I picked up Lincoln Michel’s The Body Scout as a sort of olive branch. Perhaps this novel about cyborgian baseball leagues and corporate greed would kickstart the process of changing my mind about America’s pastime. It didn’t. And for that reason, I think it’s safe to say your mileage with the book may vary. The Body Scout packages a plethora of good ideas into an intriguing novel, but the pieces don’t all quite fit together.
Kobo Zunz is a body scout. He recruits prospects for the Future Baseball League, an organization that pumps its players with experimental drugs meant to enhance their in-game performance. Kobo used to play for a separate league that allowed cyborgs–he has various mechanical upgrades himself, most notably an eye and a metal arm. Kobo’s adopted brother, JJ, plays for the Mets in the FBL. But when JJ Zunz collapses and practically dissolves on home plate, Kobo has to sift through baseball’s dark, corporate underbelly to figure out how and why JJ died.
There’s a lot to unpack here. First, the good. The Body Scout has some really cool ideas. Players upgrade themselves for max performance. Drones disguised as animals deliver packages. Skyscrapers rotate so the megarich can buy penthouses with 24-hour sunlight exposure. Neanderthals have been genetically resurrected and live among homo sapiens. Gender has become a non-issue (though some people transition for financial gain, which is irksome and didn’t quite sit right with me). Lincoln Michel’s world introduces new hyper-futuristic (and oftentimes scary) ideas at a rapid clip, and it’s fun to tour his imaginative vision of our destructive capitalist society.
That’s all great. Home run. Baseball metaphor. But the book is so short that it’s hard to dive deep into any of these issues. Michel raises them, introduces them, but doesn’t truly grapple with the issues of this imagined future. The political and fiscal ramifications of this society’s choices feel like afterthoughts–and that’s fair to a point. The characters live in this world. But because they don’t truly explore the implications of these ideas imprinted on their world, it’s hard as a reader to feel connected to it. The Body Scout struggles to balance Michel’s love for baseball and his desire to lampoon our descent into a world of corporate tyranny.
The Body Scout offers some fascinating characters, but they have similar issues. Kobo’s former flame, Dolores, quickly reignites their long-over romance and joins his hunt for the killer. Okafor, a cop, helps Kobo in whatever way they can. Lila, a prospective member of an Edenist faction (Edenists eschew technological upgrades, believing to be emblematic of a diseased society) and a child, provides the most interesting insight into the world. She is shaped by her experiences with the Edensist and her mysterious relationship to the Zunz’s murder. A few supporting cast members–particularly two loan-collecting brutes named Wanda and Brenda–fill out the roster nicely. But to me, the characters almost all read as archetypes, and even during moments that were clearly intended as big reveals or turning points, I couldn’t connect with any of them.
In other words, The Body Scout loses its characters in a mixture of plot and setting. The story has to move forward by virtue of being a murder mystery. The setting has to be vivid, or the reader won’t get it. But without a well-rounded cast, it all jumbles together into a vaguely good mishmash of ideas that don’t blend as they should.
Perhaps the best example I can provide is the inclusion of baseball. The entire book exists within the orbit of futuristic baseball. For long stretches, however, baseball is just in the background. A game being played, a score mentioned. But it never breaks through to become the focus. It’s bogged down by a bevy of otherwise-good ideas that should’ve been doled out with better pacing.
While The Body Scout’s ideas resonated with me, it couldn’t quite keep me engaged. If you’re a sci-fi buff with a soft spot for baseball, though, you may find a lot to love here. I’ll leave you to make that decision for yourself. Let’s hope that, for you, Michel’s debut knocks everything out of the park.
We received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts on this story are my own.