and dance studios, anything to get people to engage with a real world that cares nothing for them. I really enjoyed the chapters that we spend here, especially with Paula whose life is transformed by her experiences as a host. There are other stories that are really moving, that of the teacher accused of a terrible crime whose lover never got the chance to say she was sorry for disbelieving her, or disturbing, such as the man who brings his father back to life so that they can try and reboot their relationship. These are the very real strengths of Blood Tourists.
I did have issues with the novel, mostly involving the character of Luke Butler, who is just too unpleasant. He and other characters are too light, mostly those involved in running the clinic, and the whole idea of bringing people back to life for only two weeks seems flawed. How would they ever be expected to give up life again? How could you get anything from two weeks when there’s a death sentence at the end of it? And then there’s the unsatisfactory idea of the paradise island where they’re all sent. Well, not all, and that raises another issue about why some body tourists are allowed to have contact with loved ones and others aren’t. In other words I loved a lot about the ideas behind this novel but I would have liked them explored with more depth and consistency. This is a short novel, a longish novella really, so perhaps it could have been longer. I would certainly have liked to have read more. There is so much going for Body Tourists and, above all else, it’s a fun read and a fascinating portrayal of a near future dystopian England.
The Testament of Jessie Lamb