#SciFiMonth Review: The Body Scout by Lincoln Michel
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Mystery
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Orbit (September 21, 2021)
Length: 291 pages
I’m always trying to read more cyberpunk, which can be a problem sometimes because the genre doesn’t always agree with me. Most of what we think of as more traditional cyberpunk tends to on the darker side and too bleak for my tastes, or the technological aspects might be far too complex and overwhelming for me to handle. So you can imagine what a pleasant surprise it was when I came across Lincoln Michel’s The Body Scout, and found a perfect balance of cyberpunk noir, futuristic sci-fi, and easy, wonderful readability.
As you’d expect, the world of The Body Scout is one where its citizens prize cybernetics and other body modifications, and the use of such enhancements has changed virtually every aspect of human life, including sports. Our protagonist Kobo is a talent scout for the professional baseball league, now controlled by the pharmaceutical companies, making his living traveling around the world recruiting new people for his bosses and hunting for the latest mods to improve performance. A former bionic athlete himself, Kobo used to play for the now defunct Cyber League but is now strapped with huge amounts of debt while trying to make ends meet in a cutthroat industry.
Meanwhile though, his best friend and adoptive brother Zunz is making a name for himself as a rising star playing professionally for the Monsanta Mets, and Kobo couldn’t be prouder and happier for him. But then one day, in the middle of a playoff game in front of millions watching, Zunz suddenly drops dead on the field. Everyone is calling it a tragic accident, pointing to either a mysterious illness or some other issue related to his mods. However, Kobo isn’t buying it. He suspects it may be murder, and the plot thickens as he is next hired by the owner of the Monsanto Mets to investigate Zunz’s death, with the promise of a large reward if he can somehow implicate the team’s rivals. Seizing this opportunity to seek answers to his own questions, Kobo begins his twisted journey into the dark and unforgiving world of sports and corporate politics where everyone has a stake.
First of all, I was pretty impressed that The Body Scout is a debut. This novel was very well put together, with intriguing characters and a compulsive storyline. The premise behind the mystery plot was established fairly early, which proved to be an excellent decision by the author as the bombshell of Zunz’s death pretty much set the tone and pace for the rest of the book, which was quick and punchy. Thing is, I couldn’t even give a crap about baseball, yet I was drawn completely into this story which says a lot about Michel’s writing. For one, it was fascinating the way cybernetics and enhancements were married into the world of sports, and I found all those ideas refreshing and unique in spite of their esoteric nature.
Plus, everyone knows I love a good whodunit. Of course, cyberpunk and crime noir often go hand in hand, but also it takes something special to create an engaging mystery, and The Body Scout has it. Nothing is what it seems, and as we follow Kobo into his strange and unfamiliar world, I was glad that the narrative kept us focused on the key elements while others may have been tempted to go offtrack exploring other facets of the world. God knows there were enough distractions with the near-future setting, the population’s obsession with the staggering variety of technological enhancements, or even all that potential material when it came to baseball. Oh yeah, and there were Neanderthals, which have been brought back through cloning. The point is though, Michel always brought the attention back to what was important—our protagonist’s motivation to find who killed his beloved friend and brother.
I think it was this point that brought something very personal and relatable to the mix. It’s something a lot of cyberpunk books lack, I find, which is this nice warm message about found families and powerful friendships. Sure, things didn’t ultimately turn out too well for our protagonist and his brother, but Kobo’s reactions went on to make him extremely sympathetic to me. Flashbacks to his childhood, brief as they were, of playing with Zunz in the bleak spaces beneath the flooded city of New York were some of my favorites because they somehow made the baseball star’s death even more egregious and horrifying. After all, someone had robbed that boy in his memories of his big dream, and Kobo isn’t going to rest until he finds out why. His long lists of flaws aside, I definitely liked him initially because of his devotion and tenacity, and eventually, it became more about the way the investigation changes him.
So, if you’re hankering for something cyberpunky that’s also accessible and won’t overwhelm you too much with bleakness and sci-fi lingo, look no further—The Body Scout is what you need. While I can see how the heavy focus on baseball might be off-putting to some, I think the story’s unique premise is what will come out on top, not to mention the plot moves so fast you probably won’t even notice. Overall, simply a brilliant and enjoyable debut from Lincoln Michel, with strong characterization and superb storytelling.