Read Hopscotch by Kevin J. Anderson Free Online

Ebook Hopscotch by Kevin J. Anderson read! Book Title: Hopscotch
The author of the book: Kevin J. Anderson
Date of issue: January 29th 2002
ISBN: 0553104748
ISBN 13: 9780553104745
Language: English
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 973 KB
Edition: Spectra

Read full description of the books Hopscotch:


by Kevin J. Anderson

Bantam, 354 pages, hardback, 2002

My own personal Golden Age of Science Fiction came when I was
about 15-17, which happened to coincide with the time when the
remainder bin of the Woolworths just round the corner was
replenished every few days with copious heaps of American sf
paperbacks. At that price I could afford to buy almost as many as
I wanted, which I duly did; and I read them at the rate of one a
day or, often, two a day. Every now and then I'd discover a gem
— Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land was
one, Brian Aldiss's Hothouse another, the two Robert
Randall books, Henry Kuttner's Bypass to Otherness, Kurt
Vonnegut's Player Piano, most of the Pohl/Kornbluth
collaborations . . . Many prizes there were, far too many for my
memory to encompass.

But at least 95% of these books were far from treasurable:
they were good, honest, uninspired journeyman efforts churned out
by all the countless minor sf authors of the day. Devoid of much
originality and certainly not illuminated by any stylistic flair,
these texts filled their allotted number of pages with plodding
competence. I can't remember any of them in particular because,
to be honest, there wasn't much to be remembered; if I'd been
quizzed on any one of them the day after I'd read it I might well
have had trouble remembering its plot. Don't misunderstand: I
didn't feel in any way cheated or short-changed by them. They had
little aspiration beyond (aside from earning their authors the
next rent-cheque) filling a few hours of the reader's time
relatively pleasantly, and this they fulfilled with — to
repeat the word — competence.

I was strongly reminded of this era of my life while reading
Kevin J. Anderson's Hopscotch. Although it is two or three
times longer than any of those nameless old pulp paperbacks would
ever have been permitted to be, it has exactly the same
atmosphere of dutiful journeyman sf. The pages get turned OK, but
without any great deal of enthusiasm because there's no real
narrative drive and, quite rightly, we anticipate no ideative
surprises. This is a long book based on a premise drawn from sf's
common stockpot.

Sometime in the future the technology has been developed
whereby human beings can swap ("hopscotch") bodies with each
other at will. The opportunities for crime are obvious: a
murderer could borrow a body to perform the slaying, then swap
back or swap onward, so that evidence like fingerprints and
securicam images would be valueless. Thus the establishment of
the Bureau of Tracing and Locations, or BTL (which, through no
fault of the author's, I read as BLT throughout), whose task is
to keep track of individuals no matter how many bodies they might
flit through.

Our four central characters have just emerged from the
orphanage; it is a nice insight that, with it being all too easy
for unwanted conceptions to occur in the "wrong" body, this
future world would contain lots of unwanted children. The four
are Garth (wannabe artist), Daragon (one of the rare individuals
unable to hopscotch, but with the compensatory ability to see who
people really are no matter what body they're currently
wearing), Eduard (who makes a living by getting paid to hopscotch
into people's bodies while they undergo things like dental
surgery) and Teresa (token warm-hearted female, submissive,
because of warm-heartedness gets laid a lot whichever body she's

Daragon, because of his rare talent, is recruited from the
orphanage straight into the BTL and there groomed for stardom by
its charismatic leader Mordecai Ob. Garth, aided by a grant from
Ob, becomes a monumentally rich and famous artist, gaining his
experience of life by hopscotching around to get the ultimate in
vox pop input. Eduard is hired by Ob to be his caretaker,
responsible for exercising Ob's real body while Ob himself is
doing his administrative stuff in Eduard's body. Teresa joins a
cult called the Sharetakers whose philosophy is (stop me if
you've heard this one) based on the exploitative and abusive
leader getting everything he wants and — surprise, surprise
— screwing all the cult's women, but particularly Teresa, at
every, well, turn.

That's about the first half of the book, and a very long half
it seems. The blurb writer, obviously at a loss as to how to make
all this seem rivetingly original, has ignored it, and in despair
gone for the plot that commences with the second half. Unknown to
all, Ob has been taking some new mind-rotting and body-rotting
drug using Eduard's body, then swapping back into his own Charles
Atlas-style flesh at the end of the day; indeed, several of Ob's
caretakers prior to Eduard's appointment to the post have been
effectively disappeared, presumably because their bodies have
died as a result of Ob's addiction. Almost too late, Eduard
— who's been a bit puzzled by how lousy he's been feeling
— discovers what's going on. His revenge on the vile Ob is,
however, drastically more effective than he'd anticipated, and Ob

So Eduard's on the run as a murderer. Old friends Garth and
Teresa believe in his innocence and help him, but he's dogged by
the implacable Daragon, who refuses to believe that his idol
Mordecai Ob could ever have been guilty of anything.

And so you have it. There's lots of attempts by the good-guy
trio to die in place of each other as they hopscotch between
their own and others' bodies, to the extent that a couple of
times Anderson is moved to notch up the hellish pathos of it all
by starting to quote Sidney Carton from Dickens's A Tale of
Two Cities: "It is a far, far better thing . . ." At this
stage this reviewer entered a state of paralysis, unable to
decide whether to throw the book at the wall or just to fold up
in giggles.

In the main this is all, so far as it goes, competently
related (aside from the occasional line like "Jennika flinched as
if she had swallowed a thistle whole"), although, with its lack
of pacing and narrative drive, there's no excitement at all in
the telling. The "so far as it goes" parenthesis is not idly
employed, because there are a heck of a lot of places where
Hopscotch does not go.

For a book of this fairly considerable length, part of whose
agenda must have been to explore all the ramifications of its
premise, there seem some curious omissions. It is possible that
there are offhand references that I've forgotten to some of
these, in which case please forgive this addled brain, but I was
surprised to find nothing about:

(a) The uses to which physicians could put hopscotching for
diagnosis. If a patient's saying "Doc, I gotta pain here but I
can't really describe it", what a godsend it'd be if the doctor
could briefly swap into the sufferer's body to pinpoint the exact
location of the pain and be able to experience directly what it
felt like — whether a chest-pain was angina or just
indigestion, for example.

(b) In the book the rich and villainous exploit the
hopscotching process however they can, with utter ruthlessness
and disregard for the welfare of other people's bodies. Wouldn't
the illicit practice emerge among the thrillseekers of
discovering what it was like to be murdered, forcibly
hopscotching into a victim and then hopscotching back just before
death? It'd be the ultimate jolly for the repulsive snuff-movie
market, or for those who like getting half-strangled during sex.

(c) There's quite a lot in the book about hopscotching for
sexual purposes — for example, couples making love twice in
a row, swapping bodies for the second encounter, or making love
with each other while garbed in other people's bodies — but
nothing that I can recall about what would surely be the
predominantly appealing attraction of hopscotching hijinks. Each
of a couple who swapped bodies with each other would know
exactly what gave the most delight to the partner, and by
administering it would in due course have it administered back.
The enormous educative and self-educative possibilities for
enhancing their mutual sex life to a degree otherwise impossible
would surely be explored by every couple, probably endlessly, in
an orgy of giving; yet all we seem to find here is a sort
of short-sighted philosophy of taking, with the partners
seeking only the thrill they can get from the particular act of
sex in which they are currently engaged.

Also omitted is any real discussion of the technology of
hopscotching. Somewhere early on Anderson has realized he really
ought to do something about this deficiency in what is, after
all, ostentatiously a work of sf rather than a fantasy. (A
fantasist might be able to do a whole lot more with the premise,
come to think of it — but that's just an aside.) So he gives
us the nearest we get to an explanation using the clumsy
technique of an overheard bar conversation:

"And you want to know the biophysics? Does it matter?" The
first man sucked delicately on his cigarette. "When you use a COM
terminal, do you care about the network electronics? No. You
simply tap in, extract the information you need, engage the
communication link you want, access your accounts. You don't need
a degree in organic matrix management to use the thing. You don't
need to understand the dirty details about hopscotching, either."

That's it! If you, dear reader, want to know more about the
principles underlying the technology of hopscotching, you're just
being extremely stupid to keep asking silly questions about
something you have no need to know.

This is an enormous copout. Of course, no one expects
sf writers to come up with genuine explanations of their
impossible technologies — otherwise we'd be awash with
workable real-life time machines, matter transmitters and the
rest built according to verbal blueprints first published in
story form in old issues of Shocking Science Wonder
Stories — but not only does the reader have a right to
expect the author to have worked up at least a dose or two of
vaguely convincing flimflam, the very integrity of a science-
fiction novel depends upon it. Yet Anderson blithely tells us
that "you don't need to understand the dirty details about
hopscotching" . . . and his editor let him get away with

Coincidences run rampant in the book. The worst offender
comes when some of Daragon's overenthusiastic BTL sidekicks gun
down a man they believe to be Eduard; in fact, as Daragon learns
during a two-Kleenex moment while cradling the dying man in his
arms, this individual is none other than . . . Daragon's own
long-lost father. Elsewhere the major players are constantly
encountering each other by chance, a fact that leads one to
believe that the whole tale is being told within a very small
geographical scope indeed.

Following the geographical train of thought leads us to the
book's most glaring deficiency of all: there is no sense of
place anywhere throughout the telling. We know that we're
somewhere on Earth, because, in the only instance of there being
any reference to somewhere outside the city where the rest of the
action is staged, Garth goes on vacation to Hawaii. But that's
our sole clue. The city otherwise floats in a vacuum: if the
advent of the ability to hopscotch has had consequences
nationally or internationally, we're told nothing of them. Is
there commerce between this city and the others that must surely
exist? Well, search me. Daragon's dad is supposed to have been on
the run for hundreds of years, but has never thought to put as
much distance as possible between himself and his pursuers by
going to another part of the country or even abroad. Mordecai Ob
is the top gun of the Bureau of Tracing and Locations, but is he
its national head or just its head within the city? Presumably
the latter, because to go by the evidence in this book the
organization has no dimension outwith the city; indeed, the
search for Eduard — one single person — depletes the
BTL's manpower resources to such an extent that it starts having
to offer skeleton service only for some of its other functions, a
situation that is permitted to subsist for a period of months. Is
this supposedly massive organization really just little more than
a couple of football teams in numbers?

This lack of feeling for place goes right down to the
details. The single venue most frequently haunted in the text is
a joint called the Masquerade Bar where folk go to hook up with
potential hopscotching and sex partners. Yet by the end of the
book the reader has no sense whatever of having been there. Yes,
there's the occasional flat description of some feature or other
of this watering hole, but one never catches the remotest whiff
(literal or metaphorical) of its atmosphere, never an
appreciation of its size, or its lighting, or its sound, or . . .
In all, a reader of this book could be taken into the Masquerade
Bar tomorrow and not recognize it. Similarly, most of the other
venues — Ob's office, Ob's gardens, skyscrapers, factories,
Garth's mansion — all seem to have been hired for the
occasion from Central Casting, rather in the same way that the
Sharetakers group is just Rentacult. Where all these
places are in relation to each other is anyone's guess, except
that BTL HQ is on a small islet that is nevertheless large enough
for Eduard to be able to run for miles exercising Ob's body; no,
wait a minute, that can't be right . . . Does the city bustle, or
is it fairly quiet? What does it feel like to be there? What are
the shops like? Does it have ghettoes or posh areas or red light
districts? Is the air polluted or clean? What forms of public
transportation are most used, if any? Are the people generally
bloody-minded or rude or amiable or socially aware or cold or
. . .?

One gets the very strong feeling that the reason one has no
sense of the city, or of anything within it, is that Anderson,
likewise, hasn't "been there". Rather than having any
visualization of the city, he has just tacked on standard bits of
city whenever the occasion demands them. Teresa's old body is
currently being used by someone who works in a factory? Right,
then, wheel on A Factory. You know it's A Factory because that's
what you've been told it is. But there's no impression given that
this is a particular factory that Anderson has ever been in,
either physically or in imagination. And so on.

Which leads us back to those old journeyman sf paperbacks of
yore. They too were often marked by a lack of originality in
their premise and working out, by poor pacing, by wooden,
stereotyped characterization and setting, by clumsy plotting, and
by their lack of narrative drive. I stress that there was nothing
wrong with that: as one paid over one's pennies (literally!) one
was fully aware that this was the rudimentary form of
entertainment one was buying, and if one's purchase proved to be
otherwise, why, that was a delightful surprise. But it would be
nice to think sf had moved on a little since those days —
that the standard of base-level competence might have improved a
bit. At the very least, one would expect such stuff to be
confined to cheap series mass-market paperbacks designed as
journey-fodder to be sold on station bookstalls, not as
expensively produced glossy hardbacks claiming to be other than

No such luck.

I am of course utterly misguided in every single criticism of
Hopscotch I have dared to whisper in this review, and I
can present you with the proof. On the back of the book's dust
jacket a number of sf's brightest luminaries flatly contradict
me. In the interests of fair play I would like to cite their
cover-quotes so that you may compare them with the points I have
made above and see where I have gone astray in my reasoning.

[] "Cracking good — swift, sure storytelling, with
more plot twists than a snake and twice the bite." — Gregory

[] "A rousing tale that charges hard into territory where
nobody has gone before, this one may be the most original book of
the year." — Jack McDevitt

[] "Colorful, inventive, and intriguing, it's idea-driven
sf at its best, and a pleasure to read." — Allen Steele

[] "Kevin J. Anderson has done it again! Great setting,
intriguing characters, and a fascinating idea make
Hopscotch his best book yet." — Kristine Kathryn

This review, first published by Infinity Plus, is
excerpted from my ebook Warm Words and Otherwise: A Blizzard
of Book Reviews, to be published on September 19 by Infinity
Plus Ebooks.

Read Ebooks by Kevin J. Anderson

Read information about the author

Ebook Hopscotch read Online! Pseudonyms: Gabriel Mesta, K.J. Anderson

He has written spin-off novels for Star Wars, StarCraft, Titan A.E., and The X-Files, and is the co-author of the Dune prequels. His original works include the Saga of Seven Suns series and the Nebula Award-nominated Assemblers of Infinity. He has also written several comic books including the Dark Horse Star Wars collection Tales of the Jedi written in collaboration with Tom Veitch, Predator titles (also for Dark Horse), and X-Files titles for Topps.

Anderson serves as a judge in the Writers of the Future contest.

His wife is author Rebecca Moesta. They currently reside near Monument, Colorado.

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