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Counting Heads

(Counting Heads #1)

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  1,135 ratings  ·  145 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 intelligence) and robots do most of society's work.
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published November 1st 2005 by Tor Books (first published 2005)
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3.77  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,135 ratings  ·  145 reviews

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Manuel Antão
Sep 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

Non-Flash-in-the-Pan SF: “Counting Heads” by David Marusek

“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, obsessive, even narcissistic, which is why we prefer to brood in private.”

In “Counting Heads” by David Marusek
SF stories often regurgitate medieval themes and settings, including war
Sep 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
I was caught by the premise and what can I say? I love hi-tech future-Earth stories, especially when they don't automatically deform into the dissolution of society, but rather, they discuss important issues in sometimes humorous, sometimes disturbing, sometimes just plainly WTF.

This one is definitely all of the above.

The entire novel is extremely rich in wonderful world-building ideas in the grand, nearly overwhelming sense that it's all over the place, from nanotech everywhere, to domed cities
mark monday
Aug 02, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: scifi-modern
enjoyable and perplexing in equal measures. despite the hyper-futuristic setting, warm humanistic values are carefully embodied by every major character - a welcome surprise for a novel with so many inventions and so much jargon flying at the reader willy-nilly. especially enjoyable are the clone couple, adorable in their basic clone personality templates but increasingly intriguing as they begin to push at the boundaries of their existence. the central character of the nearly-senile, curmudgeon ...more
Ben Babcock
I’m not a connoisseur of Coen Brothers films, but there are two I love: Fargo and Burn After Reading. Both of these bleak-yet-comic films have in common their stellar ensemble casts and strong, interwoven stories. Neither has a single, clear protagonist following a simple, linear plot. That would be boring! Instead, each film presents a complicated set of narratives in which everyone is the protagonist of their own life even as they antagonize others.

Counting Heads is a bit like these Coen Broth
What an interesting and intriguing book! Ideas about society are outlined in detail, but it's not boring or tiring to read. This is not a ponderous overweighted tome; instead, the Reader follows along with the personality of Samson Harger, (a person of about 140 according to pg 186, on pg 188, his years of life are noted as 1951-2092) through courtship, marriage, arranging for a child, all the usual relationship things.

Sam is a packaging artist .. his 'wrapping papers' will excite you -- both in
Jul 31, 2010 rated it really liked it
Frederik Pohl once said, “A good science fiction story should be able to predict not the automobile but the traffic jam.” David Marusek has taken this to heart with COUNTING HEADS, an incredible extrapolation of the future of human community and the joys and troubles that come with it.

The biggest fault with COUNTING HEADS is not the novel itself, but its billing. While the dust jacket sells the book as an adventure story, it’s really a throwback to the great social explorations of Robert Silverb
Oct 17, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Samson Paul Harger was born in 1951 and died in 2092. Unfortunately, he still has over 40 years left to live; watching his body deteriorate at a rate normal for that of a man living in the 20th Century is only going to prolong his sense of injustice. In Samson’s lifetime, mortality is more of a distant bother than a reality. Humanity has experienced a technological boom, neé—a renaissance of medicine, cloning, and that ever elusive font of youth: immortality.

Shortly after getting married to his
Aug 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
I simply loved this book--and loved exploring the politics, ethics and economics of Marusek's remarkably plausible century-from-now world. The only thing keeping me from giving it a full 5 stars is that the book in the end is remarkably unfinished in terms of plot, and while the plot remains the least compelling thing about the book there is likely to be some frustration for readers in the sudden pulling of the plug here. Fortunately the sequel, MIND OVER SHIP, is there to keep you going. -- j
Aug 26, 2012 rated it did not like it
I gave up on this book halfway through. I almost never give up on books like that... but in this case, the book never connected with me.

The story, to the extent that there is one, is set on a future Earth that has been devastated by nano- and biological weapons. People live in cities, which serve as enclaves to protect them from remnants of past wars. We have a massive class divide, with cloned humans serving as virtual slaves and affluents who rule the world, all living in a police state set up
Jul 06, 2011 rated it liked it
Marusek’s debut novel is set in a futuristic Earth of nanotechnology and cloning. Society is divided up roughly into four groups. Affs are the very rich, practically immortal beings who seem to spend their time spinning webs of power. Free Rangers are the middle class, living often in Charters, a sort of communes. The lower class is made up of clones, everything from Russes to Evangelines to Jennys, bred for their dominant traits. Jennys are nurturing and often work in healthcare, Russes are loy ...more
Jan 12, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Best book I've read in a while; it's a massively complex story being told through at least half a dozen different perspectives that don't really coalesce until the very end in a spectacular way.

It's the future. Disease is mostly gone, except for virulent nanomaterials that salted the Earth in the last war. Civilization is ordered, and humanity is experiencing a marvelous renaissance through technological salvation. Except when it doesn't. Murder, corruption, manipulation, pull back the curtain
A.A. Attanasio
Jun 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
How do we tell good science fiction from bad? By the rhapsody of language and scientific ideas. Counting Heads flickers us into the 22nd century in a fast-paced narrative of cascading tech-extrapolations that actually drive the story. It’s exhilarating! This is arch science fiction flexible as music. Keenly imagined future-science is the eerily beautiful femme fatale of this noir portrayal of our mercantile culture as a murder mystery – where the victim is the human soul. A masterful work.
Jan 01, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I got more than a third of the way into this book and just couldn't go any further. Couldn't keep the characters much less the story plot straight. It was just too confusing to me. Of course, it could have a lot to do with the fact that I'm not a is-fi enthusiast.
Jan 05, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: science-fiction
Part one (originally a short story) was excellent. It went downhill from there.
Jan 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: sci-fi freaks, fiction peeps
Recommended to Lauryl by: read about another book by this author in The Believer
"On March 30, 2092, the Department of Health and Human Services issues Eleanor and me a permit...There was a baby in a drawer in Jersey with our names on it. We were out of our minds with joy."

The first paragraph of this book may go in my top ten all time opening paragraphs, it's so good.

I haven't read a good sci-fi book in a long time, so this was really, really satisfying. I'm finding myself sort of at a loss to describe it, even though I enjoyed it so much. It's almost more exciting, I think
Previous TCL Reviews
This is one of those science fiction novels that is full of plausible descriptions of customs and gadgets and governments that really make you think about where the future is headed. For example, people live hundreds of years due to life enhancement technologies, and they have loyal “mentars” – essentially personal concierge/nano-robots – that are implanted into their bodies and speak to them inside their heads. It’s worth reading just for the vivid imagination of the author, but be prepared to ...more
Jun 28, 2012 rated it it was ok
Marusek starts with a catchy hook and fascinating speculative scifi. But the story quickly degenerates into almost uncountable plot threads. It seems as if Marusek had a beginning and an ending in mind, and then invented a myriad of ideas and characters to get from A to B. Unfortunately, many of those ideas and characters, which seem like they will be important, never amount to anything, and remain unresolved at the end. I've heard that Marusek started as a short story writer, and after reading ...more
Feb 18, 2009 rated it it was ok

As a 'first novel' I found this book to be less than satisfying. While it's densely packed with all sorts of futuristic scenarios and interesting technological 'stuff', the plot is hard to parse. Partly due to a glaring lack of clear delineation of terminology he uses in the book. Perhaps if one has followed his other writings in various anthologies and such some of it would be more clear, but if you're looking for an introduction to Marusek's writing this isn't the one to start with.

The plot
David C. Mueller
Jun 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sf-misc-authors
This is the best "post-singularity" novel I have read to date. This author combines a tremendous imagination for his future setting with believable and admirable characters. This is an emotionally warmer book that the other "post-singularity" works I have read by other authors and I am looking forward to reading the second novel in the series, "Mind Over Ship." Not since reading Donald Kingsbury's "Psychohistorical Crisis" have I been so entertained by a SF novel. Some aspects of the universe of ...more
Alex Rogers
Dec 14, 2010 rated it it was ok
I was underwhelmed. I've had this on my to-read list for a long time, influenced by many positive reviews, and was excited to finally find it in e-book form. But while I finished the book, I found it really hard to "lose" myself in like I do with almost any book I enjoy. The best science fiction books are often initially difficult initially, and take a while to accept the author's fictional world / premise / characters - but then you are caught up and immersed in their stange and wonderful creat ...more
Jan 10, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: genre-sf, read_2009

This is a novel I bought on publication four years or so ago, and tried to read many times and stopping after the brilliant novella introduction told by Sam, when it just degenerates in cold jargon that meant nothing to me.

Since I got an arc of book 2, I decided to get over once and for all with this book, so I fast read the second, larger part and it's such a waste of a great setup.

I hope book 2, Mind Over Ship will fulfill the promise of the brilliant 46 pages of Counting Heads, followed b
Peter Tillman
Jun 15, 2016 rated it it was ok
I was really looking forward to this one, so I'm sorry to report that Counting Heads falls into the "interesting failure" class. The novel as a whole, well, fails to cohere. Worse, I kept falling asleep reading it.

I've been very impressed with Marusek's short fiction, such as his astonishing "The Wedding Album" (1999), and "We Were Out of Our Minds with Joy" (95), reworked as the opening section of this book.
Marianne Robin-Tani
Dec 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
An engrossing view of the future where the fascinating technological wonders that Mr. Marusek created drive the story forward but don't detract from the complex relationships between the clones, humans and sentient machines that populate this well-imagined world.
Servius  Heiner
Feb 14, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: sci-fi
This book was both horrible and good at the same time, I’m not sure how that is possible, but hey I guess it is. Great concept, poor execution. Then the ending, I will not even call it an ending. It didn’t end it just stops.
Aug 09, 2007 rated it it was ok
Far future, mind fuck (thats a good things) gives way to a plodding story.
Aug 15, 2009 rated it it was ok

A glum dystopia that isn't even fun to visit.
Rick Owens
May 07, 2017 rated it it was ok
Poorly handled transition from volume this to volume next. Major plot lines introduced late and abandoned. Characters change then reappear - unchanged. Very unsatisfactory end to Volume 1. Actually reads as if you finished a chapter, except the author decided he had given you enough this book so it will be another $20 [or whatever]to see "what happens next.
Interesting way to involve the reader, describe the characters fairly well and then drop them into situations. It allows the reader to "fill
Jan 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
'Show, don't tell,' is right out of Writing 101, and a good author follows this advice without the reader even noticing. From the first-page slang of 'A Clockwork Orange' to the immediate drop-in worlds of a George Saunders short story, a writer's self-confidence and trust in the reader makes for an engrossing partnership.
Sci-fi writers can easily fall into a trap of thinking they must explain the world they are creating; Marusek avoids this pitfall, allowing the reader to glean meaning as the s
Jul 12, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Certainly a fascinating and imaginative look into the future: rejuvenation clinics that produce near-immortals (for a price), clone populations that fulfill nearly all of society's maintenance occupations (nurses, guards, cops, etc.) and nearly omnipotent AI 'mentars' (personal assistants).

The gap between present technology and all this future tech can make the story difficult to follow, as the crevasse is SO wide that many of the advancements are too far-fetched to comprehend. A widespread cast
Sep 22, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An intresting scifi book that spanes about a 40 year time period. And it shifts from a single POV in the beginning to multiple POV. Howevere Sam POV is present throughout the whole book. And all the other POV interconect or circle Sam. There are some intresting points raised about consumerism and govermentinvolvement for protection of citizens. However most of the characters were unlikable and the was some unconfterable sexual conversation or issidents. Also the replace of curse words was strang ...more
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Author David Marusek writes science fiction in a cabin in Fairbanks, Alaska. His work has appeared in Playboy, Nature, MIT Technology Review, Asimov’s, and other periodicals and anthologies and has been translated into ten languages. According to Publisher's Weekly, “Marusek's writing is ferociously smart, simultaneously horrific and funny, as he forces readers to stretch their imaginations and sy ...more

Other books in the series

Counting Heads (2 books)
  • Mind Over Ship
“There's not much to say about loneliness, for it's not a broad subject. Any child, alone in her room, can journey across its entire breadth, from border to border, in an hour.

Though not broad, our subject is deep. Loneliness is deeper than the ocean. But here, too, there is no mystery. Our intrepid child is liable to fall quickly to the very bottom without even trying. And since the depths of loneliness cannot sustain human life, the child will swim to the surface again in short order, no worse for wear.

Some of us, though, can bring breathing aids down with us for longer stays: imaginary friends, drugs and alcohol, mind-numbing entertainment, hobbies, ironclad routine, and pets. (Pets are some of the best enablers of loneliness, your own cuddlesome Murphy notwithstanding.) With the help of these aids, a poor sap can survive the airless depths of loneliness long enough to experience its true horror -- duration.

Did you know, Myren Vole, that when presented with the same odor (even my own) for a duration of only several minutes, the olfactory nerves become habituated -- as my daughter used to say -- to it and cease transmitting its signal to the brain?

Likewise, most pain loses its edge in time. Time heals all -- as they say. Even the loss of a loved one, perhaps life's most wrenching pain, is blunted in time. It recedes into the background where it can be borne with lesser pains. Not so our friend loneliness, which grows only more keen and insistent with each passing hour. Loneliness is as needle sharp now as it was an hour ago, or last week.

But if loneliness is the wound, what's so secret about it? I submit to you, Myren Vole, that the most painful death of all is suffocation by loneliness. And by the time I started on my portrait of Jean, I was ten years into it (with another five to go). It is from that vantage point that I tell you that loneliness itself is the secret. It's a secret you cannot tell anyone. Why?

Because to confess your loneliness is to confess your failure as a human being. To confess would only cause others to pity and avoid you, afraid that what you have is catching. Your condition is caused by a lack of human relationship, and yet to admit to it only drives your possible rescuers farther away (while attracting cats).

So you attempt to hide your loneliness in public, to behave, in fact, as though you have too many friends already, and thus you hope to attract people who will unwittingly save you. But it never works that way. Your condition is written all over your face, in the hunch of your shoulders, in the hollowness of your laugh. You fool no one.

Believe me in this; I've tried all the tricks of the lonely man.”
More quotes…