In collaboration with critically acclaimed author Neil McMahon, James Patterson ventures into the science fiction genre --- with an emphasis on "fiction."
TOYS is set in a future where the United States is ruled by The Elite, genetically engineered people distinguished from lesser, ordinary human beings by the fact that they are a combination of biology and cybernetics, as well as a two-year gestation period in a synthetic womb. There is also another biological difference that catches main character Hay Baker in a comeuppance, which we will get to in a moment.
Baker is an Elite Agent of Change, one of the best of the best of a team of enforcers charged with protecting The Elite from the "skunks," the term applied to ordinary human beings. He and his wife, Lizbeth, hobnob with the rich and famous, including the President. So it is that when an attack is carried out at a Toyz outlet, just as the Elite are unveiling a whole new line of popular Jessica and Jacob dolls, Baker is called in to investigate and apprehend the human culprits whose assault killed a number of Toyz executives. Baker loses no time in going after and exterminating one of them, but is injured while doing so. During his treatment, it's discovered that Baker himself is a human being, a state of affairs of which he was totally unaware.
In the space of just a few hours, Baker's world falls apart, as literally everything he knew about his life --- his very existence --- becomes a lie. Or is it? Baker is forced to go on the run, returning to his childhood home and the people he knew to be his parents to find out the truth. He learns along the way that the world is not as he thought. Pursued across the world from Russia to England and back to the United States, where his world is turned upside down yet again, Baker quickly finds that his ideas of history and reality have no solid bedrock. His only hope lies in a woman named Lucy, who he thought was his childhood neighbor and is now revealed to be someone else entirely. By the book's conclusion, everything has changed --- though, as the final paragraph indicates, perhaps not completely.
TOYS contains elements of everything from Philip K. Dick's DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? and UBIK to William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson's LOGAN'S RUN, with a bit of Robert Heinlein thrown in for good measure. There are no particular surprises here for those familiar with and fans of Patterson's style of storytelling. And while it is interesting to see him with McMahon breaching the wall of yet another genre, I don't see the novel as necessarily winning a segment of science fiction fandom to his side. Still, there are some compelling and even chilling ideas here, and those looking for such things might even find it to be a parable for our time, depending on one's worldview.
TOYS is one of Patterson's more ambitious projects of late, and given that it contains a sneak preview of 10th ANNIVERSARY, his next Women's Murder Club book with Maxine Paetro, it's worth a look.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on November 4, 2011