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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Del Rey (Nov. 22 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345511980
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345511980
  • Product Dimensions: 13.9 x 1.5 x 20.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 159 g
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #510,742 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

About the Author

Alan Dean Foster has written in a variety of genres, including hard science fiction, fantasy, horror, detective, Western, historical, and contemporary fiction. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller Star Wars: The Approaching Storm and the popular Pip & Flinx novels, as well as novelizations of several films including Transformers, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Star Wars, the first three Alien films, and Alien Nation. His novel Cyber Way won the Southwest Book Award for Fiction in 1990, the first science fiction work ever to do so. Foster and his wife, JoAnn Oxley, live in Prescott, Arizona, in a house built of brick that was salvaged from an early-twentieth-century miners’ brothel. He is currently at work on several new novels and media projects.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


"Let's riffle the dead man." Jiminy scowled at the newly won corpse and hopped to it.

Viewed up close, the freshly demised Meld wasn't much of a prize--but then, Jiminy Cricket wasn't much of a thief. Neither was his occasional mudbud Whispr. As Jiminy slipped the still-warm barker back inside his shirt, the two men bent over the motionless middle-aged Meld who'd had the unluck to be singled out as prey. Whispr was relieved the man had finally stopped gasping. In the deceptive calm of the Savannah alley where they had dragged the lumpy body, the dead man's penultimate air suckling had grown progressively more disconcerting. Now it, and he, were stilled.

Jiminy had not been certain the barker would work as intended. With a slapjob barker you never did know. It was supposed to identify anyone, Meld or Natural, who was burdened with a fib, pump, adjunct, pacemaker, flexstent, or just about any other variety of artificial heart or heart accessory--and at the push of a button, stop it. A barker meted out murder most subtle. More important to the wielder, it imposed death quietly. Once the barker's short-range scanner had picked the pedestrian out of a late-evening crowd, Whispr and Jiminy had trailed him until the opportunity to stop his heart from a distance and riffle the resulting corpse had presented itself.

Victim and murderers alike were Melds. Jiminy's legs had been lengthened, modified, and enhanced with nanocarbonic prosthetics that allowed him to cover distances equivalent to obsolete Olympic long jump records in a single bound. Immensely useful for fleeing from pursuers. Awkward if you wanted to buy off-the-rack trousers. Each of his bone-grafted, elongated thighbones was twice the length of those belonging to a Natural of the same height. The high-strength fast-twitch muscle fibers with their bonded protein inserts that wrapped around his leg bones were three times normal thickness while the accompanying tendons had been fashioned from synthetic spider silk.

These melded legs had struck Jiminy with the casually bestowed nickname he had gone ahead and adopted as his own. Ostensibly he was a legitimate messenger, able to leap easily from platform to platform and street to catwalk across the multitude of canals and waterways that now crisscrossed Old Savannah. In actuality, they allowed him to elude all but the most persistent hunter. Evening to early morning was when he practiced his real profession. Was when he made his money resolute. Diurnal messenger boy was his mask, moonlight the chisel that chipped it away.

Unlike his friend who had acceded to a naming by acclimation, Whispr had chosen his own Meld name. His validated moniker was Archibald Kowalski. Everyone in his family had been big--in his family "big" serving as polite synonym for "obese." Growing up an obese kid was bad. Growing up poor and obese was bad squared. So when the appointed legal hour of adolescence arrived when Archie could choose to stay natural or undergo his first legal meld, he chose to become--slim. Not naturally slim which he could perhaps have accomplished with diet or even unpretentious traditional surgery, but unnaturally slim. Meld-slim.

Set beside the grand majority of complex meld surgeries, his was comparatively simple. They removed half his stomach and the majority of his intestines. In their place were inserted a fuel cell-powered post-digestive NEM (nutrient extractor and maximizer) that drew its energy from the fortified liquids he drank. It was complemented by a compact prefood processor. Nothing custom was required--all were straight off-the-line components. They had to be. Even with the first-meld loan he took out to pay for them he couldn't afford anything fancier.

Since then, with the money he and Jiminy had aggrandized through their after-hours activities, Archie had been able to add more personalized bioganic components to the humeld that was himself. A carbo squeezer, muscle assists, and most significantly a full course of bone aeration treatments. The result was that while he stood nearly six feet tall and weighed less than a hundred pounds, he was according to all tests and measures perfectly healthy, from his heart rate to his skin color. A bonus accruing from his chosen meld was that his cholesterol and triglyceride levels were lower than a mudpuppy's pooper. He and his whip-thin silhouette were nothing exceptional. Not when compared to the average Meld--far less when set beside one who was exceedingly customized.

He could slip through spaces between buildings where the police could not follow and enter openings too tight or narrow for more intelligent but less willowy thieves. Due to his everlastingly abridged weight he walked in a permanent hush. This practice of making airfalls instead of footfalls had led to him choosing the Meld name Whispr. But unlike Jiminy he had not had it wholly transliterated to his national ident. The census still knew him as Archibald Kowalski. Only friends and fences were acquainted with him as Whispr.

He and Jiminy had not singled out the unaccompanied pedestrian for the man's heartparts. Heart components were as common as--well, as melds. Perversely, what had drawn their attention was the man's left hand. With the face of its deceased owner smudging the alley's old brick paving, Whispr was able to admire the hand more fully as his partner extracted a compact set of decoupling tools from inside his copious shirt and began the process of ampuscation. Beyond the scene of the crim out on the one-way street an occasional electric vehicle, little noisier than Whispr himself, hummed along on its predetermined path as its passengers toured the city's historical district.

In a time of rising sea levels the blocks of old buildings, warehouses, and stately homes had turned out to be easier to preserve than the natural vegetation among which they had risen. Unlike much of the native flora that dominated the low-lying east coast of the old United States, standing cypress had no problem coping with the rising water that had inundated much of the old city. But most of the other trees and bushes needed a good deal of tender loving care to ensure their continuing survival. In the historical district entire blocks had been razed repeatedly and entirely. As with similar localities deemed worthy of preservation in Charleston, Port Royal, and all the way down to Jacksonville, they had eventually been placed on hydraulic platforms. So Old Savannah still looked remarkably as it had in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, except that the warm Atlantic shallows now flowed sleepily beneath the power stilts that kept the historical city high and dry.

The old town was always full of tourists. Tourists being always full of credit cards and other instruments of financial transfer as well as marketable swag and viable body parts, it was where Whispr and Jiminy preferred to hang out after leaving their day jobs--and scan for quarry.

Working swift and efficient with the gear from the tidy tool kit, Whispr's mudbud already had the hand half detached. Though his fingers were natural and unmelded, Jiminy was good with them. While his friend toiled, Whispr occupied himself keeping an eye on the distant street traffic and riffling the dead man's pockets, taking time to look for any hidden antitheft compartments that might have been sewn or welded into the fabric. To his surprise he located the man's wallet lying loose and unsecured in a front pocket. Such casual indifference to personal safekeeping pointed to a criminal neglect of personal protective measures. Or worse, the possibility that the wallet held nothing filchworthy. On the other hand there was the hand, whose construction suggested that its owner was a man of means, or at least had access to substantial resources.

Peering close he could see that the meld component his partner was carefully removing was an exquisite piece of work. Navahopi craftsmanship, perhaps. Or if it was an import, maybe Russian or Israelistinian. When one revelation after another came to light their excitement and expectations increased proportionately. As Jiminy's work progressed, however, Whispr found his early enthusiasm giving way in his half stomach to a slow curdling of his dinner. It was becoming increasingly clear that what the Cricket was ampuscating was no ordinary meld accessory. This fertilized the rising suspicion that the evening's prey might be no ordinary tourist.

Maybe sufficiently unordinary that others might come looking for him.

When the manifold processes of triple-R (Repair, Replace, and Regeneration) had first become cheap and widely available, people had opted for the best exterior matches to their truborn selves. It was only later, when flaunting one's Meldness had become not only socially acceptable but trendy, that such additional cosmetic expense had proven itself unnecessary. The prevailing sentiment became the same as that espoused by purchasers of costly private vehicles or fine jewelry. If you could afford an expensive bodily accessory, why not show it off? What was the difference between a tattoo and a blue you? So the titanium weave and carbonic fibers of the dead man's prosthetic hand glimmered in the dim light that infused the alley unencumbered by the ancestral wistfulness of human skin.

It was work as fine and precise as Whispr had ever seen. The bonding of metal and carbon fiber to wrist bone, tendons, and muscles was seamless. It was impossible to tell where organics ceased and modifications commenced. In addition to permitting basic grasping, each finger had been further customized to perform a different task, from airscribing to communications. The hand of the dead man had been turned into a veritable five-digited portable office.

Jiminy was all but cackling to himself as he strove to finish detaching the piece from its owner. "Swart-breath, this is terrific stuff! Must've cost tens of thousands to compile and append. Swallower will give us six months subsist for it." He leaned into his work. A surgically equipped Meld or even a Natural would have been finished by now, but the necessary additional installs would have conflicted with Jiminy's chosen meldself. Anyway, he didn't have the inborn brainjuice to be a medmeld. He was better at running. And killing. As was Whispr.

The difference between them was that Whispr knew it. He'd always been aware of his mental limitations. Maybe that was why he had chosen a meld that rendered him even more inconspicuous than most. Jiminy was an audacious, even impudent hunter. Whispr was shy.

And wary. As Cricket labored to finish the job, his slender companion glanced more and more frequently at the street. No cops showed themselves, no guides or handlers sought their waylaid subject. For an improv hunt it had gone very well.

The sweat that coursed down Whispr's rapier-thin body did not arise from unease. The Carolina coast was sufficient inspiration for the perspiration. Anymore, it was hot and tropical all the time, no different climatologically from the east coast of central Brazil. In the old days, it was said, fall and winter had been cool, occasionally even chilly. Such weather was gone with the Change. Savannah was as tropical as Salvador.

Maybe, Whispr mused, he would have his sweat glands removed one day. He knew those who'd had it done. But the resultant requisite panting that was required to compensate for the meld was unattractive, and inspired too many inescapable jokes of the canine persuasion.

"I wonder what he did, this guy," he found himself muttering aloud.

Jiminy replied without looking up from his work. "Some kind of scribe, maybe. Or accountant. He sure didn't get by on his physical attributes." He grunted slightly as he struggled to dissolve remaining connective tissue without damaging the linkages to the prosthetic. "Visiting from New York, or London. Hope he had the chance to enjoy some good Southern cooking before we made his acquaintance. There!"

The hand came off cleanly in Jiminy's fingers. There was only a little blood. The Cricket was no surgeon, but he took pride in his work. Whispr made an effort to suppress his natural melancholy. He tried to envision the gleam that would come into Swallower's eyes when he set all four of them--two natural and two melds--on the dismembered body part. For Whispr and the Cricket, he told himself with the slightest of grins, money was at hand.

It was as his companion was stowing their five-fingered prize in his scruffy backpack that Whispr noticed the thread.

It caught his eye only because the indirect light in the alley made it stand out slightly from those surrounding it and because he had been kneeling over the body of the dead man long enough for the cadaverish topography to become familiar. Had he passed the man in the street, had he stopped to converse with him, it never would have drawn Whispr's notice. Time, light, and circumstance conspired to reveal it.

Leaning close over the body's motionless chest, he drew a mag from one of his pockets. Slipped over his right eye, it automatically adjusted to his vision. Gently squeezing or releasing the muscles around the ocular orbit increased or reduced the magnification.

His interest had not been misplaced. Beneath the lens he could just make out the minuscule hinges that held the top and bottom of the thread in place inside the dead man's breast pocket.

"Let me have your tweezers." Without taking his eye off the pocket, he extended a hand toward his partner.

Jiminy gazed edgily toward the busy street as he fumbled for the requested tool. When he was sitting down, the kneecaps of his elongated legs rose higher than his head, making him look more like his arthropodal namesake than ever.

"Here--what'd you find? Concealed credit stick?"

"Naw--I don't know what it is. Sewn inside the pocket. Maybe it's a storage device." As the perfectly miniaturized hinges yielded to the pointed tips of the tweezers the top end of the thread came free. "Leastwise, one end's got a connector. Tiny, but I can see it."

Leaning toward Whispr as far as his monstrous lower limbs would allow, Jiminy sounded dubious. "Just looks like a piece of thread to me. Don't ident what it's made of, but that doesn't mean anything. Looks like metal, but might be something else. Pretty slick piece of work, whatever it is."

Whispr nodded as he carefully slid the excised thread into an empty storage packet. Lifting his right leg he drew a finger across the side of his shoe. Reading his vitals it unlocked and slid aside to reveal a small waterproof compartment. Carefully inserting the packet into the opening, he then snapped the sole back in place.

"I don't recognize the material either, but small as it is the connector looks standard. All we need is a reader."

Knees aimed forward, Jiminy lurched to his feet. "Probably full of family pictures, maybe an address book: nothing out of the ordinary. No subsist, that's sure."

"Yo so?" Normally Whispr would defer to his more intellectually gifted associate in such matters, but not this time. "If that's all that's on it, then why go to so much trouble and expense to hide it? Why not just keep it in the wallet?"

Jiminy hesitated, then nodded approvingly. "Good point. I'm with you on sticking it in a reader." He glanced down one more time at the dead man. The ampuscated was not bleeding. "We're done here." He slung his pack over his back. "Let's go play money tag with the Swallower."

From the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x99f1f0d8) out of 5 stars 75 reviews
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x99fadd74) out of 5 stars You CAN judge this book by its opening Dec 12 2010
By Angie Boyter - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
A good way to gauge how likely you are to enjoy The Human Blend is to read the opening paragraph: "Let's rifle the dead man." Jimmy scowled at the newly-won corpse and hopped to it.
If, like me, you are put off by this opening, then you probably would not like this book. If you are intrigued, I think you will find The Human Blend to be a middle-of-the-pack SF thriller that may help you while away a quiet evening but not dazzle you with anything especially original or clever.
The action takes place in a future where extreme physical alterations and enhancements are commonplace. Two Melds ( enhanced humans), Whispr and Jiminy Cricket, kill a man they think is an ordinary tourist to rob him and find a strange silver thread that is some sort of storage device. This theft unleashes a chase by assassins bent on retrieving the thread from Whispr and Jiminy and Ingrid, an unenhanced doctor who becomes involved when Whispr goes to her for treatment of a serious wound. Be warned: the mystery of the thread remains to be solved in a future book.
I read The Human Blend despite the opening pages on the basis of three presumptions, none of which turned out to be valid. First, I enjoyed some of Alan Dean Foster's early SF, but, as the bio points out, Foster writes in many genres, and this is NOT like early Foster. Second, the product description says The Human Blend has "the dark humor and edgy morality of an Elmore Leonard mystery". The edgy morality is pervasive, but the humor that makes Leonard enjoyable and leavens the grit was nowhere to be found. Finally, there was a promise held out of exploring what it means to be human in a society where you can provide your body with practically any features you want. SF often does a wonderful job of "philosofiction", as Rob Sawyer calls it, but, again, I failed to find it in The Human Blend.
The author leaves a number of matters unresolved, presumably to lead the reader to the next two parts of the trilogy. Some readers may find this annoying.
Despite my disappointment, there is, indeed, one part of The Human Blend that is worth reading. About the Author is one of the most interesting such pieces I can recall. Pick up the book; read About the Author; and then, if you are interested, go look for earlier work by Alan Dean Foster.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x99f1a744) out of 5 stars A New World of Weird Dec 13 2010
By Marilynn Griffith - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
In the not-so-distant future, Florida has been washed away by the rising Atlantic Ocean and New Savannah, a high-rise copy of the city by the same name, floats on the coast of Namerica. The landscape isn't all that's changed either. The crazy weather, jungle climate and South American flora and fauna aside, it's the people themselves who've changed the most. Taking cosmetic surgery to a new level called melding, everyday people manipulate themselves to grow feathers, have eyes in the backs of their heads or in the case of the biomedical thief Jiminy, extended legs to run faster and leap longer, or to go from a poor fat kid to a slick, slim one like his partner Whispr.

When the pair of thieves use a weapon that can stop a person's heart from a distance to kill a tourist for his prosthetic hand --a five finger cyberdesk--they find something else, a metallic thread. While trying to fence their find, the police (all melds, of course) descend on them and Jiminy abandons Whispr to his own fate. Unfortunately, the decision seals his own fate and costs him his life.

These events set Whispr on the run through the swamps of New Savannah. He pauses long enough for a quick meld (more meat on his bones, a few facial changes) and a quick meal before setting of to find someone who can read the information on the thread that cost Jiminy his life. Little does he know that two teams of assassins are also after the thread and will do anything to get it. Shot by cyberbullets that can lead the police to him, he seeks out Ingrid Seastrom, an overly curious doctor, still natural and too pretty to be so.

The unlikely pair set out on an adventure that keeps the pages turning without making much connection with the characters. While it would probably make a good movie, Volume 1 of the Tipping Point Trilogy ended like a movie with a sequel soon to release. I look forward to trying one of this author's acclaimed Pip and Flinx novels, but probably wouldn't seek out the next in this series. Fans of Michael Crichton and fans of Foster's previous novels will likely enjoy this book.

NOTE: It's been a few days now, and Foster's world has stayed on my mind. On second thought, I would like to know what's keeping Whispr and the good doctor hanging by a thread...
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9a0372ac) out of 5 stars Another Foster Future Oct. 5 2010
By Tanstaafl - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I hadn't read a Foster book in a couple of decades. His latest is still science fiction as I remember him writing it, and it was fun to read. Though there were a few inconsistencies, the story moved along at a quick pace. The plot was interesting enough, plus he gives us a bunch of new technologies to get used to.

There is also an amazing cast of characters. We have an unlikely team of heroine and hero that we are going to travel with (presumably) through three episodes of the Tipping Point trilogy. Some of the others will stretch your belief, but they do fit with the overall story and add some interesting visual imagery.

This being the first of a planned trilogy, it's way too short. This is the age of six hundred page volumes, not page count of a total trilogy. This was too little for a big wait for the second and third books.

If you are a Foster fan, then go ahead and get this one. I liked it well enough and plan to follow the series when the next installment comes out. Of the more than a thousand sci/fi's I've read, it's not as good as many, but better than even more. 3.5 stars.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x99ebf180) out of 5 stars Foster Phoned It In Nov. 19 2010
By Walt Boyes - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Here we have an interesting idea, done badly. Alan Dean Foster has embarked on a new series, since he has done the Flinx thing to death. I used to really like ADF and he was on my "must buy" list. But lately, he's been phoning them in. The Human Blend is no exception. We have an unlikely and unlovely hero, a heroine who is a successful doctor who suddenly and without any real motivation throws over her entire life to pursue a scientific mystery with the hero, who she's just met. The story is thin, populated with cardboard characters, and way below the standard Foster used to set with the early Humanx novels.

Too bad. Nice idea. Maybe the next one will be better.

Walt Boyes
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x99f50c54) out of 5 stars Great Sci-fi, OK story, disappointing ending Dec 13 2012
By John L. Miller - Published on
Format: Audio CD
I listened to the audiobook version of "The Human Blend." I liked it but didn't love it. After a little disappointment with the ending, I've decided I'll go ahead and read the follow-ups as wel.

The book itself is a very interesting sci-fi setting and plot, with good writing and alright characters.

To sum things up: the story is set what appears to be hundreds of years in the future, when global warming has melted the icecaps, vastly changing the shorelines and climate of our world. Human modification - called "melding" - is commonplace, with people making vast changes to their bodies, ranging from cosmetic (e.g. become a duplicate of Julius Caesar) to practical (e.g. functional gill implants, enhanced bone structures, and so on).

Whispr and Cricket are two thieves who rob a tourist, taking a disproportionately valuable prosthetic hand along with an electronic storage thread. Within hours they're pursued by a remarkable number of police and less savory characters. The rest of the book follows as Whispr journeys through the fringes of society to discover why he's being chased so vigorously, and just what is so valuable.

Fair warning: This is the first book of a trilogy, something I didn't know when I picked it up. It's got the most abrupt ending I've ever seen, eminently unsatisfying. I was convinced part of the book was missing until I did a little reading online and found many people shared my complaint.

The world and the technologies presented are fascinating. The characters are interesting. Not great, but good. Their actions, behaviors, and luck are all believable and interesting. The writing is good, as you might expect from someone with as many books to their name as Foster.

As I mentioned above, I listened to the audiobook. I've listened to 40 or 50 audiobooks so far, and this is easily one of the best narrations. The narrator - David Colacci - has a pleasant-to-hear voice, and does a great job coming up with engaging, differentiated voices for the various characters. A pleasure to listen to.

Is the book worth reading? Sure. Is it Foster's best? Not in my opinion. I gave this a try after remembering some of his other series I really enjoyed, such as Spellsinger: Book 1 and The Tar-Aiym Krang, the beginnings of two of his best series.

Three stars.