Counting Heads, Volume 1

Front Cover
Macmillan, Oct 16, 2007 - Fiction - 336 pages
17 Reviews

Counting Heads is David Marusek's extraordinary launch as an SF novelist: The year is 2134, and the Information Age has given rise to the Boutique Economy in which mass production and mass consumption are rendered obsolete. Life extension therapies have increased the human lifespan by centuries. Loyal mentars (artificial intelligences) and robots do most of society's work. The Boutique Economy has made redundant ninety-nine percent of the world's fifteen billion human inhabitants. The world would be a much better place if they all simply went away.

Eleanor K. Starke, one of the world's leading citizens is assassinated, and her daughter, Ellen, is mortally wounded. Only Ellen, the heir to her mother's financial empire, is capable of saving Earth from complete domination plotted by the cynical, selfish, immortal rich, that is if she survives. Her cryonically frozen head is in the hands of her family's enemies. A ragtag ensemble of unlikely heroes join forces to rescue Ellen's head, all for their own purposes.

Counting Heads arrives as a science fiction novel like a bolt of electricity, galvanizing readers with an entirely new vision of the future.

 

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - antao - LibraryThing

“I am not pouting, and I am certainly not indulging in self-pity, as Eleanor accuses me. In fact, I am brooding. It is what artists do, we brood. To other, more active people, we appear selfish ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - cloudshipsinger - LibraryThing

I enjoyed this book in the weirdest way. The characters, and the richly detailed SF future they inhabit, are fascinating. The central plot about rescuing Ellen's disembodied head, though, was ... Read full review

Selected pages

Contents

Section 1
9
Section 2
11
Section 3
40
Section 4
44
Section 5
49
Section 6
62
Section 7
65
Section 8
70
Section 25
168
Section 26
173
Section 27
180
Section 28
183
Section 29
186
Section 30
196
Section 31
203
Section 32
211

Section 9
71
Section 10
75
Section 11
84
Section 12
85
Section 13
96
Section 14
109
Section 15
114
Section 16
123
Section 17
128
Section 18
136
Section 19
142
Section 20
147
Section 21
152
Section 22
156
Section 23
160
Section 24
165
Section 33
216
Section 34
223
Section 35
227
Section 36
235
Section 37
240
Section 38
243
Section 39
246
Section 40
251
Section 41
253
Section 42
262
Section 43
279
Section 44
283
Section 45
289
Section 46
299
Section 47
331
Copyright

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About the author (2007)

1.1

On March 30, 2092, the Department of Health and Human Services issued Eleanor and me a permit. The undersecretary of the Population Division called with the news and official congratulations. We were stunned by our good fortune. The undersecretary instructed us to contact the National Orphanage. There was a baby in a drawer in Jersey with our names on it. We were out of our minds with joy.

Eleanor and I had been together a year by then. We’d met at a reception in Higher Soho, which I attended in realbody. A friend of a friend, who was holoing in from Seattle, said, “Sammy Harger, is that really you? What luck! There’s a woman here who wants to meet you.”

I told him thanks but no thanks. I wasn’t in the mood. Not even sure why I’d come. I was recovering from a week-long stint of design work in my Chicago studio. In those days I was in the habit of bolting my studio door and immersing myself in the heady universe of packaging design. It was my true creative calling, and I could lose all sense of time, even forgetting to eat or sleep. Henry knew to hold my calls. Henry was my belt valet system and technical assistant, and he alone attended me. I could go three or four days at a time like that, or until my Muse surrendered up another award-winning design.

My latest bout had lasted a week but yielded nothing, not even a third-rate inspiration, and I was a little depressed as I leaned over the buffet table to fill my plate.

“There you are,” my persistent friend said. “Eleanor Starke, this is the famous Samson Harger. Sam, El.”

An attractive woman stood on a patch of berber carpet from some other room and sipped coffee from a delicate china cup. She said hello and raised her hand in a holo greeting. I raised my own hand and noticed how filthy my fingernails were. Unshaven and disheveled, I had come straight from my cave. But the woman chose to ignore this.

“I’ve wanted to meet you for a long time,” she said brightly. “I was just telling Lindsey about admiring a canvas of yours yesterday in the museum here.”

A canvas? She’d had to go back over a century to find something of mine to admire? “Is that right?” I said. “And where is here?”

A hint of amusement flickered across the woman’s remarkable face. “I’m in Budapest,” she said.

Budapest, Henry said inside my head. Sorry, Sam, but her valet system won’t talk to me. I have gone to public sources. Eleanor K. Starke is a noted corporate prosecutor. I’m digesting bios now.

“You have me at a disadvantage,” I told the woman standing halfway around the globe. “My valet is an artist’s assistant, not an investigator.” If her holo persona was anything like her real self, this Eleanor K. Starke was a pretty woman, mid-twenties, slight build. She had reddish blond hair, a disarmingly freckled face, and very heavy eyebrows. Too sunny a face for a prosecutor, I thought, except for the eyes. Her eyes peered out at you like eels in coral. “I understand you’re a corporate prosecutor,” I said.

Her bushy eyebrows rose in mock surprise. “Why, yes, I am!”

Sam, Henry whispered, no two published bios agree on even the most basic data. She’s between 180 and 204 years old. She earns over a million a year, no living offspring, degrees in History, Biochemistry, and Law. Hobbies include fencing, chess, and recreational matrimony. She’s been dating a procession of noted artists, composers, and dancers in the last dozen months. And her celebrity futures are trading at 9.7 cents.

I snorted. Nine point seven cents. Anything below ten cents on the celebrity market was nothing to crow about. Of course, my own shares had sunk over the years to below a penny, somewhere down in the has-been to wannabe range.

Eleanor nibbled at the corner of a pastry. “This is breakfast for me. I wish I could share it with you. It’s marvelous.” She brushed crumbs from the corner of her mouth. “By the way, your assistant---Henry, is it?---sounds rather priggish.” She set her cup down on something outside her holo frame before continuing. “Oh, don’t be offended, Sam. I’m not snooping. Your Henry’s encryption stinks---it’s practically broadcasting your every thought.”

“Then you already know how charmed I am,” I said.

She laughed. “I’m really botching this, aren’t I? I’m trying to pick you up, Samson Harger. Do you want me to pick you up, or should I wait until you’ve had a chance to shower and take a nap?”

I considered this brash young/old woman and her awkward advances. Warning bells were going off inside my head, but that was probably just Henry, who does tend to be a bit of a prig, and though Eleanor Starke seemed too cocky for my tastes and too full of herself to be much fun, I was intrigued. Not by anything she said, but by her eyebrows. They were vast and disturbingly expressive. As she spoke, they arched and plunged to accentuate her words, and I couldn’t imagine why she didn’t have them tamed. They fascinated me, and like Henry’s parade of artist types before me, I took the bait.

Over the next few weeks, Eleanor and I became acquainted with each other’s bedrooms and gardens up and down the Eastern Seaboard. We stole moments between her incessant business trips and obligations. Eventually, the novelty wore off. She stopped calling me, and I stopped calling her. We had moved on, or so I thought. A month passed when I received a call from Hong Kong. Her Calendar asked if I would care to hololunch the next day. Her late lunch in China would coincide with my midnight brandy in Buffalo.

I holoed at the appointed time. She had already begun her meal and was expertly freighting a morsel of water chestnut to her mouth by chopstick. “Hi,” she said when she noticed me. “Welcome. I’m so glad you could make it.” She sat at a richly lacquered table next to a scarlet wall with golden filigree trim. “Unfortunately, I can’t stay,” she said, placing the chopsticks on her plate. “Last-minute program change. So sorry. How’ve you been?”

“Fine,” I said.

She wore a loose green silk suit, and her hair was neatly stacked on top of her head. “Can we reschedule for tomorrow?” she asked.

I was surprised by how disappointed I felt at the cancellation. I hadn’t realized that I’d missed her. “Sure, tomorrow.”

That night and the whole next day was colored with anticipation. At midnight I said, “Henry, take me to the Hong Kong Excelsior.”

“She’s not there,” he replied. “She’s at the Takamatsu Tokyo tonight.”

Sure enough, the scarlet walls were replaced by paper screens. “There you are,” she said. “God, I’m famished.” She uncovered a bowl and scooped steamy sticky rice onto her plate while telling me in broad terms about a case she was brokering. “They asked me to stay on, you know. Join the firm.”

I sipped my drink. “Are you going to?”

She glanced at me, curious. “I get offers like that all the time.”

We began to meet for a half hour or so each day and talked about whatever came to mind. El’s interests were deep and broad; everything seemed to fascinate her. She told me, while choking back laughter, ribald anecdotes of famous people caught in embarrassing situations. She revealed curious truths behind the day’s news stories and pointed out related investment opportunities. She teased out of me all sorts of opinions, gossip, and jokes. Her half of the room changed daily and reflected her hectic itinerary: jade, bamboo, and teak. My half of the room never varied. It was the atrium of my hillside house in Santa Barbara where I had gone in order to be three hours closer to her. As we talked I looked down the yucca- and chaparral-choked canyon to the university campus and beach below, to the channel islands, and beyond them, to the blue-green Pacific that separated us.

Weeks later, when again we met in realbody, I was shy. I didn’t know quite what to do with my hands when we talked. We sat close together in my living room and tried to pick any number of conversational threads. With no success. Her body, so close, befuddled me. I thought I knew her body---hadn’t I undressed it a dozen times before? But it was different now, occupied, as it was, by El. I wanted to make love to El, if ever I could get started.

“Nervous, are we?” she teased.

Fortunately, before we went completely off the deep end, the self-involved parts of our personalities bobbed to the surface. The promise of happiness can be daunting. El snapped first. We were at her Maine town house when her security chief holoed into the room. Until then the only member of her valet system---what she called her Cabinet---that I had met was her chief of staff.

“I have something to show you,” the security chief said, glowering at me from under his bushy eyebrows. I glanced at Eleanor, who made no attempt to explain or excuse the intrusion. “This was a live feed earlier,” the chief continued and turned to watch as Eleanor’s living room was overlaid with the studio lounge of the SEE Show. It was from their “Trolling

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