Daniel Suarez finally made it to the future in his new novel, Change Agent, which Kirkus’ reviewer says is “...his most entertaining high-tech thriller yet.”
The author sometimes gets pegged as a science fiction author because his previous bestsellers—Daemon, Freedom, Kill Decision, and Influx—all revolve around technologies that are just around the corner. In Change Agent, Suarez makes the leap to 2045 but his Blade Runner-ish novel is still grounded in the often terrifying tech of the present day.
“The fact that people have for years been saying that I’m a sci-fi author is interesting, because a lot of the things that I write about seem science fictional, but I try to use very realistic technologies that are just over the horizon from what’s currently possible,” Suarez explains. “I’m trying to spin a tale that hopefully wakes people up a little bit, and fires their imaginations.”
The novel centers on Interpol analyst Kenneth Durand, who’s hot in pursuit of Marcus Demang Wyckes, a shadowy human trafficker. But the book takes a twist when Durand is ambushed and injected with a genomic agent that transforms him, down to the DNA level, into a replica of his very adversary. The conceit is based on a technology called CRISPR—the acronym stands for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats”—a gene editing tool that some see as the future of medicine and others see as Pandora’s Box.
“With Change Agent, I’m trying to explore this technology that could be both good and bad,” says Suarez. “Most really disruptive technologies offer both. They offer us these tremendous opportunities but they also come with risk. Balancing between those two is what humanity has always had to do. We don’t have the luxury of saying ‘no’ to these developments. Once a technology’s time has come, it’s going to happen.”
In a counter-intuitive move, Suarez also shifts the action away from Silicon Valley’s biotech hub, transporting his heroes and villains to Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore.
“I was making prognostications—let’s call them admonitions—about science and reason and its role in American society,” he says. “If you look closely at my version of Silicon Valley, the companies and the people aren’t gone. They’ve just decamped to somewhere friendlier to science. It’s a warning, in a way, that America needs to continue to embrace science and reason in order to move forward. I was also cognizant of the fact that Asia is sometimes used as a prop. I was trying to turn that on its ear a little bit by having it at the forefront of technology yet still couched within its cultural history. I was trying to avoid romanticizing it by bringing in lots of change and new technology.”
Being a writer who thinks a lot about how to weaponize technologies, Suarez has only been getting better at ratcheting up the action in his novels, and Durand takes quite a few hard hits here.
“I think eventually the government realized I was a writer, because I’m sure my Google search history is quite alarming,” laughs Suarez. “Conflict does populate a lot of popular storytelling. It’s what raises the stakes, along with time constraints. It’s a convention that’s very useful but it’s also much less harmful to explore these conflict scenarios in fiction, as opposed to stumbling upon them in reality. Some of what I do is trying to spot icebergs, the idea being that we shouldn’t be afraid of moving forward, but also that we want to take the best course.”
He also acknowledges that Durand’s transformation into his worst enemy isn’t just an accident of the narrative.
“I think it’s important,” he says of the twist. “It goes to the heart of why we read fiction. We put ourselves in the life of another person when we read. This novel is very meta in the sense that Durand is inhabiting the skin of someone else and has to really wonder what portion of him is doing these things and what portion of it is genetically prompted. He has to confront whether he’s doing these things to get back to his true self, and whether he is the moral person he believes himself to be.”
Clayton Moore is a freelance writer, journalist, book critic, and prolific interviewer of other writers. His work appears in numerous newspapers, magazines, websites and other media. He is based in Monterey, California.