by Matt Forbeck
Review by Drew Bittner
Angry Robot Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780857660008
Date: 04 November 2010 / Show Official Info /
Secret Service Agent Ronan Dooley has been on the job for a very long time. How long? He's over 200 years old--the result of living as an ongoing consciousness downloaded into a succession of cloned bodies. But something's gone very wrong, and now Dooley has to solve the biggest case of his life: his own murder.
In Amortals by Matt Forbeck, the idea of people living lives of serial immortality--the amortals--is taken in fascinating directions. Dooley is in law enforcement, where his century-plus of experience is invaluable, but anyone who can afford the fee can become an amortal.
When Dooley is murdered, the case draws national attention. His boss, Patron, wants the investigation handled quickly and quietly; he's assigned a partner, Amanda Querer, who was apparently known to his previous self. That in itself is a problem: Dooley is missing three months of memories, after failing to keep his digital consciousness updated properly.
What was Dooley working on during that time, and what discovery had he made that required his murder? As the latest version of Ronan Dooley works the case, he must navigate a maze of political maneuvering, double-dealing, biotech super-science gone wrong, and plain old crime for personal gain. Is it Dooley's personal bete noir, the Kali crime syndicate out of India? Is it an estranged member of his family, seeking payback for being left out of Dooley's life? Or is it an enemy of the president, whose policies are stirring up resentment among dangerous people?
If Dooley can't figure it out, and fast, his serial immortality may be cut short after all.
Forbeck constructs a near-future Washington DC that seems eerily plausible (to this local, anyway), creating a culture where amortality is widespread and the "life is cheap" ethos is taken to some unusual extremes. Kill an enemy? Odds are good he'll show up again eventually. But Forbeck's real genius here is keeping the big and obvious aspect of this biotech miracle front and center, while building a sucker punch in the background.
Without spoiling too much, consider that life and consciousness, here, are two very different things.
Dooley is a terrific character, a man of action and only a bit of introspection, whose decades of experience cannot offset his fundamental loneliness and alienation. He reflects on his early days in DC and how much things have changed; he's still superb at his job, rotating between criminal investigation and protective services, but every fresh incarnation presents him with things he doesn't know. Part of his character arc involves reconnecting with parts of his life he hadn't known were missing; it's a great way of humanizing a figure who could easily be just another faceless killing machine.
Patron is likewise a great invention, a powerful man whose agenda is kept mysterious even from his oldest and most-trusted employees (like Dooley). He provides impetus to the plot at key moments, often in surprising ways.
Forbeck has created an exciting, brilliantly executed novel of action, intrigue and super-science colliding on the banks of the Potomac. It works on every level and is truly a fantastic addition to the realm of cyberpunk thrillers.