Book Review: Change Agent

Daniel Suarez's latest high-tech thriller Change Agent unfolds in the year 2045, a time when the world's power balance has tipped towards the east, with Singapore emerging at the top. Advancements in synthetic biology have transformed people's everyday lives even as the refugee crisis has escalated to an all new high, resulting in millions being uprooted from their homelands. It's a time when human genetic modifications (based on a breakthrough in 2015) are a rage, leading Interpol to establish a genetic crime division to track and shut down illegal embryonic gene editing labs. It's a time when the United States, having failed to adapt to a changing reality, is conspicuous by its absence.

It's also a time when characters in the novel spend most of their day either talking to artificially intelligent assistants ("The very last thing I thought I'd be doing in the Burmese jungle is arguing with an AI about surcharges," grumbles one character) or unsuccessfully evading pervasive adparitions (aka AR advertisements), and as with any piece of technology, misuse it for their own nefarious purposes. In this case, subvert gene editing techniques to erase the very concept of identity. The crux of Change Agent revolves around an interesting theme about "post-identity" and reinvention (something that was explored in the movie Complete Unknown), raising important questions about true anonymous living in an age of mass surveillance and constant user tracking, but is also let down by amateurish writing and one-note characterisation. The prose may not do the novel much justice, but as a thought-provoking speculative fiction, it is a must read.