Counting Heads‘s partly quaint setting is forged out of the nanotech futures that were en vogue in the wake of Drexler’s Engines of Creations, mixed with a heavy dose of Orwell’s 1984. Which makes for a deeply conservative future, where everything, from economics to politics, is either on today’s level, or even more backwards. This is just an observation, alas, not a fault, but interesting nonetheless, considering how the book has been called visionary by some people.
The real faults are manifold. The title implies overpopulation, parts of the book seem to be about the loss of privacy and an absolute surveillance state. And yet there’s no theme that really stands out, as if Marusek wasn’t sure what he wanted to write about and just put everything into the mix. The development of the plot mirrors the conceptual mess. What starts big ends in a hunt for a MacGuffin, without really resolving any of the more interesting plot threads.
And then there are the characters. On the one hand the book’s antagonistic force is a shadowy, all-powerful conspiracy, and yet most of the people we meet, active characters or background figures, show incompetence and ineptness in plenty. This gap in competence between characters and conspiracy members is just too unbelievable. Neither of the characters were likeable or interesting either, which made it even harder to read through the whole book. Halfway through the book I really had problems remaining interested at all, still reading onward, hoping it would get better. Not this time.