Gabriella White, a brilliant neurologist and scientist who’s searching for a cure to Alzheimer’s, is at the very end of the funding for her research project. In her frustration, she recklessly pushes the power for her lab equipment, a neural stimulation system, to the maximum … and accidentally finds herself in her husband Paul’s body in their nearby house, holding their beloved 11-month-old daughter, who they call Kat or Kitten. Shocked, Gabby drops Kat back into her crib and runs back to the lab, where she finds her own body in a comatose state. She’s not at all sure whether she’ll be able to switch her consciousness from Paul’s body back to hers.
In the very next chapter, it’s twenty-five years later, and it’s clear that Gabby’s botched experiment, now called “flash” technology, has completely transformed our world, in both good ways and bad. When a flash takes place, the flasher’s original body is unresponsive and the flashee’s mind essentially checks out completely during the entire time the flash is taking place, and has no recollection of any events that happened while the other person’s mind was controlling their body. A young woman named Annami is venturing into the illegal world of darkshare, where you let an anonymous person renting your body for a period of time in exchange for a cash payment. Annami knows that the person renting her body can use it for almost anything — sex, crimes, even murder — the only limitation being that if her body is killed, the person whose mind is in her body will also die. It’s one of the two immutable Rules of flashing (the other is that your mind always needs to return to your original body before jumping to a new body).
Annami is driven by a compelling need to earn a massive sum of money quickly for a secret purpose. At the same time, she’s hiding from a gang led by a man called Bleeder, who have been searching for her for several years. To make matters worse, Annami’s first darkshare goes south in a big way: instead of her body being returned to the den where she started, she wakes up in a strange room soaked in blood, next to a dead body, with a killer in the process of breaking into the room to take her out.
Anyone (2019) is the second novel by Charles Soule, a comic book writer whose first novel, The Oracle Year, also featured a fascinating science fiction premise, a suspenseful plot, and a brisk pace. Anyone is a dual timeline novel that shifts between Gabby’s story in our present day and Annami’s in the future (eventually, of course, the loop is closed and the threads converge). Under the contract she signed, any invention Gabby comes up with is owned by Gray Hendricks, the private investor (read: very rich loan shark) who funded her research, but Gabby completely mistrusts what Hendricks will do with her invention if he finds out about it. So she lies about what she’s found to her manager at Hendricks Capital, trying to hide her invention, but it’s clear that somewhere between now and twenty-five years from now, something goes wrong with Gabby’s plan. As a result, reading Gabby’s part of the plot felt very much like waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Like Blake Crouch’s Recursion, Anyone is a suspenseful SF thriller about a mind-altering, world-changing technology, with lots of twists and turns in the plot. Anyone does lag somewhat in the middle, but overall it’s an exciting story that sucked me in for an entire evening and into the late night, until I was finished with the book. The characterization felt more successful than in The Oracle Year, although Soule still has a penchant for greedy, soulless villains. Anyone also contains more significant racial and sexual diversity; it feels natural and melds well with the plot (which isn’t always the case). My main complaint is that Anyone didn’t quite stick the ending, which is abrupt and has some major logical holes in it.
Anyone has a deeper side as well, exploring themes like privacy, greed, and individual identity. Soule also put some serious thought into how this flash technology might change our world: migrant work, surgery and military operations are transformed by the ability to put an expert into someone else’s body on the other side of the world; people rent celebrities’ bodies for a brief thrill; and it’s easy to take a vacation in a distant land in someone else’s body. There’s also the dark underbelly: international prostitution is made ridiculously easy, darksharing is another form of selling yourself, and there’s the lurking risk of body-snatching (both temporary and permanent).
Soule asserts that there have been positive effects on our world as well, like correcting climate change, but never really explains how that particular phenomenon occurred. I did really enjoy a brief segue into how the world of sports is transformed by the ability to feature exhibition matches between old, retired superstars who are playing their sport in a younger athlete’s body.
Overall, Anyone is an intense and absorbing techno-thriller that balances oppression and darkness with sympathetic main characters and a hopeful outlook.
Thanks! That makes me want to read this book. Another one for mount TBR…
Great! My work here is done.