“Head On” is set in a near future world where a new disease (Haden’s) leaves some of the population completely unable to move, and yet they remain fully conscious in their minds. The solution? Those suffering from Haden’s can access a “threep” a type of robotic body that they control in order to interact with the world when they want to, and when they don’t? They hang out in a virtual world just for them. While “Head On” is the sequel to “Lock In” both books are their own entities in that, outside of the main character, FBI agents Chris Shane (a very, very wealthy Haden) and his partner Agent Vann, nothing from the two books overlap. They focus on totally different cases and Scalzi still explains the threeps and how Haden’s Syndrome works along with the prejudice those in their threeps face on a daily basis—both as micro aggressions and overt distrust. And while “Head On” is thoroughly enjoyable on its own, you’ll want to read “Lock In” first, trust me.
Chris and Agent Vann stumble into the case in this book, which is pretty fortuitous and polite of the murderers, really. Chris is at a sporting event with his parents when, suddenly, one of the athletes dies. But it takes people a minute to figure that out… Why? Because the deceased is a Haden and playing a very brutal sport in his threep where the whole goal is to rip players’ heads off (it’s basically a live action video game) played only by Hadens. So when his threep goes down, no one realizes at first that the person piloting that robot is in trouble. What follows is a page turning thriller where those responsible for the murder always seem to be one step ahead of Chris and Vann, and are not afraid to bump off smaller players when they have outlived their usefulness. It’s not until the very end when you figure out just how far this conspiracy goes and just how many people were involved, and who was just swept in accidentally. But maybe that’s just me and I missed some of the clues that would have made it all obvious. It wasn’t bad, but it was missing that “ah ha!” moment that I wanted when me and the FBI agents figure out the case together, like a proper group effort.
The shining star of this book though was Agent Vann. I absolutely adore her! She’s a little mean and cranky, but a stellar FBI agent. Some of her dialogue where she is just tired of everyone’s BS had me absolutely cackling! I’m a sucker for the strong, grumpy, mean girls with a heart of gold and a solid moral compass for right and wrong though, and Agent Vann fits that to a T. I will say though, that she shines most brightly in “Lock In”. While she was fantastic in this book, you don’t get as much of her in “Head On”, instead we get a lot more of Chris’s other Haden roommates, all of which are great characters, but they are no Agent Vann. And this book was almost exclusively focused on solving the crime, which was great, but I did miss the character arcs we got in the previous book as Agent Vann and Chris are first getting to know each other. Scalzi also does not describe much in his book; what the threeps look like, let alone any of the characters, so the plot and story becomes even more hyper focused on the case and the character dialogue. It’s small, but reading this book made me remember how much I liked “Lock In”.
The mystery was fantastic; I loved all the twists and turns it took, and I enjoyed watching Chris and Vann’s process in solving the case as always. Seeing more of the Haden’s and their struggles was also a nice touch and a lot of what Scalzi says about how those with disabilities are treated still apply today, even from his future sci-fi world. But I needed more of Agent Vann. While I loved watching her yell at people and steamroll them into submission, I missed watching her work in other capacities like we got with “Lock In”. But, that’s fairly small. My only real issue with this book is that the case only becomes clear at the very end when one of the characters starts monologuing and explaining to the bad guy what they did and how they caught them. It was a little Scooby-Do-ish, in that regard, so while I liked the wrap up, I wanted to feel like the case was solved before that, if that makes sense? Regardless, this book lacked the kind of character growth we got in its predecessor, which coupled with the vaguely Scooby-Do ending is why I am giving it 4 stars. That being said, I still highly recommend this series and this book to anyone looking for a page turning crime and mystery sci-fi novel!
Click the book images to see them on Amazon!