Sunday, March 03, 2002

Review: "Hopscotch" by Kevin J. Anderson

Don't like your body? Imagine being able to find someone who is willing to swap with you and trying out theirs for a while. Imagine a frail person being able to rent a more muscular body to do some work around the house, or an older couple renting a pair of younger bodies for a vacation in their golden years.

Those things and much more are possible in the future world of Kevin J. Anderson's "Hopscotch" (Bantam Spectra.)

For some reason, humans have evolved the ability to separate their consciousness and trade bodies - hopscotching. Some theorize that the ability developed through years of people uploading themselves to virtual reality areas of the 'Net, but in truth, no one's really sure how it came to be.

As one might guess, the ability to hopscotch has opened up a whole new world of moral, ethical and legal dilemmas - not the least of which is what happens to children who are conceived by one person, then delivered by another inhabiting the same body. Falling Leaves is a monastery that takes in children in that situation. Four friends - Garth, Eduard, Teresa and Daragon - have recently been released from Falling Leaves and are now trying to make their way in the world.

Garth, the artist, hopscotches from body to body looking for inspiration. Eduard makes good money by enduring unpleasant experiences - like dental procedures, illness and surgery - for others, while they wear his healthy body. Teresa, the philosopher, hops from job to job, searching for meaning in her life.

But the most interesting is Daragon, one of the rare few born without the ability to hopscotch. But he has another ability - to see the real person, no matter what body they're wearing. That makes him invaluable to the Bureau of Tracing and Locations, this world's equivalent of the FBI. When someone commits a crime and then tries to escape by hopscotching from body to body, it's the BTL's job to track them down.

So far, the four friends have navigated this strange new world, looking out for each other. But when Eduard's job as a personal trainer to the head of the BTL goes bad, they're in danger of being ripped apart.

With "Hopscotch," Anderson has delivered a fantastic tale that's at times heart-warming and often disturbing. He has incorporated the best aspects of humanity and the darkest side of human nature in one story, which will have the reader alternately cheering and despairing.

The story itself is a little slow to start, but the concept and the characters are so fascinating that the reader hardly notices. Once the plot does get going, it's a footrace to the finish, without a slow moment.

Aside from the imaginative ideas and sense of wonder in "Hopscotch," Anderson also has some serious statements to make about love, loyalty, friendship, duty and what really matters in life.

Anderson has offered up a bleak vision of the future where individuality has slipped through the cracks and morality has flown out the window. But he balances that with the bright light of hope and the reassuring warmth of friendship.

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