When I found The Sum of Her Parts by bestselling and award-winning author Alan Dean Foster, I didn’t realize it was part of the Tipping Point Trilogy. I realized I hadn’t read any of Foster’s work in quite a while, so I snapped it up. I knew without even looking at the synopsis that I’d like it if he wrote it.
So here’s the disclaimer: You need to read the first two books in this trilogy before reading The Sum of Her Parts. There is no recap and there are no flashbacks to prior events to help readers new to this world. It’s possible to understand what’s going on in this third book without reading the other two books but it’s frustrating enough that I wouldn’t recommend it. And it’s such a good story that it’s worth reading all three books. If a sci-fi, dystopian, near-future, mystery/thriller about futuristic genetic modification and body manipulation interests you then you’re going to love this trilogy.
Warning: This review contains spoilers for the first two books in the Tipping Point Trilogy, The Human Blend and Body, Inc.
Background: The world’s environment is irretrievably damaged from centuries of abuse by mankind. Extreme genetic manipulation (manips) and body modification (mods) have become the norm for survival but even more for vanity. People with manips and mods are known as Melds. Criminals also are given cruel manips and mods as the latest form of punishment. Dr. Ingrid Seastrom joins forces with a Savannah street thief, the surgically altered and preternaturally thin man named Whispr. Their relationship revolves around a tiny unique nanoscale data-storage thread Whispr had recovered from a body. Whispr just wants to sell it and offers Ingrid 50% of the profits if she helps him. But Ingrid discovers something about it that makes them both want to find its source. Assassins have been on their heels ever since.
The Sum of Her Parts: Ingrid’s and Whispr’s search for the thread’s source has led them to believe it’s tied to the South Africa Economic Combine a.k.a. SICK. Ingrid is certain SICK has the answers she seeks if she and Whispr can survive the environment and the assassins long enough to find them.
The worst assassin on their trail is SICK’s own genetically modified Napun Mole. His mods make him harder to take down than a whole combat unit, and his heart is cold as ice. A robot would have more heart than Mole. If he ever catches up with our heroes, it’s all over – and he’s getting closer every day. It’s become very personal for him. Now he doesn’t just want to kill them, he wants to make them suffer.
“He had lost their trail. Lost track of his quarry. The mildly deranged doctor and her nonentity stick-man Meld of a companion had vanished from the hunter’s ken, plucked literally from under his gaze by the operator of a counterfeit elephant.”
The only way to get to SICK’s laboratory is to cross the treacherous Namib Desert. Despite everyone’s attempts to discourage them, Ingrid and Whispr strike out across the desert. They know they can’t go back or Mole will get them. Their only hope is to go forward and find the lab. Thanks to Morgan Ouspel, they at least have the secret route to the facility. They can only hope it’s accurate. The desert has its own plans for them, or any outsider. Their sources were right; their chances of finding the hidden SICK research lab are slim to none. The natural dangers are nasty enough but there are also the dangers that are unnatural.
“Looking down the length of her body and seeing the snake slithering across her calves she let out an involuntary gasp. Outside their hiding place the searcher, which had moved on down the gully, suddenly paused…The snake was huge, more than four meters in length and a glossy dark olive-green hue. So dark it was almost black…The Namib was home to a number of poisonous serpents and with its distinctive sheen this one was most likely…A black mamba.”
Luckily they also run into some allies along the way, including an eccentric diamond miner named Barnato and a tribe of modified meerkats who have attained human-level intelligence. Never underestimate an intelligent meerkat!
“He nodded curtly toward her pack. ‘I was hoping he [Barnato] might give you something worthwhile, but clearly in all his years of wasting away out here he hasn’t found anything.’
‘Yes, he has, Whispr,’ she countered. ‘He’s found happiness. Most people dig for that their whole lieves and never strike pay dirt.’
Her companion shook his head sadly. ‘You and I have always had different definitions of both happiness and pay dirt, doc.’”
“Her attention fixed on the face of the furry being standing on her chest,…’I think they’re meerkats.’
A response was immediately forthcoming – but not from any source she would have anticipated. It arose in the form of an intelligible squeaking from the enchanting lightweight…Each word was enunciated…At the same time sunlight glinted off the bits of crudely clipped nanocable that emerged from the back of the diminutive speaker’s skull. The trailing wires imparted a faintly Rastafarian look. ‘Yes – meerkat.’”
And even if they find it, the SICK lab is heavily guarded against intruders. No one gets in and no one gets out unless SICK wants them to. Given that SICK has sent a relentless assassin after them, the chances that SICK will welcome them with open arms is pretty much zero. That means they’ll have to somehow sneak into a sterile, heavily guarded research lab to find the answers. Yep, like that’s likely to have a good outcome. Still they’ve come far enough that going back or changing their minds is no longer an option. It’s do or die, or maybe both.
“’We’re going to do this, Whispr. We’re going to make it to Nerens, get inside, and find out what the thread is all about.’
Tucked beneath the blanket, he mumbled his usual misgiving. ‘You still believe that if we get to Nerens we can get in.’
She regarded his prone, huddled form. ‘Of course. Precisely because no one is supposed to be able to get to Nerens. Everyone will assume we belong there because only those who belong there are allowed to be there.’
‘Circular logic, doc. Doesn’t hold up.’”
Will they survive the desert? Will Mole catch them? Will they find the heavily camouflaged SICK facility? Can they get in? Will they find the data thread’s source? If so, will they survive the experience?
Sigrid’s and Whispr’s strengths and weaknesses make for a good counterbalance. She needs his street smarts and gut instincts, and he needs her wealth of knowledge, optimism, and her driving need to discover the science behind the thread. Together they make an excellent team and their relationship is a very interesting one to say the least. Mole just gave me the creepy-crawlies. He’s a cold-blooded killer who enjoys the pain and suffering he causes others. To say he’s the personification of a psychopath would be an insult to psychopaths.
Although Alan Dean Foster has written a sci-fi thriller in The Sum of Her Parts, and the Tipping Point Trilogy, he’s also written a dystopian road trip novel, as strange as that may seem. Sigrid and Whispr are on a road trip through a world vastly altered from our current one, yet still recognizable. The characters they meet along the way add depth and help illustrate how the world has changed in a fascinating way for such a plot-driven series. Foster’s writing always flows so wonderfully that I feel like I’ve been swept up into the adventure along with the characters. I hope you enjoy this series as much as I did!
Can’t wait to read it?
The Sum of Her Parts was published on November 27, 2012, so it should be available from your favorite online bookseller below. Just click the button to go there to get it. As an example, Amazon has it priced at $10.20 for the paperback and $9.99 for the e-book. Book #1, The Human Blend, was published in November 2011, and Book #2, Body, Inc., was published in March 2012. Both are also available from the booksellers below.
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