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Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Human Blend: The Tipping Point Trilogy, Book One (audiobook) by Alan Dean Foster

Lackluster characters hurt a very interesting premise

Read by David Colacci
Published by Tantor Media, November 2010.
10.5 hours

Ultra-prolific author Alan Dean Foster introduces yet another series with The Human Blend, the first installment of a trilogy set in a relatively near-future Savannah, Georgia.

In this interesting new world the direst predictions about global warming have come true. America’s southern states have become near-tropical. Flooding ocean waters have buried coastal cities, forced them to move onto stilts or have caused cities to move inland. Much of Florida is underwater, the Everglades have swallowed the rest.

Political changes have swept the world as well. The United States is now part of a larger country called Namerica. Several countries in Asia are equal to, if not more important than Namerica. The moon, Mars and Jupiter’s moon Titan have been colonized as well.

Alan Dean Foster
But, the most important changes are the changes to the individual. In this future world, plastic surgery has become relatively cheap, easy and almost entirely safe. Called “melding”, new technologies have allowed millions upon millions of clients to “gengineer” themselves in an amazing number of ways. They can add animal tissue and literally grow feathers, gills, become amphibians, or fly. Clients can become exact duplicates of movie stars, athletes or anything else they can dream up. Do you want extra arms, eyes in the back of your head, or robotic hands with interchangeable parts? No problem. Want something a little more dangerous? Back alley gengineering clinics offer more dangerous options such as hidden weapons.

Alan Dean Foster introduces us to this strange new world through a meld named Whispr – a street thug who has had radical gengineering to make him hyperthin. Whispr and his accomplice Jiminy are working the streets of Savannah with a weapon that turns off pacemakers so that they may loot the dead bodies of their victims. They have just removed an exquisite hand from the body of their latest victim in hopes of selling it to a back alley clinic when they find an electronic storage device, a futuristic flash drive that is made of an unknown metal but is literally as thin and as flexible as a thread.

As Whispr and his various companions travel through the underworld trying to identify this thread and perhaps even download the information on it, they become the targets of police, hitmen and the bodies start to pile up in a hurry.

David Colacci, narrator
The narrator, David Colacci, does a fantastic job of creating a number of distinct character voices and accents ranging from Asian to Creole to Eastern European to southern redneck to South American Spanish. However, even the considerable talents of Colacci could not save the book from an inexplicable attack of wordiness for wordiness’ sake. Alan Dean Foster demonstrates in the book that he can be a master of the language with truly brilliant riffs of alliteration, simile and witty bits of conversation that make the listener smile at his cleverness. But, like a drum solo at a rock concert, a little bit of this goes a long way. Keep it up too long and the fans step out and look for popcorn. I found my attention wandering as a character named Wizzwang let loose with one cutesie, sex-crazed, pseudointellectual verbal barrage after another in the last hour or so of this audiobook. It seemed like Foster was trying to stretch the story out rather than cover new territory.

Another problem with the book is that there is really no one to root for. Whispr is not really likable – he kills people just to loot their bodies. His friends are no better. They are not lovable rogues, like Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow. Rather, they are just criminals with bland but talkative personalities. There is the mystery of the threat data storage device, but this is not enough to compel the reader to carry on.

Fortunately, I found the world created by Alan Dean Foster to be quite interesting and I especially enjoyed the descriptions of the food dispensers, the new climates created by global warming and the effects of gengineering on society. As this installment ends, Whispr and his accomplice (a beautiful “natural” doctor who specializes in creating high-quality melds) are heading off to Africa to try to discover more about this “thread” and discover why everyone wants it so badly. I find myself wondering what new things I will learn about this distinctive vision of the future in the next installment.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: The Human Blend.

Reviewed January 22, 2011.

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