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Counting Heads Paperback – 16 Oct 2007

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books; Reprint edition (13 Nov. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0765317540
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765317544
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.9 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 914,671 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"David Marusek is an extraordinarily gifted new writer, with unique ears and eyes . . . .Brims over with imaginative extrapolations." -"Seattle-""Post Intelligencer" "David Marusek's "Counting Heads" is the most exciting debut sf novel I've read since "Neuromancer." "Counting Heads" isn't just one of the best first sf novels to come down the pike in some time; it's one of the best novels, period. I hope David Marusek will be writing more of them for centuries to come." -Elizabeth Hand, "F & SF" ""Counting Heads" was one of my favorite books of last year in any category, and an exemplary entry in the sci-fi genre." -"The New York Times Book Review" "Marusek keeps a deep and textured tale spinning along, filled with stresses, shocks and sidelong looks at extrapolations of present-day trends. I took extra care to keep my copy pristine, so it'll be presentable when I hand it off to another reader who'll enjoy it as much as I did." -"The San Diego Union-Tribune" ""Counting Heads "is a compelling and powerful read. Marusek isn't afraid of asking hard questions--nor is he afraid to try and find answers. . . .One of the best sf novels of this (and perhaps any year) "Counting Heads" gives us a rich mix of social commentary, speculation, and adventure, all garnished with a tiny pinch of hope."--"Vector" "There are more ideas to the page in this auspicious debut novel than many sci-fi novels have in their entirety. . . .Marusek evokes an impelling sense of wonder with an awesomely imaginative and all-too-believable future chock full of nifty details while allowing his characters to compel the novel. "Counting Heads" is a marvelous must-read from an author who must be noted as an important new voice in science fiction." --"CFQ""David Marusek's first novel is a wildly inventive story of a future dependent on clones and artificial intelligence. . . . "Counting Heads" is thick with invention and has an action-filled plot, but Marusek shines in filling it with well-rounded characters." -"The ""Denver"" Post" "An intriguing, inventive, and provocative look at cloning that was the best first novel of the year and one of the best SF novels of the decade so far." --"Locus" ""Counting Heads" is full of both invention and action. It is dense and thought-provoking, and its story pulls the reader along until the very last page. Let's hope there's more where this came from." -"Bookpage" "This exciting debut adventure poses interesting questions with a healthy dose of humor and derring-do. What happens when the technology of tomorrow becomes a reality. . . .Innovative plotting and realistic characterization combine to make a believable, captivating futuristic adventure." -"Romantic Times BOOKreviews" "With subplots exploring the identity problems of clones, the solutions to a particularly nasty overpopulation problem, and the remnants of some invidious "biologicals" that have required the doming-over of major cities, Marusek presents a gripping conspiracy in an uncomfortably three-dimensional future."--"Booklist" ""Counting Heads" exciting, major new sf novel. . . .David Marusek is one of the best-kept secrets of science fiction, a wild talent with a Gibson-grade imagination and marvelous prose, and a keen sense of human drama that makes it all go. . . .It's hard to summarize this book because again and again, the plot hinges on wonderful, original inventions, and just describing the storyline would spoil too many of David's delightful surprises. I haven't felt as "buffeted" by a book since Gibson's "Neuromancer" -- haven't felt more like I was reading something truly radical, new and exciting. . . .When David was writing short stories, he was an exciting writer. Now that he's onto novels, he's practically a force of nature." -Cory Doctorow "This extraordinary debut novel puts Marusek in the first rank of SF writers. . . .Marusek's writing is ferociously smart, simultaneously horrific and funny, as he forces readers to stretch their imaginations and sympathies. Much of the fun in the story is in the telling rather than its destination . . . .exciting and wonderful." -"Publishers Weekly" ""Counting Heads "has every virtue of the science fiction classic it is certain to become: it's an utterly convincing and deeply troubling extrapolation of the right-now, its language and a technology at once new and weirdly familiar. But it also has qualities rare even in the greatest SF classics: real persons, real suffering, real costs, and a fully achieved human drama. Absolutely splendid." -John Crowley

About the Author

David Marusek spins his quirky tales of the future by the glow of the Northern Lights in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Customer Reviews

2.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By just another customer on 28 Sept. 2011
Format: Paperback
This novel crafts such a fascinating future that it was immensely disappointing how bad the story was.

To his credit, Marusek has crafted one of the most interesting- and the most believable- future worlds to date. It is described in intricate detail, and definitely feels like a plausible future. It would have made such a good setting for a story as well. Unfortunately he simply fails to deliver there.

The start of the book is, to my understanding, an almost verbatim copy of a novella written a few years previously. It explains the backstory for the rest of the novel, and is probably the best part of it. Unfortunately, after it finishes, the plot derails completely.

There are two serious flaws in the storyline for the remaining two thirds of the book. The first is that there are simply too many subplots, minor characters, and so forth- that don't contribute to the story in any way. Most of them could have been removed entirely without impacting the plotline at all. Half the time the reader is left wondering "how does this guy fit in to the rest of it", but this is never answered. Most of these subplots also just peter out and are left unresolved.

The other problem is that the "main" story arc set up in the first part of the book (and for that matter, the one described in the blurb) is actually a *minor* subplot later on. In particular, the opening chapter explains how Samson Harger, the ostensible protagonist, got involved with Elanour Starke (whose semi-deceased daughter is supposed to the subject of the novel), and focuses entirely on him. The novel then fast-forwards a few decades, and Samson is barely mentioned again.

The other characters are also largely unsatisfying.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Mark Higginson on 10 Jan. 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It is a rather dull puzzle trying to comprehend why the glowing recommendations on the dust jacket fail to bear any resemblance to the contents of this novel. I managed to read to around the halfway point before skipping through to the end; something I almost never do and only because I was still struggling to find answers, any answers, as to why the quoted reviewers found this story appealing. The author favours short, flat sentences, a technique he is not a skilled enough writer to pull off. The result is a mere sketch, both of the characters and the world they inhabit and not a very well drawn one at that. The plot, which is summarised in a more exciting fashion on the back of the book than within, is a lukewarm mix of ideas that have been better executed elsewhere. The weak ending, left it seems with the intention of a sequel, is the final insult to the reader who has given over their time to wading through this. I had high hopes for this debut; being charitable perhaps this is his 'The Big U' and we'll see better work from him in the years to come.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful By R. Palmer on 19 Jun. 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm bit late to this one - Marusek first came to my notice in a short story anthology with an inventive and thoughtful story. It piqued my interest, so here I am!

Counting Heads, Marusek's debut novel, is a fantastic read. In some ways it's straightforward enough, if follows the fortunes of one man and his family through several decades (though, to be clear, it leaps - overall there is a broad sweep, but it's handled in a couple of denser "chunks.") Where it sets itself apart is how seriously David Marusek takes the job of writing SF. Not to say that the novel is po-faced, or anything like that. He's a good writer, there's a decent level of wit in this.

Instead, what I mean is that it's a proper, serious SF novel. It never shies away from the fact that it's SF; it has a lot of ideas in it and I'd guess that Marusek has read a lot of SF himself. He marries these sfnal themes with an excellent human drama, the characterisation in this is almost uniformly excellent. This can often, I think, be a weakness for a lot of ideas driven SF writers - that is to say that they are often not so good at producing characters who are anything other than mouthpieces for themselves.

The opening of the novel sees a famous artist, Samson Harker meet a woman on her way to great power. By the time that the novel starts, humanity has practical immortality. They can both look forward to a long, long life. This, naturally, means that what we would consider normal is discarded. It's unlikely that immortals would wish to spend the rest of their lives together, on a crowded planet producing children would have to be strictly regulated, so when they find themselves in position to produce offspring, it's not quite in the way that we'd consider normal.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 46 reviews
60 of 68 people found the following review helpful
Major, exciting new sf novel 29 Oct. 2005
By Cory Doctorow - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
David Marusek is one of the best-kept secrets of science fiction, a wild talent with a Gibson-grade imagination and marvelous prose, and a keen sense of human drama that makes it all go. Science fiction editors nurture short story writers -- many sf insiders keep track of the short fiction markets and watch with keen interest the writers who are doing good work there, but until those writers manage to get a novel out, it's rare for the field at large to take note of them. Writers like Ben Rosenbaum and Ted Chiang do incredible, brilliant work in short lengths, and the field does yeoman duty recognizing them with awards and approbation, but ultimately, the audience for short fiction is regrettably small.

Marusek's amazing story "The Wedding Album" floored me when I read it in 1999, was a finalist on the Nebula ballot, won the Sturgeon and Asimov's Reader's Choice Awards, placed in the Locus, Seiun and HOMer awards, and left all who read it gob-smacked. It was the story of the AI avatars cast as a sort of wedding photo of a couple on their big day; the story traces the avatars' lives through thousands of years of technical evolution, through the Singularity, and out the other side. The story reels from heartbreaking to mind-bending like a poet on a magnificent drunk bouncing from lamp-post to lamp-post.

I have a gigantic backlog of reading that I've promised to do, but when the galleys for Marusek's first novel, Counting Heads, came to my mailbox, it went into my shoulder-bag and has stayed there ever since, while I read it in sips and draughts, stealing every possible moment to read more of it, wanting to see what happens next and not wanting it to end.

Counting Heads is the story of a humanity thrashing on the horns of the dilemma of too much of everything. In the Counting Heads world, the idea of being a single individual is obsolete. Some people are clones. Some are virtual. Some are avatars cast for some utility function and then discarded. Some are AI minders who babysit the others. Even families and households are fluid and multiplicitous: in a world as crowded as Marusek's, social institutions are necessarily larger and weirder than our contemporary nuclear families.

Yet all is not well, for too much can be as confounding as not enough. Counting Heads is the story of a vast intrigue, through which an emergent conspiracy rockets a remarkable woman to near-empress status, and then visits upon her indignity after indignity. Her husband, Sam, is the main protagonist of this story (which sports a gigantic cast of fascinating and likable characters), and it is through his eyes that we see every corner of this amazing world, from its highest heights to its lowest gutters.

It's hard to summarize this book because again and again, the plot hinges on wonderful, original inventions, and just describing the storyline would spoil too many of David's delightful surprises. I haven't felt as buffeted by a book since Gibson's Neuromancer -- haven't felt more like I was reading something truly radical, new and exciting.

When David was writing short stories, he was an exciting writer. Now that he's onto novels, he's practically a force of nature.
72 of 86 people found the following review helpful
Doesn't Hang Together 22 Nov. 2005
By Joseph Duemer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
While Counting Heads has much to recommend it, I don't think the novel lives up to its potential, nor to the potential of the author's work in short forms. Marusek is best at painting a nuanced & convincing future-scape. Nano-technology repairs the human body so that people live effectively forever; various lines of clones do specialized work suited to their types; "affs" (for "affluent") fight among themselves to control the wealth of the earth & its expansion into outer space; "free range" humans (non-cloned) form charters, or associations, which harken back to 19th century Chartism. All this is fascinating. Marusek has a highly inventive imagination & may well learn how to put a narrative together. His way of naming objects in the future demonstrates a clued-in ear for contemporary pop culture. The problem is that the reader is two-thirds through the novel before meeting an attractive character with whom to identify. In fact, the leading characters are insufferable affs. And through that first two-thirds, there really isn't anything you'd call a plot -- just a series of loosely linked incidents that serve to explicate the future-scape & that is the best of it. The final third of the narrative is a poorly conceived action / adventure sequence in search of a human meaning. Conclusion: Incident in search of plot; characters in search of personalities; an alternative world in search of a meaningful connection to experience.

Counting Heads suffers from shallow editing -- there are some truly bizarre sentences -- but no matter -- a good editor might have insisted on some character development & might have prevented the final section of the story from becoming a not very convincing chase scene from a B-movie. The vaunted editorial team at Tor might have hammered this into an interesting book -- the ideas are there -- but failed to do so in this case.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Excellent 28 Jan. 2006
By John Me Wallace - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The first work by David Marusek I read was "Getting To Know You", in an a little anthology titled "Issac Asimov's Utopias." The story blew me away, and when I found out that he was writing a novel set in the same universe, I knew I had to have it, and waited with baited breath until its publication. I was not disappointed.

The first part of the novel is "We Were Out of Our Minds With Joy", a novella published in 1995 that introduces this world. I was pleased as punch to see it, as at this point I'd only read "Getting to Know You". As part of the novel, it is arguably its best part; it's tautly-written, and it pulls you in and doesn't let go. Part 1 is set in 2092-4, and the succeeding two parts are set in 2134, making the novel proper a kind of contained prequel and sequel.

Marusek maps out this world--the "Boutique Economy"--in exhaustive detail, amazingly so given its modest length. It is a world both horrifying and hopeful; neither it nor its characters let you rest on your laurels. With its clones and de facto caste system, echoes of "Brave New World" are very much in evidence. Like Huxley's novel, much of the novel is darkly comic and satirical, but the author never loses sight of the human heart, and it is this thread of humanity that makes it all a joy to read.

The plot is basically a murder / espionage mystery, but the writing style itself is also something of a puzzle. Marusek uses many acronyms and portmanteau words that are not immediately explained, but whose meaning becomes evident as one progresses through the work. By the end of the novel, I felt like I had put an intricate model together. This is great stuff.

The only minus I can think of is that the novel definitely slows down a bit in the middle, before regaining momentum to a fast-paced, climactic conclusion. To be fair though, that could probably be said of many, if not most novels.

In short, this is a highly-recommended read, and I only wish I could visit this strange world with its fascinating characters again.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Not up to short story par 14 Dec. 2005
By Jason Pastorius - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I've been a fan of Marusek's since I read "We Were Out of Our Minds with Joy" in Asimov's while in college. I loved the story so much I made my girlfriend at the time, who didn't like SF, read it. She liked it, too. As the years went by, I eagerly read each new story as it was published.

But I have to agree with the previous reviewer that Counting Heads falls short of the quality of Marusek's short fiction, and in fact I share most of the criticisms expressed in that review. Fundamentally, the novel isn't a *story*. There's no over-arching narrative to tie it all together. Technically there is -- the search for Ellen -- but this serves more as an arbitrary device than a real storyline. The Bogdan character could be completely cut with no real impact on the story, and should have been in my opinion -- he's boring and one dimensional (Marusek even alludes to this in one scene, in a wink-wink way, but I would have preferred not to have suffered through the scenes involving him). There are many loose threads of potentially interesting plot elements that never get fully develooped and are left hanging, which I won't reveal here -- but I'll just say that when I had 15 pages left I couldn't believe that the novel would be able to conclude in that short span of pages. It didn't. I was amazed by the sudden turn to a "B movie" action sequence near the end, and thought maybe Marusek had taken inspiration from the film Adaptation. When the ending did arrive, I just thought, how did we get here, with these characters, and why should I care.

I ordered this book immediately after reading Cory's review of it. I'm glad I did, don't get me wrong. Part of my criticism of the book stems from the fact that I had very high expectations. I agree with the previous reviewer, too, that the editors should be held accountable for the book's final form. The book, especially the visionary / evocative portions, have an enormous amount of potential, but I think Marusek needs some guidance in crafting a real story that sustains itself over the length of a novel, and that clearly wasn't there.

But don't take my word for it. If you are a science fiction fan, buy this book for yourself and make up your own mind. Marusek will be a leader in the science fiction world for some time to come. I can't wait for his next novel.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Head and Shoulders Above the Rest 28 Oct. 2005
By I Read too Much - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
What if nanotechnology made it possible to endlessly "rejuvenate" your cells, maintaining your body at whatever age you wished - 35, 19, or 8 - for as long as you wished (or as long as you could afford it)? What sort of person would you be, with your 120 years of experience in your 12 year old body, and still all the time in the world, to live every life you've ever wanted?

Here's the catch: rejuvenation is expensive. In the year 2134, society is still a free market. Jobs are hard to come by, and all your competitors are as young and talented as you. Most work in society is performed by artificial intelligence, or by clones, "Applied People" perfectly suited to their high-demand jobs. The remaining "free range people" are either very rich, or utterly superfluous, creating and scavenging their lives as best they can.

Science fiction fans have been waiting for David Marusek's first novel for some time; Counting Heads was worth the wait.

In it Marusek offers up a complicated and charming dystopia, a society where the eternally young don't ever have to be alone, not even inside their own heads. Instead, they share almost every moment of consciousness with a mentar, an artificial intelligence complete with personality and mental skills far above those of the people they serve, each one custom-designed to intimately match each individual. These powerful computers manage the lives of the affluent, forever-young "affs," and the affs manage the lives of everyone else - not even death ends their influence.

When powerful aff Eleanor K. Starke finally falls prey to her enemies, her death sets off a violent "market correction" of murder and intrigue, with her wounded daughter Ellen at the heart of the struggle. Whether or not Ellen will survive is left to the kindness of strangers: a collection of free rangers, clones, and wily mentars, all suspicious of each other's motives, all with their own problems and desires.

The story takes place in and around Chicagoland, a city that's about to take a big risk: "What the city maintained, what the media trumpeted, was nothing less than the end of the Outrage. In recent decades, terrorist attacks had become ineffectual and rare, or so the experts claimed....Earth's biosphere was now 99.99 percent nanobiohazmat free. Any residual nanobot or nanocyst still dispersed in the atmosphere had gone wild, lost its virulence, and was no more lethal than hay fever. In fact, most nanocysts contained ordinary pollen, not the smallpox, marburg, or VEE they were designed to ferry. The big, region-wide filtering systems known as canopies that once had been the lifesavers of cities throughout the United Democracies were now, according to the authorities, little more than giant, very expensive air fresheners." Chicagoland plans to turn off its protective canopy, and no one really knows what will happen to the people who have lived under it for 70 years.

Marusek is an artful story teller with a talent for creating complex and visceral characters. He can make a reader empathize with a severed head, a cocky computer, or a perpetually pre-pubescent retrochild like Bogdan: "Among the Cathouse employees leaving the building were girls with tails poking out through the rear of their skirts. Bogdan approved of tails on girls. He liked how the girls tied bells to them or braided them with ribbons, or did other interesting things to draw attention to them. What drew his special attention were the tail holes in their clothes that usually exposed a little sliver of bare ass."

Counting Heads is a great example of the best science fiction has to offer. The world of this book is complete and true to its own rules, down to the smallest details - the characters even have their own slang. The science is well-researched, extrapolating the promises we hear for nanotechnology out to the extremes of their logical possibilities. At the same time, elements of our present world are scarily recognizable: characters who can't afford real information watch the "probable news," then pop down to the Nanojiffy to extrude a little lunch.

Fans of Marusek's short stories will recognize some familiar characters in Counting Heads. New readers will want to go looking for his earlier work, which has appeared in several magazines and collections, including Asimov's Science Fiction, Scientific American, Playboy, and The Year's Best Science Fiction: Seventeenth Annual Collection. Marusek was nominated for a Nebula Award in 1999, and he won the Sturgeon Award in 2000. Counting Heads is, as Robert Silverberg writes, "the science-fiction landmark we all expected it to be."
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